Thursday, 31 January 2013

BMX Bandits (1983)

BMX Bandits was a movie I first watched at junior school; the headmaster would rent it out of the video shop at the end of term for our treat. And it really was a treat. The key components of the film, BMX, walkie talkies and Australia were all utterly cool to a child in the 1980s. BMX was the bike I and all my friends rode and loved, walkie talkies kept us all in touch (remember mobile phones were unthinkable to a child in the 80s, sure they existed but they were the size of a brick, required a case and a portable charger and were only for the rich yuppie adult minority. Now of course kids as young as 6 have mobile phones and walkie talkies are obsolete) and Australia was the land that gave us Neighbours, then a new and extremely popular daytime soap on BBC1. 

Because of my history with this film and the fact that it was such a part of my childhood,  I felt very nostalgic towards it in my memory, but wasn't really brave enough to revisit it as an adult.

A recent review from someone I follow on Letterboxd rekindled my memory of this film and, because I'm watching an awful lot of Ozploitation at present, it felt only right that I watched it again.

Well, it was better in my memory. In my memory, my innocent youth, I didn't cringe. It's perhaps a little unfair to say that though, as you can't recapture your youth nor did I really expect to. This is a relatively harmless film with bright summery colours, loud 80s fashions and an even louder synth score that, if it were a child itself, you'd worry about the E number it had had. There's something cheesily delightful about seeing a pre stardom Irn Bru coloured frizzy haired Nicole Kidman popping a wheelie to the wowee adulation of her cohorts as they evade Bryan Marshall and his two crooked colleagues.

Director and ozploitation veteran Brian Trenchard Smith has great fun satirising his more mature X rated catalogue in a conversation one of the teenage BMX Bandits, Goose, has about the grisly films he enjoys watching. It's a gag which would have gone over my head as a child, but I can totally appreciate now thanks to my recent viewings of the genre and BTS's work within it.

Lastly, I have to share with you the strapline on my DVD copy which proclaims this 'The Citizen Kane of BMX movies' Hilarious!

TV's Sexiest Women Of The 1980s Part 1

Spurred by an online article I've seen, I thought I'd compile my own list of the sexiest women on TV in the 1980s.

In no particular order...

1. Heather Thomas as Jody Banks in The Fall Guy

Enjoyable stunt man based bounty hunting action drama starring Lee Majors, The Fall Guy was great viewing for kids. Yet even at the tender age of 7 or so, I was well aware that Heather Thomas coming through those saloon doors in a bikini made me feel funny. 

What saloon doors? What bikini you say?


2. Marilu Henner as Elaine O'Connor Nardo in Taxi

The immensely funny trials and tribulations of The Sunshine Cab Company of Taxi was often enlivened by the feisty beauty of Marilu Henner

3. Cybill Shepherd as Maddy Hayes in Moonlighting

My ultimate personal favourite, Moonlighting was a show I adored, and I adored Cybill as Maddy even more. I've said this before but I even had a picture of her on my wall when I was six! It also explains why I've always had a thing for unattainable statuesque and slightly kooky blondes

4. Heather Locklear as Stacy Sheridan in TJ Hooker

There was only one way to distract us from the fact that William Shatner was far too portly - even in a girdle -  to be chasing down bad guys and that was to have Heather Locklear alongside him.

But with Heather's Stacy Sheridan chasing down the villains, why on earth were they trying to get away?!

5. Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke in The Dukes Of Hazzard

This rather naff and endlessly repetitive Good Ol' Boys action comedy created an icon out of Daisy Duke thanks to the gorgeous Catherine Bach. In the Deep South reality those Duke brothers would have knocked up their cousin before she was fourteen. In reality their cousin would weigh about 360 pounds and still try and squeeze into those 'daisy dukes' *vom*

More to Follow!

Katya Wyeth

Straight On Till Morning, 1972

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Long Weekend (1978)

Long Weekend might just be the best Ozploitation film ever. It's certainly the best I've seen thus far. Which makes it all the more frustrating and unjust that this splendid ecological chiller seems largely forgotten.

