Regaling Richard Burton – The Fall Guy

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Thanks to Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews for hosting this Blogathon.

“Reluctant Travelling Companion” is one of Burton’s last screen appearances made just a couple of years before his early death at the age of 58. While it might be a footnote in Burton’s career there’s something quite moving about seeing an acclaimed actor best known for playing embittered drunken failures cutting loose in a silly 80s’ action show. Especially when Robert Earll’s script takes the time to have fun with Burton’s movie star persona. Burton’s high seriousness, his reputation as a hellraiser, and his solitary nature, all fit nicely into a plot which sees the legendary movie star travelling across country on a train and getting caught up in an assassination attempt.

The Fall Guy was created by Glen A. Larsen, the man behind Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, and my own personal favourite Cover Up with its ridiculous premise of a fashion house being used as a front for a team of secret agents. The Fall Guy was a vehicle for former Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors who even sang the show’s irritatingly catchy theme tune. Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman moonlighting as a bounty hunter with the aid of his handsome but dippy cousin Howie (Douglas Barr) and fellow stunt performer Jodie (Heather Thomas). As the show was set in the movie business there would be occasional cameos from erstwhile movie stars playing themselves. James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Roy Rogers, and Britt Ekland all made appearances.

In “Reluctant Travelling Companion”  Colt Seavers travels to Philadelphia to escort Christina (Mary-Margaret Humes), a prisoner accused of embezzling money from a bank. She claims she did so in revenge for them ruining her father’s life. The bank’s owner wants her dead and has hired a pair of hitmen to kill her because when she hacked into their computer system she may have seen evidence of illegal financial dealings. Colt has no idea and assumes this will be a routine assignment. He doesn’t even handcuff her. She refuses to fly so Colt is forced to take her back to L.A. by train. Christina makes a break for it at the station and both end up being questioned by security after Colt mistakenly punches out a plain clothes police officer.

Onboard the train a distinctive well-spoken Welsh accent enquires about the commotion earlier at the station. We hear the voice before we see the face and  immediately know who’s speaking. Burton wants peace and quiet to study the screenplay for his next movie. The guard Jackson (Michael D. Roberts) gives Burton his word there will be no more distractions. Burton gets a magnificently portentous response. “You’re a rare man Jackson. You understand a man’s need for solitude.”  Everything is set up nicely within the first ten minutes. Burton’s desire for a quiet journey will be repeatedly ruined by Colt and his inability to handle Christina.

“Richard Burton!?” Nice double take from Majors here when he realises who’s in the next cabin and his incredulous line delivery is just shy from being over the top. Colt then does what anybody who works in media does when they meet somebody who is higher up the food chain. They pitch themselves and try to get a job. Colt mentions they worked together on The Desert Rats (1953, Robert Wise). “You drove over my head with your staff car.” Claiming his shouting match with Christina is a rehearsal for a scene in a forthcoming movie Colt manages to placate Burton who returns to reading his screenplay. Not before turning down the offer of a drink with a line which neatly undercuts his reputation as a booze hound. “I only drink when I’m working.”

Christina doesn’t believe for a moment Richard Burton is in the next cabin, but whoever is there she’s going to annoy them by loudly simulating intercourse. Jackson arrives to investigate the noise and is less than impressed to see a young woman handcuffed to the bed. “I used to be a pretty decent middle-weight so make it good.” Colt should really mention the whole bounty hunter thing at this point but he’s worried Burton might find out he needs a second job to pay his bills. So Colt repeats the lie about them both rehearsing a scene for a movie. Burton is called upon to back up Colt’s story which he reluctantly does. Burtons’s fruity line delivery here would be suitable for a Carry On film. “Rehearsals?…yes,” drawing out the pronunciation of “yes” so it lasts longer than the first word.

“Now why didn’t you show me these right off?” Jackson has a point. This whole misunderstanding could have been avoided if Colt had shown him his Bounty Hunter’s license and the letter proving he has been hired by the state to escort Christina back to L.A. Instead he has to stay in the bar until Jackson gets confirmation from the authorities leaving Christina alone. To be fair she also should have mentioned there were a couple of hitmen tailing them.

