Thursday, 31 August 2017

Carry On Teacher (1959)

Being only the third in the series, Carry On Teacher lacks a few of the elements associated with the films, but we can already see a rough blueprint of how they will develop.

William Wakefield (played by Ted Ray, in his only Carry On film) is the Headmaster of Maudlin Street Secondary Modern School. His hopes of getting a job at a shiny new school rest entirely on the results of a visit by Government Inspector Miss Wheeler, and noted child psychiatrist Alistair Grigg (Leslie Phillips). However, the pupils don't want Wakefield to leave, and plot to sabotage the inspection by any means necessary.

Several actors would go on to be Carry On regulars and here seem to be rehearsing the roles they would play on a more regular basis, with Kenneth Connor as an affable duffer, Charles Hawtrey as a camp neurotic, and Joan Sims as Sarah Allcock, the object of male desire. The exception is Kenneth Williams, playing straight as Edwin Milton, the English teacher, very different from the leering grotesque persona of the later films. (Look also for a very young Richard O'Sullivan, of later Man About the House fame)

Being a Carry On film, some of the script revolves around sex, particularly Grigg chasing after Allcock, and the innuendo in her name does not go unnoticed. However, this is rather tame and anodyne, lacking the bawdy energy that the likes of Sid James would bring into later films of the series.

In fact, the world of Carry On Teacher is an uncomplicated, sometimes sentimental one, but modern viewers might find one aspect jarring. Corporal punishment is a recurring theme, particularly the reluctance of Wakefield to administer it, and is a reminder of a time when British school children faced the possibility of physical punishment from their teachers.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

K-Shop (2016)

A modern take on the Sweeney Todd story, K-Shop has some good ideas but these get buried in a script that fails to make the main character convincing.

Salah (Ziad Abaza) is a Turkish-British student, about to graduate with a politics degree. With nothing left to do but fine tune his dissertation, he comes to help his ailing father Zaki (Nayef Rashed) who runs a late-night kebab place in an English seaside town. He is horrified at the way the drunks abuse Zaki, abuse that turns tragic when Zaki dies at the hands of one of them, leaving Salah in charge of the shop. From there, he launches a one-man vigilante operation against his customers, and, being a businessman, finds a way to dispose of the evidence and cut down on his overheads.

The film certainly paints a bleak view of England, a land of binge drinking, vomiting, fancy dress stag nights, and sinister nightclub owning reality TV stars. The biggest influence, consciously or not, seems to be the Death Wish series and their subsequent rip-offs, where the filmmakers are not subtle about telling us about whom we should be cheering for and who we should be booing. The characterisation for the latter doesn't really go beyond being us being shown somebody saying something awful, such as call centre workers boasting about ripping off elderly vulnerable customers, or a drunk man helping himself to food and referring to Zaki as Saddam, and the character arc of Salah going from bookish student to cold blooded killer is not believable in the slightest.

Nevertheless the anger of Salah, coupled with a dark sense of humour and some outré gore compensate enough to make the film worth a watch for the misanthropic.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Godzilla is arguably Japan's most internationally well-known cinematic icon, and Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence) is an attempt to bring him into a 21st century world of mobile phones and CGI. The film is certainly entertaining, but suffers from odd pacing and a lack of the title character for long stretches.

The plot largely follows the standard template for a Godzilla film, particularly the 1954 original, starting with mysterious scenes of death and destruction, which are eventually linked to the title character, followed by his increasingly devastating rampages and futile attempts by the military to stop him. There are some modern updates as this time, rather than American nuclear testing it is dumped nuclear waste that brings the beast to life, and, of course, when the public see Godzilla for the first time, they all reach for their phones to start filming him.

The original is a fascinating study of national identity in post-World War Two Japan. Shin Godzilla retains this more serious tone, but brings it up to date with the scenes of destruction and the bureaucratic impotence of the national government recalling the recent real-life horrors of Fukushima, although, endless scenes of inter-governmental bickering do not always make for scintillating viewing. The pacing feels inconsistent with a gripping and thrill packed opening 30 minutes followed by a stodgy, talky and hour or so, which is also largely monster free, while Godzilla recharges his nuclear batteries.

