A Netflix Error

I decided to watch a film on Netflix to take my mind off of feeling ill. It is a new version of ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’. I have read that book, watched the 1930 film adaptation, and the later 1979 remake. This new version is a German language film, starrring mainly German actors. I settled down to watch it one afternoon, only to be greatly surprised that it was dubbed into English.

The story is not the same as in the book, far from it. But what we do get is a loosely-based version that delivers a powerful anti-war film with some outstanding special effects and cinematography. I stuck with it, but I was left feeling short-changed that it was not shown in the original language.

Looking online, I read that Netflix shows this film in German by default, with English subtitles. So I have no idea why I was shown a dubbed version. I rarely use Netflix, so I suspect I missed a ‘click’ on something.

Maybe I will watch it again, and be more careful before pressing ‘Play’.

Film Review: Fanny Lye Deliver’d (2019)

***No ending spoilers***

This is a British independent film, written and directed by Thomas Clay. It is set in 17th Century England just after the civil war, and stars two of Britain’s finest actors, Maxine Peake, and Charles Dance. With my interest in the period, and having seen the excellent casting, I was excited to be able to watch this free on TV, courtesy of Channel 4.

The scene is rural Shropshire, the year 1657. Cromwell rules in England, and the Puritans enforce religious observance. They are against any other religious beliefs, and do not agree with revelry, drunkenness, or excessive celebrations. Some ordinary people opposed the Puritan restrictions. They embraced ideas about female equality, free love, and asserted that there was no heaven or hell, only earthly life. To the Puritans, they were heretics and blasphemers.

Fanny Lye is married to Captain John Lye, a man who served with distinction in the Parliamentary Army and returned home to buy a farm and land in the county. Despite her poor background and lowly upbringing, he married Fanny, giving her security as his wife, and also a son, Arthur. But he is a hard man, and a strict Puritan. He beats both Fanny and Arthur for the slightest reason, and regards her to be his property.

Returning from church one Sunday, the family is surprised to find two strangers in their house. They had arrived naked, and stolen clothes to wear. The young man claims that he and his wife were robbed on the road to Salisbury, and asks to stay until they are able to continue their journey. He also says he served in Cromwell’s regiment in the war, so Captain Lye takes pity on him.

But when men arrive at the farm looking for two heretics who are wanted for fornication and religious crimes, the young man takes Arthur hostage, threatening to kill him if they are betrayed. The men are the local constable, the High Sheriff of Shropshire, and his assistant. The Sheriff holds a warrant to arrest and execute heretics, and anyone harbouring them. But Captain Lye refuses him entry, claiming to have not seen any strangers.

After this incident, the film takes a darker turn. The young couple stay on at the farmhouse, and the atmosphere changes to one of great tension. Afraid that they will kill his wife and son, the enraged captain tries to overpower them, but is injured and securely tied up. He is then forced to listen as his wife is seduced by the teachings of the new religion, and then made to watch while she makes love with both the man and woman at the same time.

He bides his time to take his revenge, but nothing works out as we expect it to.

I really enjoyed this film. The atmosphere of repressive 17th Century England is second to none. Set design and scenery is completely convincing, as is every member of the small cast, especially Maxine Peake on brilliant form. Yes, it has one sex scene, and some sudden and brutal violence. But it is all in context, and no worse that you would see on any modern TV drama.

Yet another ‘small’ film that shows there is more to see than the big blockbusters that are so popular.

Here is a trailer.

Films: Retro Recommendations (1)

Thinking of films that get overlooked today, I decided to offer a list of recommendations of a variety of films that I thought were great. I have reviewed some of these, but not all. I am only going to supply IMDB links, and/or trailers where I can find them, but I believe they are all worth your viewing time. I only chosen English-Language films with no subtitles on this occasion.

The Last Seduction. (1994, not the remake.)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110308/

The House of Games. (1987)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093223/

The Grifters. (1990)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099703/

Dead Man’s Shoes. (2004)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0419677/

Sling Blade. (1996)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117666/

Blood Simple. (1984)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086979/

Blue Steel. (1990)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099160/

The Crying Game. (1992)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104036/

The Butcher Boy. (1997)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118804/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdvtR8Hup4E (Trailer is poor quality)

Angela’s Ashes. (1999)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0145653/

There are the first 10 for your consideration. More to follow in this series.

Film Review: Brightburn (2019)

**No plot spoilers.**

This film was shown on TV over the Halloween period. I had never heard of it, but recorded it on the PVR.

