Wednesday, 31 December 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR

So, 2009 is just under 4 hours away and it's about time for me to log off the WWW and enjoy a quiet drink at home with my wife. Overall, it's not been a bad year. We've had a successful 12 months at work, with Xmas sales a lot stronger than the corresponding time last year, and my wife won an LCD TV and a Blu-ray player in competitions. We managed to get away for a 3 day break by the seaside in July and although it pissed down with rain for most of our stay, it didn't seem to matter. On the film and music front, a lot of the cinema, DVD and CD releases passed us by (due to a lack of cash), and this situation will certainly get even worse with the current recession which will badly affect almost everybody.
On the blogging front, it's often been difficult to find time to update anywhere near as regularly as I'd like and this is something I'll strive to rectify next year. I'd like to thank those who took time to read some of my stuff, and who also took the trouble to leave comments. The feedback I receive does keep me going, I assure you.
I'd also like to wish everyone a happy, healthy and safe New Year. 2009 will be a tough year to negotiate, but I hope we can all meet the challenges and also find time to help others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Happy New Year!

SPOTLIGHT ON THE BLOGS

Fans of the late, great Lucio Fulci should check out a great new blog from Nigel M. DEAR LUCIO will be devoted to all things Fulci, and promises to be essential reading for those of us who number Italian genre movies amongst our favourites. Zip on over to http://dearlucio.blogspot.com/ and also check out Nigel's other blogs. http://spitonyourtaste.blogspot.com/
http://pyratesatplay.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 27 December 2008

THE CLASH: MY TOP TEN

Following on from my Joe Strummer post, I'd been thinking a lot about The Clash as I always do this time of year. Looking back on their catalogue of albums and singles, I still find it difficult to select my favourite tracks but compiling a list of my own top 10 should not prove too arduous. One hour later, and I'm ready.Note, these are in no order of preference (except for maybe the number 1 spot).


1/ White Man In Hammersmith Palais. "I'm the all night drunk prowling wolf who looks so sick in the sun". Their finest hour in my humble opinion, with a giant of a vocal performance and lyrics that are a joy to read. Inspired by an event at one of my favourite London music venues, this is a mighty 45rpm-er and a live highlight.


2/ Safe European Home. "Well I just got back and 'ah wish I never leave now". From the once-hated 'Give 'Em Enough Rope' album. Much dissension from those who wanted a clone of the magnificent first LP (same folks who stopped following bands once they reached The Lyceum "cos they've sold out") but no matter. This track made for a fine rabble-rousing opening to Rope and was often used to open their live sets.


3/ Career Opportunities. "Career Opportunities the ones that never knock. Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock". Snarling vocals,a beat that moves like an express train. Sadly, it's just as relevant today. Come a long fucking way, haven't we?


4/ Janie Jones "He's in love with rock 'n' roll woah. He's in love with getting stoned woah". Another one from that classic debut. Joe gets naughty with Janie, while the crowd goes wild. Let them know, let them knoow!


5/ Clash City Rockers. "You owe me a move say the bells of Old Groove. Come on and show me say the bells of Old Bowie". Name dropping here in this top-notch single release (we won't mention G******) from a band on fire. Do your stuff, Topper!


6/ Police And Thieves. "And all the peacemaker turn war officer. Hear what I say" Used to love this one live (and not because it gave us a breather). Joe really lived this song live, and the sight of him shimmying across the stage while Mick, Paul and Topper stayed rock steady will stay with me forever.


7/ London Calling. "London calling, now don't look to us. Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust". Thank Christ for that! Probably the standout track from the fab album of the same name, and you can take the lyrics any way you want. Uplifting every time I listen.


8/ Stay Free. "When you lot get out, we're gonna hit the town. We'll burn it fackin down, to a cinder". Back to Rope for this one. Such an emotional song. If there's one Clash track that's tear-inducing, this is it!


9/ Complete Control. "They said we'd be artistically free, when we signed that bit of paper". This one always went down a storm live. One of the greatest guitar openings in musical history? Oh yes.


10/ Capital Radio. " Wanna tell your problems, phone in from your bedsit room. Havin' trouble with your partner, let us all in on the news". Got the Clash debut week of release, and it did have that red sticker for a copy of this single. Ashamed to say I didn't send off for it. Ah well, loved this song to death and the lyrics still bring a smile to my face.


So, that's my 10 faves but I'm sure most of you will have different choices. Might do this one again, with bands like The Jam and The Banshees.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

Christmas Eve. Just broken up from work for a 4 day break, which for me is the longest Xmas holiday I've had since I finished school. Tomorrow, my wife and I will spend the day at my mother's, and then phone her family in America to wish them all the best for the holiday season. We'll probably eat just a little bit too much turkey, listen to the Queen's Christmas message (where she'll probably tell us how bad things are) and enjoy some live football on TV. At this time of year, I think of the members of my family who are no longer here and also realise that I have a lot to be thankful for. While it's true that our economy - along with many others - is in dire shape, and the next 12 months and beyond are going to be extremely challenging, there are many people who battle with illness and real poverty that badly need a little light in their darkness. My local football team were on TV earlier this week, visiting the children's ward at the local hospital. It was heartbreaking to see youngsters who are suffering from illness - in some cases terminal - and very humbling to see them smile at things most of us take for granted. So, it's my New Year's resolution to try and be a better person in 2009, and to better understand the needs of others.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you the best Xmas you can have and hope that 2009 is kind to you.

Monday, 22 December 2008

MEMENTO: THE CLASH IN 1977



22nd December 2002. 6 years ago today, I listened to the news on the radio and heard that Joe Strummer had passed away. The Stranglers once declared there were 'No More Heroes' but we knew different. Lydon, Siouxsie, Weller, good old Shane, Smithy from The Fall, Howard Devoto.... all people I looked up to. Joe, however, was top branch of my tree. See, The Clash were always my favourites. Still are. Right from that raw bastard of a debut album through to Combat Shock, I loved their music. The things they said, their dress code. Everything. Trip back in time. it's 1977.


Kings Hall, Derby. I started off my gig going career at this venue. A former public baths. Eastern Promises and all that. First few gigs were Progressive Rock. Curved Air, Man, Budgie, Steve Hillage. Bit of a piss-up with my mates and sod the music. Then Punk came on the scene with both barrels blazing. Boomtown Rats was the first. Geldof trotting out his old story about being refused at a local Derby pub. Wanted us to all go round there after the gig and tear the place up. Heard he ran the same story at Leicester the night after. Showbiz. Buzz in the air the following week. Heard The Jam would be playing in November, bringing In The City to our city. Then word came through The Clash were down to come to Derby. 3rd November was the date to mark down in the old diary of events, and the night in question could not come quickly enough.


