Category Archives: Drama

#29 – Last Elephant, The

(1972, GB, 89 min) Dir James Hill. Cast Ron Rifkin, Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna.

Environmental sci-fi from the Born Free director. It’s the undated future and through a combination of poaching and the environmental devastation caused by a limited nuclear war all of the elephants of Africa are now dead. American journalist Alan Finch (Rifkin) is sent to Botswana to follow-up on a tip-off of a sighting from conservationists Frank and Mary Beckett (Travers and McKenna). The first half of the film finds our trio travelling uncomfortably, Finch’s city-living type not cottoning on to the Beckett’s nature loving ways. After they find the elusive elephant the second half becomes a kind of dirge with their every attempt to help the sickly survivor failing. At the end the world’s media convenes on this dying elephant, filming it as it expires. Finch’s conversion is complete when he is asked by a newscaster what the big deal is – “We have elephants in zoos, right?” Finch shakes his head. “No,” he says, “This wasn’t an elephant in a zoo. This was the last real elephant there will ever be.” A heartfelt film with no embellishments in it’s vision of the future – no hover cars or ray guns – that would suggest either the film’s modest budget or that the story they’re telling is something less than allegory.

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#28 – Mean Average, The

(2012, US, 100 min) Dir Eric Ceder. Cast Rob Morrow, Brent Briscoe, Laura Regan.

Bizarre Randian horror movie that spitballs the unrest of the Occupy movement into a society wide uprising that targets the innocent one per cent that are safeguarding our society. Our hero here is Alex Forster (Rob Morrow, possibly prepping for his role in Atlas Shrugged Part 3), a stockbroker titan unlike anything seen in The Wolf of Wall Street – he himself would totally never do anything bad ever and has a loving family that apparently exists in a perpetual sunbeam. The supposedly expensive but cheap-looking walls of his world come tumbling down one day when the unwashed drug-crazed hippies protesting outside his office move indoors and begin exacting their revenge on the money men. Thus begins a discount apocalypse in what is essentially a filmed play with CGI inserts and crowd scenes of mass riot that only work if your definition of the word ‘crowd’ bottoms out at two dozen. It’s baffling to conceive as to who this film is aimed at as it seems designed to offend and angry anyone not rich enough to own a gold toilet but, at the same time, is so cheap and stagey in its execution to betray the fact that no self-respecting wealthy person would put their money near it.

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#27 – Burakku kokoro sanzoku (Black Heart Bandits)

(1976, Jap, 76 min) Dir Taku. Cast Mitsuo Ibaraki, Gen Otori, Anna Shimura.

Japanese biker gang movie cashing in on the rise of bōsōzoku subculture in Japan in the seventies. Hideo is a gawky, nerdish young man with a small motorbike that’s more like a scooter. He has a big dream though – to cast off his studies and become a member of the legendary criminal biker gang the Black Heart Bandits. One night, by sheer coincidence, he meets their leader – the cool, black clad and perpetually sunglasses wearing Ichi – and of course he uses the opportunity to beg for a place among the crew. Ichi – who isn’t one for charity I’m guessing – says yes, but only when he has passed his initiation. His first task is running the gauntlet of the local girl gang, the Pink Heart Bandits, which ends with him at the wrong end of a chain whipping coupled with a zealous helping of sexual humiliation. His trials escalate to drug smuggling and murder, the film ending with his gruesome demise at the wrong end of a stick of dynamite. The first in the six entry series revolving around the gang and as psychedelic, flimsy and comically sadistic as the rest. A great theme tune too.

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#16 – Götz von Berlichingen

(1927, Ger, 156 min original (44 min surviving), b/w) Dir Lupu Speyer. Cast Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Wera Engels, Alfred Abel.