The action begins in a remote farmhouse in the small community of Brightburn, Kansas. A couple is in bed one night when something like an earthquake shakes their house, and they see a bright red light out in the woods.

Then we have moved on. They have a baby, a small boy. They are blissfully happy, and enjoying the rural life in the American Mid-West. As the boy grows, it becomes apparent that he is exceptionally clever, much to the delight of his parents. (Elizabeth Banks, and David Denman)

But Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is not popular at school, and becomes something of a loner. He is occasionally bullied, and not really accepted by his peers. Once he reaches puberty, things start to go badly wrong. Chickens are killed, Brandon begins to sleepwalk and hear voices, and the boy also discovers something hidden in the barn that will have a devastating effect on all of their lives.

The film then starts to turn into a horror film, (as advertised) and we see that young Brandon has some very unusual powers. These include super-strength, being able to move at lightning speed, and also being impervious to cuts, bruises, or injury.

Are you thinking what I was thinking? Superboy, Superman as a child. Raised by kindly parents who are devoted to him, and determined to keep his secret.

That is definitely the inspiration for this film, until it takes a very dark turn. This Superboy is actually Superbad, and it is not that long until we discover just how bad he is.

Despite having some of the expected ‘jump-scares’, this is a really enjoyable film. It takes a familiar story, and turns it on its head, blending sci-fi with horror to great effect. Many of the set-pieces are very well done indeed, and the cast take it all very seriously throughout. One of those ‘small films’ that delivers more than so many blockbusters.

And if you do watch it, stay right to the end, and during the credits too.

The ending is great!

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: The Nightingale (2018)

I watched this Australian film recently on television, attracted by some great reviews, and the fact that it had won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

(Although I will avoid plot spoilers, I have to state from the outset that this film contains unsettling images of rape, racism, and extreme violence.)

The year is 1825, and Britain rules Australia as a colony. The Army enforces that rule with an iron hand, treating the Aboriginal people appallingly, and using convicts as servants and labourers. One such convict is the Irish waitress, Clare. She is the Nightingale of the title, as her singing voice is admired by the soldiers, especially the officer, Hawkins. He also lusts after her, and uses his power over her to keep her captive even though she is married, and has a baby.

Hawkins is supposed to be sending a letter recommending that Clare and her husband are freed, but he refuses to do so. When she challenges him about that, he rapes her. Her husband discovers the assault and confronts Hawkins and his sergeant, resulting in a fight. This is witnessed by a visiting Colonel, who tells Hawkins afterwards that he is unsuitable for promotion. Enraged, Hawkins resolves to travel to Launceston, to plead his case in person with the area commander. He orders his sergeant to accompany him, along with a junior officer, Ensign Jago, and three civilians, including a small boy.

But before departing, Hawkins resolves to settle things with Clare and her husband. Holding them at gunpoint assisted by Jago and his sergeant, he rapes Clare in front of her husband Aiden, then commands the sergeant to do the same. All the while her baby girl is screaming, and Aiden is beside himself with rage. So Hawkins shoots her husband, then tells Jago to keep the baby quiet. He throws the baby across the room, killing it as it hits the wall. Then he is told to finish off Clare, and hits her with the butt of a musket. Thinking they are all dead, the soldiers depart for Launceston.

However, Clare survives, and she enlists the help of a young aboriginal tracker, Billy, to follow the men to get revenge for her family.

What follows is an arduous trek across country, during which Clare finds a new respect for her guide and his culture. On the way, they encounter shocking treatment of Aboriginals by white overseers, and have to learn to work together against the terrain and elements to survive. Clare also eventually catches up with the soldiers, relying on her guide to help protect her from them.

If you can get past the often distressing scenes, this is a powerful film in every respect. Casting is perfect, with outstanding performances by all the leads, direction is flawless, and the atmosphere and period of the early 19th century is completely convincing. The cinematography on the rugged landscape of Tasmania is wonderful, and it has much to say about racism, colonialism, and the dark side of the British Empire.

I thought it was excellent, and it will stay in my mind for a very long time.

Here is the official trailer.

Significant Songs (120)

This lovely song needs a reblog. Only 8 comments in 2016!

beetleypete

Dear Love

As well as qualifying as one of my significant songs, this post is also something of a film review in miniature too. As well as the music, I can recommend the film ‘Big Driver’ that includes this song on the soundtrack.

