Category Archives: Comedy

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

cult film rocky horrorDirector: Jim Sharman

Writers: Richard O’Brien (original musical play), Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien (screenplay)

In 1973, an Australian named Jim Sharman directed a musical called The Rocky Horror Show. The musical was a success and, in 1975, was made into a film that soon gathered a cult following.

Brad Majors and his fiancee Janet Weiss (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), having just got engaged and seemingly destined to lead a very conventional life together, have a flat tyre during a thunderstorm and seek shelter in a rather eerie castle. Here they meet Dr Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), self-proclaimed ‘Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transsylvania’ and alien scientist, his servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn), groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell) and a host of other odd and interesting characters. Frank N. Furter has created a ‘muscle man’ and, to applause from his guests and servants and to Brad’s and Janet’s dismay, brings to life the ‘beautiful creature’, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). This is followed by a violent intermezzo with Frank’s and Columbia’s former lover Eddie (Meat Loaf), a wedding between Frank and Rocky, a large amount of seduction, a bizarre floorshow and extra-terrestrial encounters.

The film is a parody of old horror and sci-fi films replete with all the stock ingredients – mad scientists, spooky castles, aliens, sex, gore, romance – with catchy music and remarkable costumes thrown in. It shows reckless abandon, decadent danger and carnal enjoyment, contrasted beautifully by Janet and Brad’s polite, repressed behaviour. Playing with identities and gender roles, and with the idea of taking risks and letting go, it brought together people who liked to do something different and not follow the rules. ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It’, as the song goes. Costume designer Sue Blane claimed that the musical, with its ripped fishnet stockings, glitter and dyed hair, influenced the punk movement, and we’re inclined to agree. Provocative, camp and funny, it still rocks today.

Singalong now!

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Rushmore (1998)

Director – Wes Anderson

Writers – Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

What can you say about this film to the uninitiated? Expect pathos, is one thing. Expect offbeat humour is another. It hits high on the quirk-o-meter throughout. The subject matter is nothing new – two suitors fighting over an elusive love interest – but the set up – an older industrialist named Herman Blume (the immaculate Bill Murray) who has two sons at the Rushmore private school, pitted against plucky precocious pupil Max Fischer(Jason Schwarzman) – is. The teacher in question is Miss Rosemary Cross (a delectable Olivia Williams), who is flattered yet confused by the two suitors’ advances. Dr Nelson Guggenheim (the splendid Brian Cox) heaves his imposing, hefty presence into view to keep things in order.

What Wes Anderson weaves is a consummate masterpiece of understated comedy. Each scene has shimmering moments of deft humour, leading up to a suitably unsuitable finale that ties everything up and leaves you with a fuzzy, satisfied feeling that all is well with the world, and you’ve just been part of something special.

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The Bed-Sitting Room (1969)

Director – Richard Lester

Writer – Spike Milligan, Charles Wood and John Antrobus

If you’re looking for odd movies, you’ve come to the right place. This film is in a class of its own. In fact, if it was in school, it would probably be in detention, or even expelled for insubordinate behaviour! ‘Post-Apocalyptic Surrealist Nightmare’ is a start to describing what it features, but doesn’t do it enough justice at all. This is an illumination of the darkest recesses of Spike Milligan’s 20th Century-addled mind. It gives us a disturbing view of a world after the nuclear Holocaust, with a very British take on it, in that people attempt to return to their dull daily routines. It is quite believeable in its absurdity. Heading the cast is the ever-watchable Arthur Lowe, depicting what could be considered as what Captain Mainwaring would do after nuclear Armageddon. He would maintain decorum and a stiff upper lip, of course, despite the wreckage and carnage around him, and despite any kind of common sense.

