The VHS, The DVD & The Download – Films Globally Available on Home Entertainment InfoGraphic (2017)

Home Video Info Graphic copyBeing a purveyor of Home Entertainment in Film for many years (40 plus years to be exact), it was time to investigate how much the whole format of watching films at home has changed and developed from the mid 1960’s to now. Noting the variety of technology available and the film formats that went by the wayside (Philips 2000 Video, Betamax even the great LaserDisc amongst others).

This InfoGraphic represents the global releases of films from the late 60’s onto the Home Entertainment market, discounting television scheduling, pirate VHS/DVD and illegal Downloading which, if added, would alter the information greatly.

All formats officially considered ‘Home Entertainment’ are listed, though some might be missing, this is an illustration to provoke discussion and debate, it does warrant further investigating, but for now read and digest…

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The Ninth Configuration (1979)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Writer: William Peter Blatty based on his novel Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane

Score: Barry De Vorzon

Cast Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Moses Gunn, Richard Lynch

Year: 1979

Country: USA

Where to begin writing a review of this movie… This is something I have been thinking about before I even put fingers to the keyboard. To start with this film has been mis-catergorised as a horror film, which it is not, though horrible scenarios do take place, they are not the supernatural, blood letting or any traditional interpretation of horror. As an addition, I did find the BluRay hidden in the horror section of @fopphcharingcross instead of being on display as a stand along, multi genre piece that it should be seen as. So I have given you my first scenario, how do you define The Ninth Configuration in genre terms. I would say that it is a religious, metaphysical, social commentary anylais of mans constant struggle with the existence of God, his place on the planet and the fragile mental state of ones personality. Throw in that the titular character Colonel Kane played by Stacy Keach is may be slightly a un-hinged murderer, you may begin to garner an idea of what this film is about.

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The story takes us toward the end of the war in Vietnam, a large castle in a remote forest is used by the US Government as an insane asylum for high ranking military personnel. We are introduced to the inmates via a roll-call on the forecourt of the castle as a stern sergeant-major tries to get some semblance of order from the patients, Among the many patients there is a former astronaut, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who aborted a moon launch and was dragged screaming from the capsule, suffering from an apparent mental breakdown. Colonel Kane, a former member of a United States Marine Corps special psychiatric unit, arrives at the castle to take over the treatment of the patients. He meets Colonel Fell (Ed Flanders), who helps Kane acclimate himself to the eccentricities of the patients, introducing each one and their unique mental states. Kane pays special attention to Cutshaw, repeatedly asking him why he did not want to go to the moon. Cutshaw refuses to answer but instead gives him a St. Christopher medal.

They continue discussions about the existence of God, self-sacrifice and why would one man help another un-selflessly,. Kane is convinced that God has a divine path that all men follow, Cutshaw wants proof of this. In the meantime, Kane has requested that all the patients are allowed to act out their inner fantasies in the safety of the castle walls. The next scenes are then filled with a DeVinci painter, Moses Gunn as Superman, an assortment of Nazi soldiers and William Peter Blatty himself as a deranged doctor, and Jason Miller as a playwright staging a Shakespearean play with dogs! This makes to jobs of the warders and doctors even more stressful. Kane is trying to break the metal blocks on all his patient to see if he can ‘reach out’ to them.

In the meantime, Cutshaw escapes the castle and visits a bar. A biker gang recognises Cutshaw from news reports and tortures him. A waitress at the bar contacts the hospital, and Kane arrives to retrieve him. Kane humbles himself to the bikers, taking insults upon insults to extricate Cutshaw, but the bikers are disgusted by his behaviour. The gang attempt to torture Cutshaw once again. this time Kane snaps and kills most of the bikers with his bare hands. including Richard Lynch in a small role. Kane and Cutshaw return to the castle, and the police arrive to arrest Kane for the murders at the bar. Cutshaw visits Kane in his office, who is tired and  has wrapped himself in a blanket to rest on a chair. Dreamy and distant, Kane mumbles to Cutshaw about God and proof of human goodness before falling unconscious. As Cutshaw leaves the office, Kane’s hand emerges from his blanket and drops a bloody knife. Outside Kane’s room, Cutshaw notices a spot of blood on his shoe. Rushing back in, Cutshaw discovers that Kane committed suicide to provide proof of human goodness. This makes Cutshaw ‘snap back’ into reality as Kane has proved that an act of self-sacrifice can help and heal.

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The end of the film sees Cutshaw  return to the castle in full military uniform apparently well, where he decides to visit the rooms in the building, now abandoned by the Governmnet. Holding a letter written by Kane, Cutshaw now fully understands what Kane was trying to implie, that Kanes selfless sacrifice allowed Cutshaw to regain his mental balance and maybe find ‘God”

The BluRay release of the film in the UK actually passed me by, it as only by chance that a visit to @fopphcharingcross and a look through their horror section I found it. What did strike me as odd is that the film was hard to place in any category. But this is how it goes sometimes in the land of film collecting.

