Review- The Running Man (1987)

Review- The Running Man (1987)
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
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It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
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I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
4 stars out of 5

Review- The Fan (1981)

Review- The Fan (1981)

I’ve wanted to see 1981’s The Fan for the longest time and finally, it was shown on TV here in the UK (the channel Talking Pictures is amazing and never disappoints!)

Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is an actress who is heading a Broadway musical. She is also the target of super-fan and super-stalker Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) who professes his undying love for her in numerous letters that are intercepted and responded to by Ross’ assistant who grows increasingly worried about the mental state of this particular fan. She even raises it was Ross who admonishes her for treating a fan badly. But then things go from bad to worse.

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I’m pretty sure I’d have the same expression as the woman on the left if I got to meet Lauren Bacall

Was the wait to see this film worth it? YES! There’s so much to love about The Fan.

Firstly, I found myself aghast at the cast. Not only do we get Bacall, Biehn and James Garner but also Hector Elizondo, Griffin Dunne and Dwight Schultz (from The A-Team!) We even get a non-speaking cameo from Charles Scorsese (father of Martin) in a theatre audience scene.

The Fan doesn’t skimp when it comes to the gritty and deranged nature of stalking which wasn’t a crime or behaviour that had been discussed widely at that point yet. Although, the film was released a few months after Mark Chapman shot dead John Lennon outside The Dakota Building (where Bacall used to live spookily enough) and so stalking was set to enter the zeitgeist and prompt more conversations. Biehn is excellent as Douglas Breen with the scenes in which we see him at a typewriter professing his love for Ross in his typed letters reminding me of the telephone scenes from Prom Night- dimly lit, claustrophobic and scary as hell.

In fact, Biehn is fantastic at turning from loving to psychotically menacing at a dime. He’s perfectly cast.

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The film is also very gory that mirrors a lot of films that were bigger budget efforts but didn’t skimp on the blood perhaps to tap into the demographic who were going to see slasher movies. In fact, there’s an amazing scene in the New York subway in which you definitely get a Dressed To Kill vibe that apparently this film’s producer Robert Stigwood had just seen.

There’s also a nod to Cruising with one scene involving the killer getting picked up in a gay bar and leaving for a tryst which takes place on a rooftop. Sex and death go hand in hand with this scene. What would Genet say?!

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Cruising in a gay bar. Is that Truman Capote next to Douglas?!

I love the look of the film with it having a certain haze as if there’s Vaseline on the camera lens.

Another thing I loved about The Fan was that it’s a great New York movie. This actually feels like a cleaner and more genteel vision of New York from that time. Maybe the filmmakers thought there was enough sleaze in the events taking part in the film without depicting the sleazier locales of the city as well.

And then there’s the camp. Not only do we get divine creature Bacall gracing the role of Sally Ross but with the action revolving around her heading a Broadway musical, we get deliciously gay rehearsals and even get to see the finished product on opening night resplendent with a song that was subsequently nominated for a Razzie (a sure stamp of approval) that was written by Tim Rice. Hell, we even get Do The Dog by The Specials over one earlier scene in a record store. Talk about contrasts.

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The unbridled camp of the stage show Never Say Never. Silver lame, dry ice and raspberry neon. A design for living.

The Fan bombed at the box office on its initial release and was derided by Bacall who hated how gory and violent it was. James Garner even said it was the worst film he ever made. Some reviews were fair but others were really bad (yes there’s that Gene Siskel again).

I love The Fan and feel that maybe audiences didn’t fully engage as at that time stalking as a crime hadn’t entered public consciousness yet. Remember, another film that dealt with stalking was The King of Comedy which was released the following year and also underperformed. Some films are way ahead of their time and judged very well by history with both films finding their audiences and being appreciated more now.

One person online said that this would make a great double-bill with The Eyes of Laura Mars. That’s very true. Both films are as camp as a row of pink tents but with gritty and genuinely disturbing scenes that reflect the slasher film sensibilities of the time.

Look out for the remarkable edition of The Fan on Blu ray on Scream Factory.

4 and a half stars out of 5

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

I have a strange history with this film. As a 10 year old boy I had to have 6 (count em- 6!) teeth removed in one sitting with my dentist due to my mouth being ‘overcrowded’. As a treat after having these extractions (‘He made no noise whatsoever! I could have taken out his teeth all day!’ the dentist said to my Dad. My father looked suitably proud) I was taken to Granada TV Rentals to rent a movie. I rented Clash of the Titans to watch whilst the gas wore off and the pain started.

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Watching the movie again almost forty years later, it fares very well indeed.

The film is based on Greek mythology and revolves around Perseus and his exploits. I love the fact that the film doesn’t sugar coat the darker aspects of these tales that are being depicted with the more gruesome aspects of Perseus’ adventures being shown in all their gory glory. Hence, we get Calibos’ hand being cut off, the full on horror of Medusa and the three blind witches (one of whom is played by acclaimed actress Flora Robson which leads me to think that once a woman in the acting profession hits a certain age she is instantly cast as a ‘grotesque’).

The film had an all star cast that the studio was quick to publicise in it’s promotional material.

