Tag Archives: British

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE NINE LIVES OF TOMAS KATZ (2000)

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DIRECTED BY: Ben Hopkins

FEATURING: Tom Fisher, Ian McNiece, Will Keen, Tony Maudsley

PLOT: On the day of a rare solar eclipse, a stranger with the ability to switch places with others arrives in London. His identity-swapping and subsequent trouble-making have an immediate impact on the natural order of things. A police inspector suspects that the disappearance of the Astral Child That Represents Existence may be responsible for the strange happenings and interrogates the spirits in an attempt to stave off disaster.

Still from The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz (2001)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Combining stark surrealism, a heightened and aching sense of dread, and a heaping dollop of British absurdism, The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz has a profoundly distinctive point of view—there’s a perverse thrill in the way the film not only accepts its incongruities but relies upon a relentless commitment to them.

COMMENTS: Tomas Katz – whose name might in fact be “No” – has a ready answer to a casual question about what he does for a living: “I cut people open to find out where their dreams lurk.” What he doesn’t say is that he knows the ugly truth about most of those dreams: they are fractured or forever out of reach or consigned to the dustbin of memory. And this is the day when Tomas Katz will resolve all of those dreams by ending the world.

If The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz could be said to have a theme, it is that the world is simultaneously ridiculous and tragic. For a movie ostensibly about the end of everything, there’s not much concern about the actual end. It all seems pretty messed up, and usually in a pretty amusing way. We’ve got war, but it’s declared by the Minister for Fisheries against a country with a silly name. We’ve got financial calamity, but it’s brought about by an angelic choir. We even have the mass of humanity marching to Gehenna, but that just turns out to be the last stop on the London Underground. It’s nihilism with a smile, a sweet-smelling hangover.

The world into which No enters, which is primarily London as encompassed by the M25 motorway, is one where Britain’s famous stiff upper lip has metastasized into a blend of habit and ennui. Londoners are trained to silently endure the wait for their train, so when an announcement informs them that their trip will be delayed to accommodate the souls of the dead, there’s barely a perceptible change in tone. Similarly, the deployment of a tuning fork that kills all children on national television might seem destined to arouse anger and protest, but broadcasters know just how to smooth over the ruffled feathers: “The BBC would like to apologize for the widespread destruction and loss of infant life.” It’s not that the world will end with a whimper, but just that nobody wants to make a fuss.

There may be no better synthesis of the mood of Tomas Katz than a sequence where No encounters a boy bemoaning his fate: he has no friends, and his Tamagotchi died just that morning. The scene turns into a silent film, complete with wailing strings and ornate title cards. “The tamagotchis will be freed from their cages,” No assures the boy, “and all will be released.” Then he swaps places with the boy and experiences all the highs and lows of childhood, the joy and the cruelty, the pleasure and pain. It’s not too hard to understand why No feels tremendous pity for the doomed human race, and why he’s simultaneously content to burn it all down.

Tomas Katz is a genuinely funny movie, but it’s an especially English kind of funny, Britbox with bite. Consider the rabbi whom the BBC has called in to offer his wisdom to the nation despite the inconvenience of having been dead for two years. Or perhaps the police report of a window conspiracy, which is an amusing combination until we actually get to see it play out. In fact, the tone shifts so widely that the film could easily be called The Nine Films of Tomas Katz, yet it never loses its focus or its bleak humor.

For a small-scale, microbudget endeavor, Tomas Katz plays big. Huge credit goes to lead Tom Fisher, who embraces the chance to play multiple characters with a unique blend of sympathy and savagery. Kudos also to Ian McNiece, whose fearful police inspector manages to find drama and pathos in connections that make no logical sense. And a special shout-out to Dominik Scherrer’s diverse and adaptable score, which encompasses opera, techno, klezmer, Klaus Nomi, patriotic marches, and more.

Fittingly, it isn’t No who brings about the end of the world. He hands that honor to a security guard named Dave, whom he identifies as “the most vacuous being in the universe.” (Dave doesn’t seem too put out by this.) We will ultimately be the agent of our own demise, it turns out. The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz shows what that grand finale will look like if we all just keep calm and carry on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This has to be one of the strangest films of the year, a weird apocalyptic vision shot in the most mundane of London surroundings, with all too obvious budgetary constraints pushed asunder by the sheer energy of the director’s imagination.” – George Perry, BBC (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Phantar.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR

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Severin Films. 15 disc set.