Earlier this year, I watched this film on TV, knowing little or nothing about it. I was attracted by the cast, which includes Maria Bello, Joan Jett (of rock and roll fame) and the menacing Will Harris. It is a tough film to watch, involving sexual abuse, and a woman’s revenge. The story is about how a female novelist tracks down the man responsible for the attack on her. In doing so, she uses as her inspiration the heroine of her mystery stories, an elderly female detective played by Olympia Dukakis. Of course this is a fictional character, so only visible to our heroine. I later discovered…

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Films, And The Paintings of Edward Hopper

Any readers of this blog will be aware of my love of films and cinema. I also admire the paintings of Edward Hopper, an American artist I have featured on this blog previously.

Edward Hopper: A Tribute In Photographs

My friend Antony sent me a You Tube video, where the presenter discusses how films influenced Hopper’s work, and how those paintings in turn influenced film-makers. It is only 12 minutes long, and the comparisons are fascinating, at least to me. Anyone who enjoys films, and also likes Hopper’s paintings, should enjoy this video as much as I did.

Film Review: Ad Astra (2019)

One very hot afternoon when I was feeling a bit ‘floppy’, I sat down to watch this film that I had recorded from the TV a while ago. It is a Space/Science Fiction film set in an unspecified future not that far removed from what we know now.

People are living on The Moon, and commuting there by commercial spaceship. Others are living on Mars, long enough for someone in their late 20s to have been born there. On Earth, we would recognise daily life, though NASA has been replaced by ‘Spacecom’, a branch of the US Military.

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, a major in Spacecom. He is dedicated, committed, and very focused. So much so that his wife has left him. He is the son of a very famous astronaut, a man who travelled to Neptune to try to discover alien life and is believed to be dead. Then strange energy pulses begin to cause devastation on Earth, as anti-matter is projected through space. The authorities trace the source to Neptune, and believe it is something to do with the earlier mission involving Roy’s father.

So Roy is recruited to travel to Mars, where a special laser-guided communications system can project his message to Neptune, hoping to discover if his father is still alive, and responsible for the anti-matter pulses. First he travels to The Moon, where a special rocket wil take him to Mars from the dark side. We soon discover that The moon is a dangerous place. Not unlike the old Wild West, it is lawless, and bothered by Space Pirates trying to steal the valuable minerals. (Or anything else) After an encounter with said pirates, Roy gets to his spacecraft to travel to Mars.

On the way, they answer a Mayday call from a Norwegian spaceship. (Norway apparently has a space programme by then.) If you have ever watched any modern Space epic, you can guess that doesn’t end well. But Roy survives, and continues on to Mars. Once there, he is used by Spacecom to contact his father, and then suddenly told he is being sent home. When he discovers that they intend to explode a nuclear bomb on his father’s old spaceship, he hijacks the ship carrying the bomb.

No more spoliers in this long film, (124 minutes) so I will stop outlining the plot.

What we have to do is to suspend some belief, ignore the science, and treat this a lot like an adventure film set in space. Yes, we have elements of Conrad’s book ‘Heart of Darkness’, and the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, but ‘Ad Astra’ manages to overcome those comparisons with some excellent special effects. Those effects are never overblown, and mostly believeable. In fact, they are on a par with Kubrick’s ‘2001’ at times.

Much of the film is slow-paced, but the viewer always understands why. I didn’t feel it dragged too much, though some complained that it did. If you can forgive the liberties taken with some of the science, and treat it like a drama, you should not be disappointed. Hollywood stalwarts Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones make the most of small but significant roles, and though I didn’t know anyone else in the cast that well, they all did their jobs supporting. (Including Liv Tyler as Roy’s wife, mostly seen in flashback.)

This is Pitt’s film completely. He is in every scene, and earned his money. Brad stepped up, delivering a quiet performance with no flash, in a film that I surprised myself by enjoying.

Here’s a trailer.

RIP ‘Paulie Walnuts’

Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. (July 29, 1942 – July 8, 2022) was an American actor best known for his role as Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in ‘The Sopranos’. He also made numerous appearances in the films of Woody Allen.

Paulie was one of my favourite characters in my favourite TV crime drama ever. Despite numerous appearances in films and other television productions, Tony Sirico will always be ‘Paulie’ for me. He has sadly died at the age of 79.

Trains And The Cinema

Ever since they started to make films for entertainment, trains have been a popular inclusion. Brief research has shown me that there are 100 or more films with the bulk of the action taking place on a train, and hundreds more where a train features as part of the story. Perhaps the most well-known of these are the various film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, so I will not be mentioning that one here.

