christopher-underwood

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Reviews

Tales from the Crypt
(1972)

opening credits with the Highgate cemetery is a great beginning
I didn't find this quite as good as Asylum but then this never had the Robert Boch writing. The opening credits with the Highgate cemetery is a great beginning and Ralph Richardson is fine with the bookends if not quite as fiery as we make have hoped. The individual episodes are all modern day scenarios as usual and some are better than others. Poor Joan Collins has a difficult job just of her own, but makes as good a job of it is she can, and the stark room and Christmas tree is excellent, as is the wonderful Father Christmas. Peter Cushing is wonderful as ever but the story is woeful. The final piece starring Patrick Magee goes on a bit but he is as great as ever and makes it probably the most succesful scene.

All the Right Noises
(1970)

She was like an innocent young child
A very small film that likely has seem only a be small number of people and a tiny theatrical release. Except for the young fifteen your old Olivia Hussey who had had the most amazing experience in Italy with Zeffirelli and Romeo and Juliet that made her famous across the world. She was like an innocent young child except she was older than her years, smoking a cigarette on TV and falling into a romance with Tom Bell in the film. His is fine, as is Judy Carne as his wife and the story is likeable enough though it his to see there is not anything that earth crashing.

Asylum
(1972)

Portmanteau styled films always make me think of the glass half empty or full conundrum
Portmanteau styled films always make me think of the glass half empty or full conundrum in that should the film be good enough you don't really want to leave the story and that on the other hand you make be glad of the change of tack. Is it is with been Asylum I had been likely more something not too taxing and this was most more fun than I have expected. Peter Cushing was great but his segment in the Jewish tailor not so much. Robert Powell is excellent as our master of ceremonies and the whole wraparound including Herbert Lom and his creepy figures his good. Best of all that is the section with Charlotte Rampling, very generous to allowed himself to seem less that glamorous, and the radiant Britt Ekland who is simply sensational. Very good alltogether and although the start has a rather look at a set of drawings they are revelation and an excellent way to begin.

Tampopo
(1985)

not only uninteresting but distinctly unpleasant at times
Gosh, I'm amazed. It is so unusual for me to so take against a film, but I found this not only uninteresting but distinctly unpleasant at times. I guess the idea of a film about about food would not be likely to be top of my viewing lists but as it was Japanese it might be that little bit different. Well, so it is! Unfortunately it is almost exclusively about the preparation, serving and eating the noodle dish, ramen which is hardly the most stunning of dishes. However, I was well aware that in Japan it is treated with considerable respect and that some ramen places are favoured over others with large queues for one and nothing for another. Referred to as some and something of a 'western' this is a very strange mix of street fighting and serious eating with what to a local audience is considered humour - loudly slurping food, passing raw egg yolks from mouth to mouth, slitting open live turtles, that sort of thing. But, I really found this difficult and where the difference between slurping spaghetti and noodles is a major reason for guffawing, I am edging my way out of the auditorium.

Bronco Bullfrog
(1970)

not everything was bright and shiny for everyone in those infamous 'swinging sixties'.
Proof if it were needed that not everything was bright and shiny for everyone in those infamous 'swinging sixties'. Here a largely improvised series of incidents is filmed on location in Stratford and Greenwich. The second half with the girlfriend and vague plans to leave home is more successful that the first mainly centred around a robbery at a goods marshalling yard but the whole has a likeable enough rolling gait to it that feels authentic enough. Ironic of course that the lack of acting ability tends to give the impression of inauthenticity. Fortunately the essential good nature of the participants and the reliance on location shooting ensures that this is far more interesting than it might have been had it been over rehearsed and shot in a studio. Lots of fabulous shots of a less than fabulous Stratford of the time and now almost all replaced. Most of the war torn and.prefab strewn streets were soon to be built on and more recently the Olympic Park would smooth out and gentrify much of the rest. The short sequence at the end of the film is particularly interesting showing the Greenwich foot tunnel and the riverside power station. Both are still in use but the ships seen alongside and the working docks beyond are long gone. Not the finest film in the world but a valuable document of late sixties east London and pleasant enough watch.