The radiation has caused strange mutations to occur, including a reference to the titular bedsitting room itself, with some bizarrely brilliant scenes, imagery and jokes that deliniate Spike’s sheer comic genius through and through, alongside his total insanity, or perhaps ultra-sanity, in his exasperation and disbelief at the everyday insanity that regular people possess in being able to ignore the devastation and problems around them. Enjoy the show! It’s a very harrowing laughter in the darkness, but what else can you do in the face of absolute nuclear annhialation?

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

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Director – Stanley Kubrick

Writers – Terry Southern, Peter George, Stanley Kubrick

For me, Peter Sellers is the best British comic actor of all time. Chaplain was perhaps more charming and elegant, Rowan Atkinson perhaps more dexterous and refined, but Sellers has a versatility and brio that is unrivalled. In Dr. Strangelove, he manages to show us just how brilliant he is by playing three vastly different roles. He doesn’t rub his performance in our faces, showing off with wild abandon as some would, he just does it subtly downbeat and straight. As the effete British officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Sellars gives a charming performance, having to think and act quickly and rationally in a bid to avert global disaster. As the US President Merkin Muffley, he asserts natural leadership qualities, giving a conscientious performance full of presense. (If only real presidents were this noble, but I suppose that’s the point. This is a satire, after all!)

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Dr. Strangelove himself is Sellars’ piece de resistance, or not, as a resistance is probably the last thing that Stranglove would agree with. Clouseau was an iconic film character, but his cheeky, confused persona are dwarfed in movie history by the imprint of Strangelove. The film is named after him, predominantly, after all, with the added title ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. This is Mutually Assured Destruction at its most scabrous and scathing. See it before the world goes up in flames!

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Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980)


Director – Steve Roberts

Producers – Martin Wesson (Executive Producer), Tony Stratton-Smith

Writers – Vivian Stanshall and Steve Roberts

A more exquisitely quirky, quintissentially English film there never has been than Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. The End quivers with delightful antics and charming delights. Sadly the sound quality could do with an overhaul, as a lot of the lines seem to be spoken off mic, unlike the crisp, crystalline, cut glass bark of the original version that Viv Stanshall recorded on the radio with John Peel. Still, the vivacious visuals and parade of peculiarities make for a heady concoction, like Pimms with an extra helping of gin and a soupcon of parrot’s spit on a cool summer’s day. If you go with it, you will embrace and devour some giddy, gorgeous Rawlinson madness.

The disappointing sound quality does distract from the exquisite performances at times, Trevor Howard doing a sterling job as the rambuntious Sir Henry, alongside Patrick Magee as the Reverend Slodden, Viv Stanshall playing the wonderfully exhuberant Hubert, Liz Smith as Lady Phillipa of Staines, and a host of other hatstand mad hatters. Attempts are made to exorcise the ghost of Humbert (Michael Crane), Sir Henry’s dead brother who was accidentally shot after being mistaken for a duck (it all makes sense in the film, sort of).

The mansion gardens come replete with PoW camp for Germans and huge pond in which Hubert fishes for unusual things. Strange incantations and wicker men aplenty beset the attendees, including Aunt Florrie (Sheila Reid), Mrs E. (Denise Coffey), Lord Tarquin of Staines (Ben Aris), Peregrin Maynard (Jeremy Child), all waited upon by the disgruntled and wrinkled family retainer known as Old Scrotum (J.G. Devlin), while strange skullduggery ensues. This is a terrific phantasmagoria of the excesses of the decadent upper classes as they reach their Rawlinson End. Baffling delights!

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Slacker (1991)


Director – Richard Linklater

Writer – Richard Linklater and cast (improvised)

Richard Linklater is the current golden boy of Hollywood, garnering massive attention with the success of his film Boyhood, but we knew that way back when he released his seminal opus Slacker, didn’t we? Slacker is a cultural artifact that helped to define 1990s culture, in both its look and horizontally laid back attitude. The goofy, garish 1980s died with this film, and the wry, sardonic 1990s found its husky, stoned out voice.

