Tag Archives: Culture

#231 – Sobek: City of Death

(1978, GB/Mex, 91 min) Dir René Cardona Jr. Cast Hugo Stiglitz, Susan George, Fiona Lewis, Robert Guzman.

On the Nile, southwest of Memphis in Egypt, there once was the city Shedet, established in 4,000 BC by the worshipers of the crocodile god Sobek (and later renamed Crocodilopolis by the Greeks). This city and it’s worshippers have long faded into history but, to fast forward about 6,000 years and swing about 6,500 miles west, it is found being re-established by a death-cult of crocodile worshippers southwest of the modern-day city of Memphis, Tennessee. It’s discoverer is Michael Chad, a rough and tumble swamp explorer played by Hugo Stiglitz, who takes it upon himself to stop these reptile revering maniacs, rescue the local virgins they have kidnapped to sacrifice and kill the monstrous beast that they worship as the living incarnation of the foul Sobek. Stiglitz, an old hand at nonsense such as this, takes it all in his stride, as equally unfazed by the beasts he must battle (and the effects by which they are rendered) as he is by the women flinging themselves at him.

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#230 – Roman by Polanski

(2010, Fr/US, 130 min) Dir Marina Zenovich. Cast Mathieu Amalric, Blake Lively, Christian Slater.

In retrospect there doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate choice to play Polanski than Amalric (who is himself a director) – the physical resemblance alone makes him a lock for the role and his performance in this, an adaptation of the 1984 autobiography, confirms the choice. His performance is also the best thing about the film which would make for a fine double bill with the same years equally uneven biopic Gainsbourg – much like that film Roman by Polanski is more a catalogue of incident than realised portrait but both are slick and entertain for their run time. While the film is also at pains to assure audiences that the incidents depicted in the film are being viewed through the director’s telling rather than a record of fact, Zenovich (also the director of the documentary Polanski: Wanted and Desired) is obviously beholden enough to her source to dwell for too long on the more insalubrious decisions in his life. Blake Lively makes for a fine Sharon Tate but  it has to be said that whoever convinced Christian Slater to play Jack Nicholson here deserves an Oscar to themselves!

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#229 – Astonishing Transparent Man, The

(1958, GB, 99 min) Dir Henry Phillips Breech. Cast Peter Cushing, Alison Lucy, Alex C Bream.

When Albert Meeler (Cushing, with typical gravitas) is accidentally subjected to a large dose of ‘X Radiation’ in the lab he works he soon finds himself see through. That’s right, he has become transparent but not invisible – apparently someone then owned the rights to the story of a man inflicted with invisibility. If you’re so desperate to make a film about a man who has become invisible to go to these semantic lengths then you must need to bring something new to the table. In this instance Albert is totally pleased to have become invisible (sorry, transparent) and instead of railing against his separation from society the rest of the film follows his attempts to leave civilisation behind. Of course he finds himself thwarted at every turn – how can he drive himself to the middle of nowhere where he can live an ascetic life when a car that is apparently driving itself draws so much attention? How can he buy food or even steal it when it appears to everyone else that loaves of bread and that are floating clean through the air? Unable to overcome such logistics for long the films end finds Albert still among society, using his transparency to survive on the detritus of the visible. Basically a feature length Twilight Zone episode, it’s an amusing tale with a bittersweet end.

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#228 – Vacances de Morts Vivants, Les (Holiday of the Living Dead, The)

(2011, Fr, 108 min) Dir Jack Vitesse. Cast Swann Nambotin, Frédéric Pierrot, Géraldine Pailhas.

French zombie comedy set on the French Riviera. Pascal’s travels with his family to the town of Piabo for the summer. Piebo, a former sleepy fishing village on a remote spit of land, is now a vacation complex that lines the coast, an island of luxury that looms over the modest houses of it’s year-round residents. Young Pascal, a shy and quiet young man, doesn’t want to join the resort’s youth groups for enforced fun so he pretends to his parents that he’s participating but instead amuses himself by exploring the many nooks and crannies of the complex – the backroom staircases for example, or the labyrinth of air conditioning passageways. As he amuses himself however he begins to see things that suggest to him that all is not well at the heart of Piebo – a chef who has been tethered to an armchair where he froths at the mouth and writhes with an almost supernatural strength, a family of tourists with a strange illness marched into one of the walk in freezers where there are imprisoned. Something is going on and the owners of the Piabo Hotel don’t want anyone to panic. How can Pascal let anyone know without giving up his lie? When will people be roused from their relaxations to notice those among them who have been reduced to brain-dead cannibals? A lively, subversive comedy blessed with some great locations from Jack Vitesse, the one time enfant terrible of the cinéma du look (see Homme du sous-terre, Les) who seems to have developed an affinity for plot in the intervening years.