Kûki ningyô
(2009)

A remarkable film
A remarkable film that asks questions and reflects about the nature of life and human interaction without seeming in the least preachy and retaining a featherlight touch despite the fundamental issues raised. Seoul born Bad Doona, a well established star of Korean film and TV features here and is unbelievably effective as a stunningly beautiful and pliant blow up doll that comes to life. Opening in a fairly predictable manner with an element of sordidness and the creaking of cold plastic this blossoms after only a few minutes into a unique experience as we are forced to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate actions and reactions. The city of Tokyo we see here would not be recognised by the casual tourist but instead presents an everyday side of the city with its side streets, corner shops and rental outlets. Filmed with immaculate care and visual flair this is not only a fascinating and cerebral feast but a visually stunning one with both interiors and exteriors made to look as excitingly wondrous as the young star herself.

12 Angry Men
(1957)

most impressive
This is most impressive with director Lumet ensuring that the viewers interest is held at all times. The script is excellent with the gradual escalation of doubt adding a level of excitement to an already interesting concept. Watching the recent Egyptian film Clash the day before where a number of disparate men are trapped inside a police van for the duration makes for an interesting comparison but whilst the Lumet film appears rather theatrical by comparison a similar tactic of using close-ups helps considerably in maintaining the interest and increasing tension. The earlier film is quite a show piece for acting talent and all acquit themselves admirably whilst it was undoubtedly a marvellous launch pad for the director's career.

Eshtebak
(2016)

a thunderingly exciting film with provocative and believable dialogue
The idea of a film set entirely within a police truck in Cairo does not seem a particularly enticing prospect. Writer, director Mohamed Diab manages, however, to make this both riveting and exciting. With the considerable mix of Egyptians packed together and the troubles raging on the streets outside, this is an incredibly potent mix of actions, emotions and life changing moments. Clearly, the van load of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Christians, police and their supporters brings all into conflict but also provides the opportunity to consider compromise and the possibility of swapping conflict for reconciliation. At the same time this is a thunderingly exciting film with provocative and believable dialogue and wincingly, in your face action. Interrupted momentarily whilst watching, I returned to my seat to become aware of just how fast my heart was racing. Stunning filmmaking and easily enjoyed without considering the political dimensions but even more potent in doing so.

Another Woman
(1988)

Mercifully short, this seems anything but
Sadly it would seem that Woody Allen's work has not worn well. Here in 'one of his serious ones' we seems particularly ill served with an assortment of characters who spout pretentious and unrealistic dialogue. Beginning with the interesting premise that a writer finds she can hear into nearby psychiatric sessions, this soon degenerates into a pastiche of overindulgent soul searching between a bunch of well off New Yorkers. This is not helped with having Mia Farrow indulging in her favourite role as the hard done by little lady (pregnant throughout too!) but gradually we tire of everyone as they complain about lives that don't seem real anyway. Mercifully short, this seems anything but.

The Naked Kiss
(1964)

no wonder we sit mouth agape as the screen fades to black
About the only thing you can be certain of with a Samuel Fuller film is that it will have been made with passion and will be unlike pretty much anything else you have seen. The very title, 'The Naked Kiss', is a reference to a kiss like that of a prostitute that has no meaning, and the opening is the most startling and uncomfortable you are likely to ever see. Constance Towers who does a fantastic job as the star here, present in every scene, kicks things off with and attack on her pimp involving a hand-held camera and her flaying out at that camera, ie: him, ie: the viewer. The most extraordinary sequence ends with him out of it, her bald and us exhausted already as the titles role. The film is not perfect and some of the rapid cutting leaves us struggling to catch up but there is no doubting the power of emotion here and considering the subject, including not only prostitution but child abuse too, it is no wonder we sit mouth agape as the screen fades to black at the end.