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The UK Quad Poster at the time depicted Stacy Keach in a prone scared posed with the lead biker holding a knife in a gloved hand, giving the first impression that this film was a violent thriller. The artwork seems to have borrowed heavily form Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange artwork, especially the warning triangle surrounding the biker, which was either a stroke of genius or the usual lazy graphic designers rip-off. Though thinking about it, both films were distributed by Warner Bros. so I guess the advertising department at Warners were feeling lazy at the time..

To sum up, The Ninth Configuration is a film that should be seen as I found it a challenging film to watch and understand.  As Blatty’s  background was as a Jusuit priest in training, his religious musings were easily enough to grasp and the collection of inmates at the asylum were well thought out and fantastically performed. The direction by Blatty himself is competently done all in all a very original movie. I am glad I finally watched The Ninth Configuratin and I am pleased that I managed to write a few words about this quite extraordinary feature film.

My Name Is Nobody (1973)

 

Henry Fonda… Jack Beauregard
Terence Hill…. Nobody
Jean Martin…. Sullivan
Leo Gordon…. Red
Piero Lulli…. Sheriff
Mario Brega…. Pedro
Directed by Tonino Valerii
Sergio Leone (uncredited)
Wrriiten by Sergio Leone (idea)
Fulvio Morsella (story) and
Ernesto Gastaldi (story)
Ernesto Gastaldi (screenplay)
Original Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi
Runtime: 117 min

My Name Is Nobody starring Henry Fonda and Terence Hill (Mario Grotti) is a pleasant slice of comedy and poignant Spaghetti Western which marked the slow decline of the genre which Leone virtually began with his Fistful of Dollars. This movie was created from an idea by Leone, though competently directed by Tonio Valerii, the resulting film still has various Leone hallmarks and seems to have the directors essence and style written all over it. My observation would be that ‘Nobody’ was Leones’ final swansong to the genre which lifted him into the international film world, and I would suspect that Leone may have wanted to control but not directly involve himself with the production. Many observers have agreed over how much influence Leone had on this production, but his marks are there, especially the beginning scene where Jack Beauregard has a shave, pointing his gun into the crotch of the ‘barber’ before dispatching the three gunmen with one bullet, there no dialogue, just tension and observation with the quick finale of action leaving our hero to wander away.

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Watching My Nane Is Nobody, one feels that this Spaghetti Western is reaching its final bow, moving on to the new age of progression, where the lone gunslinger in a lawless land has become a symbol of the old ways and cannot be part of the modern age. As a progression from ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ it is quite easy to see that even in a lawless frontier, technology and money can civilize even the most savage parts of the world, the locomotive was the symbol of this modern age, and featured proletariat in Leone’s later Spaghetti Western work. You cannot avoid the march of technology and so it seems can the Old West. Terence Hill, playing ‘Nobody’ has a good dose of charisma and very cool comic timing, and as the funny man to Fonda’s Beauregard the straight man Hill is fun and convincing to watch. as the young pretender, he is the ever watchful eye on Fonda as his guardian angel. his motives become clear near the latter half of the movies as Fonda’s questioning reveals that Nobody wants to make himself a somebody once he kills Beauregard in a gunfight, very clever if morbid. So fame and infamy may go hand in hand. It is interesting to note that Fonda, looking his age is the epitome of the old west, while Hill is the new era, unpredictable, not necessarily ready to deal with the new world; but armed with clever one liners and quick draw skills which at least would keep him one step ahead of the pack.

The score to ‘Nobody’ was written and orchestrated by Ennio Morricone, who here seems to have gone back over his old Spaghetti musical compositions and has decided to pay homage to his more classical tracks from ‘a Few Dollars, Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time’ et al, giving us a retrospective of Morricone’s classic compositions, but with a new sheen to them. He too seems to be telling us that the time is up for the Italian Western, that all that needs to be said is told here, a once and final triumphant signal that the modern world has finally come to the Old West. ‘Nobody’ even pays homage to Sam Peckinpah and his ‘Wild Bunch’ movie, again another turn of the century film depicting the change from the old to the new and hoe painful that change really is. unlike the ‘Wild Bunch’ Beauregard anonymously slips away to Europe, leaving behind what he knows, while the ‘Wild Bunch’ die in a hail of bullets not knowing any other way, is that all there is? one would ask…. Peckinpah is mentioned on a tombstone where Beauregard and Nobody first meet, again a nod to the old west coming to an end and the new world arriving, the Western is dead! as they say.

Tonio Valerii is a competent director of Spaghetti Westerns having directed several in previous years, so he was well suited to bring Leone’s ideas to fruition; but I think that Leone may have tired of the genre that made a career for him, so producing and idea creating seemed to be the perfect area for him to work, thus Leone could  on other projects including a long line of commercials for television which helped to pay the bills, but Leone only ever returned to the genre one more time, this time to produce another comedy western ‘A Genius, Two Partners And a Dope’ once again starring Terence Hill.

