Category Archives: Drama

#211 – Strip, The

(1974, US, 118 min) Dir Tom Gries. Cast Robert Duvall, Jennifer O’Neill, John Saxon.

California, October 1969. The paranoiac pall from the Tate-La Bianca killings hangs over the city. Private investigator Tom Beckett (Duvall) is hired by an old Korean War buddy to track down his missing daughter Sally. Fifteen years old. Last place seen: the Sunset Strip. Tom takes to the strip each night, pounding the streets, bugging each and every freak and drop out until he meets Cat (O’Neill). She knows Sally, recognises the picture. Saw her at a party in a house up in the hills. An abandoned mansion. It was too much of a dark scene for Cat – all kinds of sick sex rituals and power trips. People have been telling stories about this gang, roaming the streets in a fleet of Beetles, picking up ‘strays’. Word is that they were in on the killings up in the hills, they just didn’t get caught. She takes him to this house, the abandoned mansion. There are kids there with scared eyes. They tell stories that make no sense. About a ranch out in the desert, underground bunkers and mass graves. Tom and Cat investigate… A tense and moody film fantastically shot all at night by Lucien Ballard with a stand out performance from Duvall like a clenched, sweaty fist. Director Gries, incidentally, would go on to shoot the 1976 TV film of Helter Skelter which notoriously shot the Tate-La Bianca murders at the actual crime scene.

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#207 – Hedge

(1976, GB, 103 min) Dir Adrian Fisher. Cast Kevin Thirs, Emma Russell, Pete Postlethwaite.

As Kes is for kestrel, Hedge is for hedgehog and the director, the working class magic realist Adrian Fisher, wouldn’t deny it. “The producer of my second film, Tony Goldfinch,” he said in a 1986 interview, “Was a man without imagination but in possession of a very fat wallet. The only way to sell him a film was to show him one that had already made money and then say to him ‘That’s what I’m going to make.’ After that he was very hands off.” Naturally Fisher used this freedom to his own ends. Initially Kes is imitated quite faithfully in the broad strokes – brother and sister Michael and Alice are growing up on a council estate in an unnamed Northern town. It’s the summer and their parents, it seems, are fighting all the time. In their back garden one morning they find a pair of wounded hedgehog and bond while nursing them back to health in the shed. Where Fisher detours is when the hedgehogs get better and swap personalities with Michael and Alice. The film then follows the Michael and Alice hedgehogs for a wordless half hour through the back gardens and green patches of the world around before returning home to find that their parents have reunited and all is well with the world. Returning to their natural form the hedgehog snuffle off into the night once more. Fisher, despite being proud of his new film, was concerned about Goldfinch’s response to his liberal interpretation of the Kes style film. “I needn’t have worried,” he revealed, “As the lights came up at the end his cheeks were shining with tears.”

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#202 – Song for Bibi

(1978, Swe, 97 min) Dir Lasse Hallström. Cast Viveka Vong, Liv Ullmann, Molly Gold.

After the success of ABBA: The Movie and before his ascension to the height of mild-mannered Hollywood prestige, Lasse Hallström was commissioned to make this, the official Eurovision film. Then unknown and now forgotten singer-songwriter Viveka Vong plays herself, a simple country girl whose only dream is to sing her songs of love and peace to as wide a world as she can. Luckily for Vong former Eurovision champions ABBA hear her song when passing through town between gigs and before she can say Boom Bang-a-Bang she’s on national television competing to be that year’s entry. Needless to say she goes through to the main event and I don’t think that I’m spoiling anyone’s fun when I reveal that she ends the film triumphant despite the best efforts of her Irish rival Erin O’Eire (Gold). Song for Bibi was a minor hit in the day but for reasons unknown it’s been mostly forgotten and is all but erased from Eurovision history. This is a shame as it’s as much campy fun as you would expect and production’s pretty high-end too – enough money has been flung at it for Liv Ullmann to have been roped in as Vong’s voice coach, her Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist hired as cinematographer and the “Swedish Edith Head” Elsa Nöggin employed for the fantastically bonkers costumes.

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#198 – Plastic Song (Peullaseutig Song)

(2008, SKor, 131 min) Dir Kim Chang-wan. Cast Shin Ha-kyun, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Roi-ha.

South Korea, the near future. Lonely office worker Joon, disheartened by a life of unrequited heartbreak, orders himself something from the cutting edge of technological advance – a seemingly sentient plastic sex doll that is called a Song. Once released from her coffin-sized packaging she is initially all that he could have hoped for – pretty, meek and sexually insatiable – but after a while he finds himself overcome with conflicting emotions towards her, the chief one being love though complicated by guilt. As you might expect from South Korean cinema Plastic Song juggles genres, morphing from the lighthearted comedy of the opening to a dramatic second act before going out in the world with Joon as he advocates politically for the recognition of the Songs. Not only that but it then becomes an action film as he in co-opted by pro-Song revolutionaries and then it finally ends with a blend of sci-fi dystopia and romance as Joon finds peace and mutual love with an upgraded Song in a shack in the hills of a depopulated post-apocalypse Korea where she lives on forever after Joon grows old and dies. If you can withstand the genre whiplash there’s much to enjoy in this buffet of a film with Kim Ok-bin managing to imbue her Song with an array of emotion despite being limited to a mere half-dozen expression settings.

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#189 – Puta Enojada (Angry Bitch)

(1993, Mex, 88 min) Dir Antxón Arango. Cast Sally del Toro, Hector Mendez, Gabriel Quinn.

An Almodóvarian comedy drama. Sally del Toro is Lucia, a downtrodden housewife who dreams of her youth before she married her boorish husband Windsor (Hector Mendez, his huge moustache still present) while she maintains their spotless household. One evening, while Lucia is ironing his shirt for work, Windsor announces that he is leaving her – now that their children have moved out, he says, there is no need for him to continue to live the lie. There is someone else and has been for some time. Lucia, in a fit of fury twenty years in the making, beats Windsor to death with her iron and thus the film comes over all Ms. 45 with Lucia taking to the street with her Windsor’s revolver on a misandrist rampage. How many men will fall to her bullets before the night is out? Will Gabriel Quinn’s dashing detective Alejandro stop her? What will her brat children think? Accusations of chauvanism are steadily avoided with a film very much on Lucia’s side, cheering as she guns down the worst examples of masculinity she can find. Good fun for those with a darker sense of humour.

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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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#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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