Dirty Weekend 1993

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Michael Winner was an A-list British director, who made a number of decent 1960’s comedies, then hit big with Death Wish and the sequels. He turned down the chance to make everything from The French Connection to Jaws, including the James Bond franchise. His regular TV appearances made him a household name in the UK; in 2011, David Cameron did a Michael Winner impression during Prime Minister’s question time. And despite his name being synonymous with bad taste, a number of his films (The Jokers, The Sentinel ) are pretty watchable. Dirty Weekend was his second last film, and it’s a bleak reworking of the Death Wish theme, but this time from a female point of view. Adapted with Winner from her own book, Helen Zahavi’s story depicts a young woman Bella (Lia Williams) who finds herself preyed on by various seedy men in the seaside town of Brighton, and takes revenge by killing them. Amongst those she encounters are Rufus Sewell as a Peeping Tom, an Iranian clairvoyant (Star Wars star Ian Richardson in blackface) and a dentist (Man from Uncle and NCIS star David McCallum). It feels like Michael Winner made Dirty Weekend to demonstrate some kind of kinship with feminists, but the result feels like a gross appropriation. It’s hard to recommend this horrid, ill-judged film, and yet it’s unequivocal in his condemnation of misogyny, and that seems to be why it was lambasted on release, and promptly banned by the BBFC for years. It’s no hidden gem, in fact it’s tone deaf to women, but as an example of how feminists are correct to fear men co-opting their arguments, it’s not without some kind of historical interest now that it washes up, briefly one assumes, on the most polluted shores of You Tube.


The Dark Half 1993 ****

Stephen King’s writing is so cinematic, it’s frustrating how easily film-makers are seduced into altering his words, structures, characters and themes. George A Romero was a friend of the author, and his adaptation of King’s The Dark Half is an underrated horror film that’s got both a pulp fiction sensibility but also a playful literary intelligence. Timothy Hutton is developing into a real horror icon post Haunting of Hill House; here he delivers two memorable performances as writer Thad Beaumont and someone claiming to be his pseudonym George Stark. The word pseudonym is tentatively used here, since a big part of The Dark Half’s appeal is working out who or exactly what George Stark is; lawman Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker) is as baffled as everyone else as he tries to solve the murders the plague Beaumont and his wife Liz (Amy Madigan). Beaumont does not know that as a child, the foetal remains of an undeveloped twin were removed from his brain; how this might have led to an evil twin figure isn’t fully explained, but the suggestion of Beaumont’s colleague Reggie (Julie Harris) is that Beaumont has somehow willed this Dionysian figure into life. There isn’t room for the two of them on this earth, and the gatherings of sparrows that appear in the Maine skies, specifically in the Castle Rock area, suggest that the devil is ready to drag one of them to hell. The Dark Half was reportedly King’s last work before he sobered up, and it’s easy to see why he’s get on the wagon. There’s a dangerous, self-destructive theme here about a writer too willing to delve into the deepest, darkest areas of his psyche; in King’s book, fictional protagonist Alexis Machine’s rampages set the violent, nihilistic tone. Romero gets it, and fashions a perceptive look at the dualism inherent in the male psyche, with Hutton doing an incredible job to evoke both men, and Romero not afraid to make the horror scenes genuinely horrific. Various financial reasons stopped The Dark Half from reaching an audience, but it’s one of Romero and King’s best. It also bears remarkable resemblances to Bret Easton Ellis’s novel Luner Park, which doubles down on the roman a clef notion of an author plagued by his own creation. The Dark Half fuses elements of Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll myths and comes up with something dark and disturbing; hopefully the current (2019) vibe for all things King will attract the audience it deserves on streaming.

Under The Volcano 1984 ****

‘You can’t apologise for some things,’ mutters Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) after someone explains the murderous plot of the classic horror movie The Hands of Orlac. It’s a key line, repeated later in the film, from Guy Gallo’s adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s novel, that captures Firmin’s guilt and defiance in the face of death. Firmin seems unaware that mortality is catching up with him in John Huston’s stirring drama. Stirring not in the sense of rousing, but stirring up memories of alcoholism and addiction; think of the worst case you’ve encountered, and Firmin matches it. Played with total immersion by Albert Finney, Firmin drinks all day and all night, is rarely sober, and yet is partially protected by privilege. He’s the British consul in a small Mexican town, one which is celebrating the Day of the Dead. It’s a momentous juncture; Firmin’s wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) has just returned, and Firmin has aspirations to get on the wagon, but time is running out. Huston’s late period is dotted with underrated films, and Under the Volcano, despite Oscar nominations, has fallen out of favour; a rebirth on streaming should rectify that, with the new print showing nuances of acting and direction that VHS pan and scan could not capture. The opening, directed by Huston’s son Danny, makes great play of Day of the Dead iconography, and there’s arresting moments such as Firmin’s lament for the ‘beauty of an old Mexican woman and a chicken’. Under the Volcano is a tough watch, but it nails the central character, and Bisset does well to hold her own with Finney when he’s in full tilt.

