Tag Archives: Malcolm McDowell

Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape

A menacing black helicopter relentlessly pursued two mysterious escapees through the harsh landscape of an unnamed foreign land. Such is the slightly surreal setup for Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape, a strange, forgotten allegorical adventure film starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell. Less is more storytelling takes charge with a screenplay by Shaw himself, as very little is told to us about who these men are, what the setting and political climate is or why that big black bird won’t stop gunning for them, at one point staging a maneuver so hair raising the propellers almost take someone’s head clean off. The unspecified region here is actually Spain, and the photography is flat out gorgeous, stunning wide shots and sweeping vistas seemingly shot from the chopper itself, sprawling vineyards, dry acrid valleys and snowy mountain peaks are all captured in a film that would work as a travelogue ad for Spain if the story wasn’t so grim. Shaw is the salty, old fashioned badass who can’t keep his mouth shut and gets his hands dirty when needed, McDowell the sensitive youngster in over his head and struggling with both the chase and the elements. As the film progresses their dynamics shift though, which is fascinating to see through their two excellent performances. The climax set high atop a mountain somewhere is bloody poetic bliss and serves as both a fitting end to a well mounted thriller and an ambiguous enough wrap up for a story that’s just ‘out there’ enough to defy genre expectations. This one really has been lost to the sands of time, but luckily Kino Lorber recently remastered it for Blu Ray and it’s really something to see if you’re a fan of Shaw, McDowell, oddball films that slipped through the cracks or high adventure. Definitely recommended.

-Nate Hill

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David Grieco’s Evilenko

Serial killer biopics and character studies have been all the rage since their inception in the early 90’s, but rarely do they get as earnest or serious as David Grieco’s Evilenko, an intense look at Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (renamed Evilenko here), a heinous child murderer that took advantage of loopholes in the post war soviet region and preyed on youngsters for years. Malcolm McDowell is harrowing in the role and gives the character human depth and dimensions beyond just lurking, killing, evading capture and awaiting trial. I saw a documentary once on his career and apparently he turned this role down several times, which is interesting because he’s absolutely dynamic and almost unrecognizable as the guy, quite the piece of work. Martin Csokas plays the inspector on his case with his usual well spoken gravitas, hunting the man down but taking so many years to nab him that the body count went well above fifty victims. The crimes are shown with a disassociation and removed coldness, blunt but never exploitive. There’s two other film versions of this true story, an HBO original film called Citizen X that takes the police procedural route and Child 44, a recent one with Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman that was a melodramatic, unfocused mess. This one is an intimate look into the killer’s psyche, a definite cut above most serial murderer films and anchored tightly by McDowell’s committed performance. Disturbing stuff.

-Nate Hill

Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far

I love Colin Firth very much as an actor, I think there’s a wealth of intensity and charisma behind that befuddled, cute British persona, and I love how in recent years he’s branched off and started trying out all sorts of roles and genres he hasn’t done yet, he’s really underrated in terms of versatility. I also love delving back into the last few decades with actors and perhaps finding hidden gems I never thought of or didn’t notice before. (Every time someone calls me out on being lost in my phone or texting some girl it’s usually because I’m just intently perusing an actor’s IMDb for titles I’ve missed). Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far is one such gem, a lovely, charming piece based on the memoir of Dennis Forman, a man who grew up in a great manor in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by friends, family and nestled in that calm period between World War One and two, where life seemed idyllic. Young Fraser (Robert Norman) lives an eclectic life out there that’s the perfect setting for a poignant memoir. His loving father (Firth) strives to be a strong disciplinarian but has a tender heart and a playful disposition, his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, gorgeous as ever) is the same. The conflict arises with the arrival of a beautiful distant relative (Kelly MacDonald) who gets everyone a little hot and bothered and awakens the first hints of sexual desire in Fraser. The grandparents hover in and out of their lives too, played by Rosemary Harris and a gruff, hilarious and compassionate Malcolm McDowell. Life gets topsy turvy in all sorts of ways, especially when an aviator from royal descent (Tchecky Karyo) crash lands his plane directly on their property and immediately tries to woo MacDonald. It’s one of those slice of life comedy dramas that doesn’t strive to say something lofty about the big picture of humanity or plumb for subtext beneath, but simply exists to enjoy as the recalling of one person’s life, or rather a piece of it. A lovely one.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Asylum

Asylum is first rate trash, a nasty, cheap exercise in shocker horror that gives sanitariums everywhere a bad name and perpetuates the ludicrous stigma that all such institutions are the scariest, most unorganized places on earth. God bless the cheap underside of Hollywood and it’s deliberately skewed perception of things. This one sees Robert ‘T-1000’ Patrick as a private investigator who goes undercover inside a mental hospital as a patient when it becomes clear that people are going missing inside and something is up. The set, design and mood of the place is schlock to the core, without the faintest hint of realism to be found. The facility’s head doctor (the late great Henry Gibson) is a benign fool who has no idea the kind of havoc being perpetrated under his watch. The place has a special kind of crazy in a character played by Malcolm McDowell called Sullivan Rane, a lucidly maniacal serial killer who has red herring written all over him and moonlights under an obvious wig and mask as a patient known simply as ‘Doc’. It’s a hammy throwaway role, but ever intense McDowell seems to have a ball playing whatever oddball garage sale B role they give him, and ends up stealing his few scenes, as usual. Patrick plays it straight and his trademark steely reserve is an odd contrast to the knowingly silly demeanour of almost everyone else involved. The film does it’s best with a twist one can sense coming a good country mile off, but it gives one aforementioned actor some last minute juicy scenes to make his involvement worthwhile. Low rent horror and then some.

