Star Wars Holiday Special
Like many people my age (mid 30s), the original Star Wars trilogy is the film franchise that impacted most heavily on my childhood.  In between the cinema visits and TV screenings, I would either be playing with the brilliant toys, or acting out scenes from the movies (and creating new ones) with my mates.  My nostalgia for the films hasn't really faded.  Unlike most fans, I welcomed, and enjoyed the follow up trilogy, despite hating the indisputably awful Jar Jar Binks.  After all, many of the flaws of the prequels also existed in the original films, which tend to be looked back on with rose tinted specs (remember the fucking Ewoks?).

I woke up this morning to the radio announcing the acquisition of Lucas Films by Disney, and excitingly a new trilogy of Star Wars pictures,the first instalment of which to be released in 2015.  Brilliantly, if she will indulge me, my daughter and I can now experience the joy of the expanding Star Wars universe together on the big screen. 

Now, it will not have escaped most people's attention that George Lucas rarely passes up an opportunity to exploit his back catalogue.  However some people may not know that there is an existing trio of rarely seen Star Wars films already out there.  The Star Wars Holiday Special, released broadcast just a year after the first film, is a misjudged television variety oddity.  Chewbacca's wife Malla tediously shuffling around cooking dinner, a camp performance by Jefferson Starship and Boba Fett's first appearance are a few of the delights awaiting those willing to sit through it.  Not exactly pleased with the first follow up to A New Hope, George, who had little involvement with the production, stated that "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."  So it will come as no surprise that The Holiday Special has not as of yet surfaced as an official release since its original TV airing.

The two Ewok films, Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor (both with direct input from Lucas), whilst still largely forgotten, have fared rather better, having a DVD release some eight years ago.  Copies can currently be purchased on eBay/Amazon for £40-60.

 
 
Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a simple tale of a young girl growing up in an outsider bayou community.  Feral and neglected and even abused by conventional standards, Hushpuppy has developed confidence in spades, and through necessity can more or less look after herself, even if it does mean the occasional meal of catfood mixed with custard.

When not acquiring life's necessities, through fishing, small scale farming and salvaging potentially useful detritus, the populace enjoy a free spirited hedonistic lifestyle, fuelled largely by alcoholism.  Nonetheless, despite a lot of chaos, everyone appears happy, if dysfunctional, with a desperate determination to continue living life on their own terms, whether when under threat from flooding or interference from wider society.  Their passion and stubborn fight for autonomy is inspiring and will certainly please the free spirited among us.

The central theme of the film appears to be that those of us in mainstream society have lost touch with our animal selves.  Something that is undoubtedly true.  To what extent that is entirely bad is open to debate.  The film also raises a lot of questions about self determination of small communities and the issues of responsibility and neglect, and where intervention is acceptable, if ever.

Wink, Hushpuppy's father, clearly loves his child, and his laissez-faire approach to parenting is born out of a desire for her to grow up being able to look after herself, rather than just disinterest.  However, perhaps if he wasn't dying of a (presumably) lifestyle inflicted condition, she wouldn't have to.  Also, just because Hushpuppy is super confident and independent, doesn't mean another child growing up in her situation wouldn't be majorly damaged, or for that matter dead, considering the huge number of daily hazards they would be living amongst.  Maybe that's just survival of the fittest.

It is certainly true that there are plenty of children growing up in regular society who have been let down and hurt, both by their parents and the state.  However I'm not sure if this is really an argument that vindicates Hushpuppy's situation, and I don't think romanticising squalor and neglect as a positive lifestyle choice is particularly useful.  Ultimately we need to create a society where we all look after each other, where lifestyle choices are respected but not allowed to be an excuse for mistreatment, and where all children are loved, cared for, grow up super confident and have genuine opportunities in their life.

All that said, I don't know why I'm being so fucking judgemental, this film bears an uncanny resemblance to my life, had my flat just happened to have been flooded.  Just ask my daughter, who's chewing on a shoe in the corner whilst I type this.


Beasts of the Southern Wild is out in cinemas Friday.

