#111 – Christmas Ghost, The

(1995, US, 92 min) Dir Andy Farmer. Cast Christopher Lloyd, Lizzie Phillips, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Idle.

Big budget screen version of the 1960’s short lived animated TV show with Christopher Lloyd as the voice of the Christmas Ghost. It’s December the 24th and young Patty and her father (Phillips and Aykroyd) are moving into their new house, Gotspold Manor. On the first night the Christmas Ghost appears, initially frightening Patty but she gets to know him and vows to solve the mystery of his death before he disappears for another year on Boxing Day. There are the obligatory moments of wacky slapstick but for the most part the tone, bizarrely, is one of melancholy. It seems that mediocre director for hire Farmer was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time of the making of this film which seems to have permeated the entirety of the film from the script to the performances to the music, which is a kind of treacly minor key dirge. Fans of the original show (of which it seems there are a surprising amount) were so vocal in their displeasure at the film that Farmer put an apology in the Hollywood Reporter. Besides all of that the film, seemingly by virtue of it’s title alone, can be seen filling up an hour and a half in the schedules on some channel each Christmas. A mo-cap update is in the pipe for next Christmas with Johnny Depp playing everyone so I guess we have that to look forward to.

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#110 – Three Deaths for the Magi

(1973, It, 93 min original (61 min surviving)) Dir Andrea Tontorre. Cast Marco Bostoni, Angella Min, Franco Francini.

Super rare festive knife-fest from shooting star Andrea Tontorre, the Jean Vigo of the giallo with a mere two films to his name before he died, run over by his own car on the outskirts of Rome when he opened the driver’s door to be sick and fell out. Unlike Vigo his innovations went unheralded by the film mainstream and his features remain out of print – I’ve only seen Three Deaths for the Magi by virtue of attending a private party thrown by octogenarian über-producer Hans Belli, appropriately enough in the catacombs under Paris. The print was old and scratched and the loss of two of its six reels left more gaps in logic than is usual, even in giallo, but despite this Belli’s old eyes were brimming with tears by its end, so moved was he by the sight of so much youthful vigour lost. The basic plot is your basic giallo meat and potatoes – Marco Bostoni witnesses a murder and finds himself of the killers hit list. There are only three days until Christmas and killer’s M.O.? You guessed it – leaving gold, frankincense and myrrh at the crime scenes. Can Marco work out the connection and find the killer? The set prices that remain still stun, bursting with a colour and verve that should be equally credited to Tontorre, similarly doomed cinematographer M. Bris (seafood accident, 1977) and soundtrack artists Imp. Hopefully one day Tontorre’s slim oeuvre makes it out of an old man’s catacomb party and into the world at large…

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#109 – Alan Messing, Side Two

(1967, US, 100 min) Dir D.A. Pennebaker. Cast Alan Messing, Tyrone Faith, James ‘Jimmy’ Josephth.

Documentary following one hit country wonder Alan Messing as he records his follow up to Two Roads to Reno, the LSD soaked epic of tunelessness Ecstasy and Enlightenment. Word is that Messing got Pennebaker himself after Don’t Look Back by phoning the man and declaring: “Well you’ve done Dylan and the Kennedy brothers, why not work with a legend for a change?” Certainly from the evidence on display here this doesn’t seem unlikely as Messing isn’t short of ego, bullying all and sundry with his outlandish demands and constantly referring to himself as ‘The Talent’ (and yes, you can hear the capitalisation there when he says it). A fascinating if toe curling record of total hubris which works especially well with it’s follow up, The Ecstasy and Enlightenment of Alan Messing, which was shot thirty years later with an apparently unrepentant Messing, who has been cosmetic surgeried to an unrecognisable degree.

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#108 – Death in the West

(2005, US/GB/Fr, 95min) Dir Larry Clarke, Matthew Barney, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Julian Schnabel Gaspar Noe. Cast Pascal Biscuit, the Baltimore Opera Group, Eddie Izzard, Monica Bellucci, Johnny Depp,  Alain de Monet.

