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.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Sixteen

I am really cheered by how so many of you have continued to engage with this challenge, and to add your thoughts and suggestions every day, without fail. It has been genuinely appreciated, as have the numerous re-blogs, re-tweets and other mentions.

We have arrived at the letter ‘P’. What do you think? Lots of choices? There are a great deal, I assure you. And there are three of my all-time favourites, so at least I am happy. I am generously leaving you the obvious titles to explore, and once again concentrating on some that are lesser-known.

In 1960, Michael Powell made what is still perhaps one of the least-known but most effective early psychological horror films, with ‘Peeping Tom’. This British thriller is set in the seedy world of glamour photography, and features Carl Boehm as an aspiring film-maker, earning money to finance his projects by taking photos of young women in saucy underwear. But the amiable young man hides a dark family secret, unknown to the girl who aspires to be his girlfriend. (Anna Massey) With unusual camera angles, a few genuine shocks, and wonderful settings in London before the time of youth culture, this is one of my favourite films in the genre, and worth watching for anyone serious about cinema.

A lot of you are aware of my love for the silent era actress Louise Brooks. She had what is perhaps the best hairstyle of any film star, with her roaring twenties ‘killer bob’. She had beauty too, and an acting talent that made her a box office smash. Her private life was also scandalous. Affairs with both men and women, and living life to the full, in European cities between the wars. ‘Pandora’s Box’, made in 1929, is my favourite film of hers, charting the rise and fall of the vivacious Lulu, as she exploits her career as a courtesan for rich men, until bad luck and murder find her destitute in London, and a chance meeting with a certain Jack The Ripper. Don’t worry about the story, or the holes in the plot, just watch Louise. You will glad you did.

Stanley Kubrick is a rightly-acclaimed director. One of my favorite films of his is the WW1 drama, ‘Paths OF Glory’ (1957). This fact-based tale of events in the French army during that war gives Kirk Douglas one of his best and most satisfying roles. Impressive recreations of trench warfare, sharp black and white filming, and a completely perfect cast, all lend this film a real authenticity. One of the best films ever made about WW1, without a doubt.

Lee Marvin brought gravitas to the wonderful crime thriller, ‘Point Blank’ (1967). John Boorman’s film saw Marvin at his intense best, as the wronged criminal, Walker, seeking revenge on the mob, and his wife, who had both betrayed him. Told in flashback, the superb opening sequence alone is worth the admission ticket, and the relentless pace never ceases to enthrall the viewer. Mel Gibson starred in the remake, ‘Payback’ (1999), changing some elements and names too. Stick with Marvin’s original. You won’t be sorry.

Peter Weir again, this time from 1975, and ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’. This dream-like fantasy of Australian schoolgirls on a picnic outing to the Hanging Rock in the year 1900 has never been bettered, with an overwhelming sense of mystery, and a surreal feel. Haunting theme music, wonderful casting, and impressive location filming all add up to a complete cinema experience that you will never forget. Great performances from the likes of Helen Morse and Rachel Roberts just pile on the quality.

An unusual choice for me. A ‘Brat-Pack’ romantic drama from 1986, ‘Pretty In Pink’ delivered. With reliable performances from Molly Ringwald, Harry Dean Stanton, and the overlooked Jon Cryer, this film had it all. The teen romance centering on the high school prom, with its ‘rich boy-poor girl’ theme, was re-worked into a convincing adult drama, along with serious performances, and outstanding music. For me, the best of John Hughes’ work, and I still love it, to this day.

Regretting all those left behind, and hoping you mention them, I come to my choice for today.

This haunting Spanish film combines childhood fantasy, with the brutal reality of adult life following the protracted civil war in Spain. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2206) is my favourite film from Guillermo Del Toro, and the dramatic events are interspersed with compelling wonder, anchored by an outstanding central performance from child actress, Ivana Baquero. Escaping from the brutal realities of Fascist repression, and the cruelty of her step-father, young Ofelia descends into a nightmarish dream world, populated by fantastic creatures. It is not only unique in its concept, it is unforgettable.

