Film Blitz

Amsterdamned (Dick Maas) – Something nasty is prowling the canals of Amsterdam, doing away with a selection of inhabitants at a rate of knots. A swim ‘n’ slash pic? Maybe, it’s just like we’re back in 1981, save a lack of teenagers. There’s a bit of a cop-out at the end – to say more would spoil the deftly (or indeed, Delft-ly) generated tension. A slight air of Dutch Tourist Board here; you get to see Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ on a flimsy pretext, but is at least tulip-free. It reminds me of ‘Taggart’ with bad dubbing. Nice boat chase, too! 7/10

Blue Steel (Kathryn Bigelow) – Jamie Lee Curtis plays a rookie cop who blows away a low-life scum store-robber, only for said scum’s gun to vanish. People then start getting shot, and bullet cases with her name on them are found at the scene… The plot of this is annoyingly flimsy, with any number of holes, contradictions and ridiculous twists – for example, we are asked to believe an untrained stockbroker is capable of wielding a .44 Magnum with 100% accuracy (except when shooting at Jamie Lee, naturally!) from when he first picks it up. Ignore these, and Bigelow screws up the tension with skill, despite a climax ripped off straight from ‘The Hitcher’. presumably by Eric Red who wrote that one and co-wrote this one. Curtis still can’t act for peanuts, though she does a fine Martina Navratilova impression. Leave your logic at home. 6/10.

Celia (Ann Turner) – A little girl possessing an overactive imagination, a rabbit and Communists for next door neighbours are the ingredients in this impressive debut from Australian director Turner. Set in late 50’s Victoria, it’s another of those childhood-loss-of innocence films, with rampant McCarthyism and a plague of wild bunnies having disastrous consequences on the life of the title character, played with unsettling intensity by Rebecca Smart. Looking at the past through refreshingly non-sentimental eyes, it evokes the childhood world of rituals, gangs and the incomprehensible nature of adults with clarity and style. The first film I’ve seen with a credit for ‘Rabbit Wranglers’! Recommended. 8/10.

Class of 1999 (Mark Lester) – A storyline of robots-in-public-service, a la ‘Robocop’, who are closer to ‘The Terminator’ in style, may score low points for originality, yet ends up as further proof that if you purloin ideas from decent films and have a cast, crew and FX of any merit, you can still produce useful product. The robots in question here are teachers, sent in to control a Seattle school, where pupils check in their weapons on arriving. Needless to say, the androids get a little out of hand, killing the hero’s brother and kidnapping his girlfriend (who’s also the Principal’s daughter) before he leads a gang of students into the school for the final battle. Lots of weaponry on view, not the least of it on the teachers – the performance of John P.Ryan as the History teacher is especially chilling and the tension & violence build steadily until the (fairly predictable) end, producing a pseudo-rebellious film that succeeds in wasting a lot of property en route. 7/10.

Date With An Angel (Tom McLoughlin) – Blatant ‘Splash’ clone in spirit, with an angel hitting a satellite and plummetting into a swimming pool to be discovered by the hero who has to save her from being exploited while she heals. His fiancee (Phoebe Cates) sees her and misunderstands totally, etc, etc. About rescued by nice touches as fiancee gets increasingly psycho; totally salvaged by the angel – she’s played by Emmanuelle Beart who does little apart from squeak, open her eyes wide and flutter her wings yet still leaves fellow world ranked beauty Cates a moist smear on the carpet. Absolutely gorgeous; if angels are really like her, I’m converted. The film gets 6/10. The angel 10/10. Amen.

Dead Man Walking (Godfrey Brown) – Not read much about this one, surprising as the cast includes Wings ‘LA Bounty’ Hauser and Jeffrey ‘Re-Animator’ Coombs, and a pity as it’s one of the better post-apocalypse (plague, to be specific) films. Coombs’ girlfriend is kidnapped by an escaped criminal and taken into a plague zone; he hires Hauser, who’s terminally ill (and enjoys playing Russian Roulette using a chainsaw!), to rescue her. A well-thought out world structure, excellent ideas and some memorable moments plus a healthy dose of violence to produce a film which could easily pass for ‘Mad Max 4’. Try not to confuse it with the TVM of the same name about capital punishment! 8/10.

Faceless (Jess Franco) – Rumours that Franco was the man behind ‘Edge of Sanity’ made me seek out this, which had been widely described as better than his average. Not much of a compliment perhaps, but it is a classy mad surgeon movie – after his sister is scarred by acid, Dr. Flamand (Helmut Berger) tries to build her a new face with the aid of his nurse (French porn queen, Brigitte Lahaie), by transplanting one from a beautiful model (Caroline Munro), whose father (Telly Savalas) sends a private eye to track her down. Good cast for a Franco movie, huh? After a shaky start. the effects start to fly, with a lot of surgical splatter, a chainsaw decapitation and a syringe in the eye that deserves entry in TC4’s Eyeball Violence chart. Only a heavily overused, rotten song prevent it from being watchable both on sex ‘n’ violence and aesthetic grounds. 7/10.