“Oh no, not Mr Burton!” When an exasperated Burton goes to investigate yet more screaming he ends up getting knocked out by Christina. Earll’s script gives Burton some more flowery language to play with when he awakens. “There is a time and a place for such maniacal idiocy but it is I repeat, I repeat not in a public convenience.” Burton is still convinced at this point that Colt and Christina are nothing more than a couple of noisy kinksters.

Back in his compartment nursing a sore head Burton sees Colt fighting one of the hitmen outside his window. Burton wants to know how what he assumes to be a stunt was performed. Finally it dawns on him there’s trouble onboard when Colt tells him bluntly, “well. I threw him off the train.” It’s enough to get Burton on the drink. He orders from room service a “tall Scotch, at least as old as I am..” then when it arrives drinks straight from the bottle.

Every 80s’ action/thriller show has an episode in which the protagonist arrives in a small town and ends up in a jail overseen by a corrupt sheriff. With Christina going AWOL from the train Colt is forced to give chase and finds her in a cafe. Cue another unwritten rule of 80s’ television. Any scene in a diner has to end in a mass brawl with unfriendly locals. The sheriff fancies himself as a cowboy and wants a part in a movie, preferably a Western. Not so funny now when somebody starts hassling you for movie work is it Colt? After bribing the sheriff with false promises and the silver belt buckle he’d taken a fancy to, Colt gets a free helicopter ride. Eventually catching up with Christina in Chicago, and this time with Howie in tow, they return to the train.

Burton was clearly not in the best of health when filming this and looks much older and frailer than his 56 years. They get round this by having Burton assist Colt during a fight sequence by nonchalantly opening a window so the hitman flies off the train. Having had his entire journey disrupted Burton gets his revenge on Colt by offering him a chance to rehearse a love scene with the stuntman playing the part of a young lady.  I bought Burton’s diaries in which he’s never shy in offering caustic views on his profession but there are no entries between 1980-83 so sadly I’ve no idea what he thought of his appearance on The Fall Guy. It’s a lovely self-deprecating turn though with Burton gamely playing along with all the silliness.

There’s only a handful of Burton performances to come after this. A televised version of an Alice in Wonderland Broadway musical, the second series of a TV show about Richard Wagner, and his final movie 1984 (1984, Michael Radford). The last thing he did is a big glossy 80s’ mini-series called Ellis Island about immigrants trying to make a new life in America which saw him playing a rich politician. In his last scene he smiles at Faye Dunaway, takes her hand, and disappears into a mansion. Not a bad way to make an exit.

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Universal Soldier (1971, Cy Endfield) – Rule Britannia Blogathon

Photo 15-07-2018, 20 21 22This post is part of the Rule Britannia Blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote at his site A Shroud of Thoughts. My contribution is about a film co-written by two men who are both really only known for having one big famous movie on their CV’s. Leading man George Lazenby of course replaced Sean Connery as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter Hunt) before quitting the franchise shortly after the film’s release. Cy Endfield directed Sunday afternoon favourite Zulu (1964). Both of these films present a positive image of Britishness. Bond as the ultimate male fantasy, and Stanley Baker and Michael Caine’s army officers maintaining their stiff upper lips in the face of insurmountable odds.

Universal Soldier undercuts this view of violent heroism with a meandering tale of a mercenary who gets involved with the anti-war movement in London. Taking it’s title from the Buffy Marie Sainte protest song Universal Soldier is clearly semi-improvised with the thematic concern driving the narrative. Photo 09-07-2018, 15 28 14The film however flopped. Universal Soldier didn’t come out until a year after it was made and Lazenby claims to have only seen it once. It might be a mess but it feels more pertinent than ever due to parallels with post-60s’ Britain and where we are now. It’s engagement with the emerging counter-culture makes it an interesting snapshot of a particular time and place and in that respect it’s one of the great London as location movies. It’s also clearly a work of autobiography. This is a film about a man walking away from everything people expected of him and trying to find his own identity.Photo 09-07-2018, 15 35 56This departure from the Bondian image is emphasised in the opening scene which shows the former 007 walking through Heathrow arrivals now sporting long hair, a 70s’ porntache, and dressed in a full-length black leather jacket. It’s quite the look and it suits him. While Bond films make travel seem glamorous Universal Soldier presents the unfriendliness of the British customs official. Racially profiling a black man, pulling a hippy aside for a cavity search, and dealing brusquely with visitors from Commonwealth countries. The whole film develops this theme. This isn’t the London of the Singing Sixties but a dull grey place with miserable people protecting their drab little island from outsiders.Photo 09-07-2018, 15 42 59Lazenby plays Ryker, a world weary mercenary involved in a Mark Thatcher style plot to overthrow an African regime. There is an absurd sequence where the group watch a promotional video made by an arms manufacturer set to the music of the Monty Python theme.Then the group meet in the countryside to test weapons and plan their campaign.  There’s a food hamper and flasks of tea. It’s like a picnic with guns. They test that most ingenious and silliest looking of British inventions, the hovercraft as a potential sea and land attack vehicle. Yet Ryker’s having these wee flashbacks to campaigns he’s been involved in. Something’s not right with him and these feelings are exacerbated when his friend’s dog playfully chases after a target thrown into the air and jumps directly into the line of fire. 

