Wednesday, 22 November 2017

1990: The Complete Collection

Cast: Edward Woodward, Robert Lang, Tony Doyle, Barbara Kellerman, and Lisa Harrow

Creator: Wilfred Greatorex

880 minutes (15) 1977-8
Simply Media DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Steven Hampton

Between his career-defining roles in genre TV shows Callan (1967-72), and The Equalizer (1985-9), British actor Edward Woodward starred in dystopian show 1990, a speculative SF drama that nowadays seems more prescient than ever. It is a grimly prophetic tale of sinister government in Britain but, whereas the original classic novel 1984 (1949), and its screen adaptations, were about fascism, this Orwellian scenario warns of the danger to society of enforced socialism, and it’s especially observant and relevant today because of the brutal government’s blatant refusal to accept criticism. Here, the people are policed by a Public Control Department, staffed by bullies and supported by a tyranny rubber-stamped by secret deals.

The programme’s animated title sequence is particularly striking. Two people standing in a white room, and this shrinking space makes the pair of captives into obvious prisoners, forced together, under a tortuous confinement of extreme detention. All they have left is each other as the walls close in about them, and a crucible symbolism is a quite profound visual statement of the show’s basic themes.

The futurism is limited to Anglo-dollars, ID cards, and compulsory TV. Indie news-hound Jim Kyle (Woodward) routinely evades state surveillance because his job would be largely impossible, and his life endangered, if they always know exactly where he is, never mind what schemes he gets up to. ‘Faceless’ is Kyle’s own ‘Deep Throat’ informant with furtive meetings conducted usually while parked side-by-side in their cars. As Scarlet Pimpernel references abound, the nets tighten around Kyle when suspicion falls upon him, just as if steel chains are made from tangles of red tape.

Fascinatingly detailed, there’s a brain-drain crisis of illegal emigration (including 500 exit visa applications per week), an opposition party leader becoming a mere cheer-leader for cabinet policy, an underground press ‘Facts’ leaflet sheet’s outlawed and eagerly quashed by boots-on-the-ground, and could the new Inspectors of Culture actually be censors? In its scripting of cynical class-war attitudes in civil service corruption 1990 boasts wit sharp enough to stab hearts-of-gold through a knife-proof vest. Kyle’s dalliance with Mata Hari-ish femme fatale Delly (Barbara Kellerman) brings him as much grief as satisfaction. Kyle investigates the regional establishments of so-called ‘adult rehab centres’ (ARCs), where many activists, dissidents, and other rebellious souls are simply crushed by ECT or drugs into zombies, and even serial killers can be turned into dutiful servants.

Rounding off the first series, Kyle is stripped of identity cards, and his human rights, and then declared a non-citizen, just a nameless number. Down on the street with the down-and-outs, he’s down, but not out of the fight, and our hero returns to a prominent action with a clever blackmail plot against his enemy. The most notable guest stars include: Ed Bishop, Edward Judd, and John Rhys-Davies. Some type-casting in evident: Ray Smith is a union leader, replete with shop-floor accent; John Savident portrays an ebullient Home Secretary; and Graham Crowden excels as a foreign VIP academic.

For series two, Lisa Harrow replaces Kellerman as the show’s leading lady, practicing new charm offensives while prospects for a general election are worrying all concerned. Kyle’s insistence upon a non-violent campaign against the Public Control is threatened by a lone gunman. When his identity is revealed, Faceless turns out to look like a fusion of the two Ronnies into one. Black marketeers make a mockery of rationing. Private cops Careguard foresees today’s G4S security contractors. Ordeal By Small Brown Envelope concerns the systematic harassment by the state, aimed at crushing any civil resistance to new official policy. But it’s worse than postal threats when they send those special bailiffs round with keys to a downgrade a family’s home.

Some of the sting plots hatched by Kyle & Co, against the oppressive regime, are like the tactics and strategy of Eric Frank Russell’s novel Wasp (1957), an infamous book about a movement ranging from psychological warfare to guerrilla mayhem. Using indirect action, not just open defiance, the crusading heroes of Kyle’s plucky gang of radicals eventually turn the game tables on authoritarian power. Tony Doyle (Who Dares Wins) is good value throughout this show as Kyle’s bullish chum, import-export agent Dave, smuggling Brits to Europe and USA, here still bastions of freedom, and leading the charge when muscle is required to calm or conclude a tense situation.

