Tuesday, 10 November 2020

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 68. Special

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Special
Director - Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore
Country - USA
Year - 2006
Runtime - 85 minutes

In an era dominated by superhero films it's easy to overlook the fact that we haven't always been inundated with caped crusaders and otherworldly beings who possess fantastical powers. Back in 2006, before the superhero hype machine really began to kick in, a low budge indie film was released that tackled the genre from a unique perspective. This film was Special, a passion project by Directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, starring Michael Rapaport as Lester, a ticket warden who is convinced he is developing supernatural powers after signing up for an experimental drug trial.

Lester's unwavering belief in his ability to levitate and read people's minds becomes the catalyst for him quitting his job to embark on a new venture as a vigilante superhero. His journey starts out as a comical riff on an origin story and develops into a frank and candid exploration of mental health. The quirkiness of the delivery enables the film to juggle these juxtaposing notions with ease; the humour never oversteps the mark and actually strengthens the impression of Lester's endearing nature. The weightier themes of delusion and depression are handled with care, instilling Special with a thought-provoking message that doesn't feel out of place in what is first and foremost a very funny film.

Comic book fans will delight in Lester's visits to his friends, brothers Joey (Joshua Peck) and Everett (Robert Baker), who own a comic book shop and indulge Lester in his amusing fantasies. Their discussions about superpowers cover intriguing ground and spur Lester on to be more daring in his methods of tackling suspected criminals. It is unclear if his Doctor, Dr. Dobson (Jack Kehler) understands the extent of Lester's delusions of if the self-made vigilante genuinely has developed unique abilities, and it is this quandary that keeps our eyes glue to the screen, eager to unravel the truth behind these mysterious powers.

Rapaport embraces the challenging aspects of his role to create a believable character we genuinely begin to care for. As Lester grapples with his new found powers, he undergoes a catharsis from a shy, unconfident man to a bold vigilante and Rapaport grounds this adjustment by reflecting both aspects of Lester's persona with a naturalism that gives the film its charm. His understated performance is a sublime portrayal of a man suffering with aspects of his mental health, and his compassionate delivery underlines the film's moving emotional hook.

Aside from Special's poignant subtext it is, at its core, a hilarious and innovative science-fiction comedy. Scenes in which we witness the event's from Lester's perspective and then subsequently revisit the action from the view of other characters highlight the self-destructive ignorance of Lester's state of mind in an amusing manner that extracts the maximum amount of humour from the enthralling concept. Lester dons an outfit of his own making and adorns it with the logo of the drug that he is taking, alerting others to his unhinged nature as he tackles suspected criminals (and innocent bystanders) to the floor. The arrival of strange men in suits casts a shadow over Lester's new found role in society as well as giving us pause for thought over whether he really is the recipient of an experimental wonder drug.

Although Special hasn't received the same level of attention as similar films such as Defendor, Super and Paper Man, it undoubtedly paved the way for these innovative spins on the superhero genre and some of its originality may now be overshadowed by the imitators that followed. However, it remains a compelling and heartwarming comedy with a broad appeal due to its successful amalgamation of elements of science-fiction, black comedy and touching human drama, all wrapped up in the package of a superhero origin story. This is a film that lives up to its title and deserves to be more widely known in the wake of the multi-million superhero franchises that it preemptively poked fun at so well.

If you take the time to watch Special then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Monday, 24 August 2020

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 67. Come and See

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Come and See
Director - Elem Klimov
Country - Soviet Union
Year 1985
Runtime - 142 minutes

Come and See is a landmark of Soviet Cinema, and can perhaps even be considered one of its greatest achievements. Director Elim Klimov has created an ugly and horrific depiction of war as seen through the eyes of an innocent young boy caught up in the Nazi invasion of Belarus during World War Two. This is a graphic and visceral film that doesn't shy away from encompassing the brutal atrocities and war crimes that were committed in the darkest days of the war, and warnings of its disturbing nature deserve to be heeded.

The nightmare begins with Florya Gaishun hunting through the remains of a deserted battlefield to find a rifle so the partisans will allow him to join their cause. Despite his mother's tearful efforts to prevent him from leaving, Florya is clearly excited about the prospect of joining his fellow countrymen in battle when he is stationed at a nearby encampment in the forest. His hopes are dashed when he is abandoned by his unit and left shaken after a procession of bombs falls from the sky. When the bombing ceases he finds he is alone in the ravaged war-torn countryside, and must fend for his life throughout a series of increasingly dangerous encounters with other survivors and hordes of pillaging Nazis. Here there are no heroics, and no opportunities for redemption or glory; this is war as a living hell - an incredibly unsettling journey through a country torn apart with reckless abandon.

