ABC Triple Bill

So New Year, new film project. DVD recorders and Sky+ are great for recording films, but at some point they need to actually be watched. But so many films! What to watch? I just end up muttering indecisively, then flicking on Celebrity Big Brother instead (not really). So in an attempt to free up some space on my hard drives, I've diplomatically decided to watch them according to the alphabet. So today's post is brought to you by the number 3 and the letters A-B-C.
Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980) is a quiet melodrama, set against the fading grandeur of a dreary-looking Atlantic City. Which is perfectly fitting for the story, which focuses on several equally faded characters, whose dreams of past and future glories clash with the cruel realities of the present. At the centre of the story, there's fine, Oscar-nominated performances from Burt Lancaster as the aged gangster who was never the bigshot he wanted to be, and from Susan Sarandon in her breakout role as the girl who wins his heart (mostly by rubbing lemon juice on her chest, in the movie's most celebrated scene). Romance briefly threatens to blossom, before reality and practicality intrudes in a sweetly melancholic fashion. It makes for low-key, but layered viewing. Also, watch out for a helluva slap from Sarandon in one scene, the bloke looks genuinely hurt!

The Blood of Fu Manchu (Jesus Franco, 1968) is the fourth entry in the Christopher Lee series of Fu Manchu films and it's pretty terrible. Imagine if someone approached you and your mates in the pub, gave you a camera and some costumes, and asked you to make a film about an Oriental criminal mastermind scheming from his secret Amazonian lair to take over the world by killing important world leaders with a poisonous kiss of death from ten scantily clad seductresses. Even if you were all hopelessly pissed, I doubt you could make a less coherent film than this one. Only the guy playing the twitchy Mexican bandit leader seems to be having fun, Lee and everyone else just looks embarrassed or bored. As I was after watching this.

The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher, 1957) was the film which really put Hammer Horror on the map. Their first colour horror film, it was an enormous success and established them as the prime purveyor of lurid Gothic horror, paving the way for the resurrection of Dracula, The Mummy and many other monsters from their film graves. It also brought together Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (the Creature) for the first time in starring roles, sparking a lifelong friendship and a long career in films together. "I've got no lines!" Lee complained to Cushing when they first met. "You're lucky," responded Cushing," I've read the script." Despite his misgivings, Cushing gets the plum role here as the cultured, but clearly bonkers Baron, as he arrogantly stalks around in his splendidly equipped mad scientist lab, before resorting to some unethical grave-robbing and murder in his materials and methods. He does sport some excellent side-burns and quite a natty shirt ruffle, though, so I forgive him - it was all in the name of science, after all. Lee gets a little short-changed with limited screen time as the Creature, although he does get a memorable unmasking moment and a couple of creepy moments. Elsewhere, Hammer experimented with some heaving bosom shots, which also proved a hit with viewers. It's nowhere near as good as the original Frankenstein (1931), but it's still a key film in British film history and the two leads make it worthwhile.

So then, I'm off and running and so I'm happy to ignore the fact those last two films really start with T, if I were being pedantic. But hey! That's how I roll in my house, baby! Next time, D-E-F!!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson, 2014)

What's it about? We're straight into the action again, picking up where Part 2 finished, as Smaug the dragon sets off to attack Laketown. But the real action is yet to come as various armies of Middle-Earth face off in a battle for his gold, which lies in his mountain lair.

Is it any good? And so one last time we travel to Middle-Earth to see the final stone put in place in Jackson's remarkable project. Now completed, the Hobbit trilogy may not ever reach the heights of the LOTR one, but there has been much to enjoy along the journey. This final part is no different as Jackson gleefully realises the climactic five-way battle that Tolkien dismissed in a couple of lines in the book. Thus, with a relatively free rein to let his imagination run wild, Jackson gives us plenty to savour here; Smaug burning the shit out of Laketown, sweeping overhead shots of armies clashing, cool stunts, bloodthirsty fights and so on. It has a bear dive-bombing an army of orcs from the back of an eagle. It has Billy Connolly shouting 'buggers!' as he rides a war-pig into battle. Hard to argue with any of that. Once again, Martin Freeman, by far the best thing about The Hobbit trilogy, impresses, even if Bilbo gets sidelined a bit to concentrate on the character of Thorin, battling his internal demons as much s external ones as he succumbs to the lure of the dragon's gold. All the others (human Bard the Bowman, elves Tauriel and Legolas, wizard Gandalf, dwarves Kili and Fili, orc Azog) get their moments in the limelight as they respectively battle their opponents in a variety of acrobatic ways. It's all good stuff, even if the logic and practicalities of the battles requires some major suspension of disbelief. And it finishes nicely, with Freeman deservedly getting to play a key moment that his performance and the overall saga deserved.