Cold November evening, and the queue snaked down Queen Street. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got in through the pearly gates and strode onto the wooden boards of the hall, making a beeline for the bar. Two pints of watered-down ale later and we greeted the first band of the evening. Welcome to The Lous; an all-girl band from France who were forced to make an early departure due to a barrage of missiles from a crowd who only wanted to see The Clash. Next up, Richard Hell And The Void-oids. Now, we all had vast amounts of love and respect for American bands who numbered highly amongst our favourite bands, and Mr. Hell was of course responsible for 'Blank Generation'; one of the finest 45 revs of delirium to batter our tender shell-likes. Sad to say, Richard H. was assaulted by showers of beer and spit, but battled manfully on to deliver a stormer of a set. Respect.


By now, the hour was getting late-ish. 10.00pm. The lights go out, 4 figures move onto the stage and.... BANG! There's a riot going on. It's the 4 rockers of the apocalypse and 3 seconds into their set, the Kings Hall is jumping from front to back. A solid mass of pogoing bodies, exploding in time to the music. Highlights? 'Janie Jones', 'White Riot', 'Career Opportunities', 'Garageland' ("Back in the garage with my bullshit detector") and the mighty 'Capital Radio' ("There's a tower at the heart of London, with a radio station right at the top"). Great songs, but the absolute peak was 'Police And Thieves'. Put this song down in my top 3 of most memorable live songs. i can still see the boys now, laying down those rhythms while the lyrics are barked out through the crowd, out the doors and into the streets where they came from. I'd go on to see The Clash on other occasions and although their gig with The Slits the following year was absolutely magnificent, this was my favourite. You never forget the first time.


Or the last. My final encounter with The Clash was at De Montfort Hall, Leicester. Jonesy and Topper had gone, Joe and Paul were joined by two members of Bristol punkers The Cortinas, and Joe sported a Travis Bickle hairstyle, flanked by a bank of TV screens. We kidded ourselves it was a great gig and, in truth, Joe played a blinder. Wasn't the same though.. Years later, I witnessed Joe join The Pogues onstage for a blistering 'London Calling'. That was the last time I saw him onstage.


His passing hit me particularly hard, so on the anniversary of his death, I raise a glass to an amazing man and wish to fuck he was still here.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

MEMENTO: JOAN OF ARC AND NICK CAVE







27th August, 1995. The second collaboration between London's National Film Theatre and New Musical Express magazine presented a series of films linking music with the moving image. 'Screenage Kicks' featured some of the best music-related films, and notable performers and broadcasters were invited to introduce movies that had inspired them. John Peel, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Andrew Oldham and Martin Carr (The Boo Radleys) were just a few of the celebrities involved as WITHNAIL AND I, KES, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and MIDNIGHT RUN rubbed shoulders with classic footage from the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who.



As far as I was concerned, the most intriguing event looked to be a one-off screening of Karl Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, with live musical backing from Nick Cave And The Dirty Three. So, the evening of August 27th saw me arrive at the NFT with high expectations. I wasn't in the least surprised to discover that NFT1 was completely sold out, and the large number of folks vying for a handful of returned tickets contributed to an indefinable ambiance; the like of which I'd rarely encountered at the cinema. After spending half an hour in the NFT bar, it was time to take my seat for this most special event, which was introduced by Gavin Martin, editor of the NME film section. Martin explained that Nick Cave had suggested composing a score for Dreyer's silent classic; a project which had taken several months of rehearsals and careful planning. With that, Cave strode onto the stage, accompanied by Warren Ellis (violin), Mick Turner (guitar) and Jim White (drums).



THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is certainly Dreyer's finest hour, and Cave's heartfelt tribute turned it into a truly extraordinary experience; quite simply the most emotional and physically draining experience I've witnessed at the cinema. Dreyer's film is based on two novels by Joseph Delteil on the original transcript of this infamous trial. Delteil assisted Dreyer with the screenplay, but there's little doubt that the court records set the tone for this harrowing film. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is composed almost entirely of close-ups, and the final stages of the trial - along with Joan's execution - are dominated by the face of Renee ('Marie') Falconetti. The plight of the woman who claimed she was sent by God to save France is indelibly printed on Falconetti's tortured visage; indeed her performance is so intense, it seems as though she was actually possessed by the spirit of this revered Saint. As Joan is tortured and humiliated by the 'devil's agents' en route to her eventual confession, Falconetti cries what are so obviously real tears. This has to be a real contender for the most courageous performance ever given by an actress, and I was astonished to learn that this was her first and last film. Reports indicate she received help and advice from her director along every step of the way but, ultimately, Renee Falconetti must have felt more alone than any woman in silver screen history. Her overwhelming presence makes this a painful viewing experience, and Dreyer's obsessive approach to his subject matter is still guaranteed to disturb, even in an age where we think we've seen everything. Falconetti's inner strength, her unparalleled suffering and eventual despair manage to cross that often impenetrable barrier between screen and audience, forcing us to feel her pain and, occasionally recoil in horror. The scene where Joan is 'bled' so that she may live to deny her faith is extremely graphic, drawing gasps from an incredulous audience and when her execution takes place, the band stop playing and become as one with the packed auditorium who are stunned by this tragic history lesson.



Cave has gone on record as saying this is his all-time favourite film and it showed, Nick! Here, The Dirty Three offered mostly understated background support, with smoldering violin and guitar anchored down by Jim White's steady beat. Occasionally, the boys really put their feet on the pedals, responding to Dreyer's disturbing visuals with all the brutality of prime-time Bad Seeds. However, it was the quieter moments that really left a scar: Cave's beautifully fragile piano, his wordless vocals which often mutate into a haunting 'This is my desire' refrain, and his unerring ability to correctly call when the music should stop. A prime example of this came near the end of the film, when Joan is burnt at the stake. As the flames rise, a deathly silence envelopes the NFT, as we watch the crowd who gathered to witness the execution suddenly realise the enormity of this obscene act and openly revolt. It's then that Cave chooses to deliver his only song of the evening; a plaintive vocal which addresses "God's non-intervention".



All at once, the film is over, and a shell-shocked audience rise to give a standing ovation to Cave and his fellow performers. As we made our way to the exits, I noticed that some people were weeping, others were discussing the film in hushed tones, but most were just too overwhelmed to react. I think we all realised that we had witnessed something extremely special as a passion that has endured for over 80 years reached new heights.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

SPOTLIGHT ON THE BLOGS

Head over to the excellent RADIATOR HEAVEN for a terrific write-up on Martin Scorsese's MEAN STREETS.

http://rheaven.blogspot.com/2008/12/mean-streets.html

Saturday, 13 December 2008

20 FAVOURITE ACTRESSES MEME










Jeremy over at Moon In The Gutter tagged me several days ago to select my own list of 20 favourite actresses, but haven't been able to find the time until now. This meme originated over at the excellent Flickhead blog. My selections are not in order of preference, and contain actresses who have impressed me with a body of work or, sometimes, with an isolated incendiary performance.




