Shock Waves (1977)

shock2Shock Waves, 1977, 85 mins – Amazon Prime

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn– Return of the Living Dead Part II

Starring Peter Cushing – The Curse of Frankenstein, The Abominable Snowman, Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, Suspect, Cash on DemandCaptain Clegg, The Gorgon, The Skull, The Blood Beast TerrorCorruption, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, Dracula AD 1972, Horror Express, And Now the Screaming Starts!, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Devil’s Men, Star Wars.  John CarradineThe Howling, The Monster Club, Brooke Adams – Days of Heaven, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Dead Zone.

Shock Waves is a surprisingly effective 1970s horror, with plenty of mood thanks to some remarkably atmospheric locations, some great visuals, and an old-school synth score that drips menace. It shouldn’t really work, but it does- I really quite liked it.

Part of this film’s success is its surprisingly  intriguing premise, that would no doubt work better in the 1970s than if it were done now (the Second World War still being a fairly recent memory back when this film was released), although these days we’re possibly more accepting of that entire ‘Nazi’s experimenting with supernatural forces’ thing (thanks to Mike MIgnola’s Hellboy etc.) that has since  pervaded so much of genre culture in the years since 1977.

A prologue suggests that supernatural research by the Nazi’s during WWII resulted in a corps of the SS being formed of dead solders and criminals resurrected into Zombie killing machines. Put onboard a cargo ship in the last days of the war, the ship was sunk off a tropical island and long forgotten, except by its aging SS commander (Peter Cushing) who abandoned the sinking ship all those years ago and has waited on the island over the decades since, convinced his Undead corps will one day return. However, the rusting hulk finally releases its Undead Nazi’s just as a yacht of holidaymakers is shipwrecked on the same island.

shock3Its basically just the good old  Ten Little Indians horror-trope set on a remote island, with a few hapless civilians hunted down one by one by Nazi zombies who rise up out of the sea. The film is very low-budget, shot very quickly (both Cushing and Carradine only filmed for five days and have fairly limited roles) but benefitting immensely from using an abandoned hotel for a location, adding production value and atmosphere that belies the films humble origin.  The imagery of the silent Nazi horrors rising up from out of watery depths is really effective, too. This isn’t a gory film; its really more one of moody horror and the threat of violence- the slow pace (dictated no doubt by budgetary limitations) possibly even raising the tension.

While they don’t have much to do, both Cushing and Carradine add some weight to the proceedings in their limited screen time- its a shame they never appear onscreen together. Their limited time onscreen results in individual storylines that are short, but the film works this in its favour, giving them abrupt ends that surprise. Brooke Adams is very good in an early role, and the rest of the cast (I was amused by the -unintentional? who knows?- similarity in appearance of two of the main leads to James Caan and Robert Redford) largely just function as one-dimensional characters, hapless tourists who will prove bait for the Undead.

Those Undead are a big plus point for the film: I thought the moody shots of their black-goggled, rotting faces rising up out of the waves was very effective. They don’t express any emotion or talk, they just move relentlessly and coldly kill, providing a great sense of threat. These days if a film like this was made and proved to be a success, I can imagine it would result in all sorts of spin-off films, a mini-franchise of rotting SS zombies, but this film seems to have largely sunk (sic) without trace back in the 1970s. I must admit, I wouldn’t have come near this film if it had not been for noticing Peter Cushing in the credits, but I’m so glad I did. I have a liking for these kind of moody horrors, and while its up on Amazon Prime Shock Waves is likely worth a shot for anyone in the mood for a late-night Friday fright. Far superior to that same year’s Empire of the Ants, anyway.

Devil’s Workshop

devils2Devil’s Workshop, Dir. Chris Von Hoffman, 2022, 86 mins, Amazon Prime

There’s so many films available on Prime that I’ve never heard of- this one is a low-budget horror film from last year which caught my eye only because it stars Radha Mitchell, an actress who impressed me way back when in Pitch Black (2000) and Silent Hill (2006), who I haven’t seen as much of as I’d have liked.  While always having plenty of work, Mitchell has had neither the roles nor success that she possibly merits -possibly the most notable recent entries in her filmography are two Gerard Butler action flicks.

