Toast of London 2013-2015 ****

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Netflix has proved an unlikely platform for audiences discovering tv shows that they’d previously spurned; You was something of a small-screen flop before the streaming service relaunched it last Christmas. Channel 4’s Toast of London is a very different animal, but deserving of re-discovery on Netflix UK and US. The humour is very knowing, and somewhat unique; Stephen Toast (Matt Berry) is an actor who has been bumming around the London scene for years; his high opinion of himself is matched only by his low opinion of others, notably rival Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock). Toast’s agent Jane Plough (Doon Mackirchan) does get him work, but it’s usually pay-the-rent voice-over work that puts him in the orbit of clue-less, drug-addled hipster Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif). Toast’s exchanges with all these characters, and with landlord Ed Howzer-Black (Robert Bathurst), are often agonising but also amusing. From Father Ted creator Arthur Matthews, Toast of London has a wild and experimental edge, with circuitous conversations that end in unexpected ways, plus crude sexual pratfalls mixed with acidic satire of British luvvies. It’s funny, original and is slowly creeping into the mainstream in a way that would make a Toast revival a tasty prospect; a welcome fourth series has been mooted.

https://www.netflix.com/watch/80108561?source=35

Can’t Stop The Music 1980 ***

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A musical folly of the highest order, Can’t Stop the Music is a loving tribute to the Village People, who surfed the disco wave of the late 70’s with hit songs like YMCA and Go West. Of course, being gay, and it’s no secret that the Village People were super-off-the-charts gay, was considered to be something of an commercial issue in 1980, so the Village People somehow get side-lined in their own movie to allow centre-stage to a solid heterosexual pairing of Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg and Superman’s Valerie Perrine. He’s a song-writer, she’s a model, they share a NYC flat and the Village People are their ticket to stardom. Rhoda’s mother from the popular sitcom, Nancy Walker is a random choice to direct, and producer Alan Carr’s promise that co-star Bruce Jenner would become a household name as the “Robert Redford of the 1980’s seems somewhat wide-of-the-mark seen from today’s perspective. With surprisingly vivacious but non-sexual bursts of male and female nudity, lashings of strange scenes including milk promotion and Leatherman from the Village People singing Danny Boy, Can’t Stop The Music is an oddity for the ages, destined to play in the background of all the best parties until the music finally stops.

https://www.amazon.com/Cant-Stop-Music-Steve-Guttenberg/dp/B07QR72M2Z/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=can%27t+stop+the+music&qid=1564565212&s=gateway&sr=8-4

One Tough Bastard 1995 ****

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Pretty much deleted from the memory banks and One Hard To Find Movie, Kurt Wimmer’s debut feature is a fondly remembered slice of red-blooded American Macho. The star is Brian Bosworth, who plays John North, a straight-shooter drill sergeant tormented by his inability to prevent the murder of his wife and children; North emerges from a coma keen to find out who is responsible. It’s not a huge intellectual leap to figure out that the baddie here is Karl Savak, a long-haired, trench-coat afficionado with a nose-ring, a crooked FBI-man who barks out quite the most extraordinary deranged dialogue ever heard in an action movie. One notable scene has him drawing up to To Do list with the words ‘Kill Marcus’ on it; a possible sequel would do well to explore what else Karl Savak was planning that day. ‘You may have the gun, but I have the GUNS’ Savak screams while leaping around with all kinds of armoury; as if Nicolas Cage was encourages to try touching the sides of acting while playing General Zod, it’s a knowingly over the top villainous performance that cements Payne’s position at the most sainted of cult actors. It’s a measure of the insanity here that MC Hammer’s drug lord barely makes an impression; this is the finest hour of Payne’s storied career, and he dutifully gives One Tough Bastard an energising kick to the Boz.

https://www.amazon.com/One-Mans-Justice-Brian-Bosworth/dp/B018J2ASUW/ref=sr_1_9?keywords=Brian+Bosworth&qid=1564563750&s=movies-tv&sr=1-9

Dressed to Kill 1946 ****

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Sherlock Holmes is a character who has lost something in his translation to the modern world; older films do not focus on his prowess as a bare-knuckle boxer, or lead to a climax with sword-fights on top of a mid-construction Tower Bridge. There’s no computer-generated mind-palaces, and his calculations are not visually realised by a slew of animated diagrams. Back in 1946, the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series of Holmes movies was coming to an end, but Dressed to Kill doesn’t show many signs of tiredness. In fact, the action is fast and spruce, packing plenty of action and investigation into a commendably tight 70 minutes. A trio of music boxes are being sold at auction; the owners are separately murdered, but not before Stinky Emery (Edmund Breon) has enlisted the services of Baker Street’s finest to investigate a break-in at his home. Although not listed from a specific Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, there’s an authentic flavour about the action in Dressed to Kill aka Prelude to Murder aka Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code. And it’s refreshing to see a strong female villain in Mrs Hilda Courtney (Patricia Morison), very much in the Irene Adler mode. Directors like Roy William Neill brought timeless characters to life with great acting, no-nonsense direction and crisp scripting; the lack of visual jazz makes each of the Rathbone Holmes films a pleasure to watch.

