I watched a rather odd movie the other night. It was an Australian production from 1980, directed by Simon Wincer (“D.A.R.Y.L.”, “Free Willy”), titled “Harlequin”.
The film opens with a politician disappearing under the surface whilst swimming in the sea. The action switches to a child’s birthday party where we find the leukaemia suffering birthday boy, Alex Rast (Mark Spain – “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, “The Schlocky Horror Picture Show”). Alex is clearly not having any fun at all, until a clown gives him some one on one attention and manages to make a breakthrough.
With the viewer having been introduced to Alex’s parents, senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Eye Of The Devil”) and his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan – “Turkey Shoot”, “Now And Forever”), we see the now-unmasked clown, Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell – “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, “Tommy”) turn up in their home again and declare that he has cured Alex of his illness.
Nick is very sceptical over Gregory’s claims but Sandra very quickly comes under his spell and before you know it the pair have become very close indeed.
What follows is a strange mix of political thriller, drama and fantasy film as Gregory’s influence and magical powers are demonstrated (or is it just an elaborate con?) whilst Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford – “A Little Romance”, “Born Yesterday”) leads a shadowy group intending to manouvere Nick’s political career to their own ends.
Having done a little reading since watching the film it seems that the story is loosely based on that of the famous Russian mystic monk Grigori Rasputin and his involvement with Tsar Nicholas II. Certainly the parallels are there, and in retrospect there is a clue in the main characters names – Gregory (Grigori), Nick (Nicholas), Sandra (Alexandra) and Alex (Alexei) and even the family’s surname Rast being Tsar reversed.
I’m not sure if that helps make any more sense of a film that seems to be a bit confused about what it wants to be or not, to be honest. An odd cinematic offering to be sure, and not hugely well-known even under the alternate title of “Dark Forces”, but Robert Powell’s performance is very good and overall I’d say the movie is definitely worth seeking out and viewing…
Today I watched a movie described as a horror drama film. Written and directed by Phillip Escott and Craig Newman “Cruel Summer” is their feature-length debut.From the opening frames you know that things aren’t going to end well as a bloodied young man runs through the woods. Having a good idea that events are going to get bloody doesn’t however detract from the bulk of the remaining film will lead to that point.
We meet Danny (Richard Pawulski – “All In The Valley”), a young man suffering with autism who is preparing to head off to a local lake for a night camping solo for his Duke of Edinburgh Award.
The scene then switches to an exterior shot of a typical house from which we can hear a muffled but clearly angry argument taking place, resulting in Nicholas (Danny Miller – “Scott & Bailey”, “Emmerdale”) being thrown out.
Nicholas, who appears to be a very angry young man, then shows up in the home of his female friend Julia (Natalie Martins – “Kill Or Be Killed”, “The Better Man”), where we discover that he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. Julia wastes no time in sticking the knife in regarding Nicholas’s now-ex. She obviously has designs on Nicholas though he appears oblivious to the fact, and so she claims that his ex had slept with others before him, unconvincingly naming Danny as one.
Knowing of Danny’s affliction, Nicholas is outraged to think of his ex sleeping with him and vows to make him pay. Dragging a reluctant but submissive Julia along with him, the pair head for Danny’s house – picking up new boy Calvin (Reece Douglas – “The Knife That Killed Me”, “Waterloo Road”) en route. By now the lie has become embellished and Nicholas insists that Danny is a paedophile who needs sorting out before he attacks more young girls.
Calvin isn’t keen on the idea but as he has a younger sister he succumbs to pressure from his peers to join them on their quest.
Initially the day consists of arcade games, smoking weed and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but eventually and inevitably the trio find their quarry and the peer pressure exercised by Nicholas becomes ever greater. What follows is horrific in its utter believability. Without resorting to too much graphic violence or gore the filmmakers succeed in making the viewer feel very unsettled and disturbed.
