Sunday, 3 January 2016

Year End Stuffs & Top 20 First Time Viewings for 2015.

Mickey Curtis as Ono-san in ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ (Sion Sono, 2013)

After somehow managing to watch zero contemporary films during 2014, I did a little better in 2015, catching several ‘new’ movies, along with a number of memorable items from that currently booming segment of the market - documentaries about old movies.

As regards the former, we went to see ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, and you what? Eff the haters, it kicked ass. Though rich in minor aesthetic missteps just waiting to be griped about, they amount to small beer indeed within the context of a movie that pretty much takes every living Hollywood action/blockbuster director back to school and shows them how it’s done. Let’s hope they were paying attention.

Elsewhere, I watched ‘Terminator: Genisys’ on the plane to Japan, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, although having said that, I was expecting it to be pretty much the worst film I had ever seen, so that’s faint praise indeed. In between a dreadful opening twenty minutes and a dreadful closing twenty minutes though, it managed to incorporate a lot of ideas and set-pieces that could theoretically have been part of an actual good movie, which is more than I was expecting.

I also watched a recent Japanese film (a manga adaptation, presumably) released to English audiences under the name ‘Assassination Classroom’. This was notable for its absolutely loopy high concept premise (imagine perhaps a misguided mash-up of ‘Battle Royale’, ‘The Thing’ and ‘Dead Poet’s Society’), but proved disappointing in that it failed to really capitalise on any of the more interesting aspects of its odd subject matter, instead taking a goofy, non-threatening family comedy approach that, combined with a regrettable reliance on cheap CGI conjuring tricks, ultimately rendered it both charmless and borderline insufferable. It would have been interesting to see what a decent/risk-taking director like Takashi Miike or Sion Sono might have done with the property, but never mind, can’t have everything I suppose.

Oh, and I also began 2015 by watching Alex Cox’s ‘Bill the Galactic Hero’, which didn’t really work for me for a variety of reasons, but, like most recent Cox films, it was a noble experiment in the limits of DIY, outside-the-industry genre filmmaking, and deserves a certain amount of praise for that alone.

On the documentary side meanwhile, ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’, ‘Lost Soul: the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau’, ‘Eurocrime! The Italian Cop & Gangster Films That Ruled the ‘70s’, ‘Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films’ and of course Andrew Leavold’s ‘The Search for Weng Weng’ all comprise various degrees of essential viewing for those who enjoy the kind of material covered on this blog, with the first two in particular filling out the fertile new niche of documentaries about old films that don’t actually exist.

I think that just about wraps up new film things experienced in 2015, so let’s move onto a quick run-down of the best old movies I watched for the first time in 2015.

I very much enjoyed doing a list along these lines last year, so for 2015 I’ve expanded it to a top 20, and added a brief write up for each entry. If nothing else, hopefully it will at least serve as a reminder that the kind of dusty old gothic horror flicks that I tend to end up writing about here do not by any means present a full picture of my cinematic tastes.

1. The Getaway  
(Sam Peckinpah, 1972)

Though one of Peckinpah’s most commercial films, for my money ‘The Getaway’ ranks alongside the very best of his more ‘personal’ projects. Although little remains of the spirit of Jim Thompson’s novel, the sheer quantity of blood, sweat and tears exerted here to turn what could have been a forgettable star vehicle into a visually captivating, emotionally resonant and formally innovative piece of cinema is little short of breathtaking.

2. The Long Good Friday 
 (John Mackenzie, 1980)

How did I manage to get so far in life without watching this one? Whilst there have been many British crime / gangster films worthy of praise over the years, let’s just say that it would be difficult to contemplate a list of such that didn’t place Mackenzie’s film at #1. An exemplary example of the form, and a sickeningly relevant indictment of the effects of pre/post Thatcherite ideologies on British society too, should you wish to ‘go there’.

3. Runaway Train 
(Andrey Konchalovskiy, 1985)

Another flick that smashes through the boundaries of genre cinema into realms of epic, white-knuckled catharsis, this one-off mongrel production (Russian director, American cast, Canadian location, Isreali financiers, Japanese scenario writer..) is the kind of film that just leaves you feeling flattened, in awe of what those on both sides of the camera managed to achieve in what one imagines must have been pretty trying circumstances.

