Carmilla (2019)

carmillaThe only thing worse than a bad horror film is possibly an arthouse horror film. This new Carmilla, a modern, revisionist take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 vampire novella, drops the sexy, exploitation/ titillation of the Hammer cycle of films that it ‘inspired’ in the 1970s (The Vampire Lovers, Lust For a Vampire and Twins of Evil) and replaces it with a more intimate tale of sexual repression. This is less a tale of resisting the temptations of vampirism and more one of the temptations of lesbianism. Which is fine, and this is certainly graced with great performances from a genuinely very good cast, but in losing the vampirism, its rather missing the point and clearly dropping all the horror for something much more intellectual. I’ve been here before with this kind of ‘modern’ horror film- its as if the film-makers are embarrassed by being associated with something as potentially puerile and embarrassing as a horror flick and try to make something else instead. But surely that’s missing the point? 

Certainly, for the first half of this film -pacing issues aside, something I’ll return to later- the film works pretty well and promises much. Lara (Hannah Rae) is a sensitive teenager on the brink of womanhood, living a comfortable, almost idyllic life in the English countryside under the tutelage of her governess, Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). Here are women of their time, behaving in a world that expects them to behave in a certain way, a formal code of conduct which Miss Fontaine seeks to instil upon her sometimes struggling, wayward pupil. There is a tension running through the film, between Lara’s suppressed emotions and Miss Fontaine’s own buried passions (she seems to enjoy punishing Lara with a caning a little TOO much?). 

Into this awkward status quo is thrust the enigmatic Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau), the sole survivor of a nearby carriage crash who is brought to the house and given shelter and rest. Carmilla says she cannot remember who she is or where she is from, but is clearly a more, ahem, confident and liberated girl than she pretends to be, raising Miss Fontaine’s suspicions while covertly pursuing Lara with furtive glances, suggestions of a Sapphic passion which Lara clearly finds exciting. We hear second-hand testimony of local girls mysteriously falling ill and wasting away, and indeed Lara herself becomes pale and weak as she spends more time with Carmilla. It appears that this film’s vampirism is less blood-letting and more a draining of life energy from proximity (a little like Lifeforce then, but minus that far superior film’s wildly Hammer-like sense of fun).

The film has two problems here- the pace is glacial, and the grace viewers may give it to enable the film to solidify its sense of time and place soon turns to frustration once Carmilla arrives and the viewer is still left waiting for SOMETHING to happen. Indeed, when something does happen, that’s the film’s second problem- it doesn’t know what should happen, or the conviction of its own genre for it to happen, graphically or with a sense of horror. Again, that’s the arthouse movie either forgetting its based on a horror tale or too embarrassed by it. The erotic charge between Lara and Carmilla isn’t fulfilled or realised. Instead, the strict Miss Fontaine enjoys an impromptu tryst with local doctor Renquist (a terribly wasted Tobias Menzies who could/should have been a great Van Helsing-type adversary of Carmilla), which oddly seems to transplant the audience-awaited explosion of Lara/Carmilla’s passions to the supporting cast; a baffling decision. 

I suppose what the film may have been getting at, was telling a tale of two girls finding a forbidden love together, and that being so ‘horrific’ to the ‘normal’ members of the more unenlightened society of the time that it was then turned into some demonic, vampiric legend – so the film shows us the ‘true’ story later bastardised into a camp vampiric horror tall-tale. If that’s the case, its a pity that it had to be so, well, toothless and boring.

Carmilla is currently streaming on Amazon Prime here in the UK

The Village in the Woods (2019)

village1I’m not sure what it is regards horror films, but as a genre, their general quality seems really poor: I actually think this is often because they can be fairly cheap to make and therefore attractive to studios, producers and directors who can’t get access to the more expensive cinematic toys. Maybe its just too easy to make a bad one, or maybe audiences are too forgiving as long there’s plenty of diverting scares, titillation or gore: its certainly not a genre predisposed for deeper meaning regards the human condition. Of course there are very good horror films, and yes there are horror films with all sorts of subtext, informative and challenging, but I’d contend there are not very many of them. Generally, horror films just seem to get by with a little mood, tension and a few scares… alas, The Village in the Woods doesn’t even have that, even though one could argue its all mood and nothing else.