I felt that this was made even more uncomfortable by the way that the three treat Danny and his autism, which is echoed with other minor characters’ dealings with him too. Because he has a disability Danny appears to be regarded as unfavourably in comparison to “normal” people. Living with people who have disabilities I know very well that it’s all to easy for people to either “not see” the disability or to treat the disabled person as somehow weird, and so the way that characters interact with Danny rings very true indeed.
The film is said to be based on true events, although no specific story is mentioned that I can find reference too. That said, all too often we hear stories of seemingly motiveless attacks, people being attacked as a result of mistaken identity or misinformation, so I imagine that a number of such stories planted the seed for “Cruel Summer”.
This is not your standard horror film with some almost superhuman baddie that never dies etc. This is very real horror showing that the real evil in our world lives in the other folk living around us. The darkness that can be found in the most unassuming and “normal” people is a truly scary thing.
Filmed in South Wales the cinematography is great and the acting from the four main characters is really top-notch. I would hope that few will be able to watch such a film without feeling emotionally affected by it, so strong is the tale. Disturbing and very thought-provoking stuff…
Been a bit busy of late with one thing or another lately here in the shadows, but did manage to sit down and catch a movie with my good lady wife a few days ago. It was the 2016 release, described as a drama / horror / thriller film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop”, “Unknown”) and titled “The Shallows”.
As the film starts we watch as a young boy kicks a football along a beach and find a helmet-mounted GoPro camera. He picks it up and plays the video on the camera which shows a man struggling to get out of the water before being attacked by a shark.
Then we meet medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively – “Café Society”, “Savages”) who is travelling to an unnamed secret beach in Mexico where her recently deceased mother surfed when she was pregnant with Nancy.
A friend that Nancy was due to meet up with doesn’t show, suffering from a hangover, so Nancy finds herself surfing solo and talking to two local men who are also enjoying some surf time in the water.
However, after the locals have departed for the day she has a close encounter with a shark and ends up stranded on a piece of rock and counting down the hours until high tide when she will no longer be out of the reach of the shark…
Essentially a one-woman survival movie the vast majority of the film focuses solely on Lively with the other characters really being nothing more than bit parts. Luckily, our heroine is up to the task and Lively does an excellent job with what she has to work with.
The locations look wonderful and there are some excellent action shots of the surfers and the way the shark is introduced into proceedings during the surfing was nicely done, I thought. The effect of having text messages and the display of Nancy’s watch shown in graphics on-screen along with the action was a nice touch too.
Some of the plot aspects are fairly predictable – safe to say Nancy’s medical student training comes in handy – but for the most part it is pretty entertaining stuff. The wheels do come off quite spectacularly towards the film’s climax with some barely credible and very predictable moments, which sadly undoes some of the good work done up to that point.
That said, overall the movie works very well at keeping the tension ratcheted up for main part of its duration, and if the idea of numerous close-ups of various parts of Lively’s anatomy appeal to you then you could do much worse than spending 86 minutes watching “The Shallows”…
The other night my wife and I watched “Eye In The Sky”, a drama thriller directed by Gavin Hood (“Enders Game”, “Rendition”) that hit UK cinemas earlier this year.
The film opens with Alia Mo’Allim (Aisha Takow), a young girl playing in the dusty back yard of her family home in Nairobi, Kenya. As the camera pulls away further we see more of her surroundings from above through the crosshairs of a drone camera, before the scene switches to very early morning in the UK. Here we meet Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren – “The Debt”, “Excalibur”) waking to news that an undercover British / Kenyan agent has been murdered by the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.
Powell is commanding a mission to capture some important Al-Shabaab members in Nairobi, including British and US nationals. This is a mission that involves Powell’s own unit at Northwood, US personnel in Nevada and Hawaii and Kenyan troops and agents on the ground in Nairobi.
The operation is overseen by a COBRA meeting where Powell’s boss Lieutenant General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman – “Die Hard”, “Robin Hood – Prince Of Thieves”) has to try to obtain clearance from the various politicians in attendance.
