Tuesday 22 August 2017


Christophe Honore's latest oddity is screening today as part of Picturehouse Cinemas' Discover Tuesdays strand, and it's a head-scrambler to say the least.

This film screened at the 2014 London Film Festival but is only now making its way to the general public. But why, you may ask? Well, probably because it's a film that stretches the boundaries of film as a visual medium, not to mention the limits of taste and decency and, unfortunately, entertainment.

A re-telling of parts of Ovid's epic poem about the creation of the world and beyond, it's about as accessible as that sounds. Told in director Honore's native French (although largely a visual experience), the closest thing the film has to a main character is Amira Akili's Europa; following her life on the banks of a river and relationships with Jupiter, Orpheus and Bacchus. From there the film journeys into non-sequiturs that aim to retell Ovid's myths through modern French society.

For an adaptation of a fifteen book life's work that has been published in almost every language, it's surprising how much this is a resolutely visual adaptation. At times it resembles flipping through a book of photographs that work well as still images, but never meld together coherently. One of the biggest aspects of the film is its attitude towards sexuality and nudity. It presents a fluid display of gender constructs such as an early scene where a hunter stumbles across a transsexual woman bathing, only to be showered in glitter; but as the film progresses and more young, beautiful cisgender women shed their clothes, this feels less like artistic representation and more like opportunistic lechery on the part of the director. It's a shame that the flagrant nudity becomes a distraction, as it's when studying the themes of gender identity and biology within modern and classic settings that the film is at its best.

Purposely avant garde in its approach, if you're a fan of classic poetry there may be something here for you; but your average cinema audience, even one more accustomed to frequenting an art house establishment, will find this near impenetrable. It's unquestionably shot with skill behind the lens and there is intriguing, abstract imagery on show and the wonder of what the next bizarre thing may be, but without a story structure resembling anything like a narrative film it's a tough decision whether to keep watching or not.


Monday 21 August 2017


Out now on DVD and Blu-ray is the story of Chuck Wepner, the boxer many people called "the real life Rocky", including himself whenever he saw the opportunity.

The saying goes that all the best sports movies aren't really about sports, well The Bleeder is a movie about a sports movie, so where does that leave us? Based on the life of Chuck Wepner, a boxer who was given a title shot against Muhammad Ali in 1975, and although he didn't win (not a spoiler), the fact he lasted until the 15th round against one the greatest fighters of all time was enough to make him a folk hero in his home state of New Jersey.

Getting a taste for fame as the so-called "Heavyweight Champ of New Jersey", Chuck started to enjoy all of the benefits that came with his newly minted persona, leaving his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) and child at home. Promising to stop his boozing and womanising ways, things only get worse when Chuck hears about a new film that bears more than a passing resemblance to his own life; Rocky. Soon he's back out on the town claiming to be the real life Rocky, lapping up the attention he can get and hoping to make contact with Sylvester Stallone to talk about some royalties.

The film's title The Bleeder refers to the derogatory nickname Wepner was labelled with before his rise to fame (the man could take a punch, but not without some damage), and although out of context it makes the film sound like a cockney gangster thriller, it's at least more descriptive than the films US title, Chuck, which last time I checked was a TV show about a nerdy CIA super spy.

As a film about outward displays of damaged masculinity, it couldn't have a better cast. It's saying something that the most well-rounded and articulate male character in the film is the brief appearance of Sly Stallone (in an impressively accurate performance by Morgan Spector), with Schreiber's Chuck and Ron Perlman's Mickey-esque boxing trainer, Al, both looking and acting like they've been raised in the boxing ring. The film shows Chuck watching the Anthony Quinn movie Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Quinn's gruff masculinity is very much the model for Schreiber's performance. Strong, closed off; a walking meat slab of neurosis and internal demons.

