strange_complex: (Vampira)
Seen on Thursday night round at [ profile] ms_siobhan's place after nourishing bowls of home-made minestrone soup... the healthy effects of which we then trashed by eating half a packed of chocolate-coated ginger biscuits each while watching the film.

I had never seen an Abbott and Costello film before, but [ profile] ms_siobhan grew up on them, and indeed she reckons they were the first context in which she encountered the classic gothic horror icons. Despite the '... meet Frankenstein' of the title, this one doesn't actually feature Frankenstein himself, but rather his creation (played by Glenn Strange), whom they correctly refer to as 'Frankenstein's monster' at first, but later slip into calling 'Frankie'. But much more significantly as far as I'm concerned, it also features Bela Lugosi in the only time other than the original 1931 film that he explicitly played Dracula on screen. (BTW, [ profile] ms_siobhan, the not-technically-Dracula Lugosi role which I keep trying to tell you about but forgetting the name of, where he played alongside a woman who was a huge fan of his, is Mark of the Vampire. We should definitely see that some time.)

Inevitably, in a comic context and 20 years later, Lugosi plays the role as a bit of a parody of himself. His cloak is too shiny and looks like he got it from a fancy dress shop, there's rather too much in the way of mesmeric finger movements, and we couldn't really understand why he needed to keep pulling his cloak up over his face so much. But, on the other hand, it is very definitely his Dracula, and the role also gave him lots of scope to pretend to be human and be all duplicitous while he was about it, which was fun to see. He gets a bit of that in the original 1931 film, conversing with people at the opera and in Dr. Seward's drawing-room, but there seemed to be more of it here, plus some rather more full-on neck-biting action than he ever got back in 1931.

Also on board are Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf-Man, and a lovely voice-cameo from Vincent Price at the end as the Invisible Man, so it is quite the monster-fest overall. Add to that some absolutely beautiful frocks on some strikingly self-possessed - nay, sassy - female characters, and some very impressive sets (castles, cellars, laboratories) and it is definitely worth watching. I don't know that I'll rush to see more Abbott and Costello films - it's not really my style of humour, and is difficult for a 21st-century British woman to relate very deeply to. But I'm certainly open to more of their Universal Monsters cross-over flicks, should they happen to cross my path.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Another little blast of these ahead of the new Sherlock at 8:30.

13. Jane Eyre (1943), dir. Robert Stevenson
Seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan at the National Media Museum in Bradford. It has fantastic sets, plenty of nice Gothic bleakness, some lovely frocks, and Orson Welles doing an excellent line in demonstrating exactly why Mr. Rochester is a complete and utter twat.

14. City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel (1960), dir. John Llewellyn Moxey
Also seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan, round at her place I believe. I've seen it before, and indeed own the DVD, but had not watched it for at least 10 years, probably a fair bit more. It features Christopher Lee and a folk-horrorish plot involving a small American town with a history of witch-craft that turns out to be not so very confined to the past as the young female protagonist might hope. In fact, now I come to think about it, there is a lot here in common with The Curse of the Crimson Altar, watched not long before this and reviewed here. For a while, it looks like it might be quite committed to female emancipation, as Nan Barlow (the main character) sets out on an original academic research project despite her boyfriend and brother advising against it, but of course she then dies as a result, so it is just good old-fashioned Stay In The Kitchen after all.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), dir. Guy Hamilton
Watched because it was on TV and I needed distraction. I think I may still have been on bereavement leave at this point, or else technically out of it but still treating myself very gently as much as possible. Anyway, obviously again the main attraction was Christopher Lee and he delivers in very fine form in this one! Scaramanga's combination of malevolence, sexual potency, superficial charm and brute violence suit him very, very well indeed. It is a very episodic film, which could almost have worked nicely as a TV mini-series, with distinct events taking place on Scaramanga's island, in Beirut, Macau, Hong Kong, and Bangkok and finally back on the island again. I suppose most Bond stories are to some degree, but this more than most, I think.

16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), dir. Peter Jackson
I started 2016 with the first of these films, and later followed up with the second, even though this time Christopher Lee is not featured. I enjoyed the elf-orc battle as Bilbo and his friends escaped in wine-barrels down the river, the icy goings-on in Laketown, and the confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug inside the latter's enormous treasure-trove. I have the final film on DVD from Lovefilm, but seem to be taking a while to get round to actually watching it.

17. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016), dir. Mandie Fletcher
Seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road cinema. It was good fun and kept us entertained throughout, although I'm afraid I probably only recognised about half of the cameo roles which I was obviously supposed to recognise. Joanna Lumley's body-language as Patsy is just splendid, and she was definitely the highlight of the film for me.

18. Ghostbusters (2016), dir. Paul Feig
Also seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan (I think?), probably at the Cottage too. Splendid fun, and great to see both an all-female lead cast and lots of slashy potential between almost all of the main characters. The one thing I could have wished to make it better was that Erin Gilbert (the academic one played by Kristen Wiig) had been fully self-confident in her job at the beginning, and actually delivering a huge and important lecture to a crowded room, rather than practising for doing so, when she is approached by the guy with a copy of her unwittingly-published book about ghosts. That would have made her a full-on identification character for me, as well as giving her a much stronger character narrative for the movie - the woman who was not only a fully-functioning successful academic but also a believer in the paranormal. But no.

Here we get to films 19-23, which I already wrote up as part of my review of the Starburst Film Festival, which is frankly pretty good going. I still have an hour before Sherlock starts as well! Let's see how many more I can do...