But I will be featuring some of the others I have seen, and how having characters trapped in the relative confines of a moving train can add tension and mystery, as well as a list of suspects for anything that happens during the journey.

Not all films featuring trains are mysteries though. Some are comedies, others are set during wars, and more recent ‘train films’ have involved futuristic scenarios, and even zombie invasions.

The Lady Vanishes. (1938)

Set in the pre-war European tensions of 1938, this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, alongside May Whitty, as ‘the lady who vanishes’. Travelling through a fictional country in Europe on a train, a young woman realises that her elderly travelling companion has vanished. She enlists the help of a young musicologist to search for the old lady, and what follows is a hugely enjoyable ‘whodunnit’ with drama and comedy combined. Despite being filmed at studios in London, causing the film to feel very ‘set-bound’ at times, that in no way spoils the enjoyment of a great film that got Hitchcock noticed by Hollywood.

The Train. (1964)

This is a WW2 French Resistance thriller, concerning Nazi plans to remove precious artworks from France to Germany, set in August 1944, and based on real events. Burt Lancaster stars as railway inspector Labiche, and gives his usual square-jawed and reliable performance. Other cast members include the excellent Paul Scofield as a German Colonel, and Jeanne Moreau as a hotel owner. Determined to sabotage the train to stop the art being stolen, Labiche uses his Resistance contacts and fellow railway workers to divert the train, much to the annoyance of the Germans. When this delaying tactic is discovered, he eventually manages to derail the train, saving the art for France.

This film has authenticity, and a lot of tension throughout. A convincing cast and a real feel of the period sets it apart too.

Von Ryan’s Express. (1965)

This is a POW escape film, set during WW2. British and American prisoners of war are due to be moved from a camp in Italy, following the Italian surrender. But a plan is hatched to take over the train, and divert it to Switzerland, a neutral country. Ryan is played by Frank Sinatra, who to be honest looks more like a singer than an Air Force officer. British interests are played by Trevor Howard, and John Leyton. Managing to overpower the German guards, the POWs wear their uniforms, and as the train travels through Italy, they work out a way to get the track switched for their train. On the way to Switzerland, they realise a second train is following them, and it becomes a race against time. At the border, it is decided that some men will get off the train and attack the German SS troops about to catch them. This sacrifice ensures the remainder will escape.

Like the previous film, this also manages to keep the tension high, and the viewer is never really sure if the POWs will pull off the escape. Although many of the characters are stereotypes, they all take it seriously, and that ensures it remains exciting right until the end.

Siver Streak. (1976)

This comedy thriller was the first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, along with a great cast including Ned Beatty and Jill Clayburgh. The setting is the train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago on a train named The Silver Streak. This film has a lot going for it. A snappy script, mistaken identity, wrong suspects, and a great finale on board the train that has now become a runaway, with nobody driving it. To say much more would spoil the fun, but if you have never seen this often madcap comedy, you will not be disappointed.

Snowpiercer. (2013)

More up to date, with a post-apocalyptic story based on a graphic novel that has an element of Steampunk added too. The only people left on Earth after a climate change catastrophe all live on a train that never stops, the Snowpiercer of the title. The train is self-powered by an ingenious device, and makes a constant loop in the wintry conditions that now dominate the planet. Societal and class structures are maintained, with working people living in poor conditions at the back, and the wealthy enjoying luxury at the front. Eventually, the low class passengers stage a revolt, working their way through the train and fighting the guards trying to stop them.

The cast list is impressive. John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Chris Evans as the leader of the revolutionaries. With some scenes filmed in specially constructed train carriages, location filming in snowy wastes, and elements of CGI that are not really intrusive, this is a good sci-fi action-adventure that doesn’t try to leave us with too many ends untied.

Train To Busan. (2016)

Last but not least, for my money the best zombie-horror film made so far, and set on a train where nobody can escape the zombies! Made in South Korea, the cast list will not mean much to anyone, but this is a first-rate action-horror, with a relentless pace, incredible set-pieces, and breathtaking action from the start. The story is simple enough, concerning travellers taking a train from Seoul to Busan just as a zombie outbreak begins in the capital. One zombie manages to get on board and infect someone else, and so on. Those not affected have to fight to survive, as the train speeds through the countryside. So much better than it souunds, this film really is outstandingly good.

There you have it. Six examples of films where the train is as much the star as any of the actors. There are many more similar films to discover, but I hope you will take my recommendations and watch these when you can.