Review- Despair (1978)

Review- Despair (1978)

Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1978 Fassbinder film as Hermann, a chocolate factory owner living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic who suffers from dissociation. He dreams of escape. On his travels he meets a homeless man who he thinks can imitate him in a scam. This will involve his faked murder so that he can escape his life. His wife will then receive a substantial insurance pay out because of his supposed death. In reality Hermann will vanish to Switzerland, live below the radar and start a new life. Will Hermann’s plan go without a hitch?

I love the mystery of this film. It really is a puzzle of a film and sweeps us along on it’s gorgeous journey. Twist follows turn and back again. 

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The whole cast are perfect with Dirk Bogarde being perfect as Hermann. The screenplay is brilliantly adopted from a Nabokov novel by Tom Stoppard with snappy and wicked dialogue that positively crackles.

The look of the film is muted and also beautiful because of it. It lends massively to why the film works so well as it’s visually and uniformly a treat for the eyes. Enjoy the ride which will keep you guessing until the final frame.

**** out of *****

 

 

 

 

Review- The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

Review- The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

This 1978 Fassbinder movie starts with the film’s eponymous hero Maria getting married to her husband Hermann in Germany during World War II just as a bomb being dropped threatens to curtail proceedings. Thankfully the couple’s union is officially sealed and Hermann then goes off to fight in the war himself.

After learning later that her new husband has been tragically killed Maria starts to go to a local bar frequented by American soldiers to work as a waitress. She meets a black US soldier called Bill who she then starts a relationship with. They are just getting it on one day when…to tell you anymore would be to reveal a huge plot detail that I’m not going to spoil for you!

I first heard about this film when at university studying Film Studies as one of my tutors had the poster for the movie on her office wall.

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Whilst it’s interesting to see a character doing what needs to be done to survive and indeed prosper within challenging circumstances, I found this film to be a bit, erm, flat. I’ve read great reviews regarding it with many critics and casual viewers stating the opinion that this is one of Fassbinder’s best movies. When it was originally released it not only wowed the critics but also performed very well at the box office. But I think that this is maybe because many of the more radical and idiosyncratic aspects of Fassbinder’s films aren’t present here hence making it more palatable for cinemagoers used to more mainstream and linear films.

I think that if you have a lead character who can become so detached and cold as to exploit those around her for her own gain even if it’s done in exceptionally destitute circumstances, you don’t have an especially likeable character who audiences can engage with. At least that’s what I felt. Plenty of critics and moviegoing audiences disagree though.

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Not a complete disaster by any stretch of the imagination with great acting and fantastic cinematography as ever by Michael Ballhaus who would go on to work with Scorsese after his tenure with Fassbinder was over.

**and a half out of *****

Review- Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Review- Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Fassbinder’s 1971 film concerns a German film crew waiting for a production to start whilst on set in a Spanish hotel lobby.

The film starts with the verbal recanting of a Goofy cartoon. This is possibly the most linear and conventional part of the entire film’s narrative but that’s not an insult. The rest of the film shows fragments of how the characters interact with each other on many different levels. The movie also shows the power relations and how these shift throughout the film’s duration.

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The film crew resemble a Germanic version of the trope of superstars Warhol used to use. With waiting comes emotions ranging from an utter lack of enthusiasm through to explosive rage about proceedings not starting when they should or crew members not doing what they should when filming does actually begin.

This film was based on Fassbinder’s experiences of making the film Whity. It must have been hell for him judging by the events depicted here.

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If you’re looking for a film with a linear narrative, a ‘start, middle and end’, if you will, this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to be swept away by Fassbinder into a film that is more of an experience, then you’ll love this.

Review- Martha (1974)

Review- Martha (1974)

More Fassbinder goodness with this 1974 film as we see the central character start out as a happy go lucky woman who feels pressurised to find a man, settle down and adjust to married life. Her own parents are revealed to be in a loveless marriage until Martha’s father collapses and dies when he is with his daughter on holiday in Italy.

I’m not going to give away too much about the plot and what happens during the course of the movie as I don’t want to blunt the impact of the film but all I’ll say is that this is a dark piece of cinema! And I mean DARK!

As the concept of coercive control is just starting to be spoken about in the popular media, Fassbinder had made a film about it 1974. And gaslighting. And marital sadism.

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A special mention needs to go to Margit Carstensen in the lead role whose performance is nothing short of astonishing as we see her character’s spirit and very existence being destroyed and disintegrating before our very eyes.

I also didn’t know that Karlheinz Bohm had ever depicted a darker character than his star turn in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. I was sooo wrong! His character here is a sadistic psychopath/narcissist and acted to grimy and reptilian perfection.