You’ll Never Walk Alone is a crisply theatrical piece with a chess tournament’s mind-game overshadowed by a kidnapping plot against the black-hats’ own queen. The final episode reaches a wholly predictable climax after a solo protestor in Trafalgar Square disturbs the pigeons with a self-immolation stunt. Can this grim situation end in anything but violence with a bitter irony? Although parts of this - especially its modest technology - are tellingly dated, this drama is educational, and incisive about political criticism, so perhaps it ought to be shown in schools.

Presented in very good condition for a BBC programme of its era, this complete series of 16 x 55-minute episodes (previously available separately, as two seasons), is re-released on a DVD box-set of four discs.  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Whisky Galore!

Cast: Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard, Naomi Battrick, Ellie Kendrick, and Kevin Guthrie

Director: Gillies MacKinnon

98 minutes (PG) 2016
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow blu-ray region B
[released 6 November]

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

If you’ve ever read one of my reviews before, and there are so many of them on VideoVista and its sister site The Zone that I would hope you have by now, then you will know that I’m no fan of remakes. Especially when the original is considered to be something of a ‘classic’. To be fair, although I’m more than familiar with the 1949 film made by Ealing, one of my favourite studios, I approached this new version with high hopes. I see in my 2011 review of the original I mentioned Ealing’s slyly subversive tone, at odds with the cosy ‘little England’ atmosphere thought by some to inhabit their films.  

In fact, while Ealing’s output was often anarchic and anti-establishment, the final reel tended to impose some form of belated moral censure. Hence Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, seemingly having got away with murder realises he has left a confessional memoir in his prison cell in Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), the forces of law and order finally catch up with mild-mannered bank-robber ‘Dutch’ Holland in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and the gang in The Ladykillers (1955), having pulled off their heist, end up by murdering one another. Similarly, while the inhabitants of the Outer Hebridean island of Todday stave off the lack of uisge beatha ‘the water of life’ by salvaging ‘export only’ spirit from a sinking cargo ship in Whisky Galore (1949), by the end of the film the whisky drought is back in force. I was happy to see such nonsense was avoided in this remake, or ‘reimagining’ as the producers’ prefer.

The novel Whisky Galore (1947) by Compton Mackenzie, was based on the running aground of the S. S. Politician off Eriskay in 1941, while carrying 28,000 cases of malt whisky and a substantial volume of cash. In 1918, Mackenzie had been chosen as one of the promising ‘younger generation’ of novelists by Henry James in an essay J.B. Priestley described as, ‘a piece of literary criticism so involved, so inscrutable, that some of the writers it dealt with do not know to this day whether he was praising them or blaming them.’ Priestley went on to observe in 1928 that Mackenzie had not lived up to the promise of his early novels Carnival (1912), and Sinister Street (1914), and, ironically, he is probably best known now, if at all, for Whisky Galore. Mackenzie’s sequel to Sinister Street was filmed in 1935 as Sylvia Scarlett, starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

The plot to Whisky Galore is laughably simple. In the midst of World War Two, the island of Todday is suffering the dreaded whisky drought brought on by rationing. During a fog, a passing cargo vessel, the S.S. Cabinet Minister, runs aground on the notorious Skerry Dubh rocks and the crew abandon ship. Seeing this as the workings of providence the islanders prepare to salvage some of the 50,000 cases of whisky bound for the United States. Unfortunately, the ship has run aground on a Saturday and, as a flotilla sets out from the island, the church clock chimes for midnight and the start of the Sabbath, upon which no task of work may be undertaken. Despite the delay the islanders do indeed manage to liberate a substantial portion of the cargo before the vessel sinks. The local Home Guard commander Captain Waggett (Eddie Izzard) foolishly decides that protecting the cargo from looting comes within his remit, and sets out to confound the islanders’ salvage operation, and then catch them with their bounty when they outwit him. 

At the heart of the story is the local postmaster Macroon (Gregor Fisher), and his melancholy realisation that his two eligible daughters are about to take the first steps into matrimony which will deprive him of the solace of their company. Peggy (Naomi Battrick) is in love with local schoolmaster George (Kevin Guthrie), and seeks to extricate him from under the thumb of his domineering mother. Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) is in love with Sergeant Odd (Sean Bickerstaff) an El Alamein veteran, who has returned to the island to train the Home Guard, as second-in-command to Waggett. 

