A-Z Film Challenge: Day 23

‘W’ is a real treasure trove of great titles. My original list was up to more than forty, when I decided to once again to stick with mostly little-known titles, and to leave it wide open for your comments. My top pick is quite famous, but I had already decided to go with it.

I will start with two well known epics that have always worked for me. Sergei Bondarchuk is involved with both, and the Russian director knew his stuff. ‘War and Peace’ (1966) is a detailed adaptation of the Tolstoy novel, lovingly recreated in over seven hours of film. It is so long, it was originally shown in instalments. You can still get the multi-disc original on DVD. It is magnificent.
In 1970, the same director brought his skill to the film ‘Waterloo’. With Rod Steiger as Napoleon, and Christopher Plummer as the perfect Wellington, this wonderfully accurate recreation of the battle of Waterloo in 1815 is one of the best epics ever filmed, and a must for history fans too.

Dark and disturbing British drama, with the taboo theme of incest and family betrayal. That doesn’t sound like an easy watch, and it isn’t. But if you want to see a British cast including Tilda Swinton and Ray Winstone at the top of their game, then look no further than ‘The War Zone’ (1999).

A sexy and erotic thriller, with delicious twists and turns, and a screen populated by eye candy that can also act? Not that many films can live up to that idea, but ‘Wild Things’ (1998) is a hugely enjoyable modern film noir, with a great cast too. Denise Richards and Neve Campbell pile on the steam, as Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon offer strong support. Perhaps a ‘guilty pleasure’, but one of the best of those.

One of my favourite Almodovar films, and a perfect examination of the daily life of a put-upon woman in modern Spain. ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ (1984) has some truly marvellous performances, not least from Carmen Maura in the lead. Poignant, often very funny, and acutely well-observed, we also get a brilliant turn from Chus Lampreave into the bargain. Nobody does ‘old lady’ better than her.

So many left out, but one more before the top pick.

I caught this film on TV some years ago, and was very impressed at the time. Since then, I have never seen it mentioned, so thought I would promote it here. Most people regard Susan Sarandon to be a very good actress, and rightly so. I also have a lot of time for James Spader, though he failed to really exploit his brat-pack stardom. The two come together in the thougthful romantic drama, ‘White Palace’ (1990). The plot is simple enough, and has familiar origins. Rich upper-class widower aged 27 meets a waitress from the other side of the tracks, and falls for her. She is a lot older, at 43, so it is a far from easy basis on which to form a relationship. What could have been a very ordinary film is elevated by a good script, and sensitive performances from the leads. One to watch.

Today’s choice was always going to be the one for ‘W’. I watched Nic Roeg’s film ‘Walkabaout’ (1971) when I was just 19 years old. I had never seen anything like it, and thought it was fantastic. I still do. This story of a teenage school girl and her brother (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) lost in the Australian outback, is something to behold. Great scenery and perfect cinematography picture their wanderings in a surreal landscape, alien to city-dwellers. They are saved when they encounter a young Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who is on his tribal ritual of ‘Walkabout’. This is a fascinating interaction between the young urban children, and the boy who exists in the natural world. Stunning.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day 22

I was looking forward to ‘V’, as I had a top pick chosen well in advance. Quite a lot to choose from here, so there should be plenty left for you to comment on.

David Cronenberg has made some very unusual films in his career. They can be visually challenging, and often contain a message about society too. James Woods is a competent actor who has also played some controversial roles, and is known for giving 100% to every part he plays, however small. Put these two together, and you get the fascinating ‘Videodrome’ (1983). This is a comment on modern television, and the potential excesses it can sink to. Add some stunning ‘body horror’ effects, and you are left with a unique and unforgettable film, in an uncertain genre. And Debby Harry is in it too!

Vampire horror is a subject that film makers keep returning to. There have been some outstanding examples made, as far back as the days of silent films. ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) is arguably the best of them all, with the creepiest Dracula I have ever seen. But Carl Dreyer’s 1932 film ‘Vampyr’ deserves a mention. Despite its uneven soundtrack, the surreal imagery and dream-like production make this a memorable addition to the genre.

