Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Switchblade Sisters

Certificate: 18
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Jack Hill
Starring: Robbie Lee, Monica Gayle, Kitty Bruce, Joanne Nail
Genre: Drama, Action, Exploitation
Format: DVD
Country: USA

You’ll be slightly surprised at how well you actually know this movie without having ever watched it.  It’s release in 1975 was nothing major to write home about, though those who were following the career of director Jack Hill would be excited, it has taken a number of years for the true worth of the girl gang flick to be represented through homages and references.

Lace (Lee) is the snarling leader of the Dagger Debs who along with her right hand lady Patch (Gayle) rule the streets and school when they’re not being booked by the police or in conflict with rival gangs.  The apple cart is well and truly upset when a new girl arrives into town (Nail) and threatens to oust Lace as leader and steal her boyfriend.

The Switchblade Sisters lasting charm is one that most of Jack Hill’s work revolves around, yes it’s exploitation cinema so there’s a little more nudity than modern cinema audiences are used to, but the women are tough.  Modern cinema, for the most part, has it’s female characters (even those played by high profile actors) spouting exposition dialogue that either furthers the narrative or explores the character of the leading man.  Not Jack Hill.  Like Coffy, Foxy Brown and Spider Baby his films are worlds that revolve around tough women.  Having attended film school with Francis Ford Coppola you can’t mistake his ability to write, especially in a tough genre like exploitation and this film, his penultimate, is no exception.  The story is classic Shakespearian with it’s echoes of MacBeth but it is more than that, this story is an ancient story, a primal and basic story and it is his ability to pair a basic story with interesting set pieces and strong, rich, characters that shows why cinema misses Jack Hill.  The dialogue is wonderfully touched, in the review of Coffy it mentions the writers who work at length to capture the effortlessness of Hill’s understanding of language and again this is true of The Switchblade Sisters.  In conversation with Kitty Bruce (Donut) in 2010 she made light of her days on film and this is the problem with Hill, he makes it all look too easy and perhaps it was to him.

The cinematography of the film is typical of Hill also.  The writer/director must be considered one of the true auteurs of Hollywood cinema alongside the likes of Hitchcock, Ford and Hawks.  Each of his films have their own individual look, identity, a feel of their own but you can watch for a matter of moments and just know that this is a Jack Hill film.  So strong is his signature that it’s impossible for modern directors to replicate (please story trying Quentin).  Two great scenes stand out, the first being the prison fight.  All elements in this sequence is just right, the fighting is not choreographed to the usual faultless standards.  It’s real and in looking real Hill can take liberties in other ways, the camera work, funky fight score and more than occasional glimpse of flesh punctuate the combat and give the film it’s sense of fun.  The second is the fight between Lace and Maggie (Nail) which is played off their shadows against a wall and is a brilliant use of light and focus from a fantastic director.

The director has surrounded himself with fantastic actors, not all of them will still be recognisable as “faces” to today’s audience but they are all outstanding.  Kitty Bruce (as Donut) plays the comedy sidekick roll to a standard that you would expect from an actor twice her age.  Monica Gayle (as Patch) is also great, she is the power behind the throne and is ruthless in pursuit of keeping it she cuts a dominant and threatening figure like a tougher version of Christina Lindberg.  The standout performance belongs to that 70’s serial show stealer Robbie Lee.  Her portray of Lace, and her general acting style, is one of crazed menace but with a insecure warmth and charm that would almost make you want to give her a hug and tell her it was all going to be ok before you realise she’s stuck a knife in you.  Such is her skill that you spend a lot of the scenes she’s not involved in looking forward to seeing her again, she has managed to craft a well rounded and complex character for a genre that is often criticised for having two dimensional offerings driving their narrative.  Her softness in scenes with her boyfriend is only matched by her cold hearted brutality in others and you can’t help but fully understand her which is even more amazing as the film isn’t riddled with massive amounts of exposition.

The Switchblade Sisters is so much more than a simple exploitation film or a “chick flick”.  It’s roots live in Shakespearian tragedy, which is why it’s remembered and referenced to this day, as the matter is timeless and at it’s heart about human emotion.  “The last act is bloody, however fine the rest of the play may be”[1] in referring to The Switchblade Sisters feel free to add the word brilliant in there.

[1] Blaise Pascal

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Pink Flamingos

Certificate: 18
Running time: 93 mins
Director: John Waters
Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pierce, Mink Stole
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Exploitation
Format: DVD
Country: USA

“One of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made”[1] these are but three qualities of John Waters’ 1972 independent film shot on the streets of Baltimore and starring his band of friends and deviants.

The notorious Baltimore criminal Divine sets out to destroy Connie and Raymond Marble who have taken up of the challenge of ousting Lady Divine from her tabloid adorned title of the “filthiest person alive”.  In this war of standards there is no line that can’t or won’t be crossed in a big for victory.

