Monday, 22 September 2014

Brighton Rock (1947)


I was very sad to hear the news of Richard Attenborough's death, and at the same time slightly unnerved that LoveFilm had delivered Brighton Rock not long before.  Hopefully it wasn't some strange premonition by the Amazon company; anyway I felt that watching the movie would be a fitting tribute.  Based on the novel by Graham Greene and directed by John Boulting, Brighton Rock is the story of Pinkie Brown (Attenborough) a small-time gangster in Brighton who has just become the new leader of a small-scale mob gang.

Make sure you're paying attention from the start, if you're still making a cup of tea/pouring a pint you'll miss the lightning pace exposition.  However, once the intro is over it slows right down, as Pinkie and his gang follow their primary target, charting his every move around town before disposing of him in Dante's Inferno (a ghost train ride!).  It's a beautifully choreographed scene, and you might be forgiven for thinking that nothing goes unnoticed in Brighton by Pinkie's gang.  The film settles down when Pinkie meets Rose (Carol Marsh), though the relationship is driven by Pinkie's need to suppress any evidence Rose can give against him.

I admit that the only time I've seen Richard Attenborough in front of the camera before is as Richard Hammond or Big X in The Great Escape.  So to see him as a devious gangster takes some getting used to; this is helped by the fact that he's so great.  Sometimes he may not say much, but his thoughts are conveyed via the medium of shifty eyes!  He often reminds me of Al Pacino in The Godfather.

Pinkie never really seems in control but Dickie's brain is always working behind those shifty eyes, looking to exploit a situation or looking out for anyone that may cross him.  At the start of the film it is actually a while until Pinkie finally speaks, and then he suddenly explodes, all the stress of suddenly being de facto leader boils over.

Surrounding him are characters that trust Pinkie as much as Muldoon trusts a Velociraptor, who are all played by an accomplished but unknown to me cast (apart from a pre-Dr Who William Hartnell).  Carol Marsh is pitch perfect as Pinkie's naive and scared girlfriend; always jittery, but drawn to the sharp-dressed bad-boy image.  Hermione Baddeley seems to have got lost on the way to a Carry On film, but she is functional enough in her sleuth role.

The first time I watched Brighton Rock I enjoyed it, though I was very sleepy.  I watched it a second time yesterday and loved it.  Richard Attenborough is fantastic, I was able to follow the exposition better, and everything flows smoothly.  Some may find the final scene a little cheesy, but for me it works perfectly.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)


Making my way through my Hammer boxed set, I’ve discovered some real gems (Plague of the Zombies, The Nanny), but also some fairly forgettable productions (The Reptile, She).  Oops, I’ve said this before!  I really shouldn’t repeat myself.  Oops, I’ve said this before!  I really shouldn’t repeat myself.  Quatermass and the Pit definitely falls into the second of these categories.  Other than the novelty of seeing a very young Grand Maester Pycelle, there is nothing that really stands out.

The eponymous Professor Quatermass (Andrew Kier) has been tasked to help Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) with the development a new rocket programme.  Their first collaboration is interrupted when they call by to check on an incident in Hobb’s End underground station.  They soon unearth an alien spacecraft; a craft that has been there a very long time.

Director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, 1958), is a steady pair of hands which are never-the-less tied by a forgettable story and wandering plot.  There is the interesting idea that the human race is a result of experiments carried out on our ancestors by the insectoid Martians 5 million years ago (a theme also explored the following year in 2001: A Space Odyssey), but the concept of the race memory is a step too far.

Sure, I like the way that the opinion of the scientists are trusted, and the fact that we see some lab research (spurious science notwithstanding).  But nothing memorable happens, apart from a very rushed ending involving a floaty psychic alien (ghost?) thing which is destroyed by crashing a crane into it!  Perhaps not exactly a Deus ex machina, the resolution only occurs to Quatermass in the final few minutes of the film.

I realise that in terms of special effects, a Hammer production can’t really compete with those of Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey (both of which were released the following year), but I feel those in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) or even The Plague of Zombies from the the previous year are better than the cardboard insects on offer here.

Generic thriller sci-fi with little to recommend it, or indeed little to remember.  Competently directed with a good cast and some nice ideas in the story, let down by some more ridiculous ideas and some spectacularly bad special effects.  In fact the most interesting thing could be this line from the parents guide in IMDB: “The giant locusts could be frightening to some viewers even though they are dead”.  Locusts or viewers?  Says it all.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.



Friday, 1 August 2014

First Blood (1982)


OK, so I'm 37 and I've never seen a Rambo film until now.  Does that make me a bad movie nerd?  I've seen Son of Rambow which is brilliant, but I don't think that really counts.  The whole premise of First Blood, that a Vietnam vet is treated badly by the Sheriff's Office of some small town so he runs into the woods and takes revenge, is fairly ridiculous; but it is a testament to the direction by Ted Kotcheff that the film is so much fun.  It's all a bit A-Team as I don't remember many people dying despite all the explosions and violence, but it doesn't suffer because of it.

