Tag Archives: Films

#221 – Wichita

(1987, US, 104 min) Dir Gary Schmaltzer. Cast Tom Hanks.

Before he was stranded alone on an island in Castaway a pre-America’s Everyman/modern day Jimmy Stewart Tom Hanks was stranded alone in a new house in Wichita, a film probably best remembered for its TV ad campaign – a dark screen with someone whispering, with increasing urgency, “Wichita! Wichita!! Wichita!!!” followed by a shot of Hanks’ terrified face. Here he is Jim Grady, loving husband and father, whose family are moving to a new house in – yes, you guessed it – Wichita, Kansas. While his wife stays in New York with the kids packing up their things he’s in the new place overseeing the repairs. As the film starts he’s waving goodbye to the workmen leaving him in the house with just the family dog for company. He cracks open a beer and heats a tin of beans for dinner with the sun going down outside the window, talking away to Jake the dog the whole time in a terrifically funny and sustained one-sided conversation. That’s when the noises start and the light hearted banter ends. Is it an intruder? Are there supernatural secrets to this old house? The film keeps the viewers guessing an admirably long time. It’s a bit of an oddity for Hanks, sandwiched as it was between Dragnet and Big, though it nonetheless shows his serious acting chops being fleshed out in anticipation of later dramatic fare and in fact a late scene in the film in which he breaks down to a police officer is eerily prescient of the final scene in 2013’s Captain Philips.

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#220 – Night Driving

(1978, US, 111 min) Dir Jack Blackstaff. Cast Omar Sharif.

Northern Irish director Blackstaff elected to follow the Death Wish bandwagon jumping of Anvil Strikes! with Night Driving, seemingly designed by the producers to race the same year’s Convoy to theatres. Apparently uninterested in the plot of their film however, so long as it had trucks and CB lingo in it, they were presented with this supernatural number, surely the strangest entry in Omar Sharif’s CV and atypical of Blackstaff’s usual work. Sharif plays a cross-country trucker by the name of Joe Waylon and as the name might suggest the subject of his nationality and race are never mentioned – so far as the film’s concerned Sharif’s just another red-blooded American trucker and I’m not sure this is progressive or of Blackstaff couldn’t be bothered with a rewrite. Anyway – he’s pulling an all-nighter to get to the west coast through the Nevada hills when he’s cut off by another truck, all black and driving hell for leather with no lights on. In no time it’s vanished into the dark. Joe pulls in at the next stop and is greeted icily when he mentions this reckless driver. Perturbed, he carries on only to find that wherever he goes it seems he can see the black truck always up ahead and just out of reach. He races on, ever faster, trying to catch it. A deeply odd film that’s a strange blend of the existential road movie like of Two Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point and the supernatural. Despite the potential for ridiculousness (and a generous frame of mind helps when watching) a committed performance from Sharif makes a little go a long way.

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#219 – Moon and the Moth, The

(1961, Egy, 78 min) Dir Ezzel El-Hamed. Cast Omar Sharif, Soad Hosny.

A bizarrely fantastical film from El-Hamed, best known for his street level social realist dramas, starring the soon to be world-famous Sharif and the “Cinderella of Egyptian cinema” Hosny. Based on the scraps of poetry remaining of the “Desert Poet” known rather mysteriously as only Ibn or “son of”. Sharif plays an unnamed nomad who, one night in an unfamiliar country, spies a similarly unnamed princess in the high tower of her father’s palace and falls instantly in love. But, as is the way with such things, her father isn’t big on their union and summons a man of magic to transform his daughter into something else rather than have her endure a relationship with a commoner. This man of magic, for reasons best known to himself, decides that a moth would be a good idea and thus she is confined to an exquisite glass cage in that form. Of course it breaks and she escapes and Sharif is accordingly doomed to spend the rest of his life searching as far and as wide as he can to try to find the one moth that he loves. It looks as though his life’s search will be in vain when, as an old man, he collapses at the foot of an impassable dune, his eyes closing in the face of an oncoming storm. When he opens them again however he finds himself on the moon – his beloved princess has travelled there in the night, to the brightest object in the sky, where she transforms back for him and the two of them kiss, as young again as they were when they met. A beautiful tale well told and the fact that it plays out in near silence is a definite boon considering the expressiveness of the leads.

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#218 – Christmas is About Jesus

(2014, US, 92 min) Dir Raoul Acton. Cast Jimmy Grits, Feluza Marks, Mark Yorker-Clipse.

