141. The Music of Chance (US 1992)

Chicago fireman and urban drifter are made to build a wall after losing out to a pair of millionaire poker playing brothers.

 The novels of Paul Auster are not exactly laugh extravaganzas. A modern day Dostoyevsky, Auster ruminates on fate, chance, free will, pre-determinism and the cumulative effects of making the wrong decisions. This is a strange film in so much as it’s difficult to see how it would hope to get a fee paying audience (which it didn’t).

 A powerful main cast (James Spader, Charles Durning, Joel Gray and the effeminately nomenclatured Mandy Patinkin) are aided by character stalwarts M.Emmet Walsh and the ever excellent Christopher Penn (whose good to bad performance ratio is inversely proportional to that of his brother). The film’s narrative is clever but very obtuse and filled with all manner of  Biblical and pseudo-Biblical symbolism (for example, Patinkin steals a figure from the brothers’ model village and it coincides with the beginning of his and Spader’s run of bad luck.

 I once described the wall building scene to a rather earnest gentleman who worked as the Head of Religious Studies at a big comprehensive school. I asked him if there were any specific Biblical connections to this act but he said that he couldn’t think of any.

A few weeks later, he was arrested for stealing money and other valuables from handbags in his school staff room.

 An act of free will or was it pre-ordained? 

Or was he just a robbing bastard who wanted more money for polyveldts and real ale club membership and B and Q grouting knives and all those things which teachers find it difficult to live without?

142. Subway (France 1990)

  Christophe Lambert discovers an underground society in the Paris Metro.

 Only worth watching the first five minutes (of some versions). A criminal gang chase evening suited Christophe Lambert through Paris as Propaganda's 'The Murder of Love' kicks in on the soundtrack. More MTV than cinema, but brilliant nevertheless. The scene ends with Lambert's tape getting tied up in the stereo and the music changing from non-diegetic to diegetic just to emphasise the artificiality of the scene.

 The rest of he film is incredibly dull and stuck firmly up its own arse (as are most 'Cinema du Look' films).

 

143. Scent of a Woman (US 1992)

Blind military veteran finds redemption via an unlikely source.

Very Hollywood in terms of narrative, resolution and feelgood factor, but saved by the acting skills of Pacino (showboating/grandstanding/showing off like never before) and Chris O’Donnell (unflashy, generous and believable).

 There are many memorable scenes but the best is Pacino's visit to his estranged brother and the visual/verbal fireworks which follow.

 There’s also a great score Thomas Newman with echoes of his later American Beauty.

  

144. Les Bonnes Femmess (France 1960)

The lives and deaths of four French shop workers

 One of the best New Wave films and one with a proto-feminist agenda. All of the men in this film are bastards and all of the women suffer. A disingenuous synopsis of an important film, but there’s a simple solution for any women who are affected relationships blighted by misogyny.

 Find a female partner. They're much better.

 

145. Go Tell The Spartanss (US 1977)

American advisory force are surrounded by the Vietcong in the early days of the Vietnam war.

  Ted Post is not exactly a member of the pantheon of great directors. Nobody says: “I saw the new Post last night. The man is a genius.”  But he has made a number of decentish films in his career (Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes- yes, he is Mr Sequel) and Go Tell is an intelligent and non gung-ho addition to the Vietnam canon.

Set in 1964, Burt Lancaster and his platoon of ‘advisors’ find themselves slowly encircled by North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces. American military might and computer predictions prove useless as the superior skills of the Vietnamese assert themselves. Lancaster’s role echoes his role in Ulzana’s Raid: both a veteran of earlier campaigns and an iconoclast, he understands that his force is doomed because it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

 Lancaster’s desperate adoption of computer technology (despite initial sceptism) is similar to Robert Shaw’s adoption of Richard Dreyfus’s chemical shark repellent in Jaws: too little and too late.

 The final scenes of the Vietnamese closing in have echoes of both a western and a horror film, and the closing images of the beaten and brutalised troops are disturbing.

 A strange and under-rated film.

 

 146. The Hill (GB 1965)

  Abuse and rebellion at British military prison.

Not exactly a pleasant viewing experience, but power house acting from many British stalwarts (Michael Redgrave, Ian Hendry, Jack Watkins, Harry Andrews) and possibly Sean Connery's best performance.

 A film without music or women and a companion piece to the equally unpleasant (but still quite good) The Bofors Gun.

 

147. Zombie Flesh Eaters (Italy 1981)

A reporter is brought to an island where Doctor Moreau-style experiments with the dead have got out of control.

There are three Ian McCullochs to my knowledge: the most important one played for Notts County in the 80s, one's a singer and Ian McCulloch plays the reporter in this film. He was also in Colditz, Survivors and I once saw him playing Antony to the sultry-in-her-own-mind Kate O'Mara. I'm pretty sure there was a Dick Player (a character, note the capitals) in Colditz, but I don't think it was him. 

Anyway, Zombie Flesh Eaters is great. There's lots of badly dubbed acting and it has the only zombie/shark fight in a film that I know of.

.

  Tisa Farrow (Mia's untalented sister) plays 'the woman' and the great Richard Johnson plays the mad/bad scientist.

  Piss taking apart, this is genuinely good horror film with a palpable sense of dread which is often missing from more prestigious examples of the genre.

  Not one to watch if you've had a recent eye injury (particularly one involving a splintered door jamb).

148. The Singing Ringing Tree (E.Germany 1960)

  Spoilt princess achieves redemption through acts of kindness.

 A bit of a cheat this one. OK, it was a popular children's television series of the 1960s and 1970s, but it has been released theatrically both in Europe and as an occasional re-run on the British art-house circuit.

 TSRT is a bizarre and visually disturbing  German folk story with many echoes of Cocteau's 'La Belle and La Bete' (sorry, no idea of how to get a circumflex on this thing [ooh err]). The romper suited dwarf and the lugubrious, haunted looking bear who play such significant roles in this film (and it is very cinematic) possess a subliminal quality which creates a shit your kecks scary effect when thought about by small children* who find themselves in the solitary darkness of their bedrooms some eight hours later.

A definite influence on David Lynch.

*me

 

1 49. The Man With X Ray Eyes (US 1961)

 Naughty scientist plays God (again) with catastrophic results etc.

  Terrible special effects and made almost exclusively on very cheap sets, but a film with a soul and with a great haunted performance from Ray Milland as Doctor Xavier (honest!)

 Particularly good is the final Bible-inspired ending where a hell fire preacher tells Milland:

"If thine eyes offend thee, pluck them out!"

Which he does.

 

150. Take The Money and Run (US 1969)

  Fake docu-drama about career criminal Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen).

 Another film to dip into on video/DVD with many great comic moments including Virgil playing cello in a marching band, an attempt to rob a bank with a 'gub' and  Virgil's romantic conversation whilst attached to a giggling schoolboy chaingang.

 

We are also informed of the father of Virgil's fiancée who after "a brilliant 20 year military career" had "sky rocketed to the rank of corporal."