Klimov stages his action with a dedication to realism that transports the viewer into the heart of the carnage. Stunningly choreographed long takes add weight to the impact of the relentless onslaught and demonstrate the breathtaking direction of a master cinematographer at work. The impeccable sound editing enhances the sense of hopelessness as ricocheting bullets whip through the undergrowth and violent explosions shake the earth, stunning anyone caught in the blast radius, and leaving them confused and disoriented as we experience first hand the unnatural ringing sensation that subsequently engulfs their hearing.

Florya's haunting transformation in Come and See is a devastating corruption of innocence, with his swift catharsis from childhood to adulthood unveiling before our very eyes. By the end of the film Florya has taken on the appearance of an old man - the impact of the war, and all he has experienced, leaving its indelible impression etched permanently onto his withered face. The astonishing performance by Alexei Kravchenko in this role showcases a dedication to the craft usually reserved for method actors who undergo dramatical physical transformations for a role. The torment and pain that Florya endures must surely have taken its toll on Kravchenko - watching Come and See is a life changing experience - and it is difficult to begin to imagine how draining it must have been to perform in such a demanding role.

Come and See is a gruelling and arduous experience for the viewer. There are few films that match the ferocity and intensity of its harrowing storyline, and those who label it as a horror certainly have a valid reason for doing so. Whilst parts of the film may be uncomfortable to sit through it is worth persevering as this is a vitally important piece of cinema with a powerful message told in an utterly captivating manner. Is this the greatest war film of all time? Without a doubt, yes.

If you take the time to watch Come and See then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 66. The Seventh Juror

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Seventh Juror
Director - Georges Lautner
Country - France
Year 1962
Runtime - 104 minutes

The shocking opening scene of The Seventh Juror sets the tone for this captivating character study of a murderer without a motive, GrĂ©goire Duval, a pharmacist whose respectable standing in the community leads to him being appointed as a juror for the trial of an innocent man accused of the very murder that he committed. Bernard Blier takes centre stage as Duval, fixating your attention from the moment he arrives on screen. His character's brief moment of madness is displayed in full when Duval takes the life of a lone woman sunbathing by the side of a lake while a pervading violin sound tangles with your nerves, heightening the impact of this staggering scene. After the murder, the intense violin accompaniment ceases abruptly (perhaps an indication that Duval is at peace after quelling an unnatural instinct to commit a heinous crime?) and Duval returns to the lakeside bar where his unsuspecting family and friends are completely oblivious to his short-lived absence.


Throughout these gripping establishing shots the slow and measured camerawork heightens the mood as the visual aspects of the film draw you in, with silhouettes of lone fisherman across a fog-shrouded lake serving to enhance the mysterious atmosphere. This is an imposing and hypnotic picture comprising countless spellbinding sequences as Duval navigates the ethical quandary of his position with a surprising amount of ease thanks to his devious nature. An inner monologue reveals Duval's internal struggles and invites us to be complicit with this wretched murderer as we learn about his past demons. In one mesmerising instance where Duval reminisces about former lovers we see his distorted reflection in a wine glass; it feels like he is looking into a crystal ball to remember his youth but the twisted appearance of his features also suggest that he has warped into a monstrous killer. These beautiful scenes showcase the meticulous work of the film's cinematographer, who conjures up a wealth of beguiling imagery and manages to maintain the sense of an alluring spectacle even as the action relocates to the clustered confines of a busy court room.

As the courtoom fills with each passing day, Duval grows in confidence and Blier's portrayal of the killer as a cold and lifeless soul - who is nevertheless driven and determined when it comes to dissecting the finer details of the case - is nothing short of astonishing. Blier is superb at masking his character's emotions, so much so that it is unlikely we would ascertain Duval's true intentions were we not privy to his deepest admissions. No-one suspects that Duval could be culpable of such a crime and he even begins to revel in proving the judge and defending lawyer to be wrong - using his inside knowledge of the incident to gain favour in the court. 

It is said that the killer always returns to the scene of the crime and in one striking scene
Duval invites the whole court room to reassemble by the lakeside, as he is emboldened by the direction of the court's proceedings. Inventive flourishes in the storytelling such as this establish The Seventh Juror as an incredibly compelling film that is primarily a dark crime thriller but occasionally flirts with elements of black comedy when you least expect it. The waves of disbelief that greet Duval as he tries to atone for his sins only exacerbate his downward spiral, yet he remains predominantly calm and composed on the outside. We begin to suspect that it is only a matter of time before he puts a foot out of place and there is a wicked sense of glee in anticipating whether this moment will ever arrive.