The product, like the same years’ Metropolis, of the late twenties film budget excesses and, also like Metropolis, a less than resounding success at the box office. The two film’s paths have diverged since, with Metropolis accumulating praise and restorations while Götz von Berlichingen has never been easily available in any format. This reviewer, for example, has only seen it by virtue of the shockingly truncated copy held as part of the collection of a wealthy aficionado (whose name must remain anonymous). Loosely based on Goethe’s play of the same name, the surviving film includes the most famous parts of von Berlichingen’s life such as the loss of his arm by cannonball (rendered in full gory glory) and its replacement with one made of iron. In a move typical of the liberal national mood of the time, von Berlichingen’s famous statement during the siege of his castle at Jagsthausen – “…sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!” – is included in full as a title card, something unthinkable before or after. It is perhaps this, in addition to the films irreverent attitude to a person who had both submarines and a Panzergrenadier division named after him by the Nazis, that meant that it was suppressed in the years that followed as ‘degenerate art’. It’s not a perfect film – at least as far as can be judged in its current form – but its well shot, well acted and deserves to be seen by more than the occasional dedicated hunter.

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#11 – One for the Road

(1992, GB, 116 min) Dir Peter Medak. Cast Bob Hoskins, Peter Capaldi, Emily Lloyd, Maureen Lipman.

An adaptation of Hans Fallada’s The Drinker transplanted into London in the 1930’s, following Hoskins’ businessman Eddie Summers as he descends into alcoholism. Led down the path by a single bottle of wine, before long he’s harassing Emily Lloyd’s saucy barmaid and being cheated out of his money by Capaldi’s mild but scheming Locke. By the end of the film he’s incarcerated in a sanatorium, spitting at his wife (Lipman) and, in a haunting final monologue, wishing on his death for the dim promise of the one last drink it will give him, the ‘One for the Road’ of the title. Medak has the period setting down following The Krays and Let Him Have It and, perhaps feeling liberated after the previous year’s Super Mario Brothers, Hoskins gives a committed central performance that humanises a difficult, unlikable character. Despite fears that Hoskins’ salesman character and the period setting would invite comparisons to Pennies from Heaven this grim spiral out-bleaks even it. Unfairly overlooked on release, time has unfortunately rendered it more obscure.

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#7 – När jag föddes en Canary (When I was born a Canary)

(1983, Swe, 69 min) Dir Tomas Kinnaman.

The heart-tugging tale of the life of a canary as narrated, in a droll and deadpan voiceover, by said canary as he passes his life from one cage to another, ruminating on his circumstances as they occur and on the meaning of life in general. He is born in a pet shop, lives in the apartment of an arguing couple (and their interested cat) before moving to the country as the pet of a young girl who names him Nils and sets him free. He comes back, of course, after a night among the branches of a tree when he finds out exactly how big the world outside his cage is and how small he is in it. By the last moments, after Nils has been found dead at the bottom of his cage and his voice is gone from the soundtrack, when he is buried in a little box in the back garden by the weeping child – if anyone isn’t crying themselves at that point then they have no emotions and are possibly an alien.

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#4 – Boxer’s Chains, The

(1986, US, 109 min, b/w) Dir Randall Hex. Cast Matt Dillon, Stacy Herr, Brad Dourif, Ogdon Marshall.

Matt Dillon’s Cal lives in a town called Blueford in an unnamed Mid-West state. Blueford has been gutted, a depopulated maze of cracked streets and leaning buildings – it’s the mid-Eighties and Reagan’s America is downsizing. Cal lives in an abandoned factory, sleeping the day and boosting cars at night to sell to Dourif’s Cash. He’s in love with Sandy, the skinny half-punk waitress at the local diner who’s too shy to talk (an ethereal Herr in her first film role). He takes her into the country and their love blossoms and they plan their escape from Blueford. So far so generic – one part Badlands to one part Drugstore Cowboy – but what sets it apart is how it’s shot, in luminescent black and white like it’s the last silver nitrate print struck. The film just glows off the screen. The still pace isn’t a problem when it looks this good, giving you all the time in the world to drink up every shot of the big cloud smeared sky, the never-ending wheat fields, the rusting factory hulks, the planes and angles of Herr’s face shot in enraptured close-up. The film ends, not with a bang but a whimper – no high dramatics or adolescent nihilism, just life moving on as life does. When it was released in ’86 it got lost between Blue Velvet and True Stories and Randall Hex – a former war photographer who had captured the war in Vietnam – died two years following this, his only film, in a car accident that some claim still was suicide.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms