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!


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.


Pan’s Labyrinth (aka. El laberinto del fauno) (2006)

Director – Guillermo del Toro

Writer – Guillermo del Toro

This film has a harrowing beauty that lingers with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Set during the Spanish Falange era in 1944, a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), the stepdaughter of oppressive captain Vidal (Sergi López), finds sanctuary in a fantasy haven at the bottom of her garden that leads to a deep underground labyrinth. The fantastical creatures that she encounters assist or assail her, causing her to gradually confront the reality of the situation unfolding around her by cloaking it with her imagination. The monsters are truly wondrous, and often terrifying (see below), conjuring visuals that have been rarely matched in their vibrant fairytale quality and richness of colour.

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There are chillingly dark themes at work, dealt with in an extremely sensitive, yet imaginitive way. The emotional power of the interweaving storyline is a deeply moving experience when it tragically unfolds.

This is the trailer with the husky-voiced man to tell you more about it, as I don’t want to give anything more away, but strongly recommend that you watch this film.


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 Sinful Dwarf (aka. The House of Lost Maidens or Dværgen) (1973)

Das Haus der verlorenen Mädchen (1973) Poster

Director – Vidal Raski

Writers – William Mayo, Harlan Asquith

Originally banned in Sweden on its release, and Viggo Mortensen’s least favourite movie (as if that isn’t recommendation enough), this is a film that should probably never have been made, but it’s something of a perverse pleasure that it was. Perverse pleasures are what the protagonist of this sordid story, Olaf the Dwarf (Torben Bille), is all about. He lives with his mother, Lila Lash (Clara Keller), a former actual Nazi cabaret singer, of course, in a boarding house that just happens to keep drug-addled sex slaves locked up in its attic that he lures there using mechanical toy poodles (honest).

All of this is unbeknownst to the newly married couple Peter (Tony Eades) and Mary (Anne Sparrow) that visit the boarding house (a strange choice of destination, some might think, but it’s the only place that they can afford), where Peter tries to earn his living as a dispossessed writer. What follows is some seriously sadistic, unmitigatedly unsettling viewing, replete with extremely gratuitious sex scenes, including rape and sado-masochism. After seeing this movie you’ll never be able to look at a walking stick in the same way again. I can’t really say that I’d recommend it on its artistic merits, or any kind of merits, yet it’s compelling for its sheer sleaziness and level of sick depravity. The malicious glee on Torbin’s face and his odd Danish pronunciation makes the film captivating. Perhaps it could be seen as an update ofThe Tin Drum, but I’m not entirely sure that the allegory was fully intended. We have other toys… upstairs!


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.


The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director – Bryan Singer
Writer – Christopher McQuarrie

Once in a while, a film comes along that takes you, and the world, completely by surprise. It creeps up on you without fanfare and then pounces on you unawares. The Usual Suspects is one of those films.

It has an exceptionally good line-up, but at the time, the actors were relatively unknown. Gabrielle Byrne plays a moody, no nonsense, yet moral criminal Dean Keaton. Benicio Del Toro is the husky, messed up Fred Fenster. Stephen Baldwin gives us a pithy Michael McManus. Kevin Pollack is Todd Hockney, a creeped out crim always watching his back. Chazz Palminteri is the irascible, irritable Dave Kujan of US Customs and Pete Postlethwaite puts in a magnificently malevolent performance as Kobayashi. They are all on top form, giving the film a great collaborative feel. However, the guy who steals the show (and that’s not all) has to be Kevin Spacey as the humble Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, who pins all of the pieces of this jumbled tale together, and makes it into the convincing, if (perhaps deliberately) confounding hit that it is. The premise is that one of the five criminals in a police line-up has wronged the legendary master criminal named Keyser Söze. Söze takes his revenge by setting up the criminals in a heist that takes them out one by one, each one suspecting the other of being the elusive Keyser Söze himself, but we never quite find out if they’re right. Or do we?

It is all eminently engaging, fun and cool! But who is Keyser Söze?


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