In Not Quite Hollywood, the excellent documentary film on Australian cinema, it's suggested that Long Weekend, with it's message of nature being extremely dangerous, didn't do very good business in its native land; because it was a message Australians were all too aware of. It seemed to have done rather well internationally before being forgotten about, the oft tale of many a low budget non American exploitation feature.

The story, by Ozploitation regular Everett De Roche, is a simple one; a suburban couple, in the death throes of their marriage and played by John Hargreaves and Briony Behets (the British expat actress who looks not unlike a combination of Michelle Dotrice and Julie Christie) go camping at a remote beach out in the sticks for a weekend, only to find that their ignorance and disregard for the environment around them means payback from a distinctly unaccomodating Mother Nature.

De Roche, a self confessed fan of Hitchcock, produces a supremely well crafted script which builds the tension and strangeness of the piece as well as 'The Master' might, and there's more than a nod to The Birds in some scenes. The low budget never really  impacts on the film, proving that well judged sound effects and soundtracks (an excellent one composed by Michael Carlos) alongside clever camerawork and direction, make for perfectly acceptable chills in a way that CGI and OTT gore could never hope to achieve. This is a traditional intelligent 'horror' story with a sense of dread, strangeness and wonder that attacks the senses. 

Cannily, the script never attempts to explain the situation that the couple find themselves in and indeed the reason for their fractious, unhappy relationship is only slowly drawn out and revealed during the course of this essentially two handed film.

In conclusion I thoroughly recommend this film and shudder to think what  the recent Hollywood remake is like *yawn* Please watch this version!

Out On Blue Six : REM

End Transmission

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Django Unchained

I ventured out to my local cinema today to see Django Unchained and....I loved it.

A good tale well told that fitted its epic length rather well. QT has definitely matured as a film maker to tell this story truthfully and still feel able to tip his hat to his exploitation loves. 

It is well directed, well shot, it looks beautiful. The soundtrack is a pleasing damn good mish mash, there are some genuinely funny moments and of course some genuinely tense moments. I love how QT has turned some things totally on its head; in the original Django, the bad guys wore (red) KKK style sacks over their heads and were a figure of genuine menace. Here, on proper Deep South KKK territory, he replicates the 'bag heads' but discards the menace to go for a scene that wouldn't be out of place in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles!

There's been much talk of the violence of this film, but to be honest I didn't find it in any way OTT, and when you consider the original Django has a man cutting someone's ear off and eating it before him, this seems largely tame. The violence inherent in the cruelty of slavery is respectfully addressed in an utterly non sensationalist way, and often played out on the fringes of the action, seen briefly. QT wisely leaves the majority to our imagination. The rest is just squibs-a-go-go, a delightful homage to Peckinpah.

Leonardo Di Caprio proves once again what a genuine and interesting film star he is, Jamie Foxx gives his greatest ever performance, Samuel L Jackson as both terrifying and amusing in equal measure, there's amusing cameos from the likes of original Django Franco Nero (his "I know" line when Foxx tells him the D is silent, is beautifully played) Lee Horsley, Jonah Hill and Don Johnson (plus one definitely unneeded cameo from QT himself, sporting an awful Australian accent. Seriously mate, give it a break with the cameos) and Christoph Waltz pretty much steals the film. His Dr King Schultz is now my hero.

The cinema experience itself - something I loathe and dread - wasn't too bad. There's a lot to be said for afternoon matinees as it means the screening room itself is largely empty, though I did end up with a couple sat an empty seat away from me; she was constantly looking at her mobile phone, he curled up against her and went to sleep after 90 minutes! And there was the ridiculous queue to get a ticket as my local cinema has dispensed with a box office, preferring instead that you buy a ticket either in advance or get served at the sweets/icecream/drinks/popcorn etc stands, in an attempt to get you to hand over cash for their goodies as well. No dice.