Anyone familiar with the works of John Waters, and by that it’s meant to read ‘pre Hairspray remake starring the awkwardly odd John Travolta’, will be aware of the faces in Pink Flamingos as it’s the same gang of deviant artists that portray the outlandish characters in most of Waters’ early work (Multiple Maniacs, Desperate Living and Female Trouble for example).  They will also be aware of the cinematic style and the unconscious desire to push the boundaries of cinematic taste if for no other reason than they can.  To the newcomer this is probably a good place to start before you dive into the sexual assault of Divine by a six foot lobster named Lobstora (Multiple Maniacs) as it’s relatively unsurreal in a way that other offerings are. 

The cinematography of the film is shaky and the editing rough but this is due to the technology available at the time, Waters is an accomplished and masterful film maker and even in the early days had an amazing eye for what he wanted and how he was going to piece it all together.  These slight blemishes (if you would call them that, may of us wouldn’t) simply add to the quality and character of the film.  In France these imperfections would be called Nouvelle Vague, in Italy labeled Neo-realism and would ultimately be seen as Dogma cinema from the likes of Von Trier so why shouldn’t they be revered in an American director making films outside of the Hollywood structure for the sake of making films?  The soundtrack is excellent, rude, confrontational and schizophrenic.  Waters’ understanding of how to manipulate the incompatibility of audio and visual is masterful and an early example of what directors like Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange) instinctively knew would push the audience to interact with the film rather than simply allow their emotions to be played with by the marriage of sight and sound.

The script has one set up, some character development but mainly punctuated with hilarious and possibly drug dialogue and set pieces.  There’s too many to go through them all but a couple worth highlighting is the man servant of Connie and Raymond Marble dressing up in his mistresses clothes and re-enacting a conversation he has overheard and Divine & son Crackers breaking into the Marble’s house before licking all the furniture and have sexual relations driving the furniture to reject the Marbles from sitting on it when they return.  Likewise there is some insanely brilliant dialogue delivered with such bravado from the performers that it’s difficult to decipher what is scripted and what has been improvised on the day.  Either way is instantly memorable and verging on genius.

Divine is John Wayne to John Waters’ John Ford as Divine plays Divine in almost all of the helmer’s films, with the exception of Polyester.  That’s not a criticism, Divine is excellent in Pink Flamingos and has such a natural presence in front of the camera that the film plays out like a semi autobiographical performance mixed with slashes of theatricality all so tightly woven together that it’s a real challenge to separate.  Divine is never better than during the impromptu media fuelled trial in Arizona.  Long shorts are something of a problem for film performers, their acting style and abilities are often geared towards short takes that are pieced together in post production however Waters’ use of the long take is one that allows for performers to feel their way into a scene and deliver their performances naturally and it is that quality that is clear in Divine.  The ability to hold court and have the attention of the audience in the palm of your hand is something that’s often overlooked when you think of Divine but is a wonderful quality in a performer.  Similarly Edith Massey (as Edie) is excellent as the egg obsessed mother with the mind of a child.  Edith’s work with Waters’ always had her in the most bizarre and wonderful roles and she was never better than as the evil Queen in Desperate Living yet in Pink Flamingos she too holds the audiences attention extremely well during the long takes and has wonderful chemistry with Divine and Paul Swift (The Egg Man).  If some of her dialogue seems improvised it’s because it probably was.  Edith’s life of wild times, drugs and bohemian lifestyle is documented wonderfully in A Love Letter to Edie and it’s the knowledge of her personal difficulties that makes this performance even more believable and sad.  David Lochary and Mink Stole (Raymond & Connie Marble) are both brilliant, Lochary has the wonderful ability to appear arrogant and yet idiotic on screen at the same time without ever tipping his hat towards one style more or appearing showy on camera.  He has a natural quality than makes him lovable, even in the nastiest of roles.  Stole has less to do than in some of her other outings with Waters but is brilliant as the obsessed housewife and serial sex abuser.  With Lochary’s charm slipping through Stole’s stony faced performances gives her an, almost Lady MacBeth, quality and works so well the latter half of the film.  Other Waters affiliates like Cookie Mueller, Mary Vivian Pierce and Danny Mills all have supporting roles and all are truly wonderful.  It’s rare to see a cast that all carry their share of the weight when it comes to quality of performance and it’s even rarer when the film itself is independent and made of hellraisers.
Pink Flamingos is more certainly not for the faint hearted, those turned by the sight of feces or chickens but if you’re of an adventurous nature you will not find a film that’s more entertaining, challenging or big in the heart department.  It stands the test of time as a bona-fide classic and a guardian of all that’s great about independent cinema.  “Burn everything, legalize cannibalism, eat shit!”[2]

[1] Daily Variety review
[2] Divine in Pink Flamingos 1972

Monday, 25 July 2011


After the recent events in Norway it was decided that the Movie Bar opener featuring Norwegian Ninja and Troll Hunter should be cancelled.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Don't Look Now!

