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MINDHORN (2016) dir. Sean Foley

26 Jun

Back in the 1980s, a television programme called Bergerac staring John Nettles and set on Jersey island, was a household staple in the UK. The hero was a private detective solving the mysteries of Jersey. Closer to France than England, Jersey has brilliant blue skies, beautiful hedgerows, and is a kind of English, exotic, offshore tax haven paradise in the Channel.

There were numerous references to John Nettles in Mindhorn the movie. Set on the Isle of Man in the bleak Irish sea, Mindhorn was a popular television programme in the 1980s, apparently, when actor Richard Thorncroft played Detective Mindhorn, whose eye the Russians had replaced with a cybernetic one. In 2016 Richard Thorncroft advertises support socks and girdles for men. He lives in a flat in Walthamstow. He’s lost that ‘profile’ he needs to find himself cast in anything significant. He often mentions John Nettles.

His ex-costar and ex-girlfriend, Pat Deville, is now a reporter and living with his former stunt double in a big Manx house. His other co-stars are also still on the island and vengeful that he quit the show for Hollywood and thereby ended their careers. Thorncroft (played by Julian Barratt) decides to help out with a real-life murder case with the expectation he’ll be able to salvage something of his former glory.

Thorncroft will play Mindhorn once again in order to lure the suspect in. The Kestrel (the murder suspect pretends to be a kestrel) believes Mindhorn is real, you see.

About half way through the movie, Thorncroft is told he is ‘not only unemployed but unemployable’ by his agent, having epic failed with The Kestrel. The ferry comes to take him back to the mainland and then the action begins. Farcical undoubtedly, laugh-out-loud funny in places, Julian Barratt plays another variation of the boring geography teacher persona he’s well known for as Howard Moon in The Mighty Boosh. 

The surprises are no surprise and the plot twists are no surprise, but Mindhorn is basic British humour in its element. Cheap like the Chuckle Brothers and absurd like Faulty Towers, complete with a traditional village fete, the corporate base and offshore tax haven that is the Isle of Man hasn’t seen such publicity since Joey Dunlop won yet another TT race.


BRAZIL (1985) dir.Terry Gilliam

25 Aug

 Brazil is named after the song of the same name. It’s a stupid, cheery mindless song that occurs as theme music at moments of dreary monotony, symbolising the totalitarian state. ‘De de der de der dede der…’ insanely colourful in Gilliam’s vision of a grey future, in which a tendency for systems to return to disorder is exaggerated.

The irony of the juxtaposition between ideal and reality are summed up in the billboard we see in the background:

Could anything be more depressing or terrifying than losing your own identity amongst a sea of exacting others? When the protagonist, Sam Lowry, finally escapes from the dystopia he ironically hums Brazil.

The psychedelia of reminding the viewer that they are the viewer has something healing about it, a kind of self-reflexive appeal that releases our inner self, connecting to the universe in a new way. Withnail and I has this ability, The Holy Mountain also, both films remind us that we are watching actors act whilst the world turns around us. All three films are highly re-watchable – the  script has incorporated our contact as viewers, it takes a bit of our soul and we in turn take the message it contains and involve it in our lives, better people for the experience.

Brazil works upon our psyche in a subtle way. The passive theme music – as we are passive viewers – is part of another dimension until Sam hums it. Then he makes the world belong to him rather than submitting to the world. The dream sequences are symbols of his awareness of a dimension bigger than the screen (he has dreams where he is flying and fighting and in love with a woman). When the woman, Gill, comes into his life he must take possession of her. In the same way, the film comes into our sphere of reality and we must give it our attention. The underlying message is to try to make dreams realities: to believe in imagination.

Set in the future, the brilliance of Brazil is down to three things: the casting, the script and the sets. Casting Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry was an excellent choice. He is attractive without being imposing, has a lack of self-importance, is believable and likeable. The other stars in the film include Robert de Niro, Michael Palin, Bob Hoskins and Kim Greist as Gill. The script was written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. It keeps a fast, entertaining pace. The sets are intriguing; the future world, designed in the 1980’s, is filled with imaginary items in a guess at contemporary life in the future.

