Category: Forgotten and Unappreciated

This category compartmentalises those forgotten jewels that are so pleasing to stumble upon. Discovering films like is what makes film so interesting and rewarding.

Some may be more remembered than others, but they’re all certainly unappreciated.

The Silent World (1956)

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For better or worse, there’s a tremendous sense of fun in Jacques Cousteau & Louis Malle’s seminal The Silent World.

I have long known of Jacques Cousteau and his pioneering technology through my father, he transferred his childhood interest of diving and the oceans onto me. Despite this, I was not aware that Cousteau and his team were the subject of several feature-length documentaries with two Academy Awards and a Palme D’or to boast of. When I stumbled upon The Silent World in a CEX shop, I was immediately attracted to the idea of seeing the ocean through the wonderful vibrancy of Technicolor – it was one of the first films to create such an experience.

The documentary follows Cousteau, his crew and a lucky little Dachshund aboard the Calypso. They may grow tired in the oppressive sunlight and absence of activity when they’re travelling across the vast, lonely stretches of ocean, but it is all proved worthwhile when they get into the water.

Using Cousteau’s Aqualung, the men swim around with relish, in one instance encircling a sponge diver heaving along in a metal helmeted diving suit that today we see only in tacky gold fish bowls. The man hiding in his relic of a suit doesn’t mind the aqualung upstarts, the men shake hands and scour the seabed for sponges together.

The greatest liberation however is afforded by their rotary propelled underwater vehicles. They glide among an array of wildlife with ease, including a sea turtle, with one diver seizing the opportunity and hitching a ride on the majestic animal’s back until it’s exhausted – it all looks thoroughly enjoyable until he overstays his welcome.

mir-tishinyiYou never see David Attenborough having this much fun.

Indeed, the documentary regularly reminds you of the age it comes from – they provoke most of the animals they encounter! When they happen across the group of whales, the skipper decides to try and harpoon one with little success, Cousteau narrates: ‘Under our skipper’s nose is a whale sixty feet long and he can’t resist having a crack at it’.  Soon after this, the Calypso’s propellers mortally injure a small whale and the crew mercifully kill the profusely bleeding animal.

This inevitably attracts scores of sharks, and the crew’s reaction to them surprised me more than anything in the film. Cousteau narrates: ‘For us divers, the sharks are our mortal enemies.’ As the sharks tear through the whale carcass of the men’s making, he continues: ‘Every seaman hates the sharks, after what we have seen, the divers can’t be held back, they grab anything they can to avenge the whale.’

The men proceed to brutally catch the sharks, tearing their mouths open as they yank them on board, battering some of them with the blunt end of an axe. Marine biologists would abhor such attitudes and behaviour today, however like with the lobsters and flying fish earlier in the film, the Frenchman probably made good use of them in the kitchen.

jc22The little Dachshund is used to such sights.

No animal is left unpestered, even land animals aren’t safe. When the men arrive at a desert island, they meet a group of giant tortoises and sit and stand on them as they casually eat their lunch. The men’s irreverence seems to leave an impression on the Dachshund, as he is seen nipping at the legs of a poor tortoise trying to mind his own business.

Their cavalier style also sees them blowing up part of a coral reef and collecting the detritus in the name of science – it’s an awfully destructive approach to taxonomy.

The crew restore your faith in them somewhat when they befriend ‘Ulysses’, a gregarious eighty-pound Grouper fish who, along with scores of other fish, becomes surprisingly tame when the men present them with a bag of delicious gristle.

There are moments where the men contrive conversations to show the viewer the procedures that happen aboard the ship. I use the word contrive because of how awfully stilted the men are, but this is mainly because of the useless dubbing on my Blu-ray, so I’ll give the crew’s acting abilities the benefit of the doubt. I liked Cousteau’s French-inflected English narration, but I would have preferred subtitles when the men spoke to each other.

The Silent World is a charismatic documentary that provides a compelling insight into the history of both diving and underwater photography.

