Monday, 23 October 2017


Cast: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Arturo Castro, Christian Navarro, and Jeff Lima

Directors: Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott

94 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Kaleidoscope blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by Steven Hampton

In this marginally science fictional movie, for Texas to leave the USA, the rogue state’s militia would attack and invade New York, turning the city into a war zone. The main plot centres on two random strangers forced into defending themselves against overwhelming odds. Cue gunshots in the distance and the war-on-terror imagery of burning towers on a catastrophic skyline.

One of the main trademarks of low-budget movies released on DVD and blu-ray is the complete lack of any subtitle options, as not even English text for viewers with hearing problems are included. That’s the case with this otherwise promising product. Bushwick is an on-the-run actioner comprised of long takes, or an illusion of the same - with many actual cuts disguised by clever editing, in the obvious hope that such documentary styled verisimilitude can add cool veracity to a basically sketchy scenario. This filming technique suggests a rapid narrative but actually slows the pace of storytelling to leisurely stroll, as the mobile camera is required to follow the movie’s stars upstairs, through door-ways to vacant rooms, and jog along down the street after them on set dressed-to-kill locations.

There are familiar battlefield traumas: cauterising wounds, and tending to dying victims, but this quickly becomes a meandering trudge through the humourless clich├ęs of urban apocalypse, with domestic stopovers, hooded soldiers, a mass panic, a helicopter crash, tragedies from stray bullets, and refuge found in a church. Bright lights or smoke screens and murky images from unfocused lenses hide the poverty of this production, despite its modest ambitions. Before the big finale, we get the rather dreary spectacle of ex-wrestler Dave Bautista (Guardians Of The Galaxy) trying to act in his lengthy talking scene, while emoting in character as former US marine corpsman Stupe. Predictably, the wholesome heroine Lucy (Brittany Snow) turns into a gun-toting survivalist.

Bushwick is not a bad effort of its type. It never quite manages to ascend to the electrifying or amusing heights of its genre inspirations, like Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981), or John Milius’ Red Dawn (1984). But there’s just about enough engagement with contemporary issues about gun violence and political dissent to elevate Bushwick’s action-thriller material above the wholly blundering standards of the Italian exploitation flicks made in the 1980s that were clearly influenced by those aforementioned cult classics. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, and Stanley Tucci

Director: Michael Bay

149 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 1.90:1
Paramount 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
[released 30 October]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary

While superhero epics practice destroying city-scapes, in pursuit of the ultimate disaster, the uncrowned king of devastating mayhem is back in action with the fifth picture in this sci-fi media and toys franchise. It continues the alien robot wars of previous sequels but adds more mythological borrowings, including Arthurian legends, and darkens the earlier pulp shades of space opera with a futuristic catastrophe mode of interplanetary jeopardy best represented by When Worlds Collide (1951).  

Some autobot survivors hideout in hero Cade’s scrap-yard, where aliens blend in with the rusty auto parts and scattered junk. While reactive military forces hunt down the outlaw  robots, Megatron assembles a team of decepticons, with names like Mohawk, Nitro Zeus, and Onslaught, to pursue the heroes while their leader Optimus Prime is off-world, lost in space. The global stage is all set for the familiar shape-shifting of mega-mecha, while the  sparks fly as exchanges of quirkily anarchic sub-cultural dialogue between the thoroughly aggressive machines inevitably leads to frequent explosions in slow-motion.

Failed inventor Cade responds to an attack by fleeing into a ruined city, where he and his Bumblebee car/ sidekick are recruited by a ‘ninja-butler’ robot named Cogman, and flown to England. There, eccentric earl Burton (Anthony Hopkins) welcomes the strange visitors to his history-packed castle, and explains the big plot. A glamorous professor, with daddy issues, British heroine Viviane (Laura Haddock, Da Vinci’s Dreams), becomes a Lara Croft stereotype who’s reportedly descended from Merlin. She inherits the super-weapon of the fabled magician’s staff.

During its quieter moments, this comedy actioner quickly relates the secret history of ETs on Earth which dates back to the Pangaean era, with a turning point for Camelot when an autobot dragon saves the kingdom from Saxon invaders. There is also the vital discovery of a crashed alien mother-ship lurking at the bottom of the sea. A showdown, centred on Stonehenge, begins the grand finale where colourful and routinely violent spectacle soon ranges from the massive to awesome as the Cybertron world brings its fractal hexagonal structures crashing into planet Earth. 