For all the epic sweep of the film, however, it's the lack of stirring intimate moments which hobbles The Hobbit. There are deaths here, for example, but they do not move the heart particularly, the emotional impact diluted by the over-padded story. There is comic relief, but it's mostly forced and unfunny. There is the Sauron subplot, which provides continuity with LOTR, but which feels very superfluous. There are speeches, but they sound rather silly, instead of inspiring. And ultimately, there is a real sense of a lack of focus, which applies to the previous two films also. It has been said before, but now, at the end of all things, it seems pertinent to revisit that initial meeting Jackson had with New Line Cinema in 1998 when the decision to greenlight LOTR was made - producer Bob Shaye will forgive me for paraphrasing; "Why are you making two three films when there are three books is one book?" Perhaps Jackson, as he wallowed in his mountains of gold in his own private Erebor, succumbed to dragon-sickness and forgot to focus on those small things that made him and his first three Middle-Earth films so loved in the first place.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Some confusion over who exactly the five armies are. So, to set the record straight, we have men, dwarves, elves, orcs me a minute here. Were-worms! No, wait, they were only there for a short bit. The goblins? No, I think they were part of the orc army, come to think of it. War-bats? That doesn't sound right at all. Who the hell was the fifth army. *consults original book*. Ah the eagles, of course. Forgot about them. Tolkien obviously didn't.

Anything else I should know? Anything Jackson can do, I can do better. Give me a call sometime, Peter.

The Fast Picture Show: The Battle of the Five Armies
Horses, Dogs, Dinosaurs, Cats, Miscellaneous. No eagles.

What does the Fonz think? Worth one last trip.

Pick 'n' Mix 2014

Rounding up a few films that I couldn't be arsed I didn't have time to review in earnest. 

The Way (Emilio Estevez, 2010) is an earnest family affair, with Estevez inspired to make it after his son and father (Martin Sheen, who stars here) travelled the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in northern Spain. Sheen plays a father who travels from the US to collect his son's body after he dies in an accident whilst preparing to trek El Camino. Upon arrival, he is inspired to complete the pilgrimage himself, although he is somewhat reluctant to engage with fellow walkers on the trail. However, he gradually comes to realize that a little human contact might be just what he needs to help comes to terms with his grief. Filmed along the trail, it's an authentic depiction of the Camino experience, although this means it runs dangerously close to being little more than a promotional video, with much of the film taken up with shots of people walking against a picturesque backdrop. The drama is low-key and whilst the film commendably steers clear of easy sentimentality, it's a bit overlong, with a couple of 'actorly' monologues which feel a little artificial. Still, it's hard to begrudge a film that strives to celebrate the importance of stepping out of one's comfort zone now and again, and to take time to enjoy the kindness of strangers. A bit long-winded, then, but we can all benefit from a little rambling now and then.

A quick horror triple-bill now. The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013) is an old-skool and competent haunted house film, clearly possessed by the spirit of Amityville, Poltergeist, The Haunting and others. Naturally, once it actually shows the ghosts, it's much less effective, but there's still a couple of well-fashioned creepy moments early on.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) is generally regarded as one of the first slasher films and it's a pretty decent one, if a bit rough around the edges. Set in a sorority house during Christmas, it has a couple of good POV moments, and the demented rantings of the killer during the phone calls are genuinely a bit eerie. I also liked the alternate title "Silent Night, Evil Night".

In Magic (Richard Attenborough, 1978) Anthony Hopkins turns in a nicely edgy performance as the ventriloquist who is a little too attached to his dummy - listen out for shades on Hannibal Lecter's voice in certain scenes. However, despite a big reputation, it's never that eerie or scary, and it has a rather odd final line. A bit disappointing overall, to be honest.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960) is a delicate melodrama with an elegant central performance from Hideko Takamine as a widow struggling to make her away in an unforgiving, male-dominated society. Much revered by critics, it's a good starting point for anyone looking to explore the traditional role(s) of women in Japanese culture, and the pictures of Naruse. A rather slow and deliberately paced film, but a perceptive insight into the Melancholies of a Geisha.

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010), adapted from Jim Thompson's tough novel, features a suitably dead-eyed performance from Casey Affleck as Lou, the murderous sheriff of a small Texan town, hiding his sociopathic tendencies behind a respectable facade. Apart from his performance, however, it's not really that arresting, wasting a good supporting cast (Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Bill Pullman) in a rather unsatisfactory noir plot. In particular, it doesn't really get inside any of the characters, and there's a distinct lack of tension as the net closes around Lou. Then there's the issue of sexual violence, which always proves troublesome - is it exploitative or necessary to show this stuff? There's room for debate on either side, but I wasn't sure it served any real purpose here. Also, was there something wrong with the noses of those people in the room at the end? Because I'd have thought at least one of them would have noticed a particularly strong smell in the house.

Under-the-radar indie thriller Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2014) got a lot of praise this year and the first third of it is very good indeed. With a minimum of dialogue we are introduced to the homeless Dwight (an impressive Macon Blair), as he shakes off his shabby existence and hatches an ill-conceived plan to take revenge on a released prisoner who did him wrong in the past. It's intriguing stuff, particularly since Dwight is no-one's idea of an avenging angel. Instead, he is a weak, frightened character, with a somewhat inept approach to his plan, which is a refreshingly realistic contrast to the assured, implacable anti-heroes we often see in these kind of revenge thrillers. However, the film falters a little after that strong opening, seemingly unsure of what it is trying to say and it doesn't really come together as a coherent commentary on the consequences of violence, gun control or revenge. A pity, because there are some well-fashioned, tense sequences and it's trying to challenge the genre conventions, even if it doesn't entirely succeed.

That's that. Onwards now to 2015 with my big list o' films to watch, which I'll watch from my treadmill as I lose weight and get fit. What do you say, Willy?

A Debut Triple Bill

Three films from three annoyingly talented people, who delivered breakout hits with just their first or (in Cowperthwaite's case) second feature films. I hate them. But I like the films.

The acclaimed documentary Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013) is a damning indictment of the practices used by Seaworld in capturing and training killer whales for exhibition in their shows. A number of former Seaworld trainers speak of their experiences, which are by turns saddening, angering and frightening in their revelations about the treatment of these beautiful, but dangerous animals. There's always a chance that a particular agenda is been pushed in this type of documentary so, in the interests of balance, it would have been good to hear the case for the defence, although Seaworld refused to contribute to the film. Since the documentary was released, visitor numbers to Seaworld have dropped dramatically, leading to the resignation of the CEO, whilst other investigations into park practices are under way. It seems pretty clear there were some morally and ethically dubious goings-on, not least in selling the sperm from a clearly aggressive male orca for breeding purposes - certainly not a free willy. You can watch the film online for free here.

Margin Call (JC Chandor, 2011) is slick debut from Chandor, as he attempts to encapsulate in 100 mins the situation on Wall Street that brought about the global economic collapse in 2008. The alarming thing is that he is able to do so - could something so complex and far-reaching actually boil down to just a few decisions based on sums in a spreadsheet? Apparently so. With admirable economy, the chain of events is mapped out over a 36-hour period in accessible dialogue from a good cast. Whilst no attempt is made to excuse the greed and immoral actions of the characters, the film also demonstrates the pressures that come to bear on them, making their actions at least understandable, if not forgivable. Wall Street traders have criticised the film for being too simplistic, but then they wouldn't really want to admit that their lucrative livelihood is based on something which is not really much different from Joe Bloggs placing a coupla quid on the gee-gees down the bookies, would they?

Kevin Smith's massively successful debut feature Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) still feels rather amateurish, with some dodgy acting and over-rehearsed dialogue. Which is not really all that surprising, since nearly everyone involved were friends and family of Smith, making their first appearance on film. Nevertheless, Smith stills deserves much credit for making a film for less than $30,000 which is frequently very funny, with some acute observations hidden underneath all the crudity and swearing. After all, about a million of us have had similarly ridiculous conversations and experiences with friends, but we don't all have the drive to turn those into an influential cult film, become a famous Hollywood director, or create cultural icons like Jay and Silent Bob. Most of us just keep on slacking.

The Festive Film Quiz Strikes Back!

Given the raging success of last year's inaugural Festive Film Quiz (no, seriously!), it was inevitable there would be a follow-up. Like most sequels, it pretty much rehashes the same format as the first time, but in an inferior, lazier way. Still, you're here now, so why not grab another mince pie and give those brain cells a shake. Or a gentle nudge, at least. Once again 80 points at stake, but absolutely no prizes, except of course basking in the adoration of your nearest and dearest when you win.

Disclaimer: The Fast Picture Show accepts no responsibility for any quiz-related arguments that result in name-calling, finger-pointing, hair-pulling, food-fights, fist-fights, sobbing in the toilets, dredging up of old family feuds, revelations of true parentage, or any incidents which result in injury, coma or death.


Round 1: The Christmas Round
Tis the season, as they say, so let's kick off in festive form. In which movies do the following dress up in a Santa suit?
"Bloody imposters"

1. Dan Aykroyd
2. Billy Bob Thornton
3. Gene Hackman
4. Jim Carrey
5. Peter Jackson
6. Ben Affleck
7. Jim Belushi
8. The Cookie Monster

Round 2: In Recent Memory
You’re not so drunk already that you can’t remember back 12 months. Are you?

1. Which of this year’s films featured Batman, Han Solo, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern and Superman?
2. Which aptly named actor was seen dancing with the monster Sweetums in Muppets Most Wanted?
3. What was the biggest worldwide box-office hit in 2014?
4. Name the author of Gone Girl, who also wrote the film’s screenplay.
5. Complete the 2014 film title;  Exodus: …..
6. Annabelle was a horror prequel to which 2013 hit?
7. What film won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2014?
8. What was the name of Scarlett Johansson’s intelligent operating system in Her?

Round 3: Movie Quotes!
Name the film from the following quotes. Too easy? Ah, but we have replaced a key word in each quote with the words ‘pants’ to make it trickier! Muuwhhaahhaaa!!

1. "I find your lack of pants disturbing."
2. "Pants? Where we’re going, we don’t need…pants."
3. "I am big! It's the pants that got small."
4. "Pants? We ain't got no pants! We don't need no pants! I don't have to show you any stinking pants!"
5. "I have always depended on the pants of strangers."
6. "I'm the king of the pants!"
7. "I love the smell of pants in the morning."
8. "Remember, George: no man is a failure who has pants."

Round 4: The Connections Round!
It’s like TV Quiz Only Connect, only with less stilted delivery. Special guest the Horned Viper sets the questions.
Who are you? Where is the
eye of Horus?

1. What links the films The Way, Drunken Master, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Zoolander?
2. What links the films Airplane!, Steel, Space Jam and He Got Game?
3. Who comes next? Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, Tommy Gunn, ……
4. What connects Easy, Sleep, Heat and Bus?
5. If James has 23, Freddy has 9 and Harry has 8, how many does Ethan currently have?
6. Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould have all done what?
7. What’s the biblical connection between Killer Joe, Dirk Diggler, Bard the Bowman and The Elephant Man?
8. Directors Nic Roeg, Danny DeVito, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson and Henry Selick. What’s the literary connection?

Round 5: Here be Monsters!
Monster, Monster, put a monkey on it! No, wait, don't. That would just be silly.
Monumentally crap

1. What was the name of the monster Luke Skywalker fights in the dungeon below Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi?
2. Harryhausen's Sushi Restaurant appears in which monster movie?
3. How many heads did Ghidorah have?
4. What do the monsters end up being called in Tremors?
5. The monumentally crap monster in It Conquered the World came from which planet?
6. Where did Q-The Winged Serpent take up residence?
7. What monster did a young Steven McQueen battle in 1958?
8.     In which classic sci-fi film did the Monster from the Id appear?

Round 6: Foreign Fields
Stop complaining -a little culture never hurt anyone.

1. What Italian film won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2014?
2. El Mariachi, El Topo and Sin Nombre are all films from which country?
3. What nationality is director Ang Lee?
4. Which French film is best known for its jewellery robbery sequence, during which not a single word is spoken?
5. Which samurai Kurosawa film is based on the story of Macbeth?
6. The Departed was a remake of which Hong Kong thriller?
7. Nollywood refers to the cinema industry of which country?
8. The 2012 film Wadjda was set in which country?

Round 7: The Music Round
Sound the bonus point klaxon!!!! The following films feature performances by someone better known as a singer. For a whopping TWO (2) POINTS in each question, name the artist that features and their real name.

1. Fight Club
2. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
3. Chicago
4. Labyrinth
5. Get Rich or Die Tryin’
6. The Wedding Singer
7. Rio Bravo
8. Starsky & Hutch

Round 8: Sports
Let’s face it – this is the closest you’ll get to exercise this Christmas. What sports feature in the following films?

