#181 – Noble Journey Home of the Spaniard Francisco, The

(2013, Sp/Ire, 110 min) Dir Phil Neeson. Cast Antonio Banderas, Domhnall Gleeson, Colm Meaney, Pat Shortt.

Historical black comedy loosely based on the life of Francisco de Cuellar, who survived the sinking of his ship during the Spanish Armada washed ashore on the west of Ireland in County Sligo and had to make his way across the country to get back to Spain. Banderas is Francisco (last name withheld to allow for artistic license), a captain in the Spanish navy who wakes to find himself beached with the wreck of his ship about himself and his compatriots either being eaten by ravens and wild dogs or being looted by the locals. He hides until the cover of night when he can steal out and try to make his way across this unfamiliar land where nobody speaks his language. He is robbed by bandits who steal the only thing he has – his clothes. Naked, he makes his way to a sympathetic farmer’s house – they lend him clothes so that he make his way unnoticed (for they are sympathetic to anyone who would wage war on the English). Upon making his way he is set upon once more by bandits – once again his clothes are lost. Such is his ‘Noble Journey Home’. A further step up in budget and ambition from director Neeson following the impressive Ti Fac and Father Faith. Banderas is excellent also, displaying once again his seldom deployed comedic talent, and the decision to retain the language barrier leads to some fantastic comedy moments.

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#180 – #DESTROY!!

(2013, US, 93 min) Dir Jay White. Cast Daryl Sabara, Linda Hamilton, Jason Hampton, Kevin Smith.

Comedy techno-horror. Gifted young hacker Jimmy Staedtler (Sabara) spends most of his time in his bedroom with the curtains drawn, desperately trying to think of a scheme that will put him on the map and avoiding his nerdly neighbour Hal (Hampton) when he notices that his Twitter account has been updating itself with sinister messages. This is when he discovers, along with the rest of the world, the worst news possible – so much information has been pumped into Twitter that it has achieved sentience and it is now reaching out across the web to take control of anything it can. Staedtler gathers a loose confederation of fellow hackers on 4chan but will they be able to achieve what the authorities haven’t and defeat the ultimate web-spanning intelligence while the world burns outside their windows? White’s foray into technological amusements is more fantastical than Los Data but it’s an inventive if super low budgeted comedy. It’s not above a little stunt casting either – Hamilton, as Staedtler’s mother, knows a thing or two about rogue computer intelligence from the Terminator series and noted blogger and sometime director Kevin Smith gamely cameos as himself before, perhaps inevitably, being murdered by his own Twitter feed.

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#179 – Mr Kill Man

(2011, US, 106 min) Dir Jay White. Cast Michael Keaton, Justin Long, Elizabeth Shue.

A pre-Birdman rejuvenation Keaton starred in this, Mr Kill Man, in another role that riffs on his vigilante past. Mild mannered office drone Hamilton Brody is knocked on the head during what he believes to be an attempted robbery (but was, in fact, an attempt to save him from a worse fate from a falling brick) and when he wakes up in hospital he finds himself reborn as a Death Wish style vigilante, the self-styled Mr Kill Man. So, once he’s tricked the hospital staff into believing that he’s fine, he begins patrolling the night, looking for crimes to stop and wrongs to right. The only problem with this is that he doesn’t have a gun like he thinks he does – no, he’s actually facing down hardened criminals armed with nothing more than a scowl, a trench coat and a banana held like a revolver. It’s up to Brody’s wife and son (Shue and Long) following in the family car to stop him from getting hurt and protect him from the attentions of the law. A fun little film with a great central trio all perfectly shot in a sea of drenched neons, Dutch tilts and darkened alleys.

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#178 – Great Storm, The

(2011, US, 109 min) Dir Jack Burch. Cast Michael Shannon, Paul Dano, Jena Malone, Benicio del Toro.