Alongside the Matrix trilogy, the live-action Transformers movies were like genre heralds of today’s DC and Marvel cinema adventures, and launched the on-going development of CGI characters, sometimes with human voices, that gave us Atom (in Real Steel), Ultron, Chappie, and Star Wars droid BB-8, etc. Uniquely, however, these big alien robots’ ability to transform into cars, lorries, planes, and... whatever, makes them so easily marketable all over again, as upgraded versions of the original toys. Obviously, there is truth in some of the cynical complaints that all these Transformers movies are really nothing more than slickly contrived adverts. And yet these big cinematic adverts for cars and toys represent a vast fantastic playground for SF notions of planetary adventure, cosmic scenarios about space invasions, and divergent timelines.

Nowadays, the competition between comics, games, and toys as source material adapted into blockbuster movies exhibits a fierce rivalry of metaphysical scope and transcendental scale, with an increasingly manic intensity for their special effects extravaganzas that are steadily and readily turning from conservative to blatantly cosmic, if not always achieving the truly mythic quality that is often aimed for by adventures such as Power Rangers and TMNT. Although much of this movie is clearly derivative with its assorted allusions to The Abyss, Avatar, and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, et al. Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight is a dazzling quest saga with many quite staggering sequences of action. To belittle the hectic rush of macro-sized imagery as simply ‘maddening’ means overlooking a directorial style that accomplishes the much vaunted ‘sensawunda’ that cool SF aspires to, on the screen, but so rarely achieves outside of every keen sci-fi fan’s dreams.

Make no mistake, all the jokey misdemeanours of previous Transformers movies are here again, as Bay’s approach to irreverent comedy still revels in a politically-incorrect humour of sexism, racism, and scatological gags that many if not most film critics hate. However, Transformers: The Last Knight is a movie packed with wow moments best appreciated as a compilation of magnificent images. It is a stunning production, boasting an imaginative vigour and a daring, sensational thrill ride that rather too few of its genre contemporaries and/ or sci-fi rivals can match.

The 4K UHD edition makes the most of this movie’s dramatic shifts in visual tone, with the HDR presenting its IMAX camera scenes and more life-like colours to great effect.
The Blu-ray extras disc contains over 90 minutes worth of bonus featurettes: 
  • Merging Mythologies - looks behind the scenes of the medieval battle.
  • Creating Destruction: Inside The Packard Plant - a return to the Detroit location that portrays the ruins of Chicago.
  • Climbing The Ranks - is about the military aid for this movie production.
  • Uncovering The Junkyard - explores the hero’s refuge.
  • Royal Treatment: Transformers In The UK - concerns filming in London.
  • Motors & Magic - reveals the new cars and favourite toys that are mainstays of this franchise.  
  • Alien Landscape: Cybertron - creating a world for the living machines to call home.
  • One More Giant ‘Effin’ Movie - the colourful world of Transformers maintains a tongue-in-cheek approach. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Miracle Mile

Cast: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, Mykelti Williamson, John Agar, and Denise Crosby

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

87 minutes (15) 1988
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

Reviewing Hugh Walpole’s second novel, Maradick At Forty, in the Times Literary Supplement of May 1910, Claud Schuster charged the author with having “no clear idea of the difference of the respective functions of comedy and melodrama.” Something of that criticism might well apply to Steve De Jarnatt in writing and directing Miracle Mile, as at times I wasn’t sure if I was watching a wryly satirical black comedy rather than an apocalyptic thriller.

In the early 1980s Miracle Mile spent time as one of those famous unmade screenplays of the kind that Empire magazine now features in order to fill up space in their glossy unreadable magazine (they will print white copy against coloured backgrounds). De Jarnatt wanted to direct the film himself but, with only a writing credit on Strange Brew (1983), and directing credits on Cherry 2000 (1987), he struggled to get backing.  Buying his screenplay out of development hell at Warners, De Jarnett eventually attracted funding from Hemdale and away he went. Getting back to Walpole, he described the novel Maradick At Forty as his attempt at writing genre, and De Jarnatt seems to have invented a whole new genre with Miracle Mile: the romantic apocalypse.  Rom-apoc? Romcalypse?

The film starts with the Big Bang, or rather film and commentary from a documentary running at the George C. Page museum at La Brea Tar Pits where Harry (Anthony Edwards) spots the girl of his dreams Julie (Mare Winningham). Given that the museum teaches science and evolution its days must be numbered under the current administration. Apropos of nothing at all I read a report of one of J.K. Rowling’s recent Twitter spats in which an American fan wrote defending her, observing that the Earth was probably ‘thousands of years old’, you honestly can’t make this stuff up. Anyway, no such confusion at the George C. Page museum, as the fossils retrieved from the tar pits attest; I mention this as it’s a plot-point for later.