Macroon Sr. explains to Odd that for him to marry Catriona there must first be a prenuptial celebration without which the marriage cannot take place, and the celebration requires whisky. No whisky, no celebration; no celebration, no wedding. Odd defers to the obvious blackmail, and slated to guard the shoreline facing the sinking craft he allows the villagers to overpower him in their mission to salvage the booze. Having stowed the cases of scotch in a hidden cave, the islanders are betrayed by the local innkeeper who sees his livelihood at risk from the abundance of free whisky. Waggett calls in the Excise and a frantic operation is launched, first to hide the drink during a house-to house search, and then to spirit the spirits away from their hiding place.

A curious sub-plot concerns the presence on the island of the mysterious Mr Brown, posing as a tweed salesman. Macroon listens in on Brown’s telephone call to Waggett’s wife asking her to urge the Captain to secure a red attaché case from the wreck. Obviously, this would prove an impossible task for Waggett to perform and the message is wholly intended for the eavesdropping Macroon. The case proves to contain personal letters from the recently-abdicated Edward VIII to Mrs Simpson, and other correspondence hinted as relating to an interesting offer of royal reinstatement from a certain continental despot, the second such reference in the film. Brown is obviously some lackey of Whitehall, but why would the letters be going to America? The purpose of this sub-plot, beyond mere padding, is hard to ascertain, perhaps the writer is vehemently republican and wanted to avoid the film being chosen for a royal premiere?

The film ends with both pairs of lovers united in matrimony, and Waggett temporarily in disgrace after a case of ammunition he returned to the mainland was discovered to contain whisky, hidden there during the house-to-house. Macroon finally cracks a smile and the island gives itself up to drinking and dancing. To say I enjoyed this film while on the wagon (only two beers in five weeks), says much for the good-natured entertainment it provides, although, as I lay in bed waiting in vain for the oblivion of sleep, my mind did tend to linger on the three and a half bottles of whisky (and one whiskey) I had stowed in a downstairs cupboard.

The extras reel consists of interviews with the principal members of the cast. What comes across is a genuine affection for the material and an obvious enjoyment of the whole exercise. The younger members of the cast, that is Battrick, Kendrick, Guthrie and Bickerstaff, have nothing but good things to say about the experience of performing with Fisher and Izzard. Slainte.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Fear In The Night

Cast: Judy Geeson, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, and Gillian Lind

Director: Jimmy Sangster

94 minutes (12) 1972
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Studio Canal blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

This is a Hammer horror in hi-def just in time for happy Halloween. Peggy (Judy Geeson) is newlywed to Robert (Ralph Bates), an unhappy ‘teacher’ at a boarding school for boys. Peter Cushing portrays the kindly but decidedly odd headmaster, whose wife Molly (Joan Collins) is a scheming sculptress. Even before she leaves London, there is a scary trauma for the heroine when she’s attacked by a strange man with a prosthetic arm. Moving to a house in the school grounds, there’s plenty of creepy atmosphere and suspense unfolding to upset and threaten the heroine. After a second mysterious attack, Peggy is left alone in the cottage with a shotgun. Soon, her tormentors will be sorry they ever bothered her.

“Do you like tying knots in things?”    

Not so much a bloody shocker, in the traditional manner of classic Hammer productions, but a nonetheless effective chiller with modest ambitions as days of delirium follow nights of fear. Cleverly fusing odd elements from Clouzot’s masterpiece Les Diaboliques (1955), a subgenre defining thriller of French cinema, with obvious influences of Polanski’s classic Replusion (1965), that established the era’s trend for mystery drama centred on neurotic women, Fear In The Night pulls its varied aspects of predatory crime and psychological crisis into a meltdown of confusion and catatonia, under a gaslight plot that goes horribly wrong. The movie’s themes of stalking and isolation lead to disquieting revelations about a tragic history of the countryside location, and certain scenes here predate Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).  

In the final analysis, this is an understated, very British offering, coasting along through a story-line of increasing suspicions, buoyed by Geeson’s performance as the beleaguered heroine. It’s memorable for just a few iconic images, including the gloved hand clutching the victim’s neck, the curiously dream-like impact of shattered glass in the headmaster’s spectacles (see the DVD & Blu-ray cover artwork), and that particularly haunting first scene of the hanged man.     