Humourless polemic masquerading as a cack-handed action film (and entertainingly advertised, as per the director, as “An Acton Film”) memorably described by reviewer Pan Nicholls as “Taken for Christ”. The time is now and Leo Clay (Grits) has returned from defending the country against the godless in the desert heat of some nameless Middle Eastern country and has decided to do something about the rising tide of atheism in the country he loves. He’s going to militarise the War Against Christmas. The fight begins at his local supermarket that won’t put up decorations for fear of offending the non-Christians. Now, I don’t know where in the world this shop is since I’ve never been in a shop at Christmas that isn’t floor to ceiling with festive tat, blaring seasonal music and slathered with more tinsel and lights than two sane eyes can cope with. But I digress – the determined Clay has soon taken his message all the way to the top of the liberal media’s ivory tower where he can shoot at the hand that pulls the puppet strings and strike a blow at the heart of the Global Conspiracy. One gets the idea that the script was written in all caps. Terribly shot, scored, acted and not very violent, it will no doubt entertain the similarly deluded but everyone else will leave bored and/or angry.

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#217 – Holy Lover, The

(1996, GB, 57 min) Dir Leck Mitchum-Arsch. Cast Ross Lawrence, Louis Black Ferdinand, Roger Roger.

Though it seemed the day would never come, The Holy Lover saw gay punk filmmaker Leck Mitchum-Arsch (not his real name) plant his flag within the realm of respectability – not that that stopped the film being promptly banned in the film of its production, his new home of Great Britain. To be fair, what can he have expected when he produced a work that revolves around the supposed sexual relationship between one Hugh Wray, an incarcerated lunatic in the year 1796, and what he believes to be the loving spirit of his Lord Jesus Christ? Despite it being based on a terribly reputable source – that of Dr Handrake Masslington’s notes made while treating Wray – those in a position to decide took a dim view of such shenanigans. Despite the intervening years making the sacrilegious content less contentious in the UK, it seems that the rudeness was still very much an issue which seems the reason why the film remains shelved. This is also the reason why I haven’t seen the film under discussion and since none of my colleagues at the Imaginary Film Guide have either we will have to presume it to be of the high standard of his following UK works such as Loggers and A Passage Under Night.

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#216 – Action Dreaming

(1910, GB, 14 min, b/w) Dir James Gilroy Munce. Cast Unknown.

Possibly the craziest, most ahead of its time and influential fourteen minutes of early cinema as film pioneer James Gilroy Munce corrals every optical trick available to him and invents a few more for this mostly narrativeless explosion of invention. Now little seen (and only now available for viewing in the Munce museum in Colorado) it spent a good twenty years following its production travelling with Munce or one of his trusted associates to every corner of the United States with his other films, enrapturing audiences wherever it went. No doubt some of the future titans of SFX saw it on this run and, inspired by shots such as the lead character – usually referred to as The Dreamer – leaping to the moon, went on to replicate them in their own features in later life. Cooper and Schoedsack, it is said, were inspired by the Dreamer’s wrestling with a sea colossus (having first swollen to match it in size) to realise King Kong themselves in 1933. To any student of film history, afficianado of the medium’s early years or even the mere fan a pilgrimage to Colorado’s to view this relic of enterprise and inspiration is an absolute must.

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#215 – Female Predator

(1990, Indon, 82 min) Dir Joko Wayang. Cast Jemima Kryten, Rudi Bo, ‘Eddie’ Katung.

In the late 1980’s there was the Indonesian bad movie classic Lady Terminator which appropriated scenes from the American classic The Terminator for its own low budget ends, splicing the action beats of the original to a supernatural tale of the revenge of some sort of female sea demon who had a snake in her vagina or something. On the back of this a second bright spark decided to nab the same basic scheme to produce Female Predator, a rip off of a rip off (or, if you are Harlan Ellison, a rip off of a rip off of a rip off). The set-up: on a remote Indonesian island a long dormant volcano erupts and among the poorly realised magma that is loosed is what appears to be a woman – nude, of course – played by martial artist/Playmate model Jemima Kryten. She’s not a normal naked woman though, she’s a lizard demon bent on revenging herself on the cadre of warrior monks who imprisoned her in her volcanic jail a millennia ago or, at a pinch, their modern-day descendants. Within no time she’s made it to Jakarta and with her sophisticated methods of seduction (i.e. she disrobes without compunction) she sets about sexing her prey to death, revealing her true form in mid-coitus to be in possession of a wobbly snake head and pendulous scaly breasts, a more easily constructed appearance than the other, bigger budgeted Predator’s pincer-lined maw. It only takes a pile of mutilated corpses before tubby, stubbly, mulletted cop Mo (Bo) is on the case and we can get cracking with the shoot-outs and explosions. Almost as amusing and random as Lady Terminator, fans of which should seek this out.