To sum up, ‘My Name is Nobody’ is a final call of the old Spaghetti Western and a change from the old to the new, there was nowhere to go and Leone felt he had done all he could with this genre. ‘Nobody’ is a fine ending to a well worn genre of the Italian Western.

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“150 pure bred sons-of-bitches on horseback, and you facing them!”

Coffy (1973)

Director: Jack Hill

Writer: Jack Hill

Score: Roy Ayers

Cast Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Sid Haig, Alan Arbus

Year: 1973

Country: USA

‘Coffy is a colour….’  as the main title lyrics goes….. and also the nick name of Pam Grier’s kick-ass heroine.

Coffy was the first film that teamed director Jack Hill and his lead actress Pam Grier in an straight hell ride revenge flick. This launched the career of Grier and made her into a strong feminine lead actress where Hollywood really had none. In the realm of low budget Blaxploitation film making where studios let things run, the strong female characters would flourish, with Grier being in the forefront.


Nurse “Coffy” Coffin (Pam Grier) seeks revenge for her younger sister’s getting hooked on drugs and having to live in a rehabilitation home, a product of the drug underworld hierarchy and a chain of violence that exists in her city, Coffy has had enough of her city crawling with dope pushers, pimps and the politicians who seem to be pulling the strings. Coffy picks up a sawed-off shotgun and decides to settle the score. Revenge fells good. In between some late-night cavorting with her civic-minded police boyfriend, the one-woman hit squad follows a trail of junkies and working girls to King George (Robert DoQui), the pimp of pimps, even his own shadow would be scared to cross him! Coffy infiltrates his harem of high-class escorts, which isn’t easy. Though her detective work isn’t exactly in Sherlock Holmes’s league, she talks and seduces her way into the inner circle responsible for most of the unseemly stuff that’d hacked her off in the first place. But who she comes face-to-face with there may prove more than one woman can take.

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At least without a loaded shotgun in her hands. Coffy comes finally meets with Allan Arbus as the diminutive mob boss who makes unusual demands of King George’s girls. Arbus is probably most recognized for his recurring role as Dr. Sidney Freedman in the television series “M*A*S*H.” The finale is all set up for a showdown with the top scumbag and only one of them is going to walk away!


I first saw Coffy on DVD in 2006 released on the MGM label  Soul Cinema which was their USA based. Later made available in the UK. I had not had  the pleasure of watching this film on VHS like my previous review of the classic Foxy Brown reviewed here Foxy Brown (1974). This particular print was on the Arrow Video release of Coffy on BluRay, a fantastically packaged edition, with a sharp print and a cool re-mastered soundtrack.

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Again, like Foxy BrownI thoroughly enjoyed the tough female protagonist that Pam Grier embud, Add that to a potent mix of a top draw soundtrack by Roy Ayers, the soundtrack is chock-full of quirky little catchy melodies and songs that while are far from Grammy inspiring material, provide humourous in lyrics full of colourful lyrical content that often goes nowhere, but still keeps the viewer toe-tapping to every beat. Including a fantastic cast of support actors, including Sid Haig, who plays unhinged menace so well in the films, you have another classic example of well made exploitation cinema, worthy of constant viewing and appraisal.

 

Going back to the soundtrack, I had the good fortune of watching Roy Ayers at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s SoHo some 15 years ago. He did actually play the title track to Coffy and it was amazing to hear, as the who band played the music pitch perfect and Ayers was the the all inspiring maestro, fantastic to hear.

The Exterminator 2 (1984)

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Direcctor: Mark Buntzman

Screenplay: Mark Buntzman

Score: David Spear

Cast Robert Ginty, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Geffner

Year: 1984

Country: USA

The Exterminator 2 was the follow up to the original Exterminator directed by James Glickenhaus and  released in 1984, four years after the first installment. Produced by the legendary purveyors of  exploitative sequels, Cannon Pictures this action thriller is set back in New York with out erstwhile vigilant John Eastland aka The Exterminator literally burning up the street scum with s flamethrower and  a neat welding mask to cover his identity. 

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The plot  has Eastland back on the savage New York streets dispensing justice. As the press have s field day with the masked avenger, a notorious street gang led by their leader X played with buffness by Mario Van Peebles decide that they should be ruling the streets of New York and  that The Exterminator has to be killed as he had also  murdered X’s younger brother, so a convoluted chain of events propels Eastland and  X  towards a showdown. Eastland, meanwhile has between vigilantism and looking for work, found time to have a relationship in the form of a club dancer called Caroline played by Deborah Geffner and as he meets another Vietnam war buddy Be Gee (Frankie Faison) who is also a garbage truck driver. He offers Eastland a job and in exchange Eastland enlists him in his vigilante war against X   The whole scene is now set for death and mayhem as Eastland loses all he has and catapults himself into a finale with X.

The screenplay by Mark Buntzman had jettisoned virtually all of the Eastland character back story, disregarding his loneliness and his re-adjustment to society so relevant in an ex soldiers life. and his lose of his best friend, emotional scars. At the end of the  original Exterminator, Eastland survives a shooting to be washed up on the Hudson river, we never find out in the sequel how he managed on from there and what he did to continue in his vigilantism. As we begin Exterminator 2, Eastland is  listening to police radios and tracking down criminals to kill. That saying the sequel is still a stripped down revenge film, short at an 89 minute running time  it still makes enough of it’s basic back story and the familiarity with the  Eastland/Exterminator character to deliver a straightforward revenge movie.

When Cannon Pictures optioned the sequel it was at a time that Death Wish 2 had come and gone  gone, Death Wish  3  was at the cinema so they wanted resurrect another vigilante classic, so Exterminator 2 was born. Glickenhas was hot approached to reprise the directing and writing roles so directorial duties fell to a jobbing director, Mark Buntzman stable director fir Cannon was drafted in. There were also cameos by Arye Gross in his debut role, and John Turturro. Exterminator 2 had a very troubled production which included budget problems, heavy re-editing and re-shoots, and censorship issues. Cannon Pictures studio wasn’t pleased with director Mark Buntzman’s original rough cut of the film, so they hired film doctor William Sachs to do extensive re-shoots in Los Angeles to make the movie better.

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I saw this film on it’s UK release in 1984 at the ABC Cinema at Elephant and castle South London. I was underage but managed   to blag my way in with my friend Billy H for an 8pm showing  it was one of those cinemas where it was easy to get in to if you knew how to convince the house staff at the time. The place smelled of stale water and urine  and was always cold, a graveyard like place  to watch films, which added to the atmosphere. I had persuaded my friend watch Exterminator 2 after giving him the plot synopsis of the original film and how I had watched it several times on VHS. Once we had seen the Exterminator 2 on the silver screen, I did have trouble convincing Billy we had just watched a fairly okay film. He has not really interested in seeing the original Exterminator based on what he had just seen. Shame!

It is an interesting fact that he UK cinema quad poster depicts Ginty as a muscled bound action hero in the mode of Danger:Diabolic  complete with rocket firing truck and a retinue of explosions which seems to sell the film as an all action war movie.  I liked the poster as it affixed my stare during  my journey to secondary school on the Underground. I did not care for a minute that it  had little  to do with  the context of the movie but it still an image I have not forgotten to this  day.

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So in retrospect Exterminator 2 has little to offer on the Exterminator mythology, more of how not to make a below par sequel with no input from it’s original creators. That saying as a piece of exploitative film work it is a good example of  creating a sequel that nobody really wanted and then building a following for an unwanted film. Either that is a genius stroke or pure luck, the viewer is left to decide.

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The Red Ballon (Le Ballon Rouge) 1956

Director: Albert Lamorisse

Screenplay: Albert Lamorisse

Score: Maurice Le Roux

Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Georges Sellier, Edward Auerbach, Vladimir Popov

Released: 19 October 1956 (France)

Runtime: 35 minutes

Country: France

The Red Ballon (Le Ballon Rouge) is a charming  short film shot in 1955 with minimal dialogue about a boy who is befriended by a red ballon. Filmed in the Parisienne suburbs, this a beautiful lyrical tale of a young boy who literally pursuers and befriends a large red balloon who follows him around I first saw this film as a young child in primary school during s mornings television session watching a programme called Picturebox. In the 70’s the only morning television during the week was  a series of educational programmes for ‘Schools and Colleges’ Picturebox was a half  hour programme that screened stories, this is where I first saw The Red Ballon.

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A short while later the film was screened on the newly created Channel 4 company as it became spectacle of many afternoon screening. I never made effort to record the film on to a VHS tape so after a while the film faded from memory but not enough that  I still remembered the actual red ballon itself.

The story which has a whimsical musical score but almost no dialogue, tells of of a young boy in a Parisian suburb called Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse), who, on his way to school one morning, discovers a large helium-filled, red balloon dangling out of camera shot on a lamp post. As Pascal plays with his new found toy, he realizes the ballon has a mind and will of its own. It begins to follow him wherever he goes, even floating outside his bedroom window, as his grandmother will not allow it in their apartment.

The balloon follows Pascal through the streets of Paris, and they draw inquisitive looks from adults and the envy of other children as they wander the streets. At one point it enters his classroom, causing an uproar from his classmates. The noise alerts the principal, who becomes angry with him and locks him up in his office until school is over. At another, he and the balloon encounter a little girl (Sabine Lamorisse) with a blue one that also seems to have a mind of its own too, as evidenced by its act of following his.One Sunday, the balloon is told to stay home, while Pascal and his grandmother go to church. However, the balloon follows them, through the open window, into the church; Pascal and his grandmother are led out by a scolding beadle.