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#227 – Conway Sharon

(2014, US, 94 min) Dir Jackson Harvey. Cast Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Turkington.

Though it mightn’t sound like much of an endorsement the pitch black comedy Conway Sharon contains undoubtedly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career and I know, the competition’s just fierce. The rich, lazy and boorish comic plays the titular Conway Sharon, a rich, lazy and boorish trust fund child, as he mooches around his father’s huge estate while said father succumbs to the cancer that is killing him. He whiles away his time getting high, getting drunk, Googling ‘Vomit Porn’ and being rude to his father’s nurse (Buscemi), his younger brother and his wife (Rogan and Banks) and the family lawyer (Turkington). While I’ve never found Sandler’s onscreen personality very likable (even when it was apparently intended to be) it’s interesting seeing him push the more abrasive parts of his personality to this extreme, projecting an almost totally affectless blank while he violently insults all those around them. His relationship with his father isn’t elaborated upon but there are some very strange scenes between them, the most fraught with tension being at the very end when Conway, wearing nothing but shorts and a baseball cap and sweating from shooting hoops on the basketball court, a can of Pabst Blue Label in one hand, stands over his dying father, watching him. Panting, he slowly brings his face closer and closer to his unconscious fathers until his breath is so close its stirring his hair, all without the mask slipping. A very unsettling ending to a very strange film. Of course it made less than no money and of course he was straight back to the warm embrace of Blended etcetera straight after but it’s of some satisfaction to see the indie king of deadpan Jackson Harvey nudging at the mainstream just a little.

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#226 – Hawk Savage: Renewed

(2014, US, 102 min) Dir Hal Hanry. Cast Leo Young, Demi Moore, Jeff Goldblum.

Here’s the story – the original Hawk Savage, about a daytime TV personality who dressed up as a big bird and transcended time and space to fight injustice in the evenings, was released in cinemas in the fall of ’84. Less than nobody went to see it. Had it been released ten years prior that, more likely than not, would have been that but over the following ten years it gained a steadily accumulating army of cult fans on VHS. This was good news for director Hal Hanry and lead actor Leo Young – neither of them having had much of a career since Hawk Savage – as it meant that their future on the science fiction convention circuit seemed assured. Then the internet happened. In 2006 a young fan called Jan Lawrence made a trailer for Hawk Savage: Renewed (as was promised, in the style of James Bond films of old, at the end of the original HS). Emboldened by the media interest in this trailer Hanry began an eight year tour of every studio he could get in the door of whilst keeping the internet public up to date with regular assurances of deals and rumours of deals and news of imagined deals. A Kickstarter fund was launched and it’s target exceeded. Fox got on the phone and their budget was doubled. The internet patted itself on the back. The real Hawk Savage: Renewed was released in the fall of ’14 and yet again less than nobody went to see it. What had originally been a film that was fleet of touch was now weighed down by callbacks to the original that rendered the proceedings impenetrable to neophytes. It didn’t help that the stars of the original like Demi Moore and Jeff Goldblum looked much less that pleased to be returning. Not Leo Young though – he was having a ball. Avoid unless you’re a die-hard fan and even them think twice about it.

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#225 – Meat Palace

(1921, GB, 41 min, b/w) Dir B. Richard Crisp. Cast Conrad Hoot, Phillidia Fitzhibbert, Ivy Bean MacTashman, B. Richard Crisp.