 

Ryker begins to drift away from the cause, a break that’s emphasised in a scene directly referencing Bond and Lazenby’s own social activities. In a scene cut from the original release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but eventually restored for DVD Bond reads a copy of Playboy while breaking into an office. Lazenby’s own regular hangout in London was the Playboy Club and maybe this is him saying goodbye to the trappings his brief moment in the spotlight brought him.

There’s a low-rent comedy version of the car chase often found in Bond movies where an unwitting minor member of law enforcement gives pursuit without realising they’re after a secret agent. Here two hapless policemen pull Ryker and his partner over for a minor traffic offence only for them to speed off through the countryside because they have no papers and can’t risk being identified. “We’re chasing a mad bastard…” 

Lazenby and Endfield meant the film to be a series of moments and wrote a shadow script about gunrunners to fool the producers into backing the film. Really the film is about Lazenby, observing him as he eats in a dodgy looking cafe in the West End or wandering through Soho at night to a prog-rock soundtrack. After an encounter with a cab driver in which he accidentally offends the Little Englander’s sense of national pride he’s dropped off in Portobello Road because the driver assumes he’s a hippy.

London really gets under Ryker’s skin. He breaks off all contact with his fellow mercenaries and starts hanging out with a bunch of student revolutionaries (including Germaine Greer). Their ideas begin to rub off on him and he double-crosses his accomplices by disposing of the guns. But mercenaries don’t forget any more than Hollywood producers do if you piss them off and Lazenby’s only hiding in a wee flat in Kensington with a Marianne Faithful lookalike.

Lazenby claims he quit Bond on the advice of his then manager Rohan O’Reilly (who appears in the film as an anti-apartheid campaigner). The days of Establishment figures like Bond and conventional forms of cinema were on the way out and the counter-culture would go mainstream. In retrospect this seems like bad advice but at the time it seemed plausible. This was the era of the Angry Brigade and other left-wing anarchist groups in Europe beginning to make their presence known. Same with movies. In the US there was Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper) while in Italy directors like Bertolucci and Francesco Rosi were making left-leaning political thrillers. Lazenby & O’Reilly just didn’t figure out that the Establishment absorbs new ideas and always reasserts itself in the end. Photo 06-08-2018, 17 28 21You can tell they went into Universal Soldier without an ending because the big finale is a fight sequence on a motorway lay-by. The antithesis of Bond in every way especially as Ryker repeatedly tries to walk away from the fight. There’s a sense of finality about the film. It was Cy Endfield’s last movie and effectively ended any hopes Lazenby had of maintaining an A-list career. The thriller aspects feel incidental. They’re clearly not interested in making an action film but trying to do a European style art movie. It doesn’t quite hang together, but it’s an effective mood piece that seems to channel the restlessness of its leading man.

 

 

 

Hammer Blogathon – Horror of Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

This post is part of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by RealWeegieMidget and Cinematic Catharsis.

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“I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sort of queer dreams.” 

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Hammer and Amicus films were regular fixtures on late night television when I was growing up in the 80s’ and early 90s’. Dracula: Prince of Darkness stood out as being the best of Hammer’s Dracula movies but I honestly can’t remember much about the others. They have all merged into the landscape of my childhood TV memories, a place where Steed and Mrs Peel are forever visiting small  countryside villages only to find there’s something wrong with the locals, and Sid James is getting endless bollockings from Joan Sims in a caravan. I can’t tell you which Frankenstein movie scared me so much as a child  I couldn’t sleep because I thought the monster was roaming the countryside looking for me, but I still feel that way if I’m sober and awake at 3 in the morning.

