The Legend of Barney Thomson

The Legend of Barney Thomson
The Legend of Barney Thomson

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 July 2015

Distributor: Icon

Director: Robert Carlyle

Writers: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren

Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

Canada, UK 2015

96 mins

Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is, in his 50s, wifeless, childless and largely friendless, his only social life revolving around the occasional chat with local loser Charlie (Brian Pettifer) and the strained relationship with his harridan of a mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson), who views him as a free taxi service and unwelcome distraction from bingo. All he has to cling to is his loyalty and professionalism in his decades-old position as barber in a small family concern. But even here, his status is slipping, as his lack of ‘patter’ with the customers means that he is being moved further and further away from his old prestige position in the window. His anger and frustration lead him to a fatal blunder, and soon dogged copper Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) is on his trail, as Barney finds himself a suspect in an ongoing serial killer case.

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut is the kind of low/mid-budget black farce that the British film industry seems determined to flog to the general public (think Deadly Advice, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook), kind of like a Brian Rix number with frozen body parts. It’s too comically broad to work along the lines of Shallow Grave, too dark to work as broad comedy and just never really flies. Part of the problem is that it’s built around a character who, the script reminds us, is devoid of charm, and, as played by Carlyle, exudes a kind of whining ‘why me?’aura. So while the plot contrives to elaborately humiliate and persecute Mr Thomson, it’s still hard to feel too much sympathy for a man who doesn’t seem to care much about anybody else, or indeed, whether he is liked, which is not an accusation that could be levelled at The Legend of Barney Thomson, the film. On the contrary, TLOBT exudes a certain desperation to be liked, it’s full of outré bits of ‘funny’ business, sweary old ladies and vivisection humour. We’re barely started on the voice-over-heavy opening sequence before we get a severed cock on screen, to be followed later with a scene built around an arse on the chief inspector’s desk. Likewise, Ray Winstone’s cockney rozzer schtick seems to be here because people like his cockney rozzer schtick, and regardless of whether it belongs in this film. Which I’m not entirely convinced it does. And there’s an increasing unreality about the plotting, which becomes more and more contrived as the coincidental serial murders and unlikely accidental deaths start to pile up, which would be fine, if it didn’t undermine all the Woman’s Realm and fag butt verisimilitude that much of the dialogue and production design is straining for.

On the plus side you have Emma Thompson having a ball as the foul Cemolina, surrounded by a great cast of solid character players. Glasgow is smartly used as a backdrop, and it’s beautifully framed and lit, with a well-achieved shabby, seen-better-days aesthetic. On the whole, though, it’s frustrating. There’s a fair few nice lines here and there, and I wonder how the source novel reads, because a scene at a funfair where Charlie (who has witnessed Barney trying to dispose of a body) uses this leverage to try to get a free hot dog and coke out of him in the most pathetic blackmail bid ever, gives a hint towards a sorrier, sadder film, one that used all these fine performers and crumbling urban detail to so something a bit more aching and singular, away from all these coppers with shooters and bagged bits of bum.

Mark Stafford

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Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil 4
Touch of Evil

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 July 2015

Distributor: BFI

Director: Orson Welles

Writer: Orson Welles

Based on Badge of Evil by: Whit Masterson

Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles

USA 1958

110 mins

Notoriety has long swirled around Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’s 1958 film noir, a box-office failure in the US that famously ended his Hollywood career. But it has since become much admired for its often emulated long take, which masterfully introduces us to the dusty town on the Mexican border in which the story is set.

In the dramatic opening scene, we see a bomb placed underneath a convertible, before the camera pulls away to soar over the streets of the town, following not only the movements of the car, but also the newlyweds whose lives are about to be derailed when the bomb explodes on the American side, killing a local construction magnate and a strip club dancer. The scene is beautifully orchestrated, with stunning sound design. Music pours out of the bars that the couple stroll past, the sound of guitars and jazz flowing into rock and roll, evoking the sultry, sweaty streets of the south, adding a risqué, decadent feel that is echoed throughout the film.

The murder pits two very different law enforcement officers against each other. Vargas (Charlton Heston) is the newly married, upstanding man who’s successfully targeted one of the biggest drug gangs in Mexico; Quinlan, overweight, dishevelled, puffy-eyed, is the revered cop who never fails to get his man, even if it means breaking the law, his convictions based ‘on intuition, rather than fact’. The murder victim is barely relevant to the unfolding plot; rather, the killing is the catalyst that turns the crime thriller into a dark, brooding meditation on good versus evil.