Mitchell is, by some wide margin, absolutely the best thing in Devil’s Workshop; she is Eliza, recruited by a struggling actor, Clayton (Timothy Granaderos) to help him prepare for an audition for a film or tv role (I don’t think its ever clear which) playing a demonologist. Being a method-actor, naturally Clayton needs to ‘get real’ and advertises online for a demonologist and what do you know, Eliza gives him a call and invites him to spend a weekend with her to  learn her trade.

Clayton thinks this may be the ace opportunity he needs to beat his chief rival for the role- the utterly self-confident and immensely irritating Donald (Emile Hirsch) who repeatedly puts Clayton down in their acting school.  Donald’s idea of researching for the audition is spending the weekend getting stoned and drunk with two young women. The fact that the film keeps cutting between Clayton’s weekend with Eliza, and Donald’s partying with his lady freinds is problematic: neither informs the other, and the two arcs don’t even dovetail together at the end.

Radha is brilliant as Eliza; beautiful, mysterious, enigmatic, she’s often calm and polite, hinting at sophistication, and at times she’s mercurial, explosive and agitated. Is she a crazy recluse or is she actually the real deal? I’m not even sure Clayton has the intelligence to ask, instead he’s just obsessed with being able to fake doing Eliza’s job well enough to ace the audition- he appears quite ignorant of how strange things are in her weird house, or what the ramifications are if she is indeed the real deal.  Its like he’s too stupid to question the oddness of her keeping a sacrificial goat up in her attic torture chamber.

Clearly we’re not really expected to take things too seriously: its trying to be a comedy as much as a horror film, the humour largely originating from poking fun at insecure, self-obsessed actors so desperate for validation that they’ll do anything. Generally they are portrayed here as needy, weak, pretty types, but when this includes your protagonist, though, your film is in trouble, right? In any case, its a tricky balance keeping us laughing with the film rather than at it while we’re waiting for any scares to start. Not that there’s many laughs anyway. Or scares really.

Mitchell, meanwhile, seems to be in a quite different movie to anyone else. As I have noted, she’s great- there’s an erotic charge in her performance, a sense that she’s always playing with Clayton, toying with him, and when the inevitable twist comes, its entirely thanks to her performance that it works at all, but I doubt that at that point many viewers will care. Even at 86 minutes, it feels too long. The frequent cuts over to Donald’s weekend are irritating distractions from the main storyline of Eliza and Clayton; had the film focussed on those two and cut out Donald entirely it would have worked much better. Or maybe had it decided to ‘just’ be a horror movie and lose the attempts at comedy.

Devils Workshop is not a total bust; its certainly worth watching if only for Mitchell’s fine performance, but there’s little else to recommend other than the convenience of its running-time, albeit as I’ve noted it still feels a bit long. I suspect it would have worked great as a one-hour episode in some anthology horror series, benefitting from the tighter focus that running-time would have enabled.

The Weekly Summary #9

god1Week 9 of 2023. Maybe I should start tracking them as 8/2023 and 9/2023 or something. So anyway, this is how the week’s viewing went-

30. The Hatton Garden Job (2017)

31. Rocky (1976) – 4K UHD

32. Fire Down Below (1957)

33. Empire of the Ants (1977)

34. Fall (2022)

Star Trek Picard (season 3) Episode 3

The Godfather (1972) – 4K UHD

So The Godfather had been making me feel guilty ever since Christmas, when the 4K trilogy set was a present I received and I didn’t immediately get to watch it. Ever since, its been looking down at me from its shelf. Well, I figured this weekend was the ideal opportunity – the evenings were free for watching the trilogy over three consecutive nights (well, we’ll see how it goes but that was the plan, so hopefully its Godfather Part Two tonight).

It’s utterly redundant of me to say much about the film itself – The Godfather is a remarkable achievement, one of the best films ever made. Not certain if its one of my top ten favourites, it always seems to be one of those films easily admired, maybe harder loved (I always preferred Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America), but I’m certainly warming to it more as I get older. What I will say though is that everything everyone said about this 4K disc when it came out last year was all true, with zero hype- its got an extraordinary picture quality, elevating almost every shot to a work of art, and not in the showy way of early Ridley Scott films either. Instead it looks utterly ravishing in a strange, matter-of-fact way that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but instead serves the story and seems utterly authentic regards the period setting. It doesn’t ‘look’ like a film shot in 1971. It looks like a film shot in 1948 or 1955, its cinematography feels almost as if it was shot around the same time as Hitchcock’s Vertigo. You combine a film shot as well as this film is, with a fantastic script and with a perfect cast, well, you’ve got cinematic lightning caught in a bottle right there.

