A-Z Film Challenge: Day Eight

Published a day early, as I am busy tomorrow.

Has it only been eight days, and up to the letter ‘H’? It feels like a life’s work already, and I have gained a new admiration for those bloggers who regularly take on such challenges. I note that views have reduced considerably over the weekend, so I hope that this long slog doesn’t become too tiresome for you all.

Nobody mentioned ‘Gandhi’ (1982) yesterday, one that I deliberately left off. Ben Kingsley gave an amazing performance in the title role, and that epic film won 8 Oscars, and 27 other international awards. Has it been forgotten, I wonder?

I am starting today with a great crime thriller from director David Cronenberg. Central performances of considerable strength take a well-worn theme up to a new level in ‘A History of Violence’ (2005).
It received an Oscar nomination, and it’s easy to see why. Ed Harris is convincing as ever as the disfigured villain, and Viggo Mortensen delivers yet another solid performance, as the former gangster trying his best to go straight. We may have seen it all before, but rarely done as good as this.

Two French films from the 90s come next. The delightful love story, ‘The Hairdresser’s Husband’, (1990) with a touching performance from the always expressive Jean Roquefort as the titular hero, alongside the gorgeous Anna Galiena as his hairdresser wife. Music from Michael Nyman is the icing on the cake too. Completely different, is the urban thriller ‘La Haine’ (1995), starring the wonderful Vincent Cassell as a disaffected teenager, in an immigrant community in the Paris suburbs. Set in a short time period of less than 24 hours, this film has style, pace, and undeniable flair.

I don’t often feature horror films in this series, but I have two British entries for ‘H’. In the overlooked ‘Hardware’ (1990), we have a post-apocalyptic vision of a world where robots repair themselves, before terrorising the remaining human population. You get Iggy Pop, as well as Dylan McDermott, and not many people have seen it. The first film from a series, ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) brings the fantasy books of Clive Barker to the screen, and does them complete justice. Memorable gore, and equally memorable characters, (who can forget ‘Pinhead’?) leave us with a nightmare vision of an all-too possible Hell that awaits us.

Michael Cimino’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’, (1980) is a sprawling western, based on real events during the 1890s, in the American West. It lost a fortune at the box office, and has divided critics ever since it was released. But I saw something in it at the cinema, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Kris Kristofferson, John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, and Isabelle Huppert are all in the wonderful cast. The sense of authenticity pervades throughout, and it is best described as a flawed masterpiece. Gillian Anderson is best known for ‘The X Files’ TV series, and latterly for appearing in British dramas, with a flawless accent. But her memorable turn as Lily Bart, in ‘The House of Mirth’ (1981) is a faithful adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel of the same name, and an exercise in mannered perfection.

Down under for the next selections. Long before he had ever seen a Hobbit, Peter Jackson brought us the simply sublime, ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994). This recreation of a real crime in 1950s New Zealand is an absolute treat. Immaculate period feel, starring the superb Melanie Lynskey, and supported by my first sight of Kate Winslet, he gives us a heartbreaking tale of confused teenagers, living in a fantasy world of their own creation. One that leads to tragedy and murder. Revenge thrillers just don’t get better than ‘The Horseman’ (2008). This unrelenting Australian film is a hard watch, with the obsessed father (Peter Marshall) exacting revenge on those responsible for involving his daughter in a real-life ‘Snuff’ film. Be warned, it is a difficult ride indeed, but compelling in the extreme.

Two modern American films are also on my list. One of them is an all-time favourite, the other also one of those ‘hard to watch’ films that stays in your mind. ‘Hard Eight’ (1996) is a modern ‘film noir’ set in the world of gambling and prostitution. Philip Baker Hall, one of my much-loved American actors, stars alongside the hapless John C. Reilly, in this tale of casino corruption, gambling cons, and eventual murder. You also get Samuel L. Jackson, and Gwyneth Paltrow, in a lamentably overlooked film that deserves wider recognition. It is always Hall’s film though. His finest hour.

The second choice is the disturbing ‘Hard Candy’ (2005). In this film, a 14 year-old girl takes revenge on a known paedophile, a man responsible for an assault on her best friend. This is more or less a two-hander, with the man and girl filmed in his house, and no other cast to speak of. Ellen Page gives a simply remarkable performance as the girl, with Patrick Wilson suitably sleazy as the photographer who preys on underage girls. I was overwhelmed by this film, and think that you might be too.

