Some Britsploitation films

Another old film post from 2013, a look at some very different British films. I think only Eddy and Vinnie have seen this one previously.

beetleypete

The Antipodean film buff, and blogger extraordinaire, James Curnow, recently added an interesting post on his website, at http://curnblog.com/  It was a look at twelve Australian films, and he wittily entitled it, ‘Ozpolitation: Twelve Australian Exploitation Classics.’ This was a play on the often-used term, ‘Blaxpolitation’, common in film writing to describe a genre of American films that featured predominantly black casts, small budgets, huge Afro hairstyles, and jive-talking leading men. These films were mostly made in the 1970’s, taking popular cinematic subjects of the day, and re-making them with a black cast, and lots of cultural references relevant to the largely black-populated districts of America’s cities. Well-known examples include; ‘Cleopatra Jones’, ‘Car Wash’, ‘Shaft’, and ‘Superfly’. They usually had soundtracks featuring leading black artists of the day, including such leading lights as Curtis Mayfield, and Isaac Hayes.

This gave me food for thought. British Cinema has not escaped this…

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Film Review: Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

I am not a sports fan. That marks me out as weird, in England. The European football championships are on TV. Most days, they are on both sides, no matter how obscure the match, or which teams are playing. So when I settle down in the evening, I have to search the channels that do not show sport for something to watch.

That is how I found this film, which I had never heard of before, for some reason. (British readers should be able to find this for free, on ‘All-4’.)

**Update** Fraggle has just reminded me that I read a review of this film on her blog. I had completely forgotten that, which is worrying! Apologies to her. https://fragglesotherplace.com/2020/03/02/march-2nd-movie-monday/

***No spoilers***

The action begins in 1969, at a hotel that once played host to high-rollers and famous people. The El Royale straddles the border between California and Nevada, with the state line quite literally running through the centre of the building. Its glory has long-faded, and the location off the beaten track no longer attracts holiday-makers and gamblers to the area around Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Ten years earlier, something happened at the hotel. An event that will bring a small group of strangers together on a rainy night.

Scene-setting begins with the separate arrivals of a Priest, and a black woman. Inside the hotel, they find a vacuum cleaner salesman waiting in the huge lobby. He is noisy and brash, and explains to them that there is no clerk around, despite having rung the bell on the counter numerous times.

When the young clerk finally shows up, we soon discover that he is the only person working there. He also cleans the rooms, serves at the bar, and does anything else that needs doing. He actively tries to discourage them from taking rooms, but they all insist on booking in.

Then an edgy young woman shows up, also looking for a room. She is rude and aggressive, for no good reason.

Once each person receives their key, we begin to find out why they are there, and get each backstory through flashbacks. Not only does each one of them have their own secrets and demons, the hotel itself is keeping a darker secret from all of them. And not one of the characters is who they appear to be on the surface, including the clerk. The tension builds as they interact, and it becomes clear that something bad is going to happen.

And it does.

Sorry, but without spoilers that’s it. I can tell you that this is very much ‘film noir’ for the 21st century, despite the often lurid use of colour. The script is spot on, the sets of the hotel are simply amazing, and the pop-music of the era soundtrack is a complete delight. Everyone in the small cast plays their role to perfection, and even after the ‘reveal’, there are still enough surprises in store to keep your attention in quite a long film.

The flashbacks are very well done, and not remotely confusing. Period feel is completely authentic throughout, as are costume and vehicles. That cast includes Jeff Bridges as The Priest, Dakota Johnson as the edgy woman, John Hamm as the vacuum cleaner salesman, and Chris Hemsworth as a nasty man who shows up later. And it’s a great cast!

This feels like the Quentin Tarantino film that Quentin didn’t get around to making. Quirky, occasionally violent, and all to a soundtrack of appropriate music, it has his hallmarks. It’s certainly as good as most of his offerings, and better than some. On release, it flopped, and lost money on its budget. Despite critical acclaim, the public stayed away. Maybe because the director was Drew Goddard, and not Tarantino.