Maybe I should mention, at this point, all those other films sitting on the shelves in my den-cum-temporary-office in the back room. Alongside The Godfather sits the second Hitchcock 4K set, in which there are four films, I think, waiting to be watched (alongside THAT set is the first, in which the 4K disc of Psycho still inexplicably waits).  A few shelves down, Mad Max 2 & 3 from the 4K Anthology boxset are waiting (there’s the Cannes and Argento cuts in the Dawn of the Dead set alongside the Mad Max box too).  Looking back up the shelves, Eureka’s 4K set of the Police Story Trilogy waiting, too- I watched the first film some months back, but haven’t gotten around to the other two yet. Above that, there’s a few Kino Lorber 4K’s sitting together – among them a few still not watched; Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Orson Welles’  Touch of Evil.  To be clear,  some of these are films I’ve watched several times over the years, these are ‘just’ 4K editions that I’ve bought hoping to savour them again in definitive editions, like Criterion’s 4K of Double Indemnity. Watching something ‘new’ seems to take priority over something ‘old’… I’m not confident about any logic in that, but seems to be how it goes, and there is a comfort knowing I have them there to watch when the whim takes me.  One of the other issues with some of these films is that the more obscure ones don’t really interest Claire, so I have to find time to watch them by myself which is an order of magnitude harder than watching all those films that Claire WILL watch, as there’s a long list of those waiting too.

But it does not escape me that I have not watched the 4K edition of Touch of Evil, but I HAVE watched Bullet Train, or, say, Top Gun: Maverick three times now since I bought that film on disc (I don’t rewatch ‘new’ films as much as I used to years ago, but something about Maverick pulls me back).

Anyway, enough of that self-flagellation. Time for best/worst of the week. Well, obviously The Godfather would be the best by a wide margin, but this only concerns films I have watched for the first time, and on that front, it transpires I was in for a bit of a surprise this week, when the 4K disc of Rocky arrived. Watching it, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d never seen the film before. I’d seen the ending before, as its repeated in Rocky II, and I’d seen bits of the film over the years, usually in showings over Christmas holidays. But I’d never actually watched the original film in its entirety before, and hey, turns out it was great, and now I know why some folks go nuts over it.  I think seeing Rocky III and IV on VHS rentals had given me the wrong impression of the franchise as a whole, leaving me with no interest in going back to the first film, but yeah, I had never actually watched Rocky. Somehow these things happen, you miss some films…  in this case I actually thought I had (maybe boxing films blur together in the memory), but there you go, and yeah, that was the best ‘new’ film of the week.

The worst of this week is easy:  Fire Down Below, which was really sunk (sic) by its cast, which itself was a surprise since it starred Jack Lemmon. I know, I know… a gambling man couldn’t be blamed for putting his money on Empire of the Ants but in a funny way, sure, its a bad film, but I enjoyed seeing those old stalwarts from 1970s/1980s tv shows in their wooden ‘prime’ so much so that, weighing things up, I enjoyed that film a little bit more.

The Weekly Summary # 8

champ4Week 8 already?

26. Black Sea (2023) – Netflix

27. Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976) – Blu-ray

28. Bullet Train (2022)

The Champions, TV Series 1968/69, Episode 1 ‘The Beginning’ – Talking Pictures TV

Star Trek: Pickard -Season Three (2023), Episode 2

29. Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (1970) – Blu-ray

When I was a kid, ATV here in the Midlands used to show The Champions on Sunday lunchtimes/early afternoons. These were repeats, as the show was originally broadcast in 1968/1969, and what I remember would be in the early 1970s.  A bit of escapist fun, with lead characters with strange super powers, this espionage/thriller series was sure to appeal to kids like me stuck in the Black Hole that was 1970s Britain.  For a show that was only moderately successful (it was clearly limited by budgets and intended to cash-in on the success of The Avengers tv series) and doesn’t seem to have stayed in the cultural consciousness anything like how The Avengers has, The Champions has been repeated on television countless times. I noticed it starting a fresh run of repeats on Talking Pictures TV so set my Tivo to record it. Nostalgia and all that.