In their wanderings around the neighbourhood, Pascal and the balloon encounter a gang of older boys, who are envious of him, and temporarily steal the balloon, while Pascal is inside a bakery, however, Pascal retrieves it, and following a chase through the narrow alleys, they throw stones at the balloon, and they soon destroy it with slingshots.The film ends as all the other balloons in Paris come to Pascal’s aid and take him on a ride over the city.

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This is a beautifully produced tale which benefits from it’s short running time as so much story telling is crammed into such a small running time. The score by composer Maurice Le Roux is a fantastic accompaniment to the movie, guiding the viewer wordlessly through each and every scene, evoking the feeling of the characters and the very impatient Red Ballon, many soundtracks try to evoke moods and expectations throughout the movie, this score surpasses that and adds so much to the colourful imagery on screen.

After so many years of not being able to watch The Red Ballon, fate intervened in the hand of a ‘flash sale’ by Network Distributions, who had released the film in an immaculate Blu Ray release with a re-mastered edition of the film and varied extras including the special effects used during the filming and an interview with the now adult lead actor. I have fallen back in love with this little film after so many years and I regard it as a little, sentimental masterpiece that transcends both cultural and time boundaries to be a virtual classic. Seek out a copy to watch, or try and catch a run at the Cinema, I think you might agree with me….

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My Favourite Films of 2016

2016 became an interesting year of film watching for me as I have personally had to change my cinematic viewing habits. This is due to the fact that I became a new father with all the responsibilities that fatherhood has bestowed on me.  So with this in mind I have had to forgo my usual weekly cinema jaunts and instead I have been watching the 2016 releases via irregular Cinema trips, On Demand subscriptions (very useful), buying the DVD/Blu as soon as it has been release (great 3 month cinema to DVD/Blu window on most non blockbuster releases) and the occasional preview DVD which kindly fell into my lap. Compiling my top favourites of 2016 has been a real eye opener as embracing other avenues of watching newly released films has become more varied and very much a technological innovative trip. Do not worry, this devoted cinephile knows full well that the best place to watch any movie is at the Cinema and I was blessed with a few trips to those fabled picturehouses, with even a date at the London Film Festival, so sit back, relax and see what films I enjoyed in 2016…

15. Deadpool  Director Tim Miller
As a Marvel comic book adaptation it was the usual studio set-up, for a grade B character but what makes this film a stand out example of how to make a comic-to-movie work, is the razor wit of the one liners, the comic timing of Ryan Reynolds and the whole cast and director do not take the making of this film seriously, which works a treat.

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14. The Accountant  Director Gavin O’Connor
This thriller has Ben Affleck starring as Christian Wolff a child with learning issues who grows up to become a top flight trouble shooting accountant during the day and a deadly killer-for-higher as his nighttime career. On his trail is a dogged old timer Treasury Department officer and his junior partner. If you can handle the premise then this is a film worth watching.

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13. The Lobster  Director Yorgos Lanthimos
The plot of this comedy drama is set in a near future, where single people, according to the laws of the country, are taken to a hotel, where they must find a romantic partner in forty-five days or they are transformed into beasts.  Analogys are rife in this feature, but if you have seen the directors previous film, Dogtooth then you can appreciate where he is coming from.  A very good cast as well play well with a very lateral script.

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12. The Hateful Eight  Director Quentin Tarantino
Okay a Tarantino film that I do like (including Jackie Brown (1998) his most mature work) plays well with Klondike era Spaghetti Westerns, Agatha Christie whodunnits and lashings of crooked sub Italian Western characterizations, with a score by El Maestro Ennio Morricone.

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11. High Rise  Director Ben Wheatley
This 1970’s near future set drama thriller is fantastically directed, well acted by the cool ensemble cast and the art direction is on the same fun levels that A Clockwork Orange had way back in 1971. The UK advertorial campaign was also well executed, with the UK film poster being very nice creation (see below).

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10. Nocturnal Animals  Director Tom Ford
I saw this feature only a few days before the end of 2016 and I really enjoyed what I had seen. It is a nice dark drama of a bored, bourgeois art director who is give a manuscript from her ex husband of this violent book, a revenge for an earlier incident they both went through. Good performances and an interesting opening credit scene and the most favourable of endings.

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9. Hell Or High Water   Director David Mackenzie
This film has a dogged performance form Jeff Bridges as a near retired Sheriff on the hunt for two outlaw brothers robbing banks in various Texan towns to pay off their mortgage. A telling plotline that sums up the camera shots of looming bill boars offering quick loans and credit cards throughout a once prosperous state. Bridges one liners and racial slurs are funny to hear.

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8. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens  Director J.J. Abrams
Yes I know, it was released in 2015, but for this viewer I saw it both in December 2015, then in January 2016 plus the BluRay release in April, so it is in my list, crowbarred in, so to speak! Several parts A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and a sprinkle of Return Of The Jedi, this is a film form a director who is a fan of the Star Wars mythology, though rough at the edges, there is a little glow that feels like a Star Wars film, only a little mind you, which works for me.