RIP Bernard Horsfall

You may not instantly know the name, but you will know the face

Veteran character actor Bernard Horsfall has passed away aged 82. The list of credits are staggering; Doctor Who (3 stories with 3 different Doctors), the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Casualty, Juliet Bravo, Minder, Doomwatch, Z Cars, Softly Softly, When The Boat Comes In and a starring lead role in the excellent Enemy At The Door which depicted the Nazi occupation of The Channel Islands. He also has a Quiller novel by Adam Hall dedicated to him.

1930 - 2013. RIP

If It's Tuesday This Must Be McShane

Ian McShane and Stephanie Beacham in Tam Lin 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Girls With Guns

Diana Dors, Yield To The Night (1956)

I Start Counting (1969)

Remember the photo of Jenny Agutter I posted yesterday? Well that was from the film I Start Counting, which I'm going to talk about now. See? Everything is carefully planned here! 

It's a largely forgotten movie from the late 1960s which is a shame. Even more of a shame is the fact that it seems to have been wilfully forgotten in some quarters because its plot of a fourteen year old schoolgirl's sexual awakening is deemed moderately controversial, perhaps largely because the character is played by Jenny Agutter who was still only sixteen/seventeen at the time. 

To be fair, I think we're living in a cotton wool society if we can't accept that most fourteen year olds are discovering their sexuality. In fact, I would say most fourteen year olds today have probably already discovered and experimented. I Start Counting does not deserve the controversy it has garnered as it's all rather winsomely handled and, unlike Baby Love, (which I blogged about on Saturday, see? I tod you nothing is left to chance here!) the sexual awakening Agutter experiences isn't used to manipulate or for sordid salacious effect (though admittedly, the publicity photoshoot, an example above, does seem to veer towards that aspect, but I stress the film does not) In fact it's a very naive, innocent and foolishly romantic burgeoning sexuality which sees her devote all her feelings to her 32 year old step brother played by Bryan Marshall. 

It's an intriguing film that plays out at a pleasing pace suggestive of a half waking dream, helped enormously by the soft textured cinematography employed (though to be honest, that may have just been the rather washed out print I saw) and the flimsy fragile theme sung by Lindsay Moore. It's well directed by David Greene from a novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop. Jenny Agutter plays the central character of Wynne with a great wistful air and she's helped enormously by Clare Sutcliffe as her more earthy friend Corrinne, who provides some good comedy. Their relationship as two schoolgirl friends is utterly believable and completely timeless. There's a pleasing and understated Alice In Wonderland motif that the film seems to want to draw comparison with itself to the classic literature, being that they both focus on a girl on the cusp from childhood to maturity. Naturally, with Wynne's sexual awakening also comes maturity and the facing up to and discovering of the harsh realities of life, a million miles away from Wynne's romantic daydreaming. 

The film's crux is that Wynne as well as secretly harbouring desires for her stepbrother, also suspects him of being responsible for several recent murders of young girls in the town, so she sets out to surreptitiously investigate and follow him to find out the truth. It's the kind of plot that would still be perfectly serviceable in an ITV1 drama these days, albeit with significantly less charm than here, and of course is totally dependant on anyone having the balls to address a fourteen year old having sexual urges for her 32 year old stepbrother.

The film was shot on location in the new town of Bracknell, Herts. I'm no fan of new towns as previous posts here and personal experience will prove, but it's interesting to note that this film depicts one pretty much as the town planners originally considered them; clinically white (Agutter's adopted family live in a completely white modern build home, stark contrast to the cottage she continuously runs away to, earmarked for demolition) ultra clean and almost complete that has the ambition and desire to be a future idyll. It's a world away from how Bracknell was depicted just three years later in Sidney Lumet's excellent The Offence (again, previously blogged about) a failed crumbling and empty wasteland with no community spirit. Of course both films have their own agenda when depicting the town, and as much as The Offence needs a setting that mirrors the festering wound that is Sean Connery's character's damaged psyche, I Start Counting is a film that possibly needs to paint its environs as progressive, to look to the future as much as Wynne's oncoming adulthood. Indeed even the murders that have occurred in the course of film are said to happen in or around the Common, where the old houses are. Also of note is that Wynne's own former home was the scene of a tragedy which she has flashbacks too. The future, the new town, is a better place.