Yeah, nostalgia- funny how music is such a part of that. I used to love the theme tune (credited to Tony Hatch, who wrote other memorable theme tunes for shows like, er, Emmerdale Farm and Neighbours) and when the titles for The Champions come up with that familiar music I get that old tingle in the back of my brain, which I think is my six-year old self getting excited again. I’m just the same with the 1960s Star Trek titles, and have to admit whenever the theme from The Tomorrow People comes up on the radio (a clip is regularly played on 6Music’s  Radcliffe & Maconie weekend show) I get creeped out a lot, as that 1970s show scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid.

I suppose when I was a kid watching The Champions all those years ago, I would be more forgiving/less critical than I am now. Naturally TV shows back then were, well, obviously TV shows, the gap between TV production and film production more obvious than it is now (thanks to HBO and streamers like Netflix, television shows can have productions values better than some movies these days). Anyway, I doubt my young self noticed characters walking past the same set dressing of a rock outcropping several times. Outside locations were often created in the studio with obvious limitations, and so it was with the Tibetan mountains in which our three heroes crashed in this first episode. Ah, but we were so much more forgiving back then.

Anyway, time for best and worst- best film this week was Black Sea,  something I stumbled upon on Netflix. A submarine/heist thriller starring Jude Law, it had its issues and didn’t fulfil the potential of its interesting premise but its the best of an average week. Worst of the week, well, here’s a surprise, its not a Sartana film – no, that honour goes to Bullet Train. You can read my review to see why that topped a Sartana movie in the badness stakes (well, its some kind of achievement I suppose).

The Weekly Summary #6

Well its late by a few days but for what its worth, here’s what I watched last week-

18. Revolver (1973) – Blu-ray

From the Earth to the Moon Episodes 5 & 6 – Blu-ray

19. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)

…and I’m afraid that’s it, my worst week this year. Pretty appalling really, and hardly the Italian cinema week I was expecting it to be when I started with Sergio Sollima’s Revolver, which was an excellent introduction to Italian crime cinema, a sub-genre (?) that I’ve never dabbled with at all. I need to get my review post completed but suffice to say I thought it was a great little movie, enlivened by a powerful turn from Oliver Reed. I was never a great fan of Reed, when I was growing up as a kid I just couldn’t understand his drunken antics (his Parkinson interview THAT Saturday night for one) and just ignored him afterwards- I think it wasn’t until his last role in Gladiator (and hell, I only saw THAT performance because it was a Ridley Scott movie) that I began to seperate his work from the real-life persona that irked me so much. I’ve seen some of his early appearances in Hammer films over the past year or two via Indicator’s box-sets and he’s been fine, sometimes very good, in them, but I can’t say I’m a Reed enthusiast at all. In Revolver though he is very good. Sports an American accent though for some unfathomable reason, but perhaps more on that in the proper review.

So I also watched two more episodes of From the Earth to the Moon (including my beloved episode ‘Spider’)  and then this really obscure old-school supernatural film from 1972, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, which was really, really strange. It at the very least got me enthused enough to post a review. I’ve been wondering over the past few days, if Indicator announced a Blu-ray with some extensive special features, would I actually buy it, and I possibly would. It is such an odd film; terrible in some ways but just so curiously strange I don’t think I’d be able to resist the temptation of an Indicator edition that ‘opened the box’ on some of the mystery. Lets hope I never get tested…

So anyway, next week, more Sergio Sollima. And I have every intention of at least TRYING to watch Blade Runner on my birthday…

The strangest romance (with a zombie)

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, 1972, Dir. Fred Burnley, 110 mins, Amazon Prime

Sometimes, what dark sorcery is the Amazon algorithm – I suspect that, in this case, it was triggered by me having watched the folk-horror film Men several weeks ago. The 1970s were a rich time for British folk-horror films such as The Wicker Man (1973) and  The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), which were clear influences on Alex Garland’s film, although his film fell well short.