Me? I loved it! It looks good, and it is as good as it looks.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: The Eight Hundred (2020)

I have just had my film review published in the online magazine, Mythaxis.

‘The Eight Hundred’ is a Chinese war film, set during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

Here is a link, if you are interested in reading it.

(I watched the film in the original Chinese and Japanese languages, with subtitles. The trailer on the link is dubbed)

https://mythaxis.com/2021/06/02/the-eight-hundred-movie-review/

‘Blood Simple’: The Best of The Coens and McDormand?

In 1984, I used to subscribe to film and cinema magazines. (No internet then, don’t forget) There was a lot of ‘buzz’ about a new film soon to be released in the UK. It was called ‘Blood Simple’, and being described as ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’.

Back then, I had never heard of the Coen brothers, or the female lead, actress Frances McDormand. But I had heard of John Getz, the menacing Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. I read in my magazines that this was a family affair. As well as the two brothers writing, producing, and directing, one of them (Joel) was married to McDormand.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival too, so it seemed like something I should be watching. One of the good things about living in London then is that there were a lot of cinemas. You could find one showing virtually anything you wanted to watch, seven days a week. And though I lived in Wimbledon at the time, I owned a motorcycle, which meant I could avoid the heavy traffic, and then park for free on a motorcyle bay.

Off I went, to a late afternoon showing before going into work for a night shift later.

I will give you some idea what it’s about of course, but I will start by saying that I loved it. Dark, edgy, violent, and also very humourous at times. Great performances from Getz and Hedaya, who rarely got lead roles, and the ever-reliable M. Emmet Walsh. And that new girl, a Frances McDormand before she started to take herself seriously as a ‘film star’ with a lot of opinions. She was good too. Really good.

Sets, location filming, lighting, good direction from the Coens, and a snappy script. All spot-on.

It is a familiar story. An unhappily-married woman is having an affair. Her husband suspects, and has hired a private detective to spy on them. After that, it stays in still more familiar territory. A dead body, (or is it?) confusion about who killed him, and subsequent disposal of said body. The detective becomes personally involved, (Walsh on top form) and then everything starts to go terribly wrong. That’s about it, with no spoliers.

What makes it so good is the darkness. The dark violence, that dark humour that is interjected, and the scenes filmed at night. It really was ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’ after all.

And for my money it remains the best film the Coens have made, along with the best performance from a younger, fresher McDormand.

More Films About Art

I recently reblogged my old 2013 post about the depiction of some famous artists in films made about their lives. Many readers suggested other films about different artists, some of which had not been released at the time, and others which I had seen but had left out of the original post. I suggested I might publish a second post later this year, but as it is a damp and dismal afternoon in Beetley, I have done it today.

I have only featured films I have actually seen. I know there are many more that I have not got around to viewing.

The Agony And The Ecstasy. (1965)

I was only 14 years old when I saw this at the cinema. It was promoted as an epic tale of the life of Michaelangelo, starring Charlton Heston as the painter and sculptor, and Rex Harrison as The Pope. The film was produced and directed by Carol Reed, one of Britain’s best. It turned out to be mainly about Michaelangelo’s struggle to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Not wanting the job, then unhappy with the finished result.

All this is set around the intense world of politics and war that beset the region in the 16th century.

The result is rather stodgy, to be honest. It felt overlong at 138 minutes, and I was shuffling in my seat long before the halfway point. The worthy supporting cast members give it their best shot, sets and scenery are well-handled, (they recreated the Sistine Chapel on a film set) but Heston overplays his role, and you cannot fail to notice that.

Here’s the official trailer.

Lust For Life. (1956)

Kirk Douglas does very well as the troubled Vincent Van Gogh in this film, and we also get another artist, Paul Gaugin, played by Anthony Quinn. An indication of how good it is was a Golden Globe for Douglas as Best Actor, and an Oscar for Quinn as best supporting actor.