I remember when I saw the movie Threads for the first time. I thought to myself that it couldn’t get any darker but then saw that that it was only halfway through it’s running time. I then saw that it could get MUCH darker! The same happened when I watched Martha.

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This does for marriage and societal expectations for women what Jaws did for sharks. When I watched this I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m so glad that I’m gay. And that I’m happily single!’

****and a half out of *****

Review- Ali- Fear Eats The Soul (1974)

Review- Ali- Fear Eats The Soul (1974)

Emmi, a 60 year old widowed cleaner decides to enter a bar that is playing Arabic music to shield from the rain. She sits at a table on her own far from the regulars who are at the other side of the bar. They dare one of their entourage, Ali to go and ask her to dance. Whilst they think he will refuse instead he calls their bluff and complies.

With this Emmi and Ali get to know each other and this develops into a relationship. But with this the couple come face to face with societal prejudices regarding inter-racial relationships and their age gap.

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Masterfully directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ali- Fear Eats The Soul shows how the love between Ali and Emmi is met with others hatred, ignorance and bigotries.

The couple are quickly ostracised and find themselves all alone which is depicted by the couple being depicted in long shots in many of the film’s scenes. One such is the heartbreaking scene in which they both sit in the rain outside a restaurant where there are no other diners. The couple sitting at the middle table of a huge and empty seating area emphasises their ostracised status within the restaurant and society in general. In fact the only others there are the restaurant’s staff who have decided to stand outside openly gawping at the couple in wide eyed disbelief that they would dare to be in a loving relationship whilst transgressing so many norms of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

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The scope of these extreme long shots which emphasise their isolation and separation is huge with Emmi and Ali being shown to be tiny within them. This emphasises just how cut off from everyone else they are whether that be the people around them or society as a whole. Another example is when they go to a restaurant just after they get married. The couple even seemingly break the fourth wall and look into the camera as they are shown to be the only figures in the frame and dwarfed by how far away the camera is and how small their figures are in the frame. Fassbinder holds this shot for seconds but it feels like hours with the audience being made to purposely feel a little uncomfortable at having the characters dwarfed in their surroundings whilst they look us in the eye.

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Emmi is shown to be shunned by her family who took her for granted anyway and then by her work colleagues, her neighbours and even the owner of the small convenience store she used close to her apartment.

The issue of their relationship being built on love but without sex also poses a problem within the film with Ali going to the female owner of the bar for almost functional sexual fulfilment which Emmi finds out about. Again, we get another shot to depict Ali’s loneliness and isolation, this time in another long shot but this time on his own sat on the bar owner’s bed, completely alone and without Emmi just as she was alone when sat at the table in the bar at which they met.

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The film shows that Emmi’s family and friends only start to speak to her again and seemingly accept her new marriage when they need something- her babysitting duties when it comes to her son who had previously kicked in the screen of her TV on hearing the news of her marriage (a reference to Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows which was an inspiration for this film), her storage space when a neighbours’s son needs to store his belongings in a hurry, her custom and hence money when she is accepted again by the owner of the local shop.

The film also explores how powerful the need to fit in with societal norms really is with Emmi’s narrow minded friends deciding to come to her apartment to meet Ali but which then leads to a scene in which Ali storms out to leave after being objectified by the women as a powerful, exotic object of their lust resplendent with big muscles. They express surprise when they find out that he even washes everyday just like any other civilised human being. Ali feels dehumanised by this and rightly leaves hastily. Even when he leaves, Emmi voices the opinion that it is down to his ‘foreigner mentality’ and ‘others’ him even further.

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Emmi is received back into her gang of co-workers and by doing so ostracises a new woman who has joined her team just because she is an immigrant just like Ali. Toxic behaviour is evidently highly contagious.

During the film, Emmi goes to Ali’s workplace to see him after he had left. She is then humiliated because of her age by his workmates who he laughs along with whilst pretending not to know who Emmi is. The pull of conformity and not wanting to be seen as ‘other’ or ‘different’ is a powerful one and affects both Ali and Emmi in different circumstances.

But nothing brings people together quicker than when adversity strikes and puts everything else into it’s true perspective. And that’s all I’m saying as I don’t want to ruin the conclusion of this extraordinary film.

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There are amazing performances all round but especially from Brigitte Mira as Emmi and the unbearably handsome El Hedi ben Salem as Ali. There’s even an uncredited cameo by Fassbinder himself as Emmi’s vile son in law.

Fassbinder’s film is so well observed that it aches with the love between the two lead characters but also with the hatred and wilful lack of understanding from others that makes it so poignant and heartbreaking.