While it is clearly in that British folk-horror tradition, what really made me curious about Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, a beyond-obscure film of which I had never heard anything before (frankly, has anybody?), was that the film was based upon a book by Gordon Honeycombe. Readers outside the UK will have no idea who this gentleman was, but for anyone of my age who grew up in the 1960s/1970s, Honeycombe’s face, and particularly his voice, will be well-remembered, as he was one of the main news readers for ITN here in the UK, reading the primetime evening news to the nation. I had no idea he wrote stories though, and something as low-brow as a horror story?  Or a passionate love-story that turns into some kind of zombie nightmare tale? I couldn’t resist.

To be clear, I won’t pretend that  Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is actually any good; its a pretty terrible movie, but it has an impressive cast, really bizarre music, surprisingly effective location shooting, all of which creates a curiously unique mood which results in a quite haunting film that made quite an impression upon me – maybe for all the wrong reasons, really, but its a strange film. To be fair, its central premise makes for a great ghost story, which I suspect in the  book worked very well- it just got lost in translation being transferred to the screen (the irony that Honeycombe himself wrote the screenplay suggests that authors don’t always understand the needs of film or the differences between literary works and visual narratives).

The very beautiful Susan Hampshire, herself a familiar face from television when I was growing up in the 1960s/1970s, stars as Anne Robinson, a wife from a troubled marriage who has left home for a break in Jersey, presumably to take stock of her life and decide what to do when she returns to her marital home. Visiting a remote lighthouse on the island she meets local lad Hugh (Michael Petrovich) and their mutual attraction is sudden and overwhelmingly intense- their love affair is wild and elemental in the greatest Mills & Boon tradition and Anne decides to stay with Hugh. For reasons not entirely explained (“I want to make love to you in Scotland!” Hugh announces), and certainly serving little actual purpose to the plot, they decide to immediately go to Scotland on vacation, but after arriving there Hugh suddenly dies. Anne is understandably horrified and distraught, but it transpires that the bond between them is so great that Hugh returns from the dead – in, it has to be said , a very moody and effective sequence. The film here takes one of those weird leaps of logic/reason that effects how one accepts everything that subsequently happens. Somehow Anne thinks life can go on as normal; such is her relief at Hugh returning to her, Anne’s heart over-rides her reason, quite blind to the fact that while Hugh’s soul has returned, his body is cold and inevitably begins to decay…

Hampered by very routine, perfunctory direction, the film has a turgid pace that suggests a short story badly bloated into a full-length film; it reminded me of The Ghost of Sierra Madre, which I watched a little while ago. My suspicions that that film was originally a one-hour tv pilot stretched too far to full-length feature (which turned out to be the case) were repeated here, even though in actuality here it really isn’t the case, but I do feel that had this been cut down by half to a one-hour drama it would have been much improved. No matter how well it possibly worked in the book, the film just can’t carry the simple story for close to two hours, at least not with such unimaginative direction lacking the visual flair a supernatural film such as this really needs, and the terrible music score (reaching for Morricone but falling far short) is clumsy and ill-suited, 1970s muzak at its very worst, often threatening to mark the film as farce .

I think Susan Hampshire is very good in this film; something of a porcelain English Rose, I was surprised how sensual she is in this. Anne has a deep fragility to her character and one can certainly believe how this incredible passion overcomes her, its intensity everything her marriage lacked, although admittedly some may think Petrovich makes a better corpse than hot lothario. The delicious quality of the cast is really evident in the great Frank Finlay tearing up the screen playing Hugh’s older, disapproving brother (“Doing that in mother’s bed – it’s disgusting”). His bravura gusto when he declares “I know what we must do! We must take him to a priest!” when he learns his brother is one of the living dead suggests his role in Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce a decade or so later was as inevitable as the sun rising in the East.

The film actually dares some kind of suggestion of necrophilia with a curious scene of sex with a zombie, albeit it is some kind of suggestion of sex, Hampshire groaning on the bed while the undead Hugh does things to her, er, telepathically, or something like that- a very ill-judged sequence that would have been best left on the cutting-room floor. Well, it gets a titter in a film otherwise lacking any real humour.

One sequence suggests the great folk-horror this film might have been. Anne returns to the cottage she shares with the undead Hugh, finally overwhelmed at her predicament as Hugh bangs at a the door from the next room, trying to be with her (he’s the clingy type). Finally Anne relents, unbolting the door and Hugh reaches for her- all we see is Anne’s terrified face and Hugh’s blue-black, decaying hand reaching for her. Its quite disturbing and effective, casting a sudden spell of horror that enlivens the film but is immediately neutered when we then see his face and its still rather surprisingly pretty. How much better had we not seen his face at all from then on, but rather it left to our imagination. But alas, the director has no such skill or daring, or faith that less can sometimes be more.