The Key 1983 ***

the_key_1983___595cbd51a3d36.mp4Thrill-seekers need not apply to Tinto Brass’s adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel Kagi, which he’s revised in terms of setting and time. The place is Venice, and the time is the rise of Fascism in Italy under Il Duce; as always with Brass, the text is very much directed towards lust, but it’s remarkable how little sex there is in The Key. Frank Finlay plays older man Nino who has lost the spark of his relationship with Theresa (Stefania Sandrelli), but writing their desires in a locked diary offers a route towards fulfilment, or possibly towards death. With an Ennio Morricone score, production values are high, and Finlay gives a game performance. The Key probably doesn’t offer enough flesh to satisfy, but it’s remarkably cerebral for a story intended to get the pulses racing, and the ending is remarkably bleak. With Nico photographing his wife while asleep, then asking a friend to develop them, there’s some kind of consideration of the function of the voyeur here, and the political trappings suggest that Brass is aiming for a Last Tango In Paris/The Night Porter level of rigour. The Key has been largely forgotten since it appeared in 1983; a fresh looking print on Amazon may well frustrate those expecting the lewdness of Brass’s later work, but there’s something more sophisticated than might be expected here. This 2019 version also appears to be cut; understandable in 1983, less comprehensible now; anyone who clicks on a Tinto Brass film surely deserves all they get.

9 1/2 Weeks **** 1986


The quote seems absent from the internet, so corrections are welcome, Gore Vidal once suggested that ‘a man finds it impossible to recommend something to another man on the grounds that it gave him an erection’. He might as well have been talking about Adrian Lyne’s erotic epic 9 ½ Weeks, which was a box office flop in the US back in the day, and was derided by critics who were keen for everyone to know that such crude exhibitionism didn’t turn them on. The death of screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop in August 2019 is a good time to reassess the virtues; Nine ½ Weeks was co-written with her husband and producer Zalman King, and with double Oscar-winner Sarah Kernochan, and adapts a slim book published in 1978 by Ingebord Day. There’s a lot more going on here than in 50 Shades, but it’s essentially a story of a woman Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) who is attracted and then repelled by a sexually manipulative man John (Mickey Rourke). Lushly photographed, and with a busy soundtrack featuring Bryan Ferry and Joe Cocker, there’s plenty of surface pleasures, but there’s also unexpected depth in the views of Elizabeth’s work in the art world and her relationship with an older artist. There’s also an early appearance from Christine Baranski, and it’s not surprising to learn that Lyne’s film became a secret success on home video. Lyne himself delved deeper into sexual obsession with Indecent Proposal and Lolita, but his 1986 film is due a re-appraisal; it’s got a fierce female perspective and dares to look at male abuse in an unflinching way; John’s pathetic begging at the end reveals how Elizabeth always held the power in their relationship. A sequel, despite being written by the fitness coach at Celtic Football Club, failed to generate the same heat in 1997.


Stick 1985 ***


For a man who turned down the roles of Han Solo, James Bond and Terms of Endearment, Burt Reynolds sure could pick a loser, but he made periodic attempts to reclaim his status as a box-office draw. Stick should have been a back-to-basics hit, with a good Elmore Leonard script adapted from his own novel, plus strong support for Candice Bergen, Charles During and George Segal. Reynolds directs himself, and that’s no bad thing either; his Sharkey’s Machine was one of the best vehicles for his charm, and he even adopts a sleeveless blouson much like the one he had in Deliverance here. The result opened at number one at the American box-office, one of the last Reynolds films to do so; it’s not great, but it’s better than its reputation suggests.

Stick (Reynolds) gets out of jail, and teams up with an old friend for a drug deal that goes south. Stick needs somewhere to hide, and takes a job working for a millionaire (Segal) and his wife (Bergen), while plotting revenge on the cartel boss who wronged him. Stick climaxes with a dull burst of machine gun action that reeks of studio interference, and which both Reynolds and Leonard disowned. But there’s some smart dialogue here, plus some strong stunt-work, Durning and Segal both do nice character turns, and Reynolds isn’t awful the way most of his 80’s films find him. He plays slow and laconic; perhaps audiences couldn’t get over the smarmy cameos, fourth-wall breaking grins and other affectations Reynolds had previously self-sabotaged himself with, but his Stick goes through the gears effectively enough.

The Dark Tower 2017 ***


You don’t have to be a racist to think that Idris Elba would be an awful James Bond; it’s pretty much only people who haven’t seen him in much since The Wire 15 years ago that genuinely believe this. If anything it would be helpful to have large-scale public screenings of his unexceptional performances in films like Bastille Day, Molly’s Game or The Dark Tower to remind audiences that he’s not only too old for a reboot, but just doesn’t have the chops for the big screen. Daniel Kaluuya would be a better fit for the role of Bond, and it’s embarrassing to hear Elba trotting out this same sad story every time he’s got something to promote. In The Dark Tower, a misbegotten Stephen King adaptation, Elba’s lumpen performance as gunslinger Roland Deschain is buried amongst a slew of chaotic elements; a massive novel reduced to 95 paltry minutes, a PG -13 certificate, the focus switched from Deschain to an 11 year old boy Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who discovers a parallel universe behind NYC exteriors, constant references to other texts in the King multiverse that go for nothing. Producer Ron Howard has noted that The Dark Tower should have been a tv show rather than a film, and he’s right; what tips Nicolaj Arcel’s adaption into unfortunate legend is the truly awful performance of Matthew McConaughey as Walter Padick, supposedly the embodiment of evil but plays with such misguided elan that his every appearance provokes mirth. The Dark Tower is a good/bad classic, an unwieldy adventure that never lands a coherent idea, making fools of the high-priced talents involved.