Two very different French films next. ‘Les Visiteurs’ (1993) was a huge comedy hit in Europe. The hilarious antics of a time travelling medieval knight and his grubby servant are simply delightful. They are transported into the future, where he attacks cars with his sword, and believes a toilet bowl is a magical water fountain. Jean Reno triumphs as the fish out of water knight, with a deliciously dotty performance from Valerie Lemercier as his distant relative. I loved this one.
There is no doubt that Marion Cotillard is a great actress, and she was never better than when she starred as Edith Piaf in the 2007 biopic, ‘La Vie En Rose’. This Oscar-winning film is a complete triumph, covering almost the whole life and career of Edith Piaf, the one-time darling of the French musical scene. With a strong supporting cast including Gerard Depardieu, flawless costume and historical detail, this is one to remember, believe me.

A very different historical drama next, featuring a powerful leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen. ‘Valhalla Rising’ (2009) is a bleak look back to the early days of Christianity in Europe. Mikklesen’s character One-Eye is held captive by a Norse chieftain, and forced to fight others to the death, while his master gambles on the outcome. He escapes in the company of a young boy, and they join a ragtag band of Crusaders, men intent on going to the Holy Land to fight. After a difficult journey, they believe they have reached their goal, only to discover that it is not at all what it seems. This is filmed in breathtaking locations in Scotland, and contains some brutal fight scenes too. But the solid cast delivers a memorable film, one that is stunning to behold.

Before my top choice for ‘V’, another Spanish film from the prolific Pedro Almodovar. ‘Volver’ (2006) stars the wonderful Carmen Maura, an Almodovar favourite, alongside the lovely Penelope Cruz. This delightful family drama also has moments of real comedy, and assured performances from the mainly female cast. There are some twists and turns in the plot, and you can also feel the personal touch from Almodovar’s own life experiences too. You may see this film described as a film about death. To a large extent it is, but it is also so much more, so don’t be put off. It was nominated for both Oscars and Baftas, and should have won at least one, in my opinion.

Please do not mistake the awful American remake for my top choice today. If you decide to see it, be certain that you are watching the original foreign language film, and not that terrible corruption.

Many European films do not settle for happy endings just to please audiences, and this is one of them.
I cannot praise this film highly enough. Rarely have I left a cinema being drained by a viewing experience in the same way, and impressed by the performances of actors I hardly knew. Perhaps because it is a scenario we can all identify with, it makes you aware of how it could happen to almost anyone. You are on holiday abroad, driving in the car. You stop for fuel at a busy French service station. Your wife goes inside, to buy drinks and snacks. She doesn’t return.
What happens next in ‘The Vanishing’ (1998), is a chilling story with real drama, and edge of the seat tension. Incredible performances, tragedy and despair, and a simply unforgettable ending. One of the best ever.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day 21

Phew! ‘U’ is really hard. I had my top choice in mind, and ended up sticking with it. But there’s not much to leave for you, except a couple of obvious ones. Good luck with ‘U’!

I don’t laugh at many American comedians in films, no secret there. Adam Sandler leaves me cold, and though I might occasionally grin at Ben Stiller, that’s a stretch too. I have never watched ‘The Hangover’ films, and failed to raise a chuckle at anything involving Owen Wilson. Even ‘Dumb and Dumber’ left me checking the weather reports, for something more interesting. And don’t get me started on the legion of ‘buddy’ comedies. OK, I did laugh at ‘Bridesmaids’ (2011). A little bit.
One American comedian who always made me laugh was John Candy. Something about his smile, maybe his huge bulk, but he got to me every time. So, my first choice today is ‘Uncle Buck’ (1989). This can be watched over and over, never losing its charm or appeal as far as I am concerned. When he died, we lost a real comedy talent. I won’t bother to describe it, as you must have seen it. And if you haven’t, it’s because you don’t want to.

