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Underappreciated actors – Jennifer Jason Leigh

Originally posted on maxrennblog:

When I decided to resurrect this series of blogs which I began (and lazily failed to maintain) for http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/ I didn’t want to set up too many rules. I didn’t want to just feature obscure performers (partly because there are other more knowledgeable film bloggers and writers out there to shine a light into those darker corners). I didn’t just want to talk about character actors as I wanted to give respect to film stars as well where I felt there skills and qualities were taken for granted. I also didn’t want to do the thing that most list articles end up doing, which is to narrow the field down to a collection of the same old fan favourites. It is too early to tell if I will succeed in this, after all this in only the second entry (technically third, but I’ll run a revised version of my Keanu-nu-nu-love…

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Tobe Hooper: A Retrospective

TheTexasChainSawMassacre-posterAfter reading Stuart Barr’s review of the bonkers 1985 film Lifeforce, a movie with the twin appeals of space vampires and a Patrick Stewart cameo, I decided I had to sample its lunacy for myself. And seeing as Lifeforce is directed by Tobe Hooper, it seemed like a good opportunity to do a movie marathon dedicated to the horror impresario’s back catalogue.

We don’t often cover horror films at 101 Films. Neither Ian nor I are particular fans of the genre, although we both went through a phase of watching horror flicks while at university. Ian maintains that as teenagers we were immune to the horror of watching endless murders owing to belief in our own immortality, but now as rapidly decaying thirtysomethings, the sight of needless killing uncomfortably reminds us of our own fleeting time on Earth. Don’t be fooled by Ian’s braying laughter, the rivers run deep in that one.

PoltergeistposterFor our rare foray into horror, I assembled three of Tobe Hooper’s most famous movies: his impressive 1974 debut, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the mega-hit of 1982, Poltergeist; and the mega-flop Lifeforce, which was bankrolled by Cannon Films (remember them?) to the tune of $25 million, but made barely half that at the box office.

It proved surprisingly hard to track down the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre: I easily found the recent remakes, the sequel, the prequel and various documentaries and spin offs, but the 1974 film was hard to come by. A shame really, as it’s a great film, and probably Tobe Hooper’s best movie. Having said that, we were reluctant to watch it again after both seeing it in our uni days – the meat hook scene in particular lingers long in the memory. Having sufficiently girded our loins to put on the DVD, we found the film as brilliant as on first viewing, and as shocking too – time certainly hasn’t dulled its power. Something that can’t be said of Poltergeist.

LifeforceposterIan hadn’t seen Poltergeist before, and he left the film more puzzled than scared. After expecting horror on a par with Texas Chainsaw, he was confused to find a film that was torn between shocks and saccharine suburbia – a legacy of Steven Spielberg’s hand in the movie. The film really is odd, and I’m still not entirely sure what audience it’s aimed at – it seems too tame for horror but too horrific for the mainstream. And it’s ludicrously overblown too, with non-stop cheesy special effects from the beginning – Texas Chainsaw appears subtle by comparison.

I actually found I preferred Lifeforce to Poltergeist. Stuart called the film “a deliriously entertaining bad movie”, which prompted a conversation about whether a film can be so bad it’s good. Well, yes, I reckon, if this movie is anything to go by. It’s nonsensical, and the acting is appalling in places, but its leering insanity and improbability is downright entertaining. We declared it a new Zardoz, which, as you’ll know if you’ve been following our podcast odyssey from the beginning, is high praise indeed.

If our movie marathon has piqued your interest in these films, you can buy The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist and Lifeforce on Blu-ray from Amazon by clicking on the links (and we get a little bit of cash if you do – thanks in advance).

Anyway, without further ado, let us present our feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Movie Marathon 02 – Tobe Hooper

Click below to subscribe on iTunes, join our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog. Feel free to say nice things about us on iTunes!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Director: Tobe Hooper Year of release: 1974 Studio/Distributor: Vortex Country: USA

Poltergeist – Director: Tobe Hooper Year of release: 1982 Studio/Distributor: MGM Country: USA

Lifeforce – Director: Tobe Hooper Year of release: 1985 Studio/Distributor: Cannon Films Country: UK/USA

101 Films Movie Marathon 02 – Tobe Hooper

In our second movie marathon, we take a rare excursion into horror territory with a look back at some choice films from Tobe Hooper’s career. We begin with the chilling but brilliant Texas Chainsaw Massacre, followed by the odd but extremely successful Poltergeist, and end with the bonkers but charming flop that is Lifeforce.

