School For Scoundrels (1960 UK)

Before satire was written by Oxbridge public school boys for Oxbridge public school boys, British comedy writers believed their audience intelligent enough to appreciate gentle irony without stamping on their heads. The English humourist Stephen Potter enjoyed great success in the 1950s with his books “Gamesmanship”, which ironically advised sportsmen on “how to win without actually cheating”, chiefly by using psychological ploys to unsettle their opponents, and “Lifemanship” and “One-upmanship” which advocated a similar attitude to life in general. The central idea is that Potter, not content with merely writing books, has actually opened a College of Lifemanship in Somerset in order to teach his philosophy. [Read more…]

Hell House (Richard Matheson)

Matheson really was a master of his craft. He took the conventional Gothic structure and threw it out of the window. Assaulting the reader with carnal, palpable terror, from its first page to the very end. Readers new to Hell House will be wondering how far are things going to go regarding the repulsive sexual shenanigans… What would have been shocking and new to audiences in 1971 has become a tad too familiar today, unfortunately. While this speaks volumes to the book’s cultural and literary impact – the fact that it has been copied and imitated by so many on film and on the page detracts from the book’s overall contemporary wow factor. I bet Stephen King used this as some inspiration for The Shining. [Read more…]

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961 United Kingdom)

Remember when Britain produced really great motion pictures? OK, no one is that old who would visit this blog. Lucky for us there is dvd-blu ray to enjoy these hoary relics. Anyway, this was made decades before millions hated and distrusted the lame stream’s media lies that pass for “news.”  It is very rare that a film manages to capture the sweat, stress and panic of the newsroom (ho ho! – alright, I’ll reign in my cynicism for the duration of this post) where the workers gather round for quick meetings and discussions before frantically typing up a new story and making those all – important phone calls. And the decision to tell the whole story from the viewpoint of the Daily Express workers is a refreshing and exciting one. [Read more…]

Animal Farm (George Orwell)

Written between November 1943 and February 1944, but not published straightaway, because of the USSR’s status as an ally in the Second World War. Orwell was a socialist writer, so the fact that he chose to do such a savage critique of the Soviet Union may come as a bit of a surprise to the present-day reader. One might have expected him to choose the far right, rather than the far left. But he personally felt that Soviet Russia had itself become a brutal dictatorship, and that its original ideals had become perverted. I personally don’t believe any of the original Bolshevik leaders who overthrew the Tsar had any ‘ideals’ other than a brutal, bloody dictatorship that would impoverish the majority of its citizens. And so it proved! Socialism can only work in a racially homogenous nation with no ethnic Trojan horses. (Scandinavia in the 1960s probably came closest to the Socialist ideal) [Read more…]

Happiness (1998 USA)

This sadistic 2 hour film has no plot, in the sense of a meaningful series of events. Things happen, but there is no “story.” The film functions only to document human ugliness and suffering in the most agonizing detail possible, depicting several people causing and experiencing suffering, and then eventually the credits roll. I’ve seen other films that had no story line, some of which were very good, so I don’t mean it as a criticism of Happiness. Its a fact. I’ve seen many films that depicted human suffering, the majority of my favourite films have done so to a greater or lesser degree. Art is largely about “the human condition”, and whatever else it might involve, that condition certainly has its share of suffering. [Read more…]

The Train (1964 France/USA)

The concept of an ‘action’ film is the most curious, as many examples of the genre seem very static – even today where it seems that anything can be shown. A fight, car crash, explosion, etc is rehearsed, staged, simultaneously photographed and edited in a certain way that brings out and sometimes enhances the action. But, as the event is meticulously planned, rigorously controlled, sometimes or always re-shot, spontaneity cannot be part of the action, or plays a small part. The action may be impressive, but still seems unreal, too chaotic, the sense that the action is not integrated into the story and maybe even more importantly, the attitude and motivation of the characters. Most action films are far from achieving all this. [Read more…]

Carnal Knowledge (1971 USA)

Bobbie: “The reason I sleep all day is because I can’t stand my life!”

Jonathon: “What life?!”

Bobbie: “Sleeping all day!…I need a life.”

Jonathon: “Get a job!”

Bobbie: “I don’t want a job. I want you.”

Jonathon: “I’m taken, by me! Get out of the house, do something useful, Goddammit.” There are some real funny one liners if you can stay awake. Carnal Knowledge, directed by Mike Nichols, from a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, is a dud without a single likable or really interesting character. Nichols’ film is a series of cartoon panels with no sense of any life surrounding the characters. Nichols appears to have been influenced by the films of Bergman and Antonioni though he lacks their brilliance. His reach exceeded his grasp. The result is an attempt at what was hoped to be a genre that never materialized: American art cinema. [Read more…]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983 Britain)

Ian Richardson is a fine Holmes, even if he seems a bit too good-natured. Perhaps this was a throwback to the old Basil Rathbone Holmes persona–and it works in this context. Mr Richardson is hardly the moody Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle…but he is definitely fun to watch. Unfortunately, Donald Churchill is not one of the great screen Watsons. He is a definite step down from his immediate predecessor, David Healy, who portrayed the good Doctor opposite Richardson in The Sign of Four. As the films were produced in the same year, by the same producer, one must wonder why Healy did not reprise the role for Hound. Instead, we are presented with a rather too blustery Watson, almost reminiscent of Nigel Bruce, though not nearly as appealing. Churchill looks the part, but not much else. [Read more…]

From The Earth To The Moon (Jules Verne)

What makes From the Earth to the Moon so enjoyable is it’s sheer earnestness. Entire chapters are filled with debates about figures and equations. Verne loves to write about all the details of his little thought experiment. This is very clearly his fantasy, and had he the money, I could imagine him attempting something like this. There are some charming details. For example, they launch from southern Florida, which at the time was a large swamp with forts to guard against the indians. Also, when packing their capsule for provisions, they load up 50 gallons of brandy, because that’s how a gentleman spaceman travels.  [Read more…]

The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964 Britain)

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a good-looking film at least, thankfully not having the rushed and made-on-the-quick-and-cheap production values of the Universal Kharis Mummy films. The chilling Hammer atmosphere is present in how the film looks, with the sumptuous Gothic sets, lush photography that does a fine job evoking atmosphere, much tighter editing and rich bold colours. We have the usual well spoken actors, in this case Ronald Howard (the hero)  and Terence Morgan (the villain). The music score is hauntingly stirring, and while this flick is too often dull it really does bring it on home in the final twenty minutes. [Read more…]

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