A young couple, Jason (Robert Vernon)and Rebecca (Beth Park) are driving through deserted back-roads in a remote landscape at night, their destination the village of Cooper’s Cross and its pub that they want to sell and profit from (Rebecca having inherited it, or something, its not at all clear and in any case its all a set-up). The film throws in the usual horror tropes with immediate abandon: the car breaks down, having run out of petrol (no clear method of escape, then) and when Jason tries to call for assistance there is no mobile phone signal (cut off from rescue then). After spending a night in the car, amongst spooky foggy woods lit up like there’s an alien mothership over the hill, the two walk down the road and reach the village. Here’s where the non-existent budget proves most evident: the village consists, as far as we can tell, of three buildings and five people (two middle-aged couples and a crazy old man). That’s it. For some unfathomable reason the couple don’t ask the villagers if they have a phone they can use to get help or call a taxi. They don’t question how three buildings constitutes a village, or walk around it or ask where the other villagers are, or wonder what worth a pub has when it has fallen largely to ruin and is located in the middle of nowhere with no likely customers.  

These locals are not normal- kooks and weirdoes and clearly shady with an ulterior motive. Maddy (Therese Bradley) has hair so frazzled its like a living thing and Charles (Richard Hope) has trademarked the Creepy Stare, indeed all of them have mad smiles better suited to a padded cell. Especially the guy who Claire recognised from a recent episode of Doctors. But Jason and Rebecca don’t seem too concerned, not even when it turns out there’s a crazy old man squatting in the flat above the pub whose warnings of danger etc (“They’re going to do something terrible! And you walked straight into it!”) are simply ignored. It really is that stupid. The whole place is something of a madhouse, and any sane or reasoning individual would be straight out of there, car or no car. If I had to sum the film up it’d be Emmerdale meets The Wicker Man, (albeit without Emmerdale‘s production values or acting talent) so no doubt you can intuit from that what is going on and what happens. There’s a core idea buried deep within containing some Lovecraftian elements from which a decent film might be made, but this really isn’t it.

To be fair to the cast and crew, it was probably made over a few days with a budget just this side of non-existent, so getting something made at all was possibly an accomplishment in itself. But even this is frustrating; having no money is no reason something has to be so bad, it just requires a bit more ingenuity in the script. The basic premise is fine and it could actually have become a very disturbing and effective horror. I gather the film was intended by its director/writer/composer Raine McCormack to be a love-letter to 1970s British horror, but I think he missed the point that those films were often gaudy and fun, not just foggy and boring. To be brutally honest, I’ve noticed that McCormack had no formal training (no nonsense like film school for instance) and I think this film sums up the current situation wherein everybody thinks they can make a movie if they’ve watched enough DVDs. One only has to look at the standard of screenwriting in Hollywood as evidence of how low standards are slipping just about everywhere, accentuated by how thin the talent pool is being spread over the traditional old studios and all the independents satiating the relentless hunger of streaming platforms for content. Maybe when a few of these streamers go bump and/or amalgamate the average quality of content will curve upwards. Maybe I should cut McCormack some slack, but I’ve seen far too many terrible horror films of late: even The Devil’s Men was more enjoyable than this (well, prettier at any rate). 

The Village in the Woods is currently streaming on Amazon Prime (my excuse, it was October/Halloween etc) and is also available on DVD and (more ignominy piled upon The Abyss) Blu-Ray.

The 2021 List: October

Here’s my belated summary of what I watched during October, and the first thing that’s clear to me is that it was a very good month for movies. Mostly it was older movies that impressed, discovering such ‘new’ favourites as Pushover, Kiss of Death and Strangers When We Meet, but of course October also presented a genuinely new film in the shape of Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited Dune: Part One. I’m still a little on the fence regards the film but I’m pretty certain that when it comes out on home video early next year (its rumoured for late January) after a few viewings it’ll win me over- particularly as we now know that Dune: Part Two has been announced for October 2023. Curiously, at the end of the month I finally caught up with another Part One/Part Two movie, with It: Chapter Two, which I found pretty underwhelming and which left me musing the benefits and weaknesses of these films spreading narratives over two instalments.