101 Films Movie Marathon 02 – Tobe Hooper

Gentlemen, I Give You The Future… BEEF!

phantom-of-the-paradiseOne of the best things about doing the podcast is being encouraged to watch films that we (well I) would otherwise never bother with. Case in point; our film this week is Phantom of the Paradise. If listener Zvonimir hadn’t recommended it would Lewis and I really have sat down to watch a 1970s rock opera? Well, we did watch Zardoz, so you never know.

A bizarre mixture of The Phantom of the Opera, Faust and A Picture of Dorian Grey, Phantom tells the story of unlucky Winslow Leach who becomes the titular Phantom after having his music stolen by the all powerful music producer and Ronnie Corbett look-alike Swan.

For the first quarter of the film Lewis and I really didn’t know what to make of Phantom. Was it serious? Was it supposed to be a comedy? What on Earth was going on? It was the introduction of the character Beef, played by Gerrit Graham, where the film started to work for us. He’s ridiculous, over the top, amusing but very watchable, just like Phantom itself.

Lewis and I were taken by the Phantom’s odd charm. It has great performances from William Finley as Leach and Paul Williams as the diabolical Swan and a very catchy soundtrack also from Paul Williams.  Like us, you might find it a little off putting to begin with, but stick with it and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Beef has to be seen to be believed…

Our Secret Sponsor for this week is Authentic London Tours, a tour company run by friend of the show Jason. If you’re looking for a tour of London that’s a bit different check out Authentic London Tours!

If our review has piqued your interest in the film, you can buy the Blu-ray from Amazon by clicking here. We get a little bit of cash if you do – thanks in advance!

Anyway, without further ado, let us present our feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Podcast 072 – Phantom of the Paradise

Click below to subscribe on iTunes, join our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog. Feel free to say nice things about us on iTunes!

Director: Brian De Palma  Year of release: 1974  Studio/Distributor: 20th Century Fox  Country: USA

Online streaming: a step backwards?

Not long for this world?
Not long for this world?

I’ve finally given up on online streaming subscriptions. After many frustrations, this morning I cancelled my Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription with an exasperated sigh. I will explain why.

I was an early adopter and enthusiastic user of Lovefilm. I remember the dreadful old days, when trips to the local Blockbuster would usually end in disappointment because all of the decent films had been rented or the film I wanted to see was unavailable on their pitiful back catalogue. If I did find something to watch, I’d have to hand over the best part of a fiver before dashing back to the store within a day or two in order to avoid a late fee. The thought of the £10 fine I received once still rankles to this very day. So the emergence of a postal DVD rental service with no late fees and an enormous back catalogue was a most welcome development.

But things have changed. Not long back, Lovefilm started stripping back their subscription model – first they stopped renting games, and then they abolished the pay as you go model, forcing everyone onto fixed monthly subscriptions. Not ideal from my point of view, as the number of films I watch per month tends to vary hugely, but it was still generally a good deal.  But then at some point Amazon took over Lovefilm, and chaos ensued.

All Lovefilm subscribers have been forced to merge their subscriptions with their Amazon account, and the Lovefilm site has been discontinued. The postal service has been renamed ‘Lovefilm by Post’ and the streaming service, ‘Lovefilm Instant’, has been given the dreadful moniker ‘Amazon Prime Instant Video’ and been separated entirely from the postal service.

I’d signed up for Lovefilm Instant a few months before its migration to Amazon because it was advertised as being free with one of the monthly postal subscription packages. However, it’s clear that whereas once the streaming service was an extra on top of the postal service, the opposite is now true. In fact, the postal service has been so badly implemented into the Amazon website that I’m certain it will be abandoned entirely by Amazon very soon. I tried to change my postal subscription earlier so I could receive two discs at a time instead of one, and it appears that all options to adjust postal subscriptions have been removed – the only option was to cancel my account. If that’s not a sign that Lovefilm by Post is not long for this world, then I don’t know what is.

But I’m not ready to abandon my postal DVDs just yet, because streaming just isn’t fit for purpose in its current form. For a start, internet connections just aren’t reliable enough – I have BT Infinity but I still experience buffering and picture quality reductions when viewing at peak times, which annoys the hell out of me. Then there’s the paltry selection of titles: most of the films on my Lovefilm rental list are unavailable for streaming, and it’s a similar story over on Netflix. A couple of months ago, Ian and I took out a trial subscription to Netflix in an attempt to watch a few of the films that had been recommended to us: out of the 50+ films on the 101 Films list of recommendations, only 5 were available to stream.

