Monday, 31 January 2011


George Cukor's remake of William Wellman's A STAR IS BORN which, in turn was inspired by Cukor's own WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD. No disrespect to Wellman (his film is excellent) but this is one of those rare occasions when the remake is better than the original. I must have first seen the film when I was eight or nine years old and I have seen it three or four times since. Several years ago Warner's undertook a restoration of the film - finding footage that had been cut over the years, even replacing missing scenes with stills where the soundtrack still existed and restoring two important musical numbers and this is the print in circulation now. Having heard that the story is to get yet another remake (there having been one in the 70's directed by Barbra Streisand) this time probably to be helmed by Clint Eastwood, I decided to dig out my copy (unseen since I bought it). The story of singer Esther Blodgett's rise to fame as the career of her actor husband, Norman Maine, begins to wane still packs a powerful emotional punch thanks to the performances of Judy Garland and James Mason (both giving career bests in my opinion) and the support of Charles Bickford, Jack Carson and Tom Noonan. As for George Cukor's direction - well, what can you say about Cukor? There are good films and there are great films - and there are some film masterpieces. I'm sure many would disagree with me and they are more than entitled to their opinion but I think that George Cukor's A STAR IS BORN with its script by Moss Hart and songs by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin is one of the true masterpieces of the American cinema...and I do not say that lightly. Rating *****

Saturday, 29 January 2011

SOBACHYE SERDTSE/Heart of a Dog (1988)

Based on a satirical novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, this Russian television film deserves a wider audience. How to explain it? Well, to say that it is a bizarre variation on the Frankenstein theme hardly begins to do it justice. The film begins with a narration by a stray dog living on the streets of Moscow in the post revolutionary Russia of 1924. Scavenging for food, the dog is befriended by a kindly old professor who takes him back to his apartment/surgery where he feeds him and tends his wounds. The dog feels he has fallen on good times at last and is thrilled when he is given a collar. One day the corpse of a freshly murdered man is bought to the surgery and the doctor and his assistant chloroform the dog and insert the dead man's pituitary gland into the dog's brain and attach the man's testicles to the pooch. Slowly the dog begins to transform into an ape like creature and eventually into a man (albeit a rather Mr.Hyde type specimen) with a passion for playing the balalaika and chasing cats. He becomes a scientific sensation but his bad manners and habits make him unpopular with his creators. He embraces the revolution and is befriended by the local Bolsheviks who put him in charge of pest control - where he happily spends his days strangling stray cats. This takes us about two thirds of the way through the film and it is really unfair to give away more. While the film is very, very funny and takes satirical swipes at everything in site it gives a real feeling of what life in post revolutionary Russia must have been like (much fun is had at the expense of the Bolshevik housing committee who are determined to take of the professor's large flat) and this element caused the original novel to be banned for many years - like most of Bulgarkov's work - only being published the year before the film was made. That it was made under the Soviet reign shows that the revolution had found its sense of humour. That the dog/man is the "new soviet man" is pretty obvious but this in no way lessens both the political message of the movie or, indeed, the fun that can be had watching it. It hits all targets. Technical credits are superb (knowing nothing about the film when I saw it I was convinced for a few minutes that I was watching a 1920's Russian film). All the acting is outstanding with veteran Evgeni Eustigneev very funny as the kindly professor at odds with the revolution and Vladimir Tololonnikov (his first film) brilliant as the dog man (both actors are shown above). The dog himself is excellent and dog lovers everywhere will love the ending. Rating *****
Courtesy of the Polish Film Collective of South Tottenham.