Not that October was a slam-dunk for movies, as I saw what must surely be Peter Cushing’s nadir in film- the abysmal The Devil’s Men. Definitely not his finest hour- not so much regards his performance, as Cushing always turned out and made an effort whatever he was in, a professional to the end, but frankly the film was terrible and didn’t deserve him. His next film gave him an all-new generation of fans, when he appeared in Star Wars, but its a sad reflection of the film industry of the 1970s that it didn’t treat talent of his calibre with more reverence. Obviously that’s more me as a film-lover appreciative of the artform and its ‘stars’ with whom we strike an empathy and admiration for, than the cold eye of what’s essentially just a business: the history of film is scattered with under-appreciated talent thrown to the winds of fate, and no matter how much Hollywood marketing eulogises its own history and stars of old, the reality is rather different and far more dispassionate. Look at someone like Hitchcock (and hey, I finally caught up with Dial M For Murder!), who could hardly get a gig later in his career when he found himself lost in the shadow of  the new wunderkinds like Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas. Film history may paint a nobler summation of his worth to the industry, but Hitch always knew that you’re only as good as your last movie (or its box-office, anyway).

Television

119) The North Water

Films

117) The Asphyx (1972)

118) Lucky (2017)

120) Pushover (1954)

121) Chicago Syndicate (1955)

Unbreakable (2000) (4K UHD)

122) Glass

123) A Bullet is Waiting (1954)

124) Guilty (2021)

125) No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

126) Kiss of Death (1947)

127) Strangers When We Meet (1960)

128) Footsteps in the Fog (1955)

129) The Devil’s Men (1976)

Pitch Black (2000) (4K UHD)

130) The Forgotten Battle (2021)

131) Dial M For Murder (1954)

132) Dune (2021)

133) Army of Thieves (2021)

134) It: Chapter Two (2019)

Lucky (2017)

lucky1This was a delight; one of those little films in which, well, very little happens, other than character moments and observations of the human condition- you know, the stuff we seldom see in film these days. I can’t say its perfect, I thought some of it was rather forced and I didn’t ‘buy’ everything, but the good easily outweighed the bad. Its Harry Dean Stanton in one of his last films, for goodness sake, and any criticism I have regards the film is about the supporting cast and some of the script choices: Harry is perfect in this, you can tell it was largely written for him, little nods to his own life history scattered in the details. Mostly its a one-man show, and that’s when the film is at its best. Harry should have stayed in his house watching daytime telly, smoking and drinking too much coffee, sometimes cussing the television inanity. That would have been film enough for me.

Lucky is a sad, melancholy film; its also rather sweet, thankfully without resorting to the saccharine, a tricky balance. Its got a ninety-year old beloved actor playing a ninety-year old loner contemplating his own mortality, realising that everyone and everything and everyplace he knew or knows is either gone already or will be. David Lynch is wonderful, the rest of the cast is okay, but Harry towers over all. The fact that he passed away just a few months following this film’s release just makes it all the sadder.

Every time I see Harry Dean Stanton onscreen… I hear Ry Cooder music. Can’t escape it. That’s Paris, Texas and there is no escaping it, its like Cooder was sound tracking Harry’s face and not the movie. There were a few moments in this film in which, because of the similar desert setting and Harry’s endlessly craggy, lived-in face, that I almost thought this might be some kind of unofficial sequel, in just the same way as Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glenn Ross seems to be The Apartment‘s CC Baxter decades after the Billy Wilder film, ruined by the darkside of the American Dream.

And hey, this has got Dallas and Brett together again some 38 years after Alien. How weird is that scene: its possibly one of the films weakest, and doesn’t really fit in, I suspect, but hey, its got film nostalgia/event soaked up in it. You just can’t help but smile and wish it was a longer scene, just to live it a little more. And marvel with some horror at the 38 years.

Remastered Babylon 5 on Amazon Prime

b5a“Faith manages” was a line Delenn used to say, and I have to wonder at the odd synchronicity in which, having posted just a few days ago regards the possible reboot/remake of Babylon 5, I learned yesterday evening that the remastered Babylon 5 is available on Amazon Prime, albeit by some circuitous route. It turns out that Amazon have launched a ‘mini-channel’ here in the UK (not sure about elsewhere in Europe, but I presume its being rolled out) called imdb TV, which is free but ad-supported, and includes, buried in the long list of available shows, the complete remastered Babylon 5. The imdb-TV channel takes a little of digging to find, and  Babylon 5, for me at least, wouldn’t have a chance of being found had I not been tipped off that it was there (somewhere) but I guess a search for Babylon 5 would have found it easily enough (I prefer to take the Indiana Jones-with-a-remote route, I get a much rosier glow of satisfaction when I get there).

