Some films that are better than Avatar (I-L)

Previously on my blog: A-H. Now some more filmic randoms that are much better than James Cameron’s colon-wearingly bad blockbuster.

Intacto – From Juan Carlos Fresnadillo who would go on to direct the respectful sequel 28 Weeks Later, this is a tale of people who have huge amounts of luck and gamble to the death with each other. Part thriller, part meditation on fate. Max von Sydow gives the movie a wonderful centre of gravity.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – I have four versions of this and I kind of like them all. The 1993 Abel Ferrara version “Body Snatchers” tends towards superficiality, and the 2007 Oliver Hirschbiegel “Invasion” has a fatal inconsistency of vision. But my favourite is Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version. It takes the enemy within/Commie menace threat of Don Siegel’s brilliant. 1956 original and turns it into a unique take on seventies self-regard and narcissism, and the isolating paranoia that goes with that. Kaufman’s film is set in San Francisco and there are a lot of crazy angles and disturbing visual non-sequiturs in the background. It’s an unsettling piece of work with more of a social agenda than the overt political agenda of the original, but it’s a key seventies movie.

Leonard Nimoy's in it y'know.

Jaws 3 – Hey, shut up and leave me alone. I think it would be a happier world if there were no sequels at all to Jaws. Spielberg’s blockbuster is still (along with Die Hard) a perfect example of how to write, cast and direct a thriller. There’s not a duff note in it. By contrast Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge (Jaws 4) are awful. They are hack jobs of the direst sort; complete misunderstandings of what made the first one so great. I can’t pretend that Jaws 3 is actually any good, but it’s a welcome breather between the two stinkers and bounces along with a likable insouciance as to what you actually think of it. Released as part of the early 80s craze for 3D it contains a lot of lunging and some pretty ropey effects, but no film starring Dennis Quaid and Simon MacCorkindale can be all bad. Director Joe Alves was the second unit director on Jaws, and the uncredited art director on 1970’s Pufnstuf TV movie starring Mama Cass.

King Kong – Not the original. If you need me to tell you that that is better than Avatar then you are definitely reading the wrong blog. Neither do I mean Peter Jackson’s morbidly obese remake. I respect the guy’s reverence but fucking hell it’s about 100 hours longer than the original and has much less to say. No, what I am weakly applauding here is the 1976 John Guillermin version. The effects are man-in-a-monkey-suit rubbish. The publicity was a complete con: the poster had a massive ape astride the two WTC towers. Never happened in the film. Where the film scores though is in the laid back seventies playing of Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. It takes a lot of style to come through that kind of film with dignity.

The Big Lying Poster

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – The wisest-cracking of all wise-cracking thrillers. Shane Black wrote the Lethal Weapon films and the sublime The Last Boy Scout. This was his first, and so far only, directorial job. The choice of casting two of the most infamously prickly actors at the time (Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.) was inspired and provides a transcendent, edgy double act. Why is this so under-rated? Too clever?

Koyaanisqatsi – No words, no story. Just a stunning set of time-lapse sequences of skyscapes, deserts and cityscapes from which you are welcome to infer your own doomy interpretation the state of mankind. The Philip Glass music is compelling. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance”. Chin-stroking genius. There are two sequels which aren’t as good.

Krull – The movie that couldn’t decide whether to rip off Star Wars or Conan. The result, an unrescuably mangled mess of science fiction and fantasy. Weirdly hypnotic though. Hell of a cast too. Bernard Bresslaw, Liam Neeson (he doesn’t talk about it much these days), Freddie Jones and Todd Carty (Tucker from Grange Hill). When are you going to see all them in the same film again? Director Peter Yates also directed Bullitt. Amazing.

The Lady from Shanghai – Unhinged “Oirish” performance by Orson Welles fails to undermine a labyrinthine noir. Directed by Welles at speed in order solely to make money this is nonetheless a fascinating piece of work. Some claim that there are clues in the film that indicate Orson Welles was the Black Dahlia murderer. Others are sceptical. Whatever, it’s an entertaining field of speculation.

Lifeforce – It’s based on a book called The Space Vampires, so what did you think you were going to get? They are vampires. From your actual space! There are a lot of people involved in this who should have known better: Patrick Stewart (who’d also been in Dune the previous year), Frank Finlay, Peter Firth. The put-upon Mathilda May wanders round for the entire film stark naked. For no reason. Tobe Hooper has only ever directed three watchable films: Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist (widely assumed to have been ghost-directed by Spielberg) and this. It is a fine spectacle and has a lovely Henry Mancini score.

Mathilda May in her one, brief, clothed moment.

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue – One of those seventies Italian zombie films I’m so fond of (except the director Jorge Grau is Spanish, but that’s just a technicality). This one is set in exotic Manchester. I love the cross-cultural failures and infelicities of nuance of things like this. The film-makers could have researched life in the city, but it was clearly easier not to, so the establishing montage has yellow double-deckers, dowdy Mancs shuffling round grimacing and smoking, factories emitting billowing clouds of pollution, a dead bird, and… A STREAKER! You know, like you used to get in the seventies. Except this isn’t at a public occasion. It’s just along a street during the day. I also enjoyed the white standard van with Manchester City UK MORGUE stencilled on it. That’s how I want to go. In a transit van. There’s an eco-agenda shoe-horned in here, but it’s mostly about the flesh-eating. The gore effects are good, but the sci-fi trappings are right out of Rentaghost. Alternative titles for this (and there are many) include the unbeatable Brunch With The Dead. Yes, they were being serious.

The Long Riders – Walter Hill is a brilliant action director whose people skills are not always evident. This 1980 Western is an exceptional bit of movie-making though. The casting has the air of “stunt” about it with real life brothers playing real life brothers so Stacy and James Keach are Frank and Jesse James, Randy and Dennis Quaid are the Millers, a whole bunch of Carradines play the Youngers and Christopher and Nicholas Guest are the Fords. It works very well however and Ry Cooder always gives good soundtrack.

Lost Continent – A lesser known 1968 Hammer film which got a pretty smart DVD release finally in 2010. It’s not horror, it’s not sci-fi. It’s a vaguely sort of fantastical film based on a book by Denis Wheatley. Its immediate cinematic neighbours would be Island At The Top Of The World and The Land That Time Forgot, that sort of thing.  A modern day ship transporting explosives is becalmed in the Sargasso Sea and encounters the descendants of people who were trapped there centuries before. And a giant octopus. It features the basically luminous Dana Gillespie who was also in The People That Time Forgot.

Dana Gillespie gets ready to rumble.

Holy hell, how long is this alphabet anyway? Coming next, from The Man Who Fell To Earth to Zombie Creeping Flesh

Love you.


One comment on “Some films that are better than Avatar (I-L)

  1. I’ll be watching Jaws 3…oh this weekend probably. Always
    like the back up Harrison Ford aka Dennis Quaid so I’m expecting it
    to be not too rubbish. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang = Genius. And the start
    of Downey Jr’s rise if you ask me.

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