Michael Shannon is the explosives expert in a cell of eco-terrorists who is known only as Banger and when a planned raid on a dam is foiled by the police he suddenly becomes their leader. The media attention surrounding the arrest divides the group and drives them underground but somehow, where the police can’t find Banger, Benicio del Toro’s mysterious unnamed South American does. He is representing a Brazillian rubber company, he says, the name of which Banger wouldn’t know if he was told it. Del Toro has a proposition – the vast rubber plantations in South East Asia have caused untold ecological damage and will cause much more without the diseases that kept the plant in check in it’s native South America. Perhaps Banger and his crew would smuggle in some of the offending Microcyclus ulei and aid the decimation of this environmental disaster? “Why would we help you?” asks Banger. “I think you’d do a deal with the devil to get what you want,” is the reply. And he’s right – Banger contacts Alvin and Sasha, the only other members of the cell remaining, who now have to get to Laos and begin their new mission, never realising the dangers that lie ahead. A tense yet low key thriller.

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#177 – Dr. X

(2000, Jap, 91 min) Dir Hiroya Hino. Cast Yukie Inoue, Mitsuo Ibaraki, Kon Ito.

Based on the Japanese urban legend of the masked doctor. In case you haven’t heard of it, it goes like this – you’re on your own and you fall maybe and hurt yourself and from a nearby side street or even from out of the bushes appears this man in a long white coat and a surgical mask offering to help. If this ever happens to you get up and run as fast as you can no matter how badly you’re hurt – the legend goes that if this mysterious helpful passerby were to lift up his mask you wouldn’t return to tell people what you saw. So how has this slim premise become another film in the J-Horror canon? Nanako is at home one day waiting for her son Rikiya to get home from school but he never arrives. Asking about she hears from one of his classmates that he saw Rikiya fall and a tall man in a white coat and face mask appear to help him. The young boy won’t tell her any more. Later, when the old man Hiroyuki turns up at her doorstep to tell her about his own son who went missing thirty years before and shows her the drawing of the masked man, at that point Nanako’s desperate search is on. An eerie urban nightmare in a rare display of restraint from director Hino (Dark Tentacles, the uncomfortable Gynaecologist series).

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#176 – Hurtin’

(1990, US, 80 min) Dir Bryce Tasco. Cast Jeff Bridges, Dennis Quaid, Paul Haltmann.

Directed by Bryce Tasco from his own play, the little-seen Hurtin’ follows the last days of an Elvis-alike superstar as he roams his mansion, clearly at the end of his mental and physical tether. He’s visited by his drug dealer Amos (Quaid) and his hot-shot manager Phil (Haltmann) who has taken over from his recently deceased long-term one but, for the majority of the film, is alone and talking either to the pictures on the walls or to the TV or to phantoms that we can’t see. Apparently starring Bridges and Quaid as favours to Tasco – a friend to both – and filmed in the Beverly Hills mansion of a third unnamed friend (rumoured to be none other than Jack Nicolson), Hurtin’ has been virtually unseen by any kind of audience since it was made as while the main character is never named as Elvis Presley, his estate evidently felt the likeness to be sufficiently close for litigation and the producers agreed. It’s a slight film either way though it’s attempt to bring depth to a death that has been mostly regarded as little more than a joke is laudable.

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#175 – Taisez-vous! (Shut Your Face!)

(1950, Fr, 61 min, b/w) Dir Albert. Cast Albert, Romy Pice, Oscar de la Vana, Jacques Jacques.

The first full length feature from future French film luminary Albert, of Le Roi du Canard and Monsieur B dans l’Univers fame. As such Taisez-vous! is an altogether more small-scale an enterprise, set entirely within one room in a library though since said room is the vast glass and iron reading room in the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris the smallness of the scale is entirely relative. Albert plays a novice librarian on his first day on the job, desperate to not let a single noise disrupt the silence but inevitably mere shushing soon isn’t enough and before long he’s bursting bubbles of gum before they pop, making everyone remove their shoes (if by force if necessary) and trying to baffle the sound of books being set down with a well aimed catapult and a pile of small cushions. It all gets out of hand, of course, culminating in the bookshelves toppling like dominoes and Albert diving madly to bodily interrupt their crashing end. The whole enterprise rests on Albert and his performance and as such the film is a success – his whole body is a wonder of physical comedy and his facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission.

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#174 – Black Book, The

(1985, US/GB, 106 min) Dir James G Marshall. Cast Gabriel Byrne, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Billie Whitelaw, Phil Daniels, Alexi Sayle.