“Folk Horror” is a buzzword that has blossomed over the past decade to become a marketing phrase. It brings to mind things British, pagan and ancient/medieval, usually in that order. This makes for a nice narrow niche to categorize and sell to the audience; if a film has certain elements that are on the checklist checked off, it’s officially Folk Horror®.  The genre even has its Unholy Trinity: The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General. Of course, with some digging, we find that there’s a lot more to the subject to beyond those tentpoles.

It’s a massive subject tackle, and we’re fortunate that the person taking it on is Kier-la Janisse (film-programmer/editor; founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Stories; author of “House of Psychotic Women“) with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), a 192 minute documentary serving as a primer/immersion into Folk Horror. It’s the foundation for “All The Haunts Be Ours,” a massive boxs et with 19 feature films (some making their debut on Blu-ray) and tons of bonus material. In short, this is a college semester course compressed into 15 discs; and although it’s pricey, it’s a lot less than what one would be paying for an actual college class. This is the most ambitious box set  that Severin Films has done to date—and they’ve done collections of Al Adamson, Christopher Lee’s European Films, and Andy Milligan in just the past three years!

Woodlands (the first disc in the set, also available as a standalone release) comprehensively examines Folk Horror, beginning with its roots in folklore and literature and moving into film, starting with that Unholy Trinity and other British films, plus television programs like “The Owl Service,” “Children of the Stones,” “Doctor Who,” and the work of Nigel Kneale. The documentary then shifts to North America, examining it by region: New England (Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King); the South (influences of folk music and Evangelicalism), and the West (Native American lore). After that, the film goes global, focusing on horror in Eastern Europe, Australia, Japan, and Brazil, addressing a lot of films you’ve heard of (Viy, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and the Coffin Joe movies, to name just a few), along with many more that you probably haven’t.

For a 3+ hour documentary, you don’t feel the time drag, and you’ll spend a lot of time afterwards Google-searching availability of titles. Even though it’s a deep dive into the subject, it also feels like it’s just scratching the surface and not even close to being the Last Word in Folk Horror. The subject is thoroughly examined, and even though you could walk away with some sort of definition, “Folk Horror” doesn’t seem “defined” in a way that traps it in a box. It’s a fluid term Continue reading ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE SHOW (2020)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Mitch Jenkins

FEATURING: Tom Burke, , Ellie Bamber, Christopher Fairbank, Alan Moore

PLOT: Fletcher Dennis is a hitman an “exit technician” posing as a private detective posing as an antiques dealer in search of a stolen Rosicrucian necklace.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Sometimes “weird” leaves you overthinking; in this case, I suffered the reverse. While watching The Show, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t weird, because it’s exactly the kind of movie Alan Moore would make. Having pondered a few minutes following the spectacle’s completion, it became apparent that this was indeed something weird. Jenkins’ and Moore’s movie blends reality and dreams, and life and death, in a manner that would make 366’s poster-boy Dave Lynch smirk in satisfaction.

COMMENTS: Please forgive this reviewer’s gushing, but in the hopes of getting it out of my system let me begin with, “This… this is the Alan Moore film I’ve been waiting for!” Mr. Moore, as some of you may know, has had a long history of disappointment with studio executives when it comes to his innumerable works and their adaptations. Some of this is warranted (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), some of it not (Watchmen). Regardless, The Show pulls off a very-Moore experience—more so than any other adaptation of his oeuvre.

Because it immediately pulls the viewer into a cryptic facsimile of Northampton UK, it’s helpful that the film pulls its protagonists from the “straight man” bucket. Steven Lipman (later, and earlier, Fletcher Dennis, ever-clad in black and red striped shirt, presumably with sling-shot) has been hired by Patsy Bleaker to retrieve a family heirloom that went missing after his daughter (not quite) was murdered (definitely). Faith Harrington, a briefly comatose journalist, arrives at the local hospital the same night the murderer is carted in following a tragic accident involving a pineapple and a nightclub stairwell. Faith begins suffering from carnivalesque nightmares featuring Matchbright & Metterton, a comedy duo who perished in a 1970s fire. While the plot thickens reality-side (Bleaker’s daughter was not his daughter), it positively coagulates in the subconscious world, as both Dennis and Harrington confront an agenda hatched within dreams and beyond the grave.

