Not much box-set bingeing this time. There was The Broker’s Man, a TV series starring Kevin Whately, apparently filmed in between episodes of Lewis. Despite being made in the late 1990s, it feels like it was made a decade earlier. It’s no surprise Whately is better remembered for Lewis. He plays an ex-copper who now investigates insurance claims. The first season saw him end up in hospital every episode. The series changed format for the second season, and budget too, it seemed – and two of the supporting characters were played by entirely different actors… I missed The Broker’s Man when ti was broadcast on British TV because I was in the Middle East. Should have left it like that.
Band of Thieves, Peter Bezencenet (1962, UK). I’ve mentioned the Renown Pictures available on Amazon Prime before. This one has a simple plot – while in prison, a group of inmates form a jazz band under the auspices of the warden. They are eventually released. An upper crust wastrel sort of chap hires them to play in his new café, but also to follow their previous careers during a tour of the country – his contacts among the gentry, their criminal skill-set. All very British, and entirely implausible in 21st century UK. The leader of the band is Acker Bilk, who I once saw perform live in Abu Dhabi in the early 1980s. I remember it well. It was by the side of the pool at the Sheraton Hotel. One bloke was so drunk he fell in the pool. Another couldn’t get his disposable camera to work and threw it over the wall in disgust. Bilk was drunk, but didn’t drop a note. He did tell several off-colour jokes, however. Fun times.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Terence Fisher (1974, UK). An admirer of Frankenstein – and there’s a red flag – approaches the sanatorium where Frankenstein died, and discovers he didn’t die after all and in fact is continuing his experiments. The two continue to experiment, which basically involves creating a monster from a couple of sanatorium inmates… Neither of which, I think, were actually dead when they were chosen as donors. The nubile mute daughter character also pops up again – seems to have been quite a popular trope at Hammer… I have a lot of time for Hammer films, although they’re very much of their time, and even then that’s probably giving them more credit than they’re due. They were made on the cheap and it usually shows. They made a brand out of tackling the best-known horror monsters of their time, but they managed to do it with a level po-faced seriousness only the British, and possibly the French, ever really pulled off. They’ll never be great cinema, but there’s something to be admired about them.
The Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon (2016, South Korea). During the 1920s, Korea was occupied by the Japanese, and they were brutal occupiers. A police captain, working for the Japanese, who used to be a member of the resistance, is present when a friend who stayed in the resistance movement is shot to death by the police. He’s then tasked by the new Japanese head of the police in Seoul with tracking down and apprehending the head of the resistance. But when he realises that a Japanese police officer has been undermining his investigation and that, as a Korean, he was never going to be rewarded for his work… then the police captain begins to work with the resistance, helping them to smuggle some explosives from Shanghai to Seoul on the train. An excellent period drama. Despite an action-packed opening sequence, it takes a while for the plot to shift into gear, but once the characters have sort of settled and the story gets going, this is good stuff. Recommended.
Loaded Guns, Fernando di Leo (1975, Italy). Ursula Andress plays an air hostess who gets unwittingly involved in a war between two drug lords. At least, I think it was unwittingly. She is asked to deliver a message to one drug lord, but there seems to be a third group who steal drugs from one drug lord’s goons and money from the other’s, and interrupt deals, until a war kicks off. And Andress seems to be involved. The story was a fairly typical poliziottesco, but it seemed the film was mainly made in order for Andress to display her legs as often as possible. The film had its moments – an all-out fist-fight between the two drug gangs in an empty funfair at the end has to be seen to be believed – but the story tried to be a bit too clever and failed dismally to pull it off.
Space Sweepers, Jo Sung-hee (2021. South Korea). I’ve seen so much love for this film, but it strikes me they’re all missing the point. Yes, it presents a multi-cultural future – but it’s only US and UK films that don’t. Don’t celebrate something that’s common in other cinemas because it doesn’t exist in yours. Sadly, in all other respects, Space Sweepers is the usual neoliberal near-futura corporatist bollocks. Earth is near-dead, and the super-rich – or, “citizens” – all live comfortable and privileged lives in some giant orbital habitat. But, being in orbit, there’s a lot of space junk… The “space sweepers”, who are all non-citizens, and one unsuccessful flight away from having their ships impounded – could it get any more clichéd? – collect the junk. One such ship finds a young girl in a piece of wreckage. She’s alive… and also apparently an android who contains a fusion bomb. Eco-terrorists plan to use her to destroy the citizens’ habitat. Except, she’s not a bomb. And the terrorists aren’t terrorists. But the villain of the piece is a pantomime billionaire fascist piece of shit (all credit to the actor for managing to play the role without permanently corpsing). Having said all that, the special effects are quite spectacular. But a lot of the science is complete bollocks. “Krypton waves”? WTF? An entertaining pizza-and-beer sf tentpole blockbuster, that’s fun if you don’t think too hard – well, don’t think at all – and if you’re happy with all that 1980s cyberpunk crypto-fascist bullshit. Of course, it will probably win the Hugo Award this year.
Despicable Me 2, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (2013, USA). I have been known to actually laugh while watching films, even comedy films, but it doesn’t happen very often. I don’t mean laughs of disbelief, those are quite common. But actual that’s-really-funny laughs. Apparently, Confucius once said the funniest sight in the whole world is watching an old friend fall off a high roof, which I guess means he was a fan of slapstick. Despicable Me, and this sequel, Despicable Me 2, being animated, include a lot of slapstick, a lot of very funny slapstick. You know, with the Minions. But it also makes clever use of its premise. And if it tends to mawkishness as, inevitably, all US animated films do, because it probably says they need to do that in some book about a cat or something, well, you can always fast-forward through those bits these days. Formulas for success are usually self-fulfilling because only the formulaic then becomes successful. Which the Despicable Me films are mostly not. A twenty-first century US animated film that made me laugh. Worth seeing.
Nick the Sting, Fernando di Leo (1976, Italy). A mobster boss fakes having his safe robbed, and plants a ring from the “stolen” jewellery on a small-time con man, in the hope the con man is either arrested or fences the ring, and so provides evidence of the robbery. The mobster will then claim the insurance. After two failed attempts on his life, the con man hatches an overly-elaborate sting to have his revenge on the mobster, which involves a feeble disguise no one seems to see through, and a mock-up of a Lugarno police station with a cast of a hundred or so extras. None of it seems to go smoothly, although that’s all part of the con man’s cunning plan. There’s an interesting use of split-screen at times, but the rest of it is stupidly complicated and stupidly implausible. Di Leo apparently worked as a director-for-hire, and was not happy with the finished movie. Hard to disagree.
The Titan, Lennart Ruff (2018, UK). A few years from now, the climate has crashed and the NATO governments decide there’s a desperate need for a new home for humanity. They pick Titan. As you would. I mean, so what if it has a surface pressure of 1.45 atmospheres, surface temperature of -180C, completely toxic atmosphere, and is flooded with radiation from Jupiter? Oh, and it’s 1.3 billion kilometres from Earth. Obviously, it’s the, er, obvious choice. Settling the moon without either terraforming it or altering humanity is impossible. They decide to re-engineer a squad of military volunteers to survive on Titan. So, pretty much Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus, then, but with Titan instead of Mars. But this is a movie, so a serious commentary on the difficulty, ethics or ramifications of the process is not going to happen. Instead, the sole survivor of the programme goes on a murderous rampage because lost humanity. Complete tosh. Avoid.