-Nate Hill

Night Train To Venice: The actual worst film ever made

People often ask me what the worst film I’ve ever seen is, and for years I found the question difficult due to the sheer volume of trash and cinematic pond scum out there. Then I saw Night Train To Venice, and… yup, it’s officially *the* worst fucking movie I’ve ever seen. The cover is innocuous enough, boasting a slightly esoteric Euro-trash thriller starring everyone’s favourite aloof British hunk Hugh Grant and everyone’s favourite British arch villain Malcolm McDowell. Sounds vaguely promising, right? Oh boy. Ohhh boy. The thing starts off with Grant, some chick (Tahnee Welch) and a handful of other weirdos boarding a night train somewhere in Europe, and then… I can’t even describe how strange, stupid and incoherent it gets. There’s Nazi skinheads that put off a rapey vibe but it’s never clear why they’re on the train or where they came from. McDowell is credited as ‘Stranger’ and all he does is loom ominously, spout threatening dialogue with zero context and add to the din with his wasted charisma. There’s loose plot threads flung around like confetti but none are developed, or even addressed beyond wanton scenes of fuckery that have no place anywhere. It sucks because this isn’t even fun to watch in a burning car wreck type way like a lot of fun bad movies, it *actually hurts* to watch this unpleasant piece of shit trip over itself and parade across the screen like a gaggle of spastics set loose from the asylum. McDowell has more than a few shitty flicks in his war record but this really takes the goddamn cake. If I ever get to sit opposite Grant, however, I’m going to bring this one up with a straight face and then slap him across his before that cavernous dumbo grin even starts to take shape and the trademark awkward sheepish excuses start to trundle out of his mouth. As for the director and rest of crew, lord only knows what was going through their heads when they produced and assembled this piss poor, jumbled up dose of cinematic diarrhea. It doesn’t even make sense or stand as an example of what not to do in the celluloid zeitgeist, it’s so bad. It exists in a vacuum of space all its own that functions off the kind of zero point energy reserved for things so shamelessly awful that it actually takes cohesive effort to gain admission. Please, please avoid this thing, it’ll literally shorten your life span having to sit through it and you’ll lose more brain cells than you did last Friday night. Ugh.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: LA, I Hate You

There’s this odd trend in art films these days to make a haphazard anthology thing with various actors in a string-along parade of vignette cameos, title them with the name of a city followed by the sub header ‘I Love You’, or ‘I hate You’. Examples include ‘Paris, Je T’ame’, ‘New York, I Love You’, and you get the idea.. it’s as weird trend, most of the entries I haven’t seen, but the copycat effect trickled down into direct to video town, and I did catch one called ‘L.A. I Hate You’, a strange and cheaply made noir knockoff that doesn’t have much to offer except a few decent actors in sly parody roles. It’s made in three segments, all set in Hollywood and revolving around the film industry, all three chunks of the story ultimately going nowhere. There’s a down on his luck dude with a paraplegic wife who gets sucked into a violent scheme involving his estranged, dangerous uncle (William Forsythe doing his ultra-sleazy tough guy shtick) and the wife’s morally bankrupt father (Gregory Itzin). A struggling wannabe actor (Paul Sloan) is coaxed into stardom at a high cost by a devilish movie producer (Malcolm McDowell, also in scumbag mode), and attempts are made to make these three seemingly separate narratives intertwine here and there, but neither that script, editing or acting is good enough to make us either believe or care. Oh, there’s also a really unnecessary UFO subplot too, just in case it wasn’t cluttered up with enough nonsense. A cheaply made, half assed turkey.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Silent Night

Santa is an axe wielding mass murderer! In Silent Night he is anyway, a slick, excessively gory remake of an obscure 80’s slasher called Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I’ve still yet to see. This new version is a heavy handed, knowingly silly affair, as a small town Sheriff’s department races to find a heinous killer who dresses like the red guy and has been wantonly slaughtering townsfolk all morning. A timid deputy (Sin City’s Jaime King) is the front runner to head him off at the pass, joined by the cantankerous, mouthy Sheriff, played by a hammy Malcolm McDowell with attitude to spare. The murders are so over the top it seems like the filmmakers wanted to outdo each and every slasher film out there, an impossible task, but they throw Paint at the wall furiously anyway. Electrocution by Christmas lights, high powered flamethrower, a souped up stun gun used to skewer an annoying 14 year old chick, but my favourite has to be the naked stripper fed through a giant wood chipper in a scene that would have Fargo covering it’s eyes. That’s the kind of flick it is, sleazed out to the max, tongue firmly in it’s cheek and never too serious. Problem is, a few of the actors (I’m looking at you,

priest dude) take it way too far into camp territory and ruin whole sequences with their wannabe satirical blathering. McDowell gets the tone right though, and is a right treat as the world’s most sarcastic lawman. Donal Logue also fares well as a bad tempered grinch of a mall Santa who eventually tangles with the murderer in a fiery police station set piece. Maybe I was just tired, but when the origin of the killer is finally revealed, which I waited for the whole time, it seemed like kind of a confusing letdown, a bit less of a surprise than it should have been. Worth it for the kills and a couple entertaining performances, but ultimately not much.

-Nate Hill