We get Vincent’s early life, his departure to Paris with his brother Theo, and his meeting with Gaugin. Kirk Douglas throws everything into the role, and I found him completely convincing. (Yes, the ear cutting scene is included) His descent into madness and hallucinataions is well-handled, and the recreations of the original paintings good enough to make it feel as if Kirk is painting them.

Good sets, some location filming, and nice period feel, great supporting cast, and exceptionally good use of colour make this film stand out. It is still worth seeing now, for anyone interested in the painter and his work, or to watch Kirk Douglas giving one of his best ever performances.

Here’s an old trailer.

Moulin Rouge. (1952)

Thankfully not the awful Baz Luhrmann musical from 2001, this is a biopic of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, starring Jose Ferrer and directed by John Huston. Courtesy of a flashback, we learn that the young Henri suffered injuries in a fall as a child. This caused his legs to be stunted, giving him a lot of pain, and also making him exceptionally odd in appearance.

Unhappy, unlucky in love, and convinced that life will hold no joy for him, he loses himself in his painting, moving to Paris to begin a career. There he spends his time with dancers, entertainers, and prostitutes. He favours the nightclub ‘Moulin Rouge’, where he paints advertising posters of the stars and leading ladies, all the time drinking heavily. There he falls in love with a prostitute, Marie, but their relationship is turbulent, and she takes advantage of him.

As Henri continues to try to find love, he is slowly drinking himself to death, resulting in another accident when he falls down some stairs.

This is a remarkable film; with wonderful recreations of the Moulin Rouge, convincing characters, and a real feel of the turn of the century setting. It is also a tour de force from Ferrer, as he had to work with various props including knee pads and concealed pits to give the impression of his incredibly stunted legs. He also plays his own father, early in the film. I have seen it many times, and even now it is hard to believe it was released the same year I was born.

Here is the official trailer.

Carrington. (1995)

I saw this on TV a few years ago, and really liked it. English painter Dora Carrington is played by Emma Thompson, with the marvellous Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey, her destructive love interest. This film has sexual themes, including homosexuality, and ‘sexual confusion’. Filmed as chapters, it covers a time period from 1915-1932. The film also features a particularly good score, with the music for the soundtrack composed by the talented Michael Nyman.

The supporting cast deserves mention, as it includes some of the best British character actors of the time. Samuel West, Penelope Wilton, Rufus Sewell, Jeremy Northam, and Janet McTeer. (As well as many more) Sets and costumes are never less than flawless, and the direction from Christopher Hampton is perfect. This is as much a film about Stracey though, and was actually adapted from a book about him, choosing to feature his unusual realtionship with Dora as its main theme.

Serving as an acting masterclass from many of the best in the business, this film rewards the serious viewer who is not deterred by some of the content and themes. Pryce and Thompson are simply outstanding.

Here’s the trailer.

Mr.Turner. (2014)

British artist J.M.W.Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who won the Palme’Dor at Cannes for Best Actor in the role. He is joined by a fine supporting cast, including Lesley Manville and Marion Bailey, with direction from the wonderful Mike Leigh. The story looks at the last twenty-five years of Turner’s life, (he died in 1851) including his relationships with the women in his life, and his unusual approach to his painting.

In all honesty, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially if you are a fan of both history, and Turner’s art. Spall is amazing, completely inhabiting the role of the painter. Cinematography, sets, location filming, design, costumes, casting, nothing lets down the viewer. Direction and screenplay from Mike Leigh is as good as ever, and the whole film is a cinema experience and a feast for the eyes. Not much more to say really. Just watch it when you can.

Some reviewers called this film ‘A masterpiece’. No argument from me.

Here is the official trailer.

That’s it from me. I don’t think I have seen any other films about the lives of artists and painters. If I remember one, I will do another post. 🙂

Some Comedy films

Another old film post from 2013 that no current followers appear to have seen. (Except Eddy) Unusually for me, this one is about comedy films.

beetleypete

Some time ago, my friend Jim Medway (look him up, very talented cartoonist) asked if I was going to post some suggestions for comedy films that I would recommend. I had feared that someone would make that request, as Comedy is my least favourite genre, when it comes to films. It is not that I don’t find things funny, far from it; just not the sort of things that are commonly called ‘comedy’, by film-makers.