UK Blu-Ray Release Date: 27th June 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 110 mins
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Format: Blu-Ray
UK distributor: Optimum
Country: UK/Italy

If ever there was a film that was guided by an unseen hand towards completion it is this one.  When director Nicolas Roeg signed on to direct this adaptation of the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier short story he stated that his ideal casting was Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.  His casting director hand to break the news to him that the dream team was simply not going to happen, Sutherland was busy shooting a film and Christie was on McGovern’s campaign trail for President.  After the initial disappoint Roeg set about casting his grieving couple only for the Presidential campaign to fall apart and the film to go bust within a week of one another freeing up the pair to make his vision happen.

When John and Laura Baxter’s daughter Christine (Sharon Williams) drowns in the pool at the back of their English home the couple relocate to Venice, where John gets a job restoring a dilapidated church only for them to encounter two sisters one of whom is blind but claims to have a message from their daughter.  John is in danger if he stays in Venice, failing to heed the message the Baxters remain in an attempt to salvage their marriage and finish John’s job.

The story is simple, like most Du Maurier tales they have similarities to other narratives in that they’re firmly based in the genre but the touches that make it distinctive really set it apart from the hundreds of “thrillers” of it’s kind. The decision to relocate the Baxters to Venice during the winter provide a real feel of warning and isolation as the city effectively closes down during these months.  This isolation is heightened even more by the fact that Laura (Christie) doesn’t speak Italian, neither does the majority of any English speaking audience, and the Italian sequences between John (Sutherland) and Bishop Barbarrigo (Massimo Serato) are not subtitled further detaching the audience from the goings on in the sleepy, cold and dark surroundings of the water based city.  The score, penned by Giampiero Boneschi is beautiful, dreamful and touching it plays wonderfully in different keys and provides the audience with the sort of insight into the characters psyche that would normally be handled by heavy and unwanted exposition dialogue.  The signature score is romantic, painful and wishfully simple.

There is no more beautiful looking film than Don’t Look Now! the use of colour in the cinematography is exceptional.  Key colours like reds and browns are highlighted throughout the film and used for different reasons to create warning signs and emotional signifiers that on multiple viewings.  Such is the depth of the colour palette that films like Schindler’s List and The Sixth Sense have attempted to replicate the causal logic of the use of colour in order to create a psychological connection with their audiences.  Similarly the editing is dreamy, smooth and free flowing in feeling but yet so perfectly selected and meticulously placed that to unravel and re-piece back together would result in a completely different and uneven film.  Roeg’s use of non-linear editing gives sections of the film the feel of a dream or a memory disconnecting the audience from the goings on and places them in a temporal space where they know the events have happened but are unsure in what order, as though the film is a memory of a life being flashed before them.  Likewise the way in which he uses shapes, colour and water to connect scenes gives the film a seamlessness that doesn’t exist in cinema anymore.  In Steven Soderbergh’s audio commentary happily admitted to “ripping off” the Sutherland/Christie sex scene for Out of Sight and was heavily influenced enough by Roeg to take it a step further for The Limey which is presented almost as a film made up completely of memory.

Christie is wonderful in the film, she has never been so beautiful, angelic, sad and damaged and this is all within the first twenty minutes.  Her transformation after meeting the two sisters is handled masterfully by her.  She is an actress of immense talent and with the matter, a beautiful yet menacing city like Venice and a richly talented director in Roeg has everything she needs to put forward the most complicated and mature performance of a cinematic mother that has probably ever occurred.  Like Christie, Sutherland is on amazing form for the entire film.  Having turned up with a selection of clothes and wigs he wanted to make the film with it was clear that he understood the mind of John Baxter, that he understood the father, the professional and the pained man who not only had to bury his child but also fish her out of the pond.  His refusal is accept the warnings of the sisters is a rational decision, after all who would, but his quiet moments and momentary outburst towards wife Laura show the depth of scars than he now wears and the desperate desire to reconnect.  To find their rhythm and be man and wife again.  Above all each his performance is human, and it is this quality that touches the audience more than the suspense of thrills throughout the film.

The real star of the film is the director.  It’s rare that Roeg would be this centre stage, usually with films like The Witches, Performance or Castaway his handling of the film would almost fade into the backdrop, overshadowed by the performance of the actors who work with him but this film is perfect.  The script is perfect, cinematography perfect, acting perfect and it is the closest thing to a film as a piece of art.  It captures in visuals what the greatest songs in the world capture in words, true honest emotion.  This is his film.  From pre production he has had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and whether it’s through skill, chance or fate he has achieved that and all with a deeply routed Greek mythological undertone that fills the film with such richness that isn’t found in cinema anymore.

Don’t Look Now! is without argument the greatest film ever made and if you don’t have a Blu-Ray player yet there can be no better reason to get one or no better film to start your collection with.  A beautifully tragic masterpiece than stands both the test of time and head & shoulders above all other films.

