The View From Here

Bank Holiday films -- oh, for the love of God...

Michael Bonner

While my compatriots are at Reading Festival, I've been spending a quiet weekend either enjoying the sun on London Fields or watching the typically variable output terrestrial TV has to offer. It's a dirty job, and all that.

Last night began in fairly demonic style. Channel 4 screened Little Nicky, Adam Sandler's comedy in which he plays the Devil's dorky son, out to save his father (Harvey Keitel) from disintegrating once his two other offspring -- including Rhys Ifans -- head off to conquer Earth. Keitel is quite the comic actor, not a patch on his other Scorsese alumni, De Niro, so good in Midnight Run and Meet The Fockers, for pacing, but his Satan has a rather warm, laid back way of eliciting laughs. Sandler, who I admit to finding a fairly uneven comedy performer, finds a good schtick here, as the nerdy little demon finding his heart of gold. I guess it's decent and undemanding Bank Holiday fare.

Far better, over on BBC 2, was Witchfinder General, Michael Reeves' last film as director, and something of a cult classic, up there with the Wicker Man as a genuinely original British horror film. Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkin, the 17th century lawyer turned witch hunter, prowling post-Civil War England in search of flesh to burn. It's pretty much Price's best performance -- a rich, psychological study in evil -- and when pushed to name a great, contemporary B movie horror actor my thoughts turn to Lance Henriksen.

I got talking with a friend about Near Dark last weekend at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which I think is Henriksen -- and director Kathryn Bigelow's -- greatest film. It's a fantastic, contemporary vampire-noir, with a young Mid-Western farm boy (Adrian Pasdar, currently in Heroes) drawn into the orbit of a bunch of murderous drifters headed up by Henrisken's sinister Jesse. In one great exchange, Pasdar's Caleb asks Jesse how old he is, and his reply: "Let's put it this way: I fought for the South. We lost."

I'll save the rest of my thoughts on Near Dark for a seperate blog, because, frankly, the more I think about it, the more it deserves one. In fact, I'm already mulling over a Lost Boys vs Near Dark face-off sometime soon...

Anyway. I also caught some of John Carpenter's excellent Assault On Precinct 13 last night. Carpenter's direction still feels incredibly lean and gripping, as he works his way inventively round budgetary restrictions to create a powerful thriller, with the near-derelict station house on Precinct 9, Division 13, beset by armed teenage gangs. I'm struggling to find an appropriate comparison to draw with David Cameron's crass and lurid vision of "anarchy in the UK" following Rhys Jones' death -- Nogzy and Crocky, perhaps, as vicious and amoral as the "feral" gangs who roam Carpenter's movie.

Today, BBC2 showed William Cameron Menzies' Things To Come, based on H G Wells' novel, a superior sci-fi from 1936. There was also the light, modernism reinterpretation of Wilde's Importance Of Being Ernest, with a rollicking performance from Rupert Everett as Algy, and Judi Dench immaculately imperious as Lady Bracknell.

Worst, by a long mile, was the ill-conceived remake of The Mean Machine, with Vinnie Jones in the Burt Reynolds role as a disagraced footballer locked up in prison and forming a team of cons to take on the screws in a match. It's crass, charmless and not a patch on the Porridge movie which I really wish the BBC would wheel out at times like this. Surely, that's the best TV sitcom-to-screen transfer of all time..? In fact, though it's only six years old, Mean Machine feels like it's been beamed down from another time, so dated is its lumped Brit-hop/amyl house soundtrack and cast of Guy Ritchie mockney B-listers. Is that a young Danny Dyer I see there? Christ, how come his career's lasted so long..?

Tomorrow, at least, promises Anchor Man -- surely the finest mainstream American comedy of the last five years -- and staples such as Ben-Hur and the magnificent Planet Of The Apes, along side Chinatown and Raising Arizona.

Well, if the weather doesn't hold, at least I know there's something good on the telly.


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