24. Beat Girl (1960), dir. Edmond T. Gréville
Taped off the telly and watched chez moi for the usual reason - viz, it has Christopher Lee in it. I've seen it before, but years ago, and never reviewed it here. It's a youth culture film, but rather unsure about whether youth culture is something to be celebrated and glorified or indulged in moral panic over - primarily the latter, though. The main character, Jennifer, is resentful of her father's new not-much-older-than-her wife, and pruriently fascinated when she discovers the wife's past as a stripper. Soon, looking for teenage rebellious kicks, she begins flirting with the world of shady underground strip clubs herself - and Christopher Lee is the sleazy strip-club manager who is there to greet her when she does. It's not a particularly great film on the whole, and the teen characters' dialogue is seriously cringe-worthy, but I do love the music in the climactic scene when Jennifer strips at a house-party. No need to worry about what you might see if you click on that link, BTW - it's from the early '60s, so she doesn't get any further than a cast-iron bra and some knickers your gran would probably think were a bit frumpy.

25. Madhouse (1974), dir. Jim Clark
Seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan round at her place, this is an absolutely cracking Vincent Price film which I can hardly believe I hadn't seen before. As in Theatre of Death, he is basically playing himself ('Dr. Death', a type-cast film-star), to the extent that clips from his character's supposed past performances were taken from footage of the real Vincent Price performing in Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films. Around the story of his declining stardom, a murder-mystery unfolds, featuring Peter Cushing, lots of lovely Seventies clothes, and even some charming Seventies children. Just marvellous, and I will gladly watch it again any time.

26. The Wicker Tree (2011), dir. Robin Hardy
This is the film version of Hardy's novel, Cowboys for Christ, which I read and reviewed some years ago. Having read the novel, I had very low expectations for the film, with the result that I actually quite enjoyed it. It is pretty straightforwardly the same story, but probably a better film than the novel is a book - unsurprisingly, really, since that was how Hardy always intended it, and the novel was only what he did to get the story out while attempting to secure backing for the film. Christopher Lee appears, but only fairly briefly in a flashback, and that's probably for the best. Not as awful as it could have been, but a very poor shadow indeed of The Wicker Man. It's unwise to even think of the two as being in any way connected, really.

OK, just six more reviews to do in order to get up to date now - on films at least! But I think that's enough for one evening. Time to tag, format and heat up the last portion of the Christmas pudding ready for tonight's televisual treat...

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strange_complex: (Me Mithraeum)
Another little blast of these, this time spanning the dark middle part of the year when my mother died - probably a reason in itself why I haven't exactly rushed to revisit all this and catch up on the reviews before now.

9. The Innocents (1961), dir. Jack Clayton
Another one watched with [ profile] ms_siobhan, I think at her house on DVD. It's probably the best-known screen adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, with Deborah Kerr as the governess, and is very effective indeed. The cinematography is the work of Freddie Francis, who went on to direct Dracula Has Risen From the Grave for Hammer - one of my favourites in that series, and in no small part because of how stylish and innovative its camerawork is. Certainly, this film makes the most of its locations and employs clever lighting in a similar style, so I think his touch is identifiable in both.

10. Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), dir. Vernon Sewell
Taped off the telly, and watched chez moi. This one constitutes another tick on my list of Christopher Lee films I have seen, and also features Boris Karloff, Michael Gough and Barbara Steele for good measure. It is not actually that great, but it does have what would now be described as a 'Folk Horror'ish feel to it, by dint of a story-line involving three-hundred-year-old witches, Satanic sacrificial rituals and people wearing animal masks. Lee is fine in it as ever, and it's nice to see him interacting with chum and neighbour Boris Karloff, who is nearing the end of both his career and his life, but does a nice turn in twinkly naughtiness.

11. Sing Street (2016), dir. John Carney
Seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy at the Hyde Park Picture House. It's a very good film, featuring a teenaged boy in 1980s Ireland who is sent to a rough local school so that his parents can save money, and finds meaning, identity and romance in setting up a band with some of the other kids he meets there. It was compellingly characterised, with a lot of really good stuff about adolescent struggles, and I particularly liked the older brother who has already more or less given up on his own dreams, but helps the younger one to sharpen up his musical sound and take the risks he needs to take to make it all work out. But by the time we saw this my own mother was in hospital and I knew she was probably dying, and I found one moment of it very hard watching: the teenaged central character sneaking into his parents' bedroom at night to steal the money he needs to get away to London and make his fortune, looking down at his sleeping mother and saying (something like) "So long, Mom. I'll be seeing you." Different circumstances, but the motif of saying goodbye like that seriously choked me up, leaving me wanting to sob helplessly in a way that's not really acceptable in the cinema. So. Not nice to be trapped with that kind of feeling in public when you can't do anything about it.

12. Carry on Behind (1975), dir. Gerald Thomas
And this one I watched the day after Mum had died. It was a Saturday, and we had already done everything we needed to or could do for the time being regarding funeral directors etc the previous day, so I told my Dad I wasn't going to do anything at all that day, and made myself a nest on the sofa in the lounge of the family home. This is what was on TV that afternoon, and as it was a Carry On film I hadn't seen, and set in the 1970s, it seemed like a very good choice - and indeed it was. It's absolutely rubbish as actual Carry On films go, coming not long before they called it a day, and featuring hilarious jokes along the lines of people sitting down on chairs which have just been painted and not being able to get off again without ripping the seats of their trousers. But it was cheerful and nostalgic and undemanding, had some vague plot-line about archaeologists finding a Roman encampment just next to a caravan park, and included some lovely flares. So it was actually just what I needed on that day, and in fact really helped me to just calm down, concentrate on something else, and escape from everything that had just happened. I am eternally grateful to the television scheduling gods for serving it up just when I needed it.

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
Start of term = busy = also tired when not actually busy = still haven't finished writing up the Starburst Film Festival I attended in late August. Friday and Saturday are covered at the links; the schedule for Sunday is here, with what I did below.