Don’t Look Now! is playing at the Theatre at the Mill as part of the Daphne Du Maurier evening aDaphtations on Friday 23rd September 2011.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Horrible Bosses

UK release date: 22nd July 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis
Genre: Comedy
UK Distributor: Warner
Country: USA

It’s a title than those of us not blessed with family fortunes will have had some experience of over our lifetime and a premise that’s incredibly familiar and there in lies the main attraction for seeing a film called Horrible Bosses.

Seth Gordon’s previous festive offering Four Christmases was neither as funny, warm or lovable as all on screen thought they were being (with the exception of Robert Duvall who is by law always brilliant in everything).  In his latest offering he teams up not just with a mix of established and rising talent but with the hugely talented writer Michael Markowitz who’s name might not ring massive bells with you but hopefully his excellent work on Duckman will.  The plot is a relatively simple one, three friends all hate their bosses and one day decide that their lives and the lives of those around them would be a lot better if these bosses no longer drew breath.  With their decision made they set out to find a hitman to do the trio of dirty deeds for them and this is where, obviously, it all begins to go a little wrong but with comedic consequences.

The fact that the plot is a watered down version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train will not be lost on anyone who’s ever watched the wonderful Farley Granger in action, it wasn’t lost on Markowitz as he makes reference to this fact in the friends scene with their newly acquired “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx.  It’ll even bring a wry smile to the children of the eighties who might have (criminally) not seen the Hitchcock classic but have viewed the Danny DeVito/Billy Crystal comedy of the same theme Throw Mama From the Train as this too is also highlighted showing exactly where Markowitz’s comedy allegiances lie.  The script is solid enough, though not of the quality of Duckman, and it offers mountains of enjoyable, laughable and quotable moments though with comedy talents like Sudeikis and Bateman it’s difficult to say what’s scripted and what’s made it out of the improv sessions that comedy films traditionally boast.  Case in point would be cocaine scene during the breaking and entering of Bobby Pellitt’s (Colin Farrell) condo.  Like comedies that precede it, namely the brilliantly timed Annie Hall, drugs equals accidents and like it’s comparisons to Hitchcock and DeVito films Horrible Bosses runs a parallel with Allen but it seems to be that Markowitz sets up these slightly familiar scenarios in order to showcase not just the quality of his writing but the quality of the performers inhabiting his writing.  Bateman (Nick) is usually dry, he’s always been the dry comic and it works wonderfully for him.  He was amazing in Arrested Development and has honed his style ever since so it’s always enjoyable to see him push the margins of his comedy characters for the sake of a laugh.  The way in which he plays off Charlie Day (Dale) and likewise Day off Bateman is a gentle giggle that builds to a proper belly laugh culminating with Day’s announcement of physical exercise.

Gordon’s direction can’t really be delved into too deeply.  Comedy is not known for it’s amazing cinematography or amazing camera style or movement, the credit of any good director of a comedy is knowing when to get the shot that you need and when to loosen the leash and let the comedy talent explore their own ground in the hope of what they discover is funny and ends up in the finished product.  This is what Gordon does to great results in several scenes throughout the film including the coke scene but also their first encounter with old school friend Kenny (P.J. Byrne) and the “wet work” motel scene to name but a few.

Jason Bateman’s performance is solid and dependable but comes up a little short, he’s such an excellent comedy talent and in being so your expectations of him are so much higher but what he delivers instead in a third gear display though he does bring the best out of those around him.  His relationship with Charlie Day is grounded in an understanding of each others timings and strengths and Kevin Spacey (as his boss Dave Harken) is clearly enjoying his opportunity to cut loose from his theatrical responsibilities and explore the outer boundaries of his comedic/psychopathic tendencies.  It is a case of dry and drier and it works perfectly.  Jennifer Aniston (Julia Harris aka Dale’s boss) is the best she’s been since The Good Girl though for a completely different reason.  Since the early nineties her name, face and look has been so closely linked to Rachel Green (Friends) now with the show only living in re-run land she’s had relative success in similar roles.  This, however, could be the change that opens a few more doors for her.  As Julia she is everything that Rachel is not, she’s a sex crazed, foul mouthed, slightly mentally unhinged sociopath disguised as a professional, upstanding individual.  There are a handful of scenes that showcase what lies beneath in Jennifer, all of which are wonderfully awkward and funny.  Whether it’s the hosing down of Dale, iPad-gate or the scene in which she locks him in her office wearing nothing but her lab coat and a pair of pants it all screams that Rachel is dead and this actor doesn’t mind taking liberties with the constructed persona she’s had for almost twenty years.