Apologies for a long post. I decided to leave out three other ‘H’ films, and cut to the chase. One of my favourite films, since I first watched it in 1987, David Mamet’s superb debut, ‘House Of Games’ still appears to me in dreams, and the complex con-man/crime thriller just gets better every time I see it. Starring the underrated and near-perfect Joe Mantegna, alongside the rarely seen Lindsay Crouse, this rather stagey and set bound thriller delivers twists and turns like no other film before or since. This is a film for the mind, as well as the eyes, and it will keep you guessing until the last moment. Not only that, but the intelligent writing and snappy script from Mamet is a real joy. Believe me when I say that it is simply wonderful.

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77 thoughts on “A-Z Film Challenge: Day Eight

  1. A bunch of grim films for us today.
    A grimish romance I liked was Head On (the German one by Fatih Akin about escaping the confines of a Turkish-German family, not the Australian one about escaping a Greek-Australian family which was just too grim).
    On a lighter side (which appears to be my favoured side) I recommend High Fidelity (like lividemerald2013) and High Anxiety, plus the gorgeous kung fu ballet of House of the Flying Daggers and Hero.
    Hoping for something Hong Kongish tomorrow …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry, no Ip Man films from me!
      I have ‘High Fidelity’ (great adaptation of Hornby’s book, even though they changed the country) on DVD, and loved ‘High Anxiety’ at the time. I also have ‘House of Flying Daggers’, and ‘Hero’ on DVD. Good choices indeed, ozflicks. I haven’t seen ‘Head On’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. And Heavenly Creatures was strange yet compelling viewing. The way the two girls were observed was that of two intense young people not wanting to be separated and doing the unthinkable in the hope of it stopping.

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  3. La Haine blew me away when I saw it in college. It’s a very bruising and affecting look at disillusioned youth that is very searing. Hellraiser is a freaky and intensely visceral film that gets under the skin from the very beginning. I would add The Haunting to my list, such an atmospheric and psychological film. A really underrated film is He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.

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  4. A fantastic list, Pete. Now that I’m back from the bookfair (although it will take me a while to recover) I should follow and hopefully catch up. You know how I feel about Mamet and House of Games is still my favourite. A faboulous film. I haven’t watched Hardware, but I agree with all of your choices (Heaven’s Gate is such a visual treat and Heavenly Creature is one of my favourite films by Peter Jackson). I had the pleasure of watching Philip Baker Hall playing in London, at the Donmar Warehouse, in Mamet’s American Buffalo (with William H. Macy). That was an absolute treat. He is superb and so was Macy. And I saw John C. Reilly in New York playing in True West with Philip Seymour Hoffman, sorely missed. Looking forward to more reminders and recommendations (I’ll check Hardware as soon as I can). Thanks, Pete!

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    1. I knew you would agree with Mamet of course. Great to hear that you were able to watch those other wonderful actors on stage. You should write a blog post about that one day. Make a change from books! ‘Hardware’ is not a great film, but it was something different at the time, and still worth watching.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  5. Its just as well I have followed your blog for so long Pete, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen any of these films. I did enjoy the Hairdressers Husband, the Horseman and Hard Eight.
    Incidentally I watched Dark City last night, interesting that it was pre Matrix and I found myself enjoying the almost comic book 50s style of the film, great little film, thanks for the recommendation.

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  6. The “H’s” seem to harbor a lot of darkness. I know a lot of folks respect “Heaven’s Gate” but it really did run long, about three days as I remember, and was intensely depressing. There was dust everywhere, even in the interior shots. You’d hear shouted dialog from the desperate Norwegian immigrants “Oh gud vognen er tapt og Leif drukner i elven, og sΓ₯ er oksene! and the subtitle would say “Help!” Those of the cast who committed suicide seemed like the lucky ones.
    “House of Games” is wonderful, not many movies have so many tricks, except (spoiler alert for others!) when after all the psychological gamesmanship, it comes down to just shooting somebody, rather than something fiendishly Machiavellian. And, ok, committing premeditated murder is one thing, but then stealing a stranger’s cigarette lighter, that is low.