The persistently questionable Amazon compression algorithms likely don’t show the series at its best, and the CGI looks as woeful as it ever did, but back in its 4:3 picture format, the show returns to how we first saw it when it originally aired and the non-effects shots look pretty good, considering (probably would have looked better on a Blu-ray, just saying). Naturally it would be even better without any ads but hey, it weirdly maintains that authentic ‘watching on Channel 4’ ambience I suppose.

I’m not suggesting, tempting as it is, that I’ll manage to rewatch the whole series- maybe if I’d invested in a Blu-ray set I would have felt disposed to make the additional effort/exert better self-discipline. As it is, there’s just so many time constraints these days, but at least I have an option to see the remastered Babylon 5 that I didn’t have before. At very least I shall watch my favourite, key episodes from each season, but you never know…

The Asphyx (1972)

asp2Probably more one of those fairly obscure film coincidences rather than one of those film connections that leaves me scratching my head at the sometimes arcane synchronicity of movie-watching, but it turned out that The Asphyx was directed by Peter Newbrook, who was the director of photography on Corruption, which I watched just a few days earlier. While the two films are both of the horror genre, they couldn’t be more different- Corruption was a present-day horror calculated to shock, reflecting the growing trend at the time for nastier horror thrills for audiences jaded by the more traditional horror films that Hammer had been making for over a decade, and The Asphyx was much more restrained, a period piece that deliberately avoided being graphic or gory, and wouldn’t have seemed out of place had it indeed been from Hammer.

Barring an ill-judged present-day opening and close which bookends the story proper, the film takes place entirely in Victorian England, and the peculiar obsession of Sir Hugo Cunning (Robert Stephens) a scientist who notices grim shadowy artefacts in his photographs of the recently, or imminently, dead. He deduces that his unique photographic chemical solutions are capturing the image of the Asphyx,  the spirit of the dead of Greek mythology, and proposes a way of trapping the creature in a device of his own devising, thus granting immortality to the subject of the creatures attention (the Asphyx unable to take possession of a dying person, that person would then be unable to die). While Stephen’s experiments prove successful with a family pet and then later upon himself, things start to go awry when he attempts to immortalise his daughter…

It is to the cast’s credit that the preposterous plot is taken absolutely seriously, in the best tradition of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee in any of their own Hammer yarns, and Robert Stephens certainly lends some weight to it all. A well-respected actor who was at one time tipped to be the successor to Laurence Olivier for his theatre work, he was very much a theatrical actor, very intense. I recall him appearing in Ridley Scott’s first film, The Duellists, and voicing the part of Aragorn in the BBC’s marvellous radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always struggled with him, personally, but oddly enough he works well here as the typically slightly manic, deranged scientist whose personal tragedy during a family boating accident drives him to ever greater extremes. The central premise of the film is daft but its treatment is actually quite disturbing, especially with someone like Stephens as the star: for once I’m not going to suggest its a horror film that would have been better with my old favourite Cushing in the starring role.

Indeed, I have to wonder if Stephen King was at all familiar with this film, because it shares some striking similarities to his story The Green Mile, and the film directed by Frank Darabont: maybe its a stretch, but an immortal character accompanied by his immortal guinea pig through the decades seems rather akin to The Green Mile‘s immortal Paul Edgecomb and his similarly immortal pet mouse, Mr .Jingles, and both tales share grisly scenes of an Electric Chair doing its ‘thing’. One of those film coincidences maybe.

The 2021 List: September

Such a strange month, September, looking back on it. Somehow I squeezed some television shows in, but for the most part it was hard work sticking with them. The BBC’s Vigil, for instance, wasted an interesting premise by just getting dafter and dafter, until I was ready to throw objects at the screen: I’m developing a genuine antipathy for BBC dramas lately and wondering what I’m paying a TV License for (if ever the BBC was forced to move to a subscription model, one has to wonder if that would be the end of it). The writing on Vigil was absolutely appalling, guilty of all the worst excess of the more recent Line of Duty series. In one episode the pretty protagonist had her head smashed into a metal bulkhead, cutting her forehead open, and then next minute after a trip to the medic not a bruise or a scratch or plaster. Maybe they were worried about continuity or impairing her pretty face. Ridiculous rubbish and best avoided.