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And a fine cast it is with Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and plenty of other esteemed stage performers lending serious gravitas to proceedings. Harry Hamlin who was cast as Perseus and was largely unknown at that time does a great job after being pushed centre stage and having to compete with such lovey heavyweights.

Fun fact- this film was written by Beverley Cross who was married to Maggie Smith who is cast as Thetis. Cross is written about extensively in Kenneth Williams’ Diaries.

Talking of the promotional material for the film, check out the poster artwork. It’s high art.

Clash of the Titans also brought in Ray Harryhausen for his use of stop motion effects for the depiction of such mythical beasts as The Kraken and Medusa. These sequences are a distinct highlight of the film and also hark back to other sandal and sorcery classics like Jason and the Argonauts.

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In fact, most of the effects depicted in the film work well and have aged very well indeed. But, there are a few that look a bit stagey and unreal. These involve back projection with figures being superimposed over the top of this- and it looks like it! Thankfully, these sequences are few and far between. The film was made at a time where special effects were in transition with films with much bigger budgets being able to stump up for the effects they required. One obvious example is that of Superman which showed that a man really can fly…but especially when millions of dollars are pumped into the illusion.

Clash of the Titans received the ultimate honour on it’s release in that it was awarded a Look In Special. For those of you unlucky to not know, Look In was a kids magazine that was billed as a Junior TV Times and featured TV stars, musicians and other pop culture figures. It was popular in the 70s and 80s. I’m guessing that the front cover of this special edition wasn’t illustrated by a professional artist.

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***1/2 out of *****

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

For the longest time I didn’t get around to seeing Pieces. Just like the movie Madman, I had seen the poster and video artwork numerous times but hadn’t got around to actually investigating the film.

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But rather than being the average cookie-cutter slasher movie that I imagined it to be, it was a different beast altogether.

J. Piquer Simon’s shocker of a movie is actually a Spanish/American/Puerto Rican production with Valencia in Spain being used instead of Boston where the film is based.

Right from the opening scene we get to see how crazy, extreme and violent this film is going to be. We see a young boy putting together a jigsaw. This is seen by his mother who smiles until she sees what the jigsaw is actually of- a naked woman. She scolds and strikes the child whilst demanding that he brings some bin bags for her as she is going to burn everything he owns. She then starts going on a hunt to see if her young pervert of a son has any other filth stashed anywhere else.

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Before she can find anything though she is struck in the head by her young son who has found an axe rather than disposal bags. With Mother safely disposed of the young boy then deflects away from the fact that he was the one to have dismembered Mama by being found crying and whimpering for his mother in a closet by the police who have been called to suggest that he was hiding whilst his mother was being axed to death by someone else. It works.

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And this is only the film’s opening scene. It then flashes forward forty years with the action happening on a university campus. Someone is killing students but who could it be?

We see the killer wearing a fantastic Giallo-esque disguise which perfectly covers his identity therefore providing us with another Giallo trope- the whodunnit. Who could the killer be? Thankfully we’re provided with possible candidates and possible red herrings. The film does this with relish with one shot involving the campus gardener Willard lovingly cleaning his chainsaw.

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There are so many reasons to love this film whether it’s the kills (the hint is in the film’s tagline ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ Whereas TCM actually cut away from the camera seeing the murders, this camera in Pieces sticks around so that the audience gets their money’s worth. The murders seem to have been dreamt up in a pre-production brainstorming session. I can imagine the makers of Pieces proclaiming ‘What would happen if someone with a chainsaw got into a lift with a victim. Or what if a girl is rollerskating but then runs into a full length mirror?!’), the VERY quotable one-liners that beggar belief (‘The most beautiful in the world is smoking pot whilst fucking on a waterbed!’) right through to the sequences that are so over-ripe and overly dramatic that they are ensured a place in the hearts of the most ardent horror fan (one such sequence is the ‘Bastard’ scene that is so unbelievable that once it’s seen it can never be unseen. I think of this scene as my message to the world).

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Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.

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

Review- The Purge (2013)

Review- The Purge (2013)

A new political party called The New Founding Fathers of America (the clue is in the name) comes into power after the U.S. goes through a depression in their economy. Very soon they find that the country is back on an upward trajectory with the economy improving and unemployment hitting an all time low. Crime has also become almost non-existant. This is partly due to the party passing a new annual event called The Purge in which for one night all crime is legal and will not result in prosecution. Emergency services are suspended for the duration of The Purge. Because of this the crime rate for the rest of the year is also very low.

The Sandin family settle into their secured home for The Purge night hoping that it passes without incident. However, the boyfriend of their daughter Zoey who is forbidden from seeing her sneaks in before the house’s security system is activated and decides that tonight would be a good night to settle affairs with her father. The Sandin’s son Charlie sees a man desperately screaming for help on the houses CCTV system and decides that he can’t just leave the poor man out there and so disables the houses security system so that he can allow the man to enter their house rather than being left vulnerable on the street. This provokes a posse to come to the house to demand that the family turn over the man to them or they will be forced to enter the house themselves.

