Crime, Thriller & Mainstream Reviews

9 Reviews (4 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

Brian Pern - The Complete Series 1-3

Starring: Simon Day, Michael Kitchen, Rhys Thomas, Paul Whitehouse, Lucy Montgomery and Nigel Havers

BBC/Dazzler Media

April 2016

For the first time on DVD and Blu-ray, we have all three series of the Rock spoof, Brian Pern, starring Simon Day. Each series consists of three half-hour episodes (that’s nine in all) which chronicle the many trials and tribulations of a has-been Progressive Rock singer. It features a veritable host of famous guest actors, musicians and presenters, against a backdrop of home, studio and live venues. This long-overdue complete set is released by Dazzler Media. Let the fun begin…

Some people might say that this series owes its style origins to The Office. The only thing is, those people would be wrong. Without a shadow of a doubt, Brian Pern would not exist if not for the timeless success of the brilliant This is Spinal Tap (and maybe, The Ruttles). Rather than Tap’s premise of an ageing English Metal band touring America, we get the Rockumentary/mockumentary following the daily life of a Prog Rock star from the seventies, with potted histories and flashbacks to his earlier crazy days. Although it’s never said outright, you can’t avoid the fact that the character is modelled on Peter Gabriel of Genesis and a subsequent and quite different solo career. Brian Pern is often promoted here as being the first musician to use plasticine in a video, and the originator of World Music. As this is in effect a comedy played straight, there are plenty of situations which go disastrously wrong.

Series 1 – The Life of Rock With Brian Pern starts at the very beginning, poking fun at Rock’s origins. The period dominated by LSD comes complete with weird images which includes one of the worst sequences from
Doctor Who in the 1980s, featuring a character karate-kicking an alien monster. There is a recurrent piece in all three series which is stolen directly from Doctor Who’s original 'Master Theme'. The point here is that, being a BBC show, the sky is the limit as regards to which old panel programmes, music presentations and news items can be dug out, dusted-off and manipulated for spoof purposes. There are appearances over the serial by such luminaries as Roger Taylor, Rick Wakeman, Rick Parfitt, Jools Holland, Noddy Holder, Chrissie Hynde, Paul Young, Roger Moore, Paul Whitehouse, Nigel Havers, Christopher Eccleston, Matt Lucas, Michael Kitchen, Simon Callow, Martin Freeman, Peter Bowles, Tony Blackburn, Cathy Burke, and many, many more.

Series 2 – Brian Pern: A Life in Rock is primarily about charity records and concerts, a musical play a la
War of the Worlds, the Christmas album and tax evasion. I particularly like Pern’s radio interview by newscaster John Humphrys, in which he is asked some very pointed questions. Pern describes his charity record to save the rain forests, which has an ape singing backing vocals. When asked what he is going to use the money for, he explains it’s for bullet-proof vests to protect the gorillas from poachers. There is also Phil Collins playing the crashing drum piece from 'In the Air Tonight' over the top of the quiet intro to Led Zeppelin’s 'Stairway to Heaven'. The musical play is about Pern’s career, except without the music! The play becomes something quite different, and he can do nothing about it, as he is arrested. I particularly like the moment when Rick Parfitt is brought in to help him with his World Music album, but contributes only Status Quo-like 12-bar riffs.

Series 3 – 45 Years of Prog And Roll covers a potted history of the band Thotch, it’s albums and solo projects. A reunion concert is organised, and this spawns one of the best lines from Pern’s manager when he is originally against the idea: ‘Did you see the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury? It was like Last of the Summer Wine directed by George A. Romero!’ We also get to learn what the original members of Thotch really think of each other, and how they justify what they have become. The culmination of the whole thing is the reunion concert itself, which has some funny and bizarre moments, including the unwelcome appearance of an original member of Thotch, played at his mad thespian best by Simon Callow.

