Tuesday, 23 November 2010

ZHAN YEN TAN/Beach of the War Gods (1973)

I first saw this in London's Casino cinema in Old Compton Street. It was cut and badly dubbed but it made me a fan of it's star and director Yu Wang (credited variously as Wang Yu or Jimmy Wang Yu) who, according to some sources, had initiated Hong Kong's Kung Fu film industry with his film CHINESE BOXER which paved the way for Bruce Lee. But for me the best Yu Wang films are the wuxia - the sword and spear fighting films of which BEACH OF THE WAR GODS is an excellent example. It is quite an ambitious film which takes its inspiration from Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI and, at least in its opening sequences, from Clint Eastwood. Like many Chinese films it is violently ant-Japanese. Back in the 80's both this film and Yu Wang's ONE ARMED BOXER were issued by Rank on widescreen uncut VHS tapes but neither has been easily available for years. The copy to hand, which I picked up from a seller on Amazon, is widescreen, uncut and subtitled (if somewhat eccentrically) and is released by Fortune Star and is a welcome addition to my collection. Rating ****

Monday, 22 November 2010


23 NOVEMBER 1887 - 2 FEBRUARY 1969

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Quentin Tarantino. I liked RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN when Tarantino seemed to have real control of his material. I even enjoyed KILL BILL 1 & 2 because it was a genuine homage to a genre that Tarantino loves and understands - it was a knowing conversation with others who enjoy the films it was referencing. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is my least favourite QT film. This is not to say its badly made - individual scenes are very well directed - especially some of the Hitchcockian stuff towards the end - but the problem is that none of it holds together. There are two films here and the fight against one another ultimately beat each other to death. The first is a crude DIRTY DOZEN parody with Brad Pitt leading a group of scalp hunting Jewish soldiers behind enemy lines to kill and demoralize the Nazis. Where Robert Aldrich (for all the questional tone of his film) built his story slowly QT leaps from recruiting talk to action without taking a breath. The characters are shallow comic book cut outs badly drawn and in Brad Pitt's case ludicrously over acted. Yes, I know it is fantasy comic book stuff and perhaps it wouldn't matter too much if the other story, which is padded out by these scenes, isn't a rather tight little Hitchcock thriller involving the manageress of a Paris cinema's plot to wipe out the German high command (including Hitler himself who seems to have wandered in from THE PRODUCERS). Linking the two is Christopher Waltz as an SS officer giving a performance that quite probably dererved the Oscar it earned him. So its very much up and down. A parody, a straight thriller, a comedy, a homage (the film's opening scene seems to be parodying THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY unless I'm mistaken) and ending up as a bit of a shapeless mess. There are lots of references to pre-war German and wartime French cinema (Clouzot's LE CORBEAU is showing at the cinema) and Emil Jannings turns up briefly as a character. A final rather sad observation is the glee with which American soldiers are shown graphically scalping and beating nazis to death with baseball bats. This has little to do with jews taking revenge and is rather Americans acting like nazis (without any of the irony inherent in Aldrich's DOZEN). Modern parallels spring to mind but I doubt if Tarantino intended that. He just enjoyed it. Rating **

HELL, HEAVEN OR HOBOKEN ?........You're kidding me!

When Cerpts told me that the 1958 British war film I WAS MONTY'S DOUBLE was listed on IMDb as HELL, HEAVEN OR HOBOKEN I thought he was either joking or inhaling illegal substances. But sure enough it is listed as the film's American title. A mistake surely...but the title also appears on websites for ROTTEN TOMATOES and TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. Can any body explain the title to me?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


It is a real mystery why this gem of a gangster film is not available on DVD. It was around on VHS for ages and given the popularity of gangster and mafia movies in the wake of Coppola's THE GODFATHER, not to mention the reputation of Rod Steiger as an actor this would seem a prime choice for DVD release. Director Richard Wilson, a long time associate of Orson Welles made only ten films as a director. Although I've seen the film many times I've never owned a copy - I did record it to VHS the last time it was shown on television but never kept the tape because the print shown was incomplete, missing the first meeting between Steiger and the character played by Fay Spain. Richard Wilson also directed another excellent gangster movie called PAY OR DIE starring Ernest Borgnine which although released in America on DVD by Warners is now a deleted title.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


THE MAGICIAN (1926) directed by Rex Ingram (not to be confused with the geni from THIEF OF BAGDAD) and based on a novel by W.Somerset Maugham. The film stars German actor Paul Wegener as Oliver Haddo, a magician inspired by Aleister Crowley. Read about the film in an excellent article from Films in Review by clicking here. For fans of silent cinema, horror films or just simply films this would seem to be a perfect choice for DVD release by Criterion or Masters of Cinema.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


RICHARD III is my favourite Shakespeare play but it is rare that we get to see the full text - least of all on film or TV versions. The BBC's version for their COMPLETE DRAMATIC WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE is as near complete as I've ever seen. I've seen many actors play the hunchback king - Olivier, Ian McKellan, Paul Daneman, Anthony Sher, Ian Holm among them (not to mention non-Shakespearean portrayals by Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price and even Oliver Reed) and I rate Ron Cook's portrayal as among the best. My initial reaction to his opening "Now is the winter of our discontent...." speech was disappointment but this was because the shadow of Olivier's wonderful pantomime demon king in the 1955 hangs heavy over the role.The speech itself is an actor's declaration of how he is playing the king and by the end of the scene Cook had completely won me over. The direction is deceptively simple but totally suited to the drama which is played out against a very effective set made from old timber and discarded wooden doors. Costumes are traditional and highly inventive and the supporting cast is superlative with some interesting familiar faces including Zoe Wanamaker, Annette Crosbie, Patsy Kensit, Tenniel Evans and Bernard Hill. It is common in Shakespeare to see actors play more than one role in a production but here I felt it could be quite confusing to anybody coming to the play for the first time - Bernard Hill plays First Murderer and at least three minor roles - at one time appearing on both sides of the warring factions in successive scenes. If I had to single out one performance for unexpected brilliance it is Julia Foster as mad Queen Margaret and the final scene of the production with her, wild eyed and wilder haired, cackling madly on a huge pile of corpses is truly disturbing. Also, a special word of praise for the fight arranger because the final scene as Tudor's men close in for the kill looks truly dangerous. Rating ****

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


With Mark Gatiss off conquering the world it has been left to those other two gentlemen of the League and masters of the grotesque, Steve Pemberton ans Reece Shearsmith to provide some superior Halloween spookiness. Just as the LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN Christmas special took characters from the hit series and used them for an Amicus style portmanteau horror spoof so the weirdos from the series PSYCHOVILLE all turn up in this - again Amicus style - quartet of tricks and treats. Spoof it maybe but it works very well as a horror film as Pemberton and Shearsmith know exactly what buttons to press from the big scares down to little touches of revulsion such as the severed tongue still attached to a postage stamp or the sucking sound of Dawn French using a breast pump....although the clown who finds himself being given a blowjob by a Satanic goat takes some beating. Framing story of the exploration of a deserted and reputedly haunted Psychiatric hospital works well with a great performance by Eileen Atkins as the matron. Wonderfully mean spirited and nasty fun. Rating ****