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When I saw that this was a Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse film my heart sank. But, it’s actually a pretty solid and enjoyable film! There are elements that I don’t normally associate with films from these stables like, oh, suspense, intelligence, great acting and genuine scares.

Issues regarding law and order and the idea of bloodlust as a form of entertainment aren’t looked at to their fullest but I think that this works to the film’s benefit. In an era of films overanalysing any kind of statement regarding society or dumbing such issues down for their audiences, this is most welcome. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are crediting the audience with a modicum of intelligence. Which is nice.

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The ending is just as abrupt as the end of the night itself but again I didn’t mind this. Theres no overlong and cloying ‘deep’ speeches given by characters about what they are going through/have been through. It gives the film an air of being akin to a short sharp shock which again, I quite liked. It was much preferable to MTV style philosophising.

The storyline regarding the vulnerable man being inside the house whilst others try to get in to kill him reminded me of the 1983 Canuxploitation masterpiece, Siege which is a much better film and is due to be released on Blu ray soon by Severin.

This is no masterpiece but it’s still a fun hour and a half and I’ve seen worse. Much much worse.

*** out of *****

Review- Hating Peter Tatchell (2021)

Review- Hating Peter Tatchell (2021)

A new addition to Netflix, this documentary chronicles the life and activism of Peter Tatchell who has campaigned for gay rights and indeed, human rights since his late teens.

Born in Australia, he campaigned for issues such as Aboriginal land rights whilst at college.

He moved to Britain where days after his arrival he learnt of the Gay Liberation Front, promptly joined and then within a month was a major player who wasn’t just participating in events but also helping to organise them.

The film details chronologically his campaigns including the time when he ran as a Labour candidate for the seat at Bermondsey in the by-election in 1983 after joining Labour in 1981. He was openly gay and the opposition’s campaigns against him were based on homophobia and smears with hatred directed against gay people being rife within wider society at the time.

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The leaflet used by Liberal Simon Hughes during the Bermondsey by-election. Notice the homophobia- ‘straight choice’ being one example. Hughes was later outed in the press when a newspaper claimed he had been using a gay chat service called Man Talk. Oh the irony.

Whilst you may think Hating Peter Tatchell is a congratulatory affair that does nothing but praise Tatchell and his actions, this isn’t the case with the campaigns staged by his group OutRage being explored and spoken about his the many people who contribute to this film. Such actions as outing several prominent people within the church as gay whilst they condemned homosexuality in the name of their faith and disrupting a prominent Easter service given by George Carey the then Archbishop of Canterbury made Tatchell as many detractors as supporters in the press.

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OutRage disrupts the Easter service given by The Archbishop of Canterbury

But it was Tatchell’s direct action that switched public opinion towards him. Seen as foolish by some (although no one can deny he has guts) to stage citizen’s arrests on such figures as Robert Mugabe, Mike Tyson and even Vladimir Putin, he suffered physical retaliations in some of these actions and has suffered semi permanent brain damage as a result. Tatchell saw this as being a small price to pay when fighting for the rights of others.

The contributors include such luminaries as Stephen Fry, Tom Robinson and Ian McKellan who interviews Tatchell. Even George Carey is interviewed about the incident regarding the disrupted Easter service.

The film shows that Tatchell had the tenacity, strength and conviction to openly oppose certain people and their views whilst fighting for the rights and dignities of often marginalised groups. He wants equality and this means fighting for all sides regarding this. An example of this was when he fought for heterosexuals to have the right to have civil partnerships as he could see that they provided some advantages to some rather than traditional marriages.

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We are also taken on one of his campaigns so that we can see how nerve wrecking such an event is, how much planning goes into it and how courageous Tatchell is. The event in question is Peter going to the Olympics being held in Russia to expose the country’s vile stance regarding gay people there.

From revolutionary agitator to national treasure but don’t let that fool you. Tatchell’s work isn’t over yet. This documentary shows just how valuable the Tatchells of this world really are and what REAL activism looks like.

4 out of 5 stars

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- Katzelmacher (1969)

Review- Katzelmacher (1969)

This early Fassbinder film concerns a group of dissatisfied and directionless young people who turn their attentions away from themselves and the relationships within their inner circle when a young Greek man arrives looking for work and lodging. Soon the group rumour mill goes into overdrive as they perceive the young man as an outsider and so demonise and persecute him.

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Another great character driven piece by the German maestro with the ugliest facets of human nature being explored as the members of the insular and narrow minded group start to spread rumours and make their prejudices known towards young Jorgos. After an innocuous chance meeting in the street with one of the women from the gang, the group’s Chinese Whispers soon snowball to him having tried to rape her as well as other crimes such as him being a Communist.

The men of the group then seize their opportunity to beat him up for crimes he isn’t guilty of.

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Conformity, group hysteria and mobbing by the gang are all explored perceptively within Katzelmacher which makes it, unfortunately, ring all too true.

Beautifully acted, perfectly framed and directed and with a gorgeous late 60’s black and white which is icy cool and absolutely gorgeous.

Look out for the scene of the young woman dancing.

Highly recommended.

**** out of *****