The Last House on the Left
(1972)

'Just a movie'? Maybe not.
It seems strange to have just watched this again after some 40 years and on a pristine blu-ray disc, packed with extras, rather than on a grotty videotape. I don't like it any more than I did the first time but then it is clear this was not set up to be liked so much as to make a statement, a scream perhaps. Hardly a coherent statement remonstrating against the Vietnam war but a symptom no doubt of the growing feeling, at the time, that not all was sweet and light with regard to the so called peace and love movement. Increased freedom for the young, provided the opportunity, not just to lay around making love but also to question and explore the darker aspects of life. Wes Craven and pals certainly did that here and the result is shocking, even today. Craven speaks of a pervasive nastiness affecting the actors and crew at the time and perhaps because of the largely amateur nature of the enterprise, this hesitancy, despite the apparent bravura, is still evident. It is an almost plotless effort centred around the towering and worrying performance of David Hess and effective ones from the two young girls, Sandra Peabody and Lucy Grantham who suffer such ignominious a fates. Other performances are rather embarrassing but it all gets mixed in the wash as there is much chasing around the woods, nasty talking and even more nasty abuse. I don't think the revenge sequence is any more successful or gratifying than the rest, more that it is all part of the general grubbiness and a poke in the eye for all those who really believe that human beings are essentially destined to live peaceably as one without considering that more base and self interested tendency that lurks so very close to the surface with a tendency to explode given the slightest of opportunities. Hard to watch and pessimistic but similarly hard, perhaps, to simply dismiss as 'just a movie'.

Shurayukihime
(1973)

the beautiful young woman born to avenge her mother
I am not a particular fan of martial arts and samurai films but this one is not only colourful and tightly constructed but stars the lovely Meiko Kaji, she of the Female Prisoner Scorpion films, as well as many others. She is perfect here as the beautiful young woman born to avenge her mother and we are with her and her motion throughout. Director Toshiya Fujita has an eye on the look all the time and when we are not treated to views of the young lady and her weaponry we have wondrous views of the land and seascape with opening and closing scenes in the snow. That Lady Snowblood is the basis of Tarantino's Kill Bill gives this 50 year old film added interest but for whatever reason you might choose, this is well worth a watch..

Psyche 59
(1964)

we are left feeling that we almost watched a great film.
Strange little film this. Even though the ending was fairly predictable, I ended up enjoying it far more than I had for the first part and might even enjoy it more on a second viewing. The story has interest, being based upon a Frenchwoman's novel of envy and desire and Samantha Eggar is fantastic, but although Curt Jurgens does the best he can there is either some serious miscasting here or the fledgling director Alexander Singer was not up to getting exactly what was required from hiss cast. The cinematography is clear, adventurous and exciting but even this cannot help lift this at the start. For far too long this is tortured and tentative as if not really wanting to get into the story and before long we feel the Jurgens character unconvincing as a philanderer, his wife too old and decrepit and the friend played by Ian Bannen completely peripheral. Certainly Eggar's appearance stirs things up but we are so bored by now it takes us time to reconnect. Once things click, however, we can forget the seemingly poor casting and follow the camera, but it is such a poor start that coupled with a predictable ending we are left feeling that we almost watched a great film.

Maboroshi no hikari
(1995)

Most impressive and beautiful film
This is a most audacious debut by Hirokazu Koreeda, who hitherto had simply made a couple of documentaries. There is only a slight story and daringly long held shots but it works. From the very beginning we are spellbound by the framing and specific look of every frame. There is something of the documentary in that there is a feeling we are simply following ordinary people as they go about their lives but the look is so utterly beautiful throughout. Whether a partial facial close-up, the side of a house or street lights on a bridge, all is so framed as to transfix the viewer. A story does gradually unfold and it is as if we are part of it, bound up in the early death of a husband, the development of a young boy and the effect of the environment on the families struggling against the elements. Most impressive and beautiful film.

Bonnie and Clyde
(1967)

stunned at my less than enthusiastic reaction to it
Strange one this. I hadn't watched it for many years even though I remembered liking it and was stunned at my less than enthusiastic reaction to it. Part of the problem here seems to be how amazing the film seemed upon its original release. The naturalistic filming with sunshine and cornfields mixed in with the blood and bullets was something never really seen before and I think we were thrilled to see so much violence and yet for everything to seem to carefree. Now, so many years later, and we are more used to realistic displays of terrible, gut wrenching violence, this seems to playful, even wistful. I found it hard, indeed impossible, to connect with these silly hooligans and their complete lack of regard for everyone around them. Whether I simply took against the protagonists in view of my disconnect, I'm not sure, but I find the pair utterly uncharismatic and simply more annoying and tiresome as we went along. Shame because it still looks good but don't share others enthusiasm for the music either.

