Friday 6 April 2018

The Facebook Reviews! Part 2

Beyond the Door 2 aka Shock (Italy 1977: Dir Mario Bava) First time for re-viewing this since I saw it at the cinema in 1980 twinned with a heavily snipped version of Vicente Aranda's The Blood Spattered Bride (1972), under its original title Shock. Although it's Bava's last feature directing credit it's much better than I remember and is very creative on a slim budget. Its urban setting pre-empted most of the 'haunted semi' movies of the late 70s/early 80s (it reminded me of an extended Thriller TV episode with added gore, and Bava's son Lamberto, who worked on it, said that his father was very influenced by Stephen King's writing at the time). Poor old Daria Nicolodi goes through it in a way that reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (co-incidentally both actors were 27 years old at the time of filming their respective movies). And for those who haven't seen it, there's a sleight of hand trick at the end that's incredibly effective.

Madhouse (Italy 1981: Dir Ovidio Assonitis) The third in Assonitis' run of horror movies as director (preceded by Beyond the Door and Tentacles), Madhouse is slow to start but, as the title suggests, works up a bonkers head of steam. Trish Everly plays Julia whose ten tons o' crazy twin sister Mary is confined to hospital after contracting a wasting disease. Pretty Julia is a teacher at a school for deaf children (there are some sweet scenes with the kids) but her life is in peril not just from her sister, who has escaped from hospital and is hellbent on revenge, but other members of the family too. Madhouse is all about the last half hour really but on the way you get a demonic (ok just angry) mutt, some slow motion running and a soundtrack whose instrumentation largely comprises double bass and syndrum (you know, like the one in the 1980 Kelly Marie song 'Feels Like I'm in Love'). The movie's working title was Happy Birthday and even if you've not seen it you don't have to be a genius to work out how the film's big set piece might be set up. Filmed in the freezing cold in Savannah, Georgia in a rambling old house, Madhouse has just enough going for it to sustain the attention; it's infinitely better than Beyond the Door, that's for sure.

The Party (UK 2017: Dir Sally Potter) Saw this yesterday. I am afraid it left me completely cold, which wasn't the case for the rest of the audience, who collectively found it a hoot. The script had the opportunity to be acidic but Patricia Clarkson's one liners were all undercooked, and Timothy Spall, who I have a lot of time for, overacted for England.

The only vaguely interesting character was played by the gorgeous Cillian Murphy - the rest of it was just an arch chamber piece rattling around in search of a decent one act play. Funniest bit was the audience who presumably didn't know it was only 71 minutes long (perfect for me as I had somewhere to go afterwards) and were audibly shocked when it ended abruptly. I did like the house's walled garden though. Always wanted a walled garden.

Aenigma (Italy 1987: Dir Lucio Fulci) Not nearly as dire as many have made out, this shows a rather restrained Fulci at work in a film which despite its indebtedness to movies like Carrie (revenge on girls who play a near fatal prank - actually the 1978 Carrie ripoff Jennifer is closer to the mark) and the 1978 Aussie movie Patrick (said revenge carried out by comatose patient in a hospital bed) has enough originality to make it watchable. 20 year old Lara Lamberti is pretty good as Eva, a newcomer to a Boston school (actually Sarajevo) where a bunch of girls have previously played a trick on one of their classmates, Kathy (Mijlijana Zirojevic). The prank goes wrong and Kathy is rendered comatose, but the wronged student uses newly arrived sex mad Eva as a vessel to wreak revenge on the girls that put her in her vegetative state.

There's death by snails (which, if you're interested, takes ages), aerobics, and a weird menage a trois involving the doctor taking care of Kathy, Eva (and by default Kathy too). Working with reduced budgets and ill health, it's perhaps a marvel that Fulci's film turned out as well as it did. Best seen as one of the director's many attempts in the 1980s to branch out into different territories, and certainly better than many of his other 'experiments' in the same decade (Conquest, I'm looking at you).

Far from the Madding Crowd (UK 2015: Dir Thomas Vinterberg) Vintenberg's reworking of the Thomas Hardy novel is so polite and anxious not to offend it almost asks for your permission before showing itself to you. Although some of the turns are good - Michael Sheen as the increasingly unhinged William Boldwood steals the show - Carey Mulligan doesn't yet have the range of emotions needed for Bathsheba Everdene so merely comes across as a backs to the land proto feminist, and Matthias Schoenaerts - complete with Mittel European accent - misreads the complex and brooding Gabriel Oak character as requiring the 'strong and silent' treatment. To be honest I wilted a bit when the first title card read 'Dorset - 200 miles from London' and it didn't really pick up from there. This is Sunday tea time stuff and no more, with all the depth of the source material removed in favour of lots of profound turn-of-the-seasons shots and just one more close up of Miss Mulligan framed by the magic hour west country landscape. Disappointing.

Begin Again (USA 2013: Dir John Carney) Call me uncharitable (and I am aware that Begin Again has its fans), but I found this film both uninteresting and faintly nauseating - a movie for those who believe in the ultimate truth and beauty of car advertisements. Mark Ruffalo is a vaguely alcoholic record company mogul who seems to have been responsible for most of the key musical happenings in the western world, but has become disillusioned with his firm's obsessions about getting songs onto adverts and putting media teams behind every signing. His delight at seeing winsome Keira Knightley, singing one of her breathy compositions in a bar, makes the scales fall from his eyes as he realises that he's been missing the essential truth of good honest from the heart music. What's baffling is that Knightley seems to be the first 'singer/songwriter' he's come across - where has he been for the past five years?

If the set up sounds interesting (and it takes 45 minutes to get this far using the old cinematic standby of showing three different perspectives leading to one moment), the remaining hour focusing on Ruffalo and Knightley recording their album alfresco on the streets of New York City definitely isn't. This is essentially a retread of let's-do-the-show-right-here wish fulfillment movies of the past, but lacks any of the grit that underlies the film's message about keeping it real - it's as manufactured as the music it sets out to rally against. Director John Carney should have watched Alan Parker's 1980 movie Fame to get an idea of how to combine urban settings with the euphoria of artistic creation, but this just had me thinking of that advert with the guy hanging out of his impossibly expensive loft apartment to the strains of 'Easy Like a Sunday Morning'. Atrocious.

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