4. 8 Diagram Pole Fighter 
(Chia-Liang Liu, 1984)

I still didn’t have much of an idea what ‘eight diagram pole fighting’ is when I got to the end of this late period Shaw Bros ballet of acrobatic Shaolin mayhem, but I did know that I felt very much like applauding ‘til my hands fell off, before succumbing to dizziness and passing out. Wildly inventive, astonishingly choreographed and authentically blood-thirsty, this is about as good as kung-fu cinema gets.

5. Kids Return 
(Takeshi Kitano, 1996)

Stepping back somewhat from the absurdist violence and world-weary fatalism that defined Kitano’s better known early yakuza films, this compassionate, low key coming of age tale goes for a considerably more direct approach, but nonetheless manages to hit exactly the right notes, thus allowing me to heartily recommend it to viewers for whom the concept of a “compassionate, low key coming of age tale” sounds like complete anathema.

6. Raw Force  
(Edward Murphy, 1982)

If you find yourself in search of the perfect gift for the ‘cult movie’ aficionado in your life at some point in the near future, I recommend acquiring a copy of this movie (as rescued from oblivion last year by Vinegar Syndrome), adding a case of beer, then retreating to a safe distance and listening to the sound of an exploitation fan’s dreams coming true. Seemingly shot by a gang of drunken, horny ex-G.I.s let loose in the Philippines on a mission to fuse ‘Enter the Dragon’ with ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Raw Force’ may be ragged as all hell and ethically questionable to boot, but its first two thirds comprise such a hyper-kinetic rampage of filmed-on-the-fly destruction that by the time we eventually get around to the kung-fu zombies, we’re almost too exhausted to even care. Featuring Cameron Mitchell as a grizzled alcoholic sea captain, more boobs-per-minute than any other non-erotic film I’ve seen in my life, and an actor successfully delivering a flying kick to the window of a moving van, among other delights.

7. Thief 
(Michael Mann, 1981)

Until recently, I would have been apt to claim that the work of neither Michael Mann nor James Caan appealed to me a great deal, but turns out this monomaniacal masterpiece of ultra-stylised, post-Melville crime cinema is pretty hard to fault on any level, be it aesthetic, technical, emotional, narrative, performance, believability, directorial vision, or whatever. The kind of film that should come complete with a ‘Masters At Work – Do Not Disturb’ sign for the screening room door, it’s so good it’s almost suspicious.

8. Dust Devil 
(Richard Stanley, 1992)

Though it constantly threatens to topple over into realms of monumental pretension, Richard Stanley’s South African occult serial killer yarn is ultimately an extremely impressive piece of work, achieving a weighty atmospheric heft and skirting around some genuinely unsettling metaphysical ideas in the process. Rather like a late ‘80s Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore Vertigo-type comic book put on film, I thought.

9. Furious  
(Tim Everitt & Tom Sartori, 1984)

Transcendental VHS stoner-fu bafflement as it’s finest, as extensively discussed here.

10. Ikarie XB1  
(Jindrich Polák, 1963)

This pioneering Czech science fiction film may not boast a story that in any way sets it apart from legions of other ‘60s space adventures, but in terms of tone, atmosphere and production design, it is entirely remarkable, breaking away from the garish technicolor hi-jinks of most of it’s Star Trek-era contemporaries to establish a moodier, more existential take on cinematic space travel that wouldn’t really come into its own until ‘2001’ (for which it served as a direct reference point), ‘Dark Star’ and eventually ‘Alien’ all took the ball and ran with it.

11. Night of the Sorcerers  
(Amando de Ossorio, 1974)

Quintessential euro-trash perfection, as Jack Taylor and Kali Hansa take on daffy quai-Satanic voodoo in the darkest heart of a strangely Iberian looking Africa, and no one can quite find the courage to tell de Ossario that filming his vampire fangs & fur bikini equipped ‘leopard women’ in Blind Dead-esque slow-mo really won’t serve to make them in any way scary. What we in the biz like to call “a hoot”.

12. Plein Soleil  
(René Clément, 1960)

This Alain Delon-starring adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ may well have been higher up this list, were it not for the fact that I watched a fuzzy pan & scan version of it on an Air France LCD screen whilst zonked out mid-way through a flight home from Tokyo. I believe there’s a UK blu-ray available, so I’ll see what I can do in regards to a proper screening some time. Too cool for school, anyway.

