Monday, 23 December 2013

Blu-ray review: Vendetta (2013) Danny Dyer British Revenge flick

After years of being pillared by the "mainstream" film press, Danny Dyer has learned to ride it out, carving a name for himself in hard man roles and the like. But ultimately he has kept working. By his own admission some films are better than others, but he has refused to be banished by the few vocal detractors. I went into this deeper in the last film of his I reviewed, Run For Your Wife, but his critics never seem to know when to stop.His latest film, Vendetta is once again a hard man role, but this time he puts in a more polished performance, with no 'mockney' cliches to bog the character down.
The film tells the story of Jimmy Vickers (Dyer), a soldier returning from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in the weeks before his return his father broke up a street robbery, accidentally killing one of the perpetrators in the process. Being the low-life scum they are, they don't see this as a risk of the 'trade' but instead track him down and burn him and his wife alive. Jimmy naturally wants to know who was responsible, and make them pay in the only way he sees fit. Painfully. The police want him locked up, and the army want him back in their ranks and covered up (a plot point I won't reveal so as not to spoil your enjoyment), and the scum want him dead.
While it may seem like a simply story, writer/director Stephen Reynolds manages to come up with enough twists and nuances to keep it from becoming just another Death Wish/Harry Brown re-tread. While there is some suspension of disbelieve required (notably where the police is concerned), it is a impressive, enjoyable thriller with Vickers coming up with some inventive ways to off the little scrotes who killed his folks.
While still low-budget, the film looks splendid. The night time shots of London's sky line providing a perfect cinematic backdrop to the nastiness. It's not a nice film, (a particularly distasteful scene involves a girl being forced to into a sex act to pay for some cocaine) but as escapist exploitation it does its job, and does it well. Hopefully the film will be successful enough to enable the hinted-at sequel to go ahead. Unlike producer Jonathan Sothcott's Dead Cert (2010) which I enjoyed (I realise I'm probably alone in that opinion), and featured a fantastic cameo from Dyer at the end, promising more to come.
The Blu-ray comes with a few decent extras, including the obligatory 'making of', but the most worthwhile is Reynold's earlier short The Snowman, which is brilliant. The disc (and DVD version for those still in the dark ages) is dirt cheap on Amazon (and, I believe in-store at HMV) so PLEASE do the right thing and purchase and support the British film industry!

Vendetta won't be to everyone's taste, but it's generally well made, and harks back to a time and style when cinema was fun. Give it a chance.
7 out of 10

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Blu-ray review: Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1978) Donald Pleasence, Anne Heywood