Sunday schedule.jpg

Space-flight and puzzle games )

Interview with Toby Whithouse )

23. Aliens (1986), dir. James Cameron )

Red Dwarf series XI: exclusive first episode preview and interview with Doug Naylor )

Finally, it was time to depart, sad that it had already all come to an end, but already making plans for future fantastic film-related adventures as we bid one another goodbye. I'll certainly come back for another Starburst festival if they do it again next year.

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strange_complex: (Invader Zim globe)
This is a British SF comedy, which a neighbour of mine lent to me when I had shingles, on the grounds that he knew I liked Doctor Who and guessed I might need things to watch from my sick-bed. Which was very sweet of him, although in practice it took me until this weekend to get round to watching it. (I'm an academic, so the main thing I actually did on my sick-bed was read a PhD thesis and write up comments on how it could be turned into a successful monograph.)

The main character is Neil (played by Simon Pegg), a school-teacher who is randomly selected by a council of aliens to be granted absolute power for a period of ten days. All he has to do is wave his hand, vocalise his wish (e.g. 'Let me be holding a bunch of flowers') and bingo! The thing happens. Except that the aliens don't tell him they've done this, so that he only figures it out slowly over a couple of days, and they also don't tell him that it's all a big test of humanity, with them sitting in judgement over him the whole time to see whether he uses his powers for good or ill. And if it's ill, they are going to destroy the entire human race.

So it's fine, and sometimes quite funny, with plenty of situational social comedy and lots of stuff about Neil phrasing his wishes poorly and them being interpreted utterly literally. E.g. one of the ways he discovers his powers is that when he wishes for his entire class of delinquent kids to be wiped out by aliens, it actually happens. The reality of this is obviously awful and traumatic, so he tries to undo it by wishing for everyone who was dead to come back to life, but this is interpreted as meaning absolutely everyone, not just his class. Cue some nice scenes of zombies rising from the dead. Also, Eddie Izzard is very good in it as the headmaster in Neil's school, who is normally an utter dragon, but turns into a gushing, fawning sycophant as the result of one of Neil's wishes.

But is is also Terry Jonesish. He co-wrote this film as well as directing it, and my response was distinctly similar to how I felt about his writing when I read Starship Titanic a couple of years ago. This film was similarly not as funny or clever as it seemed to think it was, with a lot of cheap, predictable gags and some pretty two-dimensional women. In fairness, you could feel this film trying harder than Starship Titanic to portray its women as real human beings and grapple with the realities of modern life. There are four meaningful female characters in it, three of whom have conversations with each other, and Kate Beckinsale's character is shown struggling with unwanted and entitled advances from two different male characters in a reasonably sympathetic manner. But ultimately it is still all about Neil and male wish-fulfilment, with the women primarily on screen to serve that agenda.

I thought for a moment that it passed the Bechdel test, because of a conversation between Kate Beckinsale's character and her boss (Joanna Lumley) about their work, until I realised that they were discussing strategies for interviewing a male author. Otherwise, all conversations are of course about the women's various exes, boyfriends or love-interests. And guess what happens in a film where a male character is granted absolute power? Yes, there is self-awareness in the script about the rapiness of using magical powers to make someone fall in love with you - for example, Simon Pegg's character thinks he has done this to Kate Beckinsale's character for a while, but the script carefully dodges the full implications by showing that the alien technology providing his powers breaks down at the crucial moment, so that in fact she 'really' decided she was into him at that exact same moment. But he doesn't know that and isn't troubled by it. Meanwhile, he makes a whole bunch of women worship his friend Ray as a god, but all we see of the consequences of this are his friend Ray finding it annoying - nothing at all about the trespass on their free will.

So, yeah - sort of OK, but fundamentally not funny, uplifting or interesting enough to be worth sitting through the cis, het, white, middle-class blokeishness of it all. (It's just as bad on the rest of those, too, though at least trying a bit on race.) Oh well, at least it's a useful reminder of why I don't normally watch 'zany' modern comedies, and that even aliens and magical powers are unlikely to save them.

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strange_complex: (Invader Zim globe)
Watched because shingles, and because magister noticed I had not seen it, and therefore lent me the DVD. It is a pastiche story about a washed-up super-hero, who was America's golden boy in the 1940s, but then fell foul of McCarthyism and ended up drinking meths in the gutter. When his arch-nemesis, Mr. Midnight, makes a re-appearance, steals a government-developed hypno-ray and uses it to gather all of New York's ethnic minorities into a new housing project so that he can blow them up, Captain Invincible has to be brought back into shape to save the day.

It's quite funny, and a perfectly acceptable way to spend an hour and a half, but I think there's a sort of cap on how funny feature-length pastiches can be - generally the joke tends to wear thin after a while, and this is no exception. There are hints also that the script aspired to being more bitingly satirical than it actually is, but that the ideas weren't followed through. This applies especially to the notion of the US government developing a hypno-ray, and Mr. Midnight's declared belief that the 'pure genetic Americans' will applaud his ethnic cleansing of New York and carry him into the White House as a result. Obviously both of those ideas are scathingly critical of America's government and its voting public (the film is Australian, BTW), but they aren't really worked through properly, so that the critique fizzles out rather than hitting home, and the eugenics project in particular just feels weirdly distasteful. In the end, the plot boils down to a standard good vs. evil story, with Captain Invincible saving the day and getting the girl.

Lee plays Mr. Midnight, of course, doing exactly what he normally does best in this sort of role - playing the villain with deadly serious professionalism, yet with a little twinkle in his eye that lets us know how much he is enjoying pushing the performance just as notch or two over the top. He also gets to sing, as the film is a musical comedy. On the whole, the songs aren't up to much, and have that quality of feeling like they are just interrupting the story which is the hall-mark of a weak musical. But Lee's turn close to the end in the alcoholic pun-based 'Name Your Poison' is justly famous, and this Youtube video (which also includes a minute or so of confrontational dialogue between Mr. Midnight and Captain Invincible) captures pretty much everything which is worth seeing about his part in this film:

In short, once you've seen that video, you can safely skip the rest of the movie.