1/ Alida Valli




2/ Meryl Streep




3/ Irene Jacob




4/ Isabelle Huppert




5/ Maggie Smith




6/ Julianne Moore




7/ Beatrice Dalle




8/ Helen Mirren




9/ Daria Nicolodi




10/ Isabelle Adjani




11/ Julie Christie




12/ Gena Rowlands




13/ Jeanne Moreau




14/ Margit Carstensen




15/ Hanna Schygulla




16/ Liv Ullmann




17/ Gloria Swanson




18/ Katherine Hepburn




19/ Anna Karina




20/ Stephane Audran
I'll tag:
PYRATES AT PLAY
ABOUT A HOOLIGAN
LOVE TRAIN FOR THE TENEBROUS EMPIRE
HORRORMAN
NO SMOKING IN THE SKULL CAVE

Thursday, 11 December 2008

BLU CHRISTMAS

Major surprise yesterday, as a Blu-Ray player turned up at our place. The missus had worked her magic once again in a competition. While the player is an entry-level model, we count ourselves extremely lucky to own one. Of course, we have no Blu-Ray discs to play but are able to take advantage of Lovefilm's excellent rental service and have amended our 'wants list' to a stack of Blu discs. Looking forward to future rents, including BLACK NARCISSUS, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE SEVENTH SEAL and HALLOWEEN to name but a few.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

MEMENTO: THE WHO ROCK WEMBLEY






18th August, 1979. I'd started going to gigs a couple of years earlier, taking in concerts by the likes of Budgie, Curved Air and Man before moving onto Punk. Although my earliest gigs were confined to Derby - my nearest location for live music - the bright lights of London quickly beckoned and would prove to be an irresistible force over the coming years. One gig in particular took my eye in 1979, and I just knew I had to be present. The NME announced details of a very special gig to be staged at the world famous Wembley Stadium, headlined by The Who with The Stranglers, AC/DC and Nils Lofgren making up a great bill. I'd been to Wembley for football games on two occasions prior to this and loved the atmosphere of the place, even though facilities left a lot to be desired. So, I left home early doors on a bright August morning, arriving at the ground shortly after midday. With a sell-out crowd of some 83,000 still settling in their seats, Nils Lofgren took to the stage, and delivered an enjoyable set, punctuated by a few somersaults which were well received. While I felt his set would have been better suited to more intimate venues, his music made for an enjoyable opening.



After a surprisingly short wait, AC/DC took the stage. I'd seen them a couple of times live in Derby prior to this gig, and missed their first few numbers in search of liquid refreshment to combat the stifling heat; conditions which had seen a few casualties amongst the crowd. As usual, the boys were on form, treating us to classics such as 'The Jack' and 'Highway To Hell', while battling against a temperamental PA system. Angus even did the old walkabout which was always a real crowd pleaser.



Next up, The Stranglers. Again, I'd caught them live on several occasions before this gig, and felt badly let down by the end of their Wembley stint. By all means showcase songs from your latest album, but playing the damn thing in practically its entirety was, in my view, taking the piss. Where were all the classics? Very punk, no encore.



Ah well, time for another pint and then grab a nice vantage point in the stands. By now, the crowd very getting very rowdy in readiness for The Main Event. This was the first really big concert from The Who since Keith Moon's tragic death, just under one year earlier. With Kenny Jones (ex-Faces) taking this vacated seat, how would The Who perform at a venue that Pete Townshend really didn't care for? Darkness falls, the stadium lights go out and at last, The Who take the stage. One minute later, searchlights are darting around the stadium and Pete and his boys launch into 'Substitute'. 83,000 people launch into a mass of pogoing, feeling the power like a kick in the balls. This is what we came for! Singalongawho, with everyone spitting out the lyrics and punching the air in a musical religious experience. 'I Can't Explain', 'Behind Blue Eyes', Baba O'Riley (with the line "IT'S ONLY TEENAGE WASTELAND" sung loudly enough to be heard all over the world), 'See Me Feel Me' and 'My Generation ("Why don't you all f-f-f-fuck off") were all present and correct, leading up to Pete smashing seven shades of shit out of his guitar. That night, we were the UK urchins choir, paying homage to a great band in the year Franc Roddam's QUADROPHENIA was released. These were exciting times, and this most special concert was my own personal highlight of the year. God Bless The Who!

Friday, 5 December 2008

NEW POLL (YAWN)


Watched EXORCIST III earlier today as preparation for a post on Brad Dourif's performance, and thought it would be an idea to canvass opinion as to the current running order of the best and worst of the series. So, please take time to cast your vote(s).

SPOTLIGHT ON THE BLOGS

Continuing my weekly look at some of the excellent work being done on the many blogs out there. This time, please head over to the I SPIT ON YOUR TASTE blog where you'll find a comprehensive look at the Italian film TO BE TWENTY aka BEING TWENTY
http://spitonyourtaste.blogspot.com/
As Nigel indicates, this is a work in progress so I hope you'll continue to check it out during the course of this month.

BOND POLL RESULTS

Thanks to everyone who voted in my poll regarding the best incarnation of James Bond.

The results are:

Sean Connery 38%

George Lazenby 11%

Roger Moore 17%

Timothy Dalton 2%

Pierce Brosnan 5%

Daniel Craig 23%

As expected, Connery took top spot, but nice to see Daniel Craig making such an impact, two films into his 007 career.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

MEMENTO: BEN KINGSLEY. SEXY BEAST

You're on two per cent, two and a half, maybe even three. Depends on the usual bumflufferies. It's not about the money with you and me is it, Gal? It's the charge, it's the bolt, it's the buzz, it's the sheer fuck off-ness of it all. Am I right?



Ray Winstone has always struck me as a particularly hard bastard. Features chiseled out of granite, big imposing figure and that broad cockney accent all combining to fashion a man you most definitely do not want to piss off. Still, people can mellow over time... take a gander at his role in Jonathan Glazer's SEXY BEAST. Here, Raymondo plays Gal; a retired criminal who departed from rain-sodden England to enjoy the fruits of his labours in Spain with his 'old lady' Dee Dee (Amanda Redman) and two friends, Jackie and Aitch. For a while, things go swimmingly as lazy hot days melt into barbecue nights with nothing more serious than tackling the next rib eye. Such a drastic change in lifestyle invariably has a rather profound effect: people get complacent and weak. Surely not our Ray, though? Surely you'd be safe putting every penny of your wedge on him rising to the occasion and crushing anyone who threatened to cast a shadow over his life on easy street? Well, you ain't met Don Logan yet! One night over dinner, Aitch whispers this simple combination of forename and surname, and things go v-e-r-y quiet. Just one phone call from London ("It was Don Logan"), and this quartet act like the end of the world is about to take place, with Gal suddenly looking like a broken man. The Bogeyman? As a matter of fact, it is, so let's meet Don and see if he lives up to all the pre-match hype.