The ending of the film, while inevitable, really, is also quite refreshingly grim. There is an air of tragedy over all, which unfortunately doesn’t land as deeply as it should. By the end the film has out-stayed its welcome, its been too long getting to that finale and we’ve been asked to swallow too many wtf moments, which is a shame. I think Hampshre deserved a better film, frankly. Well, Finlay, too, to be honest; his camp skills would have to wait for Tobe Hooper to find their true vindication. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is such a very strange film though. In some bizarre way it really needs to be seen to be believed.

The Weekly Summary #4

wingsd2A more productive week this week (if you can calling watching films and tv shows productive). No discs though, funnily enough- it was all streaming or films recorded off  broadcast channels. Sign of the times re: physical media or just me consciously steering away from those noir boxsets to shake things up?

Three Pines, TV series (Season One, 8 Episodes, 2022), Episodes 7-8 – Amazon Prime

13. D.O.A. (1948)

14. Kansas City Confidential (1952) – Amazon Prime

Unforgiven (1992)

15. Wings of Desire (1987)

16. Jung_E (2023) – Netflix

17. Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat (2022) – Netflix

Jack Ryan (Season Two, 8 Episodes, 2019), Episodes 1 – 8, Amazon Prime

Attentive readers may note that I finished season two of Jack Ryan following yesterday’s post reviewing episodes 1 – 4. Yeah, I watched the final four episodes yesterday, staying up late last night for the final two. You know a show is good when you suggest staying up for one more episode and then even later for another. Binge-watching… reminds me of one Easter many years ago when I’d bought the DVD boxset (well, I did say many years ago) of season one of 24 and we wound up binge-watching the entire box of twenty-four episodes over the single weekend. In my defence, I will point out it wasn’t a rewatch, I’d not watched any of the show during its network airing so was merely catching-up on a well-regarded show that I’d missed. But anyway, that was my first experience of binge-watching, something that has largely come into its own with the rise of Netflix and other streamers which happily ‘dump’ entire seasons of new shows all at once. I still prefer the old-fashioned method of weekly drops, such as what Amazon did with Rings of Power a few months back, and The Expanse before it- I like the anticipation of looking forward to the next week’s instalment, and discussing it with colleagues at work or online. A social side to what is essentially a very solitary experience, of sitting down and watching something on a television.

So anyway, season two of Jack Ryan is very good, better than the first season I think and regards that second season in particular, the final four episodes were better than those first four- I really enjoyed how the script-writers brought all the various character arcs to their conclusion, and brought the seperate plot threads together in a very satisfying way. It may not have been ground-breaking or particularly extraordinary, but it was very well done and I always like a well-structured narrative with good character arcs. Its a very solid show and I look forward to watching season three.

A word regards my methodology with these weekly summaries- I’ve resumed counting ‘new’ films (those films I haven’t seen before, many of which are hardly new to most people) which is why some films have a numerical count against them and others don’t, and I’m also not counting TV shows. I didn’t keep any count at all last year and while I’ve not got a target at all regards an annual total, I’d just like to keep track for curiosities sake.

So now to my weekly summary of best and worst of the ‘new’ stuff. Well, best of the week is Wings of Desire, which I finally got to watch after all these years. To be frank, it didn’t blow me away, and its ‘best of the week’ status is more a reflection of the others, I guess. Wings of Desire is a film I likely need to watch again; its more of a tone-poem than a regular film, and while I’ve nothing against that (hey, I really like Terrence Mallick films after all) it did, I suspect, mean that its probably a grower. I also recorded it off a television airing on a commercial channel which meant I had to fast-forward through commercial breaks and that’s never the best way to watch a film, especially one like this one which establishes a mood and dreamlike space only for it to be broken every fifteen-twenty minutes. Back in the day, this was the way we tended to watch so many films but its really not ideal.

