Films

The Count (1916)

In this short film, Charlie Chaplin plays the assistant to a tailor who isn’t great at his job. The tailor finds a note amongst some clothes from a Count advising he won’t be attending a party so opts to go there himself and pretend to be the Count. Chaplin also decides to attend the party where the tailor insists he pretend to be the Count’s secretary. As you can imagine not all goes to plan, especially when there is a beautiful young woman at the party that both men desire. I did like the scenario here of fake identities and both Chaplin and the tailor have a tough job trying to pull off their respective disguises. Something has to give and inevitably there are plenty of laughs along the way.

3.5/5

 

The Floorwalker (1916)

The first film Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Film Corporation, The Floorwalker focuses on a department store where the manager and a floorwalker have come up with a scheme to steal some money. Unfortunately, their efforts are disrupted somewhat by a customer played by Charlie Chaplin who actually bears a striking resemblance to the floorwalker! This was a funny early effort from Chaplin and makes excellent use of an escalator to demonstrate his depth and skill as a comedian. Better films would come along for Chaplin but this is still worth a look.

3/5

 

Fist of Fury (1972)

Lo Wei’s 1972 martial arts film sees the legendary Bruce Lee take on the role of Chen Zhen, a former student of Jingwu School. Chen comes back to the school and learns that his master and teacher, Huo Yuanjia, has died apparently from illness. Chen has the added problem of the Japanese in Shanghai who have no issue with humiliating the Chinese and making them feel inferior. Chen isn’t one for suffering insults gladly and begins to fight back, while simultaneously looking into the death of his master. Although the English dub in Fist of Fury was sometimes distracting, this was still another example of Lee’s unquestionable talent as a martial artist. While Enter the Dragon remains, for me, the ultimate Bruce Lee film, fans of the great man will still want to check this one out as well.

3.5/5

 

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

Michael Cimino’s 1974 crime film sees Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges form the duo of the title. Lightfoot (Bridges) steals a car and cruising along stumbles upon a preacher, Thunderbolt (Eastwood), being pursued by a gunman. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot escape together and end up forming an unlikely partnership, one that will involve continued pursuit and ultimately a risky robbery. Eastwood and Bridges make a great pair here with the latter the young, talkative and charming one who loves adventure and women even more. Eastwood is more reserved and experienced with the world but the duo still unite in a common cause. The film shows its age slightly but there is plenty here to keep you entertained.

3.5/5

 

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)

Akira Kurosawa’s 1945 period drama sees a warrior Yoshitsune and a company of six loyal samurai making a perilous journey to a distant sanctuary. Their journey is fraught with danger but the biggest challenge comes in the shape of a border patrol. Eyes and ears are alert for Yoshitsune but there is no way round. The company must get across the border but how can they do it without detection? This early Kurosawa effort hints at some of the maestro’s great works that would follow with compelling characters and a carefully crafted story. It’s more a quick dip rather than a deep dive into Kurosawa’s work. It shows promise from a director finding his feet. Far superior films would be just around the corner.

3/5

 

The Post (2017)

Steven Spielberg’s 2017 drama is set in 1971 and follows Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) who is editor in chief at the Washington Post which is owned by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep). When rival paper The New York Times gets a scoop in the form of leaked classified documents concerning US involvement in Vietnam going back to the 1950s it seems the Post is once again second rate. However, a court injunction silences the Times only for the Post to end up in the same position with classified information at their disposal. Do they publish or return the documents to Nixon and his government? Spielberg unites two of Hollywood’s heavyweights in Streep and Hanks and they put in good performances, ever the reliable actors that they are. A good supporting cast and well-paced story keep this one interesting until the closing reels. It feels close to the present day with perception of much of the media in Trump America.    

3.5/5

 

Struggle in Italy (1971)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, Struggle in Italy is a filmic essay that focuses on a revolutionary Italian girl who speaks out against bourgeois ideology but in analysing her place in society, she slowly comes to realise that she been absorbed into the the bourgeois way of thinking that she rails against. This was an interesting and thought-provoking piece that requires patience and all of your attention to understand its message of conflicting ideologies. Not Godard’s best but still interesting.