Oh and there's also a brief appearance from Bruce Robinson's old pal Michael Feast as the token pill popping hippy (not a million miles from his part in Private Road) and Agutter gets a delightfully charming little drunk scene.


I love that Goldfinger inspired bum!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Sweeney....Except It Really Isn't

Ah hell. This is an extremely difficult film to review for someone who considers himself a fan of the original series.

First off the bat, Ray Winstone is simply not Jack Regan, and it grinds my gears hearing idiots claim he's the natural choice for the role. He isn't. For one the Paddy Power whore is a good 20 years too old for the part. John Thaw may have looked like he'd had an incredibly tough gruff life but we need to remember he was only in his mid to late 30s when he played the lead role in The Sweeney. Winstone, in his mid 50s, is simply wrong.  He's too old. And  too fat (they actually make jokes about his weight, though it does little to salvage it). But Ray Winstone is purely playing Ray Winstone in this, albeit by way of Danger Mouse's Baron Von Greenback. Hell, he even gets imprisoned allowing for his Scum moment. 

Ben Drew aka the surprisingly good hip hop/soul artiste Plan B isn't George Carter either. He's a 14 year old boy playing Ben Drew playing Plan B playing George Carter. But hey, at least he's not Danny sodding Dyer, so perhaps we should count our blessings. Drew had some genuinely menacing presence in the Michael Caine film Harry Brown playing a chav thug so I'm not prepared to write off his screen career just yet, but he doesn't utterly convince as a hero in this. Worse, he mumbles. A lot. So does Winstone too, each performing their lines in a mumbling rumbling Estuary accent, even when their characters clash, which means they never for one second have the believable electric chemistry that Thaw and Dennis Waterman had.

And both seem to think swaggering macho posturing is what their characters are about, and it really shouldn't be. In the 70s Regan and Carter's attitudes were the norm, albeit exaggerated I guess. Now, they are preening and are unintentionally hilarious.

So no, they're not Regan and Carter, which means this isn't The Sweeney.

But frustratingly, there is a lot to like about this movie even though it circles the precipice of pure crap on many an occasion. It makes a genuinely refreshing change to see the UK film industry produce a crime thriller set in London that doesn't present the story from a gangster POV, instead focusing on the police. Even though the film takes great pains, far fetched ridiculous pains, to point out that these police are tougher ie worse than the gangsters. The original series used to make a lot of the message that 'to catch criminals you had to know what made them tick', with 50 mins each week for around 10 weeks a year you had a chance to explore that with some real depth. Not here. Here you just get the coppers acting like c*nts (a word they use a lot) And yet....It is nice to see a genuinely exciting British shoot em up crime thriller too, as opposed to one from Hollywood, and the strange mish mash of Brit classics like Robbery with US modern classics like Heat work surprisingly well. Even if it is a bit odd seeing gun battles in Trafalgar Square and the V and A!  

Oh and the baseball bats and pickaxe handles the squad are armed with? 
Yes it was the done thing in the 70s, because the police weren't always afforded arms licences when attempting to break up seriously organised crime. But witnessing a squad in the here and now with such DIY weapons alongside seriously heavy duty armoury is just laughable. Why have both of them??

So my main issue is it isn't The Sweeney and when you can take the memory of the series away from the forefront of your brain it works well enough. So why call it The Sweeney? Well I guess with that legacy you instantly have the audience's support which helps because neither Nick Love (as co-script writer and director) and John Hodge (his fellow SW) make any effort to make Regan, Carter and the rest of the infamous Flying Squad remotely likeable. They're hoping we get by on our appreciation of the original which is a very dangerous game, as in doing so, we can't help but compare and this will always lose out to the 70s series. Worse, even the original characters Love and Hodge produce here are poorly sketched; with Carter's girlfriend being utterly one dimensional and the black stepchild barely explained or considered at all.  