At some points the serial does suffer from diminishing returns, because you begin to guess what will happen in certain situations. However, overall, this is a highly enjoyable piece of comedic TV which will appeal to anyone who loves
This is Spinal Tap, or simply wants an insight into the ridiculousness of the music industry.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2016)

The Man Who Sued God (2001)

Starring: Billy Connolly, Judy Davis, Colin Friels, Wendy Hughes

Directed by Mark Joffe

December 2003

Steve Myers is a lawyer turned fisherman whose boat is struck by lightening and sunk during a storm. Seriously out of pocket and with no livelihood, he turns to the insurance company. Although he insists his cover is comprehensive the company refuses to settle, citing the incident an Act of God. Knowing he can't win against the corporations, Myers decides to sue God instead. The church is forced to defend the case in court, whilst Myers represents himself and the countless others conned out of their rightful entitlement by a convenient interpretation of the law. The subject becomes a media circus, but when Anna Redmond, a reporter who helps him and with whom he falls in love, is revealed to be a long-time nuisance campaigner against insurance companies, he nearly loses the case. Nevertheless, Myers decides to go for a moral rather than true victory...

The quotes from various periodicals which adorn the cover of this video call this film "Hilarious", "A comic gem", and "Simply divine". The truth is it's none of these, but it is mildly amusing. The idea is sound, if a little far-fetched, and the cast is generally good.

The main part is played by that well-known stand-up comedian monster of mirth... Astro as Arthur the dog. Oh, and Billy Connelly's in it too. All joking aside, the dog is a superbly well-trained animal whose friendly and adventurous nature proves an ideal tool for warming the audience to the main players as quickly as possible.

Let's face it, nobody likes money-pinching bureaucrats, so the subject matter partly endears us to the film even though we realise it's both nonsense and morally valid.

The most apt phrase which springs to mind is quirky. There is no attempt to upset any ardent religious people; in fact, it's made plain by Connelly's character that he is not suing God in the literal sense, but a company whose representatives are the clergy. It is a device with which to point out that the church is being used by the insurance companies as a get-out clause; that they should be insulted by this defamation of character, because God is in effect being blamed for every personal disaster.

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)

Wilt (1989)

Starring: Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith & Alison Steadman

Directed by Michael Tuchner

Carlton Visual Entertainment

July 2003

Henry Wilt is a a quiet, unassuming schoolteacher, constantly turned down for promotion, with a nagging wife who never listens to him. When a workman glimpses a woman's body just before cement is poured into a large hole in the ground on school property, and Wilt's crashed car is found near the scene, he is immediately suspected of the crime. Flint, the police inspector trying to make a name for himself, knows that Wilt's wife has been missing for three weeks and he's determined to break the man down and solve the case before his replacement returns from holiday. However, Wilt makes it hard work, telling a story so ridiculous that it simply must be the truth. But Flint can't see beyond his own aspirations of glory and promotion...

This film from the late eighties is an adaptation of the international bestselling book by Tom Sharpe. I remember reading it years ago on a recommendation and was suitably unimpressed. Humour, like all things, is objective; in this case you object to not being entertained! While that sounds harsh for what proved to be a popular novel, the comment doesn't so much apply to this movie.

You have to say that it's undoubtedly a masterstroke of inspired casting to have a successful comic double-act play the two pivotal roles. I've enjoyed the talents of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones since the heady days of
Not The Nine O'Clock News. Here, their dry wit, sarcasm and timed interplay beefs-up what amounts to a very average script. The humour seems somehow dated, raising no more than a smile here and there nearly 15 years down the line. The ones that work are practically throwaway lines. As Wilt is driven away by the police, one of his unruly students shouts out, "Don't tell the bastards nothing!" Wilt absently corrects the youngster with, "Don't tell the bastards anything."

The idea that Flint suspects Wilt of being the serial strangler does not become conducive to the plot until the contrived conclusion. Wilt's wife, having paddled ashore from a sandbank-marooned boat, makes a phone call from a church. Wilt, now released by the police, arrives to collect her. The owner, a vicar, tries to strangle her, but Wilt has his own problems when Flint turns up to exact his revenge.

This is a competently structured film which is sadly dated as a comedy. Extras are thin on the ground, with only a short featurette and a trailer. Expect to find this one in the bargain bin.