13. Battles Without Honour & Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

This first sequel in the ‘Battles..’ series may not hold a candle to the iconic opening instalment, but taken on it’s own merits it’s still yet another cracking yakuza flick from master Fukasaku, with the set-piece in which mad dog Sonny Chiba’s gang storm their opponents’ HQ in particular standing out as one of the most hair-raisingly chaotic and desperate sequences the director ever shot (which is saying something).

14. Devil’s Kiss 
(Jordi Gigó, 1976)

Cheap and cheerful Spanish/Italian ramble through the conventions of the ‘Erotic Castle Movie’ takes movie blogger to a happy place – story at eleven. (Accusations that “it’s just like a Eurocine movie without the sleaze” strenuously denied.)

15. Night Moves  
(Arthur Penn, 1975)

As a Chandler-esque detective story, the logic of this one slips through your fingers like a sandwich left out in the rain, but as a mood piece it sticks in my mind very strongly, with it’s portrait of a world in which the pre-baby boomer generation find themselves cynical, divorced and lost as middle-age sets in ultimately proving more harrowing than any of the routine private eye business. Somehow, the closing image of Gene Hackman lying with his leg broken, adrift in a stolen pleasure boat, says it all really. He’s solved the case, but nobody ever really cared either way. (A potentially perfect double feature with Altman’s ‘The Long Goodbye’, needless to say.)

16. Mahakaal  
(Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay, 1993)

Naturally enough, the Ramsay Bros decade-late answer to ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ takes the time to include Michael Jackson impersonations, kaleidoscopic tracksuit-clad musical numbers, rapey drunken guffawing villains meeting kung-fu based comeuppances, a positively psychedelic water bed murder set-piece and one of the most elaborate monster lair / Satanic altar sets in movie history. As fans of this heroic family, we would have expected nothing less.

17. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll  
(Terence Fisher, 1960)

A much under-rated and under-discussed early entry in the Hammer horror cycle, this take on the Jekyll & Hyde mythos offers up some pretty shocking surprises to those who associate Fisher’s films solely with stuffy Victorian moralism, largely as a result of Wolf Mankowitz’s sexually charged and somewhat psychotic scripting, and a fabulously louche performance from Christopher Lee as a debauched young aristocrat. Going somewhat beyond the confines of ‘bawdy’ into outright lewdness, it unsurprisingly made the British censors have kittens, and subsequent cuts probably did much to harm it’s reputation, but it is nonetheless a fascinating oddity in the Hammer catalogue, and definitely worthy of fans’ time, despite a few significant flaws.

18. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail  
(Sergio Martino, 1971)

George Hilton smarms magnificently whilst Anita Strindberg plots and freaks and Luigi Pistilli does his Columbo bit in this splendid Martino giallo that I somehow overlooked when I was first going through these a few years back. I’d say it’s one of Martino’s best, but then to be honest I can’t think of an entry in this loose cycle that isn’t one of his best. (Scores bonus Jess Franco points for featuring both Janine Reynaud and Luis Barboo too.)

19. The Case of the Bloody Iris  
(Giuliano Carnimeo, 1972)

Edwige, George and the gang in another top tier giallo that I’d imagine must often by mistaken for a Martino flick, for fairly obvious reasons. This is the one where Edwige and another fashion model share an apartment leased to them by Hilton and there’s a psycho love-cult leader ex-boyfriend out to get her… or is there? Etc etc. Fantastic, tripped out visuals, a great Bruno Nicolai score and some wonderfully kinky moments make this one of the best entries in the entire genre from a non-household name director, I reckon.

20. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times  
(Emilio Miraglia, 1972)

Ending this list on a hat trick of giallo greatness, this ultra-campy rampage perhaps even bests Miraglia’s more widely seen ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ for stretching the genre’s conventions to their absolute silliest extreme. A wise man says: if this was only the 20th most enjoyable film you saw in a year, you had a pretty good year.


Anonymous said...

Great list. Glad someone else enjoyed DEVIL'S KISS as much as I did. The booklet that comes with the Arrowdrome DVD comes close to apologising for reissuing the movie at all, but I loved ever minute. said...

Ahh Runaway Train great movie!

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