Girlfriends
(1978)

Most likeable film
Most likeable film that for some reason had never come to my attention before. Nothing particularly exciting or eventful happens and yet the various comings and goings of these New York youngsters resonates. There is nothing strikingly beautiful or exceptional but we believe in all the characters (maybe less so the two gallery owners in the neck braces!) and feel for them as some interactions go less well than others. Certainly seems to capture a most authentic feel and this is partly because the clothing worn has not been selected from racy boutiques but actors' own wardrobes and the script is firmly based in the everyday. A light humour arises from the odd exchange and overall this is a most enjoyable 90 minutes.

Wandafuru raifu
(1998)

a bunch of dead people being quizzed as to what is their most happy memory is
A most unusual and thought proving film from the director of the more recent The Third Murder and Shoplifters. Koreeda is able to present this tale of a bunch of dead people being quizzed as to what is their most happy memory is so that they make take this with them forever at the expense of all others. He does this with no concession whatsoever to making anyone look anything but alive and concentrates exclusively on the question in hand. This has the consequence of forcing the viewer to also so constantly consider their past as we pass from recollection to recollection, bringing up the major and then increasingly the seemingly more trivial but personal and more important moments. Koreeda makes all this look very easy but it is a deceptively simple film with rather lofty aspirations and is ultimately very successful.

The Pleasure Girls
(1965)

crisp photography and sharp fast moving action
There is not particularly much happening here but it is clearly of that mid sixties British film period where a certain photographic look has taken hold and there is something going on with the young that has not yet turned into the 'swinging sixties'. There is the usual question as to whether a girl should and then if she does what happens regarding the dreaded abortion question. There are clever chatting guys, late night parties, a peripheral use of drugs, girls down from the north, in search of 'pleasure' and a definite widening of the 'generation gap'. It does all rather seem to be restricted to kids from well off families at this stage, however cheap the rental payments required now seem to us. There is also the obvious presence of rogue landlords and London mobsters. The crisp photography and sharp fast moving action is good and Francesca Annis does very well as does Ian McShane in an early and important film for him. Nice to see Klaus Kinski and if he is playing the wicked landlord he seems to have a 'heart of gold' and nowhere near as bad as we get used to seeing him later. He also gets a rather vicious beating here, in an underground car park, of course, and this together with some bare backs and a couple of side breasts was enough to get this an 'X' certificate in the day and cause much controversy during its West End run.

Scream
(1996)

intelligent and knowing without trying to be too clever
Hadn't seen this for a long while, probably not since seeing it upon its theatrical release and found it stands up well. It is intelligent and knowing without trying to be too clever and manages to work as a love letter to horror films whilst poking a little fun and having a laugh as well. The opening sequence, thanks very much in part to Drew Barrymore, is a gem and sets the tone by mixes gross and gory horror with a light touch and plenty of suspenseful elements and nods to the genre. Neve Campbell was an inspired choice and she manages to convey a fine mix of vulnerability and feisty action. I think maybe Courtney Cox overdoes it a bit but she may well be intentionally annoying and if the ending seems rather drawn out thats nothing to adding at least three more sequels and numerous imitators. So Wes Craven must have done something right and just might be his best film, although I feel myself needing to duck for cover as I write the words.

Station Six Sahara
(1963)

fascinates from the very start and explodes when Carroll Baker bursts upon the scene
A quite wonderful discovery. Intelligent and involving with well drawn characters and everybody performing well with precise direction, brilliant editing and exciting musical score from Ron Grainger. This fascinates from the very start and explodes when Carroll Baker bursts upon the scene. Based upon a play by Frenchman Jean Maret with a screenplay by Bryan Forbes and Brian Clemens this smoulders like crazy and contains one of Baker's finest performances.