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Fifteen

Up to the letter ‘O’. It’s another challenging one, though my top choice was already made. I am interested to see what you think of these ‘O’ films, and to read your own selections. I think I have left out enough obvious ones for some of you to mention.

I rarely mention comedy films on this blog. However, I am a lifelong fan of the madcap comedy of the British star, Will Hay. He made a series of films with an ensemble cast, with his most successful period during the 1930s. Accompanied by the grizzled figure of Moore Marriott, and the overgrown schoolboy character always portrayed by Graham Moffatt, he produced a series of hilarious films looking at aspects of British life at the time. ‘Oh Mr Porter’ (1937) remains as one of my enduring favourites, and is also a fascinating glimpse at a railway industry that has long disappeared from this country.

Ten years later, and Carol Reed directed a convincing James Mason in the dark thriller, ‘Odd Man Out’ (1947). Set in Belfast, this is an early look at ‘The Troubles’, the war of Irish Nationalists against British rule of the six counties. Ably supported by Robert Newton and Cyril Cusack, Mason stars as Johhny, the leader of an IRA group operating in the city. After a robbery goes wrong, the action follows a wounded Johnny as he seeks shelter in the city at different locations. Memorable indeed.

More or less accurately described at the time as ‘High Noon’ in space, an almost forgotten Sean Connery role takes my next spot. One of my favourite ‘Space’ films, I have always wondered why ‘Outland’ (1981) is so rarely mentioned. Connery is on great form as the lawman of the future, given the bleak and unpopular posting to the lawless mining colony of Con-Am 27. Unexplained deaths, drugs, prostitution, and a huge corporation out to get him, this film has all the elements of a crime thriller and western combined, imaginatively transferred to a distant planet. The tension is ever present, and the performances solid. Connery is confronted by the villainous Peter Boyle, and turns for help to the kindly female doctor, played with conviction by Frances Sternhagen. This is a really good film, and deserves to be better known.

In the shadow of ‘The Godfather’, another gangster saga is often missed. With leading roles for Robert de Niro, James Woods, and many other fine actors, ‘One Upon A Time In America’ (1984) is an epic work from Sergio Leone. It follows a group of young New Yorkers from their childhood on the streets, through to late middle age. The full-length edit (available on DVD) runs to over four hours, and is far superior to the widely distributed shorter version. Lovingly recreated period feel, memorable set-pieces, and beautifully filmed by Leone. Add a wonderful soundtrack too, and you have a complete cinema experience.

Rarely does a remake meet the standards of a good original. This is one case where it almost succeeds, but not quite. The crime thriller ‘Old Boy’ (2003) is a masterful Korean film, presenting one of the most unusual stories ever filmed. With a killer twist near the end, this unforgettable work from Park Chan-Wook wowed both audiences and critics alike, and with good reason. To avoid spoilers, I cannot really describe the story, but I will say, “just see it!”
Ten years later, the film was remade, this time by the talented Spike Lee. I approached this with some trepidation, but I am pleased to be able to tell you that it is actually very good indeed. Josh Brolin is a revelation in the starring role, and the story stays true to the Korean original. But watch the 2003 original first. Please.

My choice today is a Japanese film that proves it was not only Akira Kurosawa who made outstanding films in that country. A few years after its release, I went to see this film as a teenager, at the National Film Theatre, in London. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. This historical story of women preying on wounded and displaced samurai warriors in the spooky marshlands of feudal Japan is a visual feast in black and white. Jealousy, murder, and a scary mask may not sound like much, I agree. But don’t be fooled by the description, it is just magnificent. ‘Onibaba’ (1964).

A Magazine Photoshoot

When I received the copies of the latest Longshot Island magazine containing my published story, Daniel suggested I might like to take some photos of the magazines in unusual places. As the sun came out today, I decided to do just that. This is the first of two parts.