Probably one of the reasons I've never made an effort to see a Rambo film is that I've never been a fan of Stallone.  If I'm honest, I've always preferred Arnie; he seems to feature in more films I'm interested in (I hate boxing, so Rocky is wasted on me), and even if Schwarzenegger isn't a great actor, at least I can understand him when he speaks!

Having said all that, Stallone was perfectly watchable as John Rambo; and though he isn't the most eloquent, the fact that I really routed for his character helped a lot.  It does feel like the first part in a series, and I've no idea whether First Blood Part II was already planned, but as First Blood works great as a stand alone film, it really doesn't matter.

The only other main player of any real note is Brian Dennehy, who is great as Sheriff Will Teasle, the guy who arrests John for being a bum; even when he realises he's bitten off more than he can chew he belligerently goes after Rambo.  All the other cops are fairly incidental; Richard Crenna plays Rambo's previous senior officer when in 'nam, but really only turns up at the end as more of a link to the next film

First Blood doesn't do anything particularly special, other than cement Stallone as a bona fide action star and convince me that he isn't all that bad. Well paced, and some brutal action, First Blood is very enjoyable. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Aliens Double Bill


Perhaps Aberdeen is not the centre of the cultural universe, but as long as the excellent Belmont Filmhouse keeps putting on events and screenings of classic films, then I'll be happy.  My cinema going isn't as frequent as it used to be, but in recent years I've enjoyed an Indiana Jones double bill, Metropolis, Nosferatu, Labyrinth, The Thing, Robocop, Tron, The Big Lebowski Wii ten pin bowling night and now an Aliens double bill.

When I first saw the advert for the event, there was nothing that was going to stop me going.  I've seen Alien before on the big screen, I think it was on the 25th anniversary (I was only 3 when it was first released); but I've never seen Aliens in large format.

Needless to say, both films were utterly brilliant; seeing them on the big screen shows up a level of detail that is lost on TV, and in Aliens in particular the practical effects look tremendous.  The sound design in Aliens (that freaked me out so much playing AVP on the PC in the dark) is superb and so atmospheric at volume, as is James Horner's score.  Being part of an audience who are all fans enhances the viewing; there is almost palpable excitement as the Alien logos come up on the screen (sublimely understated), and a lot of humour that is lost when viewed at home suddenly works like you're seeing it for the first time.

Of course this was an event as much as a showing of two amazing films, and as such was a great success.  Posters and T-shirts had been kindly provided by the excellent Last Exit to Nowhere, and before each film, Dallas (Marketing and Events manager at The Belmont - not actually beardy Tom Skerrit) asked Alien-related questions handing out Alien Kinder eggs as prizes.

Having simply worn a dressing gown and sandals to the Big Lebowski night, I thought I'd make more of an effort this time, and through a combination of old clothes, charity shops and eBay, I thought that I came up with a fairly convincing Brett costume.


Dallas (centre, complete with chestburster) thought so too, and I am very thankful for my complimentary Filmhouse tickets and my Blu-Ray boxed set of the 4 Alien movies + Prometheus prize.


Brilliant event, a great time had by all, and I'm looking forward to the Back to the Future Trilogy.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Top Gun (1986)


During our stay in Lawers this year, amid glorious weather we went to the excellent Birks of Aberfeldy cinema.  A brilliant and very friendly community-owned cinema.  There was no real question of what we wanted to see: having never seen it on the big screen Top Gun was the obvious choice.

There is little I can really say about Tony Scott's classic tale of fast planes, fast living and homo-eroticism.  Sure I could mention the fantastic cast featuring Tom Skerrit, Daryl Revok Michael Ironside, Mr Strickland James Tolkan as well as the up and coming Tom Cruise.  Or I could mention how great the aerial photography is, and how amazing the soundtrack is (it won Academy, Golden Globe and BRIT awards).  I could also witter on about the excellent pairing of Anthony Edwards and Tom Cruise, and how they play perfectly off each other; as well as how quotable the whole film is. But I thought I'd be lazy and simply embed the Facebook conversation I started just after we seen it.  So without further ado, here it is.




For all the realism of the movie, I can't help but think that Goose's polaroid of the MIG wasn't quite as good as this selfie: http://theaviationist.com/2014/03/03/rdaf-missile-selfie/

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Forbidden Planet (1956)


The central premise of Forbidden Planet, that there is a darkness in all of us, lends itself perfectly to Sci-Fi; but for all the excellent sets and realised alien landscapes, I thought that I would have been more whelmed!

It was not the ravages of time that got to me (though it was particularly un-dynamic the way everyone shot at the Disney-rendered monster), rather that I just didn't buy the key relationship.  Of course Robbie the Robot is the real star of the show, his whirring and blooping is completely brilliant and the real stuff of Sci-Fi legend.  Walter Pidgeon is good as the stand-offish Dr Morbius and Anne Francis is suitably naive and uninhibited as Altaira.  An unrecognisable Leslie Nielsen is uncharismatic as Commander Adams, and it is the relationship between him and Altaira that just wasn't believable.  And that's rather crucial in terms of plot resolution.