After stalking Julie around the museum Harry thinks he has lost sight of her, only for her to turn up, this evidently being a mutual attraction. A montage of romantic assignations follows. Harry’s character is an amalgam of youthful versions of Kevin Costner and Tom Hanks channelling James Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (1954), he even plays trombone in a big band. Harry meets Julie’s grandfather Ivan, played by screen veteran John Agar, who went from starring alongside John Wayne in John Ford westerns like Fort Apache (1948), to roles in SF B-movies in the 1950s and 1960s. Julie lives with her grandmother Lucy who is estranged from Ivan, much to Julie’s distress.

Harry and Julie plan a date-night after which Julie promises him she’ll ‘screw those eyes blue’, at least that’s what I think she said. Harry returns to his hotel to rest up against the evening’s promised exertions, but the cigarette he discards is dropped down a vent by a bird and the resulting fire shorts out the hotel’s electrics. Due to the power cut, Harry’s alarm-clock fails to rouse him, although I’m sure it was a manual, he wakes in the early hours, and turns up outside the diner, where Julie works, too late for the date.  Julie has been conveniently secretive about where she lives and Harry fails to get the information from her work colleague. Hanging around outside, Harry answers the phone ringing in a nearby booth, where a desperate caller, ringing from a missile base in North Dakota, and under the impression he has called his father, announces that the USA has launched a pre-emptive strike and a nuclear response is expected within some 50 minutes. As the horrified Harry listens the call is interrupted by machine-gun fire, and a new voice telling him to forget what he has heard and to go back home to sleep.

An understandably agitated Harry returns to the diner for some breakfast but then starts interrogating the other occupants to see if one of them might be the father of the caller.  Eventually, he reveals the nature of the call he has overheard and the other diners respond either with alarm or outright scepticism. One of the diners, Landa (Denise Crosby, ‘Tasha Yar’ in Star Trek: The Next Generation) questions Harry about what the caller said and then makes a series of phone calls on her brick-sized mobile which confirm that certain prominent individuals are high-tailing it out of the US for the southern hemisphere. Landa claims she knows certain code-words and protocols because she used to date someone who moved in those circles, but she seems very well-informed and to have access to restricted information.

In fact, the whole presentation of Landa is heavy with frankly risible portent. On her arrival in the diner she boots up a computer in her briefcase and checks the stock exchange while studying what looks like the York Notes to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Relating the conversation she has had on her mobile she says she has asked someone if “the unthinkable has happened.” Whatever her back-story Landa provides the impetus for the next stage of the film, frankly ludicrous though it appears to be. She ascertains the next flights out of Los Angeles and corrals Fred the cook and the other customers to accompany her in the diner delivery van to the airport. She tells one of the diners and a waitress to make out a list of great minds and culturally important personages they will need to save in order to rebuild civilisation after the coming holocaust.

It is at this point that the film appears ready to lurch into comedy, especially as the delivery van bears the legend ‘Fat Boy Catering’, ‘Fat Man’ being the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, ‘Little Boy’ being the code for the Hiroshima device.  Is this all a dream? Is Harry still unconscious in his hotel? Evidently not. Fred refuses to wait while Harry picks up Julie, so Harry jumps from the van and using Fred’s .38 hijacks a driver, Wilson (Mykelti Williamson), to take him back to Julie’s apartment. After a contretemps at a gas station in which two police officers are accidentally killed, Harry and Wilson steal their police car and Wilson, believing the local power station to be in meltdown, leaves Harry to rescue his sister while Harry goes to get Julie. The news of the impending missile attack sees Ivan and Lucy reunited but rather than accompanying Harry and Julie they intend to spend their remaining minutes making up for lost time in each other’s company.

Landa has booked a helicopter to fly people to the airport from the pad on the Mutual Benefit Life Building but, while the chopper is there, the pilot has not turned up. Harry and Julie scour the streets asking people if they are registered helicopter pilots, which sounds ridiculous, and indeed is ridiculous, but this is L.A. so there’s probably every chance of getting an answer in the affirmative. Busting into a gym and blasting a dancercise class’s music centre, Harry does in fact find a pilot, played by go-to alien tough-guy actor Brian Thompson. Reunited, Harry and Julie witness the death of Wilson and his sister killed in a pursuit by the police, and Julie confronts Harry about his evidence of the imminent attack, which is now overdue.

As panic spreads in the city Harry begins to wonder if he was wrong and has inadvertently triggered the ensuing chaos. Using a phone booth, and correctly working out the number the mystery caller had intended to ring, Harry gets through to a man who confirms that his son does indeed work for the military on a missile base in North Dakota. Harry and Julie make it to the helipad just as the first missiles home in, the pilot takes off but is caught in the blast and the chopper goes down in the tar pits. As they are about to drown in tar Harry attempts to comfort Julie, telling her Superman could compress a lump of coal to form a diamond and that maybe a direct-hit will see them metamorphosise. Julie hopes that in the future they will be discovered preserved like the exhibits in the museum.

There is much about this film which is outrageously bad, the tone is uncertain and at times farcical and yet, largely playing in real time, it manages to be quite gripping. It’s interesting that a film playing on what the late great Salford comedian Al Read used to describe in his radio monologues as, living ‘under the shadow of the bomb’, should be released in the year the Berlin Wall came down, when for a little while at least we all felt a bit safer. In fact, nuclear aggression is less of a theme in the film than the burden of secret knowledge, and the desire to rescue your loved ones before random shit hits the fan. Imagine Invasion Of The Body Snatchers with less paranoia and a more selfish protagonist. The characters are ciphers, Harry, as said, is a Jimmy Stewart everyman and Julie is barely sketched-in, but they play their parts with such sincerity that it lends authenticity to an otherwise unlikely sequence of events. De Jarnatt seeds the screenplay with some quite subtle references, particularly the introduction of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow as Landa’s reading material. The epigraph to part one of that novel is a quote from Wernher ‘I bombed London and got away with it’ von Braun: “Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.”


There are a host of DVD extras on this disc as befitting the cult movie we are told this has become. In Last Orders At Johnie’s, De Jarnatt discusses his career and making Miracle Mile. ‘Interview with Harry and Julie’, stars Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham, looking rather like middle-aged parents interviewed on Fox News in the aftermath of a tragedy, discuss their memories of making the film. Reunion At Johnie’s Diner, sees the cast reunited. Paul Haslinger, guitarist and keyboard-player with Tangerine Dream from 1985 to 1990, discusses the soundtrack in ‘Music of Tangerine Dream’. ‘Excavation from the editing room’ is a compilation of out-takes from the dailies.  The alternate ending sees a pair of animated diamonds appear on-screen after the black-out and before the credits. There is also a ‘storyboard to film comparison’, a trailer, and commentaries from the director and crew. A bit of a left-field, or indeed self-serving inclusion, is someone, perhaps De Jarnatt himself, reading the director’s short story Rubiaux Rising from the 2009 edition of The Best American Short Stories edited by Alice Sebold and published by Houghton-Mifflin.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Untamed

Cast: Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, and Jesus Meza

Director: Amat Escalante  

100 minutes (18) 2016
Widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Arrow Academy DVD Region 2

Rating: 4/10
Review by Andrew Darlington  

Mexican horror films have a long history of weirdness, with their own distinctive brand of strangeness. Think Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993). While it’s worth bearing in mind that Luis Bunuel produced a slew of formative films, including his The Exterminating Angel (1962), during his Mexican sojourn. Elements of both creepy strands are here in these wide empty landscapes, open skies, and drifts of forest rain made eerie by atmospheric music. Premiered at the 2016 Venice film festival where Amat Escalante won Silver Lion for best director, it follows the auteur’s equally challenging drug-war crime-drama Heli (2013).

It begins with a naked girl having what looks like tentacle-sex. She has a non-human demon lover imprisoned in a secret room in a cabin in the woods. The nameless Cthulhu look-alike fell to Earth in a meteor-strike into what the film’s original title calls ‘The Wild Region’. She either found the house by accident, or was drawn inexorably into it. There’s a remarkable orgy of copulating creatures in the meteor crater as testament to its erotic powers of attraction. Caretaker scientist Senor and Marta Vega explain that “what’s there in the cabin is our primitive side, in its most basic and purest state.” Well, maybe a touch impure too!

The girl is the blankly beautiful ‘Vero’ – Veronica (Simone Bucio). Did her alien encounter hurt? No, “it can only give pleasure.” Yet she’s next seen wounded and bleeding, limping through the forest mist. Alien-sex can obviously be a little rough at times, as well as ecstatically addictively. She visits the Guanajuanto hospital for puncture-wounds she claims are dog bites, and flirts with gay doctor Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). It transpires they’re both trapped in destructive relationships. Perhaps unwisely, he trusts her.

Acting as a kind of pimp for the octopoid penis-tentacled monstrosity, Vero becomes catalyst in the lives of a tight trio of working-class losers. The gentle Doctor Fabian is having a raw affair with his macho outwardly-homophobic brother-in-law Jose ‘Angel’ Rocha (Jesus Meza). While the swarthy Angel is married to Fabian’s sister ‘Ale’ – Alejandre (Ruth Ramos), the mum of their two bratty sons. Joylessly, Angel takes her from behind, while she prefers to masturbate in the shower.