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Zero Day (2003)

zero dayAndre Kriegman (left) and Calvin Gabriel (right)

A raw, nuanced and disturbing recreation of the Columbine killers.

Zero Day is heavily inspired by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the middle-class Colorado teenagers who committed the Columbine High School massacre, probably the most infamous high school shooting in US history.

The attack was the result of two damaged people becoming friends and progressively normalising each other’s warped world views. Harris was the driving force of the duo, he was confident, self-assured and bereft of a moral compass – the hallmarks of a typical sociopath. Klebold was an introverted misanthrope who suffered from bouts of deep depression and anger. The pair seemed to be a dichotomy, however they were completely drawn to each other; the film shows that the murderers of both Columbine and Zero Day were empowered by their friendship, they fuelled each other’s emerging superiority complexes and nihilism until they felt ready and even obliged to execute their shocking crimes.

I remember reading a lot about Columbine in my mid-teens, Harris and Klebold’s ages of 18 and 17 respectively seemed distant to me at the time, it is only now having long passed those ages that I realise just how young they were to have developed such morbid, poisonous psychology and then do what they did.

Harris and Klebold’s contrasting personality traits can be clearly seen in the lead characters, Andre Kriegman (Andre Keuk) being Harris and Calvin Gabriel (Cal Robertson) being Klebold. The film, which has a mockumentary format, begins with the pair setting up their camcorder and standing outside of their high school, irreverently introducing to the viewer both themselves and their ‘big ass mission’ called ‘Zero Day’. They then chart their lives leading up to this fateful event, which ranges from detailing their supposed motives and making pipe bombs to visiting the dentist and talking with their family at the dinner table. This home movie realism is complimented by Keuk and Robertson’s great performances, they responded very well to director Ben Coccio’s encouragement to improvise – they’re completely natural.

Andre has delusions of grandeur, he envisions Zero Day as some sort of Armageddon. He is also militaristic in his language, referring to it as a ‘campaign’ and stressing the importance of planning and discipline – ‘It’s a military procedure, that’s why we’re the army of two’. This self-importance was apparent too in the Columbine killers, Eric Harris smugly remarked – ‘It’ll be like the LA riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, Duke (Nukem) and Doom all mixed together…I want to leave a lasting impression on the world.”  They aimed to not only shoot many people but also kill hundreds with bombs they planted in the school’s cafeteria, thankfully the rudimentary home made devices failed to detonate.

Andre, like Harris, is the clear ringleader of the pair. He is usually the subject of their recordings, keenly articulating his contempt for society and plans for Zero Day as well as running the viewer through their stolen gun collection. Cal is normally in the background, he’s very easy-going for someone endeavouring to murder his classmates, however he reminds the viewer of his wholehearted commitment to Zero Day in an unnerving series of 1 on 1 recordings.

Again, much like Harris and Klebold, Andre and Calvin aren’t abject loners,  they have other friends, although perhaps superficial ones, and they’re invited to a party early in the film, however Calvin finds socialising difficult – ‘I’m just not good at parties.’ It is most likely their inability to integrate with other people in a meaningful way that is their chief source of anger.

Despite this, there are moments that occur outside of their toxic ‘campaign’. Cal is talking jovially with his friend Rachel when the topic of conversation turns to Andre and Cal’s relationship with him. Rachel and Andre don’t like each other, it is revealed that Andre is rude to her, he appears to resent Cal’s attention being diverted away from him and their cause. Although completely unaware of their abhorrent plan, Rachel has the measure of the ‘army of two’, when Cal asks her whom she considers the leader of the two, she quickly says Andre, adding that ‘When you’re with him you’re different, you’re… Andre no. 2.’ 

Unfortunately, the army of two isn’t fractured by outsiders like Rachel, the massacre is realised in the film’s final moments. Their rampage is seen via CCTV footage, it is so brutally authentic that in the past I have seen it mistaken for genuine Columbine footage on YouTube. The viewer is also able to hear the events unfold via a 911 operator on a mobile phone that Andre steals from a victim; although her behaviour is credible, the operator does become irritating as she incessantly asks ‘Can you pick up?’ to Andre. I have seen the film numerous times with other people and its last scene always creates an uneasy silence.

Zero Day’s greatest merit is that it’s never heavy handed, it doesn’t contrive a clear, simple answer to why massacres such as Columbine occur. That is because there isn’t a simple answer; these atrocities are the climax of a toxic, entangled cauldron of hate, alienation, envy, disaffection and mental illness.

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Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

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If you haven’t seen Bad Boy Bubby, you may want to stop reading this.

I say this not because my review is full of spoilers, but rather that Bad Boy Bubby is a film that’s best viewed with no prior knowledge of what it is about. Much time has passed since I watched a film as strange and original as this.

It begins in a hellish room with no natural light and disgusting, filthy grey walls that’s inhabited by Bubby (Nicholas Hope), a simple man-child, and his obnoxious incestuous mother (Claire Benito) who has brainwashed and abused her son. ‘Mam’ has taught him that the outside world is a dangerous place with poisonous air that will kill him if he dares to leave. She corroborates her lie by wearing a gas mask every time she leaves the flat. To further ensure he obeys, she puts the fear of God into him, placing on the wall a slightly broken model of Jesus on the cross.

With its infamous scenes of animal abuse and wretched themes of incest and nightmarish oppression, it initially seems to the viewer that they’re watching a misery-flick. However, the film is a big surprise; it takes turns that you would never, ever expect. Put simply, Bad Boy Bubby is a demented version of Forrest Gump, with pitch-black humour instead of sickly treacle.

After over thirty years in utter isolation, Bubby manages to escape, beginning an experience so liberating, sensory, vivid and colourful that it must feel like a perpetual trip on psychedelic drugs. I feared for him as he navigated this new world, desperate to understand the variety of people (and animals) he meets. While not every plot development may be believable (parts of them approach Forrest Gump in their sentimentality), the film is edgy and abnormal enough for it not to matter. In fact, I was pleased for any good fortune that came Bubby’s way, regardless of its implausibility.

The film is driven by Nicholas Hope’s brilliant performance, which is a very convincing depiction of a man completely bereft of social conditioning. Bubby speaks in broken English, and the only way he can expand his vocabulary is by imitating verbatim the few abhorrent people around him. He also imitates these degenerates’ behaviour, most notably his mother’s abuse. He does this by dressing in her clothes and repeating her threats, only he directs it towards the bottom of the household hierarchy – their cat. Fortunately, Bubby is eventually conditioned by the normal people of the outside world. Hope’s unhinged, primitive performance is truly compelling.  It is unfortunate that he has been largely absent from cinema following the film’s release in 1993. Alas, his most noteworthy appearance over the past twenty years is in Scooby-Doo (2002).

Despite Bad Boy Bubby‘s merits, it has been plagued by accusations of animal cruelty from crowds and critics, such as Mark Kermode. Kermode is a hardened horror fan, he is not feint of heart, he believes it’s his duty to watch any film from beginning to end. However, he walked out of a film festival screening of Bad Boy Bubby in 1993 – ‘ I have a principle where I definitely leave any film which features actual cruelty to children or animals…  I walked out of the Australian film Bad Boy Bubby in which they mistreated a cat..’  Kermode was not alone, the BBFC objected to it so much they banned it.

Director Rolf De Heer wrote to the Italian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1993, detailing how the cat used in the film was given to them by the Australian Animal Welfare League, who intended on ‘destroying’ the animal once filming was over:

‘We were handed the feral cat by the Welfare League on the strict understanding that we had to return it to them to be destroyed… feral cats are too wild to be tamed and it is considered cruel to keep them in captivity for any length of time.