Those familiar with Alan Moore’s world(s) know that no detail is to be ignored, whether from the perspective of plot or to appreciate an erudite slight-of-hand. When subcontracting his search to the “Michelson & Morley Detective Agency”, Dennis finds himself in front of a backyard clubhouse whose entrance opens up into an improbably large office, where he converses with two Tims around the age of ten. (“We don’t handle messy divorces, and we have to be in bed at 9:30.”) They speak in a ’40s film noir narration style, and take payment in either cash or energy drinks.

The paragraphs I could burn with such regalement could take up an entire movie, surprise surprise, so consider that just a taste of the fun-time genre stroking herein. Stylistically, it is apparent that The Show was created by a comics man. Every shot and sequence will be familiar to readers of that medium, and it stands as a stark reminder that for whatever reason, virtually no filmmaker seems to fully embrace the aesthetic: an aesthetic you’d think would make the cinematographer’s job that much simpler. Just. Follow. The. Storyboards.

But I’m in fan-boy mode again; I didn’t think I’d be able to shake it. This acts as a companion piece to Under the Silver Lake, another film that got me gushing. Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton is deeply unreal and fully realized; his characters are unreasonably eccentric individuals who interlock seamlessly with their peers and milieu; and his film has enough smoke and mirrors for a late night cocaine and dance party at the Black Lodge.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Jenkins’ surreal city symphony transforms Little England into an overlooked site of invention, resistance and revenge, while the erudite poetic wit of Moore’s script is a dizzying blend of high and low, the profane and the occult, funny-haha and funny-weird.”–Anton Bitel, VODzilla (VOD)

15*. CASINO ROYALE (1967)

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DIRECTED BY: , , , , , (uncredited)

FEATURING: , David Niven, Ursula Andress, , , , Joanna Pettet, Deborah Kerr

PLOT: The “real” James Bond is recalled from retirement to fight agents of SMERSH. To help his cover, MI6 decides to re-name all their agents “James Bond.” The story loosely follows the maneuvers and misadventures of these various Bonds.

Still from Casino Royale (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • This movie is based on author Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel of the same title. The rights were originally sold to producer Gregory Ratoff, then resold to agent/producer Charles K. Feldman upon Ratoff’s passing.
  • Eon Productions was the chief source of the James Bond franchise, but deals between Eon and Feldman to adapt Casino Royale fell through. After several false starts at producing a straight version of the Bond story (with both Cary Grant and Sean Connery considered for the starring role), Feldman struck a deal with Columbia Pictures, opting to make his Bond movie a spoof of the genre instead.
  • Amid an already-troubled production, Peter Sellers and Orson Welles famously quarreled, resulting in the former storming off the set, which required some re-shoots using body doubles.
  • It is alleged that Peter Sellers was eager to play James Bond for real and was disappointed to find out this was a spoof.
  • Dusty Springfield’s rendition of “The Look of Love” got an Oscar nomination. Later versions of the song made the Billboard Hot 100 at #22 in November of 1967, and cover versions have since appeared in everything from Catch Me If You Can (2002) to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) (which was partly inspired by Casino Royale).
  • Despite this movie’s reputation as a flop, it still made $41.7 million back on a $12 million budget.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Eenie meenie miney moe: we’ll pick the scene where Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) has taken Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) hostage, Bond-villain style. As Andress is restrained naked under barely-concealing metal bands, Allen menaces her in his groovy ’60s dungeon by playing a piano, socking a punching bag with the “real” James Bond’s face on it, and riding on a mechanical bull.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Duck decoy missiles; bagpipe machine gun

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In the same vein as Skidoo (1968) and North (1994), Casino Royale is a star-studded parable teaching us that shoveling big-name talent and money into a movie won’t necessarily make it any better. Before you even approach the jaw-dropping cast, you already have too many cooks (six directors and a veritable army of writers) spoiling the stew. The 131 minute run-time is overstuffed with everything the producers could cram in, whether it works or not. Saturated with weirdness, viewers will be burned out from the endless blathering nonsense long before this silly excess ends.

Original trailer for Casino Royale (1967)

COMMENTS: “What were they thinking?” That’s a query repeated Continue reading 15*. CASINO ROYALE (1967)