Worst of the month was Jung_E, a major disappointment considering that director Sang-ho Yeon previously made the excellent Train to Busan. I’ll get to posting a review shortly, so I’ll not go into it a great deal here, but my goodness it was stupid. Is there anything worse than stupid sci-fi? This was like one of those silly 1960s sci-fi b-movies I used to cringe at growing up, albeit with a bigger budget. I thought the genre had grown up out of that nonsense but apparently not.

So anyway, regards next week, I really have no idea. Maybe I’ll crack on with Jack Ryan season three (or maybe I’ll take a break); one film on my radar is Sergio Sollima’s 1973 Italian crime drama Revolver, starring Oliver Reed, which may seem a little obscure but I believe is well-regarded (I recall a Blu-ray release from Eureka last year) and which I’ve noticed is on Amazon Prime. Other than that, who knows? Other than reviews, I feel a rant about cinema prices coming on –  I haven’t been to a cinema since I saw Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, and while I wasn’t actually intending to go, I perused the prices for Avatar: The Way of the Water out of idle curiosity and I have to say, there’s little wonder it broke the $2 billion mark this week if folks are paying the same prices I saw. Also, I came across an absolutely fascinating article about AI being used for lip-synching that both excited and scared me, I’ll hopefully get chance to post about that.

Jack’s back

jacks2Jack Ryan (Season Two, 8 Episodes, 2019), Episodes 1- 4, Amazon Prime

When actor Benito Martinez, a big TV character actor who seems to turn up as a guest star in all sorts of shows, but most memorable for me from his great role in The Shield (2002-2008), appears in the first episode of Jack Ryan’s second season, I confidently told Claire “here’s a dead man walking.” It’s such a trope in these kind of shows, its like a red flag is suddenly raised onscreen. When Jack (John Krasinski) meets up with an old service buddy and pays a visit to his family etc even though he’s never been mentioned before (or in this case, at all in season one), we just know that Martinez is just a function of the script to make things personal for Jack when things go south and his great long-time friend is killed. Yeah, this time its personal.

Which isn’t to detract from what is, like its first season before it, a really solid espionage thriller that is very well written, acted and produced- its a solid show and one of the clear stand-outs on Amazon Prime. It’s just one moment of predictability that… well, it doesn’t detract from the show exactly, but it does serve to remind one that this show is working well within established parameters; we’ve seen this kind of thing so often before, when a protagonist’s old friend is in trouble or murdered and its up to our hero to set things right. Its not so much a criticism of the show- its likely something that was written in whatever book this season is based upon (I’m assuming this is based on one of the Jack Ryan books by author Tom Clancy, but may well be wrong, as I know nothing about them outside of those used for the movies like Patriot Games or The Hunt for Red October). It just serves as a reminder that this drama is very much akin to what we’ve seen before, regards its beats and twists; this isn’t breaking new ground or usurping familiar methodology. Its very much a competent production but it isn’t going to do much to shock or amaze; comfortable viewing then, particularly for these current times. At least in a Jack Ryan show you can have faith in the integrity and honesty of our leaders (well, okay, to a point) and believe that there are guys out there doing the right thing and trying to protect the free world/general public. In the real world, girls at school are being warned not to approach single male police officers for help, political leaders are clearly corrupt or in hopeless thrall to popularity polls, and society’s norms are gradually falling apart. I think we need Jack Ryan -or maybe Jack Bauer even, lets bring back 24– more now than ever. Failing that, there’s always the comfort that Ethan Hunt’s coming back soon.

Just a pity that it seems James Bond has given up. You used to be able to count on Bond every year or so…

“The problem with gold is the effect it has on people. It drives them crazy.” – King of Thieves (2018)

kingthievesKing of Thieves, Dir. James Marsh, 2018, 108 mins, Amazon Prime

Don’t know why I’m even bothering to write about this one, there’s certainly better films that I’ve seen that are still waiting for a write-up, but I’d had this film on my radar ever since it was first announced in online trailers. I mean, who could resist a cast like this -Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winston, Michael Gambon- in a crime story based on real-life events one can actually recall from recent memory? A film that looks sharp and witty and very British, according to those clever marketing peeps. On paper, it should be a cracker.

