In our increasingly innumerate series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present John Carpenter’s urban western: Assault on Precinct 13.

People are always trying to remake John Carpenter’s films. There’s been a bunch of Halloween sequels, a The Thing remake and an Assault on Precinct 13 remake. It’s probably his own fault. His The Thing was after all a remake that managed to surpass the original Howard Hawks picture The Thing from Outer Space. Even Assault on Precinct 13 is a kind of remake. It’s basically Rio Bravo – again Howard Hawks – remade as urban nightmare.

Austin Stoker plays Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, a cop whose first command is a deserted station house in the middle of a rough ghetto in Los Angeles. The police station is being mothballed and Bishop just needs to sit out the night, but unbeknownst to him a criminal gang with a large cache of weapons have sworn a blood oath against the LAPD, a child is about to be murdered and a bus transporting a high profile prisoner is about to stop off. Before you can say – Night of the Living Dead – the criminal hoards are descending on the Alamo style holdout and the cop and criminal and civilian must work together to survive.

Carpenter crafts his low budget thriller with amazing style and discipline. A sequence involving a murderous gang and an ice cream van is an exercise in building tension. And then with a pay off that to this day packs a horrific punch. Although the script was the work of a mere 8 days, it has some genuinely witty dialogue, especially with the character of the infamous prisoner Napoleon Wilson and his wise-assery. A similarly cheap and cheerful approach went with the soundtrack but it’s one of Carpenter’s best.

The tension and violence begins to dissipate rather than escalate as the lack of budget begins to show. But such sniping is unworthy. This is a brilliant genre exercise in less is more.

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In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present the gritty football drama North Dallas Forty.

If you were to look at the poster of North Dallas Forty, you might think it is going to be a boisterous comedy. Raucous laughs, beery fun, locker room jokes. That kind of thing.

But I don’t think there’s a more brutal film about professional sports. Nick Nolte stars as Phil Elliott, a professional footballer whose body is a calamitous mass of bruises and barely healed bones. Seeing him ease into a bath as he sucks down painkillers, booze and pot to numb the results of the previous night’s game is to watch a body literally on its last legs. Directed by Ted Kotchef, the film shows the sport to be a decadent activity stripped of almost all romance in the pursuit of success and money.

The team is held up as the ultimate value. But ultimately there’s no reciprocity. The team doesn’t matter. As Elliott tells his coach: ‘We’re not the team; we’re the equipment.’

Nolte was a footballer for a time and he imbues his role with a world weary knowledge. He’s a self-destructive man who might be saved by simple weariness as much as a late romantic entanglement with Charlotte, a girl he meets at a party. The partying is a microcosm of the world, with a very rapey vibe as well as violence and humiliation lingering under the hedonism. Elliott and his quarterback pal pop pills and drink beers as they prepare for the game, but Elliott has been benched. There might be a possibility of one last chance, but it means getting the doctor to drug him so he doesn’t feel the pain of his destroyed knee.

There have been plenty of disaffected sports films – Slapshot comes to mind and Fat City – but North Dallas Forty hangs in there as one of the most critical of its subject. The only plea for the sport as a sport rather than a business comes from one of the dumbest characters as they other players look on slack-jawed with surprise.

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In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present the low budget cult horror Carnival of Souls.

Some horror movies are surprising. They jump scare you or they Shyamalan you in the nuts when you least expect. Other horror movies depened on the dread of you knowing more or less what is going on. When Mary (Candace Hilligossis) and her girlfriends are involved in a car accident which sees their car run off the road and into a river, she is the only survivor. You know that it isn’t the case. Strange things continue to happen and she is haunted by the startling vision of stalking man. Moving to a new town and a new job – she is a church organist – doesn’t seem to help. Her character is stoic and solitary. She hasn’t an ounce of romanticism, nor despite her job is she particularly enamoured of music or for that matter religion.

She’s harrassed by a fellow lodger who is goofishly predatory and something of a drunk. All the time her visions of a stalking man continue and she is slowly drawn to an abandoned carnival on the edge of town. Everything about the film drips the creepiness of the inevitable. Fate is coming her way and nothing can stop it. Not her intelligence, nor cool is any relief. In fact, her detachment takes on a literal form when suddenly she can’t be heard by anyone or seen as if she were invisible. The intervention of a doctor doesn’t help much and there is a Lynchian sense of the weirdness of the super normal as well. The film was made in 1962, written, produced, and directed by Herk Harvey, who also plays the freak from the visions. The low budget also lends a strangeness to the movie that high budget horror can only aspire to.