Bram Stoker’s novel I’ve read a few times. Once as a child and several times at university while studying a course on Scottish/Irish novels as part of an English degree. Thematically it’s fascinating because there’s so much going on in there and I found these elements (fear of female sexuality, immigration, drug addiction, sickness, mental illness, and death) far more interesting than the story itself. Stoker’s overly moralistic approach is undercut by his clearly erotic fascination with the idea of vampirism especially during a sequence in which middle-class lawyer Jonathan Harker is fed on by three of Dracula’s brides. It’s meant to horrify, but Stoker gets carried away and ends up writing four pages of Victorian erotica. Like Dracula’s victims Stoker’s drawn to the darkness without quite knowing why.

Horror of Dracula is a pared down adaptation of the novel. Hammer would have the backing of Warner Bros for later films but here resources are obviously limited. Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay removes the ship’s journey to Whitby, Renfield’s treatment at the asylum, and some of the supporting characters. Hammer did bring a more explicitly sexual approach to the horror film but we’re not quite there yet. There’s a 50s’ era strain of conservatism running through this and any eroticism in the movie is seen as a threat. An act decent people must be protected from by the stern patrician Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Despite these drawbacks Horror of Dracula has Terence Fisher’s flair for the Gothic. It looks wonderful and the opening image of bright red blood dripping on Dracula’s tombstone sets the tone. Unlike Universal’s monster movies there’s colour and gore here. 

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The opening section of the book is written in diary form and is essentially a travelogue. Harker recounting his journey through the Carpathian mountains and the sights he sees, the food he eats (“get the recipe for Mina”), and the people he encounters. Most of all Harker is struck by the superstitions of the locals which to an urbane Londoner seem archaic and absurd. This is always my favourite part of any adaptation. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu does it best I think but the Hammer films are good at this too albeit in a much campier way. There is no “don’t go up to the castle” moment until the beginning of the second act when Van Helsing irritates the owner of a tavern by asking for directions. Instead we meet Harker as he arrives at the castle by coach in broad daylight. There’s no real suspense at this point despite their being nobody there to greet him. There’s a gracious note from his host and food left on the table as well as a description of the amenities available to him. Harker looks like a tourist checking into an Airbnb and being pleasantly surprised by the size of the apartment he’s rented.

Stoker’s Harker is an innocent abroad, a young legal clerk sent out on his first big work trip to help facilitate the purchase of property in London by Count Dracula. The Count is an old man, a bit eccentric, overly proud, but seemingly nothing out of the ordinary. He’s polite, articulate, and afflicted by melancholy. 

“I am no longer young; and my heart, through many years of mourning over the dead, is not attuned to mirth. Moreover the walls of my castle are broken, the shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may.”

It’s only gradually Harker begins to realise he’s trapped in the castle with something inhuman. Little tell tale signs like a woman crying for her lost child outside the castle, or the Count casting no reflection, or being more than a little freaked out when Harker accidentally cuts himself shaving and blood drips from the wound.

In Horror of Dracula Harker is played by John Van Essen as being officer class. This Harker is older, more assured, and has a reason for being there. Rather than being an innocent abroad he knows all about Dracula and vampires and intends to kill the Count. In the book he represents the corruption of innocence, but here he’s an onward Christian soldier type of guy.

“It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help I will forever end this man’s reign of terror”

The good guys in Stoker’s novel are thinly drawn representations of various archetypes of Victorian society. They represent order. Doctors, professors, lawyers, ladies. Because they are all perfect none of them are that interesting and Van Helsing apart (mostly thanks to Cushing) it’s the same in the movie. Dracula holds the attention right from the moment the 6’5″ Lee appears at the top of a staircase, his profile hidden in shadow. Harker feels his presence before he sees him and Fisher holds the close-up on Van Essyen  for long enough to build suspense.

Then Lee bounds down the stairs (he was light on his feet for such a big man) and greets Harker like an English gentleman meeting another belonging to the same social class. Their exchange of pleasantries is the only time there’s any sense Dracula is anything other than a monster in the movie. In the novel Dracula attempts to manoeuvre his way into British society by purchasing property and using his aristocratic heritage to move among them. Here Harker has been employed to work in Dracula’s library (I want to see how that job was advertised) but quickly finds himself being locked in his room at night. This turns out to be partly for his own safety as there is another vampire roaming the castle. A young lady who suckers Harker into thinking she needs his help to escape then sinks her fangs into his neck.