Caught in the middle is Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh), who becomes a victim of both Quinlan and the Mexican gang, who are now on the same side in their war against Vargas. The crime family is led by the unassuming, overweight Joe Gardi (Akim Tamaroff), who has a gang of young thugs in black leather jackets to carry out his dirty work. Susan starts out as a tough broad in pearls and cashmere sweater, but when they hound her in a deserted motel she’s no match for them. In a twisted party scene, the threat of sexual violence, with its racial undertones, pulsates to the sound of the rockabilly music piped through the motel.

Touch of Evil deserves to be watched multiple times, not for the story, but to absorb its brilliance and audacity. The cinematography is a work of art, a virtuoso example of the noir aesthetic, using angles and lighting to heighten the tension. Quinlan looms above the camera, the sweat on his meaty face almost palpable. In one shot his menacing shadow, thrown up against a wall, stalks Vargas as he walks away down a dark road. When Gardi meets his fate, the camerawork and editing are dizzying, the tension and drama escalated by the screeching jazz horns.

There are some weaknesses in the performances by Heston (ignoring the fact that he is, of course, not Mexican) and Leigh, though Marlene Dietrich as the fortune teller who predicts Quinlan’s demise is seductive as always. Joseph Calleia also deserves mention as the tragic sergeant devoted to Quinlan, who will later pay a horrible price. While there is undoubtedly a hint of the B-movie at times, it’s a masterpiece of the noir genre, one of the last true great films of that era, and a fantastic turn by Welles.

Creative control of the film was taken away from the director by Universal, who released a botched version of the film; after seeing it, Welles penned a 58-page memo detailing his desired changes. In 1998, it was re-cut by editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who tried to incorporate as many of Welles’s instructions as possible. It’s a thing of beauty.

Sarah Cronin

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The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

The Human Centipede 3
The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 July 2015

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment/ Monster Pictures

Director: Tom Six

Writer: Tom Six

Cast: Dieter Laser, Laurence R. Harvey, Eric Roberts, Bree Olsen, Tom Six

USA 2015

100 mins

So farewell then, the Human Centipede, our time together was brief, yet far too long, and frankly I wish we hadn’t gotten quite so intimate. The THC trilogy are/were a perfectly perfect modern phenomenon, in that they were so successful as an internet meme and clickbait talking point that the actual films themselves seem surplus to requirements. The central idea broke through into comedians’ routines, spawned a South Park episode and a porn parody, and weaved its way into pub (if not dinner party) conversation and water cooler chatter. In short, it became a thing, and a thing that even people who don’t like that sort of thing became aware of. That three features have been whipped up from an idea you could explain during a one-stop bus ride is some kind of malign miracle.

If you must catch up with the actual series, part three is set in an American prison, being run, badly, by Warden Bill Boss and his accountant Dwight Butler, played by Dieter Laser and Lawrence R. Harvey, the stars of the first and second films. Given a deadline to improve matters by Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts) Boss is eventually convinced by Butler that they should take inspiration from the Human Centipede films and convert the riotous prisoners into one long alimentary canal. The plot takes a good while to get to where it’s clearly getting to, and is, in any case, mainly there to provide a series of depravities along the way before we get to the 500-person’ ’pede final act. So we get a pen-knife castration, a boiling water-boarding, a gunshot execution via a stoma hole, some light cannibalism and the various indignities inflicted upon the warden’s secretary Daisy (Bree Olsen), all of which would be a lot more offensive if it weren’t carried out by Dieter Laser as Boss in probably the most grotesquely mannered scenery-gargling performance ever committed to film. His stratospherically over-the-top gurning ensures that we can’t take any of this gleeful obscenity remotely seriously, and his mangled German/American syntax makes much of his gratuitously profane dialogue indecipherable. Anybody sharing screen time with him is left the quandary of whether to follow his lead or to go low key and restrained in order to effect some kind of balance; mostly they look a little startled that he’s doing whatever he’s doing.

But the idea that anybody so clearly eye-rolling bugfuck insane and obnoxiously undiplomatic would be put in charge of anything is absurd from the outset, and we are clearly in the realm of the absurd here. If the Final Sequence has any ambition beyond making you want to toss your cookies it’s as a sledgehammer satire on the politics of the U.S. of A.: the prison is named after Dubya, there is lots of business with flags and eagles, the suffering detainees prominently feature Muslims, Blacks and Native Americans, and there are plentiful shots of orange jumpsuit-clad prisoners being tortured, all with the take-home message being that any atrocity is permissible here as long as it upholds the bottom line. It’s not subtle.