Well, I finally got around to this having spotted it on Amazon Prime, but alas, it isn’t anything near as good as it ought to be. ‘Less than the sum of its parts’ would seem a very fitting summary of this clumsy effort. Regards that splendid cast – they are fine but they never feel stretched, they are clearly just coasting along, which itself seems pretty criminal, pardon the pun. Maybe Caine could get away with that kind of performance in his 1960’s pomp but he can hardly manage it now, for all his on-screen charisma. I think the most curious thing about King of Thieves, is that, for all that its supposed to be a retelling of true events, it seldom ever felt real or particularly convincing, and all the characters just feel like goofy caricatures; I suspect because it was trying to approximate the irreverent feel of The Italian Job rather than, say, something like the Sweeney television series.

Which is the root problem with this film; its a matter of tone. For a true crime story of bad guys being bad -even if they are surprisingly OLD bad guys- its played for laughs far too much for comfort. I was never entirely sure, for instance, whether I should have liked them for being endearing old codgers waxing lyrical about the good old days when they were young bastards, and hope they succeed, or hate the horrid old bastards and hope they got caught. Which is where the film gets it wrong- are these harmless old buggers having one last hurrah robbing from rich folks who somehow deserve it, or nasty old rogues who deserve to be locked away? It just seemed stuck in the middle somewhere, like it wanted it both ways, while maintaining the ill-judged tone of some light-hearted comedy. Maybe the problem with gold is that it makes film-makers crazy.

The Weekly Summary #3

company1So here we go with the third week of 2023, and its pretty slim, really-

10. King of Thieves (2018) – Amazon Prime

11. Jack Ryan  (Season One, 2018)  Episodes 6 to 8 – Amazon Prime

12. Larceny (1948) – Blu-ray

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Well, clearly it was one of THOSE weeks when too much got in the way.

I wrote about Larceny (clearly film of the week, but really not much competition) in yesterday’s post. I’d just like to make a few notes regards Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, which I watched on Friday night for the first time in, oh, maybe thirty years- I think the last time I watched it was on a VHS rental. Such a pleasure to see the late David Warner again, I always enjoyed seeing him in films, a great character actor who frequently appeared in genre films and television- I’d actually forgotten he was in this. Isn’t it odd when you watch an old film again for the first time in years and a face turns up?

When I wrote about Larceny, I remarked about just how great Joan Caulfield was in that, and how I was surprised upon seeing that she had very minor success in film, working mostly in television afterwards. I could have very easily noted the same regards Dorothy Hart who played Madeline, the secretary that Rick flirts with, recruits to his con and then dismisses to New York to wait for him in vain. Hart possibly makes even more of an impression than Caulfield, in a much smaller role; she has this elegant, sultry, woman-of-the-world manner that suggests she knows she’s being taken but goes along with it anyway. Her performance suggests she could have gone on to bigger roles but she had even less success than Caulfield, departing Hollywood just a few years after appearing in Larceny and pretty much retiring from the acting game completely.

I note this because there is a very similar situation as regards the actress who stars in The Company of Wolves. Now, the first time I watched this film, many full moons ago, my attention was clearly on the atmosphere, the horror elements and the werewolf effects. This time around I was utterly captivated by the quite remarkable performance of Sarah Patterson who plays the film’s heroine (and Red Riding Hood), Rosaleen. It is a very nuanced, sophisticated performance considering her young age (she was only twelve when cast), having a genuine presence onscreen, especially impressive considering she’s in scenes with the like of David warner and Angela Lansbury (Lansbury soon after to become world-famous in that Murder, She Wrote nonsense). I was genuinely shocked to see that Patterson only made one more film – one of those dodgy Cannon vehicles from that ‘eighties era, Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs in 1987- and left acting entirely, only later appearing in minor roles in two films; Do I Love You? in 2002 and Tick Tock Lullaby in 2007, films I’d never heard of and likely will never have opportunity to see.

So it just seemed curious that this week was a week of noticing actresses in impressive performances which promised great careers which largely never happened. Of course there’s likely nothing really remarkable about this, other than I observed it watching two films in succession, chasing up actress bios on imdb to connect the dots to other roles/films to keep an eye out for, and being shocked to discover the lists were scant indeed. In Patterson’s case, it would seem evident that she always had her eye on some other preferred career, and concentrated on her studies, but it does seem to have been the film-world’s loss. One of those what-if’s I guess (for instance, I did idly wonder what she might have brought to Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen a few years later).