I could barely raise a chuckle at the big box-office successes starring the likes of Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, or Steve Martin. It is also highly unlikely that I will ever want to watch a teenage ‘rom-com’, or one of the cruder attempts at being funny, that seem so popular in the multiplexes these days. I will confess that some parts of ‘There’s something about Mary’ made me laugh, but not enough to get it…

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Some Musical films

Another film post reblog from 2013. This time it features some musicals. Hardly anyone has seen it before, except Eddy and
Vinnie.

beetleypete

I am not generally a fan of musicals, especially theatrical ones. I have never seen a Lloyd-Webber, and have nothing good to say about ‘Les Miserables’, or ‘Moulin Rouge’. However, there are some film musicals that I do like, and it is those I recommend here. Most, if not all are well known, so nothing to surprise the reader.

The Producers. This original 1968 version, written and directed by Mel Brooks, still makes me laugh 45 years later. The story is about an unscrupulous Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) duping old ladies into backing a production that is designed to be a failure; then all the backers lose their money, and the producers of the title clean up. At least that is the plan. He recruits a shy accountant (Gene Wilder) to fiddle the books, and buys a sure-fire disaster of a script from a Nazi fanatic, entitled ‘Springtime for…

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Some American Civil War films

Another film post reblog from 2013, this time on films about the American Civil War. I appreciate this is a very niche interest. 🙂

beetleypete

Something that I have not previously mentioned, I have had a life long interest in the American Civil War. To be accurate, Civil Wars in general, though that will probably be the subject of another post, not in this category. When I was young, there was a television series, called ‘The Gray Ghost’. This was imported from the USA, and concerned the exploits of a Confederate irregular unit, led by the real life officer, Major Mosby. The issues surrounding the causes of the war, States’ rights, Industrialisation and immigration in the North, and the issue of slavery, were not really addressed of course, and it was all about the action. I later read a lot about this war, and carried on the interest into adulthood. Like many others, I favoured the Confederacy, though naturally not from a racist standpoint, more from admiration of the tactical skills of their generals, and…

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Some films about Art

Another film post from 2013 that hardly anyone has seen. This time it is about famous artists whose lives were filmed.

beetleypete

You know the old  quote, ‘I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like!’ Well, I only know a bit about Art, but quite a lot about films. Here are some suggestions that manage to combine the two, providing visual delights, exciting action, and some great acting in the process.

Caravaggio. Whatever you think of the controversial English film-maker, Derek Jarman, don’t let it put you off this 1986 work. Despite the quirky additions to the story, ( a typewriter in 17th Century Italy!) strong performances by a very good cast make this well-worth watching. The story of Carvaggio is told both on film, and by his paintings. His love interest, played by a younger Sean Bean, is an integral part of the plot also, with Bean taking hold of the film for the most part, and overshadowing Nigel Terry, in the lead role. What makes it…

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Some Historical films

One more 2013 film post that only Eddy and Roland commented on back then. Historical dramas this time. Something for everyone, I hope.

beetleypete

Many films have been set in various Historical periods, or specific events in History. Since the silent days, and up to many of  the latest films of the past few years, History has provided rich ground for the inspiration of film makers everywhere. In my usual five film selection, I have tried my best to recommend lesser known films, and to avoid the obvious epics.

The War Lord. This film is getting on a bit, and it shows sometimes. Nevertheless, this 1965 production, starring Charlton Heston and Richard Boone, still has a lot to offer. Set at the beginning of the 11th Century, in Normandy, it tells the story of a Knight, rewarded for loyal service, with a bequest of lands, and a run-down small castle. The land is poor, and the local villagers resentful. Still, the Knight, and his accompanying soldiers, rebuild the old fortress, and begin to impose…

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