Of course, much like it really is, the world of gadgets is plagued with malfunction and error. What must have been laughable twenty years ago is in 2012 the way things are. Who would have thought that using a pen and paper, our legs, or just generally doing things the long way could be more efficient than a computer? How many hours are spent staring at the screen while some engineer tries to fix it? Sam’s central heating is on the blink (alongside everything else electrical in his flat). Before Central Services can get an engineer out to him, Harry Tuttle, renegade heating engineer and suspected terrorist, arrives on the scene to work his bravado.

Brazil is full of detail masquerading as normal that is absolutely absurd. Renegade heating engineer? It’s rediculous. Sam’s well-connected mother and her obsession for plastic surgery, her ‘keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ friend, make hysterical viewing. The farce of the bureaucracy, form-filling and procedure. The irony of the child playing in the torture office. Meeting the stranger of your dreams in person and falling in love? It’s so much bullshit, it’s great!

PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) dir. John Waters

15 Aug

The video above came in handy a couple of years back when facing corporate interview scenarios. If I supposed I was talking to some power hungry ego-nut, male or female, my mind would scan back to this clip for a fleeting moment. ‘I am Connie Marble’ became a mantra I wrote sardonically on my Twitter page. Anything to survive.

 Less than a month later, I happened to have the pleasure of bumping into John Waters: hero, legend and renegade movie director. I love his style. As you can imagine, meeting him on Mare Street was an unparalleled experience, requiring that I gave him a pencil as a token of my adoration. ”It was a long time ago,” he said charmingly about Pink Flamingos. “Forty years.”

  While decades have passed since Pink Flamingos was made, it still seems fresh, possibly because the acting was stale from the outset. The dialogue is reminiscient of an am-dram pantomime. The lines are read as if on autocue (or acid). The stagnant approach somehow gives the characters an extra dimension in a fictional space. They seem to be themselves playing the role of themselves, in shocking situations that could almost be believeable, too absurd for fiction.

 There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments where the volume of the background music gives the effect of silent movie slapstick. Mr Marble flashing in a park with a saveloy sausage, for example. There is bestiality, murder, incest, excrement, kidnap, cock and other vulgarity – none of which is as offensive as it is strange. 

 The essence of the story is that Divine lives in a trailer outside of Baltimore with her travelling companion Cotton, son Crackers and playpen abiding, egg-loving mother. She has attracted notoriety as ‘the filthiest person alive’ but Mr and Mrs Marble, who run a baby ring in the city, have something to say about it.

 Determined not to be outdone, they pay Cookie to date Crackers and spy on Divine’s activities. They send Divine an unwelcome present. Divine and Crackers go to their house and unveil the horrendous secret in the cellar. They return home to find that the trailer was sabotaged: dowsed in gasolene by the Marbles. Divine seeks revenge: the Marble’s ‘court appearance’ and subsequent murder.

 Pink Flamingos is one of the wackiest films ever made. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; the costumes and colours are camp and splendid; the music is amazing (Link Wray plays the opening tune The Swag); the plot is bizarre and totally nuts. It’s a classic. The ultimate in bad taste.

 Next time you’re in a formal, intimidating situation, with cold sweaty palms and uneasy silence, or when made to seem a dullard, think to yourself: ’I guess there are two types of people, Miss Sandstone: my type of people and assholes’. You’ll remain poised, for sure!

MAGIC JOURNEY TO AFRICA (2010) dir. Jordi Llompart

15 Aug

I was drawn to this film for the ‘pure cheese’ factor and… I was right it is laughable. It’s a successful contender for the worst movie ever made, perhaps only closely surpassed by Troll 2, but nevertheless beating a majority of all films known to mankind in claiming a stake.

Jana, who lives in the Barcelona hills, speaks with ‘a mouthful of plums’ and is typically inquisitive. I imagine she’s around the age of ten or eleven, at that clever-clogs age where she has the answer to everything and if not the answer, then at least asks a better question than you did. She looks like Alice in Wonderland and is simply perfect in every respect.