‘We filmed with this feral cat, and the approved representative of the League was on set at all times during this filming. She had complete authority, from me, to stop filming with the cat, or change the way we were filming. The cat was well fed, treated very gently, and the shots were designed so that we would only have to do one take of one angle to get the desired effect. Filming went very smoothly for these reasons.’

I think De Heer gives a very reasonable account. The scenes in question are indeed disturbing, but I don’t think the cats suffered to a great extent at all as the moments of cruelty last only seconds. These scenes are not just vapid shock tactics either, they are important to Bubby’s character development – he projects the dreadful cruelty he has suffered onto the only creature that is beneath him. Such matters will always be contentious, but, ultimately, the animals benefitted from the production.

Bad Boy Bubby is a film as wild and unpredictable as its primitive central character, who embarks on a remarkable journey armed with only his instinct. Please, watch this instead of Forrest Gump.

84%

Threads (1984)

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Devastating film.

Even to those who know of Threads‘ reputation, the film still packs a punch that leaves you winded and miserable. It is a comprehensive and compelling insight into nuclear warfare that brutally highlighting the abject foolishness of MAD – the apt acronym for Mutually Assured Destruction.

The film focuses on young couple Jimmy (Reece Dinsdale) and Ruth (Karen Meagher) and their respective families. Ruth’s pregnant, so they’ve decided to do the proper thing by marrying and moving in together. Of course, their plans are never realised. The cast consists of unknown actors, which is a smart move because any household names may have detracted from the reality of it.

Although it is a drama, much of the film adopts a documentary format. Informative captions are typed across the screen by what sounds like a teletyper, producing that loud, mechanical sound as it ominously details the strategic and economic importance of Sheffield and the rapidly worsening international relations. It is this documentary realism that gives Threads a disturbing authenticity that further adds to the tension preceding the inevitable attack.

When the bomb finally strikes, the preamble that has led to it ensures that it remains powerful even if the special effects aren’t spectacular. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the special effects, the image of the mushroom cloud rising above the screams and hysteria of Sheffield is haunting, albeit lacking in scope compared to that infamous sequence in Terminator 2. It certainly blows ‘The Day After’, a similar American production, out of the water.

‘In an urban society, everything connects. Each person’s needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong, also make it vulnerable.’

‘Threads’ opens with this profound piece of narration from Paul Vaughan, explaining its title and foreshadowing the abject horror that’s to come. It is after the bomb strikes that the viewer really begins to understand what it looks like when this vulnerable fabric of society is absolutely shattered. Once humanity has their veneer of civilisation destroyed, they become desperate and animalistic. Money becomes worthless, the new currency is food, food such as stale bread and raw meat, and people work frantically for it. Crops are scarce and the diminishing fuel reserves lead to the use of hoes rather than combine harvesters. Within a few years of the attack, the British population reaches medieval numbers of 4 – 11 million.

These damning facts and figures either appear in the aforementioned captions or are narrated by Vaughan, whose diction is comparable to Laurence Olivier’s in the brilliant Thames Television series The World at War.

Threads is a trenchant argument for nuclear disarmament. What an obnoxiously reckless species we’d be if we allowed nuclear warfare to destroy our planet. Imagine if some extra-terrestrial tourist with knowledge of Earth’s abundance of natural beauty, culture and technology landed on our planet only to find themselves amidst a nuclear winter, what a shameful task explaining ourselves to them would be.

We’ve all seen depressing, harrowing films, but the utter nihilism that is explored in such grinding detail here will make the idea of merely existing in a functioning, productive society seem positively Utopian.

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Killer Joe (2012)

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Some may be offended by it, but I think Killer Joe is the best film of 2012.

Killer Joe’s premise is simple but invigoratingly delivered. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsh) has got himself in trouble with the underworld, if he doesn’t produce some cash, he’s a dead man. He reasons with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) that everyone would be happier if his obnoxious mother Adele was killed, particularly as she has a $50,000 life insurance policy. Considering Adele is his wretched ex-wife, he agrees, as does his girlfriend Sharla (Gina Gershon) and teenage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). Although Chris doesn’t have the money up front, Killer Joe, a Dallas police officer who moonlights as a contract killer, accepts the job on the condition that Dottie serves as sexual collateral.

