#145 – Operation Reptile

(1988, Fr/US, 130 min) Dir Roland Sacher. Cast Christopher Lambert, Antonio Banderas, Fernando Rey.

Tense Day of the Jackal style thriller based on true life events surrounding the assassination of former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle while he was living in exile in Alfredo Stroessner’s Paraguay. The guts of the film detail the lead up to the act itself – how the team entered the country, how they were armed, the months of meticulous monitoring of Debayle’s movements. The scene of the assassination itself is suspense brought to the point of dread perfection – as if the lead up to Debayle’s car being stopped in the road wasn’t bad enough the rocket launcher that is to deliver the killing blow suddenly stops working and Banderas’ character has mere seconds to act. I could feel everyone in the cinema leaning into the screen at that moment and could hear the sound of gripped armrests creaking under the stress. Everything works here from the unshowy performances to the matter of fact photography to the clear, propulsive editing. This is the film that set Sacher back on the straight and narrow after a string of flops and misfires, setting him up nicely for his streak of classics through the nineties.

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#144 – Hot Box, The

(1982, US, 79 min) Dir Leck Mitchum-Arsch. Cast Al Pachinko, Joey Fantastic, Gorey George.

Infamous rebuttal to Friedkin’s Cruising by then notorious (and now respected) gay punk director Leck Mitchum-Arsch here working with almost half a budget for the first time following a half-dozen shoelace shorts with the money allegedly provided by Andy Warhol (though why a self promoter as thorough as he decline credit gives lie to the rumour). Much like Cruising, Detective Corleone (Pachinko) is sent undercover to the homosexual underground (as typified here by the titular gay club) where he’s tracking down a serial killer. Also as in Cruising the detective gets to like the hot man on man action he’s privvy to. The difference being that in The Hot Box the culprit (SPOILERS!!) is in fact the very chief who put him on the case (played by old horror ham Gorey George himself), his motive to attract Corleone’s attention. To cut a long story short Corleone shoots the chief dead and goes back to the swinging manly life he’s grown accustomed to, much to the consternation of his poor fiancé (marvellously essayed by drag queen Fantastic). To be honest it’s about as offensive as Cruising itself was but in more of a fun John Waters kind of way.

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#143 – Oeil Intérieur de L’Esprit, L’ (Eye Inside the Mind, The)

(1983, Fr, 101 min) Dir Roland Sacher. Cast Alain Delon, Philippe Léotard, Claude Jade.

Based on his controversial memoir, L’Oeil Intérieur de L’Esprit tells the story of Paul Dumas, an ex-soldier who claimed to work for the French Army as part of a psychic cell in North Africa and French Indochina, a little like The Men Who Stare at Goats but even less funny. The film begins in 1970 and Dumas is working as a vegetable delivery man with no recollection of his top-secret army service. An accident when he’s unloading his truck causes a knock on the head from a crate of cabbages and suddenly it all comes back. His wife Anne (Jade) doesn’t know what to do but call his old army buddy Pip (Léotard) who talks him through his memories of pinpointing terrorist cells with the power of his mind and prognosticating enemy attacks. At this point the film departs from Dumas’ book, dramatizing the process of writing the book itself and his disastrous television appearances to publicise it, including his infamous appearance on TV ’73 with Serge Gainsbourg who mocked him, saying “If you’re such a good psychic then why did we lose both wars you fought in?” The film tries to have its cake and eat it too – it obviously doubts Dumas’ story but still insists on framing him by the end as some sort of hero. The effects at youngifying Delon for the flashbacks are distractingly bad too. Sacher’s first film after the debacle of The Pass to Heaven’s Arms, it would be another couple of films before he got back into his stride.

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#142 – Loneliness of the Long Distance Lorry Driver, The

(1970, GB, 100 min) Dir Joseph P Pritchard. Cast Harry H Corbett, Hans Pickert, Melanie Marie.

It’s no Convoy and despite its jokey title it’s no comedy either – the title was pasted on by the producers who also furnished the film with posters that suited both their new title and leading man’s Steptoe persona but didn’t spend any money in recutting the film, perhaps surmising that no amount of editing could transform what they had into something more amusing. It’s hard to disagree with them on that point though they seem to have missed the gem of a film they had too. Corbett – a Shakespearian actor once dubbed “the English Marlon Brando” but forever typecast by Steptoe & Son – plays the transcontinental lorry driver Oliver Brady, a man who lives in the perpetual grip of existential woe writ large across his doleful features. No matter that he traverses epic vistas in the shape of the snow-capped Alps, the vast Bavarian forests and so on, his face betrays no joy in any of this splendour. It seems his only relief is in people watching at the various truck stops along the way, particularly the prostitutes that work the drivers but don’t talk to him. It seems as though at some point something’s might give… A quiet, low-key film that shares its namesakes documentary realism and Corbett’s a fine lead too, effortlessly suggesting the great depths of feeling that run inside this lonely man. Unfortunately the film was unloved by comedy fans for not being a comedy and serious film aficionados were put off by how it was presented. Both sides lost out on a true classic.