The make-up is interesting here. The marks are swollen, more like insect bites than lacerations made by fangs. I can’t work out if there’s only one bride due to budgetary constraints or 1950s’ mores which meant even Count Dracula had to be monogamous. Either way Harker is undone by his own sense of chivalry. Then his own foolishness when given a chance to destroy Dracula as he sleeps in his coffin he inexplicably decides to kill the bride first. That goes on my list of top 5 moments in horror films where I’ve shouted what are you doing at the protagonist as they’ve  unwittingly brought about their own demise.

Van Helsing then takes over as the film’s protagonist and we get what for me is the most important scene in a Dracula movie. The passive-aggressive behaviour of the peasantry towards some rich fool who wants directions to Dracula’s castle. Or in this case a second rich fool who’s searching for the first rich fool who went up to the castle and for some reason never came back. Van Helsing enters the tavern and the clientele immediately goes quiet, as if this is were a western and a stranger in town has just pushed open the swing doors to a saloon. The innkeeper claims to have no knowledge of Harker’s stopping there, but his good work is ruined by the waitress who’s clearly new and hasn’t learnt the house rules about treating tourists with suspicion.

Van Helsing does find his way to Castle Dracula, but he’s too late. Harker has turned into one of the undead and Dracula has moved out. Seeing a picture of Lucy (Carol Marsh) Van Helsing realises she’s his next target and returns to England to meet Lucy and her brother Arthur (Michael Gough). Sangster has rejigged the the relationships from the book. In the novel Harker and Mina are together, while Lucy has three suitors, Holmwood, Dr Seward (here an ageing doctor treating Lucy), and tough-talking Yank Quincy Morris who’s been written out completely.

 

But it turns out Lucy is sick and nobody knows why. Arthur and his fiancé Mina (Melissa Stribling) are furious at Van Helsing for his refusal to elaborate further on the cause of Harker’s death and the whereabouts of the body so they can give some peace of mind to Lucy. They’re a tiresome pair. Arthur’s wound tighter than his wife’s corset, and we’re stuck with them for the rest of the movie.

I generally find Fisher’s work a little staid, particularly in dramatic scenes, but his use of imagery is always effective. The most evocative scenes in the movie involve Lucy who is of course under Dracula’s spell. After receiving treatment from a Dr Seward her family bid her good night and she pretends to go to sleep. As soon as they’re out of the room Marsh gives a look so raunchy I’m amazed the censors allowed it back in 1958 and sprints out of the bed to fling open the doors wide and invite her new master in. After she succumbs to Dracula’s attentions she haunts the forest near the graveyard trying to lure her niece back to her tomb until Van Helsing convinces Arthur to hep him hunt her down in an effort to prove vampirism is real.

 

Horror of Dracula breezes through the novel in 80 minutes. Dracula turns his attention to Mina but Van Helsing is able to break the spell and pursue the Count back to his castle leading to one of the most memorable confrontations in cinema. At 45 Cushing still has a touch of athleticism about him which is handy because Christopher Lee throws him about like a rag doll. It ends with the gory sequence promised in the opening titles with Dracula melting in sunlight, which doesn’t quite have the same effect today but must have shocked audiences back in 58′.

 

It was interesting watching Horror of Dracula again after all these years.  As a straightforward retelling of the novel it’s fine. I personally prefer versions that take the source material and do something new as with Penny Dreadful. I watched some of the other Hammer sequels after this and thought Lee’s striking presence was wasted in them. I can see why he preferred his work in Jess Franco’s Count Dracula which gave him more screen time and a character to play rather than a monster. I just wish he’d done Roy Ward Baker’s kung-fu Dracula movie Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires though. That film badly needed a decent antagonist.

 

Favourite Films of 2017

10. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson)

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Besson’s spaced-out adaptation of a cult French comic strip couldn’t find an audience in the US but it’s an imaginative and beautifully realised sci-fi movie. The film is hamstrung slightly by the casting of Valerian. Dane DeHaan is nobody’s idea of a swashbuckling hero. Cara Delevigne though has the kind of otherworldly presence that suits Besson’s love for beautiful outsiders. Cult status surely beckons.

9. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson)

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Jenkins film can’t quite break free from biopic conventions but this is a fascinating look at the kink BDSM origins of the Wonder Woman comic strip and the polyamorous relationship that helped inspire it. Better suited to a double-bill with Mary Harron’s The Notorious Bettie Page or Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method than Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman.

8. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)

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People seemed genuinely surprised by Vince Vaughn’s turn here but he’s always been a charismatic performer and Zahler’s bruising prison movie makes great use of his imposing physicality. As with Bone Tomahawk the dialogue is artfully constructed and gives Vaughn, and his veteran co-stars Udo Kier and Don Johnson plenty to get their teeth into.

7. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)

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Nolan’s tribute to the greatest generation is the kind of old fashioned war movie that used to air on Sunday afternoons in the 70s’ and 80s’. Understated and moving with fine performances from a mixture of well known faces and newcomers Dunkirk is easily Nolan’s best film since The Prestige.

6. Beyond the Gates (Jackson Stewart)

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Inventive low-budget horror film with two estranged brothers inheriting their father’s video store only to find his disappearance might have something to do with a board game and accompanying VHS tape presented by 80s’ horror star Barbara Crampton. It’s witty and fun although it can’t quite deliver on making the other world seem like either an alluring place to visit or somewhere to fear. It did however make me miss the old independently run video stores you used to get back in the day and making some bizarre new cinematic discovery.

5. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

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Did not love this as much as Guadagnino’s earlier movies but it seems to have helped bring about a reevaluation of James Ivory (who provided the screenplay here) after years of his work being mocked by 90s’ Tarantino-loving critics so I’m all for it.

4. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska)

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Smoczynska’s wonderful debut is a fairytale musical about two beautiful vampiric mermaids who are lured onto dry land by a handsome bass player who wisely ignores their song (“we won’t eat you”). Instead they become backing singers and strippers at a dodgy nightclub but while one sister longs to return to the sea the other is falling in love. Mixing 80s’ music with a cautionary tale common in fairytale mythology it really is one of a kind.

3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

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Understated and moving coming-of-age story worthy of comparison with the work of Wong Kar-Wai and Clare Denis. So pleased and surprised to see something this good win an Oscar especially as something terrible (Three Billboards) will probably win this year.

2. Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott)

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Ridley Scott continues with the grand philosophical themes of Prometheus and sidelines the Xenomorph in favour of Fassbender’s dual android roles as the innocent Walter and the worldly sophisticated David who fancies himself a creator. It’s a work of Romanticism,  open about it’s literary influences (David quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley while both androids are versions of Mary Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein) and I really want to see where Scott takes this franchise if he’s allowed to continue.

1. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)

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Focusing on the direct aftermath of JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s attempts to deal with the public rituals required after the death of a President while also trying to cope with her own grief. Larrain’s biopic deconstructs the mythology of Camelot by showing how much spin was behind its creation but also gives a feeling that something was lost when JFK died. Most of all it’s about the shock of bereavement, of the isolation it brings, which here is accentuated by Kennedy’s fame, and the feeling the world is moving on without you.

The Vault (2017, Dan Bush)

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The Dillon sisters, Leah (Francesca Eastwood) and ex-con Vee (Taryn Manning), stage a bank robbery to help their troubled brother Michael (Scott Haze) get enough money to pay off the gangsters threatening to kill him. Their plan is to hit the place fast and be gone before the local authorities can react but things quickly get out of hand when the manager refuses to co-operate and they find the safe is too sophisticated to crack. The situation escalates when a female bank employee is badly injured trying to escape and the police surround the building.

However one of the employees, Ed Maas (James Franco), seems strangely calm and offers to help the robbers in return for 5% of their take. There is it seems another vault in the basement, much older and easier to break into which he insists contains six million dollars and another way out. The Dillons are so desperate they don’t notice Ed seems a little too keen for them to open the vault.

Dan Bush co-directed The Signal (2007), an intriguing little horror about society collapsing through a message sent through television screens which turned the viewer into a raging psychotic. There’s a similar theme here of people turning into savages here though this is a much more conventional film, a mixture of heist movie and supernatural horror which doesn’t really move far beyond genre tropes. It’s atmospheric enough in the early sequences with Franco’s quiet stillness a counterpoint to all the aggression going on around him but once access is gained to the vault what lies within proves to be something of a let down.