Our first view of him sees a man walking quickly and in time, eyes looking straight ahead as he marches towards a waiting car to take him to Gal's villa; a journey of deathly silence. Upon arrival, Don announces "I'll have to change my shirt. It's sticking to me. I'm sweating like a cant", and proceeds to engage Gal in the one-to-one chat he was dreading. Turns out Teddie Bess (a suitably menacing Ian McShane) needs 8 men to do a London bank, and DL has been dispatched to drag Gal out of retirement. As Logan sets about persuading Gal to "Do the job", some of the audience will doubtless recognise Don from their own experiences. Seen him at the football ground, bouncer at your local club and then moving on to organised crime with a CV that would doubtless make for terrifying reading. While his verbal assault on Gal switches from comical to downright scary, the envelope is well and truly pushed (more like screwed up and launched) during a brutal attack on Gal in his own bed. Next day, with his mission seemingly ended in failure, Don departs for a flight to London, only to reappear following an airport encounter involving a cigarette and an allegation of sexual assault. Now, we really see Logan go into overdrive, subjecting Gal to a truly vicious tirade of abuse. This really is one savage bastard of a performance from Kingsley, installing him as one of the scariest figures in British Cinema. While Raymondo and McShane are both on the top of their game, Kingsley takes the honours here by a country mile, getting all the best lines and running with them in an orgy of expletives mixed with some very funny dialogue.



"What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I'm gonna have that? You really think I'm gonna have that, ya ponce. All right, I'll make it easy for you. God knows you're fucking trying. Are you gonna do the job? It's not a difficult question, are you gonna do the job, yes or no?"



I won't give the game away for those of you yet to see this film, but you'll love the final shot which had me in stitches, accompanied by a slight shiver. I first caught SEXY BEAST at London's National Film Theatre during a hot July evening (remember those?), and was immediately blown away by Kingsley's psychotic performance (anyone else lose a few quid when he lost out at The Oscars?). Ah, a villain in the truest sense of the term and although his character has inspired drunken impersonations in pubs and clubs all over England, I have to say the blokes a cant. End of.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

READ THIS

Just finished reading a terrific post on Jeremy's Moon In The Gutter blog. Ken Loach's CATHY COME HOME was first broadcast in the UK on 16th December, 1966, and was watched by one quarter of the population. Check out Jeremy's tribute to this film. I'm sure you all follow his excellent work but for anyone who is new to blogs, click on this link http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/2008/11/overlooked-classics-ken-loachs-cathy.html
I intend to highlight posts from other blogs on a weekly basis, and this is a nice way to start.

Friday, 21 November 2008

AWAYDAYS: THE NEW TRAINSPOTTING?



Based on Kevin Sampson's cult novel, AWAYDAYS is set for UK cinema release in March 2009, after two sell-out screenings at the recent London Film festival. Sampson wrote AWAYDAYS in 1982, but it would be 16 years later before the book was picked up and released. The story is set in late 1979, some six months into Margaret Thatcher's first term which, for many people, was "like watching a virus take hold". The main character, Paul Carty, is 19 and heavily into football and music. Following his mother's death, Paul is offered a way into 'The Pack'; a gang of football hooligans who travel the country seeking confrontation with rival firms. As Paul sinks deeper and deeper into his new lifestyle, relationships threaten to explode amidst paranoia and jealousy.


With a soundtrack boasting songs from Joy Division, Magazine, Wire and The Cure, together with other UK bands, AWAYDAYS promises to be a vibrant, vital slice of British culture and a must-see for those who were there and those who remain curious about the era.

DVD POLL RESULTS

Thanks to everyone who took time out to vote in my poll regarding DVD buying habits during what is obviously a difficult time for the economy.
I asked: Compared to last year, are you buying more DVDs, about the same, less or none until things get better. The results:

More 22%

About the same 22%

Less 29%

None until things get better 26%

Clearly, the current recession has forced a fair percentage of folks to cut down on their leisure spending, which is bad news for us and the industry.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

AT LAST


24th February 2009. Region 1.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

POSSIBLY MY BOOK OF THE YEAR

An Alternative Derby, by Johnny Vincent, will be nostalgic reading for those of us who frequented The Kings Hall, Cleo's, The Ajanta and The Rainbow Club. It was at those venues where I caught the likes of The Clash, The Jam, The Slits, Crass, SLF, Subway Sect, Joy Division and many other punk bands. Johnny's book promises a journey through the Derby uk music scene from 1976 to about 2000 and the joys of being on the dole, trying to form a band and trying to escape the hang mans noose of retail.This book has interviews with many of the people on the punk scene, and we have a look at many of the venues that the bands played in.
I'm sure this book will provoke feelings of joy and also a little sadness, as many of the readers will get to re-experience a part of their lives which are captured in the pages of UK music history. Although I'm unable to rush straight out and order a copy, the book is on my Christmas present list and a full review will follow.

NEW ISSUE OF SIGHT & SOUND



The latest issue of Sight & Sound magazine arrived yesterday, and, as usual, it's packed full of goodies. Highlights include:


An interview with Oliver Stone


A feature on THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX


Brad Stevens' feature on Abel Ferrara and why his most recent films are so difficult to see


A look at the Dardenne brothers new film THE SILENCE OF LORNA


Details on an exhibition of Andy Warhol's film and video work, which can be seen at London's Hayward Gallery


You'll also find cinema and DVD reviews, including DREAM OF LIFE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, RED DESERT, ERASERHEAD, CALIGULA: THE IMPERIAL EDITION, EUREKA, and Tim Lucas' review of HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Essential reading, as always.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

ALPHABET MEME

Jeremy over at Moon In The Gutter tagged me to do the following meme, devised at Blog Cabins. The rules are:

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to http://blogcabins.blogspot.com/ in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

So, here are my selections:

A. AMADEUS (Milos Forman)
B. BLOOD SIMPLE (Coen Brothers)
c. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Lucio Fulci)
D. DIVA (Jean- Jacques Beineix)
E. ED WOOD (Tim Burton)
F. FIGHT CLUB (David Fincher)
G. GREEN STREET (Lexi Alexander)
H. HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (John McNaughton)
I. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar-Wai)
J. JACK THE RIPPER (Jess Franco)
K. KEN PARK (Larry Clark)
L. LA DOLCE VITA (Federico Fellini)
M. MULLHOLLAND DRIVE (David Lynch)
N. NEW YORK RIPPER (Lucio Fulci)
O. ONE FROM THE HEART (Francis Ford Coppola)
P. PERFORMANCE (Donald Cammell / Nic Roeg)
Q. QUADROPHENIA. (Franc Roddam)
R. RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER. (Julian Gilbey)
S. SEXY BEAST ( Jonathan Glazer)
T. TIMECODE (Mike Figgis)
U. URBAN GHOST STORY (Genvieve Jolliffe)
V. VENUS IN FURS (Jess Franco)
W. WHIP AND THE BODY (Mario Bava)
X. X FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Chris Carter)
Y. YOJIMBO (Akira Kurosawa)
Z. ZOMBIE FLESHEATERS (Lucio Fulci)

I'm tagging:


About A Hooligan


Hammer And Beyond


I Spit On Your Taste


Lazy Eye Theatre


Soiled Cinema

Sunday, 9 November 2008

CHECK OUT THE OTHER BLOGS

I've added a section to the right, titled MY BLOG LIST, enabling me to keep updated on some of my favourite blogs. I'm sure they are already on the daily visit roster for most of you, but thought it would be a useful addition so we can all keep tabs on their updates. They all make for excellent reading. Unfortunately, I couldn't include Kimberley's excellent Cinebeats (for technical reasons which are beyond my minus zero computer knowledge) but I'm sure you all have that one on your list.