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)

Bless This House (1972)

Starring: Sid James, Diana Coupland, Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Peter Butterworth, Robin Askwith

Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carlton Visual Entertainment

July 2003

When new neighbours move in next door, Sid fails to hit it off with the pompous civil servant, while Jean gets on with the wife like a house on fire (or in this case, like a shed on fire). Matters are further complicated when their son, Mike secretly starts dating the neighbour's daughter...

Shenanigans aplenty and lots of running around ensue in this slapstick film version of the seventies sitcom series of the same name. Whilst hardly enthralled, I do have somewhat fond memories of the series. This film doesn't quite live up to its standards. For anyone who doesn't remember Bless This House, imagine a cocktail mix of Carry On capers, Terry and June (Terry Scott and June Whitfield are the neighbours), and Confessions of a Window Cleaner (Robin Askwith). What do you mean, you don't remember any of those either? Where have you been? Doing something useful with your life?

There's a veritable who's who rogues gallery of comedy names from the sixties and seventies. Aside from the aforementioned, we have Sid James (not at his best here), Diana Coupland, Peter Butterworth, Janet Brown, Bill Maynard, Wendy Richard (for anybody who's interested, she was in
Are You Being Served before EastEnders), and countless others.

The slapstick elements, accompanied by guffaws and "oops" type sound effects make you wish for a hole to open up and swallow you. In other words, you feel embarrassed for the cast. However, this was often the style of comedy from the era. The throw away one-liners work best; for instance, Jean waking up Sid to tell him the job she wants him to do isn't urgent. This is timeless comedy, and the expression on Sid's face speaks volumes. In fact, Sid James plays the long-suffering father subsequently adopted by Geoffrey Palmer in
Butterflies and As Time Goes By, and more recently, Robert Lindsey in My Family.

I doubt that this film will find much of an audience alone, and with only an extra trailer to its credit, will not tempt the causal buyer. I would package this with other films as an example of comedy from the period, or even better, with the
Bless This House series.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)

Dr Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

Starring: Rudolph Klein-Rogge

Directed by Fritz Lang

May 2004

Dr Mabuse The Gambler is the precursor to the recently reviewed sequel, The Testament of Dr Mabuse. Based on a novel by Norbert Jacques, this one follows the exploits of a criminal genius who stamps his authority on 1920s German society. Through strict rules and force of will, he terrorises the public and those thieves, murderers and counterfeiters forced to work under his control, because no one crosses Dr Mabuse and lives...

First shown in 1922, Fritz Lang originally made this as a two-part film (4.5 hours in its entirety). Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays the title character as he did in the sequel (incidentally, he also played Rotwang the scientist in Lang's Metropolis). Proof that timing is an important factor in all things comes in the fact that The Gambler depicts more violence in a decadent society than Testament, and yet it was the latter which was banned by the Nazis, Hitler having just been appointed chancellor.

With the sequel already out on DVD, it's giving nothing away to reveal that
The Gambler ends at the point of Mabuse's fall into madness and incarceration into a mental asylum.

Once again full marks go to the incredible reconstruction job carried out in 2000 using the German and foreign distribution negatives. The digitally remastered picture and sound is as clear as you could ever want it. Who would have believed a few years ago that we would be listening to a 1922 film score in digital 5.1 surround sound!

Having said that, because this is a silent movie (with both German and English subtitles) there is an unnecessary need for constant orchestral blasting or piano maiming. Imagine over four hours of manic Keystone Cops-type music and you'll probably understand why I was driven to distraction. But as soon as you mute the sound your mind wanders, so it is necessary in hindsight as a focus. The documentary Mabuse's Music has Aljoscha Zimmermann demonstrate and rationalise Gottfried Huppertz's composition, but a central theme even with variations soon wears thin.

Other extra features include: Norbert Jacques, the Literary Inventor of Dr Mabuse; the Motives and Themes of Mabuse; a photo gallery; Facts and Dates; Biographies; and Imprint (restoration credits).