Alexander Kasin (Byrne) is a rising star in the KGB tasked with tracking down the author of the so-called Black Book of the title, dozens of copies of which have been disseminated across the Soviet Union via the producers of handmade publications known as samizdat. The file on said book is very thin – no copy has yet been found by the authorities though numerous references have been logged from intercepted mail, bugged telephones and the confessions of criminals. “There are not many copies in circulation,” he superior tells him, “But so far as we can tell the contents of this book are so volatile none can be tolerated.” So Kasin begins his investigation in the usual places – checking in with his informers, known black market operators and the samizdat slinging intelligentsia – but not only draws a blank but meets a kind of frightened resistance totally uncommon to him in his usual course of work. As he digs ever deeper and finds himself on a trail that leads to the obscurer ends of his homeland it occurs to him that he’s not on the trail of something new, but of a cancer as old as his country with a dark purpose at its heart. A classy, creepy detective film full of unplumbed darkness. An US/GB co-production directed by a Canadian, populated almost entirely with British actors and fantastically shot by veteran Irish DOP Brendan Bradley in snow bound Finland, The Black Book was made on the back of Gorky Park’s success but was sadly unable to replicate it. Not to be confused with Verhoeven’s Black Book nor indeed the Dylan Moran sitcom Black Books.

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#173 – Palm

(2012, Can/GB, 76 min) Dir Alice Werkherser.

Alice Werkherser’s follow up to Engineer Species is a very different beast to the earlier work which followed the traditional interview/narrative form of documentary and is very alike Peter Mettler’s Petropolis in execution. The main difference between the two films is that Mettler’s film, being an aerial record of the devastation wrought by industry on the Alberta tar sands, has visuals that are dramatic, terrifying and even beautiful if isolated from their context. Werkherser’s film is similar in many ways in that it is also about a great environmental devastation but one whose visual effect on the land is not as immediately shocking. Through a combination of helicopter and drone photography she has recorded the vast scale of the palm oil plantations that have irrevocably changed the once lush rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia (the world’s largest producer) into unending rows of farmed palm trees, straight line after straight line from one end of the film to the other, each area tagged at the bottom of the screen before rolling on for uninterrupted chunks of time in it’s bland, terrifying uniformity. He soundtrack is given over to a variety of people affected by this, from the purchaser of a multinational company (unnamed) who imports the oil about the surprising amount of products it is used in, to an indigenous person displaced by the plantations, to a representative from International Animal Rescue on the terrible effect on the local wildlife and environment, to a farm worker who relies on the plantations to feed his family and who was unemployed prior to that. A piece of vertiginous perspective.

#172 – Daniel, the Fart Catcher

(1998, GB, 93 min) Dir Alastair Hirst. Cast David Thewlis, Clive Owen, Jane Horrocks, Kevin McKidd, Ewan Bremner.

Period comedy. Apparently a fart catcher was the derogatory term for a footman or valet in the 18th and 19th century and, in this, David Thewlis is Daniel, the fart catcher for the bastardly Lord Everdice (Owen). Everdice, having lost his family’s fortunes on the baccarat tables of Europe, now desires to wed Lady Balthirst (Horrocks), the only child of the fantastically wealthy Balthirst family who remains unwed due to the fact that she’s a kleptomaniac with Tourette’s. Daniel, on the other hand, has been taken in the employ of Balthirst père to make sure this doesn’t happen and must now try his damnedest to sabotage his masters amorous advances without raising suspicion. Further complicating matters are Brush and Wash (McKidd and Bremner, reunited from Trainspotting) who, in the service of Balthirst mère who just wants her daughter wed no matter the cost, are trying valiantly (if ineptly) to sabotage Daniel’s sabotagings. To the film’s advantage it’s directed by Alastair Hirst, costume drama veteran of 1985’s Buried Hearts and the 1992 TV adaptation of J. Langdon Beetleman’s Staedtler Quartet so the form of the film is very much in keeping with the genre being mocked. The film’s disadvantages are chiefly two – one is that it’s directed by Alastair Hirst, who may have directed a good few costume dramas but hasn’t directed a comedy, and the other is that one is constantly reminded in the watching of the film of how much better Blackadder would have handled the same material.