Monday, 24 January 2011

LES NOCES ROUGES/Wedding in Blood (1973)

Even as an avowed Chabrol fan I found this an odd one. The story and setting are vintage Chabrol - sex, murder and betrayal among the bourgeoisie of rural France. My problem was with the depiction of the affair between the two leads. The performances seem far to broad to me, to the extent that their frantic embrasses and groping seemed almost comical. Indeed, for a short while, I began to suspect that Chabrol was making a black comedy. I am loathe to blame the performers (Michel Piccoli and Stephane Audran are fine actors) so I must assume that Chabrol told them to play it that way. Maybe he saw their romance as slightly amusing. But it is Chabrol and even his lesser films (although many don't share my reservations and regard the film very highly) are of interest. The murderers are amateurish and only initially get away with it because of political pressure before fate takes a hand. The characters are too self absorbed to be too sympathetic. Maybe I was missing the point. Rating ***

Saturday, 22 January 2011


THE BLUE GARDENIA is a very minor film in the Fritz Lang canon and except for a couple of scenes has little of the visual flair of the director's other films. Based on a novel by Vera Caspary of LAURA fame, the film is really neither noir or mystery - although to be fair to the film the twist ending is fairly signalled early in the story and is not just the tacked on "convenient" revelation it might seem at first. Lang completists like myself will want to see it anyway and its stars - Ann Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Southern and Raymond Burr - are watchable. Rating ***

Thursday, 20 January 2011


There is a pleasant sub-genre of British comedy cinema where eccentric country folk get the better of their big city cousins. Some of the resulting films have become minor classic as in the case of such titles as WHISKEY GALORE and THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT. These clashes between seemingly naive yokels and the more sophisticated urban dwelling authority figures are usually extoll the virtues of the rural communities. It might be worth noting that the corresponding American clashes between city folks and country folk would seem to be films like DELIVERANCE and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which should tell us something. Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS is an attempt to transpose the American mind-set to England - not that we Brits should feel complacent as THE WICKER MAN takes things to their extreme. Christopher Monger's film, set in rural Wales in 1917 belongs to the comfortably eccentric rather than the dangerously weird. Two cartographers travel to deepest Wales to measure hills for goverment survey maps. Their decision that a hill previously regarded as a mountain by the local villagers is in fact twenty feet short of the official designated height for mountains. The locals decide to add the required footage to the hill. It's all quite slight but highly entertaining in a gentle sort of way with likeable lead performance by Hugh Grant (doing what Hugh Grant does) and excellent support from Colm Meaney, Tara FitzGerald, Ian McNiece and Kenneth Griffith. Rating ***

Monday, 17 January 2011

TARKAN VIKING KANI/Tarkan vs.the Vikings (1971)

It may be unintentionally funny, badly acted and badly directed but this Turkish adventure which pits brawny hero Tarkan and his brave dog Kurt against vikings and Chinese in his quest to rescue the daughter of Attila the Hun to the background of a ripped off musical score (notably Morricone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra") is continuously entertaining. There is a quite wonderfully unconvincing rubber octopus, female viking warriors with a taste for pink and other pastel colors, historically inaccurate viking slave galleys, a giant, enthusiastic fight scenes, an orgy and some nudity. Great fun if you're in the mood. Kantal Tibet and Eva Bender are stars but the dog out acts them. There are even a couple of visual references to Kirk Douglas in THE VIKINGS. Rating ***


