Thursday, 29 January 2015

Zontar, the Thing from Venus

More delirum beamed from the dustbin of satellite television and today I watched Larry Buchanan's 1966 TV film Zontar, the Thing from Venus. One for the trash aficionados, with its stilted line readings, flat direction and a NASA mission control room that would disgrace a school play. Not without its own peculiar charm, although the highlight of the film came in the opening credits when I spotted S.F. Brownrigg's name on sound duties. Curiously though, about 29mins in, and for no explicable reason, was a very fleeting shot of a scantily clad female. Zontar-a-go-go as it were... Incidentally, I was looking for a trailer over on a youtube as a taster for the film, and found one of those video reviews, in which the presenter declares the film was directed by Larry Cohen - which is probably the worst thing Larry Cohen has ever been accused of...

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bloody Pit of Horror

I've been slumming it lately, film wise, with one of the backwater TV channels broadcast over here - InformationTV, which among other things shows greyhound racing, programmes for caravan enthusiasts (?), and some interesting public domain curios - albeit, in absolutely appalling condition - think of those Mill Creek boxsets and you're close... Earlier today I caught Bloody Pit of Horror, which I'm a little ashamed to say I hadn't seen before. Despite Frank Henenlotter's enthusiasm for the film, I though it was a bit of a bore until the third act when the film shifts up a gear and Mickey Hargitay gleefully runs amok in his torture dungeon administering all sorts of elaborate Inquisition-style abuse, which goes someway to make amends for the bland cast, horrid art direction and the wildly inappropriate loungy, big band jazz soundtrack... Watching the film I was imagining Hargitay chasing Jayne Mansfield around the Pink Palace dressed as the Avenger, but they were divorced before the film went into production...

Monday, 26 January 2015

Naked City

There are 138 episodes in the Naked City boxset, and I've just watched 3 of them... I've had this substantial 29-disc boxset for some time now, but I'm in a noir mood at the moment and time seemed right to indulge. I've only just scratched the surface of this gritty late '50/early '60's police series but it already fits like a comfortable shoe, the stories are tight and economical and the NYC locations are tremendous - a brutal, unforgiving metropolis peopled by men wearing trench coats lined with guilt and hats hiding their eyes...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Alexander Nevsky

Just watched Eisenstein's 1938 sound film Alexander Nevsky... Leaving aside the thorny issue of state sponsored propaganda, the film remains an incredibly thrilling spectacle, as 13th century warrior-Prince Alexander answers the call from Mother Russia to defend her land against invading Germans (who think nothing of throwing Russian infants onto bonfires). The film's most famous section, the ice battle, where swirling masses of Russians and Germans clash on a frozen tundra is hugely exciting stuff; Eisenstein falling back on techniques he mastered with his silent films - the under-cranked camera, the rapid-fire cuts, creates a sequence of tremendous sweep and motion. Watching the film, I see echoes of Alexander Nevsky in later historical epics like Doctor Zhivago, Andrei Rublev, Conan the Barbarian and Kingdom of Heaven. And I'd like to think that John Ford saw a print of this at Fox and admired Eisenstein's massive monochrome skies...

Friday, 23 January 2015

Edgar Froese

News just filtering thru to me that Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream passed away on the 20th at the age of 70. I've been a massive Tangerine Dream fan since my teens when I used to listen to Alpha Centauri in my bedroom with the lights off (it probably has the eeriest opening to any album ever). Tangerine Dream's sound eventually mutated (diluted?) into a more muzak-sounding new age style from the mid-80's onward, but everything up to 1984's Poland is superb. Froese's solo albums - at least the ones he recorded for Virgin remain essential for any classic era-TD fan. Froese's unexpected death must now surely close the chapter on Tangerine Dream...

It Came from Connemara!!

I was the biggest producer in Ireland at that time”, chuckles Roger Corman in the affectionate hour long documentary It Came from Connemara!! which I caught yesterday. This film tells the unlikely but fascinating story of Roger Corman setting up a film studio in Connemara in the mid-90’s, a largely rural, Gaelic-speaking region of the West of Ireland. Ever the shrewd business man, Corman was attracted to Ireland for the cheap production costs and generous grants the government of the day were offering to promote film-making. In the five years or so of activity, Corman's factory churned out a considerable stream of low-budget horror, sci-fi and action pics before the market for cheap video fodder began to dry up and Corman upped sticks and moved on. The documentary gathers together a number of cast and crew members that worked at the studio (incl Corbin Bernsen who starred in Spacejacked, and James Brolin who directed Flashpoint, both films from 1997) and despite the long hours and low wages, what emerges from the film is how much fun the experience was and what an invaluable training ground it proved to be. And happily, the studio is today now home to another film production company.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Dylan Speaks

Reading an old Bob Dylan interview over dinner (Mojo #51 1998) and was enjoying the sparring between Dylan and his interviewer - despite Mojo's man launching some nice punches, Dylan effortlessly dances (to borrow from Norman Mailer) around his opponent, landing a few stinging blows - at one point Mojo asks: "Is it a burden sometimes to be Bob Dylan ?" to which Dylan replies: "Well, it would be easier for me to be me than it would be for me to be you". Or when asked why he named his record label Egyptian Records, Dylan shoots back with "I don't know. It just popped into my head at the time" Ouch ! Elsewhere Dylan waxes lyrical on the then new album, Time Out of Mind, Harry Smith's Folk Anthology set, and my favourite moment - Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player: "I saw that movie a bunch of times because the snow part of it reminded me of back home where I came from...everything about that movie I identified with

Friday, 16 January 2015

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Watched the 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy earlier today and thought it was superb. I had watched the excellent BBC series in its entirety last w/end and quite honestly I feared the film would suffer by comparison. But happily I was wrong, and director Tomas Alfredson brings a fresh alternative to the BBC series - much of the dourness and drabness is now replaced by a distinct urban-ness and more than a few times I was reminded of The Ipcress File and the 70's paranoia cinema of Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet. Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the screenwriters have managed to condense the book (which ran 5hrs on TV) into a very coherent 2 hours, deftly handling some tricky exposition. Gary Oldman delivers one of the most understated performances I've seen by a leading man in quite some time, and orbiting around him are some fine British and Irish talent - John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds. Highly recommended !