What begins as a fairly routine watch and extract-when-possible mission becomes problematic when one of the agents on the ground, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi – “Grimsby”, “Captain Phillips”) identifies that the suspects are arming themselves with suicide vests. Powell is determined that they should not be allowed to leave the house and decides that the mission objective must change from “capture” to “kill” and orders a Hellfire mission strike from the drone.
However, the Nevada-based Reaper drone operators Steve Watts (Aaron Paul – “Retribution”, “The Last House On The Left”) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox – “The Woman In Black 2 – Angel Of Death”, “War Book”) see that the little girl, Alia, is selling bread right outside the targeted property and request that the strike be delayed until she moves away.
Throughout there are assessments and decisions that must be made, from the various military and political characters and even though there is very little in the way of actual action the tension is certainly kept up as we witness that back-and-fro that takes place before a final decision can be reached. All of the main players give very convincing performances.
This is a very current and topical film and gives a really interesting insight into just how complicated even a single mission can become when political and PR concerns, not to mention emotional and moral responses, are added to the already difficult mix of military aims and the legality of them. Thought-provoking stuff. Definitely recommended viewing…
The other night my wife and I watched the 2015 crime action / drama / thriller film “Sicario”. The movie was directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Enemy”, “Prisoners”).
A by-the-book FBI agent, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt – “Wild Target”, “The Adjustment Bureau”), leads a raid on a home in Arizona that is suspected of being used by kidnappers involved with Mexican drug cartels.
Although Kate and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya – “Welcome To The Punch”, “Johnny English Reborn”) do not find the kidnap victims the team do discover dozens of bodies holed up within the walls of the house. An explosive device in an outbuilding kills two local police officers during the search.
Called in by their boss Dave Jennings (Victor Garber – “Self/Less”, “Alias”), Kate and Reggie are concerned that they may be in trouble. However, Kate has been recommended to join a Department Of Defense taskforce tracking down members of the Sonara cartel from Mexico.
The taskforce is headed by CIA man Matt Graver (Josh Brolin – “Jonah Hex”, “No Country For Old Men”) who tells Kate that they are flying to El Paso in Texas but is rather vague and evasive about the actual mission that they are undertaking.
On the plane Kate meets mysterious Colombian Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro – “Inherent Vice”, “Snatch”) and discovers that they are in fact going to Ciudad Juárez on the Mexican side of the border, though it is some time before she finally realises the real mission and the aims behind it, with hidden agenda seemingly everywhere you look!
I have no actual knowledge of the real Mexico, but I think it’s fair to say that this film won’t have tourists queueing up to visit some parts of the country once they’ve seen the headless corpses and corrupt police officers on show here.
There are some nicely ominous sounds on the soundtrack and fabulous cinematography of the Mexican landscapes, with the miles and miles of border fence being one of the sights that are particularly effective within the context of the movie. With a look at covert operations, we found this to be a thought-provoking and gripping action film with some solid performances from Blunt, Brolin and Del Toro. Well worth watching…
My wife and I watched an independent movie last night, a psychological drama mystery from director / co-writer Jon Knautz (“Jack Brooks : Monster Slayer”, “The Shrine”) titled “Goddess Of Love”.
Venus (Alexis Kendra – “Wedding Day”, “Girl House”) is a dancer (sadly with some of the worst costumes I’ve ever seen!) at a strip club where a fellow dancer, Chanel (Monda Scott – “Almost Kings”, “Original Stereotype”) tells her that to boost her earning power she needs to make the male customers feel that she is a living fantasy rather than talking about her real life.
When Venus dances for a customer called Brian (Woody Naismith – “Swelter”, “Concealed”), however, she learns that he is a widower following the suicide of his wife and before you know it the pair have embarked on a passionate relationship.