 
 
Hot T-Shirts
Hot T-Shirts is charmless, unfunny, unsexy, has zero characterisation and a tedious storyline around a wet t-shirt contest.  In fact the only positive things I can recall were a half decent disco soundtrack, the most ridiculous bar brawl I've seen in a while and lots of cheese (not actual cheese).  Yet somehow it's strangely watchable all the same.  Go figure. 

 
 
Zombie Strippers
Despite a title that meant I had to watch it, my expectations for Zombie Strippers were pretty low.  There's a long tradition of schlocky horror films relying on nothing more than an exploitative title to put bums on (usually home furnished) seats, and this one is perhaps more genius than most.

As predicted, it wasn't exactly brilliant, but better than perhaps you'd think it deserved to be, given its cheap and cheerful production values and its crass attempt to cash-in on people's love for trashy cult films of yore.  Firstly, the fact it doesn't take itself at all seriously, goes in its favour.  Secondly, that it is so stupid that you don't take it at all seriously, also helps.  Nudity and gore are both in abundance, so you don't feel cheated on that front.  In addition, spending a large chunk of the budget on Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund was a shrewd move, both of whose fans would probably watch it no matter how terrible it was.

Lazy, clumsy, and occasionally spot-on political points are dotted throughout the picture.  My personal favourite is a retort given by the latest girl to join the strippers at Club Rhino.  Driven to stripping to raise funds for her grandmother's colostomy, and hassled by her pious Christian boyfriend, she succinctly illuminates some of society's class and gender problems when explaining her decision: "Maybe there's, more truth to the human condition, than taking my clothes off for emotionally stunted men, so my grandmother can shit in a bag, than me staying virginal and pure for you".

Sadly it is now de Rigueur(mortis) to have shamefully crap CGI effects in every low budget horror film, and I wish these guys had opted for old fashioned SFX, because even if equally shoddy, some old-school charm would have suited the knock-off retro-cult feel better, and would have in all likeliness elevated the film a little higher.

Is it trying to highlight people's attraction to freakish curiosities over the genuinely erotic?  Has it got something clever to say about neo-liberalism in America?  No, probably not.  Has it got stripping zombies?  Yes it has!



 
 
Untouchable Intouchables
Untouchable's box office takings, currently at over £350,000,000, have already reached those that could be expected from a Hollywood blockbuster.  That it hasn't played yet in several significant countries, and given the hype surrounding it, you can be sure there is plenty of cash still to be rinsed from the cinema going public.

Okay, so I found the 'rich disabled tosser, hires feckless young povo to be his carer, but they both learn a lot from each other' storyline to be a little tiresome, but as a human drama it was engaging, touching and extremely funny.  Also, if you can look beyond the irritating class politics, the portrayal of the everyday challenges for a person with a severe disability has garnered it well deserved respect. 

Both the leading performances are excellent and if you're looking for a classic feelgood movie, you'll not leave disappointed.  Out in cinemas on Friday 21st September.

 
 
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Despite finding much of Aardman's output a touch too twee for my taste, I was hopeful that Pirates! would deliver nonetheless.  After all, the trailer looked good fun, plus as I was viewing it at a budget 99p screening, I didn't have a lot invested in the trip.  I shouldn't have worried, my three year old daughter and myself enjoyed ourselves and we both managed to sit through it without getting too restless.

Our hero, The Pirate Captain, is the subject of mockery by his peers, and thus desperately wants to win The Pirate of the Year Award to achieve the recognition and respect he feels is due.  With this goal in mind, he and his loyal shipmates capture a ship, expecting treasure but instead acquiring a captive, one Charles Darwin.  Darwin persuades the Captain to visit England (despite the dangers posed by Queen Victoria's hatred of pirates), with promises of fame and fortune, and much swashbuckling and silliness ensues.

With a healthy disrespect for authority, Pirates! is a notch above most of the kids' fare out there.  Out on DVD on 10th September.

