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Naked Lunch

Director – David Cronenberg – 1991 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 115m

*****

Originally published in What’s On In London. See also my reviews in Film And Video – The Magazine and London Calling Internet.

INSECT POLITICS

Watching David Cronenberg’s film of William Burroughs’ novel The Naked Lunch, it becomes clear that the two men share a bizarre sensibility for what the protagonist of the director’s earlier remake of The Fly (1985) described as “insect politics”.

To film Burroughs’ “unfilmable” work, Cronenberg adopts the strategy of incorporating biographical details from the writer’s life into an overall fabric also comprising elements from a number of Burroughs’ books. Hence, the “accidental” shooting of his wife at a party (Burroughs was high at the time) jostles with insect typewriters turning into sex blobs (here pink, dog sized insects with prominent flattened buttocks) and animatronic Mugwumps working for the Interzone network.

Once again, Cronenberg is shown as a master not only at directing both actors and special effects but also in his sheer command of filmic vocabulary. The sequence where Joan Lee (Judy Davis) is startled by husband Bill’s “William Tell Routine” going wrong and getting her shot (he takes out his gun after she’s balanced a glass on her head) is as unforgettable as it is unsettling.… Read the rest

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Batman (1989)

Director – Tim Burton – 1989 – US – 12 – 126 mins

****

Batman amalgamates Blade Runner, Brazil, Star Wars and Vertigo while giving more screen time to its villain than its title character – UK release: August 11th, 1989

“What kind of a world is this where a man in a bat costume gets all my press?”, a confused Joker (Jack Nicholson) asks his aides. A fair question since Batman gives more screen time to its villain than its title character. Actually, it’s a movie that looks not unlike Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985), although it lacks that movie’s depth, with elements of Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), three scenes from Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) and one from Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) thrown in for good measure. The screenplay compresses an incredible volume of action and about the right amount of necessary plot into its two hours, ensuring the audience gets its money’s worth.

Curiously, Batman (Michael Keaton) himself is simultaneously a peripheral, shadowy character in the background and the film’s main protagonist; this leaves much scope for further character development. Visually, he’s a vigilante Devil who drops in on unsuspecting criminals to mete out justice – an image at odds with the script’s paradoxical portrayal of him as a hi-tech policeman or James Bond figure.… Read the rest

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Pelle The Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren)

Director – Billie August – 1987 – Denmark – Cert. 15 – 157m

***1/2

Winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 1988 (61st) Oscars

Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud)

****

Director – Gabriel Axel – 1987 – Denmark – Cert. U – 103m

Winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 1987 (60th) Oscars.

This double review originally appeared in the Church Times.

JEREMY CLARKE ON VIDEO

Comments on Social and Religious Austerity.

Social hardship and religious severity have long been an artistic staple in Scandinavian films; two current video releases illustrate the point admirably. Pelle, the young lad of Pelle The Conqueror, is told he can conquer the whole world by his father (Max Von Sydow).

The turn of the century reality is less attractive, since the Swedish father and son are forced by economic necessity to migrate to neighbouring Denmark in search of farm labouring work. In Denmark, the boy boy struggles to keep his dreams alive despite local anti-Swede prejudice.

The tale and its setting strike a curious parallel with Babette’s Feast, in which Parisian refugee of the 1871 Communard uprising Babette (Stephan Audran) arrives in the Jutland Danish coastal region to seek refuge.… Read the rest

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Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud)

Director – Gabriel Axel – 1987 – Denmark – Cert. U – 103m

****

Winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 1987 (60th) Oscars

Pelle The Conqueror (Pelle erobreren)

***1/2

Director – Billie August – 1987 – Denmark – Cert. 15 – 157m

Winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 1988 (61st) Oscars

This double review originally appeared in the Church Times.

JEREMY CLARKE ON VIDEO

Comments on Social and Religious Austerity.

Social hardship and religious severity have long been an artistic staple in Scandinavian films; two current video releases illustrate the point admirably. Pelle, the young lad of Pelle The Conqueror, is told he can conquer the whole world by his father (Max Von Sydow).

The turn of the century reality is less attractive, since the Swedish father and son are forced by economic necessity to migrate to neighbouring Denmark in search of farm labouring work. In Denmark, the boy boy struggles to keep his dreams alive despite local anti-Swede prejudice.

The tale and its setting strike a curious parallel with Babette’s Feast, in which Parisian refugee of the 1871 Communard uprising Babette (Stephan Audran) arrives in the Jutland Danish coastal region to seek refuge.… Read the rest

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Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin Shi Nan Nu)

Director – Ang Lee – 1994 – Taiwan, US – Cert. PG – 124m

*****

Originally published in Home Entertainment.

Ageing restauranteur Chu (Lung Sihung) lives in Taipei with his three daughters – Christian schoolteacher Jia-Jen (Yang Kuei-mei), high-flying businesswoman Jia- Chien (Wu Chien-lieu) and teenage fast food assistant Jia-Ning (Wang Yu-wen). His problem (as with the mother in Lee’s Sense And Sensibility/1996) is that none of his daughters are married – and the clock is ticking.

Opening (scooter) traffic shot boasts encompassing sound, later rivalled by such DS subtleties as hymn singing (on a wonky Walkman) and a playground full of kids. Better yet are the cooking noises – bubbling, frying, pouring, steaming – rendered more mouth-watering still by accompanying oriental cuisine visuals. Should be watched with a lavish meal ready for consumption by the time of (or even before) the final frame.

Film 5/5

Sound 5/5

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1994 (67th) Oscars.

Originally published in Home Entertainment.

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Mr. Vampire (Geung see sin sang)

Director – Ricky Lau – 1985 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 94m

*****

This review originally appeared in Manga Mania to coincide with the film’s UK VHS release from Made In Hong Kong. Running time as on VHS sleeve. See also my All The Anime review coinciding with the 2020 Eureka! Blu-ray.

SCREEN GEMS

MR. VAMPIRE

The Far East views vampires through completely different cultural baggage, the extraordinary result of which can be seen in seminal Hong Kong period horror outing Mr. Vampire (1985) – which spawned several sequels and influenced countless genre outings both in Hong Kong live action and Japanese animation.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980) sees director Sammo Hung spend the night in a haunted house where he encounters various undead manifestations. It’s no surprise that Hung acted as producer on the later Mr. Vampire, where director Ricky Lau distilled Chinese cadaver / vampire mythology into a subsequent industry staple. As Lam Ching-ying so clearly explains in Mr. Vampire: “There are good men and bad men…corpses and vampires…this corpse is turning into a vampire.” Producer and director went on to make Mr. Vampire 2, 3 and 4, all with corpse‑busting star Lam Ching-ying who returned a fifth time under a different director for the present day Magic Cop / Mr.Read the rest

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Witness

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 15

Director Peter Weir (1985)

Starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Danny Glover

Running Time 108 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

First American movie by Australian director Weir was also Ford’s first attempt at serious acting (for all those who think the star didn’t have his work cut out on the Indiana Jones or Star Wars films which previously made his name). The piece shifts constantly between a generally unremarkable gun-laden, American cop thriller on the one hand and an utterly unique portrait of Amish life on the other – so unique, in fact, that most people who have heard of the Amish have done so through this film.

The simple respect afforded the Amish – an extreme post-Anabaptist, post-Mennonite Christian tradition that abhors post-industrial material in favour of a pre-industrial community lifestyle – is quite extraordinary given Hollywood’s usual smack-in-the-face / pat-on-the-head attitude towards Christianity. Here, Weir just notes and observes, making no judgements one way or the other, leaving us rather to make up our own minds.

What Weir does do, though – and to remarkable effect – is juxtapose this clean and idealistic world with a foul-mouthed, urban universe of corrupt cops.… Read the rest

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I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing

Director – Patricia Rozema – 1987 – Canada – Cert. PG – 84m

****

Review originally published in Films & Filming, 1988.

Polly – an obsessive amateur photographer with her own darkroom – is blessed with a rich imagination and accompanying fantasy life in which she walks on water and climbs up the side of buildings. Being a scatterbrained social disaster area she is unable to hold down a job. She tells confessionally how the position of temporary secretary in the svelte Gabrielle’s art gallery didn’t work out – a tale relevant to us all, especially in these days of high unemployment. Sheila McCarthy, a perfect piece of casting with her sparklingly expressive eyes, plays Polly.

Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon) is everything Polly admires – beautiful, intelligent, successful and articulate. Polly falls in love with Gabrielle and dreams of the two of them dressed in fine clothes, talking about art. The reality is that Polly dresses in polyester clothing, is completely inarticulate, and has a poor employment record.

Gabrielle is secretly involved in an art world scam with her business partner; inevitably, Polly’s naive, private world comes up against the sophisticated cunning of Gabrielle’s. The art world proves to be a superficial target for Rozema’s wit, which finds a deeper mark elsewhere, in human foibles.… Read the rest