Religious symbolism plays a powerful part in the storytelling (Duval's bed even has a sculpture of Mary hanging over it) and there is an evocative callback during Duval's visit to a church when he gazes upon a statue of Christ in a pose that bears an uncanny similarity to the frightful position of the lifeless body of the woman he strangled by the lakeside. Moments like this demonstrate that the protagonist is wrestling with his conscience and struggling to escape from the guilt that consumes him, a factor that makes his character so fascinating to watch, especially when his wife's admiration for the invaluable contributions he makes in court begins to shift to suspicion.

Director Georges Lautner has crafted a remarkable crime film and it is difficult to fathom why such amasterful work of art has slipped into relative obscurity. Perhaps this stark portrayal of an impulsive murderer was ahead of its time as The Seventh Juror has lost none of its power to shock and astound the viewer, particularly when the crescendo of revelations towards the finale leaves you emotionally drained and exasperated. As well as being capable of impacting the viewer on a visceral and emotional level, The Seventh Juror is undeniably engaging due to a sublime central performance from Blier and sumptuous visuals that elevate this courtroom drama to the realm of an unforgettably haunting psychological thriller.

If you take the time to watch The Seventh Juror then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 8 August 2020

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 65. Dead Dicks

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Dead Dicks
Director - Chris Bavota/Lee Paula Springer
Country - Canada
Year - 2019
Runtime - 83 minutes

When a film takes an absurd but intriguing science-fiction concept and transforms it into a profound parable on suicide and depression, you know you are in for a unique viewing experience. The tongue-in-cheek title of Dead Dicks suggests we are embarking on a somewhat puerile encounter but the sinister opening sequence is indicative of the dark recesses this thought-provoking horror visits. We are introduced to the suicidal slacker Richie (Heston Horwin) when his anxious sister Becca (Jillian Harris) visits his flat - concerned that she can't reach him on his phone. Accosted by Richie's understandably angry downstairs neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) on the way up to his flat, Becca apologises for the disturbingly loud music emanating from her brother's apartment before heading upstairs where she finds Richie's lifeless body.

In the first of many thrilling revelations it transpires that Richie is still alive and believes that when he took his own life he was reborn out of a huge mysterious crack that has appeared in his bedroom wall. Thus begins an unsettling exploration into a fractured human psyche that traverses a broad range of elements from macabre black comedy to visceral body horror. Richie and Becca's attempts to understand the bizarre situation they find themselves in go awry when Matt enters the fray once more and disturbs the strange symbiotic connection Richie has to the hole in his wall.

Horwin is sublime in his performance as the titular 'Dick', expressing the weight of his character's depression by demonstrating a morbid acceptance of the peculiar circumstances of Richie's inability to die. Whilst Richie embraces the horrific scenario, Becca is fearful of the consequences of toying with fate and Harris emphasises this aspect of Becca's anxiety with a passionate performance as her character struggles to come to terms with the strange situation. The film's success hinges largely on the performances of its cast and they sell the outlandish idea behind Dead Dicks with a conviction that enables you to look past the constraints of a limited budget to appreciate the raw passion and energy that has been harnessed by the film-makers.

Credit is due to the practical effects team whose creative approach to depicting the film's elements of body horror would feel at home in any of David Cronenberg's earlier features. The grotesque, palpitating, cocoon like objects that emerge from the unsightly slit in Richie's wall are all too real, and the nightmarish sequences in which he bursts out of these gooey containers provoke feelings of disgust and curiosity in equal measure. It is the imposing crack on the wall though that really steals the show, particularly when Richie and Becca argue over its appearance, undecided on whether it is closer in form to resembling female genitalia or a massive arsehole.

As Richie experiments with a multitude of suicide attempts the body count begins to stack up and Becca is reluctantly forced into dismembering and disposing of his corpses. The ordeal of carving up not just one but several lifeless bodies, all of which belong to your brother, is a horrific notion although it is played primarily for laughs in Dead Dicks, alleviating the sombre mood to prevent the film's atmosphere becoming to oppressive and disturbing. This morbid humour is pitch perfect throughout, treading carefully around the sensitive subject of suicide to deliver laughs that revolve around Richie's compromising situation. 

Dead Dicks succeeds not only as a bizarre and funny sci-fi horror but as a thought-provoking piece on suicide and depression. Like the best genre films it explores the heavy themes surrounding a topic that could sadly be relatable for many viewers. Through incorporating elements of their own experiences into this brilliantly realised black comedy, the film's talented writers and Directors, Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer, have exposed their innermost feelings in an honest and open admission that will speak volumes to those who connect with Dead Dicks on a personal level, as well as entertaining the hell out of those who are simply looking for a wild and unforgettable ride into the unknown.

If you take the time to watch Dead Dicks then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here