BUDGET BLU-RAY FROM SIGMATEK


Just discovered that a company called Sigmatek have released a budget priced Blu-Ray player. The SBR-1000 can be found on Amazon UK for £153.00. This particular model uses Sony/Nichia blu laser technology, which is cheaper to produce than typical Blu-Ray lasers. This model will support 1080p (24/60), but a lack of reviews so far means it warrants further investigation when time permits.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM


Friday, 7 November 2008

ANOTHER REASON TO GO BLU: DEAD AND BURIED


Those of you who own a Blu-Ray player or are currently considering taking the plunge may well be interested by this forthcoming release from Blue Underground.

It's available to buy from 27th January 2009, and we're promised:

Audio Commentary #1 with Director Gary A. Sherman
Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Writer/Co-Producer Ronald Shusett and Actress Linda Turley
Audio Commentary #3 with Cinematographer Steve Poster
Stan Winston's Dead & Buried EFX
Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror
Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear
Theatrical Trailers

QUANTUM OF SOLACE: RETURN OF THE KING



Earlier today, my wife and I took our seats in Derby's splendid Cinema De Lux to catch the latest Bond film. Having thoroughly enjoyed CASINO ROYALE, our expectations were high and it's pleasing to report we were not disappointed. Right from the opening car chase along an Italian coastal road, QUANTUM OF SOLACE establishes itself as a worthy follow-up to its illustrious predecessor, as 007 goes after those responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd. Here, Craig establishes himself as the best Bond to date , carrying a broken heart and a burning ambition to mix revenge with duty. It's a real powerhouse performance which carries the film through a couple of stumbles, and ultimately should leave you in awe of this new age Bond and his bare-knuckle approach.


In truth, it's not all plain sailing and QUANTUM may well alienate trad Bond-ites who doubtless winced pre-film at director Marc Forster's assertion that he set out to make an art house Bond film. The action scenes are most definitely in your face and sometimes outside your pov, and it's clear that some scenes have been trimmed down, leaving questions unanswered, and high expectations for a director's cut on DVD which would possibly make for a more rounded viewing experience. Minor quibbles from me, but possibly major issues for those who also may have felt shortchanged by a different way of doing things and long for the old gadget-toting, quip-firing Bond of old. Now, we have a leaner, meaner animal and also encounter a more personal view of the life of a very special secret agent. Those of you who enjoyed CASINO ROYALE are not guaranteed to rate this latest film as highly but you'd be well advised to give your CR DVD another spin before venturing out to see QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Watch out for Olga Kurylenko's street fightin' Bond girl; a beautifully edited opera scene; some white knuckle combat on collapsing scaffolding, and a topical tip of the hat to GOLDFINGER.




Friday, 31 October 2008

HAPPY HALLOWEEN


Almost time to sign off for tonight, and enjoy a double bill fit for the spookiest night of the year. Our first film will be John Carpenter's essential HALLOWEEN which has been enjoying some excellent coverage on Jeremy's Moon In The Gutter blog. At this time of year, I always recall my first viewing of this film which - if memory serves me correct - was in 1978 at a cinema in Derby. This screening was actually part of a double bill with ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and served as a wonderful introduction to the work of John Carpenter. For me, this classic ranks as one of the finest genre flicks of the past 30 years and I hope this time next year to be able to enjoy it via Blu-ray(if my wife manages to work her magic on another competition, to add to the LCD TV she won earlier this year). And the other film on tonight's double-bill? CITY OF THE DEAD (aka HORROR HOTEL). A wonderfully atmospheric gem which will take us beyond the witching hour.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I wish you all a fun and safe Halloween.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: A 4 DISC TREAT


While I'm usually reluctant to 'double dip' on DVD releases, I couldn't resist picking this one up to sit proudly alongside my Divimax Region 1 HALLOWEEN. This 4 disc special edition is still available, so grab yourself a copy if you haven't already. Here's the spec:

4DVD Set - Featuring 2DVDs Of Exclusive Content
Slipcase Sleeve Featuring Alternative Sleeve Artwork
Sleeve Notes Featuring A Discussion Between The Producer Anthony Masi And Moustapha Akkad
28-Page Halloween Comic Book - Entitled 'Halloween Autopsis'

Halloween (Original 1978 John Carpenter Version)
Halloween Unmasked 2000
Widescreen 2.35:1
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 2.0 / Original Mono Soundtrack

Disc Two Contains:
Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest (87 Minutes)
On Location 25 Years Later
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Radio Spots
Poster & Stills Gallery
Talent Bios
DVD-ROM Screenplay
DVD-ROM Screensavers

Disc Three Contains:
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror - Documentary
Horror's Hallowed Grounds – An Exclusive Tour of the Halloween Series Filming Locations
Halloween II and III Extended Interviews
Extended Celebrity Interviews
Halloween 5 On-Set Footage
Halloween Convention Montage
Fans Of Halloween – Collections of Props and Memorabilia

Disc Four Contains:
Halloween Panel Discussion
Halloween II Panel Discussion
Halloween 6 Panel Discussion
Ellie Cornell Panel Discussion
Michael Myers Panel Discussion
Dean Cundey Panel Discussion
Halloween Producers Panel Discussion
Halloween Location Stills Gallery
Halloween Convention Behind-The- Scenes Gallery
Original Artwork Gallery

A real value for money package, with the panel discussions being a particular joy. Let's just say if you're a fan of P.J. Soles, you'll get your money's worth with her contribution alone.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: WEREWOLF SHADOW