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Zabriskie Point

Cast: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor, Paul Fix, and Kathleen Cleaver

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

120 minutes (15) 1970
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Andrew Darlington

“When it gets down to it, you have to choose one side or the other,” says Mark.
“There’s a thousand sides. Not just heroes and villains,” counters Daria.
And that’s the dilemma Zabriskie Point poses. There’s restless dissatisfaction, streams of unease, wired strung-out times, something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, do you…? In the jargon of the time, be part of the problem, or be part of the cure. The soundtrack splices Pink Floyd with sampled media news-blurts. ‘Bullshit and jive’ Black Power agitators harangue a counter-culture student debate, exploiting white liberal guilt, “you keep getting busted for grass and that makes you a revolutionary.”

First time I caught this on the small-screen, it’s on a German-language DVD, adding an extra level of dislocation. A radical Angela Davis lookalike, who is actually Kathleen Cleaver – partner of Panther activist Eldridge Cleaver, sits immaculately aloof and argues articulately as they rant back-and-forth dialectic about Molotov cocktails, guerrilla confrontation, conspiring strike action to shut down the campus. “If the man’s language is the gun, talk to him with a gun.” It’s all done hidden-camera, documentary-style. What else can a poor boy do…? Mark calls their bluff, stands up and stalks out. Yes, he’s “willing to die, but not of boredom…”

Driving a dirty red pick-up truck past lurid sequences of street-scene hoardings, the real and the garish exhortation images fold in together, ‘federally inspected meats’ against startles of electronic music, proto-industrial machine-sounds, until it all blurs into flashing hidden-persuader shapes. There are ‘Sunny Dunes Development Co’ ad-clips with idealised plastic Barbie-people. “Forge a life of your own, like the pioneers who moulded the west,” with antiseptic hygienic modern-appliance ‘Sunny Dunes’ kitchens for moms. There’s soft-core muzak (Don’t Blame Me), a huge costing-office cactus and an American flag furling in the breeze outside the wall-window. A pop art collage of commercials, American Airlines, a huge wristwatch straddles the freeway. Freeze any frame and it’s a gallery-print. Jasper Johns or Warhol. A cut-up of radio-bursts, Vietnam news and student arrests. It’s the voice-over commentary that links one scene into the next.

Students picket with placards. Mark is tired of kids rapping about violence, and cops doing it, but he won’t commit. Police lock-up detained students, he’s hauled in for talking back. Sneerily gives his name as ‘Karl Marx’. “How do you spell it?” demands the cop deadpan, typing in ‘Marx, Carl’. Is it coincidence that Allen Ginsberg is ‘Carlo Marx’ in Kerouac’s Beat-generation mythology?

They buy guns in a store piled high with racks of artillery. The salesman is easily persuaded to waive the four-five days security check. He advises that “the law says you can protect your house. So if you shoot him in the backyard, be sure to drag him inside.” Mark conceals the handgun in his boot, shrugging his jeans down over it. Back at the campus riot, state troopers with visors-down, riot shields, and gas masks, beat students with night-sticks. Demonstrators line the block’s flat roof, hustled away in bloody bandages as siren howl. A cop lobs a tear-gas grenade into the occupied block, and a black student is shot as he emerges. Could that happen? It did, at the Kent State University. Four dead in Ohio, even as the movie was circulating…

Mark is about to draw his boot-pistol, but the cop responsible is shot down before he has chance to do it himself. Instead, he runs in confusion. Catches a coach out – seen in green. Later, he calls back from a store payphone. His roommate says he’s been caught on TV running away in a suspicious manner…

Mark watches a small plane fly over between ad-hoardings of happy smiling consumers. He strolls casually onto the Bates Aviation Inc strip, jacket slung over his shoulder. No particular place to go. Turbine sounds. The cockpit door of the small Cessna 210 ‘Lilly Seven’ is ajar, no-one’s watching. Why not? He bluffs a curious mechanic. Control Tower query-calls as he lifts off, up over parking lots, the houses of the Hawthorne suburbs in grid-straight line, over the highway interchange – higher than the rolling L.A. smog. Squint your eyes, Mark looks not unlike Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. ‘Mark’ is Mark Frechette, just as ‘Daria’ is Daria Halprin. They are real. They are not contrived.

