If you're not well versed in the complex workings of American Government you might feel a little disorientated during the first 20mins of Otto Preminger's superb 1962 political drama in which an ailing President appoints Henry Fonda as his secretary of state (read successor) and causes ructions in the corridors of power. Fonda brings his customary brilliance to the film but he's given a good run for his money by Charles Laughton (in his final film), and Walter Pidgeon (best known as Morbius from Forbidden Planet), and there's a memorable bit of work from a nervy Burgess Meredith playing a "friendly witness". With its large ensemble cast and deep-focus 'scope photography, the film now stands as a key influence on the likes of All the President's Men and JFK, and like the director's earlier film, Anatomy of a Murder, Preminger used the film to further needle away at the MPAA's sensibilities, when a senator is forced to confront his shadowy former life as a homosexual.
Meridith vs Fonda in Advise and Consent
The Notorious Bettie Page (TV, BBC2HD)
Mary Harron's 2006 biopic of America's most famous bondage star is less sleazy than you might imagine, in fact it's a rather sweet story of a good girl gone bad. Smart, witty and gorgeous to look at with noir-ish black & white photography for the New York sequences and garish Eastmancolor for the beaches of Miami, the film breezes by on a medley of Peggy Lee tunes, cool jazz and Latin exotica. Lili Taylor and David Strathairn head up a fine supporting cast but it's Gretchen Mol's career-defining turn that really makes the film cook, and she's astonishing beautiful in and out of tight fitting leather corsets and knee high booths. The re-enacted Bettie Page one-reelers are great too.
"God gave me the talent to pose for pictures and it seems to make people happy. That can't be a bad thing, can it?"
The Order of Death (download)
aka Copkiller, aka Corrupt, this Italian police thriller shot in New York is best remembered as the screen debut of John Lydon playing a disturbed young man who's wangled his way into the life of Harvey Keitel's corrupt detective living the good life in an expensive apartment paid for by filthy lucre. To say anymore would spoil this genuinely eccentric thriller which recalls the abrasive confessional relationship in Sidney Lumet's The Offence and the strange domesticity of Pasolini's Theorem. Aside from a few awkward moments, Lydon equips himself surprisingly well, and Keitel, clearly relishing his proto-Bad Lieutenant role is suitably intense and menacing. This film is well worth seeking out but be warned, it seems to have fallen into the public domain abyss and currently available DVDs are reportedly atrocious.
The public image... John Lydon in the Order of Death
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (1428, Blu)
A gargantuan dollop of Friday the 13th business, this six hour plus (?) documentary (narrated by Corey Feldman) gathers together a near definitive list of cast, crew members and victims for a thoroughly detailed film-by-film overview of the series. Occasionally the participants get a little too chummy, ("Derek Mears was soooo great to work with") but for the most part the conversations are honest and candid - stuntman Ted White who played Jason on The Final Chapter remembers threatening to down machete when a young actress was pushed beyond endurance on a freezing cold night shoot; and no it seems has anything nice to say about A New Beginning director Danny Steinmann. The shortcomings of the films are not glossed over either with Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X in particular singled out as the worst offenders of the series. Elsewhere there's a good account of the battles fought and lost with the MPAA, and there's enough splatter footage scooped up off the cutting room floor to really make you lament Paramount's acquiescence to the ratings board. Given the sheer scale of the documentary, it might be best experienced in two or three sittings but be sure to stick around for the final credits which are overlaid with cast members reciting their most memorable dialogue ("Why, I'm Mrs. Voorhees, an old friend of the Christy's.")
Unmasked: A rare shot of Jason actor Ted White from the set of The Final Chapter
The Beast (TV, TCM)
Proof enough that every film maker is entitled to one masterpiece, this 1988 film might well be director Kevin Reynolds'. Set during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the beast of the title is a Soviet tank which has strayed off course and is pursued by vengeful Mujaheddin into the labyrinthine Valley of the Jackal. Jason Patric plays the tank crew's conscientious objector, banging heads with his commander, a surprising trim George Dzundza, unraveling at the seams from a life spent waging war for his country. Fascinating now to compare the film with Rambo III from the same year, both films very much a product of the Reagan-era Cold War, but Reynolds' film is a far more intelligent and disquieting work - a scene where an Afghan is executed under the tracks of a tank is more gut-wrenching than all of Rambo's hollow repetitive ultra-violence. A stylish film too, with fine location photography and Mark Isham's memorable electronic score.