Anthony Newley with Alfred Burke

Despite having directed both CROMWELL and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, Ken Hughes (1922-2001) seems to be a forgotten figure in the history of the British Film industry. His TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE with Peter Finch is one of his best films but a lot of entertainment can be had by seeking out some of the inventive B-Movies he made back in the fifties such as JOE MACBETH (a gangster version of Shakespeare with Paul Douglas and Sid James) and noir like THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE with Alex Nichol. Often working with B-list American stars, Hughes had the knack of making his minuscule budgets look bigger than they were and perhaps more importantly he knew how to keep his stories (he wrote many of his films) moving.THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE, based on his own TV play - a one hander from 1958 that also starred Anthony Newley - comes from his transition period into bigger budgets sparked by the success of the OSCAR WILDE movie. The story is so simple that it is almost a cliche. Sammy is a comedian in a Soho strip joint who looses money to a local gangster in a fixed poker game and is given a set time to raise the money. The original play (remade twice for European television) was simply Sammy and a telephone but for the film Hughes has wisely opened out the action as Sammy criss crosses the streets of Soho desperately trying to save himself a beating. The film was released in 1963, a year after I started work in Soho, and Hughes makes wonderful use of actual locations such as Wardour Street, Old Compton Street, Lisle Street and Berwick Market. This shots are superbly merged with studio work at Shepperton - so much so that it is hard to tell the studio exteriors from tnhe real thing. I knew these streets well for seven years and found, for the most part, that the film was a pretty accurate depiction of Soho and its people. Newley is excellent and the supporting cast is one to relish with such reliable performers as Julia Foster, Wilfred Brambell, Roy Kinnear, Alfred Burke, Kenneth J.Warren, Robert Stephens, Miriam Karlin and Warren Mitchell. Rating ****

Friday, 14 January 2011

ZINDA LAASH/The Living Corpse/Dracula in Pakistan (1967)

I have many versions of the DRACULA saga in my collection but this one (provided by my fairy godson) takes the biscuit. Although the film's protagonist is a scientist whose experiments with the elixir of life turn him into a vampire the film is based on Bram Stoker's novel, or, rather more pointedly on Hammer's classic 1958 DRACULA the structure of which it follows remarkably closely. Having said that it in no way resembles its illustrious inspiration. It is perhaps unfair to laugh at films from an alien culture but laugh I did - almost continuously - when I wasn't sitting in stunned silence during the many totally gratuitous musical numbers (yes, musical numbers!) that have so connection with the story. The film has a contemporary setting and the evil scientist lives in a modern flat although immediately on becoming a vampire he develops a taste for wearing cloaks and living in a castle (or the Pakistani equivalent) - and kidnapping the film's Mina substitute in his Ford Zephyr! Technical credits are competent although the acting is, especially from the women. The star, credited as Rehan, is as good as, if not better, than some of the other low-budget vampires I've seen. Special mention must be made of the bizarre soundtrack - opening credits play against Granada while various suspense scenes unroll to the unlikely accompaniment of La Cucharacha and El Rancho Grande while on occasions dramatic moments are enhanced by James Bernard's original DRACULA score! If you can imagine Terence Fisher's DRACULA remade by The Kumars at No.42 you'll get the picture. Rating *** for curiosity value.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


The Lovely Bones

Six film of recent vintage that I saw for the first time last year which were, to say the least, a disappointment to me. They range from the just plain awful to the misconcieved, the totally unecessary, and those that suffered from the sin of pretentiousness - to which individual films I attach these various labels I will leave it up to you to guess. In alphabetical order :

THE BOX (2009) Richard Kelly

THE FALL (2006) Tarsem Singh

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) Quentin Tarantino

THE LOVELY BONES (2010) Peter Jackson

SERAPHIM FALLS (2006) David Von Ancken

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) Guy Ritchie

3.1o TO YUMA (2007) James Mangold

Monday, 10 January 2011

THE MAZE (1953)

Based on a novel by Maurice Sandoz, whose only other film adaption was the Tod Slaughter starrer THE CURSE OF THE WRAYDONS, William Cameron Menzies THE MAZE has the reputation of being a bit "silly" based on its denouement but to be honest I did not find this to be the case. Rather I found this to be a rather stylish little horror movie with a rich gothic atmosphere and a good plot (admittedly one that has been used with variations since JANE EYRE and probably earlier) and a competent cast led by Richard Carlson and English actress Veronica Hurst. There is also some excellent support from Michael Pate who even manages to make climbing stairs sinister. But if there is a real "star" of THE MAZE it is director William Cameron Menzies who brings the film an inventive visual style enhanced by his own impressive production design. Filmed in 3D. Rating ***

HOT FUZZ (2007)

Perhaps seeing HOT FUZZ for the first time so soon after re-watching the same team's SHAUN OF THE DEAD was a mistake. SHAUN seemed to me an example of a film that knew exactly where it was going and what it wanted to do. It set its parameters stayed within them. Having a bigger budget and a starry cast to play with seems to me the reason why FUZZ ultimately falls flat - showing every sign that it really doesn't know where it is going. Don't get me wrong, for two thirds of its running time (which is a tad overlong) it is a very funny comedy but once it goes into spoof action film the whole structure just collapses into a shapeless mess. A real shame because there is an awful lot of great talent involved (thankfully the cast is not wasted). I'm probably in a minority as I know the film has many admirers. Rating ***

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Morecambe and Wise weren't just a comedy team, they were an integral part of British popular culture. This BBC film drama traces their rise from child performers in the pre-War years, through their near disastrous television debut series to their return to the variety circuits and the rebuilding of their reputations. To say that his film is good is not to do it justice. It was as near perfect as a television film can be. Based on an idea by comedienne and actress Victoria Wood (who also co-produced and played Eric's mother) the film is written by Peter Bowker and directed by Jonny Campbell. The hardest task, of course, was to convince the viewer that they were watching Eric and Ernie but this was achieved spectacularly by the performances of Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick who not only looked spookily like the comedians but captured the voices and gestures - every little nuance in fact - of the team. Victoria Wood was as excellent as we have come to expect as Eric's pushy mum and there has been a justified heap of praise for comedian Vic Reeves as his dad. Like the previous TV drama THE ROAD TO CORONATION STREET this is a valuable exploration of a much loved British entertainment phenomenon. Rating *****

Thursday, 6 January 2011


Les Vampires (1915)
This is a list of films of older vintage that I have saw for the first time last year - those I thought were outstanding and those I waited a long time to see.
In Order of release :
LES VAMPIRES (1915) Louis Feuillade
MANIAC (1934) Dwain Esper
OSSESSIONE (1943) Roberto Rossellini
LA RONDE (1950) Max Ophuls
THE GOLDEN COACH (1952) Rene Clair
UGETSU MONOGATARI (1953) Kenji Mizoguchi
THERESE RAQUIN (1953) Abel Gance
L'AIR DE PARIS (1954) Abel Gance
HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) Alain Resnais
LA CEREMONIE (1995) Claude ChabroL
AU COEUR DU MENSONGE (1999) Claude Chabrol

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


This year I am dividing my favourite films of last year into three parts and three entries. As I no longer go to the cinema I am, as last year, picking films that are new to me rather than ones released in the last twelve months, although I have made an attempt at modernity by limiting my favourites of the year to films released since 2000. Yes, I am dragging myself into the 21st Century. A Further list will appear soon of older films I've particularly enjoyed during 2010 and that will be followed by a list of Rotten Tomatoes. So, here we go.....

My favourite film of the year just about made to the list as I caught it on its television transmission not long before Christmas (and promptly ordered the DVD from Amazon). I thought it was exciting, thrilling, funny, horrifying and beautifully acted - everything a film should be. It also happens to be the first film I have seen from South Korea. My film of the year is :

CHUGYEOGJA (The Chaser) 2008. Directed by Hong-jin Na. Starring Yun-seok Kim.

My Twelve runners up are :

APOCALYPTO (2006) Mel Gibson
BOYS FROM COUNTY (2003) John Irvin
DOUBT (2008) John Patrick Shanley
GOYA’S GHOSTS (2006) Milos Forman
I’M NOT THERE (2007) Todd Haynes
OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL (2009) Julien Temple
ME AND ORSON WELLES (2008) Richard Linklater
PRARIE HOME COMPANION (2006) Robert Altman
THE WOLFMAN (2010) Joe Johnston
THE WRESTLER (2008) Darren Aronofsky
YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (2007) Francis Ford Coppola