Naschy's 4th outing as the cursed Waldemar Daninski is set in Northern France, where two young women are researching the legend of a vampire Queen named Wandesa (Paty Shepard). During the course of their work, Genevieve (Barbara Capell) and Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) encounter Daninski and, low on gas and miles from the nearest town, accept his offer of hospitality.Posing as a non-fiction writer, Daninski, armed with an ulterior motive, helps the girls to locate Wandesa's grave leading to a riff on that classic scene from Mario Bava's MASK OF SATAN (aka BLACK SUNDAY). Now the girls are faced with double jeopardy, in the form of Wandesa and Daninski's deranged sister who launches violent attacks on Genevieve.The likes of Naschy, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and Leon Klimovsky are often regarded as 'marginal' figures in the Euro horror hall of fame, but films such as VENUS IN FURS, THE LIVING DEAD GIRLl and WEREWOLF SHADOW possess more style and imagination than a good many of their more feted competitors. Naschy in particular, has never received the acclaim he deserves, yet his Waldemar Daninski is surely one of the most tragic figures in recent genre history: a werewolf doomed to live forever unless he is killed by the woman who truly loves him. Naschy's performance vivdly conveys a tortured existence and if he proves to be the pick of the bunch here, Paty Shepard's vampiric countess also scores highly. Although some 86 minutes pass before Wandesa utters her first line of dialogue, an intensely physical performance from Shepard ensures Wandesa dominates every scene she's in. There's a real love affair with the camera going on here - echoing the extraordinary visual appeal of Soledad Miranda and Barbara Steele - turning Shepard into a seductive black angel of death.Klimovsky, clearly relishing the talents of his two main players, delivers a mostly successful slice of horror hokum. Cliched it may be, but WEREWOLF SHADOW is a delicious mixture of vampire and lycanthropic folk lore, only losing a few points during the final act when Elvira's friend Marcel (Andres Fuerno) arrives, slowing things down somewhat in his role as police inspector.Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD (identical to its American cousin) offers a spanking print taken from original vault materials. Interior and exterior scenes are usually sharp, with bold, undistorted colours and excellent shadow detail during numerous night scenes.The disc jacket proudly declares this is the first time WEREWOLF SHADOW has been available uncut, although those scenes involving sex and violence are by no means as graphic as legend may suggest; indeed, this film could easily play intact on late night TV.Anchor Bay has included a theatrical trailer, a splendid Naschy bio (penned by Mark Wickum) and a poster gallery with some terrific artwork for Naschy films, including THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, FURY OF THE WOLFMAN and SCHOOL KILLER. Best of all, however, is a 15 minute Naschy interview where the man himself reveals how he came to play Waldemar; why the character was Polish, rather than Spanish, and the title of the film that inspired him to spend his life in movies.Naschy also discusses censorship, offers anecdotal memories of WEREWOLF SHADOW and holds forth on his friendship with, and admiration for, Leon Klimovsky (as well as highlighting a perceived weakness in Klimovsky's directorial style).It's the sort of featurette that makes DVD such a rewarding medium, and rounds off an essential purchase for followers of Spanish horror cinema.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK




Hallucinations, uncharacteristic behaviour and a decidedly strange circle of friends become fixtures in the haunted world of Silvia Hacherman (Mimsy Farmer); a chemist who finds her life is slowly turning upside down. When the subject of witchcraft is raised during a late-evening conversation ("A fear which has many names"), Hacherman begins a downwards spiral, where off-kilter sights and sounds propel her to the doorway of madness. An unstable relationship with her boyfriend ( Maurizio Bonuglia) underlines her profound insecurity, and his own abode is where Silvia experiences a terrifying vision: a scene which gave director Francesco Barilli his title for this highly-regarded film.Hacherman's personal twilight zone is littered with remnants from the past and present-day menace, perpetuated by people who are still very much alive: a psychic's account of Silvia's father's death; unnerving re-enactments drawn from her formative years; bloody acts of murder which may or may not be set in reality, and the presence of a Mario Bava-esque ghost child who plays an eerie music box melody ("What do you want it for? You're too old!") all combine to spin a terrifying web of conspiracy, with the dark arts casting the blackest of shadows over proceedings.Until now, the majority of Italian horror buffs had only encountered this film via grainy bootleg videos. Now, thanks to Italy's Raro Video, The Perfume Of The Lady In Black can be enjoyed and appreciated in an eye-popping 16:9 transfer. Here, Mario Masini's sumptuous photography comes alive, with vibrant primary colours elevating this film to a standard of visual design that matches the likes of Bava and Argento. While dialogue is not always easy to discern, Nicola Piovani's score encounters no problems regarding lack of clarity, and perfectly compliments Barilli's vivid brushstrokes. Full marks to Raro, who also dish up an appetizing 23 minute featurette: 'Portrait In Black' features Barilli - still full of enthusiasm for his film - who recalls Perfume was shot in 8 weeks; that his original idea for a screenplay received a less-than positive reaction, and how he decided to base his story on Alice In Wonderland: a character who comes alive, thanks to Farmer (though Barilli feels she never really got into the role). Perfect viewing on tonight of all nights!

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN

This quick-off-the-mark Mexican homage to Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY wastes no time in creating a haunted world that, on its own terms, comes close to giving the Italians a run for their money.As a coach bearing three travellers continues its journey through an eerie wood, a sightless woman, flanked by three hounds, silently bids her henchman to stop the coach and murder its occupants. Hell of an opening, and, for the viewer, things get even better when Emily (Rosita Arenas) arrives at her Aunt Thelma's spooky hacienda, a matter of hours before her 23rd birthday.As one of the most renowned films from Churubusca Azteca Studios, THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN certainly lives up to its reputation, with Rita Macedo taking centre stage as the black magic woman who plans to use her niece to help resurrect one Marianne Lane - 'The Wailing Witch.'Macebo and Arenas are both excellent here, pushing their compelling battle of wills to the limit, while Salazar (Emily's husband) and Moctezuma (Thelma's hired hand, rescued from the gallows) make for good opposing characters; the real deal, however, comes with some exceptionally unnerving special effects: haunted mirrors, decaying not-quite-dead bodies, Macedo's gobsmacking entrance through a window and a wonderful series of shots featuring satanic rituals, shot with negative film stock - think Benjamin Christenson meets Italian Gothic. Just a few of the highlights from a film which may have come under the scrutiny of a pre-BARON BLOOD Mario Bava and, possibly, Dario Argento: check out INFERNO again and note not only the finale, but also certain dialogue similarities. My first experience of this film came via Beverly Wilshire's DVD, which, while bearing the customary scratches and splices of their Mexican series, is more than acceptable though it does, of course, highlight budget restrictions (rubber bats on wires, etc). For an infinitely more pleasing presentation, interested punters are directed to the special edition from Casanegra, which features a pristine transfer taken from newly restored vault elements. I'm sure I'm not the only one to express sorrow regarding the demise of this enterprising label.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

COMING SOON: CASS



29th December sees the release of CASS on DVD in the UK. This film is a dramatisation of the events surrounding the life of Cass Pennant, who was one of the leading figures in the West Ham ICF (Inter City Firm); one of the most feared gangs of football hooligans.


Cass (played here by Nonson Anozie) was placed in a Dr. Banardos orphanage in London in the '50s, and adopted by a white couple. While growing up, Cass was plagued by constant racist bullying, but went on to become a terrace legend while attending West Ham football matches. By all accounts, CASS is a compelling film, charting issues of class, race and masculinity across almost four decades and is sure to be hard-hitting in its depiction of soccer violence. For sure, those who were around at the time will recall trips to Upton Park and vouch for the fact that Pennant and co could always be relied on to make life extremely uncomfortable (and that's putting it mildly). Expect a review early in the New Year.
While you're waiting for the film, check out Pennant's 'Congratulations You Have Just Met The ICF' book.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS



Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead swansong begins with a young woman being stabbed to death by flesh and blood Templars, who proceed to remove her heart and then indulge in ritual blood-drinking. The story then moves onto the present day where Dr. Stein (Victor Petit) and his wife (Maria Kosti) arrive at a remote village to begin a new life at a medical practice.His predecessor warns Stein not to go out at night or ask any questions, but refuses to elaborate. Of course, the doctor ignores this advice and comes up against a wall of silence from hostile locals, save for Lucy (Sandra Mozorowski), a young woman who offers to help with household chores, and a cripple named Teddy (Jose Antonio Calvo) who seems to be the whipping boy for the entire village.Stein witnesses some strange sights when darkness falls and eventually learns the legend of The Templar's who rise from their graves for 7 nights every 7 years, requiring the locals to leave (you guessed it) 7 virgins on the beach for the Blind Dead to collect, which must have been a difficult task to fulfil.
While de Ossorio’s tale bears certain similarities to the work of HP Lovecraft, it’s also reminiscent of other examples of rural horror in the 70s, with the unfriendly locals and a persecuted misfit taking riffs from Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS, while the scenes on the beach may well have been inspired by Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN.Whatever, it’s good to see this series end on a high – particularly after the disappointing GHOST GALLEON and de Ossorio certainly catches fire on this one, with several scenes that make this the equal of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD for other-wordly atmosphere and graphic carnage. There’s also some rather wonderful mythology to savour – the idea that the seagulls are actually dead souls is decidedly creepy – and the cast run with it, turning in several very solid performances. Once again, the director returns to his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD siege scenario and this builds to a great finale, adding to the legend of those ghost riders of Berzano.
Anchor Bay’s Blind Dead box set offers a nice anamorphic presentation of this film, with strong colours and good shadow detail. Again, the disc comes with trailers and a poster and stills gallery but there is a 5th disc in this set which offers some excellent supplementary material.‘The Last Templar’ is a 24 min 54 sec documentary on Ossorio, touching on his formative years spent in business management, how he moved to Madrid aged 30 and started to make films, and features several film historians who give their views on the man and his movies. With contributions from Lone Fleming, Esperanza Roy and Jack Taylor, ‘The Last Templar' is exactly the kind of documentary that DVD was made for, offering an informative overview of the director and giving us valuable glimpses of some of his other work: check out clips of Anita Ekberg in MALENKA; his little-seen THE LORELEI'S GRASP and there’s an excerpt from LA BANDERA NEGRA (The Black Flag) which is basically a one-handed 90 minute monologue. Picture quality is excellent, so PLEASE will some enterprising company acquire the rights to this film? Soon! There’s also DVD Rom content via ‘A Farewell To Spain’s Knight Of Horror’, an essay in pdf format, and ‘Unearthing The Blind Dead’; a 10 minute interview where the man himself holds forth, voicing his appreciation of Franco and Naschy; lamenting the fact that financial constraints did not allow him to make more films (de Ossorio viewed his scripts as a way of making films), and revealing he planned a fifth Blind Dead movie featuring flying Templars!It’s a fine way to draw the curtain on a box set that has to be a contender for one of the best DVD releases of 2005. Full marks to Anchor Bay Entertainment and Blue Underground for treating British and American fans to the definitive Blind Dead showcase. Those same people will also relish the inclusion of Nigel Burrell’s updated ‘Knights Of Terror publication, which offers 40 pages of Blind Dead analysis and some terrific stills: a labour of love, beautifully written and presented.
Unfortunately, I have to close this review on a sad note. It’s inevitable that some of the participants in these films are no longer with us. One such person is Sandra Mozorowsky who committed suicide aged 18. Maybe it was the pressures of a career which began when she was 8 years old, or perhaps her actions were the result of other pressures? We’ll never know. Sandra could have turned out to be a good, great or indifferent actress but that’s not the point. It’s terrible to hear of young lives cut short for whatever reason, but it’s good that some 28 years after her death, Sandra’s light still shines in this film today

Sunday, 26 October 2008

007 HEAVEN: A NEW POLL

With the latest Bond film primed for relase on 31st October, I thought it would prove interesting to canvass opinion regarding who has proved to be the best James Bond to date. So, if you can spare a few seconds to cast your vote, head over to the poll on the right. While it may be a shade to early to judge Daniel Craig, I have to say I was enormously impressed by his performance in CASINO ROYALE . Craig also shone in the BBC drama OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH - a riveting nine-part series which still ranks as one of the finest slices of television screened on these shores - and it's particularly gratifying to follow his success here.

We're chomping at the bit to see QUANTUM OF SOLACE but work commitments (not for the first time) have thrown a spanner in the works. So, instead of catching this film on the opening day, we'll have to wait until 7th November to take our seats and engage in another bout of Bond fever. A disappointing delay, but all good things come to he who waits!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

SPOOKS: SERIES 7 BECKONS

I'd almost given up on terrestrial TV, when news came through that series 7 of SPOOKS will begin on BBC1 on 27th October at 9.00pm. The opening episode (1 of 8) is a two-parter, which will conclude the following evening, and concerns the kidnapping of a British soldier by an al-Qaeda cell who demand the cancellation of Remembrance Sunday in return for his release. Richard Armitage joins the cast for this series, playing an agent who has been held in a Russian prison for the past 8 years, and it will be interesting to see how this strand develops. As part of this series was shot in Russia, viewers can expect echoes of the Cold War, and a flavour of the old spy thrillers of the '60s. There has been a rumour doing the rounds that one of the major players here may well be leaving the series with a bang. All will be revealed over the coming weeks, so settle on the edge of your seat and prepare to be enthralled by another slice of one of our finest shows.

Friday, 24 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: CASTLE OF BLOOD

A smoky tavern somewhere in London plays host to a conversation between Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquili) and his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho). Poe's claim that his stories are all based on fact is overheard and challenged by English journalist Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), who will soon accept a bet that he cannot survive an entire night at Blackwood's haunted castle. Each year, on 2nd November, Sir Thomas makes the same wager, with the same end results: those who accept the challenge are never seen again.Thanks to the advent of DVD, we are now able to study the works of a number of influential directors with a heightened awareness of that wafer-thin barrier between the living and the dead. While the name of Mario Bava springs to mind as the prime mover in these haunted worlds of unquiet spirits, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti both merit at least a chapter each in any self-respecting book of the dead.Of course, this trio of Italian directors had more in common than a talent for creating some of the most unsettling imagery in horror cinema; they also shared the services of some wonderful actresses, with the likes of Barbara Steele, Harriet Medin and Michelle Mercier gracing a number of their individual productions, including THE GHOST , BLACK SABBATH and THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK. Steele worked for all three directors, appearing here as Elisabeth; one of a quartet of ghosts who must replay their tragic deaths on the fateful anniversary. Once again, Steele's extraordinary features dominate the camera lens as she attempts to lure Foster to the other side, though fellow apparition Julia (Margarete Robsahn) almost steals the show as a spook with a score to settle. Regretably, Robsahm's acting career ended with this film, due to her embarrassment over a lesbian love scene with Steele. A similar red-faced reaction may also have been felt by one dithering G. Riviere, whose initial actions and reflexes seem governed by a 5 second time delay. Happily, Georgie boy eventually turns into a more than capable performer, complimenting a fine cast and Margheriti's atmospheric direction. By the time this film reaches a thoroughly downbeat conclusion, it's clear that Blackwood Castle has joined such undesirable residencies as The Villa Graps, Hill House and Lisa Reiner's mansion; part of a select group of properties that invite us through their doors for one night only.Synapse's splendid DVD release gives us the welcome opportunity of viewing the uncut CASTLE OF BLOOD, which includes "lost" footage of a topless Silvia Sorrente - one half of a honeymoon couple who accepted a Blackwood wager - together with the aforementioned love scene (which plays more like a rape, with Robsahn on top!). This particular incarnation was created from four different audio and video sources, in order to present the longest version possible. As a result, image quality is variable but, overall, gives a pleasing representation of Margheriti's macabre compositions, with bags of detail in darker scenes and crisp depictions of decaying corpses, haunted portraits and those gorgeous flesh and blood spectres. This DVD release was subject to a delay of several months, due to soundtrack-related problems. While it's true that Synapse have been unable to deliver a flawless soundtrack, any remaining glitches, while occasionally obtrusive, can easily be forgiven in the light of the reverential treatment afforded to this classic.