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Bush’s direction in his segment of The Signal  is spare and haunting but the goriness present in The Vault  recalls the worst excesses of the torture porn era diminishing his good work in the opening first act. The earlier film was violent but at least had something to say about contemporary life. The Vault is efficient and the final revelatory sequence does send a chill down the spine before The Vault reverts to the familiar with one of the most overly used horror movie endings.

What is clear from The Vault though is that Hollywood studio bosses who are trying to promote Scott Eastwood as a movie star are backing the wrong sibling because with her charismatic turn here and her equally fierce performances on television in Fargo and the Twin Peaks finale it’s clear Francesca Eastwood is the one to watch.

Credits

Content Media

A Dan Bush Film

The Vault 

In Cinemas & On Demand on September the 8th

 

DVD Review – Revolution : New Art for a New World (2016, Margy Kinmonth)

 

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Kustodiev – Demonstration in Uritsky Square (image courtesy of Foxtrot Films)

Mary Kinmonth’s visually striking documentary examines the avant-garde art movement in Russia which emerged alongside the Revolution. Both shared similar aims, to sweep away the old order and create something new. Many of these young artists supported the Revolution and allowed their work to be co-opted for political means. However in the years afterwards as Stalin came to power and began the purges they would become enemies of the state and their work would be hidden away or in some cases destroyed.

The avant-garde movement was already underway before the Czarist regime fell but the Revolution gave it impetus. Young visual artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Kazamir Malevich rejected the traditional European influences on Russian art and embraced the extremities of the avant-garde. They found an ally in Lenin who recognised the power of the image in country where most of the population was illiterate. “Art is the most powerful means of propaganda available to the socialist cause” said Lenin who allowed a certain amount of freedom as long as they obeyed the party line and did not belittle the Revolution.

There are ground-breaking advancements in photography through the work of Alexander Rodchenko and in film two of the most influential directors of the 20th century emerge, Dziga Vertov (Man with a Movie Camera) and Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin). Indeed, Kinmonth’s interest in making Revolution: New Art for a New World came from seeing the storming of the Winter Palace sequence in Eisenstein’s October 17: Ten Days that Shook the World and finding out it was a myth designed to please the Bolshevik regime. Eisenstein in effect was doing what John Ford would later do with the Western. Printing the legend.

Having worked in Russia directing a film for the South Bank Show about the origins of The Nutcracker ballet Kinmonth has used her contacts in the arts world to gain access to paintings long unavailable for public viewing. These artworks appear alongside archive footage, photographs, interviews with art historians, and readings by actors (including among others Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, and Daisy Bevan). Location filming gives us a sense of time and place as well as the social conditions under which this work was done. An amusing role playing sequence performed by young art students recreates the arguments over Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ paintings, literally paintings of black squares to which the viewer is invited to find their own meaning.

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‘Black Square’ by Kazamir Malevich (image courtesy of Foxtrot Films)

Kinmonth also speaks to descendants of the artists, some of whom have devastating stories to tell about the effects of Stalin’s purges on their family. Some fled the country, others survived by amending their art to suit the demands of the state, while others faced the gulag or execution. Sergei Eisenstien’s assistant-editor on October 1917 was a certain Josef Stalin who personally oversaw the movie’s final cut and made sure there was nobody resembling in any way shape or form his political rival Leon Trotsky. Film director Andrei Konchalovsky (Runaway Train, Tango & Cash) talks about his grandfather, the painter Pyotr Konchalovsky, who turned away from the avant-garde and focused on more traditional forms of painting in his later years.

Revolution: New Art for a New World is fascinating to watch during our own current period of political uncertainty, especially with new media and technology clearly being used for propaganda purposes. Great artworks may well outlast the society in which they are created, but this illuminating documentary suggests they are better understood together.

Credits 

A Foxtrot Films Production

Revolution: New Art for a New World

On DVD from 3rd April

Directed by Mary Kinmonth

Running time 85 minutes

Films of 2016

10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

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After digressing with a Marvel movie and the pilot for a Western show for Amazon, Shane Black returns to the kind of wise-cracking buddy movie which made his name. Ryan Gosling’s hopeless PI teams up with low-level enforcer Russell Crowe to solve the disappearance of a porn star. The retro 70s’ era stylings add a new element to Black’s familiar tropes (yes, we’re in L.A., yes it’s Xmas) and while I’m not entirely sure what’s going on it’s very entertaining.

