Albert Finney is a would-be comedian and general smartass, places an ad in the paper announcing himself as a private eye and immediately gets in over his head. It’s a good premise, because at no point is Finney an actual detective – when he finds a gun at a crime scene, he keeps playing with it and shows it off to everyone he sees.

Albert:

Finney’s brother William (Frank Finlay, one of Lester’s Musketeers) is the type of serious businessman who also knows how to dispose of a dead body, and the brother’s girl who used to be Finney’s girl is his Charlie Bubbles costar Billie Whitelaw. Clues lead to an occult bookstore lead to a heroin trade. There’s a hot library girl, some racism, and some unusually good dialogue.

Billie:

Family get-together/squabble movie. It’s less murdery than Wheatley’s other films, and went straight to TV, so I assumed it’d be minor, but it’s really nice, my favorite since at least Sightseers. Kill List star Neil Maskell is beardy vaping Colin, whose sister Hayley Squires (Babs of In Fabric) invites their shunned brother David (Sam Riley: Ian Curtis in Control). David arrives, everyone blows up, he causes a scene as expected, is kicked out then called back, then he flips the movie by being really nice to his parents while Colin’s rage escalates until he storms out. Shot handheld with very snappy editing. I’d had fun with the Wheatleys, but it looks like he’s got himself into Netflix Remake territory with the upcoming Rebecca… maybe I’ll catch up with The Wrong Door series instead.

Other actor highlights: dad is Bill Paterson (dad of Fleabag) and mom is Doon Mackichan, a TV comedy regular ever since The Day Today. Asim Chaudhry is behind the series People Just Do Nothing. And Richard Glover (Sightseers, A Field in England) is Lord Richard, who runs the place they’re renting for the party.

Come on, the headlamp has to be a Kill List reference:

Adam Cook in Cinema Scope 78:

It is through some seriously impressive tonal sleight-of-hand that Wheatley keeps us fixed on the comical and sensationalistic aspects of his intricate plotting only to ultimately segue into something poignant and touching … The humour comes from a keen understanding of human pettiness and the convoluted relationship between people’s actions and how they feel; so as the latter is revealed, the less funny the proceedings become, and we are left with a complex and troubling assortment of sadness, trauma, and vulnerability.

Local crime boss Bob Hoskins gets back into town, and quickly has to figure out what’s going on when some of his top men start getting killed right when Bob was gonna go legit by signing with real estate developer Eddie Constantine and profit off the 1988 olympics. Turns out some of his guys took a side deal from the IRA, stole from them, and now his whole organization is under attack.

Eddie, Helen, Bob:

Bob’s in his first starring role, Helen Mirren is his unamused sister, their curlhaired partner Jeff is Derek Thompson (just off the rock musical Breaking Glass) and Paul Freeman (villain of next year’s Raiders of the Lost Ark) is Bob’s buddy who gets stabbed to death by none other than Pierce Brosnan (twelve years before his performance in The Lawnmower Man landed him the James Bond role). Bob won’t accept defeat, takes on the IRA at a demolition derby, and it almost looks like his plan’s gonna work. Decent 1980’s movie, does not live up to expectations of being an early Criterion release that I’ve been wanting to watch since it came out… in fact, the DVD release was late 1998, which is closer to the release of the original film than it is to the month I finally watched it.

“To die so that the god may live is a privilege, Kevin”

British dude casually finds some 1700-year-old coins in the backyard, and an elongated skull – I thought this was Hugh Grant for a while until the real Hugh Grant appears a couple minutes later and I realized I had no idea what Peter Capaldi looked like prior to The Thick of It. They meet at a white worm party – with a white worm costume and a band playing a rowdy white worm folk song – along with the Trent sisters. Grant is out with Sammi Davis of Hope and Glory, and her sister Eve is Catherine Oxenberg of the Yugoslavian royal family, who started her career playing princess Diana on a TV movie, and most recently appeared in Ratpocalypse and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf.

