Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Best and Worst First Watches of 2015 Part 1

This year was important for the fact I finally entered paid employment. This is far more important than any film could be as this opens an entirely new side for my life, one that does intermingle with this hobby of a cineaste directly because as I gain a lot more wisdom and enter out into the world more, reality is going to encroach on these fictitious movie worlds and documentaries drastically.

In terms of the year in films, going to a theatre to see films started off well but like every year before took a nosedive. At one point I couldn't really afford to either, only for the point when I could afford it again for there to be less access to films I want to see than I originally did. Unfortunately cinemas to survive even in Sheffield, an urban metropolis with a large artistic culture, have to show films like Jurassic World (2015) or Oscar nominated dramas to make up their incomes, and places because of the limitations of transport are inherently going to be difficult to go to if I want to see special screenings. I've mainly had to consume films through DVD and Blu-Ray, and having bought Mark Hartley's anticipated Cannon Pictures documentary off iTunes, streaming whilst not taking a priority over the former physical formats is going to be a lot more pronounced for me in the next year. I'm likely not to go to Netflick though, more to the newly released BFI+ service if any, because the problem with streaming films is that, while its incredibly practical as Spotify has been for me in 2015 for music in terms of avoiding expenses on bad albums, the choice is still badly limited with a complete disinterest in Netflick or Amazon Prime exclusive programming on my part when BFI+ looks like a nirvana where everything added is going to be interesting or is something I already own with pride on DVD.
My only concern with home cinema viewing is the growing amount of Limited Editions we're getting for archive releases. Thankfully in only a few cases has this meant films have only been available for a limited amount of time, but there's a huge concern of mine not only of the amount people pay just to catch up with a single company's releases like with Arrow, but that it completely goes against the point of being a cineaste, buying stuff blindly so you can get the limited edition blu-ray before it goes out of print rather than discovering it unexpectedly. I never lived in an era where an Aki Kaurismaki film could appear late at night on BBC2, but the DVD boom for me as a child, especially renting discs by post which I still do now, lead to me discovering so many peculiar and fascinating gems. Forcing people to take out a second mortgage turns the discs into the priority rather than the films, a problem as well as the discs will be worth nothing after even five years, something that came to mind finding a Limited Edition version of Scarface (1983), which came in a cigarette box, in a second hand technology store for only thirty English pounds or so. For every interesting limited edition extra, like the Goblin soundtrack for Deep Red (1975) will be for me when the set comes in the post, the packaging and the booklets unless they're really vital to getting more out the films are going to be disposable. The good news however is that a company like Arrow (or Eureka or Second Sight and so forth, not to mention if I import releases from the US) releases obscure gems like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981), even restores them with additional funds, and keeps them out as regular print run releases alongside their more well known and best selling material. I don't want the mentality of Twilight Time to reach Britain, a company known for releasing films like Zardoz (1974) in very limited Blu-Ray runs, when Arrow can release Zardoz as a normal release Blu-Ray racked with extras. Nor do I want what happens when Japanese companies like Aniplex directly releasing anime to US fans, over $300 dollars for imported Blu-Rays of all one of the entries on my Best of List for last year. Even if physical media goes behind streaming as many do say, I don't want companies ripping people off for the remaining media.

Worst First Watches of 2015

Unfortunately I saw little in terms of premieres. The lack of interesting films on at the cinema was matched by the fact that, even if I'm getting on well in a paid career, I cannot gamble money on cinema blindly when they can cost a lot to go to see, preferring to invest in retrospective DVD and Blu-Ray releases instead. I cannot promise doing a list for Best 2015 films - I promised one last year and never did it - but I intend to catch up with everything I wanted to see.  I can however cover the best retrospective first watches instead, but first before I deal with the best I saw last year, it's best to deal with all the clutter that I encountered last year.

10. Casino Royale (Directors: Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Richard Talmadge, 1967)
Unfortunately for every gem I saw, many films were incredibly shallow and weak. The following, part of a desire to see everything related to the James Bond franchise, shows when a film is so bad it actually turns out to have been pleasurable in hindsight. An unholy mess that lead to Woody Allen wanting to direct his own films, where Peter Sellers walked off the set causing the film to be reshot in places, with five directors as shown above and with a scattershot comedic tone that becomes more and more bizarre as it goes. Only Orson Welles as Le Chiffre can qualify as a reason to see the film, and he spends his time out-of-character performing magic tricks, as the rest feels like an attempt at an LSD head trip that will offend Scottish viewers throughout its length. It's shocking to thing how such a bizarre and ramshackle disaster, excluding a fifties American TV adaptation, was the only adaptation of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel  until 2006.

9. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Director: Hark Tsui, 2010)
The effect China has had on mainstream cinema has been publicised a bit this year. As Chinese cinema goers turned out to be the more lucrative audience for Hollywood, adding cameos by Chinese actors and making creative decisions to remove unsellable content, there's the irony that as soon as this is being criticised, said Chinese audience is getting a little sick of Hollywood's clumsy attempts and are watching home grown movies.  The affect the Chinese government on its own cinema and that of Hong Kong is a different issue. I'm not throwing my weight into all the controversial issues surrounding that government, with more than enough to read online against them. But, ever since the mid-2000s onward at least, the effect on what type of films being made especially in the martial arts genre has stood out, very different from those of the Hong Kong golden age of the eighties or Shaw Brothers films which have been divisive for fans unless one talks about Johnnie To. They have a new aesthetic, and they are either pro-China or politically neutral; admittedly there were plenty of pro-Chinese martial arts or action films in the past, but you also got Category III movies like Naked Killer (1993) which revealed in muck or politically minded films like Tsui Hawk's earliest features, and it's a lot more pronounced how political some of these newer films are, especially the likes of The Founding of a Republic (2009).

What is problematic with Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, a fantasy period film with the potential to be interesting and has a great cast to work from, is entirely to blame however not on any propagandist mentality but how current Hollywood cinema has influenced other cultures' filmmaking, Detective Dee a dreary, extensive CGI fest which turned a potentially great mystery tale with political intrigue into a rush of noise without the grace that Tsui Hawk brought to his older films. Considering how beautiful something like The Blade (1995) or Once Upon A Time In China (1991) was, how even the Jean-Claude Van Damme films Hawk made are so visually inventive and felt like insane living manga, it was soul crushing to see someone like him make a soulless commercial movie like this. That this got positive reviews back in the early 2010s baffles me.

8. A Nightmare On Elm Street (Director: Samuel Bayer, 2010)
2015 was when I went through a lot of franchises and popular cinematic characters in marathons, something that I intend to carry on in 2016 with going over directors, other franchises and interconnected series of films I feel I should've gotten to by now. During 2015, I went through all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies. Contrary to what many would think, I found all the films in the originally series compelling. For me the third film Dream Warriors (1987) was far less interesting to something like Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), which for how bad it was still compelled me with its creative use of dreams and for how weird it was even for stuff like the Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold cameo. This, the Platinum Dunes remake, is a truly bad film with nothing even memorable to it in terms of its mistakes, an attempt at a more serious story that comes off as cynically grim rather than having dramatic weight. It's a film that has far less creativity to its premise even compared to the original sequels and was ghastly to sit through in comparison for its murky, lifeless tone. Again, in another form and language, this is like number nine a horrible example of how current Hollywood cinema trends strips out a lot of the best in genre filmmaking, the only entertainment to be found for me viewing it that Jackie Earle Haley looked less like a burn victim in the makeup but a cat man missing whiskers.

7. Tusk (Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1980)
By far the real disappointment on this list, but considering Alejandro Jodorowsky had always disowned this film and The Rainbow Thief (1990) in his filmography, I should've known it would've been bad. A children's film about a girl and her beloved elephant, the third generation VHS rip I saw wasn't responsible for how sluggish it was and that, heavily compromised in what he could do, known of Jodorowsky's trademark style was here. If I end up ever rewatching this film again, it'll be out of morbid curiosity only, so glad that after this Santa Sangre (1989) came afterwards and that I still have The Dance of Reality (2013) to catch up to as a remedy.

6. Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide (Director: Domenico Paolella, 1965)
5. Ganjasaurus Rex (Director:  Ursi Reynolds, 1987)
4. Humanoids From The Deep (Director:  Jeff Yonis, 1996)
3. S.S. Experiment Love Camp (Director: Sergio Garrone, 1976)

And sometimes you just watch a lot of junk. You have hope for these films but sometimes you look back at them and regret ever wasting one's lifespan on them. I knew the Naziploitation film S.S. Experiment Love Camp, which I watched wanting to see as many Video Nasties as I could during late 2014 onwards, might've been dreadful but I never expected it to kill off the desire to continue that Video Nasties marathon, something even Toxic Zombies (1980) or Frozen Scream (1979) didn't succeed in doing.

An Italian Bond rip-off, Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide inexplicably appeared on TCM and I hoped for a fun Euro genre movie, only to find something that failed miserably. I just happened to stumble over Ganjasaurus Rex whilst pressing the Random button on Criticker a few times one year and became obsessed with the title; like so many of them, my obsession with ridiculous titles and premises has led to my downfall of suffering through utter dreck, making Things (1989) look like high art as shot-on-VHS films go. Humanoids From The Deep was an accidental con job for me, thinking I bought the infamous 1980 Roger Corman production about rampaging, sexually incensed fish men only to realise I got the bland made-for-TV remake from the nineties also produced by Corman which stripped out all the content that made the first so controversial. Despite my love of Corman as a person and especially as a director in his own right, he has made some incredibly dubious ideas in terms of quality control especially after the eighties, and while I may have found the first version of Humanoids From The Deep offensive and crap, this nineties TV version doesn't even make sense as a way to make profit.

2. Emmanuelle (Director: Just Jaeckin, 1974)
In comparison to the previous four however, expectations were optimistic with seeing one of the most well known erotic films in existence and I ended up with a disgusting taste in my mouth. I can feel confident in defending films now which can have potentially dubious gender politics to them, or at least feel less guilt to finding virtues in them, now that I've seen a film here that's a real example of a movie, even if it might've have feminist applause to it once ago, that's misogynistic in its bones. What's gross about Emmanuelle, alongside the fact that its badly made and never feels erotic in the slightest, is that here you can probably see why the sexual revolution of the late sixties and seventies died a death in only ninety minutes. Rather than the politics of pro-sex feminists who want to possess their own pleasures and bodies, or what films like W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) brought philosophically to the conversation, or what even Jean Rollin horror films sub textually suggested in having sexually open and strong female characters, you have a film all about scuzzy white men who want to re-enact colonialist ideals in Thailand and only want their wives to sleep around for their own pleasures under their thumbs. Sylvia Kristel as the titular character is a child-woman who has to be raped at the end and be taught by a creepy old man to become sexually awakened rather than learn from her own experiences, more problematic when this plot line isn't meant to challenge the viewer as trangressive storytelling but is a matter of fact expectation from the audience watching it. Flatly made, nicking a music cue from King Crimson to piss me off further, a film like this makes me far more comfortable defending directors like Kim Ki-duk who take far more complex and nuanced approaches to these troubling concepts of gender relations and sexuality. Emmanuelle is worth its existence for the sequels and Italian rip-offs, which will all probably be better than it completely, the original work a dated artefact from a decade which produced far more progressive and artistically brilliant erotic films around it.

1. Spawn (Director: Mark A.Z. Dippé, 1997)
Technically Emmanuelle is the worst film I've seen, as I may have seen Spawn as a child, but I am cheating regardless of that being the case since I would've not seen Spawn since I was a child and that, watching it for the first time with adult eyes, Spawn is diabolically bad. Barring the pleasure of Melinda Clarke, especially wearing a tight leather cat suit and chewing the scenery, Spawn was agony to sit through. In comparison Batman & Robin (1998), which I adore knowing it's a car crash, is so much more accomplished in every way compared to this superhero adaptation, a mass of noise and terrible jokes where I wanted to throttle John Leguizamo every time he appeared onscreen in the fat man clown costume. The worst part is how  much it squanders the cast, not only Ms. Clarke, but especially Michael Jai White, who could've been an A-List star with his real martial arts skill and charisma but was probably handicapped by this starring role for the rest of his career. Making it personal for me is that this was the last film of Nicol Williamson too, who played a very eccentric Merlin in one of my favourite films, John Boorman's Excalibur (1981), which makes the film even worse to sit. Emmanuelle might've been the most agonising to sit through for its politics, but Spawn was the only film this year I'd give a 1/10, a rating as rare from myself as rocking horse shit is.


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