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strange_complex: (Twiggy)
Seen this afternoon at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] ms_siobhan. In one sense, it is another Monsieur Hulot film, and thus follows on from Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, which we saw at the Cottage Road almost (I am shocked to discover) five years ago now. Certainly, it includes M. Hulot as a character. But he is less prominent this time, and the feel of this film as a whole is quite different.

Les Vacances was already in part about vignettes of everyday life and capturing the character of the location, but Playtime is noticeably more concerned with both of those, and less so with M. Hulot himself and his antics. The farce and comedy also often require a pretty sharp eye to spot. In Les Vacances it would usually be the main focus of the shot, but in Playtime you are often looking at an extensive scenario with a lot of different things going on at once, and while things like chairs coming apart, people using a lamp-stand as a pole on a bus, people sneaking contraband glugs of alcohol etc. are there to see and are intended for comic effect, they aren't as in your face in this film.

In fact, it reminded me this time rather of Fellini's Roma (1972), which is definitely not a comparison Les Vacances would invite. It's the way both lack a traditional plot and instead just follow people around the city, documenting their strange little ways both individually and collectively. And, as I said to [ profile] ms_siobhan, the way Playtime has a brief little scene of nuns with wimples that bounce as they walk, which took me right back to the clerical fashion parade in Roma, where the wimples do just the same - only more so. Now that I know about the similarity, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fellini was deliberately referencing Tati there, in fact. This certainly seems much the sort of film I can see Fellini liking.

The big difference between Roma and Playtime, though, is that Roma is very much about Rome's many strange juxtapositions, and especially the contrast between different layers of time in the city. But Playtime is all about an ultramodernist Paris, in which the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Coeur appear only as reflections in plate-glass windows, and which doesn't actually exist. The Wikipedia article explains all about this - the locations are almost exclusively purpose-built sets full of plate-glass and tower-blocks, including photographic images for some of the buildings and cardboard cut-outs for some of the people (which I certainly noticed, and which adds to the surreal, inhuman feel). So it is not a biography of a real, living city like Roma, but an exploration of a particular kind of urbanism, and what it means to try to be a human being in the midst of it all.

As such, a lot of it feels quite muted, regimented and claustrophobic, because that is what Tati is basically trying to say about ultramodernism. But things become more exuberant towards the end of the film, when we spend a good half hour or more following the goings-on of the opening night at a new restaurant called the Royal Garden. This is full of disasters (lights shorting out, décor falling down, waiters' clothes getting ripped on chair-backs), but it doesn't stop the patrons having a rip-roaring time as the band plays and the alcohol flows. This was lots of fun to watch, and [ profile] ms_siobhan and I agreed that there were some fantastic frocks on the lady patrons, too.

Earlier on, I also absolutely loved the man who is selling doors which close "in golden silence", gets really angry with M. Hulot, and launches into an extensive rant at him which includes several dramatic door-slams - but of course finds that his treasured product does not make the required noise. And, in a different way, the shots of an American tourist, Barbara, looking around at the posters in a tourist agency, and finding that every single one shows a nearly-identical tower-block with a small token image of an actual local feature or landmark shoved into one corner.

All in all, an interesting, enjoyable and often poignant film which is certainly beautifully shot, but is sometimes also a little slow, and definitely wouldn't make a good first introduction to M. Hulot. Stick with Les Vacances for that.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Still trying to catch up on reviews, and this one is a quick win, because I don't have all that much to say about it. I think I'm reviewing it a bit out of sequence, because I actually watched it in late August, when I spent a few days in Warwick with my sister and her family, and I have definitely already written up several films which I've watched since returning from that visit. But never mind.

I took this film down with me because Charlotte was spending quite long stretches of time breast-feeding Christophe, so she suggested bringing a few DVDs along so that we could settle down and watch something nice while she was doing it. And this one had been on my 'to-watch' pile for quite some time, since somebody recommended it to me at a conference on receptions of Hercules which a colleague of mine held. They had waxed lyrical about how incredibly funny it was... but I'm afraid we weren't entirely convinced.

The basic plot is that a guy working for a huge corporate cinema chain in Australia gets fired for contradicting his control-freak boss, and decides instead to re-open an old-fashioned single-screen picture palace on the other side of town. He pulls together a team, consisting of himself, a friend and a young lady whom they meet in a bar, and they decide that for their opening night they will show the last film screened in the same cinema: the Italian Hercules movie Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincibili. In other words, it is basically an early '90s Australian remake of The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), which tells much the same story of small, independent, old-fashioned cinema vs. the mega-corporate conglomerate.

Where this take on the notion differs, though, is in what happens when the opening-night movie is screened. Just as their excited patrons are streaming through the lobby, the team realise that the copy of Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincibili which they have acquired is in undubbed, unsubtitled Italian. So they have to do the only thing they can do in the circumstances - over-dub the film in English from the projection box, even though they've never seen it themselves and don't know the plot.

On paper, that certainly has potential, and for a while it was quite funny. But Charlotte and I both agreed that the joke wore a bit thin after a while. Looking at the running times for both films, I can see that the original Italian film must actually have been edited down to fit within the Australian film, since the Italian one is 94 minutes long, whereas the Australian one is 82. But nonetheless, from about 20 minutes into the Australian film until about 5 minutes short of the end, you are almost constantly watching a second-rate '60s peplum movie over-dubbed with jokes which basically revolve around giving the characters names like Labia and Testiculi, and making the plot be about which of the muscley strong-men will be able to give the best performance at the local night-club.

