Sunday, 30 December 2012

Retro Review: Keep It Up Downstairs (1976)

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Made to cash in on the successful British TV series, Upstairs Downstairs, this 1976 British sex comedy tells the story of the Cockshute family, whose fortune is dwindling so much that they have had to get rid of the family jewels ("the glories of our past are now paste") and are at risk of being evicted until obnoxious Snotty Shutteworth (the fabulous Willie Rushton) comes up with a plan - allow him to move in, and they can all stay. This suits the family fine, despite some reservations that it may upset their rather unusual routine. The servants, headed by butler Hampton (Neil Hallett, Virgin Witch, Groupie Girl, Can You Keep It Up For A Week?) seem to be up to all sorts of shenanigans with the masters.

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The youngest of the bunch, Peregrine (Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger from the musical version of Oliver!) is more interested in inventing down in the basement and even spurns the advances of his sex mad step-mum, played by the glorious Sue Longhurst. They come up with a plan to marry him into some rich family, and invite them around. Francis (John Blythe) and his wife Daisy (Diana Dors) who just so happens to be a former showgirl who Hampton recognises. With them all there, and the nuptials all but arranged, they come up with a better plan - steal their jewelry in the middle of night, but things go awry when the midnight liaisons start, but could Peregrine's latest invention, a pliable rubber sheath be the key to a change in their fortunes?
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Full of familiar faces, and shot on location at the grand Knebworth house, Keep It Up Downstairs is a fun, if not quite hilarious film. Some amusing double entendres and visual gags and some surprisingly good acting. A cut above the usual 70s fare, largely down to the period costumes and the impressive cast.

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francoise pascal sex comedyThe lovely Françoise Pascal (The Iron Rose, Burke and Hare) appears as Mimi, the French maid and steals the scenes she is in. While she (apparently accidentally) slips a nipple out in one scene, she was adamant not to reveal anymore (despite having done photo spreads in some top shelf publications; she later said she was fed up of titillating men) and one scene involves her having to bend over out of a window, and have her bare behind seen to from the inside (giving Françoise the attention is Simon Brent, who was the lead in her first screen role, Norman J. Warren's Loving Feeling). Mary Millington, who appears as another chambermaid, provides Françoise's rear for this shot, amusingly as it doesn't match with Madame Pascal's Mediterranean complexion. In her fabulous autobiography, As I Am!, she tells how she asked Mary about her choice of career, "Why Not? My body is beautiful and sex is healthy" was the response. Françoise's next major project was the hit UKTV show, Mind Your Language. A show I remember watching at 7/8 year old, and loving. Barry Evans, himself a veteran of my beloved 70s sex comedies starred as the hapless adult eduction language tutor. I've just managed to purchase the complete series (3 seasons) on DVD, and look forward to re-watching soon.
Also appearing are Carmen Silvera ('Allo 'Allo), Aimi MacDonald (Vampira), who sadly keeps her clothes on, and some of those "I know their face" actors, Julian Orchard (Carry On Henry) April Olrich (The Skull) and Peter Halliday (Virgin Witch, Madhouse). It benefits from a great script by Hazel Adair, who also wrote (under the name Klaus Vogel) Brit horror Virgin Witch as well as co-producing it and Can You Keep It Up For A Week? Using her real name was a considered brave, as of course, women don't and can't think of any saucy or sexual. The director was none other than Robert Young, who had made the brilliant Vampire Circus for Hammer and went on to make the classic House of Horror TV episode, Charley Boy as well as the rather awful A Fish Called Wanda sequel, Fierce Creatures. He directs the romp well, the late night farce moments especially, making it far easier to watch than some of the genre, although reports from the set were that the actors had no idea what was going on from one day to the next! The film has disappeared from view, however. A late night screening on Channel 5 in the UK or second hand copies of the old VHS being the only chance to catch it, which is a shame as it's certainly better than a lot of the films that were re-issued in the "saucy 70s" DVD boom.
7 out of 10
The NETWORK DVD release has now been released, and I'm happy to report that, like their recent releases of The House In Nightmare Park, Spanish Fly and Konga, the results are brilliant. Transferred from the original elements, and presented in both it's theatrical ratio (1:66:1) and as-filmed 4:3, the film looks stunning, especially after having to put up with a dodgy VHS transfer previously. Although There was one scene (the first scene with Willie Rushton) which demonstrated a strange colour fluctuation, nothing too annoying - but noticeable. The film still holds up as a saucy postcard type comedy, helped by it's brilliant cast, especially Sue Longhurst (why she is not billed higher I don't know). A highly recommended release of a film from a time when British cinema had a sense of humour. DVD: 8 outof 10
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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Review: God Bless America (2011)

If ever there was a film that put forward almost all my current feelings about the state of the world at the moment, it is this one. Surprisingly, it comes from the brain of annoying voiced reject from the Police Academy sequels, Bobcat Goldthwait. You may also remember him in the much more watchable Scrooged (1988), arguably one of the best versions of the Dickens classic.
God Bless America tells the story of Frank (Joel Murray, Hatchet), a regular Joe who is becoming increasingly pissed off with constant diet of reality TV, cruel 'talent' shows and the general way people are in the 21st Century. When he's diagnosed with a brain tumour, dismissed from his job for doing what he sees as a good turn, and distraught that his estranged daughter has become a spoilt brat, he decides enough is enough and rather than take the bullet himself, he begins gunning down all that he thinks is wrong with America. Along for the ride, and under false pretenses, is equally rebellious and opinionated teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Together they head across country with their shared hatred with what the world has become.
As biting a satire as you're ever likely to see, the first half of the film is spot on with its observations, and manages to create situations which, if seen on TV for real, you would have no problem with believing, and despising. Once the duo head out on their killing spree, it becomes a slightly different beast, almost coming apart at the seams before bowing out in a blaze of glory.
All the targets are worthy, the inane American Idol shows, with their willingness to mock those who desperately seek fame but don't have the talent to earn it. The glossy reality shows which follow  kids and their vacuous parents. Inane commercials peddling the latest 'humourous' ringtone.
The opening sequence, with Frank laying, Jesus Christ pose, fantasing about killing his inconsiderate, noisy neighbours, blasting their constantly screaming baby with a pump action shotgun, sets the films intentions from the outset.
While it's hard to justify the harsh actions of a man pushed to the limit, à la Falling Down, the verbal tirades make for hilarious, if often sobering viewing. Amusingly, Roxy has a rant at Diablo Cody ("the only stripper who suffers from too much self esteem") and her sassy teen creation Juno while being almost the same construct.
Without the killing spree, the film could have been a Network for the new Century, but as it is, as much as it is entertaining, it's hard to justify murder. The film is at its strongest when it's just the two leads discussing the ills of the world like adults.
Another major plus point for the film is the simply stunning soundtrack. Filled with great songs by fabulous artists, from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Beat The Devil's Tattoo, no less than three songs by Alice Cooper (who gets a fantastic tribute also) to the brilliant cover of The Kinks' I'm Not Like Everybody Else (the original punk anthem) by The Chocolate Watchband.
If you've sat down on a Saturday night and looked at your Facebook or Twitter feeds and seen nothing but imbecile comments on whatever crap is on TV and felt sick to the pit of your stomach, then this film is for you. If you watch those shows, don't bother because all you'll get out of this is "wow - those killings were cool"; which I doubt is the reaction Goldthwait wanted.
9 out of 10