3/5

 

Split (2016)

M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 psychological horror stars James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who suffers with a mental disorder manifest in him having multiple personalities. Despite seeing a therapist, one of Kevin’s personalities compels him to kidnap three teenage girls and imprison them. One of the girls, Casey, has a dark past of her own but can she and the other girls orchestrate an escape by using Kevin’s many personalities against him? It’s fair to say that Shyamalan is a director that has great potential but many of his films have disappointed. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable were two films that he got right and Split is, I’m relieved to say, another one. McAvoy is excellent in the lead, shifting between a frightening amount of personalities effortlessly. Some are not a threat to the abducted girls but others, one in particular, are very dangerous.  

4/5

 

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1989 cyberpunk horror was shot in black and white and had a low budget. It begins with a man known as the Metal Fetishist who derives pleasure from self-mutilation and inserting pieces of metal into his body. Following his latest addition, the Metal Fetishist panics and runs out into the street where he is hit by a car driven by a Japanese salaryman and his girlfriend. The young couple dump the Metal Fetishist in a ravine, leaving him for dead. What follows is a brutal revenge where the salaryman finds that his victim has inflicted a curse of sorts on him that slowly turns him into metal. Sometimes graphic in its violence, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is impressively filmed for such a low budget, especially chase scenes as the salaryman races through the streets with his unmerciful transformation gathering pace. A pointless film to some, confusing to others, yet absorbing for many, this feels like being caught in a visualised nightmare and an unnerving one it is.

3.5/5

 

Ant-Man (2015)

Peyton Reed directs this 2015 adaptation of characters from the Marvel Comics. I have a fair few of the Marvel movies to get through and Ant-Man wasn’t one that immediately leapt out at me to try. In the film, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has developed sophisticated shrinking technology known as Ant-Man with a human able to be condensed down to the size of, well, an ant. Fearing his technology being used in the wrong hands, Pym keeps it secret for years. In the present day, Pym is horrified to find a former assistant, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to perfecting similar shrinking technology and wishes to use it for military purposes. They never learn. Pym reluctantly recruits Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a convicted thief, to help him stop Cross, while Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope (Evangline Lilly) also poses a challenge. As stated in other reviews for Marvel movies, I tend to prefer the origin tales and really got into this one. The ever young Paul Rudd (50 this year but looks no older than 30) is a great lead as Ant-Man, while Michael Douglas slots effortlessly into the Marvel universe in a role I would not previously have expected of him. Stoll and Lilly provide great support too while some disorienting special effects of a shrunken perspective enhance the film without dominating the storyline. Easily one of the best Marvel movies for me.

4/5

 

Stronger (2017)

David Gordon Green’s drama is based on the true story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who was a spectator at the Boston Marathon in 2013, waiting at the finish line for his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), when multiple bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring hundreds. In the aftermath, Jeff wakes to find both of his legs have been amputated above the knee and he begins a slow and painful adaptation to a new life, as well as experiencing near celebrity status in Boston following media images of him at the scene of the bombing. Jeff also becomes a aluable witness, having seen one of the bombers moments before the attack. Stronger could have easily gone down the path of the over-sentimental but instead it serves up an often gritty depiction of Bauman’s struggle to come to terms with his life changing injuries and his maladjustment as a symbol of heroism and strength. The film really shines though in showing the impact this terror attack has not just on Bauman but on family and friends, especially Erin, who supports Jeff during his recovery.

3.5/5

 

Land of Plenty (2004)

Wim Wenders’ 2004 drama is set in post-9/11 America and follows the story of Lana (Michelle Williams) who returns to the US after years in Africa and the Middle East witnessing poverty and destitution overseas. Lana finds her uncle, Paul (John Diehl), who is a Vietnam veteran but is paranoid and suspicious of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. With conflicting perspectives on the world can Lana and Paul reach any kind of consensus? Land of Plenty offers an interesting take on a healing American society and boasts good performances from Williams and Diehl. However, it doesn’t reach the high levels of much of Wenders’ other work so is a worthy addition to his collection rather than a masterpiece.