Sudeikis and Day are relatively new faces to UK shores with Sudeikis being the best thing about the Farley brothers’ Hall Pass.  Day starts off as nothing particularly special but when you apply sexual advances, tension and threats the result is a bizarre and wonderful transformation that has more than a passing resemblance to Bobcat Goldthwait mixed with Stressed Eric which is probably the most original acting decision since Marlon Brando decided to play his role in Superman as a “green suitcase”.  Sudeikis (Kurt), unfortunately, doesn’t take this opportunity to showcase his ability.  His style is a lot more relaxed and as such disappears at time when he should be bringing all he’s got.  In a lot of ways he’s like Chevy Chase in that his deliver is so natural and unshowy but it leaves you seeing his performance as a mixed opportunity. 

There are other issues with the film, Colin Farrell (as Bobby Pellitt aka Kurt’s boss) is wasted.  His best moments are in the trailer and it’s only really in the comedy tradition of the ‘End credits blooper and improv reel’ do we really get to see how truly funny he can be.  This is an absolute shame, where Spacey and Aniston are given multiple scenes to showcase their comedy timings Farrell is almost sacrificed for the sake of a film under one hundred minutes and we’re left wondering how much better and funnier the film could have been if we were given the chance to see him roam through his comedic plains.  Similarly the narrative is sacrificed, on occasion, to showcase the funny (which isn’t too much of an issue as we know the narrative already) but unfortunately it’s solidly predictable and you’re left wandering through the last couple of scenes waiting for the action to catch up with you at the finishing line.

Like most R rated comedies at the moment what you end up having is a collection of strong set pieces that when collected and assembled aren’t worth more than the sum of their parts.  Horrible Bosses will entertain you for the ninety eight minutes that you sit in front of it but you will be left wondering what could have happened if those performers who held back from blossoming hadn’t done so and if those starved of light had been given their moment in the sun.

5x5 Grindhouse Style

James Lorinz

James started off working as a cinema usher in New York before landing the big break role that most people will know him for.  Though he hasn't made a film since 2003 what he has done as an actor, writer or even director is hugely entertaining.  Here's James' five 5 star films.

1. Frankenhooker
Taking the lead role in Frank Henenlotter's extremely entertaining grindhouse film in which after the death of his girlfriend James (Jeffrey Franken) looks to rebuild her from her remaining body parts plus a couple of spares.

2. King of New York
Ok this is not a grindhouse film and probably shouldn't make the list but it is absolutely brilliant!  Christopher Walken is amazing and Abel Ferrara's director is perfect.

3. Red Lipstick
Supporting role again as two drag queens go on a Bonnie and Clyde spree all the while arguing over who gets to be Bonnie.

4. Last Exit to Brooklyn
Co-starring in this Hubert Selby's novel is set in the 1950's and tells the tale of a prostitute who falls in love with a client.

5. The Last Big Thing
It's a war in Los Angeles against modern popular culture and it's excellent.  In the supporting role alongside Mark Ruffalo.

There's a few other films on James' short career list but they're largely on the calibre of Robocop 3.  He does have, however, some strong television roles to consider.

Next up...

< Robert DoQui >

Monday, 18 July 2011


UK DVD release date: 7th July 2003
Certificate: 18
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Jack Hill
Starring: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui
Genre: Drama, Blaxploitation
UK Distributor: MGM
Format: DVD
Country: USA

There have been many a successful and enjoyable partnering of director and actor, Martin Scorsese – Robert De Niro, Steven Soderbergh – George Clooney, Paul Greengrass – Matt Damon to name but a few of the better known combos.  There are none better than the combination of director Jack Hill and star Pam Grier

Coffy (Grier) is an inner city nurse who, when her sister is hospitialised from a drug overdose, and her police officer friend is savagely beaten decides to take matters into her own hands and reclaim the streets from the dealers and their shadowy money men.

Everything about Coffy is what film directors today strive to be able to achieve.  The instant impression maker is the score, which is so wonderfully cool and easy that it screams of an era that fans of the Elmore Leonard school of low level pulp crime wish they could bury themselves in on a daily basis.  The jazz and Motown pieces of the film were easily sourced, this was the decade of accessible black artists and as such many major collaborations were born out of the ability to create opportunities rather than waiting for them to be afforded to you.  Visually the colour palette of the film can only be described as rich and tasty.  Hill knows how to shoot women, his ability to make them look both sensual and dangerous is something that feel directors have managed to master.  Grier, always possesses these qualities on screen, but they’re never better showcased than when Hill’s behind the lens.  Whether it’s taking down the dealer, the Italians or infiltrating King George’s stable of ladies she is always the mistress of the camera with a screen presence that had never been seen before for a female lead.  Her performance is also wonderful.  Over the years she’s been unfortunate to appear in some less than stellar pieces of work but in Coffy she has the vehicle to bring her A game.  Her transformation from carrying, compassionate nurse to stone cold wrecking ball of the corrupt and cocaine fuelled is faultless and is comparable with that of vigilantes Bronson (Death Wish) and Washington (Man on Fire) which is no mean feat as both men have a genuine mean streak in their performances.

Hill’s supporting cast is extremely strong, which is sometimes a failing of the Blaxploitation movement, and in particular Booker Bradshaw (as Howard Brunswick) is mesmerising as he shows several sides to a complex character who’s transformation from one to another is, like Grier’s, expertly handled and without fault.  The stand out performance, if you can snatch the prize from Grier, belongs to Robert DoQui who as King George not only delivers a fantastically entertaining and highly comedic.  His performance is a balanced mixture of stereotypical pimp and a send up of fellow Blaxploitation performer Rudy Ray Moore without falling off the “reality” of the film and into complete farce.  His comedic timing is a welcome release from what could be a difficult storyline, Blaxploitation is, afterall, entertainment and it’s characters like King George and performers like Robert DoQui that allow the “straight men” like Booker and Pam to do their jobs without the fear of delivering a miserable movie.

The dialogue, like the score and comedic performers, is crucial to a Blaxploitation film.  These films were made specifically for their target audience.  Coffy, being of a larger budget is somewhat more accessible even mainstream in comparison to Dolemite, The Disco Godfather or Cotton Comes to Harlem but is as wonderfully and colourfully written as anything you’d find in the Grindhouse cinema’s on 110th street at the time.  Dialogue like this is the reason that Out of Sight was so cool, it’s the tone that writers like David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino, Scott Frank and Elmore Leonard all set as their finishing line (whether it’s conscious or now) they all want to be cool and there’s nothing cooler than a Pam Grier movie directed by Jack Hill.  Throughout there are literally hundreds of quotable lines that will make you roar with laughter or simply marvel at how effortlessly cool they sound as they trip from the lips of the actors. 

Jack Hill the writer has handed Jack Hill the director a perfectly worded script, his vision is so clear and focused and effortless that his role as director is almost automatic.  Like The Switchblade Sisters, Hill pieces together an outstanding piece of genre cinema that improves over the years.  Both films are over thirty years old, both films have heavily influenced those that have followed and in following and imitating all that has happened is that quality of these films have been highlighted even more.

There are few better ways to spend ninety one minutes, granted there are a couple of holes in the narrative that you’ll immediately forgive but they are there.  They do not matter!  Coffy is the grandmamma of the vendetta feature that is so smooth you’d swear it was stitched from silk.  A beautiful, cool and effortlessly trendy masterpiece.

Pam Grier will be returning to the Movie Bar as part of the Filipino Exploitation night PAGSASAMANTALA! with Black Mama, White Mama on Thursday 10th November 2011 from 8:30PM.

Follow Pam Grier on Twitter.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

UK release date: 15th July 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 130 mins
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Genre: Drama
UK distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA/UK

I have tried not to include too many but this review does contain spoilers!

It’s been ten years and $6,413,576,303 in the making, the culmination of millions of fans hopes, dreams and anticipations have finally reached the point of realisation.  When J.K. Rowling penned the first installation nobody could have known what was to come and just how it would have captured the imagination of all ages.  Harry Potter’s journey into adulthood and face to face with the Dark Lord has finally reached the screens.  It was November of last year when we last saw Harry and Co, not through choice mind but a studio film coming in at 276 minutes is less likely to prove as alluring as two halves.  With Dobbie deceased and Voldemolt in possession of the Elder wand the days are looking truly numbered for our penny glassed hero.

The search for the remaining three Horcruxes heats up as Harry (Radcliffe), Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) push towards making the Dark Lord vulnerable and in doing so free the world from his would-be rule.

There’s no denying that over the years the argument that Harry Potter is for children has been undermined before being refuted completely.  Yes the Chris Columbus chocolate box presentations were universally friendly and non threatening but hugely necessary in order to create a juxtaposition against the world that we (as an audience) and the Order (as characters) find themselves inhabiting.  Alfonso Curaron and Mike Newell both provided sufficient change of direction slipping dark, adult elements into the films but it was with the arrival of David Yates (debuting with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) that the franchise found the helmer who would bring it home.  Yates’ previous offerings including episodes of ITV’s The Bill and a Lorraine Kelly workout video so it was understandable that there was a degree of scepticism as to his appointment.  Clearly he was more than a fan, he was a man with a vision.  It’s high praise indeed to say that the only real issue with his previous outings as director is the inclusion of an Ordinary Boys song amongst the soundtrack.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I took Harry’s quest outside of the protective walls of Hogwarts for the first time and placed him in a world that was both familiar and wonderfully post apocalyptic.  The sequences camped out in the mountains and moors provided the audience with a feel of isolation and really locked in that Omega Man feeling that the character must have been fighting as he appeared outnumbered, overpowered and ill equipped to ever stand a chance of winning.