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#141 – Dinamita Joe (Dynamite Joe)

(1970, Mex, 128 min) Dir Jose Samson Tio. Cast Lee Huerta, Franco Nero, Esmeralda.

With the flowering of the Spaghetti Western international variations sprouted up around the world like the sauerkraut Western out of Germany and, from Mexico, the politicised Zapata Western. The wannabe king of this genre, it’s aspirant Sergio Leone, was the expert self-publicist Jose Samson Tio and what was to be his Once Upon a Time in the West was Dinamita Joe. Local hero Lee Huerta (a singer songwriter in his only film role) is simple sheep farmer Joe in Northern Mexico in the 1880’s who takes in the half dead mercenary Jean-Luc (Nero) when he turns up on his farm. Jean-Luc, it turns out, is a French mercenary and before you can say “violent posse” all of Joe’s sheep are dead and his house is a smoking ruin. It’s only a matter of time before Tay gets himself politicised, becoming the legendary dynamite slinging revolutionary Dynamite Joe. It can’t last of course – by the end of the film he’s a bullet riddled martyr to the cause of an independent Mexico, his corpse slung over the cannon that he defended to the death. It’s epic stuff and Tio has his idols eye for a character, a sense of place and a bard-storming set piece.

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#140 – Belfastards

(2014, GB, 104 min) Dir Jim Laughlin. Cast Phil Laverty, James Gillen, Brendan Forde.

Spin off from the popular BBC NI TV show about a trio of track suit wearing wastrels on the streets of Belfast who have transcended the cultural divides of their city, united in their common interest of being wee turds. Their favoured forms of mischief involve general loutishness on the streets, calling the emergency services out to fake crises and then stoning their vehicles, stealing cars and joyriding them about the town all while getting “lit on Bucky”. Their big screen debut sees Diz, Mickey and Tummers being chased through Belfast city centre after stealing a rack of children’s clothes for Diz’s sisters baby and, once caught, being recruited to stop local drug dealers from the inside. Your ability to tolerate the Belfastards brand of comedy will depend entirely on your ability to spend more than an hour and a half in the company of such appalling scumbags though for some fans the trappings of the shows’ expansion from its half-hour slot to feature-length has diluted the rough-edged charms of the show. For some though the film’s depiction of the central trio’s lifestyle is implicitly condoning them but to those critics the Belfastards themselves would no doubt say “get away up yourself”.

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#139 – Monsieur B dans l’Univers (Mister B In Space)

(1963, Fr, 98 min) Dir Albert. Cast Albert, Mimi X, Oscar de la Vana.

A grayed up Albert is stuffy aged bachelor Monsieur B, the company man is chosen to travel to the distant planet of French Andromeda where he will act as accountant for the colony there. His  faster than light journey out is a wonderfully sustained piece of physical humour in faux zero gravity – like the Blue Danube sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey remade by Jacques Tati. French Andromeda too is a fantastic visual creation – the best that early Sixties film money could buy, all purple rocky landscapes and blue plants. When he’s out there he makes contact with one of the green-haired alien locals (as played by his real life wife Mimi X) and falls in love. Of course it all goes downhill from there with the colonists set against the natives. Albert found himself in the middle of a political storm at the time with both left and right agreed that his film was an allegory for the colonial enterprises of French Indochina and North Africa but neither side agreed on whether the film was pro or con. Albert, for his part, simply shrugged and claimed no responsibility for their interpretations. thankfully, now that more than fifty years have passed we can appreciate this sweet, sad film for its beautiful colour photography, balletic slapstick and romance.

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#138 – In Lamplight or Candleflame

(1977, GB, 69 min) Dir Eric Conway Bryce. Cast Thomas Pretton, Billie Whitelaw.

In Lamplight or Candleflame was supposed to kickstart a series of annual films that would rival the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas but despite being perhaps Conway Bryce’s best film (and definitely his last) hardly a soul watched it upon broadcast and those who did found it, in the words of the Times’ reviewer, “turgid and murky”. Despite not being held as fondly in the public consciousness as A Warning to the Curious or even Schalcken the Painter a lavish reissue was mooted in recent years until it was discovered that the only remaining copy had somehow been spirited from the vaults. Despite this there are those, like I, who had the exceptionally good fortune to have seen it on first broadcast who will attest, in defiance of the opinion of the time, to how terrifying a watch it really was, despite the fact that, like those who I have discussed the film with, I can’t recall exactly what it was that I saw in the film’s flickering candlelight that frightened me so. Pretton plays a reclusive lord rattling around his vast country estate with only the imagined voice of his mother (Whitelaw in voiceover) for company though the speed with which she alternates between love and anger makes her uneasy company at best. As time wears on in his dark midwinter house he begins to perceive that perhaps there may be a figure out in the fluttering darkness beyond his meagre illuminations and while she’s not telling he begins to suspect that figure may be that of his long dead mother…

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