A delicious Scots oddity, the fever dream of the unnamed, destitute and moor-stranded lead (a bearded, shambling Hoot) who is led by moonlight to the titular edifice (constructed, as suggested, of food flesh) by a beautiful pair of diaphanously gowned and supernaturally glowing women (Fitzhibbert and Bean MacTashman). Therein our anonymous bum hero finds himself at the service of The High Lord Meat and Creamy (the director Crisp himself, encased in what was apparently a self-made and fantastically pungent ‘Beef Suit’) whose whims begin at the curious and before long descend into the downright wrong. All this is gleaned from the script – of which a half-dozen scribbled pages remain – a roll of mostly fogged-out photographs from the set and the recollections of esteemed film critic Maxim Puccini who was, at the time, a fourteen year gaffer’s hand. The recollection of the set’s “thick creamy stench” apparently put him off dairy for the rest of his life. The result is a grab-bag of suggestion and little in the way of fact – the ‘downright wrong’ of Lord Meat’s whimsy, for example, is frustratingly unknown. It seems to have found little favour with audiences of the time and it’s last recorded exhibition seems to have been in 1926, when it was screened to a visibly discomfited Lord Evelyn French-Parstley, the keeper of the King’s Exceptionals, at the Royal Estate of Bip, West Scotland. Now presumed lost and much sought after by aficionados of Crisp and his ‘Meat Films’.

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#224 – South Side Pick Up

(2012, US, 97 min) Dir John Moore. Cast Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan.

It’s 2008 in the kind of unnamed American city you see in films where it’s raining all the time. The financial crisis is unfolding – we know this because helpfully everyone’s either listening to the radio or sitting in the same room as a television ticker-taping the slow motion stock market crash. LaBeouf is the cocky but inept Harrison who has, through some unknown connection, landed himself a job with the local mob which is headed by Caan’s Jimmy Burch and enforced by Oldman’s businesslike Caspar O’Neill. His job is to jack cars – his area, the South Side. His prey, the rich. In his downtime O’Neill takes him on rides about the neighbourhood while he ‘runs errands’ and espouses his philosophy – of course his philosophy has a certain parallel with the ethos of the banks currently under investigation. This is nothing new of course – the idea of mobsters representing the capitalist id of America is a notion as old as the hills so it’s doubly embarrassing when a film like this comes along thinking it’s had an original thought. The fact that the film has also been blessed with a title that it almost certainly intentionally evocative of the great Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street only adds to it’s shortcomings. A smart-looking but conventionally shot film with LaBeouf as good as can be expected, Oldman on old ham form and Thirlby wasted as the worrying girlfriend awaiting inevitable peril to be rescued from.

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#223 – Ladies on Parade

(1958, US, 93 min) Dir Blake Edwards. Cast Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Martha Hyer, Norma Varden

Dean Martin and Tony Curtis are a pair of big gambling, swinging bachelors who elect to skip town ahead of their debts on a transatlantic cruiser with the scheme of hitting the tables of the French Riviera and winning big to pay back their debts. Also on board, luckily for them, are the American contenders for the International Lady competition. Amourous highjinks ensue with the two men trying their best to woo under the nose of the ladies chaperone (Varden). Of course despite having a boatload of beauties to choose from, the two men inevitably fall for the same woman – the morally upright and untouchable Patricia Lewis (Hyer). Further highjinks ensue. A candy-coloured comedy which lets up it’s breakneck pace only for a couple numbers from Dino. Martin and Curtis make a fine double act too, full of genuine cameraderie. The screwball finale in the Casino Magnifique where the two men try to make their winnings while constantly running upstairs to compete for Patricia’s affections as she competes for the role of Queen International Lady is a classic.

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#222 – Man-Ant, The

(1947, US, 73 min, b/w) Dir Ray McCarey. Cast George Brent, Boris Karloff, Anna Lee.

Due to be Val Lewton’s next film for RKO following Beldlam with pre-production completed by him and his regular collaborator Mark Robson, it was picked up by B director McCarey (with this his last picture before his death the following year) following Lewton’s dismissal from the studio. While not up to the standard of Lewton’s other RKO productions such as Cat People or I Walked With a Zombie it’s still a fun addition to the studio’s repetoir of the fantastic. Brent plays one Professor Radley Hammond whose courtship of Dolores Pearson (Lee) brings the ire of her father, the well-regarded but undeniably mad scientist Dr Lawrence Pearson (Karloff). Dr Pearson reacts to the news of their engagement in the manner one would expect of an unhinged man of science – he slips the prospective groom one of his experimental formulas in his celebratory drink which shrinks the unfortunate man down to the size of, you guessed it, an ant. Cue lots of fantastically huge props and a great chase scene involving the fleeing miniature man and an enraged household cat. Good fun, like I say, though one can’t help but wonder what the finished product would have been like had Lewton and Robson been able to complete it themselves – surely a great more vim would have been instilled into proceedings, especially in a baggy first half.

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