Michelangelo Antonioni had filmed Blow-Up (1966), which most perfectly captures the pulse of 1960s’ London, and one of my favourite movies of all time. On an upward curve he relocates to California to catch the burgeoning underground insurgence happening there. Finding it more volatile, fractured with political and racial violence. The untried Mark and Daria are deliberately chosen reality-style. They’re not actors, they just look right. Representative. They have the street-itch of the moment. Although that means they lack the mesmerising screen charisma of David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in the earlier film. Rod Taylor, as smoothly manipulative ‘Sunny Dunes’ bread-head ‘Lee Allen’ has the screen track-record (including the time-traveller in George Pal’s The Time Machine, 1960), but is under-used. It’s the casual, yet intense interaction between Mark and Daria that defines the narrative contour. On which it rises, or sometimes fails.

Once described as a ‘post-religious Marxist and existentialist intellectual’ Antonioni’s Italian films had already gone through a number of decisive phases before his influential L’avventura (1960), an art-house thriller without a formal resolution, was both booed and acclaimed. A prescient offbeat Marxist view of an emerging Italy, it helped him create a post-neorealist Italian cinema that first shocked Cannes, then brought him enduring international renown. It’s also the first of four seminal movies starring his lover and muse, the cool, morally challenging Monica Vitti, who plays a lower-middle-class girl on a Mediterranean yachting holiday with rich friends. The complex La Notte (1961), an erotic study of alienation, won immediate critical and public favour, placing Marcello Mastroianni opposite Jeanne Moreau as disillusioned novelist and embittered wife.

Those four major Italian films, all deal with loss, emptiness, despair and spiritual desolation. Until Antonioni felt the theme was exhausted and had, in turn, exhausted him. David Hemmings also believed that the director had a desire to be recognised internationally “the way Fellini was by this time, and that’s why he made the film outside Italy” (to Alexander Walker in Hollywood, England, Michael Joseph, 1974).

While in the States promoting Blow-Up, Antonioni noted a brief press feature about a young man shot to death after taking a joyride in a stolen aircraft. It proved a useful plot-thread hook, spun out into a rough screenplay. It’s enough. He sketched out ideas. Brought in playwright Sam Shepard for additional input – he’d been drummer with the Holy Modal Rounders and would be a future Patti Smith amore. Then previous collaborator Franco Rossetti, plus screenwriters Clare Peploe, and Tonino Guerra from Blow-Up. Intended as a major shot for the US counter-culture market, Rolling Stone (#28, 1 March 1969) trailers a cover-splash ‘Michelangelo Antonioni: An Interview And A Preview Of Zabriskie Point’, setting up expectations, which are not always exactly realised. Whereas Blow-Up uses original music by Herbie Hancock, as well as the incandescent Yardbirds live sequence, Zabriskie Point opts for the Easy Rider jukebox approach, producing a soundtrack album strongly featuring Pink Floyd, Jerry Garcia and Kaleidoscope, plus Americana-style tracks from John Fahey (Dance Of Death), Grateful Dead (Dark Star), old-timey Appalachian banjo-player Roscoe Holcomb (I Wish I Were A Single Girl Again) and the 1950s country-pop ‘Singing Rage’ Patti Page (Tennessee Waltz).

While Daria cruises the bright Desert Highway, out through the dunes in a 1950s Buick with white-wall tyres, eating a rosy-red apple. ‘You Are What You Eat. Try Our Salads. Save With Desert Springs Savings & Loans’ framed as a photo. She calls Lee Allen from a roadside bar, faulty neon burning. Their relationship is unspecified, employer and/ or lover? She says that while she’s heading for Phoenix she’s also looking out for “a fantastic place for meditation – Glenville or Valleyville?” A do-gooder James Pattison has been bringing ‘emotionally sick’ kids from L.A. Patti Page is on the jukebox. The bar has a plastic cow on the roof. Telegraph poles space the desert in receding rows. A rusting upturned auto-wreck is used as a bolthole by feral kids. The kids taunt and harass her, demanding “a piece of ass.” At first she jives “are you sure you’d know what to do with it?”, until she’s forced to escape their increasingly intrusive attentions.