Note: this is a difficult film to discuss without including some spoilers, so proceed with caution.
Set in 1956 in the ironically named Freedom, Kansas, where race relations and Communism are very much on the agenda, even at the school Miss Evie Wyckoff (Anne Heywood, L'assassino... รจ al telefono, 1972) works. She has campaigned for the rights of the black students, and stands up for a teacher threatened with the sack for teaching Karl Marx in his modern history class. She is also deeply depressed, not sleeping and breaking down in tears all the time. Her doctor (Robert Vaughn) informs her, that she is suffering early menopause. Being only 35, this comes as a shock, even more so in that she has never been with a man. He recommends her to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Steiner (the ever wonderful Donald Pleasence) in Wichita, which she does, but also that she should take a lover; "nature wants us to use our bodies, if we don't, they dry out"
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff anne heywood
Her long journey to see him involves a bus ride, and the driver Ed (Earl Holliman) takes a shine to her, and the pair eventually have a coffee together. Despite being married with a child, he wants to have an affair with her. She is reticent, but tells the psychiatrist all about it. Her sessions are going well, and her life seems to be getting back on track. She treats herself to some fancy lingerie, and decides to take Ed up on his offer, only to find he has quit, left his wife and left the town. Rather than being set back by this, she takes it well, much to Dr. Steiner's joy "maybe you're liking yourself a little more".
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff
After successfully changing the minds of the school board on the issue of the teaching of Marx, she is feeling content and relaxed for once. It is at this point one of the black students, Rafe (John Lafayette, The Terror Within, 1989)  - on a scholarship at the junior college but made to work as at the school as a janitor) begins to act inappropriately while cleaning her room. This makes her uncomfortable, but she doesn't make a big deal out of it, until the next time, when he goes too far and rapes her. It's a brutal, shocking scene coming as it does after the majority of the film has been moderately sedate. While she tries to avoid him for the next day or so, he eventually finds her alone again, and once again forces himself on her. However, despite his forcefulness she succumbs and enjoys their second encounter. Her body giving in to what she had 'been missing' for so long. This is fine for a while, but then he begins to be abusive as well as demanding. Degrading her, and finally maiming her. Eventually, the rest of the school finds out and her world falls apart greater than it ever had before.
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff robert vaughngood luck, miss wyckoff donald pleasencegood luck, miss wyckoff
Based on the novel by William Inge (Bus Stop, Splendor in the Grass) and ably directed by  Marvin J. Chomsky (Evil Knievel, 1971) this is a storming, emotional tale of small town bigotry and emotional abuse. The main cast, Heywood especially, are superb and the rest of the cast includes Carolyn Jones (Mortica Addams herself), Dorothy Malone (Peyton Place) and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister, and Bubba's mother in Dark Night of the Scarecrow, 1981), who are all exemplary. Pleasence is perfect as the psychiatrist, whose methods border on the seductive, seemingly to relish the virginal teacher's sexual awakening. Yet, like the rest of those around her is no-where to be seen when she needs him the most. The handling of the subject matter, despite it being marketed as an exploitation film in some markets, is actually very sensitive, despite the use of some words which are unacceptable now (well, unless you're a rapper or Quentin Tarantino, of course). The rape scene is powerful and upsetting, especially since we've just spent the best part of an hour getting to know the lovely Miss Wyckoff, but it's the abuse she allows herself to endure which is more shocking and distressing. Rafe is clearly an angry young man, using the vulnerable teacher to get back at a society which has downgraded his kind for far too long. However, the shame the teacher feels when she is abused by this young man is enough to make her keep quiet about the incident. She was raped, after all. A crime which should go punished. Yet rather than have the world know, she puts up with it, eventually becoming compliant, even - dare we say - enjoy the physical contact she has denied herself for so long. It is only when the truth comes out that her world really falls apart. And the double standards of the system really come into play. The boy would be missed from his high school football team if he was expelled, so it is the innocent Miss Wyckoff who must shoulder the blame and shame of it all.
 good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff
good luck, miss wyckoff
 Vinegar Syndrome have once again come up trumps with this release. The main Blu-ray disc looks great, with just a hint of crackle and hiss, but does show up the suspect re-dubbing in some scenes (no fault of the disc, obviously). The accompanying DVD also includes the heavily-cut, but more exploitative version, The Sin, which runs just under 80mins compared to the main feature's 116min. Cut are a large chunk of the first rape, the following scenes of degradation and an important scene in which Miss Wyckoff is maimed and then found out by some passing kids who hear her screams. There are also trailers and TV spots and a short interview with Shirley Knight, about the author Inge. Topping the set off is a separate soundtrack CD of the evocative Ernest Gold (Cross of Iron, 1977) score . A top-notch package for a difficult film, but that's what Vinegar Syndrome seem to do best. Their previous Blu-ray releases; a superb set of rare HG Lewis sexploitation flicks, Massage Parlor Murders! and The Telephone Book are all worth checking out. I aim to purchase their release of Russ Meyer's Fanny Hill asap and have their Night Train To Terror disc in my "to view" pile
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff
 good luck, miss wyckoff carolyn jones
A troubling, disturbing film but very thought provoking which handles the material so well it'll stay with you for some time.Highly recommended.
8 out of 10

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Retro review: Can I Do It... 'Til I Need Glasses? (1977) sketch sex comedy - with Robin Williams