Brian is friendly with his late wife’s good friend Christine (Elisabeth Sandy – “Apocalypse, CA”, “Neighbours”), but when Venus finds out her jealous side begins to show itself, leading to all manner of problems – but are they real , or imagined?…
Kendra co-wrote the film with Knautz and whilst it’s not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen I have to say that, for me, she absolutely made the movie. She portrayed the role of the insecure and damaged Venus superbly, and showed such incredible expression just through the use of her face, and especially her eyes, that I was very impressed indeed.
A neat twist towards the end tied things together and clarified some of the earlier scenes, and overall I’d say that watching the film was 93 minutes well spent. Great stuff…
I’ve just watched a new movie from director Atom Egoyan (“Devil’s Knot”, “Where The Truth Lies”). Titled “Remember” the film is a drama / thriller, set in North American in the present day.
Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer – “Dreamscape”, “The Silent Partner”) is an elderly man who lives in an old folks’ home. We understand from the outset that he is suffering from dementia as he forgets that his wife has just died.
Another resident of the home, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau – “Space : 1999”, “North By Northwest”), who himself is confined to a wheelchair and has respiratory problems, explains to Zev that they are both survivors of the horrors of Auschwitz where both of their families were killed. Max reminds Zev that he had promised that once his wife had passed away he would track down the man responsible for those deaths, a Nazi named Otto Wallisch, and gives him a letter with all the information that he needs to do so – and to remember what he has set out to do.
Max had established that Wallisch apparently took on a Jewish name – Rudy Kurlander – to escape from the Allies at the end of the war, and moved to the U.S. He has tracked down the addresses of four men named Rudy Kurlander that could be Wallisch and so Zev slips away from the home and starts his trek around the States, causing much worry and frustration for his son Charles (Henry Czerny – “Mission : Impossible”, “Revenge”).
Gradually, with the letter to help combat his memory problems, Zev tracks the four men down. The first Kurlander (Bruno Ganz – “Downfall”, “Unknown”) was a soldier during the war, but served in Africa, and the second (Heinz Lieven – “Not My Day”, “Within The Whirlwind”) had been an inmate at Auschwitz because he was homosexual.
The third Kurlander proves to have died, but his son John (Dean Norris – “The Frozen Ground”, “Breaking Bad”), a state trooper, believing Zev to be an old comrade of his father’s insists that he should stay to see his dad’s collection of Nazi memorabilia. Despite an extensive collection, including an S.S. uniform, John lets on that his dad was just a cook in the war.
Despite being hospitalised after a fall, Zev eventually finds the fourth Kurlander (Jürgen Prochnow – “The DaVinci Code”, “Das Boot”) and confronts him, just as Charles finally tracks his missing father down. The climactic confrontation has a huge twist for all concerned, however…
I thought that this was an excellent drama. Plummer portrayed with great effect the pain of a man de-discovering every day that his beloved wife is dead, and the constant confusion that dementia sufferers have to deal with. The fact that his own memory was fleeting at best meant that he was completely reliant on what he had been told by Max, which gives rise to the troubling thought of just how vulnerable sufferers are to being misled.
A good story, well told, and thought-provoking entertainment. Definitely recommended viewing…
In the mood for a Sixties movie today, so I dug out the iconic 1966 mystery drama “Blow-Up” from writer / director Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point”, “Beyond The Clouds”).
At the start of the film we see a group of young people, who are wearing white face paint, running around London, interspersed with scenes of men leaving a doss house in the city. One of these men is photographer Thomas (David Hemmings – “Gladiator”, “Eye Of The Devil”) who has been taking photos of some of the residents for a book that he is preparing.
Returning late to his studio, he begins a shoot with model Veruschka (Veruschka Von Lehndorff – “Milo Milo”, “The Bride”). After this he begins a session with a group of models but grows bored and leaves part way through and heads for an antiques shop where he buys a propeller before wandering into a nearby park.
In the park he spies a man and a woman, seemingly two lovers, and covertly takes photos of them from a distance. When the woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave – “The Devils”, “Mission : Impossible”), spots Thomas she is furious and chases after him, demanding the photos. He later gives her a different roll of film, keeping the one that he used in the park and developing it with a view to adding pictures of the lovers in his book.