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#214 – Nagarhole Elephant Dreaming

(1976, Ire/Fr/Ind, 64 min) Dir Daniel Dermot McBurton.

As he tells it in 1927 the struggling and wholly unsuccessful painter Daniel Dermot McBurton, then the same age as the century, had a dream in his decrepid Dublin basement flat. In his dream he was sitting outside a coffee shop in Paris having just sold his first painting. Upon waking and with nothing to lose McBurton promptly sold everything he owned bar the clothes he stood in and his paintings (which no one wanted anyway) and bought himself passage to France where his dreams promptly came true despite not speaking or understanding the language. Thus a lucrative career was born, first in painting and then in film. In 1972, when he was still the same age as the century and at a time of creative plateau, he had a dream of an elephant in India. When this elephant was hurt McBurton himself was hurt. Upon waking he decided that he no longer had anything to lose, left his third wife and sold all his possessions and moved to Western India close to what was then the Nagarhole wildlife sanctuary and is now Nagarhole National Park. Despite once again being in a country whose language he neither spoke or understood he assembled a film crew and recorded, without plan or narrative, the world he now found himself in. In the process of making the film he found Emai the elephant, who he claimed to identify from his dream and whose life he believed was inextricably bound to his own. Unfortunately the resulting film, Nagarhole Elephant Dreaming, wasn’t the success that resulted from his earlier dream – it showed in Cannes to overwhelming disinterest though years later it’s plotless exploration of the land proved an influence on ethnographical documentarians such as Pascal and Filipe of Access Road anti-fame. Either way McBurton didn’t care – he died happily ten years later, in 1986, still as old as the century. Coincidence or not and unbeknownst to McBurton, he also expired within an hour of Emai’s death in Nagarhole National Park.

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#213 – Corporal Wojtek the Bear (Kapral Wojtek Niedźwiedź)

(1985, Pol, 95 min) Dir Ewa Wąchock. Cast Stanisław Bielski , Roman Wilhelmi, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz.

The first film from actor turned director Ewa Wąchock tells the true story of Wojtek, the Syrian bear donated to the Polish Army while they were stationed in the Middle East during World War II. They raised him, feeding his condensed milk from an old vodka bottle, getting him hooked on cigarettes and training him to salute when greeted. They became so attached hen they were being transported to Italy they officially enrolled him into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. In Italy he served at the Battle of Monte Cassino, apparently transporting ammunition for the soldiers. Along with his fellow soldiers he ended the war in Britain and was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived out the rest of his life. Deciding that using a real bear in the film would be too dangerous (and would go against the message of the film) and that a person in costume would be obviously fake, Wąchock embraced the artifice and instead cast a child dressed as a bear, considering that the sight of a child smoking or fearfully negotiating a war zone would convey the same emotion in her audience as a real animal would. Thankfully she lucked out by casting a young Stanisław Bielski in his first role and his future renown is writ large in the authenticity of each expression and reaction, despite being dressed as a bear. A heartfelt film about the relationship between man and beast.

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#212 – Bip

(2008, Ukr, 108 min) Dir Viktor Sadovska. Cast Viktor Nemets, Aleksey Vertkov, Boris Kamorzin.

A terrible storm has swept through the fictional Ukrainian city of Meiz and among the many catastrophe it unleashed was the releasing of many of the animals from the zoo including their celebrity Bengal tiger cub, Bip. Hearing of this an idea occurs to hard up young men Petro and Arseniy – if they can somehow trap young Bip they can sell him to Volo, local drug dealer and fan of all things tigerish. So Petro and Arseniy head off into the forests above the city on a tip-off, determined to find their prey. Bip is a comedy as best described by late film critic Harrison Bird: “there is a certain type of black comedy that I have seen from Eastern Europe and South America that is often mistaken by critics as drama, where the humour is derived from a starting point where everything is awful and getting, from there, progressively worse.” At least Bip has a happy ending of sorts. Once they have tracked down their prey, Petro and Arseniy have endured so much misfortune that they decide to shoot Bip and hope that Volo will make do with a stuffed version of the animal. They are at the border of the plains beyond the forest with the sun dipping behind the far horizon and the sky streaked with red. Petro raises his rifle and takes aim at the beast, only to be shot himself with the tranquilising dart of the zoo keeper, also on the animal’s trail. The film ends as quickly as that too – Petro is shot, collapses and the tiger cub melts into the long grass, disappearing back into the wild as the camera lifts off into the crimson sky and away.

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