All photos can be enlarged for detail by clicking on them.

Ollie found a relaxing riverside bench on which to enjoy reading his copy of Longshot Island. It was a warm day though, and he went into the river for a drink. When he came out, he had forgotten where he had left that precious periodical, so rushed off so fast in search of it, he blurred the photo!

Over on Hoe Rough, we saw this sign warning of Private Property behind the fence. However, this copy of Longshot Island was so determined to show how good its contents are, it tried to jump the wire.

Further on, I was delighted to find a rare example of a Longshot Island magazine tree. The previous issue had already fallen to the ground, as it was over-ripe. However, the new editions are just right for picking now.

Nearby, I was excited to see a rabbit reading my own story in the very latest edition of Longshot Island. I approached him to see what he thought, but he was scared of Ollie, so ran off down his rabbit-hole.

Part two follows soon!

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Fourteen

On the ‘home straight’ now, and up to the letter ‘N’. I have an idea for my top pick, so let’s see if it stays the course today. There is not a huge number of film titles beginning with ‘N’, yet many of those are very good indeed. I will be leaving out some of the obvious classics, and some modern films for you to mention. As always, I much appreciate all the comments, and continued involvement.

To start, two black and white classics, with very different themes. ‘Jules Dassin set ‘Night and The City’ (1950) in post-war London. Suitably dark, for the film noir style, Richard Widmark stars as the hustler on the edge of the criminal underworld, with Gene Tierney as the requisite girl in danger, and Herbert Lom suitably villainous as the betting fixer. Perhaps not as good as its reputation, the film nonetheless has pace, and it is beautifully filmed too, in locations that have changed greatly since.
The first, and arguably still the best mainstream zombie film, Romero’s original ‘Night of The Living Dead’ (1968) managed to scare the pants off me as a teenager. With all the zombie films that have followed, many from Romero himself, we have seen more gore, and great improvements in special effects. But his 60s scarer still has power, and the claustrophobic feel never goes away.

One of my favourite modern epics, and an historical saga of life in rural Italy, ‘Novecento’ (1976) covers a group of characters during the turbulent years of Italian history, from 1900 to 1945. It’s all there; peasant farmers, cruel landlords, the rise of Communism and Fascism, and two world wars. Bernardo Bertolucci delivers the sweeping vistas and wonderful set pieces he is known for, and despite the running time of over five hours in the original cut, (reduced to four hours for the one-film edit) this never gets tiring to watch. As well as the Italian actors, many famous faces grace the cast. They are dubbed into Italian, and very well done it is too. Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Burt Lancaster, and many, many more. This might be the best film you have never seen.

I like smart and snappy con-man films, and they have rarely been done better than in the Argentinian film, ‘Nine Queens’ (2000). Starring the excellent Ricardo Darin, and set in an unfamiliar Buenos Aires, this is a superb film about the mishaps that befall a couple of fruadsters who live a life of crime. Full of twists and turns, and with great pacing too, it really is one to see. It has been remade, but I suggest you give that version a wide berth, and stick with the original.

Ray Liotta has had a mixed career. Despite his standout performance in ‘Goodfellas’, he often takes roles in poor films, and sells his talents cheaply. However, one starring role was just made for him, and he grabbed it with both hands. Almost overlooked, the gritty and bleak thriller, ‘Narc’ (2002) sees him as corrupt cop Henry Oak, being investigated by undercover officer Nick Tellis, (Jason Patric) a man with his own past demons to overcome. Liotta has a real presence in the film, and despite the nasty character of Henry, I couldn’t help but like his portrayal of a man who is not all what he seems to be.

In case you were wondering, I am not leaving out ‘Network’ (1976). Sidney Lumet’s satirical drama is as relevant now as it has ever been. Peter Finch is just wonderful as TV anchorman Howard Beale, and delivers his descent into madness with flair. Faye Dunaway has one of her finest Oscar-winning hours as the head of the programme, alongside a reliable turn from William Holden, as the sympathetic president of the network. There is Robert Duvall too, as the cynical TV man who agrees to exploit Beale’s madness for ratings. Four Oscars, all well deserved. You will never feel the same about watching TV again.

