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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Cop (1988)

Director: James B. Harris

Produced by James B. Harris, James Woods

Novel: James Ellroy

Screenplay: James B. Harris

Starring: James Woods, Lesley Ann Warren, Charles Durning, Charles Haid, Raymond J. Barry

Music:  Michel Colombier

Cinematography: Steve Dubin

Edited: Anthony Spano

Distributed by Atlantic Releasing Corporation

I first watched this film at the cinema in London in 1988 in a small screen, Piccadilly if memory servers    This was a James Woods performance that really impressed me and wanting to watch the film again. I subsequently bought the film in VHS when it was released on sell – through for several more re-watches.

Based on the novel Blood on the Moon (1984) by James Elroy. It is the first of the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy. It was followed by Because the Night (1984) and Suicide Hill (1985). Although the novels are written in multiple perspectives and narrated omniscient, the main character in all three is Lloyd Hopkins.

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Cop begins with a black screen and the credits roll as the voice of a frustrated man trying to call the police filters through the main titles. As the conversation unfolds we gather that the man on the phone us burglar who has just reported a murder to the police while trying to rob the victims house. Cut to the first scene with James Woods playing titular cop, Lloyd Hopkins, as he lectures s new recruit in the art of following leads and eliminating false ones, while all the while walking through his busy homicide squad room where he takes the same call from the beginning credits and off he goes to answer the 911, what he discovers is a grisly serial killer like murder of a young women and a series of clues which lead him to suspect an anti-female killer is on the prowl.

The next scene are a lobbed but fraught as James Woods screen daughter who delight listening to daddy describe his murder cases in detail and ad libbing the dialogue, daddy’s daughter responds in her dads stories by swearing which upsets her mother and causes a major argument between her parents, the upshot being that Hopkins needs serious counseling as he is ‘so fucked up in the head’. His outlet comes in the shape of his old mentor Dutch played by Charles Durning an old time cop who is also Hopkins superior. In one scene both men team up to catch a well known hoodlum in the middle of the night, a good bit of fun for them.

As Hopkins pieces his evidence to together he begins to see s pattern, that this murder and other similar murders stretching back to the 1970’s maybe be linked in some way and as the true cop in the title, Hopkins must find out for sure. The story moves at a cool pace as Hopkins both tracks a friend of the murdered woman who masterminds sex parties for discerning clients, which gets Hopkins collar hot, enough to embark on a steamy one night stand, while trying to piece the case together. As he continues bating of his religiously skeptic Captain who would like Hopkins out of the force, as potential more victims might arrive. The latter half of the film sees Hopkins suspended but all the while suspecting that a secret love affair which.never transpired, is driving the serial killer to kill . Enter enter Leslie Anne Warren’s character as a feminist book store owner who wants to help find the killer, that she is romanced by Hopkins just so that he could use her to find the killer himself. This leads Hopkins to take some very serious risks in apprehending the killer.

Climax of the film with his character trailing the killer to the college where he began his mis-understood romance with Leslie Ann Warren and there is a fire fight in the school gym where Hopkins eventually corners The serial killer who wants to surrender as he is insane and that Hopkins is a cop, but Hopkins answer is a classic line that he ‘was a cop but he was suspended’ with a click of his shotgun….

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The film was one of several adaptions of Blood on the Moon, I have never read the book myself and I am guessing that this is a pretty good adaptation of the novel. Woods also  drives to create the act the character convincingly is all the more emphasis what works for me and makes everything very very believable I thoroughly enjoyed this film I would recommend people to watch nothing more to what extent the Woods who is great actor someone such intensity unbelievable that’s for the film itself is a great testament to small budgets are highly detailed police procedural server that works so well and ranks alongside some of the best the American cinema industry has produced. A killer ending, great jazz score with synths with a killer ending, that saying Wood’s this performance is top-notch and he holds the whole film together, every scene has him in the camera and it is fantastic acting piece.

Is the killer in the frame? Director James B Harris unusual has the serial killer character early on in the film, but you don’t even see the character as a full on participant in the movie, he is just there in the background and in several other key scenes we see glimpses of him but we never as an audience, interact with him. When I first watched the movie back in 1988  we are introduced to killer in nothing but an obvious long shot which is obviously watching points Woods disappears through doorway at the local bus station but on the right side of the screen you see a man watching want to leaving this is arson several other key scenes the killer is there hiding in plain sight but as the viewer you have to find him.

It would’ve been great if Woods had continued with the character of Lloyd Hopkins in the next two novels but as a standalone piece is a fantastic police opera well worth seeking out and well worth watching.

I watched this print on the Kino Lober Blu Ray label which is Region Encoded for the USA. Running time 1hour 50mins  58secs.