1. Slap Shot
2. Hoosiers
3. This Sporting Life
4. Big Wednesday
5. Breaking Away
6. Tin Cup
7. Any Given Sunday
8. Murderball

Round 9: The final-bastard-hard-either-you-know-it-or-you-don’t Round.
"I don't know any of these.
Not even the Groundhog Day one"

1. The Beatles won an Oscar for which film?
2. What was Jason Bourne’s real name?
3. Which famous female movie character has always been played by a male?
4. In Groundhog Day, how many separate Groundhog Days are actually shown, either partially or in full?
5. Futurama’s Bender is named after a character in which classic 80s movie?
6. The motion-capture performances of which two actors were used to promote the 2013 video game Beyond: Two Souls?
7. Cyborg 2 marked the professional screen debut of which female Hollywood actress and director?
8. Who is the only person to have won an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner?

Now, that wasn't so bad, was it? It's all over, so time to settle back, unclench your fists, and apologise to your family for swearing at them. Here's the answers.


The Christmas Round

1. Trading Places
2. Bad Santa
3. The French Connection 
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
5. Hot Fuzz (in a short cameo attacking Simon Pegg)
6. Reindeer Games
7. Jingle All the Way
8. Elmo Saves Christmas

In Recent Memory

1. The Lego Movie
2. Christoph Waltz
3. Transformers: Age of Extinction
4. Gillian Flynn
5. Gods & Kings
6. The Conjuring
7. 12 Years A Slave
8. Samantha

Movie Quotes!

1. Star Wars: A New Hope (I find your lack of faith disturbing)
2. Back to the Future (Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads)
3. Sunset Blvd (I am big! It's the pictures that got small)
4. The Treasue of the Sierra Madre (Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!) Half-point if you said Blazing Saddles, which parodies this quote.
5. A Steetcar Named Desire (I have always depended on the kindness of strangers)
6. Titanic (I'm the king of the world!)
7. Apocalypse Now (I love the smell of napalm in the morning)
8. It’s a Wonderful Life (Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends)

The Connections Round!

1. All films in which the director's father prominently featured (Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, Yuen Woo-ping and Yuen Siu-tien, John Huston and Walter Huston, Ben Stiller and Jerry Stiller)
2. All feature performances by (former) professional basketball players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Ray Allen) 
3. Mason Dixon. Rocky Balboa’s final opponents in Rocky III through to Rocky Balboa.
4. Put “The Big” before each to get the name of a classic film. And The Big Bus.
5. 4 (Mission Impossible films to date). Numbers refer to official films in franchises featuring James Bond, Freddy Krueger, Harry Potter and Ethan Hunt respectively
6. Played private investigator Philip Marlowe on film
7. Characters played by Matthew McConaughey, Mark Wahlberg, Luke Evans, John  Hurt. Connection is Gospels.
8. Roald Dahl (They directed, respectively, The Witches, Matilda, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, James & the Giant Peach)

Here Be Monsters

1. The Rancor
2. Monsters Inc
3. Ghidorah the three headed monster had  - you guessed it – 3 heads.
4. Graboids
5. Venus
6. Top of the Chrysler Building in New York
7. The Blob
8.  Forbidden Planet

Foreign Fields

1. The Great Beauty
2. Mexico
3. Taiwanese
4. Rififi
5. Throne of Blood
6. Infernal Affairs
7. Nigeria
8. Saudi Arabia

The Music Round

1. Meat Loaf aka Marvin Aday
2. Tina Turner aka Annie Mae Bullock
3. Queen Latifah aka Dana Owens
4. David Bowie aka David Jones
5. 50 Cent aka Curtis Jackson III
6. Billy Idol aka William Broad
7. Ricky Nelson aka Eric Nelson
8. Snoop Dogg aka Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr


1. Ice hockey
2. Basketball
3. Rugby League
4. Surfing
5. Cycling
6. Golf
7. American Football
8. Wheelchair Rugby

The final bastard-hard-either-you-know -it-or-you-don’t Round

1. Let it Be (Best Original Score)
2. David Webb
3. Lassie (played by male collie dog in 10 feature-length films)
4. 38
5. The Breakfast Club (named after John Bender, played by Judd Nelson)
6. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe
7. Angelina Jolie
8. Cate Blanchett (for playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator)