Friday, 25 September 2015

All the Colours of the Dark (1972)

The moral of the story is 'don't believe everything you read'! When the programme for the current season at the BFI arrived, we both noticed the blurb for a showing of the above film, which I will quote in full:
   "Although not as widely known as Bava or Argento, giallo stalwart Sergio Martino provided  the sub-genre with some of its most enduring classics, and this tale of a London-based woman drawn into a satanic cult remains one of his most enjoyable efforts. Putting a sly supernatural spin on the classic formula, this is vintage giallo: gorgeous to look at and weird as hell".

In a pig's eye! as we say over here. I booked the tickets before we viewed "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key" at last month's FrightFest, but doubt that I would have done so after seeing that mouthful of a title. Mind you, in comparison with the movie we viewed last night, the restored copy of 'Your Vice...' was a masterpiece. For a start, after booking, I received an email from the box office saying that they had been 'fortunate' enough to locate an original print from the U.S. and would be showing that copy...

So we ended up viewing a dubbed movie titled "They're Coming to Get You" which was six minutes shorter than the advertised feature -- I have no idea what if anything was cut, although there were some very abrupt jumps in the action. The second problem was that the print on obviously inferior colour stock had deteriorated to barely watchable footage at times, and was hardly the 'sumptuous Scope photography' promised in the programme notes. To cap things off, the film was something of a muddled potboiler.

Like "Your Vice..." this film also stars Edwige Fenech, who looks even more gorgeous and delectable here; at the time she was the girlfriend of Luciano Martino, the director's brother, hence the rash of their collaborations. However little can save the mishmash of the storyline. Fenech plays Jane the mixed-up girlfriend of another Giallo stalwart George Hilton -- the actors of the period has a great penchant for anglicizing their Italianate names -- whose child she has recently miscarried. He is away too often on business and she is afraid to confide her growing panic, her frightening dreams, and the increasingly recurrent glimpses of the blonde, icy, blue-eyed fellow who she thinks wants to kill her. Is she losing her grip on reality??? Her sister has arranged psychiatric counselling for her which isn't doing much good, while a new glamorous neighbour thinks that joining her local satanic coven might do the trick. All together now, yeah, yeah, yeah.

While one is used to the genre having gaping plot holes, they are broader than ever in this film. Of course Jane is happy to be sexually abused by all of the coven, and of course she may have murdered her neighbour as part of the ritual, and of course her psychiatrist will offer her sanctuary at his little 'summer house' (more of a country mansion) where she awakens to find the caretakers bloody and dead, and of course she will end up killing her boyfriend. Or perhaps these were all figments of her tortured mind. In the wake of "Rosemary's Baby', satanic cults were all the rage and the Italian directors were never averse to borrowing the odd story line. However I would be hard pressed to even classify this movie as a classic giallo, which has its own rules all of which are totally ignored here, or even as a successful merging of two fashionable genres.

Perhaps if we had seen a better (or restored and undubbed) print, the film might have had some redeeming features. Certainly the pictorial insights into Jane's confused brain were occasionally shot with a certain bravura, and Martino's use of swirling camera movements, skewed angles, and stylized surrealistic tableaux produce further indications of an auteur at work. However the additional programme note which claimed that Fenech's performance succeeds in turning the ridiculous into the sublime is a case of film criticism soaring off into cloud-cuckoo land -- says Pretty Pink Patty. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Irrational Man (2015)

Anyone who has followed my blog will know by now that I am a big Woody Allen fan. Hence our trip to the cinema to see his latest, despite some very disparaging reviews. Only one, by Kevin Maher in The Times, managed to see beyond the familiar 'gorgeous young chick falls for middle-aged man' moan that greets so many of his films. Maher wrote that one shouldn't complain about the long-standing themes, but should welcome each new spin from Allen's fertile pen. His movies show up most modern releases for the childish pap they are, with their intelligent, witty dialogue, their eclectic casting, their masterful eye for location, and their thoughtful musical choices. 

Here we have Joaquin Phoenix as cult philosophy professor Abe Lucas, lecturing for the summer term at a small, prestigious Rhode Island college. To put it mildly he is a grumpy old sod, forever sipping whisky from his pocket flask, literally letting his fat gut hang out, and having lost both his sexual prowess and his lust for life. This doesn't stop indie queen Parker Posey, a married scientist at the college, doing her best to end up in his bed. One of his students is music-major Jill played by Emma Stone in her second film for Allen, leading one to wonder if she is becoming his new muse a la Diane Keaton or Scarlett Johansson. Despite her long-standing relationship with boyfriend Jamie Blackley (who he ?), Jill and Abe become good friends, and she tries to make him lighten up. Of course, being a Woody film, she soon develops strong feelings for him -- the student having a crush on a professor is far from unknown -- while he continually fends her off for a variety of reasons.

While grabbing a snack together in a diner, the pair eavesdrop on a conversation about a mean old judge who is tormenting a local woman in her custody case, largely because he has the power to do so. (Of course the Woody-haters will immediately relate this to Allen's court battle with Mia Farrow those many years ago). Abe resolves to do away with this tyrant who he feels deserves to die; as he carefully plans and carries out this existential act, he is newly energised, regaining his confidence and joie de vivre. He is now able to perform sexually with Posey (and Stone) and seems more alive than ever with new purpose. As Allen told his Cannes audience where the film premiered (to very mixed reactions), if one maintains a rational approach to life everything seems depressing; but once you start thinking that your life has meaning and that what you do matters, you begin to find happiness in your existence.

The murder is big news in the small college community and everyone, including Jill and Abe, has his own theory. However as more and more small details emerge, Jill becomes convinced that Abe is the culprit. He eventually admits the truth to her, but she becomes disenchanted and increasingly shrill. She gives him an ultimatum that he must confess to the crime 'by Monday', especially after another man is arrested and charged. However, he now realises that he really relishes his freedom and thinks he just might take off for Spain with Posey; he begins to understand that one murder can beget another. I will not spoil the movie by revealing which character finally meets its maker, but I will say that it is not necessarily the neatest end to the film and I can easily envision alternate scenarios.

I was intrigued by one of the characters in the movie, one of Jill's friends who looked like a Bette Midler mini-me. I was therefore pleased to note in the end credits that she is played by one Sophie von Haselberg (Midler's married name) and is in fact her daughter. She describes herself as an actress, but this is her first film role, apart from that of a child extra back in the 90's. Her apart, this movie is one of Allen's least starry features. Although his skills are well-thought of, I have never fancied Phoenix's performances, except possibly as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line". Stone and Posey acquit themselves well, although both actresses are something of an acquired taste. The remainder of the cast were all adequate, but not exactly memorable. The choice of locations and the cinematography were up to Allen's usual impeccable standards, but his choice of music -- usually a mix of old classics and trad jazz -- was a little weird, heavy on the Ramsey Lewis Trio's less disciplined harmonies.

Following the film's release here, I read another article positing that creative artists should know when they are past their prime and should know when to stop -- pointing a not so veiled finger at Allen. I couldn't disagree more, since this would deprive the world of so many lost masterpieces in all areas of artistic life. This movie may not be one of Woody's best and I will admit that it could have done with a lighter touch and a leavening of humour -- the things that his script mocks are a little too subtle to create guffaws, just small smiles. It's a talky film, but one that makes you think, and I would not be surprised to find it considered one of his most underrated in the years to come. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

FrightFest 15 - The last two days

Before I continue with the last ten movies viewed this year, I wonder to myself whether I mean the 'last two days' ever. I know we swore off the marathon two years back, but succumbed again this year. What will the future bring? Watch this space next year...

FrightFest Sunday kicked off for us with another Discovery viewing Takashi Miike's "Over Your Dead Body". This extremely prolific cult Japanese director always seems to have a few new tricks up his sleeve and nearly always the results are exceptional viewing. The very stylish film does not disappoint, although I would be hard-pressed to try to explain what in fact was going on. We have a famous female Kabuki actress deep into rehearsals for a new production based on a famous ghost story, casting her not-so-famous lover in a supporting role. He in turn is having it away with her stand-in and his betrayal is bloodily echoed in both reality and make-believe. I can't say I quite understood the tale, but gosh it was beautifully told.

Next up was a French movie "Road Games" which as mentioned last time (and I'll be damned if I know how this helps sales) has an English-speaking lead actor hitching across rural France. He meets up with a French gal, but the pair have little luck with lifts since everyone is afraid of the local serial killer. They end up accepting a ride from a superficially helpful driver and reluctantly agree to spend the night with him and his wife at their country mansion. Soon we are led to wonder how wise a decision this was -- could he be the feared local killer or is there a further out of left-field answer to the mystery. Naturally that's the film's kicker. 

Another Discovery film at the Prince Charles (the fest's first home), was a new restoration of the 1972 giallo "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" -- now there's a mouthful and a half -- from Italian director Sergio Martin. Films of this period are always a retro treat, with their free-wheeling decadence and slaughter. The lust objects were the tasty Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, scream queens of the genre, and we also meet Fenech's dead-mother obsessed husband and an Edgar Alan Poe-ish devil-cat. Unfortunately the projector broke down just before the final (but not unexpected) twist and we didn't hang about to discover if the end credits were ever reached.

"Scherzo Diablo" from Mexico was another stylish number, although I gather a number of the fest-followers didn't reckon it, possibly because of its heavy use of classical music. I thought it was more than ok, the story of a jobsworth who kidnaps his boss's teenaged daughter and keeps her enchained and I suppose abused. All the while he's wearing a grinning skeleton mask .Being a big fan of Day of the Dead iconography, that suited me fine. Things get out of hand after the gal escapes and tracks down her assailant and anyone else she blames for her torment. The logic was a little incomprehensible, but the movie held my attention right up to the final hint of horrors to come.

The last film of the day was "A Christmas Horror Story" from Canada, a patchy compilation of several spooky encounters in one small town on Christmas Eve, taking place while local radio DJ William Shatner gets progressively pie-eyed. While there is something blackly amusing about Santa's little helpers morphing into hungry zombies, I found the overall tone of the film mean-spirited -- not at all in keeping with the holiday -- and in the end saw little to recommend it.

Wow! I'm up to the final Monday and I'd better speed things along if I don't plan to be hunched over my computer all day -- so let's go to shorter summaries:

"Curve" - Bride-to-be gives a lift (against her initial good judgment) to the fellow who helped fix her broken-down car; she swerves off the road when his evil intentions become clear, finding herself trapped upside-down in the upturned vehicle. He, of course, is thrown clear, and keeps returning to torment her -- until... Yes, she escapes and wreaks havoc.

"Night Fare" - An English-speaking (of course) fellow amongst an otherwise all French cast, visits a pal in Paris. After a boozy evening, they fancy some late-night partying and run out on a taxi fare en-route. Bad the apparently indestructible driver keeps the meter running and pursues them across the city, leaving a bloody path in his wake. So far so scary-ish until we segue into Manga introducing us to avengers who exist across the centuries to punish wrong-doing. Soon one of the young men must join the ranks -- or something like that.

"Nina Forever" is a UK would-be horror. Rob becomes an academic drop-out after the death of his beloved Nina, working in a supermarket, where he takes up with check-out gal Holly.
Soon they are an item, but the spirit and indeed the solid corporal body of Nina joins in their love-making, she's not about to let Rob go and begins to fancy Holly as well. Not your usual sort of menage-a-troi.

Our final Discovery movie was "Goddess of Love"  written-by, produced-by, and starring one Alexis Kendra, not so much a vanity project as a labour of love. She plays a stripper called Venus who soon becomes unhinged when she is dumped by the new boyfriend, who is still mourning his recently-deceased wife. No the latter does not return a la Nina above, but we enter Miss Kendra's twisted mind as she tries to fathom her feelings of betrayal and despair. Not too bad an effort.

Finally we reach the closing film "Tales of Halloween" another holiday spin, but not like the Christmas movie above. Here we have eleven tales of varying lengths from eleven directors, including several past FrightFest faves. What we watched was very variable but generally OK; however as I admitted in my last post, we didn't stay for the whole movie. The marathon had finally taken its toll and we crept out into the night. I suppose, one of these days, I'll see it through and will discover whether I should stuck with it in the first instance.  

Friday, 4 September 2015

FrightFest 15 - The first three days

Having sworn two years back that FrightFest 13 was FrightFest the Last, we did buy a selection of tickets last year rather than opt for the whole package. So why you may ask did we succumb this year for the long weekend and was it worthwhile? Good questions! I can't really answer the first part other than to say 'why not?' and as for the second part, I guess the answer is 'more or less'. As usual the selection of films was something of the proverbial Parson's Egg, with a few stand-outs, a selection of OK-ers, and a few turkeys. Or perhaps I'm just losing my tolerance for mediocre frights or more likely my stamina for fourteen-hour marathons...

Anyhow, of the maximum 25 films that we could have scheduled, we only saw 21 -- skipping the three late-night ones (old bones and transport considerations) and choosing to lie in and miss one of the dubious early ones. Or you could say we only saw 20 (2 x half-movies) since we walked out of two of them -- the first because I found it unwatchable and the second because a) it was getting late and b) I'd just about reached saturation point (not a pretty sight!). Of these 2l, 5 were from the Discovery Cinema sidebars most of which were wise choices -- the hard-working organisers manage to make one's final selection difficult by including an increasing number of tempting titles each year. Here follows a brief summary of the first three days and eleven flicks:

"Cherry Tree" from Ireland and "Hellions" from Canada were both 'The devil wants my baby' movies long after Rosemary set the trend. The first was strong on witches and not much else, while the second used some scary burlap-headed trick-or-treaters to raise the hackles. Frankly I've had my fill of accelerating pregnancies and initially gormless teenagers fighting to survive.

I wasn't expecting much from the New Zealand/Canada co-production "Turbo Kid" since it sounded like it was going to be a teen-aged Mad Max rip-off, but it was a real hoot. Set in a parallel post-apocalyptic landscape, our young hero scavenges for goodies, especially old comics featuring his super-hero alter ego. Then he meets up with a sweet-natured robot called Apple -- an appealing turn from actress Laurence Leboeuf -- who joins him in defeating the mad tyrant Zeus (an initially unrecognizable and chunky Michael Ironside) who controls the dwindling supply of water. Comic book violence, brightly coloured, and frankly irresistible.

Our first sidebar selection was "The Rotten Link" from Argentina, and while a slow-burner it nicely builds up to a crescendo of violence. Set in a small village in the back of beyond, inhabited by an unhealthy selection of degenerates, our heroine -- who is something of the town bicycle -- is warned that she is likely to be killed once all the villagers have made use of her favours. She tries to avoid the most lascivious of the lot until he rapes her, but then completes the cycle by having some incestuous enthusiastic 'rumpo' with her idiot brother. That triggers the final over-the-top (and therefore highly enjoyable) denouement.

"Diabolical" from the U.S. joins the ranks of the myriad possessed houses movies which have become a rather yawn-yawn staple of modern horror. The twist here is that mother Ali Lauter is physically unable to remove her two kids from the property without their falling into a stupor. (Kind of like I was beginning to...) As for "Jeruzalem", I was rather looking forward to this one since there have been some brilliant Israeli horrors (a relatively new genre for them) at previous fests. However like too many movies from non-English speaking countries, the makers chose to focus on two Jewish gals from New Jersey mixing with some heavily-accented and barely understandable Arabs in Jerusalem to produce an English-language movie, presumably to court a broader audience. However the real killer for me was the use of (not found-footage which has become a cliché but) point-of-view video footage (or Google-specs, I don't know which) from one of the gals, giving a shaky and annoying flow to the action. Maybe things got more exciting as the Apocalypse descended, but I didn't stay to find out.

Our second Discovery film turned out to be the one very bad choice. "Final Girl" stars Abigail Breslin who was such a talented child-actress. However here, a la Nikita, she has been trained to be a killing machine from an early age. Her mentor Wes Bentley turns her loose on a gang of posh young men whose favourite pastime is hunting down unsuspecting female dates in the forest. Naturally Breslin sees them off one-by-one, but a more ungainly and unbelievably amateur fighter you would be hard-pressed to find. For her sake, I hope her future adult roles are more rewarding both for her and for her erstwhile fans.

"Bait" is a rather nasty yet well-done British flick of two no-longer-young friends who want to open a tea shop in a Northern town. They fall into the clutches of an initially charming, but brutal moneylender and his strong-arm gorilla who have bloodied other suckers. The ladies are being asked to repay tons of dosh that they have never in fact been lent, to compensate the villain for all the trouble he has taken (!), and a few sexual favours won't go amiss. They must fight back to save their sanity, their lives, and their souls. Like I said...nasty.

Two more American movies were "Frankenstein" by cult director Bernard Rose and "Some Kind of Hate" -- the first a clever take on updating the classic tale, the latter a so-so flick which its director describes as 'a feminist slasher movie'??? Rose's version of the famous myth has scientists Danny Huston and Carrie-Anne Moss creating a perfect grown 'baby' in the form of Xavier Samuel, but the creature's bodily perfection soon gives way to purpuric boils and lesions. He becomes the monster of legend as he escapes and tries to make his way in the hostile world that he finds, befriended only by a blind musician Tony Todd (Rose's Candyman). No happy endings here but some bravura story-telling. The other film (which included Breslin's equally uncharismatic grown brother Spencer in a minor role) is about a teenaged outcast sent to a desert reform school. Here he conjures up the vengeful spirit of a former resident who committed suicide, and soon all of  bullies are receiving their just desserts at her hands. Not exactly a feminist anything.

The last movie to be covered today was one of the best, but not really any sort of horror movie in the traditional sense. "Rabid Dogs" is a French thriller, reworking a Mario Bava scenario and starring consummate actor Lambert Wilson. He plays a concerned father whose car is hijacked by three on-the-run bank robbers as he is rushing to reach the hospital for a scheduled transplant operation for his comatose daughter on the back seat. The robbers have previously taken newly-wed Virginie Ledoyen hostage, and the six of them take off on a tense and violent road-trip just one step ahead of the pursuing police. The baddies are altogether not nice people, especially Francois Arnaud (Cesare from The Borgias) who is lasciviously coming on to the comely Ledoyen, while each of them tries to work out how to double-cross the others. The shock resolution comes right out of left-field, brutal and totally unexpected. Masterful film-making.

Well folks, that's your lot for today. I'll continue with the remaining ten movies next time.