Cash on Demand (1961)

codThere are few greater pleasures in film-watching than viewing a film for the first time that features the wonderful Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors.  Although Cushing sadly passed away back in 1994, his film career was so long and successful that he featured in over a hundred films, and I doubt I will have opportunity to see them all, but at least it assures that every year some ‘new’ film comes around that is blessed by Cushing’s presence.

Part of the latest Hammer box set from Indicator, Cash on Demand is a particularly special pleasure, in that it is a genuinely great British movie and that it also features one of the very best performances from Cushing that I have ever seen. Not bad considering its a film that I had heard so very, very little of before. Indeed, I suspect many Hammer fans have hardly heard of it, either. In this era in which so few ‘old’ films seem to get airings on British television, this release is a prime example of the importance of these kinds of catalogue releases on disc. Bravo Indicator, then, for this fabulous release.

Cash on Demand is a black and white drama that feels very much like a television play and that’s actually what its based upon- Jacque Gilles’ acclaimed television drama The Gold Inside which aired on British television in September 1960.  Fortunately the makers of the film refrained from ‘opening up’ the dramatic piece when transferring it to the big screen, allowing it to maintain its tense, almost claustrophobic feel and really allow the actors to take centre stage. Its the perfect ‘b’ movie.

A deliberate modern twist on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Cash on Demand centres upon Bank manager Harry Fordyce (Cushing) a fussy and petty man who runs his provincial branch very strictly with little consideration for his staff even in the run -up to Christmas. As the snow falls outside, ‘Colonel’ Hepburn (a devastatingly charming Andre Morell) enters the bank claiming to be an insurance investigator tasked by the Banks owners to test the branches security and the conduct of its staff, but he is actually a smooth bank robber with a ruthless streak. Convincing Fordyce that his wife and child at home are in the hands of Hepburn’s accomplices, who will kill them if Fordyce doesn’t cooperate, Hepburn tests Fordyce to the limit with his cunning plan to rob the entire contents of the bank’s vault during that otherwise very normal morning.

Its a very tense, very dramatic film with a brilliant script full of twists and turns and plenty of opportunity for Morell and Cushing to play off each other in an acting masterclass. I’ve rarely seen Cushing in particular in anything quite as impressive as this -really, that’s saying something in itself- and the way he plays his characters’ Scrooge-like cold offhandedness and allows it to crack and melt away under the intolerable strain of his situation is a real treat to behold. Morell, too, shows his mettle here as he demonstrates he is the equal to Cushing, disarmingly charming one moment and simply terrifying the next.  Its a brilliant, brilliant film and I really can’t wait to watch it again- indeed, I suspect this film will be a Christmas staple for many years to come.

 

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The Netflix Conundrum

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The Cloverfield Paradox: clearly pretty bad but it’s got a great Bear McCreary score that I would love to hear in context.

Altered Carbon: if ever a tv show was made for me, this one sounds like it- a great premise, good lead actor and solid production values.

Stranger Things: I still haven’t seen anything of it, which makes me feel like a social outcast in geekdom as everyone tells me its great (and then look at me rather strangely as if I’m one of those ‘Strange Things’ for having not seen it).

The Crown season two: wouldn’t say it was exciting me before, but having seen season one on disc, I’m more than curious to see what happens next. She ditches the corgis and raises some dragons instead, yeah? What, it’s not like GOT afterall?

Mute: Hey, bit of a mess from what I’m told but like the best of misfires, an intriguing one.

Annihilation: Alex Garland’s latest opus won’t be hitting cinemas afterall? What?

I think we’ve just hit Critical Mass folks. It goes against the grain, frankly, paying anything more to watch an increasingly fractured landscape of television programming (I swear, Sky Atlantic will never sully my tv ever…) but I finally may have met my match. I give up, I’m raising the white flag, I’m beat. They’ve even got The Expanse, that great sci-fi show I’ve had to import discs over from America in order to watch. Netflix may finally be coming to Ghost Hall in March…

The Mummy (2017)

mum2Oh dear. There is certainly something supernatural lurking within this movie, but that’s mostly Tom Cruise’s uncanny refusal to show much sign of ever aging. He could easily pass of as -and likely does in this movie too, though it’s never stated- as a guy in his mid/late ‘thirties, rather than someone who is actually 55. On the one hand, it’s a hugely impressive feat that he can carry off such physical roles with apparent grace. On the other, its a little disconcerting that his love interest in this film, English actress Annabelle Wallis, who is 33, could conceivably be young enough to be his daughter. Well, I guess that sort of thing is nothing new in Hollywood movies, but I do wonder how odd it might have looked had his love-interest been played by an actress of the same age as Cruise.

