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A few reviews
Contact (1985)
Director Alan Clarke based 'Contact' on the memoir of A.F.N. Clarke, a British paratrooper who served in Northern Ireland in the late 70s. The two men worked together to strip the story back to the absolute bare essentials with startling effect. The camera follows the unnamed "Platoon Commander" ('Hellraiser's Sean Chapman) very closely as he wearily leads his men across the countryside. There is no music, virtually no onscreen titles, minimal dialogue (which is mostly confined to military nomenclature), no explanation of the context and little story, yet it's so powerful. You feel tense in the chest as you wait for something to happen to the platoon, sometimes it doesn't, the rustle of leaves and the snap of a twig, was just that and then without warning there are explosions of violence and terror.

Chapman's performance is amazing, conveying everything with haunted eyes and silence. You don't know exactly what is going on inside his head but you know it's not good. In the scenes where he stands and stares at sleeping children, or an old couple, you aren't sure if he's considering killing them, or remembering when he used to feel human. Other scenes where he's putting himself in danger, do not come across as a heroic desire to protect his men but as a sincere death wish. It's all conveyed with such clarity without a word being spoken. Apparently some people, including men who had actually served in NI, initially mistook it for a documentary, it feels that real. An anti-war masterpiece.

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There don't seem to be any clips of 'Contact' on the internet? There's a trailer for the blu-ray boxset it's from though...

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)
A pretty decent "Giallo" from Lucio Fulci, featuring Tomas Milian and "scream queen" Barbara Bouchet (all of Bouchet in fact). A series of child murders in a remote Italian mountain village stir up the paranoia and anger of the locals who still believe in religion, witchcraft and curses. Repeated shots of a large brutalist concrete flyover are there to tell you this is isn't a place people visit, it's a place they drive past. Fulci doesn't quite have the skill of Dario Argento when it comes to constructing a mystery. I guessed who the killer was the second he walked into frame and had my suspicions confirmed by the constant efforts to make it look like everybody else was the killer. Riz Ortolani's score is very nice.

The Assistant (2020)
Aussie Director Kitty Green (also Writer/Producer/Editor) uses the sort of minimalist techniques employed by Alan Clarke (which I've recently become more familiar with) to give the viewer the horrible experience of being a PA within a Harvey Weinstein-alike film production office for a single day. There is virtually no music, little traditional story, people do talk but there aren't many actual dialogue scenes, the camera movement is contained, the pace of editing is slow, there isn't much exploration of any characters outside of the "protagonist" and the film deliberately avoids showing anything sensational, or giving you any narrative resolution. It's just the mundane and miserable existence of an office worker for 85-minutes, leaving it up to the viewer to pay attention to the signs of abuse glimpsed in the margins of her actions.

The Weinstein-style boss is never directly seen but his malign influence is everywhere in the details and the bullying culture that purveys his office. We only hear him a couple of times down the phone, sounding like the whispered creepy voice from a slasher movie. You'll either find a minute of her photocopying head shots of young actresses to be patience testing, or horrifying because of what it represents. You'll probably either hate this film, or like me, think it's one of the best things you've seen all year. I was so tense throughout and felt like I was having heart palpitations by the end. The scene with the HR guy is so disturbing, thanks in large part to Julia Garner's soul shattering facial performance and the scene where her two colleagues are "helping" her dictate an email is unsettling and claustrophobic. I remember hearing a BBC radio interview with the guy who took over Miramax (after the Weinsteins had left to set up their own company) and he described finding exactly the kind of haunted, shell-shocked employees depicted in 'The Assistant'.

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^I added that to my must-see list when it came out.  I heard it reviewed on a couple podcasts, and what interested me was they seemed to say it was focused on showing the complicity of everyone around an abuser that contributes to what some people would call "rape culture".  I've seen stories of horrible, powerful people before.  I haven't seen many stories showing how "good" people help horrible people do horrible things.
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(06-11-2020, 08:40 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: ^I added that to my must-see list when it came out.  I heard it reviewed on a couple podcasts, and what interested me was they seemed to say it was focused on showing the complicity of everyone around an abuser that contributes to what some people would call "rape culture".  I've seen stories of horrible, powerful people before.  I haven't seen many stories showing how "good" people help horrible people do horrible things.

That sums it up, denial too, there's enough evidence that everybody pretty much knows what is going on but not enough evidence that everybody can't just lie to themselves and pretend it's not happening.

Village of the Damned (1960)
The 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham's Sci-Fi novel 'The Midwich Cuckoos' is a mixed bag. The blonde haired, monotone, hive-mind children are really creepy. The opening act depicting all the people in a pleasant looking English country village suddenly losing consciousness is also unsettling. As is the idea of all the women suddenly finding out they are pregnant by an unknown force. Apparently it was originally going to be filmed in the US but the Christian connotations of the premise were thought to be too controversial, so the location was shifted back to the UK. The problem is that all the focus is on male characters, in a story that should be 90% about the experience of the horrified women. In a couple of scenes the men just usher the women out of the room. There's an attitude of "don't worry your pretty head my dear, just leave the old chaps with rich deep voices and sturdy tweed jackets to sort this mess out". It was also slightly absurd to try to make a film about pregnancy, when the film censors wouldn't let you mention the word "pregnant" for fear of causing a national scandal... I was only relieved that they didn't mention a visit from "the Stork". I make an effort to view old films through the lens of the era in which they were made but this one made it difficult. Still the strong Horror/Sci-Fi elements make it well worth enduring the dodgy bits.