‘Killer Joe’ is a fantastic thriller with a warped tension that you don’t encounter that often. This film confirms that Matthew McConaughey is on a rapid upward trajectory, he gives an intense performance that’s utterly steeped in menace. Though ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper remains largely restrained and ambiguous throughout the film, each syllable of his southern drawl is loaded with a palpable danger. His performance is captivating; it creates a pervasive, looming sense of dread and depravity that suggests something very bad is going to happen at any moment.

The praise doesn’t stop with McConaughey, the whole cast delivers to the best of their ability, it really is an actors’ film. If I hadn’t researched her, I would have assumed on the credibility of her southern accent that the British Juno Temple was a Texas native.  She shows good dramatic range as Dottie, the slightly strange, child-like girl at the centre of the film.

William Friedkin has outdone himself with his second collaboration with writer Tracy Letts; he directs the taut, punchy material perfectly. What’s most refreshing is that 77-year-old Friedkin was bold enough to release it uncut with the dreaded NC-17 certificate; he wasn’t going to allow himself to sell out.

Seeing as the film’s source material is a stage play, it isn’t a film of many sets; it seldom leaves the confines of the Smith family’s trashy trailer. Much like their first collaboration ‘Bug’, ‘Killer Joe’ impressively manages to deliver biting tension and a maelstrom of chaos in a cramped, domestic setting.

I can honestly compliment every area of this film. Tyler Bates’ score is brilliantly suspenseful, especially when it introduces Killer Joe, it further adds to his aura of danger. The film is also beautifully shot – it’s stunning in high definition.

Despite the menace and darkness of it all, the film is laced with deadpan humour, especially in the film’s final quarter, the demented absurdity of which leaving you wondering what the hell just happened!

92%

Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

vampire's kiss

I found myself laughing at this unsung gem far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’. 

Over the years, Nicolas Cage has developed a reputation for being a ‘paycheque actor’, the National Treasures, the Ghost Riders and the slew of others have, in the eyes of many, demeaned him as an actor. I can understand this, and agree to a certain extent, but Nicolas Cage is capable of many great things on the big screen, and Vampire’s Kiss, a genuinely peculiar piece of work, is a testament to that.

Cage occupies the role of Peter Loew, a womanising literary agent whose empty, high-pressure existence leads to a major mental breakdown. Peter is sent into a downward spiral of increasingly psychotic episodes, believing he is turning into a vampire after apparently being bitten by a rather more sinister one night stand.  As Peter crumbles under the grasp of his psychosis, he begins to antagonise his sweet secretary Alva, obsessively badgering her to fix a painfully daunting and monotonous filing issue.

Cage is at his unhinged best in this film; his rather idiosyncratic lunacy is perhaps an acquired taste, but I found it to be refreshingly hilarious. It’s a truly strange performance, there are many memorable outbursts that leave you rather incredulous, such as a scene of infantile crying that is quickly followed by Cage running down a street shouting ‘I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!’. Aside from the various crazy eruptions, the inflections in Cage’s voice also have this comic air of pomposity – it’s futile to try and describe them, you have to hear them yourself.

With its yuppie-in-trouble story line, Vampire’s Kiss bears a striking resemblance to American Psycho, only it’s much stranger. The film charts the descent into madness, but it does it in such a surreal, eccentric manner that you don’t take it very seriously, it is indeed difficult to empathise with Peter. Some have said that this is a detriment of the film, but I don’t think it is; besides, I think the themes of unhappiness and unfulfillment do have a certain degree of poignancy. It is first and foremost a black comedy with an oddball central performance, not a grim piece of drama.

‘Vampire’s Kiss’ is likely to polarise audiences. I’m sure many viewers would find it plain silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m very much part of its cult following. I found myself laughing far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’.

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