The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 ****

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Sci-fi gets a bad name; good sci-fi blows the mind; The Incredible Shrinking Man’s title suggests schlock, but Jack Arnold’s film is anything but. With a Richard Matheson script, it traces the law of diminishing returns as it applies in literal terms to Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams), a businessman who is enveloped in a radioactive cloud while on vacation. He begins to shrink, his clothes don’t fit but his wife Louise agrees to stick with him. He loses his job, his brother sells his story to the press, he becomes friends with a local dwarf; radioactivity seems like a one-way trip to Skid Row. But things get worse when Carey moves into a dolls house, and is terrorised by a cat and eventually a spider, which he battles after falling into the basement. The Incredible Shrinking Man was the kind of film the BBC would cheerfully show as family viewing after the 6pm news and local round up, back in the late 70’s, when anything sci-fi was thought to have audience appeal. Many tiny minds must have been expanded by the decidedly adult ending, in which Carey’s strength is reduced to a sub-atomic level, but he retains his consciousness and somehow accepts his place in the universe in a way that might have pleased Albert Camus. Simple storytelling, vivid effects and a disturbing premise which is followed through to the bitter end; Arnold and Matheson are cult figures now, and The Incredible Shrinking Man is reason enough for their canonisation.

Theatre of Blood 1973 ****

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Everyone’s a critic, or at least, that’s how it seems to veteran actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) in Douglas Hickox’s celebrated slice of Grand Guiginol. Lionheart is angry at the kind of reviews he gets, and decides to take revenge on the Theatre Critics Guild with the aid of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), who seemingly disguises herself as Jeff Lynne from the Electric Light Orchestra to do his bidding. The critics themselves are a wonderfully cast bunch, all destined to be offed in a bloody fashion determined by the works of Shakespeare. Dennis Price, Arthur Lowe, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Harry Andrews and Ian Hendry are amongst the victims, and there’s also time for such diversions as a sword-fight on trampolines. The neat idea is something of a precursor of both Paddington 2 and Se7en, although David Fincher probably wouldn’t have much time for a comic detective duo of Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes. Michael J Lewis contributes beautiful, lush music that underscores the melancholy of the conceit; Theatre of Blood is a fun romp that proves that black comedy can work with the right, light touch.

Le Testament d’Orphee 1961 ****

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‘If you don’t like my film, I’m sorry’ Jean Cocteau announces with admirable candor at the end of Le Testament d’Orphee; if only all directors were so blunt. But then again, Jean Cocteau is hardly your average hack; the French poet and surrealist was one of the greatest artistic figures of the 20th century, with film only one of the media he conquered, and this 1961 semi-autobiographical fantasy is something of a curiosity. In today’s world, where sequels often appears decades later, Cocteau’s decision to revisit his 1950’s opus Orphee makes some sense, but it’s only one of a number of angles the artist is working here. Fans of the original were not wowed by Le Testament d’Orphee, but freed from the burden of expectation that goes with sequelitis, there’s a lot going on. Cocteau casts himself as a time-travelling courtier, zapping back and forward through his own life to invent cigarettes so that he can smoke them, and to identify who he really is. ‘I take off my body to reveal my soul’ says Cocteau, attempting to make peace with himself as an artist ‘Aren’t you a pheonixologist?’ he asks himself, hoping for some revival, but his distaste is revealed when he meets and avoids himself coming down a street; ‘I thought when I changed castles, I’d change ghosts’ he laments in a brilliant turn of phrase.  There’s a melange of fashionable names dragged into the phantasmagorical action, from Yul Brynner to Charles Aznavour, and even through subtitles, Cocteau’s knack with words is arresting; cinema, he imagines, is the art of bringing ‘dead acts to life’, and the whole process adds up to a ‘macabre masquerade’. This neglected film is a fitting tribute by a great artist to himself; there’s flashes of magic and genuine insight that make it well worth exhuming, particularly with the helpful mini-features that are included on this 2019 DVD re-release.

ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD in the UK – 5TH AUGUST 2019