As often proves the case, I preferred learning about the background to the film much more than the feature itself, but this two-disc package will be a worthy addition to any collector's library of any old and rare films.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)

M (1931) - A Film by Fritz Lang

Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke

Written & Directed by Fritz Lang

October 2003

A series of child murders takes place and the citizens are in a state of panic, publicly condemning the police for their lack of progress. While an inspector follows his first solid lead in the investigation, the city's underworld decides to take matters into its own hands, the heightened police presence being detrimental to its nefarious business practices and street crime. The murderer is finally cornered within an office building, but the villains of the underworld are obliged to wait until after dark to break in and systematically search for their prey. Succeeding just before the police arrive, they drag him off to an abandoned warehouse where they conduct a kangaroo court, with the intention of issuing out their own brand of vigilante justice...

Although a decent enough film for its time, M, unlike Metropolis, certainly doesn't deserve the 'classic' label attached to it by many film historians. This is a fictional piece said to be based on Peter Kurten, the real life 'Monster of Dusseldorf'. Made in 1931, it was subsequently banned under the Nazis and didn't resurface until 1960. The running time had been reduced from 117 minutes to only 99, and the movie was released under the titles M - Your Murderer Looks At You, and M - A City Hunts a Murderer.

Viewing the film now, it comes across as strangely unbalanced; at one moment frantic with movement, and the next fixing for an eternity on one frame. There is so much rushed dialogue that it is virtually impossible to keep up with the subtitles, requiring you to scan-read the text. As you would think, this somewhat mars the comfortable enjoyment of watching a movie. And when white words occasionally appear on a light background, you might as well give up hope.

The visuals make their point well, and the themes explored are brave and inventive for the period. Condemnation of the police and mob rule tactics were probably what led to its ban. Peter Lorre is... well, Peter Lorre: creepy and strange. Having said that, the film is still average in my eyes. What really deserves special mention is the extensive restoration work. The massive cleanup of both picture and sound from the original 35mm print is nothing short of miraculous. Judging by the documentary, The Restoration of M - Peter Campbell, it was a painstaking process using the latest technology. This was undoubtedly a labour of love. The comparisons show that the recovered film prints were practically unwatchable, plagued by multiple scratches, creases and all manner of white blotches, as well as sound marks. Seeing evidence of the damaged goods you would never have thought the finished product was possible. I can't praise this marvellous work enough.

Other extras in this two-disc set, aside from the aforementioned, include an interview with writer and director Fritz Lang; a documentary on the man himself; a visual essay from film historian R. Dixon Smith; animated biographies, photo gallery, set designs, and an interesting feature commentary (for example, the nasty rhyme sang by the children at the start of the picture, was made famous by M, but actually evolved a decade earlier when a killer terrorised Munich).

Obviously, this release will not appeal to many casual film-buyers; however, if you're a collector of old movies (and there are plenty around) this will be an indispensable purchase. The remastering, plethora of extras, and packaging alone deserve more points than the film itself.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)

One Hour Photo (2002)

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan

Directed by Mark Romanek

Si is a lonely man with no relatives or friends, who becomes obsessed with a family through camera prints he processes regularly whilst working at a one hour photo booth in a department store. When he learns via somebody else's prints that the man is having an affair, Si takes matters into his own hands...

Firstly, let me say that I'm not a fan of Robin Williams. In my opinion, he's one of those actors who is stuck in a single enactment of weakness and compassion, in the same manner that Jim Carrey can only do manic comedy. Having said all that, Williams pulls off a faultless performance and certainly the most natural since his fun-filled early start in Mork and Mindy. In fact, he carries the film, convincing me it would be nothing without him. I actually felt genuinely sympathetic towards the character who, with the best of intentions, goes about things the wrong way.

At the conclusion of the film we discover just why Si considers happy families to be so important. The revelation comes as a throw-away line, but it puts all the movie's motives into perspective. It's not the tightest script in the world. There's no outright resolution. The tale simply comes to an end without the audience discovering how the characters are affected, but it is compelling in its own way.