Yes, it’s all pretty explicit, while also running in the groove of two parallel narratives. The gritty everyday mundane bits of life where she works in a candy factory and son Ivan has a chocolate allergy, while veggie Angel fights his guilty desire for ‘super-faggot’ Fabian, and the boys watch zombie-horror on TV. There’s graffiti in the alleyway and brawls in the bar.

It all goes into meltdown when Vero induces Fabian to visit the cabin in the woods, telling him “it’ll like you.” The paramedic responders subsequently retrieve his comatose naked body from the wetland, victim of head trauma and sexual assault. Angel is wrongly arrested and jailed for the attack. Inquisitive Ale reads Angel’s cell-phone messages and learns of their affair. Soon, she’s drugged with tea and entangled at the cabin in the woods too, penetrated in oral and vaginal coils of octopus sex in a kind of calamari gang-bang. So will she return for more? Yes, she nods. Even random sex with a pick-up stranger can’t compete or cure her of so powerful a need.

If it’s meant to be gratuitous art-porn, there are long slow sequences of decorative longueur to deter prurient thrill-seekers. It works better as an escapist metaphor for the immaculate orgasmic kick. And the narcotic dangers of achieving that higher plane of sensual experience, where the next hit is so good it’s terminal. Sometimes, what you wish for can kill you. Your darkest desires, your ‘primitive side in its most basic and purest state’ are maybe best left buried deep in your psyche.

Angel is released by the police, but ostracised by his family. In an attempted reconciliation with Ale he manages to shoot himself in the leg. She loads him into the truck, but predictably doesn’t take him to hospital, but drags him through the forest, lays him out on the white mattress in the darkened room of the cabin for the waiting alien cephalopod. ‘The bodies’ it seems, ‘are piling up.’ Mexican horror films can be weird, with their own distinctive brand of strangeness.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Getting Any?

Cast: Dankan, Takeshi Kitano, Tokie Hidari, Shoji Kobayashi, and Shinsuke Yamane

Director: Takeshi Kitano

108 minutes (15) 1994
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1  
Third Window blu-ray region B
[released 16 October]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Mike Philbin

Yakuza hitmen, fantastical sexual content, and just a peck of pickled pepper... As the ever-twitching Kitano himself confesses, in the very severe interrogation-come-interview as part of the extras on the original DVD release of Getting Any? - “I fucking hate this cheap and nasty film, it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done. I will probably never make another film in Japan.” Kitano would have loved that, irreverence from his reviewer - irony.

Truth be told, Kitano is a real fan of this (early) movie. How many of you know that despite his starring in numerous yakuza films as a gangster without compassion, a stone-cold killer, Kitano is one of Japan’s most respected and shamelessly irreverent comedians? Banned in the 1970s from all the major television networks for appearing in the nude, there is no surprise that finally a film such as Getting Any? would be made by this mad genius.

While Getting Any? is about sex, it’s not a sex film. It’s not porn, at least. There is some sexual content but, mostly, the sex is played for laughs. Asao (Dankan) needs to get laid but to do this, in the Japan of Kitano’s youth (as he explains in great detail in his interview), you had to have a car. Thus begins car farce after car farce where Asao is continuously ripped off by the car dealer on his quest to find the perfect passion-wagon. Asao decides to rob a bank to get more money, this time to buy a first class flight ticket because in first class the air hostesses get ’em out and get it on! Or so Asao convinces himself.

Then he gets into acting - actors always get head, right? Then he is made invisible by a mad professor (played by Kitano himself) and lots of patented Japanese bath-house and ‘love hotel’ tomfoolery ensues. Then he becomes a yakuza hitman. He ends up romancing a giant turd - very odd.

Getting Any? is a mad, daft road movie of a film - it is evident Kitano is a fan of western cinema and probably the early slapstick cinema like Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Kops and Buster Keaton. Unfortunately, the Japanese film industry and Japanese society in-jokes diminish the appeal of the film to a western audience. Those willing to invest some time in discovering what the hell chambara cinema is, or who the hell Zatoichi the blind swordsman is, and those who have already enjoyed Kitano in his yakuza roles will appreciate the irony, the self-deprecation and clowning around that is stuffed into this film.

He’s one of their own, but even the Japanese don’t understand their resident joker; it seems - for example, when the film was released in Japan, nobody said anything. There was just no critical response from the media about his film - maybe they hoped it would sink without trace, so close does it get to the underlying stink of the modern Japanese mentality.