My choice for today is another foreign language film. No surprise there. The original version of ‘Nikita’ (1990), from Luc Besson, is still one of my favourite French films. Stylish, original, and with a great cast, this is a thriller to enjoy over and over again. The lovely Anne Parillaud is rarely seen, and that makes her starring role in this intriguing assassin-thriller all the better. The rest of the cast step up to the plate, delivering similarly memorable performances. With the legendary Jeanne Moreau, and the brilliant Tcheky Karo, this is modern French film making at its exciting best. And Jean Reno is in it too!

(This trailer is in French, but the film has subtitles.)

A-Z Film Challenge: Day Thirteen

The letter ‘M’, and halfway through. Time for some thoughts about spending thirteen days coming up with a post on the same subject. They are nearly all positive, you might be surprised to hear. By my standards, views of the posts have been spectacular, averaging well over 200 a day. Visitors have also increased by around 20%, and many new followers have arrived too. After spending so much time on this project, that level of interest is rewarding indeed. I have greatly enjoyed the numerous comments that this topic has generated too.

I might never do another challenge though! 🙂

On to the films, and my choices for ‘M’. Once again, I have already decided well in advance which one is deserving of my top pick, so it’s up to you to add your own choices. ‘M’ films are numerous indeed, and many popular ones will be glaringly obvious. So, I have missed those out completely, and tried for the more obscure this time.

I am starting with Martin Scorsese once more, and two stars who looked remarkably young, back in 1973. A return also to the theme of organised crime, and small-time gangsters on the streets of New York City. Seventeen years before ‘Goodfellas’, Scorsese explored similar themes in ‘Mean Streets’, starring Harvey Keitel, and Robert De Niro. Loan-sharks, Mafia families, and the overwhelming guilt associated with the Catholic faith. It’s all here, and played to perfection.
The cracking French crime thriller, ‘Mesrine: Killer Instinct’ (2008) rarely gets a mention. This two-part biopic of a real criminal, starring Vincent Cassel and Gerard Depardieu, is gripping from the start, and never lets go. Exciting set pieces and fully-wound tension make this film one of my favourites in the genre.

Next is the marvellous Korean film, ‘Memories of Murder’ (2003). Based on the actual events surrounding Korea’s first ever serial killer, in 1986, this is a fascinatingly detailed look at the long police investigation into those murders, and the two detectives who devote their lives to solving the case. Dealing with a time period from 1986 until 2003, the film covers every aspect of the investigation, and remains riveting until the last frame.

One of the most surreal films I have ever seen, the Belgian black comedy, ‘Man Bites Dog’ (1992) is definitely a one-off. Taking the idea of ‘Reality TV’ to a new extreme, a film crew follow the daily activities of a serial-killer, as he dispatches his victims. Although they start off filming his activities in a dispassionate way, they eventually become drawn into a reluctant collaboration in his crimes. Its subject matter is very dark, and sometimes disturbing too. But there are also moments when you will find yourself laughing out loud. You won’t see another film like this, I assure you.

I could not cover ‘M’ without mentioning ‘Magic’ (1978). Anthony Hopkins excels as the ventriloquist slowly losing his mind, becoming obsessed with ‘Fats’, his scary-looking stage dummy. Unable to separate the two personalities, the dummy soon starts to control both his mind, and his actions. It’s a solid thriller, with good support from Burgess Meredith, and Ed Lauter. But it’s not a great film, so why am I including it? Simply because of Ann-Margaret. She was 31 years old when she co-starred in this film, and she has never looked better. I could watch her standing still.