Then there’s the problem of films being taken off the streaming list. I added The Battle of Algiers to my ‘watch list’ a couple of months ago, but when I wanted to watch it over the weekend I found that it had been removed for some reason. And not long before that, the same thing happened with Peeping Tom. It’s like putting a DVD on your shelf and then finding it’s been taken without warning when you go to watch it.

And with Amazon Prime Instant Video in particular, the user interface is utterly dreadful. For some bizarre reason they’ve mixed two subscription models together: Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant Video, as well as paying for individual films. After weeks of using it I still can’t get my head around how it works – in essence it just means that when I click on a film I want to watch sometimes I get told it’s not covered by my subscription and I have to pay extra for it, which is as annoying as it sounds. Visually too, both Netflix and Amazon push a handful of titles and make it very difficult to go hunting for anything that’s not being promoted.

No, I don't want to watch Jack & Jill.
No, I don’t want to watch Jack & Jill.

All of these problems are likely to be fixed with time. But right now, streaming is the poor cousin to postal DVD rental services in terms of reliability, picture quality and, most importantly, choice. Yet as consumers, we’re being forced onto streaming whether we like it or not: the only DVD rental services still going are Lovefilm and Cinema Paradiso, and as I said earlier, signs are that the Lovefilm by Post service might be not long for this world.

Streaming services are useful, and they’re a great way to find something to watch when you’re at a loose end. But until we have 100% reliable connections, consistent HD picture quality and a decent range of choice, they’ll be an optional extra. And after my trials and tribulations with Amazon’s lacklustre streaming service (and Netflix, for that matter), they are an optional extra I’d rather do without.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn

Gone With The Wind posterIn celebration of Mother’s Day, this week we review Gone With The Wind, which is Ian’s mum’s favourite film. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my act together in time to write this post before Mother’s Day, even though we recorded this several days ago… but on the other hand, in the United States Mother’s Day isn’t until May, so you could argue that we’re actually very very early.

Either way, Happy Mother’s Day, Ian’s mum. And Happy Mother’s Day to my mum too – maybe we’ll do your favourite film next year. Is it still Alien?

So Ian and I actually saw Gone With The Wind for the first time a few months back at the BFI. We both had a hankering to see what the fuss was about when it comes to this most epic of epics, but both of us knew the chance of us actually sitting down to watch a four-hour DVD was next to nil. The only way we’d sit through the whole thing was to book a ticket for the big screen – and even then, we had a pact that we would walk out at half time if we just couldn’t take it any more.

Thankfully, it turned out to be an enjoyable watch – although frankly the first 20 minutes were very ropey indeed. It begins with lots of uncomfortable propaganda about the ‘glory days’ of the Old South, all the time showing images of slaves toiling in cotton fields – clearly the ‘glory days’ label only applied if you were a white plantation owner. Then we’re introduced to a selection of spoilt slave owners who it’s hard to feel anything about except irritation, until finally, FINALLY, Clark Gable arrives on screen and suddenly it gets a whole lot better. The chemistry between Leigh and Gable is fantastic, and it’s more than strong enough to propel the film through its lengthy running time – Vivien Leigh in particular puts in an amazing performance, and really brings out the complex and often conflicting emotions of the character.

So a good film then, but one that is ultimately sullied by its uncomfortable depiction of slavery. The film’s sympathies clearly lie with the slave owners, and the black characters are depicted as stupid, stereotypical or bizarrely content at being slaves. You could argue that it’s ‘of its time’, but it still doesn’t make it easy to watch. Oh, and did I mention the marital rape scene? Yeah… that’s… weird.

Last but not least, our Secret Sponsor for this week is Fopp Byres Road (@FoppByresRoad), the original Fopp store in Glasgow. We’ve a feeling that they might have followed us by accident, thinking that we’re the 101 Films horror movie distributor, but we’ll take all the followers we can get, frankly.

If our review has piqued your interest in the film, you can buy Gone With The Wind from Amazon on DVD or Blu-ray by clicking on the links (and we get a little bit of cash if you do – thanks in advance).

Anyway, without further ado, let us present our feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Podcast 071 – Gone With The Wind

Click below to subscribe on iTunes, join our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog. Feel free to say nice things about us on iTunes!

Director:  Victor Fleming/George Cukor/Sam Wood Year of release: 1940 Studio/Distributor: MGM/Selznick International Pictures Country: USA