It's not that it was awful, but after ten minutes or so, we kind of stopped laughing at the 'satirical' over-dubbing, and agreed that the establishing story about the guy getting fired and the team re-opening the old cinema had been a lot funnier. From time to time, the story broke out of the over-dubbing set-up, to show what was going on in the projection booth - in particular, the team's increasingly ludicrous efforts to reproduce the right kind of sound effects for the film being shown on the screen, such as creating the appropriate sound effects for a hog roast by, well, roasting a hog in the projection booth. But those moments were too few and far between for us, and on the whole we weren't particularly impressed.

Maybe if you were watching it without the inevitable occasional interruptions caused by a small baby, there would turn out to be all sorts of incredibly clever and subtle plays around the relationship between 1990s Australia, 1960s Italy and the ancient Greek world, but if so they were largely lost on us. That said, the whole thing is available for free on Youtube if you want to make up your own mind. Knock yourself out.

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strange_complex: (Anas Penelope)
The title of this film is so long that it's brought me up against the 100-character limit for LJ entry titles - something which I can't remember ever happening before. So I'll have to note here that the full name of its director is Felix Herngren, and its original Swedish release title is Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann. I saw it earlier this week with the lovely [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy at the National Media Museum in Bradford, and we laughed like drains the whole way through, punctuated by the occasional wince. The version we saw was subtitled for the most part, but where the main character spoke off-screen in a narrative voiceover (which he did quite a lot), it was dubbed with by an English-speaking (though Swedish-accented) voice. There was also one character, a wide-boy Cockney gangster, who was English anyway and didn't speak any Swedish, so fair portions of the dialogue must be in English in the original version, and presumably sub-titled for Swedish audiences.

It's a black comedy which reminded me in equal measures of Ealing comedies about criminal gangs (e.g. The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers) and 'charmed life' movies such as Being There and Forrest Gump. As the title suggests, it follows the adventures of Allan Karlsson, a 100-year-old man who climbs out of the window of the retirement home where he has been placed, and by chance and coincidence finds himself on the run with a suitcase full of money and a neo-Nazi gang hot on his tail. But interspersed with it are a series of flash-backs covering his own life from birth to the present day, in which he stumbles largely accidentally from one to another pivotal moment in the history of the 20th century. Without guile or design, and with little more than an 'easy come, easy go' attitude and a fondness for blowing things up, Allan variously meets, helps or sometimes pisses off Franco, Oppenheimer, Truman, Stalin, Regan, Gorbachev and many others, never quite getting found out for the chancer he is, and always just managing to avoid the disastrous potential consequences of his actions.

It was the long sweep of the flash-back narrative which reminded me more of Being There and Forrest Gump, while the criminal gang narrative sits closer to the Ealing comedies. But of course the two genres are not that different really, since they both depend on coincidence, farce and the human willingness to project qualities onto other people which they don't really possess, which is why the two threads of the film worked so well together as different perspectives on the same central character.

It's got to be said that the humour is pretty black at times. The audience is invited to laugh at things like the sight of an essentially-innocent person's decapitated head bouncing off the bonnet of his car while his mistress sits screaming in the passenger seat, for example, and quite often Allan and his friends are the cause of these deaths - though their actions are always carefully coded as accidental, and the victims as (to a greater or lesser degree) criminal. Whether you find the film funny and enjoyable or not is going to depend on whether you are willing to suspend normal morality (in the same sense as suspending disbelief) in order to laugh at that. That said, I don't think that kind of humour is utterly bereft of a moral compass either. There can be quite some moral heft in a film which encourages you to laugh at someone's death, while at the same time squirming with the realisation of what you are doing - which is why our laughter was also punctuated by winces.

And meanwhile the film is packed full of utterly brilliant character observations - like the over-thinking perpetual student, the lady at the retirement home who is more worried about what she's going to do with an unwanted giant marzipan cake than the fact that one of her charges has gone missing, the police inspector who pursues both Allan and the criminal gang as half-arsedly as he possibly can without actually losing his job, or the rejected ex-boyfriend who wants to pull angrily away from his girlfriend's house with tyres screaming, but has got himself into a position where he has to shunt the car around about 5 times before he can leave, with everybody watching him and giving advice as he knocks things over at every turn. Also, how often do you get to see a bunch of people going on the run with an elephant?

In short, watch this film if you get the chance, but be prepared for a few winces along the way.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I watched this as part of my current project to explore 'Other Gothic Horrors Starring Christopher Lee Which I Haven't Seen, And Which Ideally Feature Him Playing A Character As Similar To Dracula As Possible, And / Or Also Star Peter Cushing And / Or Vincent Price', with the specific emphasis here, of course, on the 'As Similar To Dracula As Possible' clause. So similar, in fact, that his character is named as Dracula in the title - although not within the film itself, where he is only ever referred to as 'le Comte' and 'le Prince des Ténèbres'.

I have known of this film for a very long time, and have always longed to see it, but this is one which I literally could not have got hold of 10 years ago (when I last had a systematic go at tracking down Christopher Lee films I hadn't seen), as the DVD which I have now bought was only released in 2009. What I knew about it before seeing it was that it is a French-language vampire comedy, and that Christopher Lee generally claims that he was 'tricked' into playing a character which would be presented to the public as Dracula )

Anyway, however it happened, I'm glad he agreed to take on the role, because this is a great little film, and who but the man who had in recent decades so utterly defined the role could possibly deliver such as perfect spoof-Dracula (or generic equivalent thereof)? Plot summary )

There are quite a few nods to the Hammer films, and Lee's role in them, throughout all of this. The film opens with a classic carriage-driving-through-misty-woods scene, complete with obligatory roadside shrine, as seen in many a Hammer film, while the ending with the curtains and the sunlight has got to be a direct parody of the dramatic death-scene from Dracula (1958). The Count's wheeze of finding work as an actor, and thus getting to feed on attractive ladies in the course of his work while 'passing' as a human being who simply remains in character as a vampire off-screen is also obviously playing on the way Christopher Lee himself had become identified with his role as Dracula - and this is the biggest reason why I'm so glad he did the film, as that joke just wouldn't have worked with anyone else. And there are many other small details in the costumes, sets and use of vampire tropes which Hammer fans will definitely recognise.