The other theme taking up a lot of screen time in the third Human Centipede film is, um, The Human Centipede. The second film had Harvey’s nebbishy Martin Lomax becoming inspired by the first film to create his own monster, this one opens with Boss and Butler watching the first two. Thereafter most of the characters are required to voice an opinion on the THC films, generally positive, though another screening to the inmates is clearly regarded by them as cruel and unusual punishment and results in a riot. It’s as if Tom Six can’t imagine a viewing of his films as anything other than a life-changing obsessive experience or at least provoking strong reactions for or against. This strain peaks in this film with a cameo by Mr Six, playing himself, in arsehole uniform of mirror shades and linen suit, approving Mr Butler’s proposal as long as he can watch. Six has enough self-awareness to depict himself throwing up when confronted with the reality of his ideas, and I’m sure there are some who’ll find all this meta business playful and diverting. But the net result is that you have a 102-minute film written by, and starring, Tom Six, in which everybody onscreen keeps banging on about the work of Tom Six. I think the phrase I’m looking for is ‘Christ, dude, get over yourself’.

Where Six is going to go after this is anybody’s guess, there’s a peculiar European flavour and sensibility to the trilogy that might develop into something, though it’s often buried beneath the other business. The film kinda works on its own terms, it sets out to be disgusting and succeeds, and to criticise it along those lines would be a fruitless endeavour. It seems more valid to point out that it is oddly paced, stilted and set-bound, that Laser should have been reined in, and that we spend an awful lot of time in Boss’s office and not much with the prisoners. I can’t help wishing the dialogue was better, and with the meat and potatoes set-ups here I’m not entirely convinced he knows what he’s doing behind a camera. But hey, it pulls itself together a bit for the last act, and delivers what anybody renting, streaming or buying something called The Human Centipede 3 would want to see. He clearly has no problem coming up with foul ideas, his main claim to fame is that he has come up with an idea that’s just that bit more repellent than everybody else’s. The problem being that, like the human centipedes in all three films, once created they don’t actually go anywhere or do much other than die. I’m pretty sure that a fair proportion of the audience want to see the group creature go on a rampage that just never happens, damnit. Ah well, in my review of the first outing I voiced my regret that the creators didn’t break out the spangly top hats and canes for an unforgettable musical finale. This time I couldn’t help wishing that, in collision with another internet meme set in a prison yard, we could have had a synchronised routine to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. If you’re listening, Tom, that’s not a call for part four.

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) is released in the UK on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on 20 July 2015 by Monster Pictures.

Mark Stafford

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Therapy for a Vampire

Therapy for a Vampire

Director: David Rühm

Writer: David Rühm

Cast: Tobias Moretti, Jeanette Hain, Cornelia Ivancan

Original title: Der Vampir auf der Couch

Austria, Switzerland 2014

87 mins

David Rühm’s Therapy for a Vampire, which screened at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, is a spry, witty and likable Gothic comedy that puts Sigmund Freud together with a pair of undead shape-shifters in 1932 Vienna.

Director David Rühm displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic horror tropes, with his arch-fiend gliding along with the camera like Lon Chaney Jnr in Son of Dracula, or moving out of sync with his shadow like Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. An unusually in-depth familiarity with vampire folklore allows him to include in his film, for the first time that I’m aware of, the vampire’s mythic mania for counting: if objects are spilled on the floor, a vampire must stop what he’s doing to gather them up and count them. OK, I suppose Sesame Street’s Count may have exploited this trait previously. But it’s a great device, since it implies that vampirism and obsessive-compulsive disorder may be connected, and suggests that this particular vampire may not be misguided in seeking the help of a therapist.

Tobias Moretti is both graceful and funny as the lovelorn Count, turning in a physical performance that successfully bridges the gap between supernaturally creepy and funny. Jeanette Hain as his black-bobbed partner embodies the word ‘vamp’. There’s also an all-too-rare chance to see David Bennent, former child star of The Tin Drum and Legend, as his disfigured chauffeur and victim-supplier.

Combining a few simple locations with plenty of fairy tale CGI to create some phantasmagoric settings, the movie manages to look beautiful on a budget.

This review is part of our 2015 EIFF coverage.

David Cairns

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Godzilla vs Mothra

Following our Mothra comic strip review as part of our Butterflies theme, we now take a look at the 1964 sequel, Godzilla vs Mothra, also directed by Ishirô Honda, with special effects by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, co-creator of Godzilla. Godzilla vs Mothra is available on Region 1 DVD.

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Comic Strip Review by Woodrow Phoenix
For more information on Woodrow Phoenix visit his website.