We also get a peek into the beauty of 70’s Germany which acts as a fantastic backdrop to this extraordinary film.

Ali- Fear Eats The Soul is a masterpiece. It is so poignant that if it doesn’t pluck at your heartstrings and stir your soul then you possibly don’t possess either. It will stay with you long after the film has finished.

Ali-Fear Eats The Soul is beautiful and brutal and just as relevant today as it’s ever been. Every now and again I watch a film that makes me think that my life is better for having seen it. Ali- Fear Eats The Soul is one such film.

***** out of *****

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

I first saw Children of the Corn when it was first shown on UK TV in the mid 80’s. The following day it would appear that most of my school friends had seen the movie too as we all recalled the events of the film in grisly and lurid detail.

On watching the film again recently I can say that it holds up very well indeed. The plot involves two characters called Vicky and Burt taking a roadtrip and happening upon a small Nebraska town called Gatlin. A major red flag goes up when the couple notice that on approaching the town the radio now only plays content that appears to be Baptist ‘fire and brimstone’ style sermons.

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What Burt and Vicky don’t know is that three years earlier the town’s adultfolk had been slaughtered on the wishes of 13 year old Isaac who has set up his own religious sect with ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ as their god, the rows being the huge cornfield which is central to Gatlin. A failed harvest had prompted the uprising with Isaac asserting that his new god needs human sacrifices to be appeased and so that there are bountiful harvests as a result. Young child Job wasn’t involved as his father didn’t like Isaac and so wasn’t allowed to go to a gathering organised by Isaac for all of the town’s children. Job’s sister Sarah also wasn’t there as she was severely ill with a fever. She is shown to have some kind of psychic powers and depicts what she sees from the future in the pictures she draws.

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Things go from bad to worse for the adult couple who have now stumbled across the town which has been run by Isaac and his henchman deputy Malachi for three years now. When they hear about the adult trespassers they demand for them to be captured and then sacrificed to their cornrows deity. Poor Burt and Vicky. They discover Job and his sister who assist them in not becoming human sacrifices.

This film has a great premise which is based on a short story by Master of Horror Stephen King. The film also taps into one of the last taboos especially in film which is that of the killer child. And here we have scores of them. The milleu of the religious sect and the small details connected to this like the children being made to change their names to more biblical monikers also adds to the utterly sinister tone of the film. It also shows what can go wrong when a setback or downturn of fortunes can be taken as an opportunity by a charismatic person with sinister motives to come to prominence and give the downtrodden and disillusioned someone to believe in even though he/she is up to no good.

The opening scene takes place in a diner in which the children present (after being given the nod by Isaac) poison and violently slaughter the adults in attendance. I remember being utterly shocked by this scene in particular when I first saw the film and I can reliably report that it’s hasn’t lost any of it’s power to shock decades later.

But this isn’t the only sequence which has the power not just to shock but also to worm it’s way inside your head. The sequence in which Vicky is placed on a cross with it then being hoisted up, the shot showing the weapons hanging from the hands of the children as they descent on a house which has one of the couple in it and the gruesome scene in the church as we see what happens to the children who come of age are such examples.

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The casting of the movie is also excellent with Sarah Hamilton as Vicky and Peter Horton as Burt. But the attention to detail regarding the casting of the children is just as impressive. The casting of the freakishly sinister Isaac and his horrifyingly hillbilly deputy Malachi are inspired. In fact, it seems they cast every child with unconventional and unique looks.

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Another great quality that the film possesses is whether He Who Walks Behind The Rows is actually a real supernatural force or just completely fabricated by Isaac.

There are also some 80’s visual effects in the film which are still extremely pleasing to the eye and have aged very well indeed.

In fact the same can be said about the whole film. In lesser hands, this could have aged terribly and been forgotten about. Instead we get a film where thought and innovation were used to fully bring to life King’s great plot idea and which still has it’s own rabid fanbase. However the film still doesn’t get enough praise or recognition when films are talked about which were adapted from King’s novels. This is a real shame. Maybe this will change.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 30- Inseminoid (1981)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 30- Inseminoid (1981)

I had heard so many great things about this movie, the risque British Alien rip-off that stood on it’s own as a great piece of cult filmmaking. I was expecting a Galaxy of Terror type film.

Boy, was I wrong! Inseminoid smacks of a quick buck being made on the back of Alien with the cast and crew thinking of it’s potential audience as idiots and not having enough brain cells to notice a purposefully made  cynical celluloid turkey when they see one.