Hardware (Richard Driscoll) – As a distillation of 80’s genre cinema, this film is near perfect. Aliens, Terminator, Hellraiser, Predator, Max Headroom and Blade Runner are all ruthlessly milked of their best parts, not to mention ‘Paris, Texas’ and every woman-alone-with-a-psycho film to date. If the monster thus created isn’t up to the sum of these parts, ‘Hardware’ is, to use the cliche, a roller-coaster ride, albeit one we’ve been on before. Plot is slim (android goes berserk) and there’s a disconcerting change of focus in the middle when attention switches from hero to heroine but you don’t notice the flaws at the time – the imagery (75% pop video, 25% Nescafe advert), a detailed futureworld, good effects, cool soundtrack and more flashy camerawork than I’ve seen in ages help execute the cinematic equivalent of the three-card trick. There’ll no doubt be the usual predictable whining from certain predictable quarters, yet it surpasses it’s budgetary and location limits, setting up (and discarding, unfortunately) some lovely ideas on the way – Motorhead’s Lemmy as a taxi driver??? 8/10.

Heathers (Michael Lehmann) – Suffering deja vu? Yes, it was reviewed in TC4 when I expressed disappointment that it wasn’t black enough. I recently saw it again, and enjoyed it a lot more, possibly because I had different, more accurate expectations; although I’m still not happy with the ending and dialogue that borders on the unintelligible occasionally, the lovely camerawork, good acting and a vicious streak a mile wide more than compensate. If perhaps I’m being swayed slightly by lust for Shannon Doherty and Winona Ryder, who cares? Upgraded to 9/10.

I Changed My Sex (Ed J. Wood) – aka Glen or Glenda aka I Led Two Lives aka He or She aka… An early plea for tolerance of transvestites, partly auto-biographical since the director is widely reported to have gone into several WWII battles wearing lacy panties under his fatigues. Not quite as exploitative as it might have been, it still seems tasteless, even without Bela Lugosi saying lines like “Beware, beware, beware the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep!”, for no apparent reason. You’ll never be able to look at an angora sweater again without giggling. 5/10.

Kali-Film (Brigit & Wilhelm Heim) – Weird film of eight sections which seems to be trying to explore the way the cinema sterotypes both men & women. The best of these were two in the middle, the first of which was just a sequence of stills, taken from movies, of women being terrorised & assaulted. Taken out of context, their power is multiplied, leaving this viewer feeling very uncomfortable. This is followed by a series of clips, which show women acting aggressively themselves; far more acceptable, including bits from ‘Reform School Girls’, ‘Ms.45’, ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, ‘Chained Heat’, etc, making a Violent Femmes Greatest Hits compilation. Another good pair of sections contrast fictional war with grim reality. A slight tendency to over-kill everywhere doesn’t hurt too much. 7/10.

Living Doll (Peter Litten & George Dugdale) – A classic case of a nice idea foiled by poor direction and a pedestrian script, despite valiant acting. Mark Jax plays a morgue worker who worships a flower seller from afar – when she’s killed in an accident, he flips and steals her corpse, believing her to be suffering from a form of catalepsy. He dresses the body up, talks to and eventually ‘marries’ her; then she starts to talk back. Sort of “live fast, die young and LOVE a pretty corpse”. Too tastefully done, skirting all the details you REALLY want to know; the highly average direction overpower Jax’s neatly underplayed necrophile and the occasional frisson. 6/10.

Orgy of the Dead (A.C.Stevens) – If you removed the topless go-go dancing from this movie, you’d get a gorgeously silly horror movie about a couple that crash their car near a cemetery and discover the Emperor of Darkness within. However, it’d only be 15 minutes long, as at least 80% of this picture is taken up with various ghouls, all female, ‘dancing’ round a tiny, ultra-cheap set. This ‘Eurovision Zombie Contest’ is alternately numbingly & hysterically dull; not many films can provoke jeers at the Scala by showing naked nubiles! 9/10 for everything but the dancing, 2/10 for that.