Portmanteau on the theme ‘the decline of Western civilisation’ and like portmanteau since time immemorial the quality is variable in the extreme. Clarke interviews (surprise surprise) attractive young girls and boys about their lives and the future and gains occasional insight and more regular inadvertent humour. Barney organises a marching band that tips a crowd of horned opera singers into a pit with twelve foot pikes, the enjoyment of which will depend on one’s tolerance for Barney’s aesthetic. Julian Schnabel follows Johnny Depp on a Mexican trash heap and that’s about all that happens there. Some are interesting but all fail in their remit with none have anything particularly insightful to say our world as it is now, where it’s going or why, sacrificing the opportunity to engage in content for cheap shocks. Noe, who swings his camera around a gang of violent skinheads as they look for and find Jewish victims in the Paris night before going home for a gay orgy, scores copious points for his technical skill even if these points are immediately taken back for philosophical simplicity.

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#107 – Engineer Species

(2006, GB, 88 min) Dir Alice Werkherser. Cast Anthony Beckett.

“If the world had’ve paid attention to us forty, fifty years ago then we wouldn’t be in the fix we are now,” is the opinion of the infamous Anthony Beckett. Once the head of the Anti-Life Brigade prior to its disbanding in 1975 he is recorded here, at the age of 82, as the head of a newer incarnation of the same idea in PopCon, the Population Control lobbying group. “Pollution, global warming, habitat loss, the massive extinctions we’re witnessing, food shortages, greater war and resource scarcity,” runs his argument, “The one thing that’s causing all of this is us, the engineer species of every Earth environment, and the only way that we could stop it is to reduce the stress we’re placing on those environments. That means at the least some form of population control and, at the extreme end, the liquidation of some of the population. It seems foolish to try and face down the world’s problems without acknowledging this.” The centrepiece of the film is his attendance at the World Population Forum where you get a chance to appreciate how much vitriol he and those of like mind are subject to, both from those who oppose his philosophy and those, like the scary Death for Life organisation, who don’t think he goes far enough. A dark and serious film about a man with very deep convictions that is leavened only by clips of Beckett’s own contribution to film, 1974’s unintentionally hilarious Is Your Life Worth Living?

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#106 – Coeur, Le (Heart, The)

(1975, Sen/Fr, 136 min) Dir Mohammad Bamba. Cast Ousmane Faye, Ismaila Faye, Jimi Faye.

The kind of bizarre, hallucinatory travelogue through African history that one would expect from Mohammad Bamba. From the distant horizon on an unnamed plain come three tribesmen, a grandfather, father and son (played by real life grandfather, father and son Ousamane, Ismalia and Jimi) telling each other stories, whether of myth and legend or of their tribe and their life. As they travel they meet people from every era of African history – including Arab traders, the retinue from a mediaeval kingdom, a broken-down jeep of WW2 soldiers, Victorian prospectors and modern-day revolutionaries – but seem unfazed by this, even when they meet an elephant which claims to be a hunter trapped in that form or a star that has fallen to earth. The film ends as it began, the camera watching the three figures dissolve back into the horizon. An eerie trip which treats its fantasy with a straight face, its closest cinematic relative perhaps being the holy pilgrims of Bunuel’s The Milky Way. The blank landscape feels like a void and there is no music throughout save the sounds of the wind and the grass.

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#105 – Poor Frankie

(2002, Pol, 98 min) Dir Jan Krzysztof Brodzki. Cast Michael Richards, Ava Brodzki, Piotr Kot.

One of the more unusual post-Seinfeld efforts from its cast, Poor Frankie finds Michael Richards’ New York bookmaker Frankie lost in rural Poland, waking up at a bus stop coated in snow with no idea how he got there. The night before he was at a boxing match in the city but got on the wrong bus while, in his own words, “I was outta my mind of that vodka they got here.” The rest of the film follows him as he tries to get himself back to Warsaw while speaking no Polish. There’s a whole lot of Richards’ patented slapstick here but the camera doesn’t follow or move with it, choosing instead to watch from a distance, and there’s no accentuation of the action with heightened sound or music so the effect is very odd and impassive, staying with a pratfall off an icy road until he’s climbed back out of the snow stuffed ditch, checked and corrected himself and then panning to follow him as he carries on his way up the road. It’s completely deadpan and it gets funnier and funnier as Richards gets angrier and angrier at the similarly unflappable locals throughout the film.

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