That said, the Count is both written and played by Lee in a quite different way from the Hammer Dracula. This is a comedy, after all, so the malicious machinations, fiery rage and uncontrollable blood-lust of the Hammer character wouldn't be entirely appropriate. Rather, the Count of this film is largely indistinguishable from a rather haughty, short-tempered and selfish human being. He is also quite often the butt of the film's jokes. There's one sequence in particular, after he and his son have fled their castle and got separated, when his coffin is trawled up out of the sea by a British fishing vessel, and he ends up staggering around the streets of London, bedraggled, smelling of fish, desperate for blood and comically failing to score any. His first attempted victim turns out to be an inflatable sex doll (remember, this is a French comedy from the 1970s), and his second foils him by walking through a glass door - which he then crashes into and painfully slides down into a heap on the floor. Then there are the multiple scenes in which he is just about to seduce Nicole, and Ferdinand (who by that time is interested in Nicole himself) interrupts with a series of trivial queries, much to the Count's considerable frustration. In other words, though he's certainly a vampire, and is definitely chasing after Ferdinand and Nicole with ill intent by the end of the film, he's never scary.

Yet despite the combination of the nods to Hammer and the jokes at the Count's expense, this is much more than a simple parody, either of the Hammer films specifically or of the Dracula story more generally. Its strength is that it gives its characters their own stories and explores its own themes - especially the dynamics of the father-son relationship, which is obviously well beyond the scope of most Dracula stories. The contemporary-Paris setting is nicely used as well. Ferdinand's time spent down and out in low-paid jobs in particular gives rise to some quite moving and realist depictions of the largely immigrant community who take him in, and who live in squats in abandoned warehouses on the edge of town. There are some nice portrayals of the film, advertising and hotel industries, too, and the characters who inhabit them, all taking advantage of the comic genre to poke fun at their obsessions and hypocrisies.

The film was originally recorded and released in French, along with a German dubbed version. An American English-language dub was also released in 1979, but apparently it isn't so much a translation as a completely different (and much less subtle) story, with considerable chunks edited out and Lee's character dubbed by somebody else. Given that his voice is one of his major selling-points as an actor, I decided I couldn't be doing with that, so I bought this DVD, which contains both the French and the German versions, and watched the French one instead. In that (though not in the German print), Lee speaks all of his own lines, and to his credit I must say that I could hardly even tell he wasn't a native French speaker. I have got rather tired of his repeated boasts in books and interviews about how he speaks about ninety thousand foreign languages with perfect fluency, but he certainly acquitted himself well in French for this film - although obviously speaking lines written by someone else is a rather different matter from conversing in your own right.

Of course, this does mean that you need to be able to understand either French or German well enough to follow the film in order to enjoy it in its original intended form, since there isn't even a version with English subtitles currently available. But if you can, I'd definitely recommend it. I would have to issue one content warning for it, which is that one technique Ferdinand uses in order to 'win' Nicole from the Count is to fake a power-cut, thus tricking his father into leaving their hotel room, and then take advantage of the darkness to dress up in the Count's dressing gown and seduce Nicole while pretending to be his father. Her reaction on discovering what he's done when the lights come on is to shrug, smile and accept it, which is pretty icky from an informed-consent perspective, especially when coming from a character who is otherwise coded as the likeable hero of the film. But other than that, it is a charming comedy with a lot going for it, and definitely worth watching for any fan of Christopher Lee as Dracula.

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strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
On Wednesday I went to the Cottage Road Cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and [ profile] big_daz. As usual, the main feature was preceded by appropriate vintage shorts, and this time we had a special treat - a silent film with piano accompaniment.

11a. Big Business (1929), dir. James W. Horne and Leo McCarey

It was a Laurel and Hardy number, and as I wasn't much bowled over by the L&H film we saw at the Cottage last year, I wasn't expecting much. But I enjoyed this one rather more than last year's. It is basically structured around an escalating absurdity gag. Laurel and Hardy are driving round a residential neighbourhood in their van, trying to sell Christmas trees. After a couple of (unsuccessful) attempts, they get drawn into a protracted row with one potential customer. It starts off with them annoying him accidentally, through incompetence rather than malice, but the gloves come off when he responds by chopping their Christmas tree in half with a pair of shears. After that, it is full-scale war on both sides, as they retaliate by ripping bits off his house while he does the same to their van. A crowd gathers to watch the fun, a police-man intervenes, and it all ends in classic fashion with the police-man chasing the two of them away up the road into the sunset. Lots of good laughs, plenty of shots of shocked and / or furious people, and generally a nice way to start the evening.

11b. A Night at the Opera (1935), dir. Sam Wood

This was the first time I'd really sat down and watched a Marx Brothers film properly. If you'd asked me whether I expected to like it, I'd probably have demurred politely, troubled by unsettling visions of goofy one-liners and slap-stick gags which are not really my scene. Sadly, the reality of the film didn't do much to change my mind. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood because I was worried about my Dad, but for me some of the jokes were overdone, and many of them just weren't that funny. Plus Groucho Marx's smart-alec style of delivery, where more or less every line was spoken with a distinct self-satisfied swagger about how funny it was didn't appeal to me at all.