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Even this video sleeve reeks of narcissism and luvvie attention seeking

Take for instance the lack of background sets. Instead we just get a darkened space. In fact, in some early scenes we just get the vile luvvie cast with a few monitors (probably utilised later on during the editing of this piece of rubbish) and nothing beyond it, just blackness.

And then theres the cast. The kind of people who knew that they were starring in a cult film and so decided to make their performances as camp, hysterical and overdone as possible. ‘Look at me!’ levels of narcissism are on display here which is always repellent. You can almost hear them saying on the set ‘I trained in the RADA for 4 years to star in this! One must take whatever is offered however and in a few years time when we’ve gone on to much better things we’ll have a jolly good laugh at having been in this film! The idiots who watch these kind of films wouldn’t know a Chekhov from an Ibsen! They’ll never know that we’re just camping it up and laughing at them behind their backs!’

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‘Look at me, cult film loving plebs!’

And that’s just what we get. A bunch of terribly posh voiced luvvies prancing around, being loud and attention grabbing in the way only the worst kind of drama graduates could do (this film reminded me of Hereditary when it came to the ‘acting’) whilst wearing jumpsuits. In fact the jumpsuits reminded me of the kind of garb worn on early 80’s kids shows like Chockablock. In fact those shows had more depth, innovation and budget than this stinker of a film.

If you think ‘camp’ equates to ‘cult’ than you’ll love this. If you love Blakes 7 you’ll love Inseminoid. If you love Inseminoid, you’re a tw*t.

Nothing out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

A few things about this film should attract cult film aficionados. Firstly, it stars John Saxon and Lynda Day George. It was also released on the infamous video label VIPCO (home of Zombie Flesh Eaters and Shogun Assassin in the early 80’s). It’s also features some of the cheapest special effects I’ve ever seen which have aged incredibly badly. In other words, it’s great fun and has plenty of things going for it.

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A couple move to a tropical island and find a mansion that is so cheap that they have to buy it. But it then becomes apparent that Barbara (George) is showing signs of being possessed by the evil spirit of the wife of the previous owner who was practising the occult before she ended up killing and being killed by her husband.

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This is kitsch cult cinema at it’s purest- bad effects, bad acting, bad plot. BUT, very enjoyable because of it. This film has, erm, character! This movie would be perfect if you stumbled upon it on an obscure cable channel late at night.

*** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 26- Diary of the Dead (2009)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 26- Diary of the Dead (2009)

George A Romero’s 2009 zombie flick and a concept that involves the found footage of a film student assembled into a movie by one of the film’s other characters. All of the movie is shot on camcorders and other similar devices available at the time commercially.

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This found footage chronicles a group of film studies students who are travelling home across country. They witness firsthand and record the apparent dead coming back to life as zombies.

The film gets the balance right between narrative for the casual film viewer, gore for the purist horror fans and metaphor/soul searching content for the serious cineaste (there are plenty of issues raised about what the truth actually is, the suppression of the truth by the mainstream media, the truth being conveyed by bloggers and those not working in the corporate media. The idea of what the truth is is also relevant regarding filmmaking in general as the ‘truth’ you are seeing is in fact the truth of the person who has shot the footage and also the person who has edited it).

The film never lags and feels like a fresh perspective on the zombie genre and Romero’s Living Dead series in general. The characters are interesting with the audience fully engaging with them and wanting to see what will happen to them. Most importantly, they’re not irritating.

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But for the horror fans there are also new and innovative kills concerning how to kill a zombie. The scene involving a pickaxe being used whereby a freshly bitten human kills both himself and the zombie who has just taken a chunk out of him at the same time has to be seen to be believed.

We even get Romero’s take on if zombies should run or not after the Dawn remake and the undead’s speed and athleticism therein. A character says that zombies would never run as their ankles would break as (duh) they’re dead. And he’s right.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 25- Zombie High (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 25- Zombie High (1987)

A very exclusive school is lobotomising (what is it about lobotomies in my choice of films for this year’s 31 Days of Halloween?!) it’s students so that they become the kind of upstanding captains of industry that makes society great. This is the High School version of The Stepford Wives. 

Played more for comedy than horror, this film isn’t as irritating as many other horror-comedies. Great characters, especially the unconventional supporting players and nice art direction help proceedings pass very well indeed.

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The idea of the school being a kind of sausage factory to make capitalist highflyers out of isn’t really explored enough but who cares as this is a late 80’s horror comedy yarn after all.

Notable for it’s cast which includes Virginia Madsen, Sherilyn ‘Laura Palmer’ Fenn and Richard ‘Cruising’ Cox all of whom should be known to cult film/TV fans. 

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*** out of *****