Django (1966)

Django poster.jpg

What an iconic piece of work by the Italian auteur Sergio Corbucci, this spawned loads of imitators (c30) but none holds a candle to this nor stars that most beauteous of men, Franco Nero, except a very late ‘sequel’ in 1987, made without Corbucci. Of course it was influenced by Leone’s work but gained a major following for its equally laconic leading man who fought for the Union but is now drifting, dragging a coffin, in the company of a half-caste whore Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and becoming involved in a dispute between Confederate racists and Mexican revolutionaries. What can be in that coffin? All is revealed in highly symbolic fashion, with fighting in the streets and the graveyards. Exceptionally violent. What a delight it was to see Nero pop up in Django Unchained, but… The original and the best.

 

Advertisements

28 Days (2000)

28_Days_Poster.jpg

Don’t you just love Sandra Bullock? What a star. And if you’ve got it, flaunt it, having to choose between Dominic West and Viggo Mortensen in this rehab-set tragicomedy. She’s party girl and writer Gwen (a wilder SJP?) who wrecks her sister’s wedding and gets a choice between jail and … you guessed it. She shares a room with a teenage self-harmer and soap opera addict, almost gets booted out for getting out of it again when West visits with drink and pills and has to go cold turkey to stay and finally gets to know her fellow inmates.  All human life is here, the tone is pretty well managed by director Betty Thomas from a script by Susannah Grant and it really taps into those Prozac Nation confessionals that were doing the rounds of all the publishing houses at the time. Bullock is terrific in a tricky role and she really is the whole show.

Posse From Hell (1961)

Posse from Hell poster.jpg

Even if it’s not vintage Audie, it’s better than none, right? Four Death Row inmates escape and ride into a town called Paradise, shooting it up, and taking Helen (Zohra Lampert) hostage after she tries to take her alkie uncle home. But gunfighter Banner Cole (Audie) has already been deputised by the wounded sheriff and he leads a posse to rescue the hostages. Amongst the random inexperienced gathering is a bank teller Seymour (John Saxon) who makes the best coffee around and former Army captain Jeremiah (Robert Keith) who mistakes four cowhands for the gang and nearly kills them. Helen’s shame at being raped means she doesn’t want to return to the town. Then they track down the gang to a house and all hell breaks loose… Damned fine coffee!

The Survivalist (2015)

The Survivalist poster.jpg

Paintball was never like this. Or maybe if Samuel Beckett set Godot in Norn Iron after the oil supplies dried up …it would be. Ah, that’s it. Martin McCann is burying someone. He’s a paranoid hermit whose veggie forager lifestyle in this post-apocalyptic world is upset by the arrival of a feral old woman (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter (Mia Goth) and after the girl exchanges sexual favours they agree a grudging truce and hang around longer than one night. The women are planning on killing him but an assailant captures the girl and shoots him. He knifes the stranger and the women remove the bullet and cauterise the wound which needs maggots to heal. Then with an attack by 6 men on the garden they revert to Plan A while the girl tries to perform an abortion on herself … This triangular relationship based on uneasy silences, danger and treachery has a constant shifting centre and revolves around two shells and a bullet. There is minimal dialogue but the performances and Damien Elliott’s photography contribute texture to an atmospheric drama that is probably science fiction, but with added cannibalism. Yum. Written and directed by Stephen Fingleton, who  originally made this as a short called Magpie with more or less the same cast.

Nine Lives (2016)

Nine_Lives_poster.png

As a committed aiurophile I was not prepared for the long-ish first sequence in Barry Sonnenfeld’s film. Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is an irritating over-achiever billionaire building the US’s tallest skyscraper with the aid of his underappreciated son David (Robbie Amell). Meanwhile his beautiful wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and chirpy daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman) are struggling for attention. He knows Rebecca wants a cat for her birthday, but he’s allergic and wants to get something else…. his suggestions at an employees’ meeting persuade him he’s wrong, he better get her one, so fetches up at Mr Purrkins’ Shop, an emporium of all things feline, including proprietor Christopher Walken. Aaahhhh!!!! Now you got me. Brand takes Mr Fuzzypants with him to meet his treacherous right-hand man Ian on the top of his tower, which is now in competition with another erection, and lightning strikes … Bingo! There’s a changing places scenario which is simply hilarious. As Brand malingers in a coma, Mr Purrkins’ plan to teach him how to be more human means he endures grotesque indignities in learning how to be a better-behaved cat as well as trying to figure out how to convince Rebecca who he really is. It takes a while to bed in, the boardroom shenanigans are a necessary subplot, but this is funny as hell, especially if your cat has ever tried to use a pen. Purr-fect!