When he develops the pictures he notices something in the trees and blows them up larger and larger until he can discern a figure holding a gun, and then what appears to be a body lying in the grass. Convinced that a murder has taken place, he revisits the park and finds the dead body but is spooked by a noise before he can take any further photographs.
Following an eventful day that also involves sex with two models, seeing The Yardbirds performing in a club, and then going to a party where everyone, including his agent Ron (Peter Bowles – “Only When I Laugh”, “The Bank Job”) seems to be under the influence of drugs he awakes the next morning and returns to the park once more but the body has disappeared…
There are some rather random scenes in the film that add little, if anything, to the underlying story, such as when Thomas watches through blinds as his neighbours Bill (John Castle – “Antony & Cleopatra”, “The Lion In Winter”) and Patricia (Sarah Miles – “Ryan’s Daughter”, “White Mischief”) are making love.
The sequence that involves Thomas with the two models – a blonde (Jane Birkin – “Evil Under The Sun”, “La Belle Noiseuse”) and a brunette (Gillian Hills – “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Killer Wore Gloves”) and, especially, the scene involving The Yardbirds (including both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) performing to the least enthusiastic audience I’ve ever seen equally both seem like filler rather than being essential.
Having said all that, and despite the central mystery never being resolved for the viewer, I really enjoyed the movie. It was made before I was born so I have no idea how accurate a portrayal of London in the swinging Sixties it is, but nevertheless the film is evocative of a time – the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Twiggy and the Krays – that I never knew but still holds a certain magic today. The movie may not give any answers but it supplies plenty of entertainment…
Today I watched an action / drama movie from 2011, directed by Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight”), entitled “5 Days Of War”.
Following the quote that “the first casualty of war is truth” – attributed to US politician Hiram Johnson in 1918 – the film opens with the statement that five hundred reporters have been killed during the previous decade in war situations.
We then head to Iraq during 2007 where we meet freelance reporter Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend – “The Last Legion”, “Hitman : Agent 47”) and his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle – “Coupling”, “Pusher”) coming under fire. Anders’ colleague and lover Miriam Eisner (Heather Graham – “From Hell”, “Austin Powers : The Spy Who Shagged Me”) is killed before he and Ganz are rescued by coalition forces from Georgia.
A year later the pair head to Georgia when a fellow reporter, Dutchman (Val Kilmer – “Top Gun”, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), tells them that he believes a new conflict is brewing between Georgia and Russia.
Waiting to meet Dutchman’s contact who will guide them to the town of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia, Anders and Ganz watch and film a wedding party in a small Georgian village.
During the party they are witness as the village is attacked by Russian helicopters, leaving many dead. The reporter and cameraman manage to escape, together with local girl Tatia Meddevi (Emmanuelle Chriqui – “Three Night Stand”, “Entourage”) who – as luck would have it – studied political science in the US and can act as interpreter for them.
Meeting up again with Captain Rezo Avaliani (Johnathon Schaech – “The Prince”, “The Poker Club”), who had led the forces that saved them in Iraq, the new trio reunite with Meddevi’s father and sister and manage to covertly film some paramilitary forces, hired by the Russians, committing war crimes.
Once the leader of these forces, Colonel Alexandr Demidov (Rade Serbedzija – “Mission : Impossible II”, “Middle Men”) and his right-hand man Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen – “Trench Road”, “Under The North Star”) realise this there begins a race for the reporters to get the footage uploaded before the Russian backed forces get their hands on the evidence.
They find that the US networks aren’t interested in what’s happening in Georgia as the 2008 Olympics are just getting underway – and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia – “The Untouchables”, “Let’s Be Cops”) is having just as hard a time getting any help to repel the Russian invaders from the US or Europe…
The film ends with a montage of Georgian people holding pictures of relatives that they lost during the conflict.