Another comedy film, this time starring ‘proper’ actors. Sometimes, a madcap comedy-drama works so well, it is irresistible. This was the case with ‘Used Cars’ (1980) Kurt Russell heads up a great cast, alongside Jack Warden, and Deborah Harmon. Warden plays two parts, as feuding brothers running very different car dealerships opposite each other. Russel is the pushy young salesman working for the less successful brother, determined to save his boss’s failing business. With some great set pieces, and credible performances all round, this is as enjoyable as it gets in that genre.

A dark thriller with more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at. An excellent plot, with really good performances from a crop of solid stars, and competent direction from Oliver Stone. Mix that together, and you get ‘U-Turn’ (1997). With Sean Penn in the lead as Bobby Cooper, perhaps the man with the unluckiest life ever committed to film, we see him fall foul of a chain of events that starts with his car breaking down in a small town in Arizona. He is attracted to the sexy wife of a local man, setting the scene for some very bad things to happen. Everyone in this film is worth watching, and they are all so good in it too. Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton, Jennifer Lopez, John Voigt, Powers Boothe, Claire Danes, Joaquin Phoenix. Now that’s what I call a cast list! And music from Ennio Morricone too.
It’s a cracker.

I often write about Scarlett Johansson on this blog. I confess that I could happily watch her just standing up. Or lying down. OK, she appeals to me, that’s obvious. Fortunately, she can act too. In this film, she isn’t required to do much acting, just to represent a strange figure from another world. So maybe anyone would have done? Not at all, because she was born to play the compelling alien presence in the wonderful ‘Under The Skin’ (2013). She can act without talking, using expressions and body language to convey the weirdness of a creature inhabiting the form of an attractive young woman. This unique and unusual film is just amazing to behold. All thanks to her.

A pretty obvious top pick, but I wasn’t about to let it go. Sorry. An ensemble cast, one of the best ideas in decades, a snappy script, great visuals, and a mind-bending plot. And Benicio del Toro as the wonderfully-named Fred Fenster. Yes, it doesn’t get any better than ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995). You also get the brilliant Chazz Palminteri, one man who surely deserves to be a bigger star, and the British legend Pete Postlethwaite, in one of his most unusual roles. To pile on the greatness, Kevin Spacey delivers his poised performance as Verbal, and also guarantees one of the best endings I have ever seen. If you have never seen this fantastic crime thriller, wait no longer. Watch it.
Who is KEYSER SOZE?

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Twenty

Even leaving off ‘The’, there is still a large number of films beginning with ‘T’. My top choice was once again exactly what you might expect from me, and I make no apologies for that. As usual, I have tried to leave out the better known films, including that one about a New York cab driver. I will concentrate on the more unusual ones, and leave the field wide open for comments.

Starting with a film I rarely see discussed. Eric Bogosian is the epitome of the fast-talking opinionated character seen in many American films. He was never better than as the obnoxious radio talk-show host Barry Champlain, in Oliver Stone’s film ‘Talk Radio’ (1988). Bogosian is just incredible as the outspoken radio presenter who specialises in putting down the callers, and cutting them dead with sarcasm and rudeness. Events take a dark turn when he upsets someone too much, little realising the consequences. This is based on a real incident, and there is strong support from Alec Baldwin and Ellen Greene too.

Back to 1936, and the screen adaptation from Alexander Korda of the H.G. Wells novel, ‘Things To Come’. Despite its age, this prescient film has great effects, as we see a world ravaged by war into a bleak future, with the only option left for mankind to start a new colony in outer space. Solid performances from Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson help to make this one of the original ‘Dystopian’ thrillers.

Some World Cinema picks have to include the sheer brilliance of ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979), with a mesmerising performance from David Bennent as Oskar, in this German film. The tale of a boy who decides never to grow up set in the time of the rise of the Nazis, is simply unforgettable, and a faithful adaptation of the Gunter Grass novel. (“Wo ist mein blechtrommel?”)
Almodovar’s ‘Talk to Her’ (2002) examines communication and obsession, with an unusual look at the relationship of two men, both caring for women who are in a coma. Complex and very different, this is unlike many of Almodovar’s madcap farces.
Spain again, and one of my favourite films dealing with the complexities of time travel. ‘Timecrimes’ (2007) is a sci-fi horror with a real diference. With many versions of the same character on screen at the same time, this inventive thriller never fails to fascinate, and it has a great twist too.