One day, when at a restaurant, she meets a dodgy African boy out stealing mobile phones, getting into trouble. We all know that poor children who get into trouble aren’t being themselves. She worries herself about him for days, until a faery in the form of a butterfly appears in her room late at night, with words of wisdom so wise that they don’t make any sense.

The faery tells her that the boy, called Kabbo, is in hospital so she goes to try to make friends with him. When they go back to see him again, they find that he has gone home to Africa, hence the title ‘Magic Journey to Africa’ (bit of a misnomer really, Magic Journey in Africa would fit more accurately). Africa, of course, for the purpose of the film, is a relatively small undiverse place, undeviating from desert and watering-hole.

She mysteriously finds herself amongst the clichéd but beautiful Afrika-ka-ka-ka of fables and folk tales. There’s an enchanted flower for whom she makes it rain. She stops to have a chat to an animated wild-cat who has made a mandala out of sand. He talks to her in a colonial British accent. Their conversation goes something like this:

Jana: I haven’t come alone. My lucky winged horse has come with me.

Wild-Cat: Are you nuts? That’s a stuffed animal. This is Africa not Disneyland!

It turns out that Jana has a flying horse who has wings, a blue mane, wears eye-liner and gives advice, all whilst disguised as toy. Plus she takes a trip on an actual zebra. Some people have it all.

She eventually finds Kabbo in his tribe, talking to the ancestors, talking to the tree in the sky. He’s letting his inner self out. She asks the boy questions about why he wants to live in a place where there is nothing and nothing to do. This made me laugh. It might be the wilderness but try getting out of Barcelona a bit more often. There’s more to life than avoiding pickpockets and lazying in the park, deciding where to go next, in the sunshine during siesta.

Although the extent to which the scenes in the tribe are patronising did make me wonder (or even if the film is offensive full stop), the amazing thing about Magic Journey to Africa is not the acting (young heroine does splendid), nor the edit abruptly ending dialogue, nor special effects. What is remarkable, what gives it must-see charm and attraction, is that it is more or less exactly what you might anticipate a pre-teen girl to write if asked to come up with a film script. It was, in fact, the work of director Jordi Llompart. Morally guiding narration, a psychedelic close-up of an elephant’s eyelid, I expect giggly kids and stoners will love its overly sweet and quotable aura.

RED STATE (2011) dir. Kevin Smith

15 Aug

Red State is notable for not having a main character. The story begins with passing a funeral for a murdered queer; a protest against homosexuality distastefully happening outside the hearst. It then follows three young men who have arranged to have sex with an older woman. The best looking one (Kyle Gallner) is prime candidate for the lead role throughout most of the film.

Quentin Tarantino had his name on the poster recommending this film. It has a certain silly non-real quality that some of his films have. The scene right at the start, in which the school teacher says that even the Nazi’s think the funeral-protest religious group, the Five Points Church, are ‘nucking futs’ establishes a level of realness that is not matched elsewhere in the film.  

This classroom moment leads smoothly into the ‘Can you get the car tonight?’
  Sexually deviant is found murdered; religious cult protests at the funeral. Three young boys are invited for orgy with woman. What happens next? Do you think that the cult might murder the boys? No sooner do they take off their shirts does the tranquiliser kick in. 

 Half an hour into the film, the good looking one is in a cage in the hyper-Christian church witnessing another victim being wrapped in cling-film then shot through the top of the head. He and his homies are next in line to the sexual cleansing that reverend Avin Cooper and his inbred church are bringing to the people of America. One of the boys makes a getaway only to discover a room full of guns. 

 Meanwhile, the deputy sheriff arrives. Shots are fired. The deputy sheriff and the boy in the room full of guns end up dead. Avin is quick on the radio (wrapped in a hanky to disguise his prints) using his charm and charisma to blackmail the Sheriff about ‘wiping faeces from his genitals’ and other photographs taken of his involvement in homosexual acts. The Sheriff seems to have fallen for it.

Then he comes to his senses and arranges a siege organised by John Goodman (King Ralph; The Big Lebowski). It should have been simple but when the second of the boys makes a run for it, the incompetent closet-gay Sheriff fires, killing an innocent. This is where it gets absurd. For half an hour there is a battle of bullets. It’s the freaky Christians versus the law enforcement agents.

The most normal daughter (Kaylee Defer) wants to flee with the kids and tries to entice the good looking one to help. He’s having none of it. His two best mates are goners. When they do make it outside, although he protests, the law enforcement officers put them out of their misery, much to shock effect. An hour in and the character we latched onto most is out of the rest of the film.

John Goodman takes over as the lead from this point to the end. The nutjob cult leader, Avin Cooper, is still alive, praying for a sign, when suddenly ‘the Rapture’ happens. The trumpets of angels are unleashed. All left standing are mesmerised by his charm, his superior knowledge, his shining faith.

 Red State, despite the title, has nothing to do with Russia or communism. It has everything to do with a Christian commune and dried blood smeared upon gun-holding hands, in deepest darkest cheesy America

ABEL (2010)

15 Aug


Abel (nine year old Christopher Ruiz-Esparza) is a super cute little boy who has spent two years in a mental hospital. His troubles started when his father left. The film is set in a Mexico of faulty plumbing and unreliable electronics. His mother Cecilia (Karina Gidi) is desperately trying to survive alone with her children – mischevious Paul (Gerado Ruiz-Esparza) and teenager Selene (Geraldine Alejandra) – whilst accomodating disturbed Abel, who has recently returned back home.

 Abel quickly creates a position for himself as head of the family, acting out scenes from film and television, appropriating a masculine role model for the household. The once incommunicado young boy begins dishing out commands, punishments and correcting homework. Sadly, it is a fantasy that is not to last, as the pains of living take hold, setting the characters upon their paths.

Diego Luna, actor-turned-director, has often spoken in interviews about film as a medium for story-telling. Expect no special effects or caricatures. Luna brings the best out of the child cast with skill that suggests this is the first of many movies as director. Abel is a simple story set around the psychoanalytic principles of Freud’s Oedipal complex. It is Disney-like, magical, capturing the naive innocence of childhood against a background of big skies swollen with the harsh reality of growing up without a father. From a child’s perspective we are presented with a poignant yet subtle reminder of those values that still matter.


The Dead 4/9/2010

15 Aug

The excitement began before the film – dashing across London on Bank Holiday public transport – I made it just in time, panting and breathless from running up Leicester Square escalators.
Having never before attended a film premiere, I was sorry to have missed the directors introduction to The Dead, showing for the first time as part of Film4 Frightfest, a horror frenzy weekend.
The Ford brothers have produced a remarkable movie, the tale of a man stranded in zombie infested Africa – zombie infested world – and the ensuing ‘doing something when not sure what to do’ situation which follows.
It’s not the script that makes this film great. When the script is lame, it sucks, majorly. The lines are delivered without irony. But what zombie film would be quite right without the dodgy script?
Casting (the very) native Africans as zombies is a touch of class. I expect it’s not just in Dalston that these people walk so slow. There is something intrinsically right about stealthy natives out-pacing steadily.
The African scenery of some small country behind Ghana bodering with Sahara – the name of which is completely evading, it’s two words – BURKINA FASO, is shot with awesome integrity. The colours are gems and every shot looks as if it lept straight out of ‘The Earth from the Air’. Every shot has a suitablity. It shows that Jon Ford usually works in advertising.
The most amazing scene is the “O My did I just watch that!” gut puking moment where we see a human skull full-on run over by a jeep. If you think about it for maybe ten seconds you’ll realise that the entire special effects department is something else in this film. Zombies? wax wounds? wax body parts? fake blood? Africa. Sun. Melting heat.
If you like zombie films, you might want to see The Dead. If you like photgraphic landscapes, you might like it too. There isn’t much running in it, so if you’re looking for action or hype, look elsewhere.