That said, it was a film from the 1930s, which meant some very lovely outfits, especially on the leading lady. The three brothers also travel from what I suppose is Italy (it's never made very clear) to New York on an ocean liner during the film, so that there are some nice on-board-ship scenes, including a fun song-and-dance number on the third-class deck. And at least I have seen a Marx Brothers film properly now, so can tick off a major cultural landmark in my personal journey through this strange old world we live in. It's just that it is one which I have no particular desire to re-visit.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
A few days ago, [ profile] nigelmouse asked on Facebook whether anyone else fancied going along to see this film, and I did. So last night off we went.

I'm not going to write a long review of it, because trying to explain exactly why a good character-based comedy is funny is unlikely to do it or me any favours. Basically, if Alan Partridge's previous outings have made you laugh (even while cringing), this one will too.

There is a standard-format trailer available, but to be honest having just watched it now after seeing the film, it isn't very good. Maybe the whole point of Alan Partridge is that his individual lines are only funny in the context of the character, so the very short clips of dialogue which you typically get in a trailer don't work - you need a continuous scene to enjoy the full range of his ineptitude, insensitivity, narcissism and self-delusion. On that basis, this clip which the lovely [ profile] firefish shared on Facebook this morning will do much better:

There's part of me which still longs slightly for a return to the spoof TV chat-show format used in Knowing Me, Knowing You... with Alan Partridge. Part of the joke there was that Alan's interviews were far more about himself than his guests, but because we didn't actually see his day to day life, the character didn't need to be consistent in the way he did once we moved to seeing both his radio show and his personal life around it in I'm Alan Partridge. But that format worked better for me in this film, perhaps because the longer narrative allowed more room for the character to breathe than the half-hour TV episodes.

Anyway, definitely worth seeing, and I imagine especially so if you are in, from or love Norfolk.

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Almost a month ago now I went along to the Cottage Road cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy for an evening of silent comedies with live piano accompaniment. I wrote up the first three short films in the week that followed, but then died under a huge pile of essays and left the post unfinished. Now, though, I feel sufficiently resurrected to finish the job.

29a. The Champion (1915), dir. Charlie Chaplin )

29b. The Paleface (1923), dir. Buster Keaton )

29c. Habeas Corpus (1928), dir. Leo McCarey and James Parrott )

30. Safety Last! (1923), dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor )

I would definitely watch this film again, and I'll also keep an eye out for some of Buster Keaton's other work. But, much as I enjoyed the whole special-occasion experience and the fun of having a live pianist playing for us in the cinema, I don't think I'm ever going to be won over to the work of Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this with [ profile] ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road cinema on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon (see picture), and it was fab. Obviously I normally like to review the films I've seen in exhaustive detail, but that would rather spoil this one I think. It was just ace fun - really owning the naff songs and the campy nostalgia and rolling with it, and absolutely packed with self-referential humour and word-play. A lot of the celebrity cameos were lost on me, but I appreciated the ones I did recognise - especially Emily Blunt and Sarah Silverman. And as far as I could tell the children in the cinema enjoyed it as much as me and [ profile] ms_siobhan, although we were definitely laughing at quite different bits. Highly recommended - but I'm sure you know that already.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I'm rolling two reviews into one here, because they are both for classic films which I saw with my fellow aficionado, [ profile] ms_siobhan, as well as [ profile] planet_andy and (in the latter case) [ profile] big_daz

28. House on Haunted Hill (1959), dir. William Castle

I saw the abysmal 1999 remake of this in the cinema with [ profile] mr_flay when it came out, and we both agreed that it had stolen precious hours from our lives. But it took me until this October to get round to seeing the original properly, during a film afternoon at [ profile] ms_siobhan's. Needless to say, it was ten thousand zillion times better! Vincent Price is fantastic, the plot kept us guessing, and we also rather liked the somewhat Art Deco-ish appearance of the exterior of the house (strangely at odds with the Victorian gothic interior, but there you go). Like all the best ghost stories (and unlike the remake), it remains ambiguous for most of the film whether there is actually anything supernatural in the house at all, or just a bunch of scared and / or villainous human beings. If you've not seen it, I'll leave the pleasure of finding out how it all resolves to you!

29. The Ladykillers (1955), dir. Alexander Mackendrick

This one we saw at the Cottage Road cinema, complete with the usual vintage adverts, national anthem, ice-cream tray in the intermission and so forth. It's another Ealing comedy: the second which the Cottage Road has shown this year, after The Lavender Hill Mob. And it's one I've seen a couple of times, as my parents have a copy on video and it's quite a favourite of theirs. Obviously not for some years, though, as I'd forgotten it was in colour, and while I knew how it ended, I couldn't really remember how it got there.

It's just lovely in every way. I can never quite decide which member of Alec Guinness's criminal gang I secretly want to be the one to get away with all the money - although I think it's probably Guinness himself in the end. And of course it's so much the better when it actually turns out to be spoiler-cut, because even though this film is over half a century old, knowing the ending in advance will actually still significantly reduce the pleasure if you've not seen it before ).

Mrs Wilberforce's story has an edge of sadness and genuine social commentary to it, too, which lends a lovely bittersweet tone to the comedy. Widowed and living a dignified but obviously rather impoverished and lonely life in a bomb-damaged house, she must have been all too common a figure at the time when the film was made. But although she is shown as fussy, foolish and forgetful, she is also portrayed with an incredible strength of personality that seemed to me to convey a profound respect for women of this kind - the ones who had weathered two world wars, and ended up in a strange and alien new world with precious little to show for their sacrifices. Her independence of spirit and ability to cow a bunch of hardened (if incompetent) criminals into behaving like gentlemen when she tells them to actually has quite a feminist edge to it, and the way her story ends up is a kind of wish-fulfilment - a statement of what ladies like her truly deserve. Anyway, she is very definitely the real star of the film, and it's no wonder everyone loves her.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Whew! It's taken me a couple of days to type this lot up, as I saw a lot of films on the final day of the festival, and I think we all know I am a bit prone to tl;dr reviews, even when I think the thing I'm writing about was rubbish. But I've managed it now! It's up to you to decide if you are brave enough to read it all. ;-)