Two films from the master film-maker, Fritz Lang. ‘Metropolis’ (1927) is the science fiction epic that started it all. Undeniably inspiring every dystopian thriller and futuristic film since, it does’t get better than this visually stunning original. Peter Lorre got to star in a film for once, when Lang cast him as the reviled child-killer in ‘M’ (1931). (That’s the title) Lang considered this to be his best work, and Lorre is superb as the creepy killer, with the police procedures behind the hunt for him providing a fascinating look at the new science of forensics at the time. Despite its age, and all that has come since, this remains a gripping example of a crime story.

I would love to have had the space to include so many more. ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ (2001), Billy Bob Thornton on his best form, in a Coen brothers classic. ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’ (1983) with a haunting performance from David Bowie, as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. And Woody Allen’s warm and witty tribute to New York City, ‘Manhattan’ (1979).
But on to my choice for today.

Sometimes, you expect a film to be one thing, and it tuns out to be something very different indeed. Then things happen in that film that leave lifelong impressions on your mind. You watch it to the end, feeling almost guilty at being a witness to the events portrayed, but unable to turn away, fascinated by things you never imagined you would see. Some films you can only ever watch once, and this is such a film. Abduction, imprisonment, physical abuse, a strange and sinister organisation, and the terrible fate awaiting the victims. Sounds like a horror film, doesn’t it? And you would be almost right, as it is not only sold as such, but it is genuinely horrific. I doubt I have ever been so affected by a film that did not tell a true story, but instead a fictional tale that felt all too plausible.

Incredible acting from a cast who will not be known to most viewers, ideas and themes bordering on a vision of Hell, and some incredible film-making into the bargain. If you think you can possibly stand it, then I unreservedly recommend the French-Canadian film, ‘Martyrs’ (2008). It has since been remade in America, but just forget that. Watch the original, and be amazed. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Just been watching…(39)

Kajaki: The True Story (2014)

***No plot spoilers***

I had to interrupt my A-Z Challenge for this outstanding film. Also known as ‘Kilo Two Bravo’, this recent British film looks at the real life events experienced by a patrol of British paratroops, in Afghanistan in 2006. With a cast of unknown actors in the main, the authenticity of this film can be felt right from the opening scenes. I have seen a lot of war films in my long life, and this is undoubtedly one of the best.

Manning an outpost overlooking the Kajaki Dam, a company of the 3rd Batallion, The Parachute Regiment, are living a fairly dull existence. Routine observation, collecting supplies, and swimming in the dam take up a lot of their time. Then one night, they notice Taliban activity in the area below, and resolve to investigate, the next morning. A patrol sets off, on what is to be a routine mission, on the other side of the valley. After descending a goat track, they arrive at the cover of a dusty wadi, and proceed to walk through it. One of the team steps on a mine, and is seriously injured.

The patrol call for help, and it soon arrives. More troops and a medic show up, and they call for helicopter evacuation too. But there are mines everywhere, (presumably left behind by the Russians) and very soon, other members of the group are injured. When the promised helicopter eventually arrives, it does more harm than good, as the down-draught disturbs even more mines, and further explosions follow. By this time, I was completely gripped, and literally on the edge of my seat. (Sofa) Despite the lateness of the hour, I just knew that I would continue to watch.

I cannot praise this exceptional film highly enough. There is no fire-fight, no contact with the enemy, and all the action surrounds the desperate situation of the small group of soldiers trapped in that minefield. This is a film about courage, endurance, real bravery, and indomitable human spirit, in the face of horrifying events. The cast is superb, and the prosthetics used to simulate the injuries have never been bettered. I worked as an EMT for 22 years, and I was overwhelmed by the accuracy of the terrible injuries depicted in this film.

I guarantee that you will be also be gripped, and consumed by emotion, when watching this devastating film, even if you would not normally watch a ‘war film’. It will show you something of the indomitable human spirit that you would never have witnessed, unless you have been in a similar situation. During the closing credits, they feature the actual soldiers involved, and give an account of their fate, and what happened next. I was profoundly moved, and I cannot ever forget the impact that this film has had on me. I urge you to watch it, to realise just what happened, and to look behind the ‘casualty lists’.