Not that this month’s films were really very good either, but the fairly dismal bunch was enlivened by the wonderful Nobody (really must get around to posting my review of that), the bizarrely interesting Corruption, and the sublime The Green Knight. I’m not sure what lies ahead for October- the fourth Columbia Noir box from Indicator needs to be gotten through, and the 4K editions of Dune (1984) and The Thing (1982) have been patiently awaiting the perfect dark evening. Possibly just as well that I held back watching them as I have no pre-orders for discs due in October at all, so yeah, catching up with unwatched discs seems to be the order of the day for October if only to give me something to post about, unless Netflix and Amazon have a few surprises.

Oh, and there may actually be a trip to the cinema for the first time in fast approaching two years, for Villeneuve’s Dune. Maybe. After waiting so long for this much-delayed film I’ve actually found my anticipation waning. I suppose that’s a tricky thing regards marketing films, especially over the past year or two due to Covid, teasing images and trailers and maintaining the hype and interest without falling into some kind of fatigue: they could have shot another Bond movie in the time we’ve been waiting for this latest one. 

Television

103) Raised By Wolves Season One

105) Into the Night Season Two 

112) Sex Education Season Three

115) Vigil Season One

Film

101) The Racket (1951)

102) Django (1966)

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

104) Horizon Line (2020) 

106) Kate (2021)

107) The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

109) Nobody (2021)

111) Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

Glory (1989)

110) Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

113) Corruption (1968)

114) The Green Knight (2021)

116) Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

The Green Knight (2021)

greenkThe Green Knight is based upon a 14th-Century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which a gigantic knight attired in green, arrives at Camelot on New Years Eve and suggests a Christmas Game, in which one of Arthur’s knights may strike him once with his axe on the agreement that a year and a day hence, that person must arrive at the Green Knight’s own chapel so that the Green Knight may return the blow. When none of the knights of the round table dare, Arthur moves to take the challenge but instead Sir Gawain, his young nephew asks for the honour. The Green Knight kneels before him and Sir Gawain beheads him with one stroke- but the Green Knight does not fall; instead he picks up his severed head and reminds Sir Gawain of the bargain, that the young man must arrive at the Green Chapel a year hence. So a year later Sir Gawain begins his journey from Camelot to the Green Chapel in a test of his courage and honour, not knowing if he is fated to return.

Oh, a surprise contender for film of the year here- I REALLY enjoyed this one. I was totally swept up by the slow, almost funereal pace (very Villeneuve, particularly Blade Runner 2049) the intense atmosphere, the almost tangible sensation of the power of myth, of the power of story, and the reader/viewer grasping for meaning in a narrative strange, impenetrable and wondrous… it was utterly intoxicating. Its no accident that an early key scene has the old, waning King Arthur asking his entourage for a story, or that later we see villagers watching events retold in a puppet show: story, myth, legend, this film is more about the power of narrative, allegory and meaning than it is an actual tale of a Knight on a quest (albeit, the simple truth of the film is that Sir Gawain is no knight- its more the story of a very flawed man on a quest). 

In some respects, this film is utterly at odds with modern audience expectations, accustomed as we are to frequent prophecy of ‘The Chosen One’ whether it be either Anakin or Luke  in Star Wars or Neo in the Matrix or Paul Atreides in Dune, or of a hero going on a journey and succeeding in some selfless act of bravery (like Frodo, say, in The Lord of the Rings). We have become programmed to expect one thing, when instead this film gives us another, older truth. Again, The Green Knight reminds one of Blade Runner 2049 and its own protagonist who believes he might be special, the miracle child, only to learn that he isn’t. In The Green Knight, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is always found lacking-instead of doing great deeds, right from the start he is recovering from a drunken night in a brothel; he’s more playboy than noble knight, unable to appreciate the events around him (he totally misses the ‘point’ of the Christmas Game, decapitating the prone Green Knight when he has already been assured he will have to reciprocate in a years time: all Gawain can think about is the moment, the immediate gratification of now, he cannot grasp the ‘bigger picture’ and any sense of responsibility). Shortly before., Arthur (Sean Harris) asks Sir Gawain “Tell me a tale of yourself, so I might know thee,” but Sir Gawain blankly responds that he has no tale to tell. This moment of self-realisation is all for naught, however: any clarity all too fleeting. Gawain doesn’t realise that he needs to earn his tale, needs to work for it, instead simply seizing immediate opportunity when it is handed to him (when the Green Knight arrives and offers his Christmas game): it may be unintentional, but I rather fear that there is something oddly modern about Gawain in this film, that perhaps he reflects us of today, as he seems throughout the film so very out of place and time in the halls of Camelot. He cannot be selfless, or patient, he is always caught up in the present, he always asks what is in it for him, or fails to be charitable- even when he tries to be good, he does so chiefly for a price or reward.