And he’s flying over vast desert emptiness, his shadow a racing cross. He buzzes Daria as she stops to top up her radiator. Then chases her, flying low, then approaching head-on. The Youngbloods’ Sugar Babe (a Jesse Colin Young song from their Earth Music album, RCA, 1967) plays as she drives. She gets out and lies face-down in the sand. When he drops an orange T-shirt, she runs and catches it. He sets down beside the road. Drawn to each other by a planet-like gravitational pull, they meet. She’d heard on the radio about the stolen plane. “I needed to get off the ground,” he explains simply. She gives him a lift to buy gas for the grounded aircraft. They pause at the Zabriskie Point viewpoint overlooking a lakebed deposited ten-million years ago. Reading from the plaque she queries “…borates and gypsum?” “Two old prospectors who lost their way,” he jokes. Why did he quit college, she probes. “Extracurricular activities. Stealing hardcover books instead of paperbacks. Making phone-calls on chancellor’s stolen credit card number. Whistling in class. And bringing illegal things onto campus…”

She smokes a joint. He’s on “a reality trip,” and doesn’t turn on. She proposes they play the ‘death-game’. “I wonder what else is going on in the real world?” he muses. They hold hands, play and romp groovy stuff across the lunar landscape. Kiss. The razored dialogue runs on minimalist possibilities, free, no commitment. Don’t think twice, it’s alright. “Would you like to go with me?” asks Mark. “Where?” she says. “Wherever I’m going.” “Are you really asking?” “Is that your real answer?”

Into the first of the movie’s stunning awesome iconic sequences. He unfastens the buttons down the front of her short green dress. Her blue stone pendant. Figures naked in the sand, hazy in blowing dust. Not just two of them now, but multiple entwined couples, erotic, primal, multi-gendered copulating triads in oral orgy sex, group-grope, limbs in dusty entanglement. As though the arid landscape, dry riverbed, primeval earth has become animated, breathing out dust-figures. Does it have a literal meaning? Archetypal man-woman, multiple eternal lovers. The origins of the world. The end of the world. Or just a visually ravishing image? In the real-time world, the figures were members of the experimental Open Theatre Of Joseph Chaikin. A scene subsequently investigated to determine whether it violates the ‘Mann Act’, but as no actual penetrative sex takes place, and the participants had not crossed State lines, potential charges were dropped. “I always knew it would be like this,” he says. “Love?” she asks. No, ‘the desert.’ A stickered camper-van family find their abandoned car.

Then Mark hides behind the red porta-gents as a highway patrolman pauses. He draws his boot-gun. For the second time in the movie, he takes aim at a cop, as the patrolman talks to Daria. For the second time he fails to pull the trigger, the cop drives off. She asks him obliquely. “The guy who killed the cop?” He admits “No. I wanted to. But somebody else was there.” Random chance rather than lack of commitment.

They paint the plane in fantastical designs, assisted by an old garage-hand. ‘A strange prehistorical bird spotted over the Mohave Desert.’ Freecome. She He It. No War. Breasts daubed on the wings. He intends taking the plane back after this joyride, despite her persuasion about him perhaps cutting his hair and them driving to Phoenix together. He’s like Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On The Road (1957), who steals cars, joyrides them, then takes them back.

She waves as he takes off. Don’t look back. Then she drives on, listening to radio-reports about the plane-theft, as the Rolling Stones play. Keith sings You Got The Silver off their Let It Bleed (December 1969) album, the group’s final track to feature Brian Jones. Cops, a news-copter, and press photographers, await his arrival at the airstrip. As he touches down, police cars circle the plane and pen him in. One nervous cop shoots. Mark is hit. She listens on the car radio amid tall cactus. An apparent hijacking attempt ends in a youth shot dead. She drives on to the desert spa resort where Lee is negotiating land-purchase options. Wind chimes tinkle. Water cascades, washing her tears.