As promised (or threatened) in my previous review, I sat down and checked out the sequel to If You Don't Stop It... You'll Go Blind, made by the same team, although this one was directed solely by I. Robert Levy.
Like the earlier film, this is a non-stop barrage of increasingly lame gags - mostly of a sexual nature - which invariably fail to raise so much as a smile let alone a titter.
Among the "jokes" on offer here are a variation on the one used in the first film, only with a naked woman, locked out of her apartment, holding a pair of shoes over her embarrassment. The punchline this time coming from a drunk passing in the hallway "At a boy, shorty! Give her everything you've got" Believe me, it's downhill from here.
One of the plus-points of the first film was the appearance of a couple of genre faces (namely Russ Meyer alumni Patrick Wright and Uschi Digard and Vixen's Garth Pillsbury). Well, Wright is back in several sections and Uschi has a blink-and-you'll-miss-her cameo riding an elephant in the opening credits (there are several moments in this title montage which don't appear later on), but the main selling point (certainly when the film got a rushed re-release following the success of Mork and Mindy) is the appearance of Robin Williams. He's in two sketches here, neither any good, but then as I indicated earlier, the whole film is a mirth-free zone. Also apparently here is porn legend Ron Jeremy, but I certainly couldn't spot him.
The best gag (and it's a stretch to find one, believe me) is set in an nudist colony, with a male bringing his female friends a drink each; "help yourself to a donuts".
The final, lengthier section is a rip off of Woody Allen's ejaculation spoof from Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex *But Were Afraid To Ask (1972). Woody did it so much better, naturally.
Not that you'll come across this too easily (although it is out on DVD in the US) but it's one to avoid.
2 out of 10 (purely for the skin on display!)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Retro Review: If You Don't Stop It... You'll Go Blind! (1975) Uschi Digard saucy sketch comedy

 if you dont stop you'll go blind poster
This obscurity from the depths of depravity is a non-stop barrage of puerile and sexist gags, thrown "Laugh-In" style one after another. Surely in it's 80 minute running time there must be some that raise a smile if not anything else? Well, that all depends of course on how low-brow you like your humour.
 if you dont stop you'll go blind patrick wright if you dont stop you'll go blind
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind
There gags here that were as old as the hills even when this hit cinemas (yes, it's a proper cinema film, just like Kentucky Fried Movie or, in reality, more like The Groove Tube). There are a couple of redeeming features (and for once I'm not just talking boobs - but, well there are those too), but there's a couple of actors who we will recognise from their Russ Meyer films.
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind

 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind
  if you dont stop you'll go blind patrick wright if you dont stop you'll go blind uschi digard
To give an example of the level of jokes on offer here, within the first ten minutes we've already had a gag with a naked woman stuck to a toilet seat, with only a hat to cover her lower modesty "we save your wife, but the cowboy's a gonna...." (cue tumbleweeds). A nurse sketch; "I told you to prick his boil!" (more tumbleweeds...) Our first Meyer alumni appears early on with Patrick Wright as a burly guy (typecasting, eh?) who finds a naked woman tied to a tree. After hearing how she's been brutalised by groups of men; "well it's just not your day..."  (those tumbleweeds are taking over..) Wright, of course is best known to Meyer fans as Mr Peterbuilt in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979) but was also in classic schlock-fest Track of the Moon Beast (1976)
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind uschi digard if you dont stop you'll go blind uschi digard
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind dlt lookalike
A meeting of a sex clinic (hosted by a guy who unfortunately looks like disgraced DJ Dave Lee Travis) brings up more gems.. the gay man for whom "sex is a pain in the ass", "Do you speak to your wife during sex?" "If I'm close to a phone.." Oh, my sides... This section gives us our first glimpse of the wonderful Uschi Digard, who appears naked for the majority of her appearances. As well as appearing in Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970), Supervixens (1975) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens, she was in the "Catholic School Girls In Trouble" section of Kentucky Fried Movie. 
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind patrick wright if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind
The longer, more laborious sections are the song-and-dance routines, of which there are fortunately not too many and a sex marathon involving 'Omar' who attempts to sleep with dozens of women (Uschi is first) which takes far too long to get to its lame punchline. One character in the "sex awards" section is named Harrison Marks.. I only hope this was meant as an in-joke and not just a lame co-incidence, as it would certainly put the writers higher in my estimation. But not by much.
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind uschi digard

More faces worth looking out for in several roles in George Spencer, lead in the wonderful obscure grindhouse flick Massage Parlor Murders! (1973) and stand up comic Pat McCormick. Don't take that as a recommendation, though!
pat mckormick if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind
Now, if you've followed anything else covered on this blog, you'll be aware I have a fondness for old style comedy. Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, Carry On films, British sex comedies etc.. I like it low-brow obviously. This film really does scrape the bottom of the very lowest barrel. There's also a sequel, Can I Do It.. Til I Need Glasses? which will appear here soon. I really am a glutton for punishment.
 if you dont stop you'll go blind if you dont stop you'll go blind patrick wright
2 out of 10 (purely for the Uschi nudity)