One Hour Photo is among those many films which lose much of their power after one viewing. However, as a family film which becomes a psychological thriller it serves its purpose well.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)

The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1933)

Starring: Rudolph Klein-Rogge, Otto Wernicke, Gustav Diessl

Directed by Fritz Lang

March 2004

Dr Mabuse, the Gambler was a two-part silent movie made by Fritz Lang in 1922. Mabuse was a crime lord who caused a wave of terror, death and destruction through his hypnotic prowess and evil genius, before eventually falling into madness after seeing the ghosts of his murder victims and being incarcerated in an insane asylum. In this talkie sequel made ten years later Dr Mabuse has made no outward progress in the asylum, simply staring into space. Now his hand begins to jerk violently in writing motions, and given a pen and paper he proceeds to scribble nonsense. However his penmanship becomes gradually more coherent until it's realised that Mabuse's 30 pages a day are intelligent instructions on how to run a successful reign of crime through fear and confusion. When the described crimes begin to be carried out for real, Inspector Lohmann (last seen on the trail of Peter Lorre's child murderer in Lang's M) takes up the case...

Originally premiered in 1933 in Budapest, The Testament of Dr Mabuse had been banned in Germany and wasn't shown again until 1951 in a shortened version. It was around this time that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor and Goebbels Minister for Enlightenment and Propaganda (!). It was said that Hitler was a great fan of Fritz Lang's work. Ironically, not only was Lang Austrian, but he was also Jewish. Goebbels apparently approached Lang, telling him he was aware of the man's "shortcomings" but thought him such an accomplished film maker that he wanted Lang to head the new Film Institute. Lang foresaw the inevitable and fled the country. Afterward, the film was banned by the Nazis because it "posed a threat to law and order and public safety", and the original film was seized.

This film is considerably more enjoyable than you might think. The ghosts which appear to Mabuse are very well done considering the year, and there is good use of lighting, particularly in the finale car chase where the approaching trees and the roadway ahead appear somewhat sinister. For a 105 minute film there is constant movement and progression, with a lot going on. There is the police mystery of who is running Mabuse's crime organisation, although the viewer already knows; sympathy for the character Kent who has unwittingly become embroiled in the events of the spree, dragging in his innocent girlfriend; there are arson attacks, robberies, shootings, and the clever idea of flooding a locked room to subdue the force of a bomb about to explode.

Like M, The Testament of Dr Mabuse has been lovingly restored, the picture and sound digitally remastered. The documentary included as an extra is interesting, but the subtitles are often difficult to keep up with, especially when there is a crowd scene or characters are arguing, their speech accelerated.

This film will appeal to collectors of old masters, but I wonder how much casual interest it will garner..

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)

Vanishing Point (1971)

Starring: Barry Newman, Dean Jagger, Cleavon Little

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian

Written by Guillermo Cain (From an Outline by Malcolm Hart)

Barry Newman plays Kowalski, a man who legitimately delivers cars. When he makes a bet that he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in under fifteen hours, he begins by committing a speeding violation and evading a police pursuit. When news of his exploits reaches the public through a radio D.J. called Super Soul, he soon becomes a local hero, representing the last free spirit of America...

The irony evident in
Vanishing Point is that Kowalski (remember the 70's series Petrocelli?) does nothing wrong except break the speed limit, evade capture and endanger a few dessert rats. As he crosses state borders very little information is passed on beween police forces, so that wild assumptions of possible robbery or murder are made. The fact that the D.J. is championing his cause over the airwaves makes matters worse rather than better. However, it does bring help from unexpected quarters, those individuals with no love for the state troopers.

Through a series of brief flashbacks we learn that Kowalski was a decorated war veteran, a disgraced police detective and professional motorcycle and racing car driver. The love of his life was also drowned in a surfing accident; all this baggage of misfortune going some way to rationalise his pleasant but care-free attitude.

You'll need to search hard to find a better road movie than
Vanishing Point. There are some nice camera angles and impressive small-scale stunts, but where this films succeeds most is in its sheer simplicity of style. The music, particularly in the first half, is a superb mix of rock and country. The director knows just when to remove the music altogether and allow us to savour the raw power of the white super-charged Dodge Challenger.

Vanishing Point is very much a product of its time (released in 1971), but still looks impressive today.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2002)