Brazil
(1985)

I find this hard to get into and enjoy
For something that so much loving effort and sheer hard work has obviously gone into and me just shrug seems incredibly churlish, and yet I find this hard to get into and enjoy. The main problem, for me, is at root a mixing of three well intentioned but seemingly disparate scripts. Terry Gilliam's full on madcap and free reign surreal dream madness would never have attracted enough money for the awesome set building and special effects required. Tom Stoppard's cerebral contribution clearly took the fun out of it as far as the director was concerned and slapstick man Charles McKeown must have brought back some of the 'silliness' that some of us cannot help but perceive. So, in the end it is a compromise and some bits work better than others whilst the whole struggles for identity. Jonathan Price seems to struggle with a lack of charisma, although it was probably Gilliam's intention to have an 'ordinary man' at he centre. Michael Palin is very effective indeed and Robert De Niro most effective in a modest role. It is the look and, often, stage musical feel that propels this extraordinary extravaganza to its inconclusive conclusion.

Stories We Tell
(2012)

The whole works amazingly well and the viewer is engaged and moved by the immaculate telling of the story
I became aware of this film after watching Sarah Polley in Mr Nobody and it transpired that during the making of that Sarah had received news that the fact that her father was not her biological father was about to be made public. She had not informed her (step) father at that stage and had all sorts of repercussions. Partly perhaps to exorcise those demons she wrote and then featured in this documentary covering all her family and those involved in the story of her mother and her own conception. It is a remarkable tale beautifully told with resource to much family 8mm movie footage. Where there was no footage to illustrate various events such footage is immaculately reproduced. The whole works amazingly well and the viewer is engaged and moved by the immaculate telling of the story, which naturally involves many involved telling their own story. Unique.

Le salaire de la peur
(1953)

stupendous piece of filmmaking
It is several years since I last saw this film and have since watched the William Friedkin 1977 remake, Socerer which is good but not as good and the much underrated Thieves' Highway (1949) directed by Jules Dassin, which is even better than the Clouzot film. Take nothing away from this though, it is a stupendous piece of filmmaking. The first hour is a wonderful evocation of a Central American town of much poverty and filled not only with the peasant locals but all and sundry from about the world drawn by the nearby oil wells and associated jobs but left stranded when most of those jobs dried up. There is action and movement in every frame and a tremendous tension is built up before the lorries begin to roll with their dangerous cargo. The individuals we have variously been introduced to are now sat beside each other in a race against time and desperate not to jostle their explosives. Tension, suspense and character exposition aplenty as this beautifully photographed and tightly directed film roars to an unexpected (?) conclusion.

Long Day's Journey Into Night
(1962)

Sad, depressing and thankfully more or less irrelevant
I don't feel that the reason I found this so difficult to enjoy or even appreciate fully was so much the fault of Sidney Lumet as the original writer, Eugene O'Neill. This is a fraught and depressing piece, suffering very much from changing times and values. Back in the fifties when this was written there may well have been families (Mr O'Neill's probably) that suffered in such a way, partly because an individual sense of ignorance and shame but more particularly the far too great a presence of the Catholic church. This was never really the case in England at the time and even in the US has far less significance. Certainly substance abuse has gone mainstream and for good or bad the misuse of prescription drugs appears common place in the US and certainly would not be considered such an central element in a family's destruction as seen here. Sad, depressing and thankfully more or less irrelevant. Katharine Hepburn seems made for the role while Ralph Richardson struggles with much of his nonsense lines.

Being There
(1979)

More admirable than enjoyable
More admirable than enjoyable, this is probably Hal Ashby's most heartfelt film. It is easy to see where the director's sensibilities lie in his presentation of an innocent childlike creature being treated as some Jesus figure by the American establishment, all the way to the top. But, for me, as well as the charm and not so subtle suggestion that everyone prefers a fool to an intellectual, there are a few too silly moments here. Against all the sycophants of silliness there is a single scene showing the black maid, back now in her own home, and watching TV and denouncing the rise of the simpleton as something only a white man could do. This moment of sanity pairs nicely with an earlier episode as the Sellers character emerges onto the street for the first time and gets a sharp bite of reality from a group of black youths. Setting aside Ashby's attempts at political comment I have to say that Sellers' performance is amazing and especially for someone so reliant in the past on funny voices this near monotone child-like delivery is excellent and coupled with his strange and imitative mannerisms quite remarkable. Shirley MacLaine is also very good as chief admirer and would be seducer. Not being completely sold on the idea, I found I was well ready for the end and then found the 'walking on the water' moment less than effective and the sequence beneath the credits with Sellers breaking up as he struggled to deliver the black kids' message most embarrassing.

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