Village of the Damned (1995)
Like the 1960 original, John Carpenter's remake of 'Village of the Damned' is another mixed bag but for different reasons. It's broadly the same story about all the women in a village called Midwich (shifted from England to the USA) becoming pregnant after some sort of weird synchronised feinting spell. This time they unwisely make it explicit that it's aliens, of the "grey" type, when keeping it vague was much more creepy. I feel bad for saying it but Mark Hamill is pretty bad as the town priest, thankfully he's mostly overshadowed by a spectacularly bad performance by Kirstie Alley.  Most of the rest of the cast are tolerable. It's a shame because star Christopher Reeve is really terrific in what would be his last role before his tragic horse riding accident. A subject like abortion could never have been addressed in the 1960 movie but in the more more liberated 90s they could and do bring it up but then do almost nothing with it. There is a different angle explored with one of the children rebelling against his brothers and sisters. More gore is allowed this time, the guy accidentally cooking himself on his own barbecue being an icky "highlight". 'Village of the Damned' passes the time but it's noticeably the point where Carpenter has lost his way.

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Il Postino (1994)
The story behind the making of 'Il Postino' ('The Postman') is as interesting as the film and informs it's story and mood. Star Massimo Troisi (whose idea the film was) was seriously ill during filming, postponed heart surgery so it could be completed, recorded his dubbing early just in case, was only able to work an hour a day, did only one or two takes and used a double where possible... then sadly died of a heart attack just one day after the film wrapped. The movie tells a fictional story inspired by real events in which Troisi plays temp-postman Mario who is hired to take letters to the famous socialist poet Pablo Neruda while he is in political exile on a remote Italian island. Mario is poorly educated and dissatisfied with small island life, so he enthusiastically takes the opportunity to strike up an unlikely friendship with the intellectual and worldly Neruda, who talks with him about poetry, politics and romance. There are some lovely moments of visual storytelling, like the way a character parks his car is enough to tell us everything about him before he opens the door. It's a beautiful film with a beautiful score by Luis Bacalov (which won the Oscar that year). It's surprising that it was shot (and co-written) by English Director Michael Radford because it feels so Italian.

Nice try, Massimo, but there's only one Postman, and his name is Shakespeare.
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(06-13-2020, 08:11 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: Nice try, Costner, but there's only one Postman, and his name is Pat.

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Zombi 3 (1988)
Lucio Fulci's 'Zombi 3' (aka 'Zombie Fleash Eaters 2'/'Zombie 3') is the belated and unrelated sequel to Fulci's own 1979 film. Due to illness and/or creative differences Fulci left after about 50-60% was complete and the film was handed over to Director Bruno Mattei and writer Claudio Fragasso (Fragasso wrote/directed the infamously terrible 'Troll 2'). This is definitely a case of so bad it's good, very, very good. The English dubbing is gloriously bad, to the point where characters are walking over surfaces which make the wrong sounds, or the rhythm of their footsteps aren't even close. The script that the dubbing actors are reading from is like it's written by an alien trying to replicate human speech patterns and almost getting it right. It's set in that little known "America" which has palm trees, jungles and where all the people are Filipino.

The story is some nonsense about the military trying to regain control of a virus they've let loose called "Death1", which turns your blood green and makes people into Zombies. New characters are continually introduced at a slightly faster rate than they can be killed off, what that approach lacks in plot structure, it makes up for in shear forward momentum. The gore splatter FX are as amazingly inventive, as they are nonsensical. There are machete attack zombies, invisible piranha zombies, full grown adult baby zombies, ninja attack zombies and best of all, a flying decapitated head zombie. The fun is all from laughing at the movie because it actually takes itself pretty seriously (improbable as that is). Stefano Mainetti's Goblin-esque synth score is really fantastic too. I'll definitely be watching this one again!

War Dogs (2016) (US HBO)

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The Hangover x (0.25 x The Social Network+The Big Short) x ( 0.75 Lord of War) = War Dogs

This romp from Hangover/Joker director Todd Phillips is... fine. Jonah Hill is good, Miles Teller is perfectly adequate, and Ana de Armas is perfectly wowza. Amazingly, this is based on a true story in which a few upstart 20-somethings became weapons resellers, albeit embellished and with added action. The protagonists are devotees of movies like Scarface, yet seem to have missed the key third-act lesson of every gangster story everywhere: get out while you're ahead, and before you take so much you become a highly visible, easily toppled target. It's the old paradox: those who are smart enough to win at the crime game are too dumb to cash out early, and those dumb enough to enter the game in the first place have to be smart to get anywhere at all. Unless, of course, one works for a large corporation, and buys political support in the guise of respectability. Then one can feed a military-industrial complex for generations.

Grade: B
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