The beauty of this film is across numerous fronts: first the story is absorbing and enigmatic and, as I have noted, likely confounds many expectations. It is swamped in allegory and hidden meanings, and has several absolutely arresting moments. At one point Gawain is ambushed by thieves deep in a forest and is left there, tied up- a slow panning shot spins from a frustrated Gawain to eventually return to him, time having passed and his corpse lying there, still bound by rope, now reduced to bones before turning again and returning to him, alive again, seeking escape (we are teased by alternatives, possibilities, particularly at the very end). Later he witnesses huge giants crossing a wide valley, literally as if the magic is walking away, the pagan world replaced by the Christian.

Alice Vikander plays both Gawain’s commoner lover, Essel, and later in the film the lady of a castle who attempts to seduce him while her husband is out hunting. Why she plays both characters I do not know, except that she represents in both guises the same temptation of the flesh which a true knight should be able to resist for honour’s sake (Gawain fails, naturally). In any case, in what I believe is the key moment of the film, as the beautiful lady of the castle she delivers a speech describing the power of green; “moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues. This verdigris will overtake your swords and your coins and your battlements and, try as you might, all you hold dear will succumb to it. Your skin, your bones. Your virtue…  Red is the color of lust, but green is what lust leaves behind, in heart, in womb. Green is what is left when ardour fades, when passion dies, when we die, too.” Less Love Conquers All than Nature Conquers All, suggesting that no matter all mankind’s achievements and wonders, all will surrender back to nature eventually. Perhaps the Green Knight represents a pagan God, or Nature herself, and Gawain the future of a mankind forsaking its roots in favour of artifice and progress. The beauty of Nature, certainly, seems a major subtext of the film, dominated by breath-taking imagery and location filming- in a very tactile way, the land and the weather of the British Isles is a character of the film, perhaps the most important one. It is perhaps suggesting that we are the land, that the land is us, in a similar way to how, in John Boorman’s 1981 Arthurian film Excalibur, Perceval learns that King Arthur and the land are one, and thereby gains the Holy Grail.

I thought The Green Knight was a spectacular and absorbing film, certainly one of the best I have seen this year. I watched it on Amazon Prime but wish I had seen it at the cinema- I sincerely hope that it will be released on 4K disc eventually, I would love to see it again in the highest quality possible (the stream on Amazon was 4K UHD but the compression wasn’t the best, with frequent blocking in some of the many darker sequences reinforcing the fact that disc is best). Its definitely not a film for everyone and will clearly divide audiences, but I thought it was wonderful and a worthy successor to John Boorman’s film.

Horizon Line (2020)

hline3Okay, here’s one I take for the team. This was watched on a late-evening unwind, clicking on one of the first suggestions from Amazon Prime (now that I think of it, I really must email Amazon ‘What did I do to deserve this?” if only to discern how whatever algorithm they use manages to think I’d enjoy Horizon Line. What on Earth in my watchlist/viewing history makes it think I needed to watch this?).  

Maybe the Amazon prime algorithm hates me, only unlike Skynet’s nukes, this critter is trying to finish me off with bad movies. Be afraid movie lovers, be very afraid: streaming really can be bad for you.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for having watched this; Amazon Prime hates me (probably payback for watching Netflix). This was pretty awful. Terrible, frankly. Its also possibly the stupidest film I’ve had the misfortune to see. Two star-crossed lovers, who split up a year ago wind up accidentally chartering a small plane together for a trip to a mutual freinds wedding in Mauritius. The pilot dies of an heart attack mid-flight leaving the two alone to figure out how to fly to safety and get into each others pants whilst holding onto some self respect.