9.  Creed (Ryan Coogler)

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Successfully paying tribute to the franchise’s history while also moving it forward Ryan Coogler’s Creed mixes the pathos of Stallone’s wonderful Rocky Balboa (2006) with the gritty underdog status of John G. Avildsen’s original Rocky (1976). Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed follows in his father’s footsteps, only this time he’s the unfancied contender given a shot at the big time in a show fight with the champion while Rocky is the grizzled seen-it-all Burgess Meredith figure. Creed can rightly be ranked alongside Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky Balboa as being the best movies in the franchise.

8. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)

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Excerpt from LFF review.

“Though Elle may seem like Verhoeven is being deliberately provocative it’s his most restrained film to date, a character study of somebody who has already suffered a horrendous trauma (the matter-of-fact way Huppert reveals this is shocking and hilarious) and is now more than capable of dealing with anything else life might throw at her.”

7. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)

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Excerpt from LFF Review

Touching on themes of a disenfranchised youth, Europe’s collapsing institutions, misguided political idealism, and materialism, Nocturama perhaps the most prescient film of the year.

6. Hail Caesar! (Joel, Ethan Coen)

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Eddie Mannix was by all accounts a son-of-a-bitch and totally undeserving of being the centre-piece of the Coen Brothers love letter to classic era Hollywood, but hey it’s the movies and this is essentially what the film is about. Everything being awful behind the scenes but turning out perfectly in the final cut. Particular highlights are Channing Tatum’s “No dames” routine, a Christopher Lambert cameo, and the exchanges between haughty English film director Ralph Fiennes and Aiden Ehrenreich’s singing cowboy. The payoff to their celebrated “would that it were so simple” scene is beautiful.

5. Pikadero (Ben Sharrock)

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Hoping Ben Sharrock’s melancholic but very funny movie gets a UK release. It’s about a young couple trying to consummate their relationship while also trying to deal with effects of the financial crisis in Spain and the limited options now available to them.  

Excerpt from EIFF review.

“Both are still living at home with their parents. Mostly they just hang out having conversations about their hopes for the future. Their ambitions are modest. She’s contemplating going to Edinburgh. That’s how bleak things seem, working in a hotel in Scotland seems like an attractive proposition.”

4. Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone)

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Something of a departure from the director of the gritty gangster film Gomorrah (2008), this anthology of fairytale stories is filled with beautiful images, occasionally grotesque sequences, characters who are selfish and cruel but who retain out sympathy, and dark humour. As adaptations of fairytales go it’s up there with the best of Borowczyk, Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970), and Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984).

3.Goldstone (Ivan Sen)

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That rare thing, a sequel that not only improves on the original but adds depth to it by showing how much events in the earlier film affected the protagonist.

From LFF review.

“Like Mystery Road the film utilizes the Western genre to tell a story about the culture clash between the disenfranchised indigenous community and those who seek to exploit the land for profit. The charismatic Pedersen’s taciturn hero is a wonderful creation, a man trapped between cultures but increasingly drawn back to his roots. “

2. The Love Witch (Anna Biller)

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Excerpt from EIFF review.

“Anna Biller’s stunning retro-styled fairytale borrows the iconography from classic movies but the result is anything but derivative. There are nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho, Douglas Sirk melodramas, and Jacques Demy’s fairytale romances but The Love Witch has most in common with Angela Carter’s feminist reworking of Brothers Grimm stories with Biller critiquing female roles and masculinity.”

1.Personal Shopper (Oliver Assayas)

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Assayas audacious ghost story is an unpredictable and moving study of grief with a tremendous performance from Kristin Stewart. It also has a scene in an empty mansion which is more terrifying than anything I’ve seen in a straightforward horror movie in years.

Excerpt from LFF review.

“there is a hint of ambiguity present suggesting Maureen’s grief may have taken form, just as Eleanor’s anguish might be the cause of the strange occurrences in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ Yet Assayas and everybody in the movie treat her gift with respect which suggests this is a world where the supernatural is possible and the dead exist alongside the living.”