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    1. I know what you mean about ‘Heaven’s Gate’, Robert. I was annoyed with it at the cinema for the ‘natural soundtrack’, which meant you didn’t hear any conversation above background noise. And it is too long, more like a mini-series in one sitting. But Cimino’s vision of the Old West just looks so good, I found myself watching it as if I had never seen a Western before.
      And it lost over $40 million at the box office, making it one of the biggest flops in cinema history too!
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  7. I have to go with both versions of Harvey, Hannah, and Hart’s War as four nominees for H movies. These are all films that I would pay to see again (especially if I could get hot buttered popcorn was I watched) πŸ™‚
    Warmest regards, Theo

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  8. Pete, I was so sure that you were going to choose “House of Wax” (2005), starring that great American actress, Paris Hilton. Alas! It was not meant to be…

    I saw “Heaven’s Gate” and “Hellraiser” at the movie theater. One was sublime, and the other left me scarred for life! I was pleased you mentioned “Heavenly Creatures,” as that one is in my DVD collection.

    I mentioned “High Fidelity” (2000) in my Day 7 comments. A sampling of other films in my collection: “Hell’s Angels” (1930), “His Girl Friday” (1940), “Histoire d’O” (1975), “Hitch-Hike” (1977), “The Hot Spot” (1990), and Verhoeven’s “Hollow Man” (2000). By the way, two of those films just happen to star a French actress named Corinne ClΓ©ry…

    Of course, I’ve seen other “H” films like “Harvey” (1950), “How the West Was Won” (1962), and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964). Unfortunately, I have not seen Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” films, “House of Games,” or the French films you mentioned.

    Okay! My #1 pick (drum roll…). I’m going to go with a delightful film that features three characters named Pola Debevoise, Schatze Page, and Loco Dempsey. Played by Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable, these characters are all very interested in “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953).

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    1. I had a feeling you would go with Monroe, David. I haven’t watched the Hobbit/LOTR films, they are not my thing at all. I just mentioned them in relation to Peter Jackson. I thought the original ‘Hollow Man’ was an interesting idea, but the sequel was a waste of time.
      Many thanks for you other additions to ‘H’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Another great letter, Pete. You are SO right about “A History Of Violence”, and “Heavenly Creatures” as well…”House of Games” is a terrific choice…now, about yesterday: “Gandhi” is indeed forgotten because IT IS PONDEROUS…sorry, I got SO tired of watching him being beaten – to me he only persevered because their arms got tired! Yes, I’ll go to hell for that, but it’s your list, so you are partly to blame!

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    1. I agree that ‘Gandhi’ is ponderous, John. It’s far too long, and needs a good edit. But Kingsley is incredible in that.
      Glad you agree about’ House of Games’. Any thoughts on ‘Hard Eight’?
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete, I was being tough on “Gandhi” because like many “epics” it pours on the story for much too long, but yes Kingsley is magnificent…”Hard Eight” is terrific, a tight thriller that send a message to the world that a GREAT new Director was going here!

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  10. Why haven’t I seen ‘Hard Eight’? Thanks for reminding me to check it out. No one mentioned ‘Gandi’? Wow. I respect the film, but I can’t say it’s a “fun” film one could watch over and over. I really like this series you are doing, Pete, it’s quick, easy, and fun. Perfect for blogging, yes? Here are “H”‘s I have enjoyed: Hyde Park on Hudson, The Help, Hitchcock, The Hurt Locker, Hacksaw Ridge. Finally, I was surprised how much I laughed during The Hangover (first one). A guilty pleasure indeed.

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    1. I have yet to see ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, Cindy. ‘Ghandi’ is too long, and starchy, but I though that someone would mention it, if only for Kingsley.
      I liked ‘The Help’, but I wouldn’t even watch ‘The Hangover’, in all honesty. Life’s too short.
      As for this series, I am glad you are enjoying it. But it is far from being quick and easy.
      Agonising over the innumerable choices has worn me out! Give me 1800 words of fiction anytime! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

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        1. I think it has to be a daily challenge. Of course, I enjoy it, but always worry that the posts should have many more film suggestions, and I regret leaving so many out! πŸ™‚
          Best wishes, Pete.

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