She drives away, rejecting the world, the life and the materialistic values that Lee offers. A worn and stained National Geographic blows in the breeze. A cigarette burns in the ash-tray. The calm, rising into the movie’s second stunning awesome iconic sequence.
She fondles the T-shirt Mark parachuted down to her. Images of explosions smash inside her head. She stands watching it. Multiple explosions in mushroom clouds of debris, again and again, over and over, vivid gouges of lurid flame, storming hails of glass and consumer commodity. A TV detonates, in a flick-flick-flick trip-repetition. A fridge erupts in a shrapnel of cans, K-cornflakes, Wonder-Bread, a naked oven-ready chicken hurls through stunned air. An endless slow-motion auto-destruction art-dance of fragmentation choreographed to Pink Floyd. Shattering images of luxury living and all its accoutrements, a patio table with parasol, a suspended ballet of books and magazines. Sound peaks into piercing screams… It stops abruptly. She smiles. Walks away. Gets into the car and drives. Roy Orbison warbles So Young over the credits.

What does it mean? Does it mean anything in the literal sense? Or just an excuse for eye-raping shock-filmic images. That’s enough. Catching the rootless unconnected dissatisfaction of the times, the anti-materialist anti-capitalist vibe, the vague questing for a better otherness. Life can be what you dream it to be, what you convert it into. Like the trippy light fandango of an acid lyric, it’s essentially meaningless, yet strikes at submerged profundities more sensed than articulated. Realism, and super-realism. A mood of unpredictable change, awakening, resistance. And the lethal backlash. The uncertain kinetic poetry of movement. There’s a thousand sides. Not just heroes and villains. Yet you have to choose one side or the other.

If it’s a flawed movie, it’s a flawed masterpiece. His next film – The Passenger (1975), the third of a three-picture deal with Carlo Ponti and MGM, returns to reliable box-office names – Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Steven Berkoff, and Ian Hendry in an identity-switch action thriller. Before Antonioni returns to making films centred more on the Italian market.

In a weird twist Mark and Daria’s real-life romantic entanglement saw them living together in the cult-like Boston ‘Fort Hill Community’ hippie commune. Afterwards, she was briefly married to Dennis Hopper, while Mark is jailed for his part in a 1973 bank robbery – as though he’d finally chosen one side over the other, and died in prison aged just 27. Neither of them appeared in any other films of note.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Wonder Woman

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and Danny Huston

Director: Patty Jenkins

135 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.39:1
Warner DVD Region 2

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

For a moment, while watching this DVD and contemplating doing a review as a gesture of loyalty to the editor of this site, in acknowledgement of many years of collaboration, I thought I might give it a six out of ten rating. A good night’s sleep and the recollection that I gave Man Of Steel (2013) that self-same rating stayed my hand, this is far-and-away a better film than that, and its follow-up Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) in which Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman debuted. The contemplation of a lower rating coincided with the ‘oh-do-get-on-with-it’ dip in concentration that accompanies most films over two hours long, and particularly here during slow-motion scenes of combat, and sequences that seemed vaguely reminiscent of the ‘Cap wins WWII’ montage from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Curiously, Wonder Woman has stuck in my head as a very ‘talkie’ picture, despite its regular scenes of carnage, possibly no one stops gabbing even when they’re rough-housing. James Cameron caused a brief ripple in the blathersphere by suggesting that sticking Gadot in an armoured bustier does nothing to stall the on-screen objectification of women, even though he liked the film. Someone somewhere neatly observed that a woman’s not a real woman in Cameron’s eyes unless she’s sporting bed-hair, a torn T-shirt, and a massive weapon, or possibly is rendered in blue pixels. Check your privilege Jim! Gadot is dressed more demurely than Linda Carter ever was in TV’s Wonder Woman (1975-9). 

Creator of the comic-book Wonder Woman in 1941, William Moulton Marston, had a complicated but refreshingly liberated private life that fed into the themes of his Amazonian Princess. His research into systolic blood pressure inspired by his wife Elizabeth helped lead to the development of the lie-detecting polygraph, Wonder Woman of course had her ‘lasso of truth’. He seems to have lived with Elizabeth within a ménages à trois with a former student of his, Olive Byrne, and the trio’s progressive views on gender roles, and an understanding of the psychology of dominance and submission, all played a part in the allegorised storylines he produced for the comic. A belief in the redemptive power of love happily makes its way into the film. Marston has his own bio-pic now, Professor Marston And The Wonder Women (2017), directed by Angela Robinson and starring Luke Evans as the eponymous Prof.

