The Ploughman’s Lunch 1983

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Richard Ayer’s film from an original script by prestigious British novels Ian McEwan was catnip to the chattering classes in 1983; made for Channel 4 television, it was released in cinemas and seemed to represent the mood of the time in the UK. Parts of the film were captured against real backgrounds, with the Falkland’s war in the background and scenes filmed at the Conservative party conference. This Medium Cool verisimilitude extends to the characters; Jonathan Pryce is James Penfield, a journalist who is facing up to his own financial and spiritual bankruptcy; Rosemary Harris, Tim Curry and Frank Finlay are amongst the gallery of characters who he bounces off. The Ploughman’s Lunch has a title that refers to the simple meal that workers used to enjoy; this film represents the kind of unequivocal, intelligent television that Britain used to make before it sold out to game-shows and reality television filler.

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Circle of Two 1980

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Jules Dassin was a master director (Rififi, The Naked City, Topkapi), and combining him with a major star (Richard Burton) and an up-and-coming starlet (Tatum O’Neal) for a meditation of life and love must have seemed like a great idea. Circle of Two, however, is a misfire of such spectacular proportions that it ends up as near comic genius. Burton plays Ashley St Clair, a painter in his sixties who shuns the canvas for afternoons watching sex-film at his local cinema. Amongst the patrons is Sarah Norton (O’Neal) who is keen to get away from her overprotective family and her stalker boyfriend, and hopes to fashion a romantic idyll with St Clair. Dassin clearly understands that a relationship between a 15 year old and a 60 year old has exploitation potential, even if the connection is chaste and not sexual, and plays in the direction of good taste, washing Circle of Two in glutinous photography, lush music and dialogue that aims to demystify the artistic process but instead provides comic delight in it’s literary floweriness; the monumentally awful ‘Ach, said Bach’ recurring line of dialogue will haunt impressionable audiences forever.

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935

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Striking as the appearance of Boris Karloff in the original 1931 Frankenstein film is, the film itself is pretty hard going; the camera barely moves, and early scenes are like a filmed play, stiff as a board. Allowed to revisit his creation in 1935, James Whale’s sequel is a much jollier affair, with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) goaded by rival Dr Pretorius (a rampant Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester. Whale plays things for dry but genuine laughs, and there’s fascinating special effects when Dr Pretorius unveils the tiny bottled creatures he’s been nurturing. A sequel that’s not cut from the same cloth as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is probably an improvement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJoSueXaAzE

 

The Monster Club 1981

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The last of the Amicus portmanteau films is a genuine curiosity, mixing pop music performances with stories by R Chetwynd-Hayes. The wraparound story sees Hayes (John Carradine) vampirised by Eramus (Vincent Price) and introduced to a nightclub that’s akin to the Star Wars cantina. A horror film seemingly aimed at kids, it includes such child friendly items as songs from Scottish Springsteen BA Robertson and UB 40, a lengthy striptease section and three full-blooded horror stories; one examines a mysterious creature called The Shadmock who offers a job to Angela (Barbara Kellerman), a family vampire story in which Richard Johnson is tracked down by Donald Pleasance, vampire hunter, and a creepy finale in which a horror director (a haggard Stuart Whitman, presumably another children’s favourite) is trapped in a village inhabited by Humghouls. As the synopsis suggests, this is a very eccentric film, peppered with familiar faces (Simon Ward, Britt Ekland, Patrick Magee) and marking something of a sea change in the history of horror; by the 80’s, horror was less about old-stagers than doing it for the kids. And even if Price’s speech about the dangers of nuclear power seems a little apropos of nothing, Stevie Lange’s song The Stripper is a belter.

Thirteen Days 2000

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Kevin Costner’s return to the Kennedy ethos didn’t make the same cultural impact as Oliver Stone’s JFK; nonetheless, Roger Donaldson’s evocation of White House drama during the Cuban missile crisis is one of cinema’s more reflective history lessons. The strangely accented Kenny O’Donnell (Costner) is caught up in the angst as JFK Bruce Greenwood) and RFK (Steven Culp) ague about the best course of action to take, with the future of the world at stake. Thirteen Days has a couple of well-stages action scenes involving U2 spy-planes, but it’s all the stronger for being a claustrophobic talkfest; it was diplomacy that resolves the Cold war issues, and Thirteen Days is a respectful and conscientious look at one of the most startling chapters of world history.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/thirteen-days/id653326503

The Son of Kong 1933

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They knew how to ruin a franchise in 1933; The Song of Kong is, as the title suggests, on a much smaller scale that the original film, with much of Ernest B Schoedsack’s film given over to music hall songs and mild intrigue and the people of Skull island only get a look in around the midway mark. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads an expedition from New York in search of treasure, only to find Kong’s roly-poly albino offspring and a few dinosaurs lying in wait. Kong’s son Kiko is a friendly little monkey, and does what he can to protect Denham’s bedraggled party from the island’s inhabitants. Complete with a splendid music number performed by monkeys, The Song of Kong is a delightfully silly affair, a lights dessert after the dramatic beat of the original monster-on-the-loose movie.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Son-Kong-Robert-Armstrong/dp/B00ET27TZY/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1395995235&sr=1-1&keywords=son+of+kong

American Hustle 2013

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What The Sting was to the 70’s David O Russell’s American Hustle is to the 21st century; a delightful period throwback depicting the colourful lives of hustlers pulling elaborate cons on each other with style. Everyone involved seems to be having fun; Christian Bale done a toupee and expands his girth as Irving, a low-rent con artist who gets ideas above his station when he hooks up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams); their ability to shed their personalities for the good of the con is beautifully marked down when they canoodle in a dry-cleaners as a parade of different outfits fly by. FBI agent Richie De Maso (Bradley Cooper) steps in to involve them with the Abscam scheme, in which a fake Sheik is uses to entrap local politicians including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and American Hustle makes a great job of keeping the audience guessing who is fooling who. The minor characters are a joy, with Louis CK, Michael Pena and Jennifer Lawrence all in explosive form; the Oscars may not be big on comedy, but for pure entertainment value, American Hustle was the best film of 2013.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/american-hustle/id774456362