Ultimately if I have to feel sorry for anyone in this film it is Hayley Atwell, and not just because she's lumbered with a one note ball breaker in a man's world style lazy character.  Whatever the poor girl got paid for this feature it is not enough. Being a very attractive 20 something actress and being pawed at by the 50 something pot bellied Ray Winstone is bad enough but worse, being pawed at by him and having to convince you enjoy it and think he's the best lover ever, requires some serious acting chops.

In conclusion, if you have no knowledge of the TV series The Sweeney you'll probably really love this for what it is. If you remember The Sweeney fondly however, try and go into this thinking it is simply a film that uses their names rather than is in anyway related to that show, and you may appreciate it for the 90 odd minutes of homegrown action it actually is. With that mindset I can happily give this 3 stars out of 5. If I genuinely had gone in there with Thaw and Waterman in my head, I'd barely give it 2.

Baby Love (1968)

Baby Love is a 1968 exploitation feature that is very much mired in controversy. 

The story is about Luci (Linda Hayden) a young teenage girl in the North of England whose mother, the local prostitute, played as a brief non speaking cameo by Diana Dors, commits suicide rather than die of the cancer she has been diagnosed with. Luci is subsequently 'adopted' by former local boy made good Robert Quayle (Keith Barron) who had previously had a love affair with Dors before he left the town to go to Oxford. A grieving Luci suddenly finds herself in London, in the lap of luxury and a new family, Robert his wife Amy (Ann Lynn) and their son Nick (Derek Lamden) But there's no happy ending; Luci holds some resentment towards Robert for leaving her mother and cheating them of this kind of family life from the start. More, Luci's need to be loved for the first time in her life, coupled with her burgeoning wanton sexuality, starts to blur the lines of the physical or familial, distorting and twisting the lives of everyone around her as one by one she bewitches Nick, Robert and even Amy with her advances and desires.

It's a very interesting premise from the writing/producing and directing team of Guido Coen, Michael Klinger and Alasteir Reid (who adapted from the novel by Tina Chad Christian) in that, like the very best of exploitation cinema, it forces the viewer to consider the darkness, a subject matter that could easily be brushed off as sordid, and realise that it is in fact psychologically interesting. Luci is first seen brazenly walking out of school, a crowd of gawping admirers following her, heading towards a gang of boys where she promptly French kisses the leader. Clearly, Luci has learnt life's lessons far too early witnessing her mother in action. Yet in the next scene, when she stumbles across her mother's dead body in the steam filled bathroom - where we presume she's slit her wrists open - Luci suddenly becomes her age, a fearful frightened and grieving little girl. It's this flux, this precarious nature, with Luci trying on different aspects of herself - the little girl and the sexually awakened female - to gain favour, appeal and love from others, that the film concentrates upon. It's a controversial subject indeed, but it is a valuable insightful subject. However, Reid immediately hampers himself into even further controversy by casting Linda Hayden as Luci, who was just 15 years old at the time. A lot of what may be intellectually interesting to explore in exploitation is lost because there inevitably is a charge of whether the film itself is exploiting a minor, in both its subject matter and required nude scenes which Hayden performs. 

It's an extremely interesting film to watch too from today's stand point, knowing what we now do about the likes of Jimmy Savile. Reid depicts the big city Luci finds herself in as utterly preoccupied with sex and in getting into her knickers specifically. One wonders just how morally loose the swinging 60s actually were when it came to underage sex and just how this didn't seem such an issue as it does now. There's a cameo from TV comic Dick Emery as a friend of Robert's who, despite being married with a family of his own, is clearly very fond of the younger lady and no one bats an eyelid. He's seen before Luci's arrival at a party held in Robert's house chatting up a young blonde girl under his wife's nose. Later when Luci arrives, he's utterly besotted by this Lolita like figure in a genuinely creepy improper and leery way.

We also see Vernon Dobtcheff, in another non speaking cameo as a total stranger at a cinema, all sweaty top lip and leering expression as he gropes a surprisingly calm and complicit Luci's bare leg, much to Nick's disgust and, perhaps importantly, his entrancement.

In another scene, Nick takes her to a nightclub ( with a live band called Katch 22 performing the ostensible theme of the film 'Baby Love') and the moment he goes to the bar, Luci is picked up by a young heavy set black man, again causing Nick further disgust and entrancement. It's a strange scene in which, the black man then invites Luci over to meet his friends, each of whom sit around in stony, sweaty spaced out silence. The meaning is clear; they're on drugs. And if it wasn't clear Katch 22 helpfully throw in some discordant thrashing guitars to suggest tripping. It's a weird scene, because the black man suddenly has no interest sexually in Luci, yet Nick barges in and rescues her regardless, to save her curious mind from taking anything (the black man is later seen again in a fantasy of Luci's back at home complete with jungle sound effects which show up the rather stereotypical immature allusions of both the film maker and possibly of the audience at the time) Perhaps the most interesting thing in this club scene now is to spy a young and uncredited Bruce 'Withnail and I' Robinson, as one of the spaced out clique, who gains a couple of glorious close ups that shows his beauty, but also a rather large pimple on the end of his nose.

Towards the end of the film Luci and Nick are ambushed in a lakeside forest by some leering posho rowers who clearly have a bit of sex and violence in mind for the pair. An almost Peckinpah-esque view of rape/sexual abuse occurs, mercifully slightly out of shot and interrupted before it goes too far. 

Each of the scenes detailed serve to show just how aware Luci is of not just the feelings towards her from each potential partner/abuser, but principally to those of Nick's, and just how much of a manipulative prick tease she is with him. Yet, it's not always so cut and dried; in an earlier scene in which Amy takes Luci shopping (to Roberto Roma) she is so giddily excitable that she wanders from the changing room across the shop floor in just her pants, bra and tights gabbling animatedly about all the fab clothes she wants to try on. Here, she seems completely unaware of the effect her body and her sexuality has. It is here where she seems like a complete child. There's also a scene where she experiments with make up that shows off her immature nature.

Such naivety doesn't last. Luci suffers nightmares in her new home with flashbacks brought on by steamy baths and water depicting both her mother's death and her 'work' which she's had the misfortune to see first hand from an early age. Amy's natural concern for her mental well being is subtly played upon by Luci until the love starved wife (it's made clear Robert pays little care or attention to her needs) now sharing a bed with her succumbs to hitherto closed off lesbian feelings.

It's perhaps Robert who is the hardest to break, chiefly because he sees in Luci exactly what he saw in her mother all those years ago. Luci remarks that Robert was the only man her mother ever truly loved, but one can't help but wonder if the same is true for Robert? It would certainly explain how he views and treats Luci as Kryptonite to keep at arms length given how much she reminds him of her mother, and would explain just why is marriage to Amy is so cold and dead. There's a strange mix of love, dislike and straight up, albeit coldly, paternal feelings in Robert's character that makes for a Keith Barron I've never seen before. When it becomes clear he's considering sending her off to boarding school, Luci panics that she'll be in another loveless situation and figuring any love is better than no love she throws herself at him, nude in the garden. He spurns her advances, which lead to her injuring both him and Nick in a fit of rage. At the film's conclusion, both Robert and Amy are now totally aware of the malign influence the girl has and are determined that she be removed from the house. But Luci has other ideas, and as the pair head off to a party, she invites herself, dressed in fine clothes and looking more and more like a woman. The film ends there leaving the viewer to make their mind up on what potential outcome their may be in the strange set up.

For all its inherent exploitative issues, Baby Love is still an engrossing look at the darker aspects of life and in turn of cinema at the time. Whatever your opinion of this sort of film, what cannot be denied is the amazing central performance from Hayden. She was clearly at that time a star in the making and it's a shame that star only shone for a brief period in numerous exploitation and low budget features, such as Expose (blogged about earlier in the week) and the Confessions series of films, in the following decade. That she was only 15 at the time of this may be controversial, but it's equally stunning that someone of that age could produce such a mature compelling performance that depicts the deep complexities of mind and character on which the film hangs.