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7. Son Of Saul   Director László Nemes
When I saw Nemes’ film I was struck how well he focused on Saul throughout the film in a tight, claustrophobic !:37:1 aspect ratio, keeping the horrors of Sauls’ work in the concentration camp during World War II just out of the viewers eyesight, but enough to make you feel upset and horrified but what Saul sees. A film of true horror, but so gripping.

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6. The Nice Guys  Director Shane Black
Loved this film so much, the casting of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling reminded me of the old Bud Spencer/Terence Hill action comedies of the 1970’s-80’s, which incidental Crowe is a big fan of. Too clever for it’s domestic market, this film did well over here, but not enough to warrant a sequel! Shame.

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-5.Miles Ahead  Director Don Cheadle
A personal project for actor Cheadle, who wrote, directed and produced this great little biopic of Miles Davis, jazz muscian extrodinaire. I have spent the last year listening to alot of Davis’ work, especially the album King Of Blue, so this movie, about a semi fictional encounter between Miles and Ewan McGregors Scottish journalist is very funny to watch, layered with key flash backs and pointed attacks on the music industry. Well worth a watch.

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-5. Tale Of Tales  Director Matteo Garrone
This collection of three Italian medieval tales a screen adaptation based on collections of tales by Neapolitan poet and courtier Giambattista Basile: Pentamerone.It features another ensemble cast, from Salma Hayek, Toby Jones to Vincent Cassell, each tale touches upon the other, but never detracting from each other. This is Matteo Garrone first English language movie.

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4. Youth  Director Paolo Sorrentino
This is a fantastic film, set in a health spa in the Italian Alps and featuring a great cross performance from Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel and two long time artistic friends who meet regularly at the spa to wax lyrical about life, their children and the failures they have had to accept. This is also Paolo Sorrentino first primarily English language movie.

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3. The Neon Demon  Director Nicolas Winding Refn
Refn does Elizabeth Báthory, dog-eat-dog fashionistas on overdrive and the complete destruction of innocence. All done with so much neon in so many shots, this is Refn doing what he does best, dark, moody, violent with an electrifying syth score from Cliff Martinez.

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2. Hail Caesar!  Directors Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
This cool satire of the 1950’s Hollywood Studio system is so fantastically funny that I really did enjoy the Coens feature very much. Clooney plays a matinee idol actor, kidnapped by Communist sympathizers who convince him to join their group, at the same time Josh Brolins studio executive is keeping the lid on a pressure cooker blockbuster Sword ‘n’ Sandal epic with no leading man! Throw in some great cameos form Tilda Swinton amongst others and a classic scene with Brolin, a Cathloic priest,  a Rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest and a Baptist minister all discussing the merits of Jesus Christ on screen, classic.

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1. The Assassin  Director Hsiao-Hsien Hou
A poetic martial arts film with beautifully shot landscapes, wonderful performances and lyrical martial arts sequences, all shot in 1:37:1 aspect ratio. It all comes together perfectly this well produced Taiwanese, Chinese, French Hong Kong co-production owes much to the old classic Chinese political costume drams, infused with expertly stage martial arts scenes. A Beautiful film to watch.

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So this is my top film list for 2016, a rather varied collection I think, but ably summing up some of the movies I like to be entertained by. As I have spent the year discovering other ways to view the latest releases, I have have lost none of the enjoyment of film and cinema. So with that in mind, I thank you for taking the time to read my list…

MS.45 aka Angel of Vengeance (1981)

I first saw this film on a VHS rental copy from Warner Home Video back in 1992, which came into my hands as an avid collector of Video Films and knowing that this film was a rarity on the Home Video market. This edition was rated X, which was an obvious pre-cert release in the UK (see the example below) and was uncut as far as I knew. I was already familiar with Abel Ferrara  as I had already watched The Driller Killer (1979) on a pirate VHS (another banned title), so to get my hands on this title was a cool find.

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I watched the movie twice on Video and thought, yes, a revenge movie with many nods to Death Wish, but the victim becomes the avenger and not by association. This worked for me and from what I had read about Ferrara and his writing partner Nicolas St Johns weaved many religious tropes into the story line and visually, the finale where Thana (Zoë Tamerlis) dressed as a Nun, has a virtual thrill inspiring orgy of gun violence in slow motion as a literal Angel of Vengeance descended from Heaven.

The plot begins in the garment district of Manhattan of the early 80’s where we are introduced to a small fashion house, run by a salacious, camp like owner and his team of seamstress’ once of which is Thana (Zoë Tamerlis). Thana is a quiet, timid mute girl, pretty but unassuming who is always looked after by her colleagues and lusted after by her boss. After leaving work with here work friends, Thana decides to go home early instead of going out with her colleagues for a drink. As she leaves a supermarket, she is attacked and dragged into an alleyway where she is raped by a masked assailant brandinshing a gun the undulant being played by a Jimmie Laine. a pseudonym of Abel Ferrara. Bo sooner as Thana. been attacked she is then  assaulted in her own flat by a opportunist armed burglar which proves the  undoing of this quite timid woman as Thana reaches out for a red apple like paperweight ( shades of Snow White) and knocks out her assailant cold!  The next scene Thana uses and iron off sacred to finish the job properly.