Purists may also balk at the amount of CGI used, with the traditional man in a rubber suit replaced by a man in a motion-capture suit, and some of the scenes of destruction look a little more slick and digital than the traditional miniature model sets.

Nevertheless, it's always good to see Godzilla back on the big screen, and when the mayhem and destruction happens it's easy to forget the flaws and focus on what is so good about these sorts of films.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

International Guerillas (1990)

The central premise of International Guerrillas is astonishing but the end result is insane and so hilariously botched that it is impossible to be offended. Just as importantly, even with a running time not far off three hours, there is rarely a dull moment.

Mustafa, a disillusioned Pakistani police officer and his two small-time crook brothers, put aside their differences in the face of an even greater menace than crime, namely Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. When their younger sister is killed by the police at an anti-Rushdie demonstration, the trio decide to avenge her and Islam's honour by hunting down and killing Rushdie, helped by a female police officer.

Rushdie, however, is not just a novelist, but also the head of a vast criminal empire, dedicated to two things; firstly building a global chain of casinos, nightclubs and brothels, and secondly wiping out Islam.

Perhaps the overriding lesson of this film is that terrorism is best left to competent professionals rather than enthusiastic amateurs, as it soon becomes apparent that the International Guerrillas are useless. Time after time they botch the job, and constantly have to be bailed out, either by the female police officer, or, at the climax, flying copies of the Koran. And hats off to whoever had the bright idea of them all busting into one of Rushdie's sin palaces dressed in Batman costumes, which, granted, is a step up from their usual disguise of embarrassingly obviously fake beards.

 Rushdie is portrayed as a James Bond style supervillain, with a mega fortress / disco in the Philippines, a Jewish head of security, and an assistant who can tell if people are Muslim just by looking at them. This is a man who is as vicious as he is decadent, as at one point, he threatens to torture to the heroes' mother by forcing her to listen to a talking book of The Satanic Verses.

Throw in rubbish car chases, endless gun battles, repeated crash-zooms, some excruciatingly unfunny comedy and the inevitable song and dance numbers and the whole daft thing rattles along at a good energetic pace, even with a running time of over 160 minutes.

The only place the fun stops and the film becomes genuinely unnerving is when the guerrillas mouth another piece of spittle flecked rhetoric, similar to the sort of hateful bile spouted by Islamist extremists nowadays. Talk of mutilating Rushdie's face until even Satan won't recognise him jars with the goofy tone elsewhere.

Ironically, the real life Rushdie proved to be much more tolerant of the film, as well as living up to his free speech, anti-censorship credentials.  After the BBFC threatened to block the UK release of the film, on the grounds that the film libelled the author, Rushdie personally intervened to persuade them otherwise.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Ghoul (2016)

Far from the lurid horror the name might suggest, The Ghoul is a complex, quirky, and paranoid, low budget British thriller with horror overtones, in the vein of co-star Alice Lowe's Prevenge and executive producer Ben Wheatley's Kill List.

I'm reluctant to say too much about the plot as part of the joy of the film is the unpredictable twists and turns it takes. It starts with homicide detective Chris (Tom Meeten) being brought in to investigate a bizarre murder in London where the victims have appeared to keep walking even when shot full of bullets. If that sounds in any way conventional or predictable, then rest assured, the story soon takes a leftfield swerve, and goes on to continually pull the rug from under the viewer, while all the time maintaining a paranoid internal logic that stops the film descending into irritating incoherent chaos.

The excellent cast is a massive asset. Tom Meeten is best known as comedy actor, having previously collaborated with Lowe, as well as appearing in TV shows such as Peep Show and Saxondale. Here, however he plays it totally straight and convincing, even when the audience starts to doubt what they are seeing. Geoffrey McGovern also deserves a mention as Chris's eccentric and sinister therapist, giving him a brilliant and necessary mix of charisma and menace.

Making his feature debut, writer and director Gareth Tunley does an excellent job of getting maximum results from minimum resources and making the surreal elements blend well with the urban grittiness, and druggy bedsit lifestyle of Chris's undercover alter ego. This thought provoking film stays in your mind long after the end credits, and is one that I suspect would reward repeat viewings.