The Deathly Hallows Part II brings the gang back to the familiar setting of the school but before that there are several well designed and executed moments that need to be addressed.  The heist of Gringotts is without doubt the riskiest venture the trio has ever had to attempt in their pursuit of Horcruxes and one that’s a true test of their dedication to see Voldemort (Fiennes) defeated.  Visually the scene plays a lot more humorous than it reads, Bonham Carter (Bellatrix) playing Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix is a wonderful chance for her to showcase her physical acting and one that is delivered to the level of perfection that you would expect from Helena.  Her ability to appear awkward and uncomfortable within her own skin yet at the same time appear physically familiar as Watson’s character is mesmerising yet not overplayed.  There are laughs at the polite Hermione as Bellatrix but not to the detriment of the rationale behind this excursion and it’s to her credit that Bonham Carters knows how much of the scene is hers to take and what’s off limits to stealing.  The journey to the vault and the escape are both handled extremely well under Yates’ direction, though the more thrilling is obviously the Dragon assisted fast route out of the bank.  Where Twilight : Eclipse failed with the motion capture of the computer generated animals Potter succeeds as the movement of the incarcerated Dragon and the re-discovery of how to fly all looks and feels nature.  Cinematic audiences are an odd bunch, none of us have ever seen a Dragon (for good reason) but mess up with the movement of the beast and we’ll all know it’s wrong.  On this occasion they can categorically state that they have nailed it.  Similarly the gangs encounter with Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his crew of wannabe Death Eaters showcases the fluidity of camera work, cinematography, physicality of performers and again the CGI prowess of the team that the fire looks and feel real.  On foot or with broom the sequence is a real edge of the seat ride that is, again, not without it’s humour.  It’s obvious that the decade long relationship built up between all performers involved has allowed them to hone their delivery as they not only understand their character but also understand the understanding of the others’ characters and how it all knits together is just right.

The score is, typically, rich with the usual trappings of “magical” notes that have shaped the genre for years not, accompanied with the obligatory action score that never ceases to thrill and captivate audiences.  In addition to this there’s the wonderful touch of nostalgia that is a simple reworking of some of the origins scores than have long since faded away during the evolution of the Potter franchise.  It’s little touches like this that creates a true feeling of finality and yet inclusion, the inclusion of an audience that has grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and is greatly appreciated.

The acting has evolved with the narrative and the performers.  In the early years Watson’s acting was a little suspect however years of working with different directors and high calibre British actors has clearly allowed her to watch, learn and hone and in Deathly Hallows Part II Watson is a really strong performer which is a shame as she doesn’t have as much to do as in previous films.  Where she was the brains of the operation in the past the operation is pretty clear now and with Ron out smarting her on a couple of occasions it leaves Hermione with little to do.  The book showcases her conflict with the planned deception to keep the sword of Gryffindor but with the importance of pushing the narrative forward towards the Battle of Hogwarts Watson’s work is largely exposition which she delivers extremely well.  Bonham Carter, as mentioned, is excellent though like Hermione to Harry, Bellatrix takes a backseat in Voldemort’s story and we only really have the wonderful heist sequence to enjoy the brilliance of Carter.  All of the supporting cast perform well enough with two excellent yet small performances from Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom).  Issacs has always been a strong “baddie” in the Potter world but as seen in Deathly Hallows Part I he doesn’t have as strong a stomach as he may have thought.  The make up, facial growth and generally Issacs’ expressive face  delivers all the regret, heart ache and fear of a man out of his depth in a way that cinema simply doesn’t have the time to delve into.  Likewise Lewis’ transformation from awkward and slightly useless schoolboy to the John Connor of Hogwarts is wonderful, he has kept his sense of humour but has added the fearlessness that his parents clearly had all those years ago and his ferocity of his convictions to bring down the Dark Lord helps to bring to the front the pain of his loss. 

With regards to performances this film belongs to three actors in unequal measures.  The first, and smallest piece, is Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) who over the past ten years has had the thankless task of being the ever present but never highlighted character who is perpetually dealt the suspicions of the audience.  His scene in the boat house with Voldemort is so beautifully paced, tense and understated the final moments of the scene is enough to move the audience to the deepest emotions and is all thanks to Rickman.  This is a veteran actor who has been waiting in the wings for his moment and when time comes he delivers a performance that finally deserves his screen presence.  Likewise his conversations with Dumbledore and memories from the day in which Harry’s parents have been killed shows the motives of Snape’s character and the tenderness of Rickman’s performance.  Radcliffe’s performance is one that’s physically dominant throughout.  Over the years he has had others to turn to, others who have shielded him.  Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore, Brendan Gleeson’s Mad-Eye Moody have all stood up and fall for Harry.  This is now Harry’s moment and in Radcliffe they have a young man who carries a strong physical presence and a command of the screen that will serve him well for the future.  All too often his dialogue is for exposition purposes, and understandably so, but there are several moments that allow him to show the humanity of the character.  Harry’s approach to the forbidden forest presents Radcliffe with the opportunity to confront moments of personal vulnerability and regret and genuinely brings a tear to the eye.  Without doubt the film belongs to Ralph Fiennes, like Rickman, he has had to play a rather two dimensional character but this is his film, his moment to elaborate on a character that’s many things to many people, all of them complex.  Like Rickman, Fiennes performance in the boat house is excellent.  The ruthless matter of factness about his actions echoes the chillness of Fiennes’ Francis Dolarhyde (Red Dragon), this is not entirely surprising as to obtain the title Dark Lord you’d need to be a little ruthless.  What is surprising and wonderfully refreshing to see in Voldemort is his charm.  His ability to charm information out of characters is well documented but rarely observed by the cinematic audience.  At Hogwarts with the victory at hand he delivers a lighter, friendlier, carefree Voldemort that brings laughter to the audience and fellow performers alike.  It’s clear that Voldemort has a relaxed charm about him that he uses to lure people into his way of thinking and ultimately his service and it’s never so apparent than with his beckoning of Draco and the wonderfully forced hug.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is less refreshing than the franchises first outing post Columbus but this is not the time to be reinventing your film.  It’s been seven films in the making and audiences, fans and wannabe wizards alike have been waiting and wanting the visual presentation of their beloved book.  If you’re looking for a Quidditch match then you are in the wrong place, this is a climax that has been building for ten years and though there are some issues (wonderful moments from the book being cut and some shots clearly added for the purpose of 3D) it is a strong final offering and a fitting end to the franchise that has reintroduced children to reading.  Speaking of which, here is Alan Rickman’s thoughtful letter to J.K. Rowling.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