It's clear that this has been a passion project for Schreiber who as well as starring has a writing credit, and among the supporting cast is his former real life partner, Naomi Watts. Playing Linda, a sassy, brassy barmaid who pops up at convenient intervals in Wepner's life, it's pretty clear what her character's purpose is as soon as she appears on screen; and although their relationship is the closest thing Chuck has to a Rocky/Adrian romance, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is where the most dramatic license has been taken. Schreiber and Watts have obvious, palpable chemistry, but their story together smacks of retconning to appease their real life counterparts, which is at a detriment to the drama of the film. Likewise, the cordial relationship between Wepner and Stallone displayed seems like the product of legal intervention.

Putting that aside, the brief boxing scenes are affective, and there is a narrative drive in seeing where Chuck and Rocky's life stories intersect and where they differ wildly. Despite what Wepner and the blu-ray box art would tell you, although they share similar underdog rises to fame it's the fact that Wepner, with all of his flaws, is not a real-life Rocky that makes him an interesting, watchable man. With echoes of other 'be careful what you wish for' films like Boogie Nights, Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street, it's the performances that make The Bleeder a successful story of a man obsessed with his own fame.


Monday 7 August 2017


A love story between a boy, a girl and a computer (but not as kinky as it sounds); making its blu-ray debut this week is one of the 1980's most memorable tie-in theme songs. Oh, and the movie it comes from.
Miles (Lenny von Dohlen) is an architect, constantly running late for meetings due to his completely unorganised nature. Taking advice from one of his co-workers, he decides to invest in one of those new fangled "home computers" to help get his life in order. Kitting out his entire apartment with interconnected gadgets, he soon finds he is able to use this new technology to help woo the beautiful cellist Madeline (Virginia Madsen) who has moved in upstairs.

I'm not even going to try and sugar coat it; Electric Dreams is top of the list of films that are less famous than the theme song attached to it (Chariots of Fire, raise your hand too). But that's not to say that this is a completely forgotten film, as there are many devoted fans that adore its slightly goofy '80s charm. Any film warning of the danger on our over-reliance on technology but only featuring quaint 1980s technology has to be treated with a degree of kindness, and although looking back it would be easy to scoff at the innocence of Lenny's technophobe, in a pre-internet (as we know it) world envisioning an inter-connected network of gadgets and appliances that control every aspect of Miles' lifestyle and hear his every command, Electric Dreams is a film that can be seen as fairly prophetic.

With its themes of AI running wild and increasingly dumb life choices (his computer starts to overheat so Miles pours WINE on it), the setup could quite easily have come from a Stephen King horror novella. But rather than becoming the deranged killer Jobe in The Lawnmower Man, the sentient computer Edgar (voiced by Harold and Maude's Bud Cort) is a romantic at heart. Fancying himself as a musician, Edgar seemingly invents Garage Band to impress Madeline's classically trained cellist, although only hearing it through the walls she obviously believes Miles to be the maestro in a Cyrano de Bergerac/Roxanne-esque twist. When Miles starts to take the credit in order to advance his relationship with Madeline, that's when things between them turns sour.

With music playing such an integral role in the story, you'd hope for a banging soundtrack (which it certainly has), nothing more so than Giorgio Moroder/Phil Oakey's song, Together in Electric Dreams. Director Steve Barron cut his teeth directing music videos (including A-Ha's legendary Take on Me video) so it's no surprise that at times his feature debut resembles a collection of videos. It's built into the narrative of the film to make sure a sudden fast edited musical interlude doesn't seem out of place, and the relationship between Miles and Madeline is encapsulated in the flirty montages that pepper the film, such as their trips to Alcatraz and the fun fair.

It's pretty clear from the start what journey Lenny von Dohlen's character is going to go on. I mean, he's no Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2 forever), but when he walks on screen with his bow tie he looks like he's been cast as the geek in a Madonna video, just waiting to be given a makeover and start wooing the ladies. Von Dohlen is best known for playing socially awkward weirdos (see also, Twin Peaks), but he's a charming enough screen presence and shares enough chemistry with Virginia Madsen to make this an almost impossibly sweet trip down random access memory lane.


Bonus Features:
Miles and Madeline - New interviews with Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen that make it clear how close the pair became during production and have remained friends ever since.
Is This a Story? - New interview with director Steve Barron
Electric Dreaming - New interview with writer Rusty Lemonade