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My Favourite Films Of 2015

Well, that time has arrived again, an opportunity to tell you readers my favourite films of 2015. Though I guess it is a personal critic of what I watched at the Cinema and on Download (How modern). As an avid cinema goer I love to compile my favourites of any given year, but to share them with the global cinema crowd adds that extra touch. As these are my personal take on the Cinema of last year I hope you might agree with some of my views, if not, well, not to worry. Sit down, relax and have a read…

1. Mad Max Fury Road (2015) Director George Miller
This film, written by George Miller in collaboration, has had a long and oft troubled production history, with Miller stating that ‘15 years in production was way too long…’ but the finished production, a two hour car chase ac cross the desert is simple in it’s plot, fantastic in it’s visual landscape and the minimal CGI is a breath of fresh air to this old Cinema goer, so yes the throw back to the 1980’s is a fantastic treat for those film fans yearning for the old school action films of yesterday.

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2. Inherent Vice (2014) Director Paul Thomas Anderson
A great little detective movie from an American director known for his nuanced character driven movies. I enjoyed this film for the performances from Joaquin Phoenix as the laconic, dope headed detective Larry “Doc” Sportello searching for his former girlfriend amongst the drug pushers and pimps of downtown Los Angeles during the 1970’s. Based on a novel which was said to be un-filmable (which I have not read) I thought this was a cool movie, great soundtrack and some nice cinematography capturing the 70’s vibe.

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3. Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2014) Director Gabriel Clarke
I really enjoyed this film which I reviewd here:https://wordpress.com/post/cultofthecinema.wordpress.com/336  which has now become my third favourite film of 2015, this is a biased choice and I do not really care. It has Steve McQueen which is a huge plus side and the unearthed footage of the trouble production of his film Le Mans is fantastic.

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4. Amy (2015) Director Asif Kapadia
At the time of writing this list, Channel 4 UK had just aired this Documentary which made it a timely re-watch. It is still a fascinating documentary about the very talented Amy Winehouse and her whole world of beautifully crafted music and her entourage of people who had their own self interests at heart. It is still a sad movie to watching knowing the untimely ending. Very moving.

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5. Macbeth (2015) Director Justin Kurzel
This adaption benefits from some of the most beautiful cinematography I have seen in a long while. The story is old enough and adapted enough to not warrant a synopsis, butb the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Coulitard is enough to make you want to watch this version. Atmospheric to the max a fantastic film to watch.

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6. Legend Director Brian Helgeland
Take one American writer/director, a classic British true life gangster story, a stand out double performance from Tom Hardy and you have the film that is Legend. Not a film that was supposed to work, but it does. It has it’s flaws but they are out weighed by the performances and the sense of it’s period.

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7. Far From The Madding Crowd Director Thomas Vinterberg
I liked this adaptation for all the reasons the other films are on this list, the performances are again excellent especially Carey Mulligan, the cinematography is excellent, capturing the beautiful countryside of old England wonderfully and the whole film has a dated feel which I truly felt at home with.

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8. La French  aka The Connection (2014) Director Cedric Jimenez
Yes when it comes to crime films, the French have a certain way to tell their stories, whether Jean-Pierre Melville hard boiled crime flicks, or the charms of Alain Delon, French crime films have always had a sense of style, intelligence and a wit that l always enjoy. La French  (The Connection) based on the same stories as the French Connection has Jean Dujardin as a crusading youth judge turned criminal investigator who wants to arrest drug kingpin Giles Lellouch. These two men cross paths and their lives slowly disintegrate as the the reach their inevitable conclusion. A classic.

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9. Scario (2015) Director Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve is a director I have admired since watching Incendies (2010) and reeling at the shock conclusion to that film. Prisoners (2013) was another taut thriller which had a downbeat ending which was again fantastic. Scario is a excellent for a strong performance by Emily Blunt, with nuanced support from Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin with a really a tonal soundtrack which I enjoyed very much.

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10. Wild Tales aka Relatos Salvaje (2014) Director Damián Szifrón
What my intial eye about this film was the extended trailer/featurette showing one of the stories set on a plane, which as the story unfolds, each passenger had a link to an unseen main character. Eventually said plane begins to nose dive taking it’s passengers with it as it is about to hit the house of the unseen protagonists parents! Excellent. With an opening story, this collection of revenge and counter revenge is a great little feature from Argentina, well worth seeking out and enjoy the visual ride.

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11. Timbuktu (2014) Director Abderrahmane Sissako
‘A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives, which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith, abruptly disturbed.’ I really enjoyed this drama and learnt a little about another culture which is always cool in my book. Sissako delivers a powerful snap shot of life under a Jihadist rule book and how ordinary people live in fear of being forced to adopt a way of living removed from what they truly believe in.

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12. Straight Outta Compton (2015) Director F. Gary Gray
This is the authorized biopic of Dre Dre and Ice Cube’s rise to Rap super-stardom with Niggas With Attitude (NWA). Superbly directed, well acted and great to see Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, their manager and sometime mentor in a spot on role for him. The music, if you like Rap, is superb, the actual story is pretty well crafted wether wholly true is probably not relevant, it works well all round.

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13. Black Mass (2015) Director Scott Cooper
This film is one for cinema goers who have forgotten that Johnny Depp can really act. Based on the true story of notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his violent double-life as an FBI informant. Depp steals all the scenes, has a cool time being the villain and is so very menacing. Excellent.