5x5 Grindhouse Style

Jillian Kesner

Fans of a certain age will recognise Jillian from TV appearances on Mork & Mindy or T.J. Hooker but, understandably, might be completely oblivious to her under the radar film career.  Having graduated from the University of Colorado with a B.A. in Business the blonde starlet moved to Los Angeles and the rest is cult history.  Here's five 5 star films starring Jill.

1. Kung Fu Cannibals
Kesner as holidaying LAPD Swat Cop who unwittingly travels to Warrior Island, the home of a group of monks who traffic women to exchange for jade and the restoration of their soulless warriors. Reviewed here.

2. Firecracker
Kesner as a martial arts expect who goes up against the mob and teaches them one hell'of'a lesson.  Don Gordon Bell also kicks ass!

3. Roots of Evil
A serial killer is on the prowl and targeting prostitutes and strippers.  Kesner and former model Delia Sheppard dominate the screen.

4. Evil Town
Very much the supporting role in this excellent evil genius/zombie flick which sees Dr. Schaeffer (Dean Jagger) attempting to create an army of the undead flesh eating variety.

5. Beverly Hill Vamp
A group of nerds head to L.A. to make movies and live the Hollywood lifestyle.  After a night out they decide to getting down for the night with a couple of prostitutes.  Unfortunately these working girls like to drink blood.  A supporting role with Britt Ekland in the lead.

Sadly Jillian's career only lasted twenty two years, passing away at 58 so there's not a great deal of a back cat to work through but what there is is excellent.

Next up...

< James Lorinz >

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Movie Bar Season 3

- Season 3 -

Friday 16th September 2011 from 8:30PM
The Movie Bar returns with a double bill of non stop Norwegian action.

(Northern Ireland Premiere) An alternative take on history as Norway's greatest traitor Commander Arne Treholt goes on a secret assignment with his band of special forces ninjas in order to save King and Country from the Cold War.


(Northern Ireland Premiere) A group of students investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, but learns that there are much more dangerous things going on. They start to follow a mysterious hunter, learning that he is actually a troll hunter.


Thursday 13th October 2011 from 8:30PM
The Italian Masters offer up two thrillers that will leave you yellow.

A professor sent to Italy to check on a reclusive colleague finds himself in a world whose reality seems less and less certain. That's about all one needs to know about the plot. 



A burned-out New York police detective teams up with a college psychoanalyst to track down a vicious serial killer randomly stalking and killing various young women around the city.


Friday 28th October 2011 from 8:30PM
The 2nd Annual Halloween Horrorthon
Featuring some of the horror classics you first watched on VHS before you probably should have.

A young man carrying a big basket that contains his deformed Siamese-twin brother seeks vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.


A young boy and his friends face off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man, who keeps a mysterious arsenal of terrible weapons with him.

Special thanks to director Don Coscarelli for giving permission for this screening and good luck with John Dies at the End.


A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.


Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.


and finally...

Thursday 10th October 2011 from 8:30PM
Back to the grind with a double header of Filipino Grindhouse classics.

Mr. Giant has kidnapped the brilliant Dr. Van Kohler and is planning to use the Doctor's invention, the N-bomb, to hold the world hostage. The only one who can foil Mr. Giant's evil scheme is Agent 00, a 3-foot-tall Filipino martial arts master, expert marksman, top-class romancer and all-around super-spy.


When two troublemaking female prisoners (one a revolutionary, the other a former harem-girl) can't seem to get along, they are chained together and extradited for safekeeping.


Available to book online soon!

Comment on the blog to stand a chance to win a Season pass...much like this one!
If you don't live in Belfast then it's probably not worth your while.

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