15a-f. Short Films )

TV Heaven: Children of the Stones (HTV, 1976) )

16a. Intrusion (1961), dir. Michael Reeves )

16b. The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves )

17. Robocop (1987), dir. Paul Verhoeven )

18. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), dir. Jorge Grau )

So that was a pretty intensive weekend of film viewing all told - in fact, coming out of the other end of it I find that I am now well ahead of 2009's total of 14 films seen over the entire year, even though it is still only June. I absolutely loved it, though, and have found myself haunting Amazon and eBay ever since it ended, swooping up copies of films I saw, or other works by the same actors and directors to add to my collection. Debate is currently raging on miss_s_b's journal about what form next year's festival should take. But whatever the final line-up, unless life conspires to stop me I'm pretty sure I'm going to be there.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this last night at the Cottage Road cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and Rachel WINOLJ (AFAIK). It was another of the Cottage's Classic film nights, like when we went to see Meet Me in St. Louis before Christmas, so once again we were treated to adverts from the 1950s to the 1980s before the film - though not, alas, a Pathé news reel this time. We got instructions on how to behave at a drive-in movie, two Hamlet cigar adverts, a very surreal cereal advert featuring a couple dressed as the people in the American Gothic painting singing about how great their cornflakes were, and a seductive soft-focus advert all about the pleasures of eating Wall's ice-cream in the sun, with a heavy emphasis on the posterior of a female bicyclist wearing tight blue satin hot-pants.

The film itself is an Ealing comedy. I didn't think I knew it, but recognised the plot point about trying to smuggle gold bullion out of the country disguised as souvenir Eiffel towers, so maybe I have seen snippets of it on TV at some point. Anyway, it was great, especially on the big screen, with lots of comic misdemeanours, farcical chase scenes and cracking characters. I especially liked the game old lady in the boarding house who had picked up loads of criminals' slang from reading detective novels; and the scene with Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway desperately attempting to leap on a cross-channel ferry, but having to work their way through a series of bureaucratic ticket officials, passport controllers, customs officers and foreign exchange dealers first. It reminded me painfully of some of my experiences in Schiphol airport, which it seems to be impossible to negotiate via anything other than a painful combination of mad dashes and frustratingly-slow queues.

The end credits threw up a surprising link with the last film I watched, too. I'd thought one of the characters in the opening scene looked rather like Audrey Hepburn, but assumed that it couldn't be, since her role was so minimal - all of about 10 seconds and two lines. But, sure enough, the credit list confirmed that it was indeed her, two years before she shot to fame in Roman Holiday. Her very brief scene is in this Youtube clip if any of you would like to see it for yourselves.

Finally, we were once again invited to stand and salute for the national anthem - but this time it was George VI who was projected on the screen in front of us, rather than a youthful QEII like last time. The film stock was clearly very old, as you could hardly make him out through the dust and scratches, but there he was in glorious technicolor with a Union Jack flying proudly behind him.

Another brilliant evening out, and once again I can't wait for the next time.

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strange_complex: (F&L Geek pride)
I am nearing the end of the latest chapter of my (stupid) teaching portfolio, which is Good News. Soon, I shall be on to the final phase of putting the whole thing together and submitting it, and then you will not need to hear me complaining about it any more. Don't let your guard down just yet, though, as I'm sure that final phase will warrant griping of its own.

Anyway, I'd done enough by the end of Friday to head off with a clear conscience and the knowledge that I would not need to think about it again until Monday, and catch the train to charming Hebden Bridge; there to meet [ profile] snapesbabe, [ profile] matgb, [ profile] burlesque_bunny and her fella, and attend a performance of Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf )

Saturday then saw me spending a tiring, but very satisfying, day painting the back bedroom in my house. And I took it as an opportunity for further Whovianism, in the form of some Eight audios. Something like painting, of course, presents the ideal opportunity to listen to stories like that, because the painting itself doesn't make any noise at all (unlike vacuuming, for instance), but it does successfully occupy those parts of your brain and body that might get bored just sitting still listening to a story, while leaving those parts that would definitely get bored just painting to enter entirely into the world of the drama.

Eighth Doctor audio: Storm Warning )

Eighth Doctor audio: Sword of Orion )

strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
I've been watching You Rang M'Lord while I ate my tea: it's being repeated at the moment on UKTV Drama. A bit of Googling has informed me that it first aired in December 1988, when I was all of twelve, and I remember enjoying it very much at the time. I'm now having the pleasure of rediscovering it, and finding out that my taste as a twelve-year-old was not as poor as I'd assumed. It may not be high art, but it does some interesting things with the inevitable main theme of class tensions, and some quite surprising things with its characters and the relationships between them.

In particular, now that I'm older and more 'media aware', I'm really quite impressed that it featured an explicitly lesbian cross-dresser as a regular character: Cissy, one of the two daughters of the house. OK, so the impact is watered down by the fact that the series as a whole is set in what is effectively a fantasy otherworld, and that the primary function of her lesbianism really seems to be to help portray the family as decadent toffs. But still, some credit is surely due for challenging boundaries there.

I certainly remember myself being fascinated and amazed by the character at the time. Just one of many things which now cause me to look back and wonder why it took me so damned long to fully recognise my own sexuality. Ah, well - better late than never.

In other news, I feel utterly crummy tonight, and though I'm supposed to be going to the pub with the [ profile] oxgoths, I suspect the evening will in fact end in an early retirement with a hot water bottle. I'll see how I feel in half an hour, but that bed is definitely calling...


strange_complex: (Default)

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