ELECTRIC PROMS

Now in its third year, the BBC Electric Proms is taking place in London and Liverpool from 22nd - 26th October. More than 60 artists will be taking part, aiming to create a fresh musical experience, with choirs and orchestra's joining forces with top bands and vocalists. While those able to receive Digital TV will enjoy the best coverage (as usual), BBC2 will be screening a number of programmes which will contain highlights of the shows. Tonight show will feature Nitin Sawhey and The Last Shadow Puppets, while Razorlight fans should check out tomorrow evening at 11.20pm. For me, the real biggie will take place on Sunday evening when England's finest, Oasis, present a night of classic anthems and material from their new album. The boys will be joining forces with the Crouch End Festival Chorus, and hope to do a cover of The Rolling Stones' 'We Love You' at some point in their set. Keane and Goldfrapp (the latter accompanied by strings and choir) are just a few of the other bands taking part.

Although we are currently unable to receive Digital channels, we did manage to view some of last year's highlights, with Bloc Party treating us to a blinding set and also recall The Good, The Bad And The Queen doing us proud in 2006. With a UK stadium tour beckoning next Summer , it will be nice to see Oasis onstage again so roll on Sunday! Of course, Liam and the gang have a brand new album out, titled 'Dig Out Your Soul'. While I don't yet own a copy, I have managed to listen to it once and it sounds like a very strong album. Check out this link for a review http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/2008/10/dig-out-your-soul-and-dont-be-afraid-to.html

Monday, 20 October 2008

OUR VERY OWN X FILES

Today, The National Archives made available newly opened UFO files from the UK government. These files contain a wide range of UFO-related documents covering the years 1986-1992, including a close encounter over Gatwick Airport. The files are in PDF format, and previous files (already released by The Ministry Of Defence) can also be downloaded, although there is apparently a small fee for access to the older material. Zip over to http://ufopressrelease.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ to peruse the information. Well, it makes a change from world recession and Joe the plumber!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A POLL FOR THESE TROUBLED TIMES

Just wondered how the current climate is affecting individual buying patterns, with regard to DVDs? With soaring utility bills, rising unemployment and sundry examples of recession, many of our leisure pursuits may have to go on the back burner for a while. At the moment, the delights of Blu-Ray will have to wait a while as far as I'm concerned and SD product (currently offering some v-e-r-y tasty new releases) is also not on the agenda. I'll be pleased if you can all find time to vote in my new poll, and record just where you stand with regard to any changes in your buying habits.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: URBAN GHOST STORY










"Ken Loach meets The Exorcist" is how Variety magazine greeted this 1998 feature from Genevieve Jolliffe. It's a worthwhile summing-up, as URBAN GHOST STORY is a throwback to those great British 'Kitchen Sink'dramas, with a dose of the supernatural combining to make this one of the most effective British dramas of the 90's.




When 12 year old Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) is thrown through a car windscreen during an ecstasy-induced car crash, death takes her down a long dark tunnel towards a blinding light. Doctors manage to revive her after 184 seconds but did something/someone follow her back to the land of the living? After a series of disconcerting events, her single-parent mother - Kate,played by Stephanie Buttle - strongly suspects supernatural forces are present in their tower block flat, but finds her appeals to be re-housed are falling on deaf ears. In a desperate bid to enlist sympathetic help, she contacts the local press, resulting in an investigation by a journalist (Jason Connery) who swiftly decides her claims to be nothing more than an attempt to jump the housing queue. While mediums, paranormal investigators and devout Christians invade the flat to carry out their own investigations, Kate and her family must battle through a succession of decidedly earthbound obstacles, with the scent of psychic phenomena hanging heavy in the air. URBAN GHOST STORY is as much about the living as the dead, centering on many socially-driven repercussions that confront families who find themselves on the bottom of the pile: violent debt collectors; a family member destroying herself on drugs; the struggle to free oneself from squalid living conditions and authorities who are unwilling and, often, unable to offer a way out.




On the 10th anniversary of this film's release, things are even worse with our fucked-up society bereft of hope for the disenfranchised as the numbers of folks living in poverty climb ever higher. Jolliffe's film succeeds in capturing this depressing yet profoundly moving environment, while also delivering an understated, chilling excursion into the paranormal world where money and perceived status often overshadow those who genuinely place the frightened victim(s) at the top of their own unhidden agenda.




Inspired by the famous case of 'The Enfield Poltergeist', URBAN GHOST STORY never resorts to the bombastic assaults employed by many less successful spookers, instead opting to deliver less sensationalist methods of chilling the blood. In this instance, less is most definitely more, with a series of economically chilling sequences suggesting Lizzie's state of mind may not be creating these strange instances of unexplained noises, furniture movement and flying optics. Kudos to Jolliffe and producer Chris Jones for making such a full-bodied drama on a low budget, and also to a fine cast who do full justice to the literate screenplay. Amazingly, the most memorable performance comes from 13 year old Heather Ann Foster who belies her tender years with a mature turn as the frightened girl consumed with guilt over the death of her friend. With her tormented visage - contrasted at times by great serenity- fearful glances and accomplished script delivery, Foster goes through the whole gamut of emotions, and it's both surprising and sad that that neither she nor her director have really broken through during the 10 years since this film was released. I was lucky enough to catch URBAN GHOST STORY opening weekend at the Metro cinema in London's Rupert Street, snapped up the DVD when it came out, and remain mystified that it has yet to receive the recognition it deserves from the public at large.




The DVD contains separate commentary tracks from Jolliffe and Jones; a making-of documentary and a featurette titled 'The Real Urban Ghost Story' which looks back at the Enfield Poltergeist case. The haunting soundtrack can be found as an isolated score, and there are several deleted scenes with commentary explaining why they were left out. Although these omissions are not presented in a 'finished' state, they are worthy of inclusion here, and it would be an interesting exercise to debate the pros and cons regarding their exclusion.




Some 10 years on, URBAN GHOST STORY remains a powerful viewing experience, and it would be nice to think its value will be recognised in the fullness of time.