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

Our_Kind_of_Traitor_(film).png

I was mystified by the title sequence to this film – slomo images of ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Then a Russian family get murdered in the snowy forests. It wrong-footed me as I suspect it was meant to do. Because this is really a very long howl of protest by the great John Le Carre about the horrendous nature of corruption at the heart of the British establishment and the City of London, that sacred cow of Labourite and Tory alike, whose exponential development has led to the nicest residential areas turned into bulletproofed enclaves for Russian mobsters. Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a lecturer in poetics, in Morocco with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) on a holiday we realise is intended to repair their marriage following his relationship with a student. He meets loud and noisy Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) at a party, becomes embroiled with his family and secretly agrees to bring a memory stick to London for the attention of MI6 who send Hector (Damian Lewis) to examine its contents. Dima launders money for the  Russian Mafia. Hector’s aim to get Dima and his family away from the Mafia’s clutches in exchange for information  is quickly disavowed when it becomes apparent he doesn’t yet have enough to get ‘the Prince’, head of the Russians, who wants to go legit with the help of a politician (Jeremy Northam) by laundering money properly through setting up a bank in the City. So Perry and his wife are asked to help a rogue mission for MI6. Danger, Will Robinson … This is a very specific kind of spy thriller and one that quietly sneaks into your brain, rather like a political worm unsettling your conscience, as Dima contaminates Perry’s. Hossein Amini’s adaptation does a fair job structuring what is hardly a classic spy tale but its morality lingers, as does the  realisation that Dima’s ultimate situation has been triggered by the classic act of familial  entrapment, witnessed, funnily enough, by Gail. Susanna White had the pleasure of directing Le Carre as a doorman to the Einstein Museum in a production of which he had an Executive role: those famous images of the scientist sticking his tongue out replay when it hits you what a confidence trick this film has pulled off. It makes you THINK.

Time Out of Mind (2015)

Time_Out_of_Mind_(2014_film)_poster.jpg

NYC is a frightening place, especially the first time you spend there, but I’ve rarely seen anything to equal Richard Gere urinating in the street. He exults in the disgust of a man castigating him for it, calling him an animal. Oren Moverman’s commitment to the real meant that cameras were hidden as George (Gere) went around, camouflaged in beanies and anoraks, apparently aimlessly, drifting, while the denizens do what they do to the homeless in a terrifying cacophonous din that has for the viewer the dramatic affect of tinnitus. We see George going from homeless shelter to subway, hungry, begging, experiencing the death-defying bureaucracy along the way that would drive a fine mind crazy with frustration:  he has no ID, no paperwork to get more paperwork that would get him a bed, food vouchers, comfort. Sometimes he follows a young woman (Jena Malone) who it transpires is his daughter, who disowns him. At eighty minutes into the running time he finally tells his newfound Bellevue Hospital friend (Ben Vereen) the cataclysmic series of unfortunate events that has led to him having a life on the streets. A chance reunion with trolley lady Sheila (Kyra Sedgwick) enlightens us as to how he is thrown out of an apartment at the story’s opening. Gere is very moving.  He is frequently on the edge, crying, upset and he is very touching in the role, inasmuch as the writing allows, but his character is somewhat enigmatic. There is a resolution, of a sort, in keeping with the demands of the medium. Even Ken Loach has to permit that and this is a film that is redolent of that approach. But this is far from an easy watch. Moverman and Jeffrey Caine wrote the screenplay, developed from Caine’s story. Maybe we can all have more understanding of street people as a result.

Stroszek (1977)

Stroszek_poster

Werner Herzog makes extraordinary films, doesn’t he? And here’s a road movie to beat the band. Bruno (Bruno S., Kaspar Hauser) has just been released from prison following a drunken episode. His problems all relate to having been brought up in Nazi-run institutions. His dwarf neighbour Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) has kept his myna bird and flat, complete with piano. Music has saved his life but he can’t earn a living from singing in the streets. He falls for prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes, more familiar from her work with Fassbinder) but she needs to escape local thugs and she works extra to get them all the money to leave Berlin and go to the United States, where Scheitz’s nephew runs a garage in rural Wisconsin. Things start badly when Stroszek’s myna bird is confiscated on arrival.  It’s tough to earn a living and the bank closes in on Eva and Stroszek’s home so she has to whore herself again and they split up. Stroszek compares the American way of life to that which he experienced  under the Nazis – spiritual abuse. When his home is publicly auctioned he takes a truck and ultimately abandons it in Fort Tomahawk, running it in ever-decreasing circles, as he looks at a display of performing chickens and armed police arrive… This tragicomic look at the life of three apparent eccentrics is actually a startling dissection of what passes for human existence, in all its pathetic banality,underscored by the muzakal interpretation of By the Time I Get to Phoenix (James Last, vielleicht?!) It’s a portrait of the US that doesn’t enhance one’s views of prospects outside the metropolis and Herzog captures the utter degradation of poverty in a land without pity.

Now, Voyager (1942)

Now Voyager Poster.jpg

All I have is a faded corsage and an empty bottle of perfume … Sob! Most people’s favourite Bette Davis picture, this tale of a bullied daughter of Boston brahmin stock, sent away to recover from a mother-induced nervous breakdown only to return a woman of the world with a married man, is pure classical Hollywood. Olive Higgins Prouty’s bestseller of an ugly thirtysomething duckling who turns into a mature and lovely swan is the stuff of Cinderella transformations and all the stops were pulled out to ensure its success. Casey Robinson was the steady hand deployed to manage the emotions and tap all the appropriate responses in what would have been censor-baiting material. He was the greatest screenwriter at Warners’ disposal, starting his career with Captain Blood (1935) which made Errol Flynn a star and created a tone for all action-adventure films to follow. He started writing films for Bette Davis two years later with It’s Love I’m After and followed it with the great Dark Victory, the film which properly turned Davis into a feminine star. He said it helped to know which actor he was writing for because then everything was in their voice “and Bette Davis, how I heard her voice!”  Irving Rapper directed,Gladys Cooper is Mommie Dearest,  Claude Rains is the suave and suaver psychiatrist and Paul Henreid does the two-cigarette act with aplomb. Golly this is great.