Category Archives: Romance

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!

SL-R

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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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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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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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Delicatessen (1991)

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Directors – Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Writers – Gilles Adrien (screenplay and dialogue), Marc Caro (screenplay), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (screenplay)

You don’t get much more cynical, stylish or darkly humorous than this French delicacy. Never has there been such a sweet film made about such a, well, unsavory subject as this film is all about. What is it all about? It’s about eating things. Horrible things. You don’t really want to know what sort of things. Oh, you do? Well, you’d better see the film, hadn’t you? Just let me tell you a bit more about it first.

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The story of the piece revolves around an apartment block built above a small delicatessen (hence the name) somewhere in France following some kind of apocalyptic atrocity in the near future. Food is now incredibly scarce, and is used as a commodity to survive. A butcher named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfuss) advertises for helpers in his establishment, to which an out-of-work clown named Louison (Dominique Pinon) applies. The affable clown falls for the butcher’s charming daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), who attempts to protect him from the horrors within. The clown has a dark secret that he must also come to terms with, and ensure that he, Julie and their friends can be saved.

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That director Jean-Pierre Jeunet went on to make Amelie and The City of Lost Children is more than conceivable due to its luscious, sumptuous scenery, shots and settings (a handful of which I had to include here!), but the dialogue and action of this original, offbeat offering are uniquely special in and of themselves and create a wondrous vision of an unusual world that we thankfully don’t exist in (just yet…).

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Get your teeth into Delicatessen today!

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Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo (1958) Poster

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Writers – Alec Coppel (screenplay), Samuel A. Taylor (screenplay), Maxwell Anderson (uncredited), Pierre Boileau (original story), Thomas Narcejac (original story)

There are some films that stick with you long after you finish watching them, ingraining themselves into your memory with their iconic imagery. Vertigo is one of those films, as unsettling as the psychological condition of the title. The down-trodden detective Scottie, a stern, dignified Jimmy Stewart, is tasked with tracking a mesmerising young woman, Madeleine, played by a striking Kim Novak, who happens to be the wife of his friend, and who is suffering from suicidal tendencies that his friend wants Scottie to protect her from.

The film is all about the act of falling – falling in love, falling from grace, and literally falling, on a number of occasions.

Then there’s THAT reverse zoom dolly shot, a benchmark in cinematography that manages to depict the head-spinning condition of acrophobia spot on. The soaring Bernard Hermann score enhances this feeling too, swirling and out of time, claustrophobic and breathless. The shimmering images and uneasy plot will disturb and disorientate you, just as the director intended. Vertigo is a head-spinning experience.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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Director – Ang Lee

Writers – Du Lu Wang (book), Hui-Ling Wang (screenplay), James Schamus (screenplay) and Kuo Jung Tsai (screenplay)

There are not that many films that actually take your breath away at the magnificent artistry of their shots, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon does that, repeatedly. The backdrops fly by through every subtle shade of each season while the actors fly through the air on wires performing unbelievably technical feats of wonder, under the brilliant martial arts choreography of Yuen Wo Ping, each frame shimmering with a fresh, vibrant glow. The crouching tiger and hidden dragon of the title are never literally seen, but what we do witness is amazing stunt work, thrilling slow motion action that gracefully follows the movements of the actors, enhancing the enchanting visuals to a razor sharp point. The plot and characterisation are equally crisp and sleek, with the delicate but deadly Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) pitted against the interests of wayward Master Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and the menacing Luo Xiao Hu or Lo ‘Dark Cloud’ (Chen Chang), with a young Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) propelling the action in her quest for a mythical sword.

The soundtrack is also extremely pertinent, with Tan Dun employing specific instruments that relate to specific locations, such as a Chinese flute to denote the South China scenes and Central Asian instruments in the desert sequences, adding more shades of authenticity.

This epic story is compelling and original, and the film deserves widespread recognition for the masterpiece that it is.

T-LR