 
 
Ripley's Game
I didn't have particularly high expectations for Ripley's Game.  I had seen The Talented Mr Ripley, and whilst I found it entertaining enough, I didn't think it was anything special.  Ripley's Game is much more stylish, it's like watching a decent 1970s or 1980s Italian crime drama, which isn't surprising given it's mostly filmed there, it's written and directed by Liliana Cavani and has a Ennio Morricone score.  John Malkovich is perfectly cast as the creepily psychotic Tom Ripley, and the whole production has an understated quality, which makes it all the more effective and sinister.  Less appreciated than the previous instalment, for my money, this is the better film.

 
 
Paradise Lost The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills Revelations Purgatory
On the 14th August, part 3 of the Paradise Lost series of documentaries will be released on DVD (Region 1).  I first became aware of these films when I was catching up with trophy contenders during the last awards season.  Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was nominated in the Oscar's Best Documentary category, and I decided to watch the previous two instalments first.  I'm glad I did, as I consider it a privilege to have been able to watch the films one after another.  I was instantly absorbed, as the story of the Robin Hills Murders and the West Memphis Three unfolded.  Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills immediately delivers a hefty punch, opening with real footage of the bodies of the three murdered 8 year old boys.  We are then introduced to the families of both the victims and the accused, three teenage heavy metal fans that have seemingly been scapegoated on little more than being the local weirdoes and a rather unsound confession from Jessie Misskelley, who achieved just 72 in an IQ test.  The local community are understandably angry and looking for resolution, but many are apparently willing to forfeit justice for revenge.  The three films follow the initial trials and the subsequent developments, as the often shocking new evidence comes to light.  We meet some fascinating and disturbing characters, and robustly held attitudes and positions change as the years pass.  All three documentaries are at the top of their field, and if you can cope with the grimness and the heartbreaking subject matter, you will be rewarded with possibly the most consistently brilliant trilogy of films out there.  Best to be seen without prior knowledge of the case, as this is seriously gripping stuff.

 
 
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Sick to death of the Olympics?  One irritating sponsorship advert away from a killing spree you'll end up regretting?  Step away from the hedge trimmer and indulge yourself in some murder sport therapy.  Whilst everyone else is watching the Closing Ceremony, why not sit back and enjoy one of the dozens of films that have turned slaughter into competitive spectator entertainment.  My personal favourite is Death Race 2000, a splendidly camp offering from the Roger Corman stable.  Running down pedestrians is the national sport, with extra points awarded for toddlers and the elderly.  Brilliantly twisted, I really can't recommend it enough.  The 2008 remake Death Race is also great fun, with the awesome Jason Statham in the lead role.  If you prefer Arnie to the Stath, then you could do worse than checking out The Running Man.  In the near future, prisoners are hunted down on television for the amusement of the viewing public.  Hopefully Ken Clarke's not seen it, otherwise it may give him ideas.

Series 7: The Contenders continues the reality TV theme.  Lottery drawn contestants are handed guns and followed by fly-on-the-wall film crews whilst they pursue and shoot each other.  If you can't get enough of folk assassinating each other, and you enjoyed The Hunger Games, you may like to give Battle Royale a whirl.  A little more arthouse than some of my other suggestions, it nonetheless carries an impressive bodycount and some gloriously nasty violence.

Let the games commence!

 
 
In the Heat of the Night
Having not seen In the Heat of the Night before, I approached it with high hopes.  It had won many awards, including five Oscars, and has a very respectable rating on IMDB.  The film is also something of a landmark, with its intelligent Black American protagonist, Mr Tibbs, fronting up to police chief Bill Gillespie and the wider racist community.  Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger are both masterly in their respective roles, and the slapping of plantation owner Eric Endicott by Tibbs is satisfying indeed, and must have raised merry Hell back in its day.  But despite being quite a compelling human drama, I found the murder mystery plot quite messy and unconvincing, increasingly so towards the end.  I came away underwhelmed and wondering if its notoriety has outshone its merits.  That said, I'm probably intrigued enough to check out the sequels They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! and The Organization sometime.