This is an interesting film, and all the more engaging for being based on true events and seen through the eyes of reporters but also of civilians – the latter being those that suffer hugely through something that they really haven’t signed up for – rather than the soldiers involved.
The movie was apparently financed with funds coming from sources close to Saakashvili, who was at the time still President of Georgia, and one of the film’s producers was listed as Mirza Davitaia who was himself Deputy Minister of Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sports for the Georgian government. It is perhaps no great surprise, then, that the movie’s relationship with historical accuracy seems a bit biased. I am no expert on this conflict or the events leading up to and surrounding it, though I doubt it is as one-sided (the big bad Russians) as depicted in the film.
That said, director Harlin has stated that “…I talked to a lot of refugees. And I met with a lot of foreign journalists that were still there, who had covered the war. All of these stories started to emerge… we really did the research, and we studied reports from the UN, and on the internet, and the news, and the human rights watch. We wanted to get the timeline, and the facts of the war, very real, and very right. It wasn’t easy, because there was a lot of misinformation on the internet. And a lot of news agencies had covered the story from a point of view that wasn’t faithful to reality… the details of this story were things that we directly heard about, or read, or a combination of the two. The characters were either people we’d learned about, or we took traits and combine those…”. So, although some aspects – the inevitable love interest for example – may be pure Hollywood, there is clearly a lot of truth here, even if it is predominantly from one side of the story. Going back to that opening quote I’m not convinced that this movie presents the truth, rather a somewhat biased and over-simplified version of it.
But, having been moved to find out a little more of the story behind the film I can say that despite some of its shortcomings this is still a really quite powerful movie that gives you plenty to think about. Not only in terms of where other countries choose to get involved, or not to (there is a discussion in the film about Rwanda and the reasons for the West not getting involved) but largely around the complete horror of war, and the unnecessary atrocities that so often accompany it…
“Gail Timson and Nick Hale’s secret affair is exposed when Gail’s husband Barry is shot dead, and they are both arrested as suspects. Released, but under scrutiny of police, press, public, and family, they skip bail and abscond together.
Helped and hindered by witness and suspect alike, the police struggle to identify Barry Timson’s killer. But Barry’s violent brother Alan has made up his own mind, and is determined to exact revenge.
Are Gail and Nick innocent or guilty? And will police solve the case before Alan gets to mete out justice his own way?
There are no bizarre government plots in ‘Love Sex Work Murder’, no incredible coincidences, and no clichéd extreme hero or villain characters. Neal Bircher’s thought-provoking, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and often moving tale is of a drama that befalls ordinary believable people, and is all the more compelling for it.”
I’ve taken a couple of weeks away from blogging, partly through ill-health. Largely, however, it was because I felt that being in possession of a somewhat addictive personality (anyone who knows the extent of my music collection can attest to that fact!) I was beginning to feel that it was taking up too much of my life, hence the self-enforced break.
Now, feeling more positive about the blog and less compelled to post daily, I’m dipping my toes back in with a brief wirte-up on a novel that I read during that break…
“Love Sex Work Murder” is the 2015 debut novel from author Neal Bircher, about whom I have discovered very little – other than he is apparently a writer for radio, comedy and a number of motoring publications.
I thought that this was a pretty good debut, with characters that were rounded enough for the reader to care what happened to them.
The action moves backwards and forwards in time, which did make it hard going at times, I felt, and it was a little bit disorientating in terms of where you were and what was going on at any given time – but maybe that’s just me.
I wasn’t convinced by Gail and Nick’s frequent shedding of all their clothes outdoors throughout the winter – is that normal behaviour?! – but the rest of their relationship seemed to ring true.
That said, I did enjoy the story and the twists and turns that came with it. Generally speaking I thought the plot and characters were very believable. As the blurb claimed, there were no conspiracies or extreme heroes or villains to be found here, making the whole thing feel more grounded in reality than some novels.
So, a solid if unspectacular debut novel, with enough promise to ensure that I’ll be interested to see where Bircher goes if a second novel appears…