Scarecrows (William Wesley) – No danger of this film wearing out the guns in your TV since it all seems to take place in a cellar at midnight. You’ve got to be a genius (Ridley Scott) to get away with lighting like that, and William Wesley isn’t one. Despite scarecrows animated by the souls of dead people being a neat twist on a theme and a quite high mess factor, by BBFC standards, the characters aren’t engaging on any level, being a mix of kooks, cowards & killers, and as spam-in-a-cabin films go, this is very ordinary. 3/10.

sex, lies and videotape (Steven Soderbergh) – This film could easily have been some sort of prequel to ‘Videodrome’; James Spader looks very like a young James Woods, and his character, who goes around filming women talking about sex because he’s impotent, also resembles a prototype Max Renn. It’s a little slow in places, to the point of tedium, yet has a bleak beauty that does sustain interest and the characters are realistically complex. As a debut movie for the director, it’s impressive – the man is clearly one to watch in future. 8/10.

A Short Film About Killing (Krsysztof Kieslowski) – The 12″, disco remix cinema version of one of his ‘Ten Commandments’ series, shown recently on BBC2, is perhaps the best argument I’ve seen against capital punishment. It depicts the crime and the state’s retribution in stark focus, comparing them and noting uncomfortable similarities. Initially a study of three characters. The murderer, his victim and the defence lawyer, it gradually focuses on the first & last, then finally the lawyer alone. A savage indictment of violence, committed by individuals or society. 9/10.

Der Todes King (Jorg Buttgereit) – ln 1988, ‘Nekronantik’ crashed onto the scene, provoking acclaim, disgust and bewilderment in equal amounts by its tender portrayal of necrophilia. Two years on. Jorg’s back – has he mellowed? Well… ‘The King of Death‘ is a collection of segments, one for each day of the week, each of which depict a facet of death; Monday, for example, has a suicide by overdose and Thursday is about a bridge and the people that have jumped from it. These segments are linked by time- lapse photography of a corpse decaying – very Peter Greenaway! The soundtrack also provokes comparison, sounding impressively like Michael Nyman on a bad trip. As with other ‘compilation’ films, the result is uneven. On their own, the segments are mainly intriguing and shocking – Tuesday was my personal favourite, being laced with poisonous irony and a delightful parody of ‘Ilsa, She- Woll of the SS’ (specially remarkable given Buttgereit’s nationality). This is the only time it plumbs the depths of taste as explicitly as ‘Nekromantik’ did, the others concentrate rnore on generating atmosphere (with success) and less on blatant shock tactics.

The overall effect isn’t quite as impressive. After a while, apathy starts to set in and the episodes become blurred – was that Friday or Saturday? The links between the days (where they exist at all) are at best tenuous and at worst annoying. A couple of the later sequences are. let’s be honest, disappointing and smack of padding ~ “we’ve still got two days to fill. folks!”. Overall, however. it’s a relentlessly depressing movie, perhaps a little too much so. Appreciate it best by watching it one day per day – that way it’ll ruin your whole week… 3/l0 to 9/10.

Torrents of Spring (Jerzy Skolimowski) – Nastassia’s latest, previously seen as ‘Les Eaux Printenaires’, now in English, albeit very briefly (it lasted two weeks in the cinema here!). Plot is as described before: Timothy Hutton falls in love with Valerie Golino and they get engaged. He then decides he’d rather have Nastassja. A wise move, until his fiancee finds out. Definitely a classy pic, probably her ‘best’ since ‘Paris. Texas‘ and she’s looking lovely ~ there’s one scene at a gypsy wedding which is the stuff of dreams, where she doesn’t look like a mother of two in her thirties! As a film. 7/10, + bonuses as applicable depending on how much you value the Kinski content!

Tremors (Ron Underwood) – Wonderfully gloppy monster movie provides us with another new way to cook spam: spam-in-a-valley, an allusion made concrete when one character says “This valley”s one long smorgasbord“. The inhabitants of Perfection. Nevada (pop. 14 – no, make that 13. Oh, now 12…) are under attack by giant worms: wisely, no attempt at justification or explanation, “Them’s not local boys for sure” being all we have time for. The rest of the film is just as unpretentious. social comment being restricted to a husband & wife survivalist team (car registration UZI 4U). Likeable characters and a lot of orange slime add to the ambience ~ it’s really tough to think of anything that would make this film any better as sheer entertainment. Even the ‘15‘ certificate is on the lenient side! 9/IO.

When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner) – What was that flying out the window? That, Jim, was your street-cred. Films like this remind me why I prefer watching films like ‘Nekromantik’ to this predictable, over-inflated. mindless pap for people who dislike having to confront anything. It’s not badly acted: Ryan & Crystal struggle bravely but are finally buried under a script so laden with inanities. cliches and desperate attempts to avoid offending anyone that it’s the most vacuous viewing I’ve seen in a longtime. As for the notorious ‘orgasm’ scene. I’m sure 1 saw an electric flex running up her leg. 3/10