3/5

 

Christine (2016)

Craig Shilowich’s gritty 2016 drama is the true story of Christine Chubbock, a news reporter working for a TV station in Florida in the 1970s. Christine (Rebecca Hall) is at odds with her boss who wants to improve ratings with darker news headlines such as crime pieces. Christine is uncomfortable with such demands but tries to juggle work pressure with depression, while having to compete with colleagues for a lucrative move to a TV station in Baltimore. Anyone familiar with the story of Christine Chubbock will know what to expect here but, if not, I’d recommend watching the film before delving further. Hall is excellent in the lead here depicting Christine’s fragile world begin to unravel as the pressure of work and personal commitments begin to take a heavy toll.

4/5

 

Jules and Jim (1962)

Francois Truffaut’s New Wave drama centres on two friends – Frenchmen Jim (Henri Serre) and Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner). We witness their friendship which begins prior to the First World War and traces the many years that follow, at one point as enemies in the Great War, but reunited afterwards. At the centre of the two men’s friendship is Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who both men love. The question is will either man win Catherine’s love and what damage will it do to their friendship if they do? Truffaut’s film covers many years in the lives of the three characters and they undergo many changes as the narrative progresses and not just because of the impact of a terrible war. Though other characters come and go, it’s hard to take your eyes off the main trio who all deliver excellent performances. Without question, one of Truffaut’s best.

4/5

 

Rocky (1976)

Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky would be something of a surprise hit upon its release and would win three Oscars including one for the screenplay. Rocky is set in 1975 where boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is due to fight in Philadelphia until his opponent withdraws with an injury. With no other boxers available, Creed proposes a once in a lifetime title bout against a local boxer and is eager for a challenger. He eventually settles on the Italian Stallion, Rocky (Stallone), who reluctantly agrees to the fight but how can a lowly boxer possibly compete with an acclaimed champion? I have vague memories of watching Rocky many years ago so felt it warranted a revisit. It’s a classic Hollywood rags to riches sort of story with Rocky coming across as quiet and unassuming in society, falling for a timid woman, Adrian (Talia Shire), and having doubts about his prospects in the ring. Elements of the ending are predictable when we get to that big fight but the film steers clear of the cheesy and finishes up being a rewarding journey instead.

4/5

 

Twinky (1970)

Richard Donner’s comedy drama stars Charles Bronson as Scott, a 38 year old American author living in the UK. He meets Twinky (Susan George) who he believes is 20 only to later find she is actually a 16 year old schoolgirl. Scott and Twinky have already started a relationship and to get around the concerns of a perplexed society they decide to get married. Unfortunately, Scott and Twinky find that the honeymoon period soon dissipates and the age gap between them starts to become a challenge. Not sure where to start with this one. While UK law states there is nothing illegal in Scott and Twinky’s relationship, the film was clearly designed to be controversial and raise eyebrows. As a comedy it isn’t overly funny, Bronson looks uncomfortable in most of the film, while as a drama it doesn’t come across as especially serious either. Less than 10 years later Richard Donner would have directed The Omen and Superman so this isn’t a high point on his early CV. As for Charles Bronson, it’s hard to believe this film is a mere two years after his brilliant role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. At least the Death Wish series was just around the corner.

2/5

 

Vampyr (1932)

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror was his first attempt at leaving silent films behind and the transition was not straightforward. The film tells the story of Allan Gray, a drifter, who comes to a village where there are strange supernatural events taking place. As Gray delves deeper into the mysteries, death begins to occur and there is even mention of vampyrs. This is reminiscent of Dracula in places but it stands on its own as a dark and effectively atmospheric horror tale. Considering this was 1932 the eerie settings are often excellent and the special effects superb, especially in a long and haunting dream sequence that befalls one of the characters. By today’s standards, Vampyr isn’t overly scary but considering its age it’s still impressive.

3.5/5

 

Flavors of Youth (2018)

This beautiful anime is comprised of three short films. The Rice Noodles focuses on Xiao Ming who reminisces about key moments in his life through his love of San Xian noodles. A Little Fashion Show is about a fashion model Yi Lin whose career is under threat as she matures while her devoted sister, Lulu, looks on. Love in Shanghai is all about confusion and unrequited love with Li Mo haunted by his love for Xiao Yu when both were at school. Visually stunning backdrops and short but engaging stories make Flavors of Youth well worth your time.