The guy who plays Asao does an exemplary job of keeping his face straight throughout the entire film. No mean feat in itself considering the subject matter. One classic scene involving the ‘test driving’ of a car in a showroom (well, more a test-driving of the secretary in the role of virtual car date) really sticks in the mind as wonderfully subversive and absurdist.

So, what’s wrong with Kitano? Don’t you get it? He’s a comedian. Geddit? It’s a comedian’s job to make you laugh, not to make you understand. Well, as a fan of the comatose humour of American social commentator Steven Wright, I like my humour a little less ribald than this. But I bet the French would love it - they go for slapstick in their humour too, especially from their stage comedians.

As a westerner, you can love some of Kitano’s other films but this one will be just too anal, too out there for most westerners to digest. They’ll end up going, ‘Like what the fuck was that?’ and this director deserves more than that. I really like this film’s irreverence and strangeness - it takes one into Twin Peaks territory but as part of a cart wheeling knickers show of back-of-the-class mischief. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Family Way

Cast: Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, John Mills, Marjorie Rhodes, and Murray Head

Director: Roy Boulting

115 minutes (15) 1966
Studio Canal DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Andrew Darlington

With his floppy hair and high-buttoned jacket, Hywel Bennett is perfectly cast in this movie. Like David Hemmings and Malcolm McDowell, he’s one of those young actors who seem to embody that particularly strong and distinctive period of British film-making between the ‘angry young kitchen sink working class’ films and into the trendy Carnaby Street swinging London era that closely followed.

“Once upon a time there was a virgin... a rare bird.” The Family Way is not an insurrectionary film igniting the generational divide, although there are symptoms of it. It’s gentler than that. “Nobody believes anything nowadays,” complains mom Liz (Avril Angers). It’s not a subversive angry class-war film either, it has a softer-core centre despite inhabiting some of the same terrain. More like Stan Barstow’s Vic Brown in A Kind Of Loving (played by Alan Bates in the 1962 movie), Hywel Bennett’s Arthur Fitton is more the uncertain misfit. “You read about other people’s lives, what happens? You get to wondering about your own.” The kind of sensitive youth trapped in working class insensitivity that I imagined myself to be. Even when – unlike me, this involves the narrative shorthand of a fondness for classical music, with a Beethoven print on his bedroom wall, alongside his butterfly collection. “All this sitting and reading, it’s not natural,” father Ezra (John Mills) complains. “He lives in the clouds,” agrees friend Joe (Barry Foster).

As a Bill Naughton stage-play All In Good Time (1963), it was first brought to the small screen as an ABC weekend TV Armchair Theatre presentation Honeymoon Postponed (1961), with Trevor Bannister as Arthur, and Lois Daine as Jenny, using the familiar theatrical device of the wedding to draw characters together, with all the resulting humour and family revelations that ensue. Naughton later became the creative force behind Alfie (1966). First, the men play the arm-wrestling ‘elbow game’ in the front-room, ‘showing off’ father Ezra’s fiercely competitive nature. Father and son arm-wrestle, but sensing weakness, Arthur allows Ezra to win. While Jenny (Hayley Mills) looks ‘fab’ in her wedding dress as comic harpies dispense cynical marital advice over cups of tea in the kitchen. “Never show pleasure, you know what I mean, don’t you?” “Not that there ever is much.” “Never actually refuse though, it makes a man feel small, and they take it out of your housekeeping money,” concludes Molly (Liz Fraser of ‘Carry On’ fame).

Arthur fumbles the ring at the ceremony, and drops it – an ominous omen. There are sausage rolls at the reception as a Beat group plays over raucous innuendo and brittle family in-fighting. Prior to the honeymoon-proper the couple are to spend their wedding night upstairs in the Fitton home. But BSA motorcycle-riding brother Geoff (Murray Head) and film-projectionist friend Joe sabotage the bed as a prank. The couple have been ‘going steady’, but Arthur’s a ‘patient lad’ jokes Joe with ribald undertones. Alone at last in the bedroom, Jenny undresses behind a screen. Arthur watches her enticing underwear drape across it. But when his attempted romantic approach results in the bed collapsing, her immediate reaction is laughter. He defensively sees this as ridicule. When the morning factory sirens howl, he awakes in his dressing gown, in the chair where he’s spent the night.

They’ve booked a ‘romantic paradise moonlight special’ in Majorca – at the very beginning of the package holiday boom, but when they turn up at Hutton’s Happy Holidays beside the Town Hall fountain they find the police investigating a swindle. “He’s just done a bunk,” explains Windsor Davies, in a small un-credited role for the future It Ain’t Half Hot Mum actor. Symbolic thunder breaks out. So instead, Arthur sits in his chair looking out over the night terraces, listening to the cats, as Jenny lies in bed alone. He can correct her Shakespeare misquote – ‘breast’ not ‘beast’, but he’s “not being a proper husband.”

