Wednesday, 4 November 2015

NOVEMBER 4, 2015

LOBOS DE ARGA/Game of Werewolves/Attack of the Werewolves (2011) Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno,

I honestly didn't have high expectations for this Spanish horror comedy and only bought it as it was just 1p on Amazon. Surprise, surprise! it turns out to be a real winner. A not too successful author returns to his ancestral home in Galacia looking for inspiration and finds more than he bargained for - especially as the local yokels seem very pleased to see him!  The director handles both the comedy and the horror with aplomb. Not a masterpiece but a film which knows exactly what it is doing and delivers by the bucket load.

Monday, 28 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 28, 2015

EMBRYO (1976) Directed by Ralph Nelson. *

One of the two awful foetus movies made during the 1970's by former directors of live television drama (the other being PROPHECY directed by John Frankenheimer) - both directors having done far superior work earlier in their careers. This one has an over-serious Rock Hudson growing Barbara Carrera from a foetus in his lab. The pace is slow and nothing really interesting happens until the climax when the film descends into B-movie horror hysteria. Director Nelson has a cameo as a doctor at an autopsy. It is worth mentioning here that the picture quality is abysmal, looking like it was taken from a poor quality VHS.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 27, 2015

BLUEBEARD (1972) Directed by Edward Dmytrk *

A real piece of Euro-trash, surprisingly directed by Edward Dmytrk, who had a long and very honourable career in Hollywood. Supposedly set between the world wars with Burton as the eponymous wife murderer/air ace/nobleman/photographer/musician/Nazi. Period detail is non-existent as men wear 70's suits, lead actress Joey Heatherton wears a mini-skirt and Burton wears a series of costumes that should have been reported to the fashion police. For some reason the Nazis wear green and sport a cross in place of swastikas. The film can't decide if it is a horror film or a black comedy and veers totally into farce. Visually it looks like a Mario Bava film that has gone horribly wrong - come to think of it, maybe they should have got Bava to direct it as the subject would have suited him perfectly. The luckless wives are played by Raquel Welsh, Virna Lisi, Marilu Tolo and the aforesaid Miss Heatherton. It is bizarre enough to become a guilty pleasure although please be warned that the hunting scenes are particularly unpleasant if you are sensitive to such things.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 19, 2015

THE JOLSON STORY (1946) Directed by Alfred E. Green and Joseph H. Lewis. ***

Hagiography isn't the word for it. As with THE GREAT CARUSO this film has only the slenderest connection to the true story of Jolson's life. No mention of his brother Harry, no mention of his mother's death before 1900 (she is still around in the film after Al's retirement!) and certainly no mention of his marriages other than to dancer Ruby Keeler (here given a completely fictitious name) or his adopted son. But, of course, the film is about Jolson's voice - the man himself sings most of the songs to actor Larry Parks' miming. So, a serious biography it isn't but very entertaining it most certainly is - if you're a Jolson fan (guilty, m'lud). Larry Parks, who bears little resemblance to Jolson,is excellent and there are good performances from Evelyn Keyes and William Demarest. Jolson's blackface is probably deemed politically incorrect today but his relationship to the black community and black performers is much more complicated and is barely, if at all, touched on in this film. Ultimately this is Hollywood schmaltz but beautifully done.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


MR. TURNER (2014) Directed by Mike Leigh. ****

I am not Mike Leigh's greatest admirer, something about his work irritates me. The early scenes of MR. TURNER are immaculately rendered vignettes of scenes from Turner's life, undeniably brilliant but lacking in context - like looking into the past but with no guide to explain what you are seeing, scenes which seem to be going somewhere then suddenly cut to something else. Yes, I began to get irritated, no doubt looking for some reason for disliking this Mike Leigh effort. This was no doubt compounded by my fond memories of the 1970's television film, THE SUN IS GOD based on the same subject and starring Leo McKern as Turner. However as the film progressed I was won over and thankfully Leigh begins to reveal some depth to his depiction of the great artist helped by the extraordinary performance by Timothy Spall. The film is funny, moving and, ultimately, distressing in equal parts. The scenes of encounters between the curmudgeonly Turner and such comtemporaries as Constable and Ruskin stick in the mind along with  the amazing reconstruction of Victorian London - well worth watching the excellent "Making of" documentary if only to see how the remarkable set of the Royal Academy Exhibition at Somerset House was achieved. Okay, Mr. Leigh,
you win, I surrender. This is a terrific film.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

AUGUST 13, 2015


THE GREAT CARUSO (1951) Directed by Richard Thorpe ***

THE GREAT CARUSO is certainly no masterpiece but if you are a fan of its star, Mario Lanza, it is a must see. The film is a typical Hollywood hagiography about the life of Enrico Caruso. An example of just how Caruso's life has been airbrushed is the complete omission of his long affair with soprano Ada Giachetti and his four illegitimate children by her, but that's Hollywood for you - one only has to think of other Hollywood biopics of the same period such as NIGHT AND DAY(Cole Porter) and THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (Lon Chaney).  Of course, MGM was more interested in getting Mario Lanza on the screen than it was in telling the story of Caruso.  That said, the singing is in good hands and Lanza is more than capable of doing the arias in the operatic scenes justice and Ann Blyth in what is essentially a non-singing role (just one song) is fine.  As usual Thorpe's direction is efficient but pedestrian. It's all about its star and his voice so if you are a fan you'll love it.  If not......well.

Monday, 10 August 2015

AUGUST 10, 2015

ALEXANDER THE GREAT (1956) Directed by Robert Rossen ***

No, not the Colin Farrell starrer of a few years back but a rather interesting version of the story by American director Robert Rossen filmed in 1956 with a mainly British and European cast (the main exception is Frederic March as Philip of Macedonia).  Not great by any means but very watchable with a nice script that compresses history more than it mangles it - the characters of Roxane and Barsine both appear here while many historians believe they were the same person and, as one might expect there is no hint of Alexander's bisexuality. Besides Burton, Claire Bloom and the aforementioned March there is Niall MacGinnis, Stanley Baker, Peter Wyngarde, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing and Helmut Dantine (the latter's voice being dubbed by Christopher Lee).