4.5/5

 

The Silence (2019)

John R. Leonetti’s 2019 horror film follows in the footsteps of efforts such as Birdbox. A deadly species known as vesps are unleashed onto the world. They hunt by sound and kill all in their wake plunging the world into an Apocalypse of sorts. The film focuses on the Andews family with Hugh (Stanley Tucci) leading the way but his daughter, Ally (Kiernan Shipka) is prominent for she lost her hearing at 13 years old and both she and her family know sign language and already know what it means to live silently. The question is can they survive the vesps and find sanctuary somewhere? The Silence doesn’t offer anything new compared to Birdbox while 2018 horror, A Quiet Place (which I have yet to see), has a very similar premise and is considered by critics to be superior. The Silence is an okay horror if you’re stuck for films to watch on Netflix but there are many better ones than this.

3/5

 

Collateral Beauty (2016)

David Frankel’s 2016 drama stars Will Smith as Howard Inlet, an advertising executive, who is in the midst of the most severe depression following the death of his young daughter. Howard goes to work each day, building intricate domino displays before knocking them over, then goes home where he eats and sleeps very little. The company he owns and is a major shareholder in is in turmoil. His friends and colleagues – Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) – fear for a sale of the company not going through as Howard’s mind is understandably elsewhere. Facing bankruptcy, they reluctantly decide to hire a private investigator to follow Howard and to prove he is unfit to run the company. What they learn about Howard proves both surprising and concerning. Collateral Beauty has a dream cast with Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore supporting the main actors. This film was critically panned upon release and I too have issues with it. Smith is superb in the lead, once again displaying his gift in dramatic roles and once again a far cry from The Fresh Prince days. While Howard’s storyline is unquestionably moving, the efforts of his friends to prove him unfit so they can take control of his company is brutal and cold, even though their intentions are generally good. This is worth watching for the side story with Howard seeking out help from a support group run by Madeleine (Naomie Harris) but the main plot is uncomfortable while other characters’ stories seem rushed and unsatisfying.  

3/5

 

Matinee (1993)

Set in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Matinee stars John Goodman as Lawrence Woolsey who produces and premieres B-movies in local cinemas. His latest feature is Mant! which translates as half-man, half-ant. With the threat of the nuclear apocalypse in the headlines this seems like the perfect time to ride the wave of fear and uncertainty and unleash Mant! on cinemagoers. Joe Dante is responsible for such films as Gremlins, Innerspace and The Burbs! and Matinee has a similar feel to it as some of those efforts. Goodman is usually reliable in whatever film he turns his hand to and that is the case here. Although I didn’t find this outright hilarious but there were some good moments in there.  

3/5

 

Rocky II (1979)

In this sequel to the Oscar-winning Rocky, we pick up the story immediately after the first film with the conclusion of the fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed. The latter tells Rocky he wants a rematch but Rocky decides to retire. He marries his girlfriend and sets about earning a living doing adverts and sponsorship. When this doesn’t work out, Rocky looks for alternative means of income. The question is can he support his family without getting back in the ring? While not as good as the original film, Rocky II still has a lot going for it. You can’t help but like Stallone in the lead and he gives it his all throughout. It feels similar to the first film in some respects but, as with the original, the ending has some surprising elements despite the predictability.  

3.5/5

 

Sanshiro Sugata (1943)

Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut tells the story of Sanshiro Sugata, a temperamental young man who wishes to become a judo master. Having lost his way somewhat in society and getting into constant trouble, Sanshiro begins to train under a judo master but can he keep his focus and learn or will his poor temperament distract him? Kurosawa’s debut effort is visually impressive and already shows signs of his talent that would result in films such as Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai. While this can’t compare to some of those masterpieces it is still essential viewing for any Kurosawa enthusiast.  

3.5/5

 

The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)

Renny Harlin’s 2013 horror film is comparable to The Blair Witch Project with the story being found video footage to take us through proceedings. In this case we have a group of Oregon students who head for Russia to investigate the Dyatlov Pass Incident, an expedition in 1959 where a group of climbers perished in the Ural Mountains. The circumstances of their demise remain a mystery to this day, but this film offers a theory as our Oregon students find the sight of the original disaster and unusual things begin to befall them. The original story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is well worth researching if you are unfamiliar with it though it is eerie and peculiar. As for this film, it moves along okay in the build up but the theory that is presented here is sadly not worth the wait.