This isn’t just a time capsule of snapshot vignettes though. It features deeply perceptive characters and a free flowing style that gives it a real floating and dreamy Austin, Texas feel. Linklater commented that the film was all about the city itself, how it lives and breathes, and that’s really what comes across in the film. Linklater represents Austin in all its burnt out glory. The philosophy of mistrusting authority and bumming around instead seeps out of the film and into the minds of the generation that absorbed it. Smart, urbane, earthy and quirky, the film sets the standard for realistic cinema verite, and completely restructures film narrative while it’s at it.

Here’s one of the many highlights:

Apparently a lot of this Austin has disappeared now, so Linklater did well to capture the spirit of the time and the place in his film. An irreverent classic.

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Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985) Poster

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Some films are so finely detailed that they require repeat viewings to appreciate  the extent of their content. This is more than true of Brazil, which manages to squeeze an entire retro-futuristic city into its compact time frame, replete with hallucinogenic dream sequences featuring giant samurai warriors, talking brickwork, and other flights of fancy, along with a serious message behind the wickedly grinning facade.

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You could consider Brazil to be ‘Monty Python Does 1984’, but there are many essential differences between it and those elements. There aren’t any knights who say “NI!” or giant feet crushing anybody from above, for starters. 1984 itself is a critique of blind obedience to authoritarian regimes. Instead, Brazil mocks the mayhem of tangled bureaucracy. People are chewed up by long working hours, an oppressive political system, and excessive red tape. There are certainly bullying security to enforce the rules, keep people in their place and suppress the rebel terrorist threat, but these are nothing compared to the web of repression woven by emotionally blackmailing management. Desk clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is in charge of the thankless task of processing data concerning suspected dissenters. He discovers an error in the system that has led to a wrongful arrest, and seeks to do the right thing by rectifying it. This, in itself, causes problems, something that the regime does not like. Everything must run smoothly and according to the rules. As one domineering technocrat bawls at Sam when he goes to express his concern about a mishap, “Mistakes?! We don’t make mistakes!” In as unbending a system as this, people get swallowed whole.


Sam is disillusioned and also becomes enamoured by a woman who he has dreamed about, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), but who he weirdly happens to then meet. She takes him away on a voyage of discovery, sprinkled with danger and adventure along the way, as well as meeting the actual dissenter, a rebel plumber by the name of Harry Tuttle (a riproaring Robert de Niro at his very best), and invoking the disapproval of his best friend Jack Lint (a wonderfully malevolent Michael Palin). We explore the very nature of escapism, and how our daydreams can become reality, but we have to be very careful about how we pursue them.

Brazil is a truly haunting film that reveals some bitter truths about the modern condition (and the ending is to die for!).

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The Ladykillers (1955)

Director – Alexander Mackendrick

Writer – William Rose

If you thought that 1950s films were full of fluffy, stuffy, genteel sentiment, then you were very wrong indeed. Check out The Ladykillers to find an ice cold satire that takes a group of five sinister gangsters who rent rooms in the house of a sweet old lady under the illusion that they are rehearsing musicians.

The plot, both in the film and of the gangsters, neatly unravels, with each malevolent participant getting dispatched in a particularly gruesome and unexpected way. The laughter comes from far deep into the darkness, but is performed exquisitely by a pitch perfect cast that couldn’t ever be topped. These include Alec Guiness as the icy mastermind Professor Marcus, Peter Sellers as the stiff, sultry Teddy Boy Harry, a wickedly brooding Herbert Lom playing Louis, Danny Green as the threatening One-Round and Cecil Parker as the fusty Claude, otherwise known as Major Courtney to give himself an air of respect (star-spotters might want to look out for a young Frankie Howerd as a barrow boy in the background during the proceedings!). Our grim criminal visions are counterpointed by the eminently sweet, yet ultimately sassy Mrs Wilberforce, performed perfectly primly by Katie Johnson, who we wonder is going to be duped or done over by the dirty denizens, but we have a sneaking suspicion that she might just get wind of their little operation and outwit the mob. How this could happen is one of the most charming, chuckle-packed outings in British cinema.

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A Taste of Honey (1961)

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Director – Tony Richardson

Producer – Tony Richardson

Writers – Shelagh Delaney

Manchester in the 1960s was a place of poverty and upheaval. Young schoolgirl Jo (Rita Tushingham) and her flashy yet poor mother Ellen (Dora Bryan) have to move to a new residence, run down and replete with peeling wallpaper and a single, unshaded lightbulb. Here they try to get by in the cramped, claustrophoic conditions. Jo is cynical about her mother’s string of unsuitable boyfriends, and is despondent because she can’t afford nice clothes to go out to meet boys herself. Underachieving at school, she harbours artistic aspirations, but keeps her creative light under a bushel. She happens to meet an endearing ship’s cook named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) while walking alongside one of the canals, and a sweet romance blossoms. This is counterpointed by her mother’s more lurid relationship with the flirtatious Peter (Robert Stephens). An affectionate connection between Jo and Jimmy grows, bleakly set against the grim, gritty northern backdrops. The issue of racial prejudice and tensions arises, since Jimmy is black, although was himself born in Liverpool, and is dealt with in a considered, sensitive and tactful manner for the time. A trip to Blackpool with her mother and Peter arises, but Jo is unimpressed by the tacky, tawdry tedium. Tempers become frayed, and Jo eventually throws a tantrum to berate Peter, but in turn gets rejected by her mother and is made to go home by herself, which she does distraught. She meets up with her boyfriend Jimmy again, but after a brief rendezvous, he tells her that he has to leave on his ship.

Jo’s mother plans to marry Peter, and leaves Jo to her own devices, who herself finds thankless work in a shoe shop. While watching a street parade she meets a new friend named Geoff (Murray Melvin), who she spends her spare time with. They become close, but Jo has an important confession to make. Geoff is considerate enough to help her out with her dilemma, conscientiously finding out how to care for and comfort her, but this is seen as effeminate and soppy, and there are questions about Geoff’s sexuality, another taboo that is delicately dealt with.

Fears about the future frustrate the Jo and her mother. The turbulent relationship between them, doomed or blessed to make the same mistakes, is beautifully depicted in its raw, tender way, that doesn’t embellish or romanticise, it is given an honest, brutally accurate representation. We see a young girl coming of age in the real world, and some of the difficulties that she has to face. This film asks many tough, serious questions, and reveals them with a mesmerising, heart-felt poignancy.

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The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) Poster

Director – Luis Buñuel

Producer – Gustavo Alatriste

Writer – Luis Buñuel

A quiet uprising of servants is fomenting as they talk about leaving while a banquet for the decadent upper middle classes is held. The everyday quirks and eccentricities of the stuffy rich elite slowly emerge, as do their hidden desires and prejudices. Windows are smashed, trays are dropped by discontented servants who promptly leave, and what’s that under the table?

The guests of the feast comment on the rude behaviour of the servants, and each other, chattering and sniping with some cracklingly witty, barbed lines, and then more mysterious matters begin to occur. The dinner guests find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable situation, unable to free themselves, frozen by some strange compulsion. Their encumbered state means that they become desperate and competitive for survival, cantankerously pecking at one another for status and authority. The smarter and more sympathetic of the group attempt to fathom the circumstances of the mystery, but it evades their wits, and some even end up losing them.

The group becomes sequestered in its own tempestuous world that exists within the confines of the stately mansion, not considering any of the activities happening outside. Their closed world offers them no sanctuary, it is just a stale, stagnant pool to listlessly stew in. Some may be affronted by the delineation of the upper classes in such a clear, unfettered way, which was just what Buñuel intended. He pulls no punches, and exposes the rotten core of their empty, hypocritical existences in a highly original and innovative way. Recommended to those who don’t like to be spoon-fed with obvious, predictable slush.

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