Related to this, here again I was partly distracted by a familiar face, knowing that I’d seen Annabelle Wallis (who is very good here, by the way, in a fairly underwritten role that she is clearly too good for), somewhere before. It was only after watching this film in its entirety though  that I finally discovered that she had been in that operatic brutalizer of historical fact, the tv series The Tudors, in which she damn near stole the show as Jane Seymour. But that ‘where have I seen her before’ mystery was rather distracting.

In all honesty though, it’s easy to get distracted by anything when watching something as fairly dire as this woefully ill judged addition to the list of Mummy films. You have a genuine superstar (whose star, admittedly, may be on the wane) in Tom Cruise in the lead, a great star-in-the-making with Annabelle Wallis, a fairly solid supporting cast that includes Russell Crowe doing his best Nick Fury, with a budget of $125 million to keep the blockbuster spectacle top-notch. You then saddle it with a reprehensible turkey of a script that makes Tobe Hooper’s Life Force look like a genuine classic.

Who writes this stuff? There is this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt which, if used to kill ‘Chosen One’ Tom Cruise, will bring about the End Of The World by ushering in Egyptian God of Evil Set into the world. Russell Crowe wants to avert this calamity by, er, killing Tom Cruise with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. Tom Cruise ultimately averts this crisis by, er, killing himself with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. And then, er, smashing that red stone so no-one can do this again.  Somehow, instead of dying and his body being immortaly possessed by the Evil God Set, Tom then becomes, well, Tom with the ability to resurrect the dead whilst setting off on a quest to cure himself of said immortality (that’s another movie, and one we aren’t ever going to see, I suspect).

Maybe i missed something. To be honest, Tom was pretty much immortal from the time his military plane was crashed into the English countryside by Egyptian Princess/Mummy in residence Ahmanet. Instead of his body being smashed to pieces and burnt to a crisp he instead wakes up in the morgue perfectly fine without a scratch. Having therefore demonstrated that he has gone all Captain Scarlett he is simply allowed to walk out of the morgue without any consternation from doctors or staff and goes to the nearest pub for a drink.

At this point in the proceedings I realised I was indeed in Life Force territory, not only regards the nonsensical plot but in how Ahmanet sucks the life-force out of her victims and recruits them as zombie stooges. And also in how Ahmanet has gotten ‘into’ Tom’s head in a similar fashion to how the space vampire got into our hero Tom Carlsen’s (hey, another ‘Tom’) head in Life Force with all sorts of head-spinning logic twists ensuing. Infact, the LIfe Force nods just keep on coming, they even manage to put London under threat again. They throw in some American Werewolf In London too, with Tom’s best mate coming back as a ghost to chat with him a few times. Its a real mess of a movie, a spiritual successor to Life Force indeed.

Biggest mystery is what in the world Tom Cruise is doing in this movie. He’s a canny film producer and surely can sniff out turkeys such as this at the script stage. Perhaps he was simply more interested in launching another film franchise rather than, ahem, a decent film. But this is such a bad choice for him, its weird. Its so bad, why wasn’t that obvious from the script? How do films like this get made?

The hell with this rubbish. I’ve already devoted too much time to it writing this post. This film is such a major misfire it actually makes the DC films look good. Its really that bad- I suppose the one good thing is that’s that for the Dark Universe series then, whilst we’ll be inflicted by DC movies for a few years yet.

 

Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.

 

Detroit (2017)

detroit1Here we have director Kathryn Bigelow with another intense exercise in film-making- Detroit is a searing drama shot in docudrama style, all shaky-cam, unsteady focus, crash-zooms and the like designed to induce an almost tangible, you-are-there feel. People’s mileage for this kind of film-making varies, as it can get irritating and feel overly forced/manipulative (I’m using the ‘m-word’ again, as if films were ever anything other than manipulative). There is the unfortunate side-effect that this deliberately disorientating approach can actually turn people off as it can become tiresome, particularly in a film such as Detroit that runs close to two and a half hours long. The narrative can also inevitably suffer, too, as the handheld approach threatens to infer more chaos than control unless the editor can carefully reign things in. I’m sure it must be tricky making films such as this make much sense in the editing suite.

For myself, I did enjoy the film very much -if enjoy is quite the right word regards a film which concerns itself with racism and injustice, particularly as it based upon true events and sadly remains as topical now as ever. Usually all that forced shaky-cam/unsteady focus stuff wears me down but I must say the film kept me engrossed enough that I didn’t really feel particularly negative about it. Whether it actually made the film better is up for some debate though. The film has a powerful enough story and great cast/performances that a more traditionally-staged film would have been, I suspect, just as successful. Moreover, the structure of the films narrative might itself have been better served had it been bookended by the courtroom drama that concludes the piece. A grounded introduction through introductory courtroom proceedings might have helped viewers better understand what was going on and what the true focus of the film is (the riots themselves are largely just in the background), and some ensuing mystery from multiple viewpoints of the events might have given the film more drama as witnesses described what they heard and saw.

That said, this is a modern film and this seems to be how so many modern films are made now- fast, overly-processed with the shaky-cam and various focus tricks, its an intense approach and quite successful but dangerously close to the style overloading the substance. Detroit treads that line fairly well and doesn’t cross it too often, but I’d have liked the opportunity to see a calmer, more traditional film of this subject.  Nonetheless, one can’t deny that this is quite powerful film-making and is a riveting albeit uncomfortable few hours viewing.

The League of Gentlemen (1960)

league2Major Race, looking at a portrait on the wall: Is that your wife?

Lt.Col. Hyde: Yes.

Major Race:  Is she dead?

Lt.Col.Hyde: No, no. I regret to say the bitch is still going strong.

Somebody get Guy Ritchie on the phone. While I’m much averse to remakes/reboots etc, this is a film just begging for a modern-day remake with an A-list of Brit actors and Guy Ritchie’s crime-comedy skillset at the helm. I can hear the ‘ker-ching’ of the box-office cash registers. Just take my money, dammit. What? It won’t sell overseas? Whats Chinese for… oh, never mind.

Even for a film made in the late 1950s, this film has something of a modern-day wit and sensibility. The brilliant cast chews up the dialogue with gusto, and indeed, what a cast: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesay, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes and even Oliver Reed in perhaps one of the most ill-judged cameos ever, a briefest of moments that likely haunted him for years, it’s so awkward and camp. A reminder that even the biggest of movie stars need to put food on the table before stardom calls.

The story is a boys-own adventure by way of a sojourn in the world of noir:  Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins), having suffered enforced redundancy from his beloved army, recruits seven other dissatisfied ex-servicemen for a bank robbery.  Each of his carefully-chosen recruits are experts in their particular field, forced out of the service and each with shady backgrounds and need for money.  Hyde reasons that only a crack team with military discipline and training can pull off the daring heist that he has in mind. Naturally there are twists and turns and tense moments, and the film dates from a period when crime really wasn’t seen to pay, so you can guess how things end up, but its a cracking yarn well-told, and quite daring, I think, for its time in how it tackles topics like bad marriages, promiscuous wives and hidden homosexuality.

A surprising treat and a cracking entirely British film the likes of which we don’t see anymore. Not unless Guy Ritchie picks up the phone, that is…

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*The League of Gentlemen is currently doing the rounds on the Talking Pictures channel available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin media etc. and is well worth looking out for.

More 2049 thoughts

I’ve now seen BR2049 five times and that doesn’t feel enough, I really want to see it again. Its been a long time since I’ve been so hooked by a film that I get drawn to repeat viewings like this. There’s this strange quality to it. Its a beautiful film, visually quite extraordinary at moments, but there’s more to it than just visuals. So many films now look pretty or have impressive effects etc- here there is a mood, and a dreamlike pacing that coupled with its running time leaves me with a sense of falling into it. I can’t really think of any other way of explaining it.

And yes there are all the mysteries and possibilities and suggestions to unpack and ponder over. That is one of the major pluses of this film- we are dropped into it with little preamble, little is really explained other than by offhand remarks. References to famine, global environmental catastrophe. The particulars of Offworld remain as vague as they were in the original film. Dialogue is kept deliberately minimal- I do think this is one of the brilliants aspects of the film. It doesn’t beat you over the head with verbal explanations of the plot.

Yesterday I watched a few scenes again, and out of film order too, just to see them out of story-context, appreciate the visuals and art direction etc outside of the usual film experience. I know, it sounds like something akin to heresy, but it’s an interesting way to pick a film apart and enjoy its constituent parts. Not many films reward such an approach of course, but I used to do that with Blade Runner in the old days. That was in the VHS era, which was harder work with its fast-forward, rewind, not-at-all instant access. Discs rather spoil us.

So anyway, a few thoughts.

2049aIt isn’t implicitly stated in the film itself, but I understand that the eye that opens the film belongs to Dr Ana Stellline. She opens her eye and ‘sees’ immediately prior to K waking up in his spinner and opening his own eyes. This forms a curious bookend with the close of the film, where K dies outside in the snow, looking up at the snow falling down on him, which is then mirrored with Ana in her room standing in a column of falling snow, hand outstretched as K does and she comments “Its beautiful, isn’t it?” I’m sure there must be some significance to all of this, I just don’t know what it might be just yet. Does it mean that Ana is somehow aware of K’s fate outside?

It does seem a bit too much of a coincidence. She opens her eyes at the beginning and K wakes, K dies outside in the snow, and she stands in holographic snow inside her building. But what could it mean? Does Ana somehow orchestrate everything? Does she have some kind of link with K beyond her memory implant of the orphanage and the wooden horse? Has she ‘set’ him on his journey through the film? Are her memory implants more than just artificial memories, are they laden with hidden code like a Trojan horse, buried programming controlling/freeing the thousands of Replicants that have her implants? Is she remotely instigating the Replicant rebellion, which, afterall, doesn’t appear to be limited to old rogue Nexus 8s?

Which leads me to another possibility. The films text opening assures that Wallace Corp Replicants (Nexus 9s) are programmed to obey and can be thoroughly trusted, explaining the resumed manufacture of Replicants following the issues with Tyrell Nexus models running amok. And yet Luv behaves rather oddly, shedding tears during times of stress, killing people and even, indeed, inferring that she will lie to Wallace about why she killed Lt.Joshi. She even suggests to Joshi that her own trust in K may have been misguided, and that K may have lied to her (which indeed he has). I wonder if this might be related to Ana’s memory implants having some other code as I have mentioned, thus possibly explaining some of Luv’s and K’s behaviour. I guess you might call it freewill, or independence from set programming- maybe it’s the same thing.

On the other hand: this is what the baseline test is designed to pick up, perhaps stress/trauma is the one thing that breaks through the Nexus 9 programming to ‘obey’. A Replicant Blade Runner experiencing combat and near-death moments would experience sufficient trauma to break its programming. Likewise, Luv, doing what she feels she has to do to protect/satisfy Wallace, experiences stress and trauma that breaks her own programming and causes her to act more erratically/aggressively. She certainly doesn’t react well to Wallace killing the newborn Replicant, and goes downhill from there.

One of my favourite scenes from the film might seem a strange one. Its in the orphanage, after K has learned that the records book has been tampered with and the specific information he is after has been ripped from it and stolen, leaving him with a dead end. A noise outside the office draws him back out to the engine/furnace area, and in a perfectly-paced, almost hypnotic sequence, he feels compelled to approach the furnace of his memory and where he remembers hiding the wooden horse. The place of his memory is evidently real, and he slowly gets pulled back in, his memory of a past event, implanted or not, like some kind of inexorable black hole. The music is an ambient dirge, as he is slowly pulled into an emotional and intellectual abyss. There is no dialogue. No voiceover. Its just pure cinema, and finally, when he holds the real wooden horse and the camera slowly closes in on his trembling face, we can see he’s on the verge of exploding, his mind unravelling with the implications of where he is, what he is experiencing, who he is, what he might be. A Replicant who thinks he might be human, a delicious twist on the original film’s Rachel thinking she’s human but realising she’s actually a Replicant. Its bloody brilliant, how its staged. Pure Cinema, as Trumbull used to say.

The transition/cut from the desert campfire where K is recovering, the sparks and embers from the fire rising into the night sky suddenly transforming into the cityscape. Brilliant, a cut as good as the Kubrick bone to orbital bomb in 2001, its that good. A primeval fire’s sparks and embers rising up into the night and leaping thousands of years of technology into future megalopolis. Almost thrown in as an incidental aside as we change scenes. Extraordinary.

2049dWhen K takes Joi up onto the roof, in the rain. The sound design in that scene is just sublime, perfect. The sound of a disembodied voice echoing in the concrete canyons, the rain, the whoosh of distant air traffic and machinery. The subtle textures of the synth soundtrack gently picking its way through the sound effects. Its exquisite work. And of course the cinematography is awesome, I think I could re-watch that scene over and over.

Ridley Scott would have us think that the central question of Blade Runner is, is Deckard a Replicant? I don’t think that is the central question of that film; I rather think that it asks how much who we are, and what we are, is defined by our memories, real or false. That question is asked again in BR2049, and yet with an ironic twist on what Ridley would have us obsess over- here we know K is a Replicant, but at the end of the film, is he actually human too? When Roy Batty saves Deckard in the original, and K here sacrifices himself to rescue Deckard and reunite him with his daughter, do they each attain humanity enough to deserve the term ‘human’? In a spin on the original thesis of Philip K Dick’s original novel, which was regards defective humans and what is ‘human’ in a world of atrocities like Nazi death camps etc, do the films offer a suggestion that engineered Replicants can actually by their actions become truly human, which further suggests that humanity is not a physical state but one that may be intellectual or emphatic, a result of actions and deeds.

How wonderfully special that here is a sequel that expands and informs upon the original. I have not re-watched Blade Runner since seeing BR2049 last October, but I probably really should. If only to give some new perspective on the question, is BR2049 as good as Blade Runner? Is it possibly even better? Ah, now that there feels like an extraordinary question, being someone who has revered the original film since 1982. But it is one that -incredibly- I find myself considering. A year ago, I would not have believed such a consideration possible.

What a strange world this is.