2/5

 

Rocky III (1982)

Sylvester Stallone once again directs and stars in this third instalment of the Rocky series. The film opens with the conclusion of Rocky II and subsequently takes us through the next few years as Rocky is now a renowned world champion having defended his title numerous times. Problems begin for Rocky when he takes on a new challenger – James “Clubber” Lang (Mr T) – who easily defeats him. With his star diminished, Rocky is lost until old rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) offers to train him for a rematch against his conqueror. Will Rocky agree or will he end his career? Rocky III is inferior to the first two films but the addition of Mr T (Pity the fool!) is welcome and let’s not forget Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger resonating in the background for a spot of inspiration. It’s predictable territory once more but not a bad addition to the franchise.  

3/5

 

Scarlet Street (1945)

Fritz Lang’s 1945 noir stars Edward G. Robinson as Christopher Cross, an amateur painter at home but a cashier in his day job. He is in a loveless marriage and wanders through life doing the best he can, longing for happiness. One night he meets Katharine March (Joan Bennett), who is being attacked by a man named Johnny (Dan Duryea). Johnny flees and Christopher gets to know Katharine, soon falling for her. What Christopher doesn’t know is that Katharine and Johnny are a couple and looking for their next con. It seems in Christopher they have found it. Lang’s noir moves along at a good pace as Christopher is lured into a deceptive web and you’ll be left guessing how deep he goes and whether he can extricate himself. I found the ending to this one surprising while Robinson in the lead is excellent as the vulnerable and lonely Christopher.  

4/5

 

Books

 

Edmond Baudoin – Dali (2012)

Badouin’s graphic novel tells the story of surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904-1989), beginning with his childhood and tracing his career through to his troubled final years. Rather than a standard retelling of the artist’s life, Badouin has recreated images in the style of Dali himself to convey the artist’s thoughts and feelings as he developed his craft and churned out masterpiece after masterpiece. Dali’s life is covered in 100 or so pages so it feels like a brief immersion into his surrealist world but the book also includes a detailed but concise summary of his life year by year at the end which rounds off the experience in style.

4/5

 

Mark Blake – Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd (2007)

I’ve been listening to a handful of Pink Floyd songs for years but for some reason have never delved beneath the surface of the group and their music. To my shame, I have never listened to an album in full, not even The Dark Side of the Moon. In gearing myself up to be immersed in the albums, I wanted to learn all about the group and Mark Blake’s biopic is considered the best place to go. This has the whole story beginning with the group’s origins where the enigmatic Syd Barrett was leader of the quartet, the addition of a fifth member in David Gilmour, Barrett’s ailing mental health and departure, Roger Waters taking creative charge until 1985 and then Gilmour carrying the flag until the group’s end. It’s all here: every album, the tours, the solo projects, relationships, everything. Blake’s book is a fascinating read from start to finish. Pink Floyd were unquestionably a unique and innovative band but as with many groups, internal divisions and creative differences both benefited, hindered and ultimately destroyed them. I intend to sample Pink Floyd albums soon and may even post a review of some of them such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall on here at some point. If you want the full story of Pink Floyd then this is the best place to start. That said, I don’t feel like the Floyd journey is over. I feel like it has just begun and as I am hearing new Floyd songs for the first time I am now on a road I wish would never end.

5/5

 

Nejib – Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie (2012)

Nejib’s graphic novel is set in Haddon Hall and is told from the perspective of the house itself. At the start of the 1970s Haddon Hall was home to a young couple named David and Angie. Angie is an aspiring actor and David is trying to make it as a musician. In Haddon Hall, David’s struggles are documented, encounters with friends, family and fellow creatives, all leading up to the birth of what would become David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. Nejib’s simple, yet intricate, images capture the creative process of Bowie as he fought desperately for success. It feels like it could have been longer at times and once Bowie is unveiled you simply don’t want the story to end.  

3/5

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