Our fearless foursome:

Everyone is talking like they’re on a sitcom, but a few short minutes later, Lady Sylvia Marsh is introduced sucking on the leg of constable Ernie (Return of the Jedi‘s rancor keeper) and the movie gets good ‘n’ crazy, and stays that way. It’s cool that Grant and Capaldi are here, but Amanda Donohoe is the movie. Looks like I can see her with Sammi Davis and Glenda Jackson in Russell’s The Rainbow, and I probably should.

Lady Marsh takes a boy scout home and feeds him to the worm-god in her basement, and Eve is taken captive next. Sylvia is excessively horny during these scenes, while the others are eating damp sandwiches, searching for signs of the long-missing Trent parents. Grant gets the Stendhal Syndrome and climbs inside a painting. Snake imagery abounds, the script is all entendres, and the visuals flit between ace makeup/lighting and insane greenscreen dream-mayhem. Most horror filmmakers are content to make normal-looking movies with a few crazy visual bits – Russell isn’t happy unless the crazy bits completely overwhelm the normal stuff.

After my second reference this month to a christian order building atop pagan grounds, Grant steps up to his destiny, and plays snake-charming music on a PA system while the team attacks the castle with help from a worm-hunting mongoose. Mary is accosted by her undead mum, then by the possessed cop, but Capaldi saves the day with snake-luring bagpipes and drops a hand grenade down the worm-god’s throat. This plan obviously took some prep, but it’s also an emergency rescue mission, so was it necessary to change into the kilt?

There’s an Oscar Wilde quote – Russell made a Wilde movie the same year. Grant appears here the year after starring in a James Ivory film, Capaldi five years after Local Hero. Partly based on a Bram Stoker novel, partly on the legend of the Lambton Worm, and I guess largely made up by Russell.

A feature-length TV season, so every characters gets their moment, and it all feels squished and irrelevant, all “okay that’s out of the way, now here’s this.” Still mostly enjoyable, even for charlatans like me who quit the series after season 3.

Branson (the Irish chauffeur-turned-family-widower) is the star here, saving the king from assassination by Claire Foy’s husband, helping the princess (Kate Phillips of Peaky Blinders) figure out her marriage, and possibly falling in love with an heiress (Sense8 star Tuppence Middleton), the secret daughter of Imelda Staunton (great, her addition to the movie helps offset Elizabeth McGovern being reliably awful).

Eight years ago I introduced the characters – but where are they now?

Branson played Queen’s manager in Bohemian Rhapsody. Lady Mary starred in the series Godless, and was in that Jim Broadbent movie Sense of an Ending with her barely-in-the-movie husband Matthew Goode. Maggie Smith, who anticlimactically tells Mary she’s dying, is keeping it classy – after the Harry Potter and Marigold Hotel movies, she appeared in Sherlock Gnomes. I saw McGovern in The Commuter and she’ll star in a War of the Worlds miniseries with Gabriel Byrne. Lady Edith (pregnant again) is in another British period royalty drama series, and big daddy Hugh Bonneville is following Paddington 2 with a Christmas movie about a magic toymaker. Shaun’s mom followed The BFG with a Ricky Gervais series.

Bates (Mary Queen of Scots) and Anna (Bob the Builder) trick the royal servants so the locals can kowtow to the king personally, recruiting Carson (con-man movie The Good Liar) and Hughes (starring in Girlfriends with Miranda Richardson). Daisy (Iannucci’s David Copperfield movie) flirts with the plumber, is set to marry some footman. Thomas (netflix horror The Ritual) discovers a gay bar and gets into a side plot with some thudding dialogue, Molesley (plays a “ghost detective” on a British series) says some dumb things, and Patmore (an India-set period drama) does the usual. I was hoping the king and queen would be someone exciting, but she’s from Little Britain and he played Arthur Dent in the original Hitchhiker’s Guide, so, nope. The same writer & director made the dull-looking Elizabeth McGovern movie The Chaperone earlier this year.

Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

Yorgos has been refining his bold visual style from Alps to Lobster to Sacred Deer, but it’s hard to notice while you’re busy making sense of his oddball characters and dialogue. So now something amazing has happened, and he’s applied those bold visuals (now featuring more fisheye lens than I’ve ever seen in a movie theater) to someone else’s script, a period comedy about women in high court behaving badly. The result wipes the floor with last year’s The Death of Stalin. And YL’s actors have always been splendid, but it’s been hard to tell since they fall into an uncanny valley of almost-not-quite human behavior, so now that they’re playing recognizable humans with killer comic insult dialogue, they’re all getting award nominations.

Queen Olivia Colman’s best friend Rachel Weisz handles all the complex policy issues while the queen hides away in her rabbit room, and this is fine until Rachel’s cousin Emma Stone shows up and starts insinuating herself. These are all based on real people according to the wiki, though it doesn’t mention whether the real Queen had 17 pet rabbits representing all her miscarried children. Nicholas “Beast/Nux” Hoult plays a parliament member who tries to get Emma to spy for him, and maybe if I see him in a few more movies I’ll start to recognize him, but probably not. Premiered at Venice with Roma, Buster Scruggs, Suspiria and Vox Lux, and sold out Phipps on a Sunday matinee, which I thought was impressive until I realized Phipps got those gigantic lounge seats and now only 24 people can fit in their tiny theaters.

Oh no, it’s a bunch of right proper British people. Just looking at them in their identical suits, I can tell they’re going to tell the most tame unscary ghost stories and the others will act like it’s just so horrible they might spill their tea.

Mr. Craig (Mervyn Johns, 1951’s Bob Cratchit) arrives at a hotel, says he’s never been there and doesn’t know anyone but he has dreamt this and knows what will happen. Series of stories/flashbacks ensue, while a doubting psychologist with an overdone accent (German Frederick Valk) observes.

Cratchit and the German:

First we’ve got auto racer Hugh (Anthony Baird), who had a premonition of a creepy hearse driver that reminded me of the first story of The King in Yellow, skips riding a bus that ends up crashing. Not a terribly spooky way to start the movie, if you haven’t just read The King in Yellow, directed by Basil Dearden of The League of Gentlemen fame.

Next, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) recalls a party, and the only thing worse than uptight proper British adults is British youngsters. She meets a ghost boy who lives in the walls, and either this segment was quite short and nothing much happens, or I’m just blocking it from my mind due to all the youngsters.

A good one next, by Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets), in which a wife (Googie Withers of One of Our Aircraft is Missing) gives her new husband (Ralph Michael) a haunted mirror, which shows him an alternate reality that entrances him for hours at a time.

Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) directs the weirdest segment, a love triangle between two sportsmen who propose a golf game to win the hand of Mary (Peggy Bryan), who is delighted by the idea instead of appalled, because it was the 1940’s. The older Michael Caine-looking guy wins by cheating, so the other guy suicides into the water hazard, then returns as a ghost to torment his buddy during golf games. The two guys are Charters and Caldicott of The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich and Crook’s Tour, and I wouldn’t normally welcome a wacky comedy golfing bit in the middle of my ghoul anthology, but they pull it off.

Finally, the obligatory ventriloquist dummy story, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, who also did the framing story and the youngsters with the ghost in the walls. I’ve seen Cavalcanti’s gonzo silent Nothing But Time, but he has fully adjusted to the sound era, because all the characters talk too often and use too many words. Hartley Power is a balding ventriloquist who crashes the show of Michael Redgrave (also The Lady Vanishes, and The Go-Between), annoyingly creates a rivalry where there didn’t need to be one, while the psychologist has himself a flashback-in-a-flashback. I think one of the dummies is alive, but I was focused on the movie having a Harry Parker and a Larry Potter, and how close they came. Whole bunch of writers, including H.G. Wells, who did the golf story of all things.

This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.

These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.

It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.