The child Diana grows up beloved by all on the all-female island of Themyscira. She longs to be trained in the arts of war by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) forbids it. Hippolyta tells her how conflict in heaven arose after Ares, God of War, perverted mankind and slew the other gods, before being defeated by his father Zeus. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind and provided them with a sword the ‘God-Killer’ should Ares return. Hippolyta eventually concedes that Diana should be trained by Antiope. When an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crashes in the sea off Themyscira, the Amazons learn that a World War is devastating the planet. Trevor is working for British Intelligence and has stolen the plans for a deadly poison gas created by Isabel ‘Dr Poison’ Maru (Elena Anaya), for General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) of the German army. Diana believes it her duty to travel with Trevor to try and end the War which she sees as being Ares’ work. She armours herself, and takes the Lasso of Truth and the God-Killer sword, as well as the protective metal armbands which generate a devastating power when clashed together.

Arriving in London, the pair find the British high command occupied with the terms of the Armistice and unwilling to endorse any mission which would put that at risk. Trevor assembles his own multi-national team, Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and later Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock), and with the unexpected help of Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) one of the Armistice negotiators, they are able to travel to the Front. Diana becomes convinced that Ludendorff is Ares in disguise and determines to kill him to end the War, unfortunately although the General is indeed a warmonger who has murdered the German staff seeking an Armistice, her defeat of him does not end the hostilities.

Having sailed from Themyscira to London, the sexist attitudes Diana encounters are conveniently displayed by the British, “It’s a woman!” The USA joined the conflict in 1917 and obviously American audiences would prefer to think Diana would have met more open-minded attitudes there. OK, they could hardly have crossed the Atlantic in their little boat, and Trevor is working for the Brits. However, no surprise when the urbane and sympathetic Sir Patrick is revealed to be really Ares in disguise. All credit to the script (Zack Snyder and team) for a nice bit of misdirection, Maru supplies Ludendorff with some sort of restorative gas which suggests he might be the war-god in human form, but actually it’s just a super-soldier serum. The role of Sir Patrick/ Ares is a little confused, first he funds the mission to the Front then he insists by telephone that they do nothing to compromise the Armistice, suggesting that Ares is only Sir Patrick some of the time.  Perhaps I’m just getting slow at picking up these subtle nuances.

Anyway, the misdirection works, when Diana kills Ludendorff and the War doesn’t come to a sudden halt one really expects him to shrug off his mortal form and be revealed, the revelation that Ares was Sir Patrick all along, or at least some of the time, was a nice reveal. There are some slight mis-steps in the film, obviously the audience isn’t intended to enquire if this is what Wonder Woman did in WWI, what did she do in WW2? Charlie the sharpshooting Scot can’t shoot as he has PTSD, Sameer would love a career as an actor but he’s the wrong colour, these are honourable observations but devoting 15 seconds to them in a super-hero movie isn’t going to raise consciousness. Perhaps they didn’t want this to be all about gender issues, other prejudice is available. Elsewhere, in terms of spectacle, a gala attended by Ludendorff and Maru, which Diana and Trevor gatecrash, gets a big build-up but is a bit of a damp squib. Diana wants to kill the General, Trevor stops her, and Ludendorff launches a gas attack on the town the team has recently liberated. It’s supposed to be a pivotal moment but plays like padding.

In her own comic, Wonder Woman was trained by Ares who was her ally. The pantheon of mythological gods and goddesses has provided both DC and Marvel with a rich source of characters, variously explained. Aliens, or pan-dimensional beings, or suchlike. This film sensibly doesn’t go into any of that. I’m guessing that Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (2018) will steer clear of original writer Jim Starlin’s cast of Eternals, Celestials, Strangers, Living Tribunals, Lords of Order and Chaos, and Uncle Tom Chronos and all, and all. Here’s hoping. 

Wonder Woman has a nice short framing narrative, Bruce Wayne sends Diana a photo of her and Trevor and the rest of the gang, taken after they had liberated the town from the Germans in 1918. Later, we see the photograph being taken. At the end of the film, Diana, after remembering the events we have just seen, acknowledges her continuing role in protecting mankind through the power of love. There is one extra on the DVD, Patty Jenkins discusses Diana’s revelation of a wider world which, after the First World War, will begin its progress into the modern world we know today. She also identifies some key locations, Australia House as Selfridges, Tilbury as Maru’s poison gas plant and airstrip, and Arundel Castle as the exterior shots of the castle where Ludendorff attends the gala and launches his first gas-attack.

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 clichés 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.