This, and a rather ponderous tour of some excellent Krell technology means that Forbidden Planet fell short in my expectations of this cult classic.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 30 June 2014

War of the Worlds (1953)


I'm sure that War of the Worlds is a story familiar to most, whether from H G Wells' novel, the various radio broadcasts, this interpretation or Spielberg's updated version (2005).  What's great about this version, directed by Byron Haskin, is the sense of helplessness of the humans.  No matter which approach is tried: reasoning, scientific or military; it all comes undone, either by the Martians or ourselves.  Additionally, the sounds created are iconic, in particular the weird pulsing noise that the 'eye' makes, just before it disintegrates someone.

There is always an undercurrent of religiosity, as I think was deemed necessary by movie studios in 50s Sci-Fi.  Most obvious is that love interest Sylvia’s uncle is Pastor Matthew Collins (though the poor guy’s attempt to to “come in peace” while carrying his Bible high is meet with disintegration).  There is also the comment that the aliens could take over the world in 6 days (from this arbitrary point after several days of destruction already) which leads Sylvia to comment that this is as many days as it took to create it!  The climax of the film sees Dr Forrester running from church to church to try and find Sylvia, and in the final narrator’s voice over tells us that the “Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

Great to see that the main character is a scientist who everyone respects (he was even on the cover of Time magazine), and the military doesn’t automatically shut him out.  And the scientist gets the girl!  Of course even though the scientists are integral to the fight against the Martians, they fall foul of the the public as they panic and commandeer their vehicle, destroying lots of important equipment as they do it.

Not as spectacular as Spielberg's 2005 version, but far more character-driven and no less threatening with a great atmosphere, helped by an introduction making us feel rather insignificant in the Solar System, and some brilliant sound effects.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

The Dam Busters (1955)


I had watched a documentary a few months ago about Barnes Wallis, the engineer who developed the bouncing bomb.  It was a fascinating programme, and featured some willing pilots who attempted to recreate dropping the bombs.  So I was really pleased that the movie wasn't just about the training and the mission, but also had Wallis' development of the idea and the frustrations he had trying to bring it to fruition.

The film then nicely integrates Wallis' testing of the bomb with the inception of a special RAF squadron that will carry out the mission into enemy territory.  By the end there is little else Wallis can do but wait alongside the commanders as the pilots leave to destroy the targeted dams.  At this point in the film there is some nice aerial photography of the aircraft and their encounter with enemy fire, juxtaposed against the silent anxiety back at base; clearly the inspiration for the attack on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars.

I enjoyed the hell out of this film, not least for several inspirational Star Wars moments, but because the film wasn't a run-of-the-mill war story, rather it was the story of a fantastic scientific idea from its inception to its devastating conclusion, that helped the war effort immeasurably.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Life of Pi (2012)


A spectacular film, Life of Pi is told in retrospect as the titular character, Piscine, tells his story to a journalist.  As a young man he suffered a life changing event which found him adrift in a lifeboat with some animals from his father's zoo, a story which he explains to the journalist will make him believe in God.

I've not read the book, but I'm sure the screenplay didn't come easy, so credit is due to David Magee and Ang Lee for having the vision to bring it to the screen.  More than anything it is a film with moments of sheer beauty, in a similar way to Into the Wild (2007); Claudio Miranda fully deserving the Academy Award for cinematography.  It almost makes the leap to a work of art as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) does, but isn't quite there.  The kid Ayush Tandon is really very good considering it must have been him in front of a green screen for most of the shoot.

There were a few moments where a continuous shot would have been brilliant and to me, obvious; so their absence was a bit of a shame.  Also the final "make you believe in God" bit, felt suddenly thrown in like it had been forgotten about.  But these are only minor quibbles, overall the film is truly spectacular, visually stunning and completely engaging. I really wish I'd been able to see this on the big screen that it deserves.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Witches (1966)


More a thriller than one of Hammer's more traditional Horrors, the first hour of The Witches excels at generating an air of "what the hell is going on?".  Miss Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) is employed as the new headmistress of the primary school in the idyllic village of Heddaby; but with strains of The Midwich Cuckoos and decades later Hot Fuzz (2007), Miss Mayfield realises something sinister is going on.

Joan Fontaine is really good as the innocent incomer, and is our window into the peculiar goings-on.  As a large part of this mystery, the two main kids Ingrid Boulting and Martin Stephens are both very good, and the surrounding support cast also help weave a sinister tapestry of deceit.  Perhaps most deceitful of all is the dodgy doctor played by Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp (1974-78); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Barry Lyndon (1975).  He is a microcosm of the the weird village and as such is perfect; he just seems to have a natural air of conspiracy about him.

I’m finding that the more famous of these Hammer films (Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) excepted) are a bit underwhelming, whereas the more obscure ones (The Nanny (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and now The Witches) generate far more atmosphere and are far more entertaining & enjoyable.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.