The period is perfectly captured. They hear Ezra coughing, and pissing in the adjoining bedroom’s chamber-pot. And Ezra, who is employed at the local gasworks, goes to the outside lav with braces dangling. Set in Gladstone Terrace where Coronation Street-houses and mill chimneys are reluctantly giving way to new town brutalism, it’s filmed predominantly in Rochdale, with thanks to ‘the people of Bolton’. And in case we’ve missed the point, there are brass bands on the soundtrack and the Coronation Street theme heard on the TV.

Yet the film also forms a unique part of the Mills family dynasty. John Mills, already an icon of British films, embodied the supposed English virtues of stoicism and grit as explorer in Scott Of The Antarctic (1948), and through the understated heroism of war movies The Colditz Story (1954), and Above Us The Waves (1955). Daughter Hayley became a child star with Whistle Down The Wind (1961) – adapted from the novel by her mother Mary Hayley Bell, and by her dual role in Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961), which also spun-off her only pop hit single Let’s Get Together c/w Cobbler Cobbler (Decca), a UK #17, November 1961. Inevitably, there were dynastic career cross-overs. Hayley made her screen debut as witness to a murder that father John’s police detective was investigating, in Tiger Bay (1959), following it as ne-er-do-well father Captain Tommy and tom-boy daughter Spring Tyler in The Truth About Spring (1965).

Yet there’s a nuanced ambiguity to his role as Ezra. Beneath the gruff blustering masculinity there’s an affecting androgyny to his memories of ‘pal’ Billy Stringfellow. “Always the three of us,” recalls wife Lucy (Marjorie Rhodes) ruefully, even in their honeymoon B&B. There’s a blunt tenderness to his soliloquy about him and Billy standing on the edge of the Blackpool beach, wearing “them new brown boots me and Billy bought” and the tide washing over the leather leaving glistening droplets of water. “That was the big moment of my honeymoon,” he sighs with guileless wistfulness. Lucy and Billy even have a subsequent moment of playful intimacy before he guiltily, or tactfully, disappears south, leaving both of them with a confused sense of loss. And doubt about Arthur’s true paternity.

Although again John and Hayley are predictably cast as father and daughter, The Family Way forms a significant shift in that the posters announce ‘Hayley Mills isn’t playing kids games anymore’ and ‘Hey there Hayley girl... you’re in a grown-up movie now’! And there’s a lingering shot of her – admittedly skinny, bare bottom as Geoff surprises her bathing in the tin hip-bath in the kitchen. Jenny works in a big store’s record department, surrounded by time-fixing album sleeves by Nancy Sinatra, Otis Redding, Francoise Hardy, the Spencer Davis Group, Muddy Waters, and the Rolling Stones. While Arthur works evenings with Joe as a cinema projectionist, sneaking a peak at erotic movies. This means that Jenny spends more time with Geoff, motorcycle scrambling, bowling, and at the disco club-dance. She becomes his ‘mascot’. “You know something,” he jokes suggestively, “you married the wrong brother.”

And after six weeks, the sexual impasse only intensifies. There’s a mail-order birth-control package, “they’ve come to the wrong address this time, haven’t they?” he snipes bitterly. There’s a pop art collage of taunting sexual images – “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew XXVI-4), ‘viroids stimulate strengthen’, and an ad on the bus for The People newspaper’s ‘sex in marriage’ expose. “What you’ve never had you never miss,” she tells him, hopefully. Refused a council house in a bureaucratic comic sequence, Arthur seeks marriage guidance, but cleaner-neighbour Mrs Lee is listening at the door. Then Jenny confides to mum that she’s “a wife in name only,” leading to a parental summit conference to discuss skeletons and closets and the fact that she’s ‘intact, a virgin’.

Born in Garnant, Carmarthenshire – 8th April 1944, Hywel Bennett found his feet in a series of engaging television roles, including facing the Dalek menace as Rynian with William Hartnell’s Doctor Who in The Death Of Time. After graduating to movies, perfectly cast in The Family Way, he starred in three defining 1960s movies – with Hayley Mills again in psycho-thriller Twisted Nerve (1968), then an earthy adaptation of Leslie Thomas’ bawdy National Service comedy The Virgin Soldiers (1969), and Joe Orton’s Loot (1970). When it came to swinging London celebrity he and wife Cathy McGowan were the golden couple. Following his starring role as penis-transplant recipient Percy (1971) he returned to TV for a new celebrity lifetime as amiable freelance layabout ‘Shelley’ in the popular long-running sitcom. He died on the 25th July 2017, leaving an impressive filmography spanning genres.