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This begins a chain if events where Thana becomes an angel of vengarance, despatching male scumbags with the fury of a woman who does not want to tale the male domination scenarios anymore. As Thana becomes more violent in her attacks we see her very image change as she dress mire alluringly presumably to enticement male gaze and continue her killing  spree. There is one scene where her nosy neighbours dog, Philly is kidnapped by Thana who intends to kill him fir being annoying, though the dog is male and irritating that is enough to encourage Thana to kill! The police are little more than useless even to locate the neighbours missing  dog.

The final third of the film gears up to s costume party, presumably Halloween where we see Thana in full nuns outfit,stockings  and suspenders, this total male fantasy brandishing her 45 pistol as we see her point her gun at imaginary assailants while we here almost silent gunshots on the soundtrack. , We are drawn into her almost silent world where the only sounds Thana can make is through her pistol.  At the party, Thana is molested by her now drunk boss who is ultimately shot by her. This begins a rampage of shootings as one by one, in slow motion, male party goers are gunned down, even a man dressed as a woman, which causes a momentary lapse of concentration as Thana is confused as to why she shot a ‘woman’ and is finally stabbed by here work friend, only to let out a shriek form hell!

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Much has been written about the feminist slants this film seems to take, that this was a serious take on the rape-revenge storylines populating the cinema. It has been argued that Ferrara and writer Nicolas St Johns had created a paired down female revenge machine, that the real exploitation came with making the Thana character a mute, so she has to silently suffer the abuse meted out to her, we are forced not feel what she feels silently and horribly without being able to turn away. As Death Wish began a strand of revenge cinema populating the 70’s right through till today, MS.45 takes the revenge a few steps further and not in a comfortable way.

I have since watched MS.45 at the ICA in London a few years ago as part of their Fashion and Violence season of films, so I was finally able to watch an uncut print on the silver screen. More recently I purchase the US Drafthouse edition of MS45 on Blu Ray with a fantastic transfer of the film and a cool selection of video essays and interviews with the key creators of the film, including Mr Ferrara himself.

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As an example of Abel Ferraras work, this is a recommenced must-see of this directors work. As readers may know, I have a huge bias for Ferrara’s work, but I will say that this film is one to seek out as a very strong example of how a revenge movie should be.

 

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The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

Director: Terence Fisher
Screenwriter:  Jimmy Sangster
Soundtrack: James Bernard
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 37 Mins
Ratio: 1:66:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Restored BluRay Region B

Terence Fisher’s ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ was released in 1957 to huge box office success in both England and the United States, and made stars out of both Peter Cushing and a heavily made-up Christopher Lee. It was the first time that a Frankenstein film had been made in colour and with the censorship laws more relaxed than in the previous decade, a good injection of blood and a little gore was also added to the mix which made this version of the story the bloodiest yet. The script was revised several times to avoid repeating any elements from the Universal Frankenstein series. As part of this effort, new monster make-up had to be devised especially for this film which many critics commented that Christopher Lee looked like a car crash victim.
The story was adapted and re-written by Jimmy Sangster and in their new version we see Victor Frankenstein as a young man who has inherited the family estate of Frankenstein meeting his cousin who will later become his wife and employing a teacher so that Victor can study medicine in his own home. as the years go by both Frankenstein and his teacher begin experiments to re-animate animals and to set about the ultimate experiment, to re-animate a body made up of dead human beings. As the film progresses Victor Frankenstein tries to re-animate his creature several times causing death and destruction until ultimately Victor is put into prison and blamed for all the deaths in the village. In the end the message of this film is the same as the previous incarnations, man’ obsession with playing the life giver will ultimately end in his destruction and of those around him.

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In the opening credits we have a small prologue of white text on a red background introducing the Frankenstein, while the haunting score by James Bernard sets the tone for the preceding horror to come. We then begin with a tired and drawn Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) languishing in a prison awaiting his fate as he relates his strange story of his experiments. The cinematography is one of lush colours, beautiful, ornate sets and elegant costumes set in a backdrop of 19th century Europe. What Terence Fisher and hammer succeeded in doing was to recreate the mythology of Frankenstein in a bloodier and more explicit form. Here was a version of the story which was not afraid to show blood, human body parts, and have a cruel sense of humour. This Victor Frankenstein was seen as ruthless and very, very determined to make his experiments work even if it meant that he had to kill in cold blood, to him it was all part of his grand creation, to bring life to a body composed of all manner of human organs and make this being live.
Watching Christopher Lee stumbling about and not understanding what his very existence was for, I felt very sorry for the creature, who has to live like an animal, a trained monkey, with no will of his own who eventually dies in a hail of flames and a vat of acid! What an end to Frankenstein’s experiments. Curse of Frankenstein injected new imagery into an old story, the public had never seen explicit horror presented this way and in full glorious colour. It is no wonder that this movie did so well After this successful version, Hammer Studios made several sequels to ‘Curse’ continuing Frankenstein’s experiments with
re-animation, the first was Revenge of Frankenstein, followed by Evil of Frankenstein, then Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Horror of Frankenstein (without Peter Cushing) and finally Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell (Reviewed Here).