Now to a war film, and one that deals with war from another viewpoint. Despite magnificent battle scenes, and some stunning cinematography, Terence Malick’s 1998 film, ‘The Thin Red Line’, is a war epic like few others. Exploring the reluctance to fight, and the fears of the soldiers involved, this recreation of the fighting on Guadalcanal in WW2 is breathtaking to behold. The cast is too long to list here, but there are standout performances from Jim Calveizal, Nick Nolte, and Elias Koteas. Others include Sean Penn, and John Cusack, with a cameo from John Travolta too. The ‘other side’ are also featured, with an examination of the Japanese defenders that looks at them like human beings, with the same hopes and fears. Marvellous.

I could not leave out another of my all-time favourites. Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, and one of the best opening sequences ever filmed. Yes, ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958). This film gets better every time I watch it, with Welles nothing short of magnificent as the bloated and corrupt has-been cop, Quinlan. Lovingly filmed in black and white, with every element necessary for a compelling thriller, you can even forget a woefully miscast Charlton Heston, as a Mexican federal officer. This is film-making at its finest, and one of Welles’ best offerings.

I come to my final choice. Having left out so many ‘T’ films, it is wide open for you to comment.

A Japanese historical epic again. (No apologies) Kurosawa again. (No apologies) and Toshiro Mifune again. (Still no apologies.) I went to see this film as a teenager, and it has stayed with me for the fifty years since. Kurosawa used the plot of ‘Macbeth’, transporting the action to feudal Japan, and changing the names and locations. But he left in all the well known parts of the famous ‘Scottish play’, and presented us with an unforgettable version. ‘Throne of Blood’ (1957) might well be one of the best films ever made. Kurosawa’s vision is brought to the screen with amazing performances from Mifune as the Macbeth character, and Isuzu Yamada as a chilling Lady Macbeth, dominating every scene she is in.
The final battle at Spider’s Web Castle is a brilliantly choreographed set piece, as Mifune’s character is hunted down by his own soldiers.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Nineteen

If I thought that ‘R’ was hard, ‘S’ was almost impossible. So many I wanted to include, I had an A4 page for a shortlist. It gave me a real headache, and a late night too. Just trying to reduce the number down to a normal size post had me biting my nails over what I had to leave out. But I had to make some tough calls, and left out all the obvious ones that screamed in my head to be allowed on. Once again, I have settled for some obscure choices, and left you all to run riot with the rest.

Ricardo Darin again, and the wonderful Argentinian thriller, ‘The Secret In Their Eyes’. (2009) Oscar-winning excellence all round, in this film that spans a period of twenty five years, as a judge and his colleague investigate a rape and murder that becomes the focal point of their lives. From the discovery of a body in 1974, through the case being closed and reopened, to the unexpected and gripping climax, this film never lets up, and demands your attention at all times. It deserved that Oscar, undoubtedly.

I write a lot about war films, and there are hardly any I haven’t seen. But the German film ‘Stalingrad’ (1993) is one of the most authentic and convincing to ever look at events during WW2. Following a group of soldiers from a relaxing posting in Italy, to the sheer hell of the street fighting in the Russian city, this film is memorable for both its realistic portrayal of combat, and the sincerity of the performances from the mostly unknown cast. Beware of poor imitations.

Billy Bob Thornton had his finest hour in a film hardly anyone has seen, and is rarely mentioned. In the poignant thriller ‘Sling Blade’ (1996) he not only starred, but also wrote and directed the film too. This tale of a man released from a mental hospital in Arkansas, trying to fit back into society with a damaged mental state, is a film I have never forgotten. He befriends a local boy and his mother in his home town, and gets a job as a repair man. Events turn tragic, when the mother’s abusive boyfriend takes offence at her friendship with the man, and he in turn seeks to protect the family members who have become his friends. Thornton is just wonderful in this film, a sight to behold.

David Lynch’s film, ‘The Straight Story’ (1999) is based on a true story about a man using a powered lawn mower to travel across two states to visit his estranged brother. That’s it. Man on a lawn mower, driving a long way to see his brother. Sound dull? Pointless? You would be wrong. The wonderful Richard Farnsworth captivates as the gentle Alvin Straight, and the scenery and soundtrack are both magical too. The everyday situations Alvin finds himself in will make you look at the better side of life, the kindness and gentleness that we are capable of, if we just act like human beings. This is a life-affirming film, and made me feel a better person for just watching it. As well as Farnsworth, Sissy Spaceck and Harry Dean Stanton lend great support. One of the best, by far.

I have written about this film on my blog before, and also submitted a full review to a film website. It remains one of the enduring memories of my youth, and I still can’t forget how impressed I was when I first watched it, aged just fifteen. Jean-Pierre Melville’s French crime thriller, ‘Le Samourai’ (1967) has got nothing to do with Japanese warriors, so don’t be confused by the title. It deals with the life of a Parisian hit man, someone who lives a lonely life (like the samurai of old) on the wrong side of the law. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello with such overwhelming cool, that I immediately wanted to be him. (And still do) His girlfriend Jane (played by Delon’s sister, Nathalie) is his only real human contact, and she supplies the alibis that keep him from being arrested. After a hit, the police start to get on to Jef, and he tries to cover his tracks. Moody, beautifully shot, and oozing Parisian 60s cool, (including the Citroen DS car) this is one to catch up with.

Just one more (Only one? I cry) before my choice for today.

Gnashing my teeth at all the films I had to omit, I decided to increase the length of the post by adding this one. A great example of American film noir, ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’ (1957) gives Burt Lancaster one his most convincing and ‘baddest’ roles, as the bitchy columnist J. J. Hunsecker. He is a man who can destroy reputations overnight with a few words, and takes great delight in doing just that. Tony Curtis co-stars, as the weak press agent, Sidney Falco. He is a flattering and fawning man, willing to go to any lengths to get a a mention for his clients in Hunsecker’s column. When J.J.’s younger sister begins a romance with an up and coming young jazz musician, he uses Falco to discredit the young man, stopping at nothing to get what he wants. This is an insightful look at the newspaper industry, and still completely relevant today. “Match me, Sidney.”

No Japanese film today, and nothing from Akira Kurosawa either. But my top pick is another Asian film, this time from South Korea. Buddhist monks living in a floating temple, in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains. Spanning decades in the life of a young novice monk, and his wise mentor, ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring’ (2003) is something magical and unique. This is a spiritual and peaceful experience, watching how they live their lives, and how those lives change with the seasons, and the years going by. Viewing this film is like a combination of sitting looking at the best painting ever created, whilst being inside the most serene and contemplative spot on Earth.
There really is nothing else quite like it, I assure you.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Eighteen

So many films begin with ‘R’ that I could easily have written three posts on this one letter. This will leave you a lot of scope, as I am determined to leave out the films from Tarantino, Scorsese, and many others who have chosen ‘R’ titles. In fact, I will limit my choices to only World Cinema films this time. So, no mention of ‘Ride With The Devil’, ‘Right At Your Door’, ‘Ronin’, or many other favourites. (Oops…)
My top choice was always going to be a Japanese film anyway, so here are some more foreign language choices to lead you up to it.

Two Chinese films to start with. Both historical dramas, and equally ravishing to behold. They are also both directed by Zhang Yimou, and star the same female lead actress, the wonderful Gong Li. ‘Red Sorghum’ (1987) was the film that introduced us to both director and star. The story is told in flashback, to a China in the 1930s, during the war with Japan. Arriving as the arranged-marriage wife of a distillery owner, a young woman is shocked to find her husband dead, and she has no alternative but to take over the running of the business. This simple tale of peasants, murder, and foreign invasion is elevated by the outstanding performance from Gong Li, and the wonderful cinematography.
Four years later, and another sumptuous production, close to taking my top spot, ‘Raise The Red Lantern’ (1991). This film is set a little earlier, in the 1920s, with China still ravaged by opposing warlords. It tells the enchanting story of a young concubine (Gong Li). This educated woman is forced by the poverty of her family to become the fourth wife of the elderly Master Chen, a wealthy and influential man. The sets and costume are both superb, and the claustrophobic confines of her life inside the house are nicely rendered too. In the bitchy atmosphere of a house full of women, we see the 19 year-old attempt to move up the social ladder of her new family, and to gain the attention of Master Chen. Outstanding.