There’s a touching The Family Way cameo for veteran entertainer Wilfred Pickles, as Uncle Fred, who dispenses marital advice, but by now it’s too late, the state of their unconsummated marriage is common gossip on busses all around town. Joe cruelly taunts Arthur, until he breaks and fights back in the cinema car park, beside a Ford Anglia. In their room he then confronts Jenny, as a crowd of gawping women gather in the back yards outside (including the wonderful Diana Coupland). They argue, Jenny smacks Arthur in the face, they collapse onto the bed, struggles become embraces... and she’s a virgin no more.

Although he celebrates with a blast of Beethoven’s Fifth, the soundtrack proved another major movie selling point. The diverse ingredients within the Beatles’ writing partnership were already becoming apparent, with John Lennon pushing more towards extreme art-experimentation, while Paul was happy to become catering composer-on-call for the likes of winsome pop duo Peter & Gordon, or Opportunity Knocks’ songstrel Mary Hopkin, supplying catchy tunes for the Chris Barber Band (Cat Call), or the Black Dyke Mills Band (Thingumybob), which made movie commissions the obvious next commercial call. Although George Martin claims he had to badger Paul for the haunting melodic fragments that became the film motif, Love In The Open Air.

The Family Way, a euphemism for pregnancy – a ‘bun in the oven’, becomes a touching and humorous ensemble movie. Raising questions of manhood, gender roles, changing expectations and the negotiation of sexual transactions. Every relationship here is flawed in its own stoic damaged fashion. But spiked with comedic moments, “I won’t have him walking through this house like it were a public convenience,” complains Ezra, sparking an endlessly repeatable catch-phrase. Yet it’s redeemed by its humanity. A holiday refund enables a Blackpool honeymoon. While Ezra stumps up the £200 deposit for a cottage up Bill Hill, by the reservoir. And it’s John Mills who gets the closing quote. “He put me in mind of Billy,” he sobs, as Lucy comforts him. “It’s life, lad, it might make you laugh at your age, but one day, it’ll make you bloody cry...”

Monday, 11 September 2017

Dark Matter: Season 3

Cast: Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr, Jodelle Ferland, and Roger Cross

Creators: Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie

585 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Acorn DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Like its genre TV rival Killjoys, this Canadian space opera series concerns heroes versus overlords where the influence of British adventure Blake’s 7 (1978-81) is apparent, but general sci-fi themes are a far greater influence than any specific or current production. Here, corporate war breaks out to concern the mercenary crew of starship Raza, caught up in the galactic rivalry between governmental authority and royalist empires. Following the developments of Season Two, Dark Matter: Season Three continues to blend its post-cyberpunk and techno-chiller themes with FTL interstellar adventures, pitched on a sub-genre spectrum of quite distinctive colours and tones apart from expansive Star Trek inter-species politics and pulp-inspired conflicts of Star Wars. 

Peacemaker Six (Roger Cross) settles on a colony to help the workers win independence against security forces. Actress Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl) switches effortlessly between the clockwork angel of her android character (“I have a good feeling about this”), to vamped glamour of her undercover seductress role-play, and the malevolent death machine when she’s hacked by enemy techies. The faulty ‘blink drive’ accidentally shifts Raza 600 years into the past, which prompts the crew to visit Earth in 21st century, playing creepy aliens in suburbia. No paradox avoidance strategy survives any confrontation with unanticipated events, never mind a random coincidence.

Android refugees with religious beliefs in search of their creator, with robot freedom as the prize, overthrowing humanity, and stars the final destination form a strong thread in this third season’s plot-arc, where “polymer-coated nano-fibres and... boobs” is the Raza ship’s own blonde android’s new ‘blondroid’ look, even before her emotion-chip upgrade. The ongoing feud between Raza crew-members Two (Melissa O’Neil) and Four, alias: Ryo (Alex Mallari Jr) soon escalates and leads to her kidnapping with an emperor’s ultimatum for the Raza crew.

With alternative-world versions of the main characters lurking in the background of plots, and interactions shedding light upon originals and their doubles, circumstances are tricky and become increasingly complicated as new story-arcs spin and weave between crew or gang. Everything is on the line and comes to head when an enemy shipyard in space has to be destroyed but the only weapon available causes a dimensional rift, opening a portal for sinister ‘black ships’ to enter the continuum. This obvious and predictable cliff-hanger ending yet, unfortunately, the show has been cancelled by SyFy.