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14. Hyena
A personal favourite of mine, this British made, London set police crime film is full of nasty coppers, even more nasty gutter gangsters and corruption aplenty, all set against the rain soak London streets. Nasty, visceral and aptly named, not a film to shy away from. This was also recommended to me by @HeidyMo when it played at the Toronto Film Festival.

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15. Girlhood aka Bande de Filles (2014) Director Céline Sciamma
This film I enjoyed because yet again it is a cool slice of French urban life with the right amount of drama, pathos, humour and street-smarts to engage the audience. You do care what happens to the characters. Considering hardly any of the main actors were professionals, Sciamma manages to gain some strong performances from her leads. a highly recommended drama.

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Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2015) London Film Festival Review

Director: John McKenna
Screenwriter:  Gabriel Clarke
Soundtrack: Jim Copperthwaite
Starring: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams McQueen, Derek Bell, Jonathan Williams, David Piper,  Alan Trustman, John Klawitter, Peter Samuelson, Haig Altounian, Les Sheldon, Michael Keyser, Mario Iscovich, Craig Relyea, Bob Rosen, Siegfried Rauch, Louise Edlind, Hal Hamilton
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 56Mins
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Cinema, Part of The London Film Festival 2015

Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans is a documentary film based around the making of Le Mans which was shot between July 1970 and November 1970 and became an infamous piece of film making and on-set production disasters which have become legendary in Hollywood film circles. This film had it;s UK premier at this years London Film Festival (2015).
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I have a very personal love of Steve McQueen’s movies and the whole mythology surrounding him as an actor and producer. After watching many repeats of The Towering Inferno and Bullit back in the 70’s on TV, I often wondered as a youngster what made this actor bring the screen to life with a knowing look or small gesture towards the screen. There are few actors that can come nearly half way through a films running time and just ‘take over’ the film from his peers (Towering Inferno) and just run with it, one that does spring to mind is Orsen Welles in The Third Man (1949), though I know there are others and I will probably have them pointed out in due course!

So to start with, I had a fantastic seat right in the middle of Row Q Cineworld Haymarket, facing the screen dead centre ! Excellent. Then a brief introduction by Adrian Wotton, one of the programmers of then festival who also introduced the writer and director and the feature. British TV documentarians John McKenna and Gabriel Clarke. With a few choice words the DocuFilm was screened to the waiting audience….

The Film itself charts the fraught creative process of Steve McQueens film Le Mans from the initial concepts, through McQueens insistence on authenticity and to demonstrate his passion for the motor racing sport and for the drivers who McQueen looked up to and emulated throughout his career as a driver.
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The film interweaves stunning newly discovered footage (which I always scratch my head at and cast a dubiously eye over) and voice recordings with original interviews within the people who new McQueen well. It is the true story of how a cinema legend would risk almost everything in pursuit of his dream. Contributions from McQueen’s first wife Nellie, his son Chad and other members of his entourage who knew the man well. What comes out from this film is the intense love the contributors have for McQueen, even though he was a man blessed with being a difficult to work with and interested in racing cars bikes and bedding women, all the time showing to the public how much he was close to his family.  A paradox if ever there was one.

McQueen had wanted to make the ultimate car racing movie, to out do any before and any after. It was well documented that when Grand Prix, starring James Garner was released, McQueen was not  best pleased, even ignoring Garner for years because of the picture.
With McQueen’s box office sales, he was well positioned to green light any film he wanted to make, including his long cherished project, Le Mans.

McQueen’s production company, Solar Productions, had signed a six-picture deal with Cinema Center Films, which had invested $6m in the movie, the largest budget ever for a McQueen film; but as the months dragged by and the eventual walking out of the films original director John Sturges and the virtual shutting down of the production after the budget spiraled out of control.
the backers started to grow nervous. Eventually Cinema Center Films moved in on the production (it had not previously been involved in the filming process) and took over completely, sending another director to replace Sturges. There were two on set car accidents, including one driver who lost part of his leg in the accident. It was later discovered that the particular scene need not have been filmed, which adds even more angst to an already fraught production.

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McQueen was reluctantly forced to act in the film only, When you watch hie performance, you can tell that McQueen was on virtual auto-pilot, not to say it was a bad performance but one from an actor who could command the whole picture at any point in the movie, he was not really there.

After Le Mans, McQueen contributed some memorable performances, but the tired look in his eye may have been form his love and loss on the set of Le Mans, the creative reign which was ripped from him and the subsequent quieting of the King Of Cool.

I as you have guessed it, enjoyed the DocuFilm very much, the found footage did show McQueen away for his acting persona revealing a man who wanted and took all, but had to live with outcomes he could not always face. McQueen’s legacy lives on, this film adds to the whole mythology and whether you see Steve McQueen as a reckless egotistically actor-producer or a man who wanted to show to the world he was not all about looks, smiles and acting, but someone who had passions outside his chosen profession and a respect to the drivers who risked their own lives to win the race!

I for the record, respect him even more as a human being and as an actor. #LFF

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