Even though it makes this post a little long, I could not leave out ‘Rome, Open City’ (1945). Rossellini’s stark wartime drama has a documentary feel, and unforgettable set pieces. The central performance from Anna Magnani is heartbreakingly good, and the rest of the cast members deliver too. With the SS searching for resistance fighters near the end of the war, the tension mounts, and the fugitives fear betrayal. This film is considered to be a classic of neo-realist cinema, and you will see why.

A Spanish zombie film might seem to be an unusual choice here, but ‘.rec’ (2007) is a real thriller. A TV crew are set to accompany a fire crew for a night shift in Barcelona. They intend to make a conventional fly on the wall documentary, following the firemen as they attend emergency calls. When they are called to an old apartment block to help police officers rescue a trapped old lady, all hell breaks loose. Soon, all those inside are quarantined, and suspicions are that the government knows all too well what has happened, and why. This is exciting, edge of the seat stuff. Full of unexpected shocks, realistic and gritty location filming, and mostly seen through a shaky newsman’s camera, as events unfold. I loved it, though the three sequels might well be considered unnecessary.

Another horror, this time from Japan. One of the few horror films to really creep me out, in adult life at least, the overwhelming ‘Ringu’ (1998) is Asian horror at its best. Menacing, unnerving, and genuinely scary, this tale of what happens to those who view a mysterious video tape had me watching with the lights on. It spawned some sequels, and a rather good American remake too, but the original is still the best. Don’t watch it alone!

A modern Indonesian film, ‘The Raid’ (2011) combines oriental martial arts with heavily armed gangsters, as a police SWAT team assault a tower block that has been taken over by a large criminal organisation. This is a non-stop action masterpiece, and just never lets up. Betrayal, extreme violence, and protracted shoot-outs guarantee to leave you feeling drained after watching it. The body count is enormous, and the pace unrelenting. And there is actually a story behind it all too. Police corruption, the breakdown of society in Jakarta, and the bravery of individual officers. I have yet to see the sequel, but this one was good enough for me.

Another Japanese film, and one more from Akira Kurosawa. Slightly changing the story of King Lear, and setting it in 16th century Japan, Kurosawa spared no expense for his final epic, ‘Ran’, (1985) ¬†Using countless extras to recreate the battles between feuding clan warlords, amazing location filming, and elaborate sets including specially built castles, this was the most expensive film ever made in Japan up to that time. And you will see why. This magnificent film is worth every penny, from the masterful battle scenes, to the detailed interiors, the historical accuracy is second to none. Compelling visuals of castles burning in the distance, and colourful flags merging on battlefields, this film is such a treat, I could watch it without subtitles.

To the top pick, and it will be no surprise to anyone that it is another Kurosawa film, this time in black and white and from 1950. These days, we are used to seeing films that take a single event, then show it from the point of view of different characters involved in it. It has become a familiar theme, and one we have all seen, in some form. But this was one of the earliest treatments of that idea, and to my mind, still the best. Starring the stalwart and always convincing Toshiro Mifune, ‘Rashomon’ is widely acclaimed to be an important film, and has been preserved by the Academy Film Archive. The story is set in the 12th Century, and deals with the murder of a samurai warrior, and the rape of his wife.
This event has been witnessed by various people, and they tell their story to the local court. In four segments, we hear different versions of what happened, even using a medium to relay the story of the dead man, from beyond the grave. Hard to describe, it just has to be seen.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Seventeen

Oh dear, the letter ‘Q’. Perhaps the most troublesome for film fans, along with ‘X’ and ‘Z’. But I found enough for a post, and look forward to you reminding me of some I have missed.