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Each sequel had some very good ideas but by the time Horror of Frankenstein was filmed, interest had disappeared for Frankenstein and his experiments, though Peter Cushing will always be remembered as Victor Frankenstein, a man who wanted to create life but could never achieve it a moral tale that has never been surpassed. I love this version of the story and feel that this is an excellent example of Hammers Golden Age, along with Dracula (Horror of Dracula), The Mummy and the Quatermass films, Hammer became synonymous with British Horror even the US market benefited from this new injection of full colour and bloody Horror and the partnership of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would make Hammer and enduring, iconic movie making studio in the annals of Horror.

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Baron Frankenstein: [after his monster has nearly killed him] I did it, Paul!

Enter The Ninja (1981)

Director: Menahem Golan

Story: Mike Stone

Score: W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder

Cast: Franco Nero (Cole), Susan George (Mary Anne Landers), Sho Kosugi (Hasegawa), Christopher George (Charles Venarius), Alex Courtney (Frank Landers), Will Hare (Dollars)

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I first watched Enter The Ninja on VHS  way back in the 1980’s, rented from my local Granada video rental store (those were the days)  and I enjoyed the hokey Americanized Ninja mythology that made up the movie.  Franco Nero, former spaghetti western mega star, is hopelessly lost amidst the uneventful script and even suspect dialog. Since he is playing an American, Nero is dubbed and appears totally uncomfortable as the titular character. Nero also is no martial artist, as Mike Stone, a stuntman and writer of the films screenplay, doubles for Nero in every action role. Filmed in and around the Philippine Islands, doubling for Japan as well, it seemed that Cannon Pictures were getting their monies worth by filming everything within 3 square miles of this lush jungle setting. This film is an excellent example of Cannon Pictures relentless plundering and budget scraping that this film actually did so well, usher the Western Ninja stream of films which peppered the 80’s action film scene.

The plot, as such, begins with a rather cool action sequence involving a white ninja being attacked by several read ninjas and one rather severe looking like black ninja who transpires to be the final protagonist in the film. The sequence turns out to be a final training for our man Cole played by Franco Nero, who as we are told is one of the few if only Westerners to complete the Ninjitsu training but some unfortunately the black ninja Hasegawa played by Sho Koshogi who is from a long line of samurai believes in honour and is not pleased at  training westerners in the ancient art of Ninjitsu.

Cole decides it’s time that he moves on and as advised by his teacher to use the skills  only in the pursuit of helping others. Cole departs on a plane to the Philippines where he meets with his old war buddy Frank Landers. upon arrival at Frank’s house Cole is greeted by a shotgun wielding Susan George, playing Frank’s wife Mary-Ann and obviously knows how to use it. It soon transpires it’s Frank owns a the small plantation the locals played with the local area who have been tomorrow’s vocal criminals bank of us not to work for Steve. Christopher George (No relation to Susan) plays the sinister Mr Big, Charles Venarius, trying to take over the farm land belonging to Steve, even hiring Hasegawa to fight Cole in a final showdown between the two Ninja’s.

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Watching Enter The Ninja now on a Hi-Def BluRay, I remember as a teenager loving the whole secret assassin thing, even though the action scenes were of poor choreography, there was something quite fun watching a tall westerner trade blows with a diminutive Japanese martial artist that put a smile on my face, Nero always looked a little out of his depth, I guess he did wonder what the hell he was doing in a Martial Arts film, the support actors were more willing to accept their lot and give as good as they could, with a poor script and uninspiring locations, it is still a fun film to watch for all those nostalgic reasons and as a great example of stitching a film together.

The actual BluRay transfer is sharp and crisp, as you would expect, being released by the American company Kino Lorber, who have the rights to a myriad of Cannon Films output, so hats off to them for a very good presentaion.

After Enter The Ninja’s success the film was followed by two sequels, Revenge Of The Ninja in 1983 with Kosugi as the only returning cast member. Kosugi would also return in the third Ninja film, Ninja III, The Domination, in 1984.

It is interesting to note that Cannon Pictures re-ignited the Ninja film cycle once again with their American Ninja  series starring Michael Dudikoff, which again kicked off a whole new cycle of Ninjitsu movies. As they say you can’t kill off a good Ninja, finding him is hard enough, killing him is a whole new ball game.

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