How will they manage to survive a broken GPS? A terrifying storm? A broken Autopilot? A broken radio? A leaking fuel tank? With no sign of a map or compass or anything to discern where they are or where they are going, will they get to the wedding on time? Do you think they will kiss and make up during the stress and decide they love each other after all and they were silly breaking up?

Do you think one of them will open the cabin doors and climb outside while at cruising speed at high altitude, use gaffer tape to seal the leaking fuel pipe after accessing the engine in flight (mind the propeller, mate!), and the other get onto the wing and open the fuel cap, and hold onto the wing with one hand whilst refilling the fuel tank with bottles of booze left by the pilot?

Do you think the hunky one will smash his arm and the pretty one will demonstrate astonishing medical skills to straighten it and splint it up? Do you think said pretty one will be able to survive a crash into open ocean, swim up to the surface and then go back down to go save the wounded hunk and resuscitate him? Do you think you could possibly care what happens after all this preposterous nonsense? No, me neither, but this film needs to be seen to be believed.

I mean, technically its quite accomplished, it certainly looks good (presumably its using LED volumes, LED virtual walls to make it all look so ‘real’, because it looks too good for traditional greenscreen, unless its remarkably good greenscreen). Its just such a shame that so much effort has clearly been made for such a silly film, its like some kind of microcosm of modern film-making. As authentic as it looks, the dafter the screen-writing gets, and the risible dialogue (“you can do this!” “I believe in you!” “You got this!” ad nauseum) just.. these actors can’t possibly be this bad with decent material, can they? Well, every flick is a pay check.

This is clearly one of those films with the tagline ‘watch and forget’ or ‘leave your brain at the door’ as if that’s some kind of excuse. I’m tempted to suggest it really needs to be seen to be believed.

But, er, maybe not.

Django (1966)

django1I’m not one for spaghetti westerns- other than this one, I don’t think I’ve seen any that hadn’t been directed by Sergio Leone. The only thing I really knew about Django is that it was presumably the inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). Django apparently was the subject of some notoriety due to its excessive violence, which horrified people at the time, although today its cartoony theatrics seem dated and almost quaint. It was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who would afterwards direct another spaghetti western –The Great Silence (1968) – which was known to me through its Ennio Morricone soundtrack which I bought on CD back when I was having a binge on Morricone albums a few years ago. Curiously I have that film’s Blu-ray release through Master of Cinema on pre-order for a November release, so when I noticed the connection seeing Django pop up on my Amazon Prime recommendations list, I gave it a shot, thinking it might indicate what kind of film The Great Silence might be. 

Well, it was sort-of a pleasant surprise. The dubbing is typically atrocious, the dialogue is dire, the story is so paper-thin it doesn’t really make any sense (its some vague revenge plot) and the acting isn’t any great shakes either: so on that front, the film was no surprise whatsoever. But there was something appealing about it. I thought the production design was impressive; I mean, its clearly cheap but there’s something arresting about the wind-torn, muddy streets of a desolate town that seems to be literally sinking into the mud. Its like the end of the world as much as the end of the West.

Corbucci’s direction is no-nonsense and straight forward with no ambition towards the mythic, operatic qualities of Leone’s work, although Django (Franco Nero) could be seen as an Angel of Death in some corner of Hell. The cartoony violence prefigures that of the Rambo films that followed Stallone’s First Blood (Django despatches dozens of bad guys with a machine-gun hidden in a coffin that he drags around through the film, and hilariously the ammo-belt feeding the gun never moves). I presume it was this body-count that infuriated everyone back in the day, and its quite funny watching the various stuntmen/extras flailing around in exaggerated death throes generally minus any blood squibs going off or anything- for a film decried for its violence its not particularly graphic. Today a film like this would get a pass for its violence but would be roundly condemned for its treatment of women characters, all depicted as whores, subjected to being beaten by male characters (or whipped, even) and an indulgent,  lengthy sequence in which three of them are caught in a mud fight that serves nothing but the pleasure of male viewers. Its literally a film from some other age and makes any of Leone’s excesses seem quite tame (Leone of course came under fire for his own treatment of women in his films, particularly Once Upon A Time in America).