Straight in with a great monster film that I already know a couple of other bloggers love too. It may not be ‘high art’, but it is certainly very enjoyable. Who says I don’t do ‘fun’?
‘Q- The Winged Serpent’ (1982) has a solid cast, and was made on a low budget by Larry Cohen, who wrote, produced, and directed it too. An Aztec god from Ancient Mexico, in the form of a winged serpent, comes to life at the top of the Chrysler Building in New York City, swooping down from this high place to eat passing pedestrians. Meanwhile, detectives are trying to cope with a rash of ritual murders, also seemingly based on ancient Aztec cults. This is a really enjoyable ‘creature feature’, and as well as the ‘terrifying’ winged serpent, you also get the excellent Michael Moriarty, alongside David Carradine, and Richard Roundtree. Switch off your brain, and enjoy the romp.

In 1979, Franc Roddam brought 1960s cool to the big screen, with the teen drama, ‘Quadrophenia.’ Looking at the famous ‘Mods and Rockers’ clashes on the south coast of England, this film follows characters on both sides of the fashion cults, and recreates the period in convincing style. A great cast of the best of young British actors at the time deliver memorable performances. Many went on to greater things, including Ray Winstone, Toyah Wilcox, and Phil Daniels. And there is Sting, as the cool as ice Mod, who is the envy of all the others. Music from The Who sets the scene perfectly. A classic.

I went to see ‘Quest For Fire’ at the cinema in 1981, and left the auditorium staggered by the invention of this unusual film. I have never seen it since, and I don’t think it has ever been shown on TV, but I have never forgotten it. It is set 80,000 years ago, with primitive man desperate to hold on to the small fire that brings life to their people. They carry it everywhere, and guard the flame at all costs. When it is accidentally allowed to go out, three of the tribe go off on a quest to find another fire. Their exploits on this dangerous mission make up the bulk of the film. It was filmed in some amazing locations, from Scotland, to Africa. Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong lead the cast, and the make up that turned them into convincing people from the Paleolithic age won an Oscar.
Anyone else seen it?

Sidney Lumet has made some great films, and ‘Q&A’ (1990) is one of them. With a powerhouse performance from Nick Nolte, as corrupt cop Mike Brennan, and a solid Timothy Hutton as the District Attorney investigating one of his cases. Armand Assante delivers a suitably oily performance as the Puerto Rican gangster, Bobby Tex, and the love interest comes from Jenny Lumet, (the director’s daughter) as Nancy. This is an excellent thriller, full of twists and turns, with Nolte dominating the action throughout.

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush turns in a fascinating performance as The Marquis de Sade, in ‘Quills’ (2000). It gained him acting nominations for the ‘big three’; Oscar, Bafta, and Golden Globe. The film covers the last years of his life, and we find him locked up in an insane asylum. As it deals with the actions of the man who gave us the word ‘Sadist’, and his notorious lifestyle, you can expect issues such as sex and violence to be explored, and they are. The cast is stellar indeed, with Kate Winslet, Michael Caine, and Joaquin Phoenix, among others. A convincing period drama, dealing with a little-known subject.

To leave some for you to explore, I will go on to my last choice for ‘Q’, and today’s top pick.

Another period drama, this time in French, from director Patrice Chereau. ‘Queen Margot’ (1994) is of course known as ‘La Reine Margot’ in its home country, but for this challenge, I am using English titles where appropriate. This is one of my favourite historical films, with Isabelle Adjani as the titular Queen, in the turbulent religious wars of sixteenth century France. She plays the daughter of Catherine de Medici, given in marriage to the Protestant King of Navarre, Henri. (Daniel Auteuil). Unhappy with the marriage, Margot begins an illicit affair with a soldier, (Vincent Perez) which leads to more intrigues and murders at the French Court. The film has great pace, and includes a stunning recreation of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in 1572. Always authentic and historically accurate too, this is a French epic to savour.