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47 FILMS: 47. DUNE

In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams we present Dune.

Blue Velvet disturbs and Elephant Man moves, but David Lynch’s Dune is by far his most entertaining film. Based on Frank Herbert’s epic novel, it tells the tale of House Atreides and their move to the desert planet of Arrakis, the only source of the hallucinogenic Spice. Don’t worry. This isn’t about turmeric or something. The Spice allows for the navigators to fold time and space and thus travel vast distances through space.

Paul Atreides – the Duke’s son – is being trained by his weird mom as well as Jean Luc Picard to take over from his father. The  dangers of complicated politics and particularly the threat of the rival Harkonnen house, a family that resembles a less fat and disgusting version of Donald Trump, surround the family and soon mother and son are fleeing into the desert as the family are attacked. Here as the Harkonnen take over the planet, Paul and his magic mum seek refuge with the Freemen. Sorry, I meant Fremen.

Of course, the film has flaws. I can’t think of any, but it has them. Perhaps the last half becomes lost as it does its best to take us through the messianic rise of Paul. But frankly the flaws are also in Herbert’s novel. Like Lord of the Rings, Dune is basically an okay-ish novel, full of mock medieval scrumptons and elevated by the worlds invented around it.

Lynch’s vision is startling and has moments of genuine beauty and ugliness. The cast are superb. The guy from Das Boot, Picard, MacLachlan and Sean Young are great. And then there’s Sting in his pants!  Sting. In. His. Pants.

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In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams we present King Hu’s wuxia classic A Touch of Zen.

Gu (Shih Chun) is a well-meaning unambitious artist and scribe in a small town in China. There is a mystery around. Strangers in town. Yang, a girl with a knock you down stare (Hsu Feng) moves into the deserted house next door. Secrets of state,a  power grab, injustice and fighting, but Gu still has to deal with his nagging mother and her ambitions for him to be a clerk.

Influenced by the Sergio Leone westerns, King Hu’s Eastern begins as a languid affair, but once the action starts it quickly becomes a mesmerising spectacle. There are many weirdnesses about it. The way Gu for instance doesn’t fight and serves as a kind of mastermind/damsel in distress. It is Yang who is both the fighter and the rescuer.

The way that the consequences of violence are dealt with as well. There is a moral, dare I say spiritual aspect to the film. Roy Chiao as an almost invincible abbot of  a community of fighting monks is a solid centre. A brilliantly charismatic turn. The film moves away from the village into a more mythical landscape of misty woods and mountain tops.

Influencing hundreds of subsequent films – including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Touch of Zen is a touch of genius.

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In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Robert Downey Sr.’s cult classic Putney Swope.

Gravelly voiced Arnold Johnson is Putney Swope, the only black man on the board of a Madison Avenue advertising firm. When the boss dies, he is accidentally elected to run the company. He implements a series of radical changes, including renaming the company “Truth and Soul, Inc”. He insists on rejecting clients such as tobacco firms and war toys for kids, and uses his street wise ways to inject something fresh into the culture. All the adverts are in color against the film’s stark black and white. It’s a hilarious bunch of jibes and yet ducks and weaves, always moving. Almost Brechtian in its refusal to give a straightforward narrative, Putney Swope is like a surreal episode of Mad Men directed by a combination of Louis CK and Spike Lee.

Made in 1969, the film represents underground counter-culture film-making at its best. As bold and original as its protagonist, go for it man.

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In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Eli Kazan’s prophetic political satire A Face in the Crowd.

Anyone wondering at the bizarre events of the 2016 presidential election could do worse than watch Eli Kazan’s 1957 political satire A Face in the Crowd. Written by Budd Schulberg, the film is an insanely accurate prophecy of exactly what we’ve been living through with Herr Trump.

When colorful inmate and singer  is plucked from the obscurity of the town drunk tank and given his chance on the radio, no one could have predicted the meteoric rise of Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith. Am ‘aw shucks’ man of the people, Lonesome’s full of refreshing energy and no-nonsense common sense, harking back to frontier values of freedom and liberty. From a role on the Grand Ole Oprey, he thumbs his nose at the establishment and is soon being lauded by top corporations as he morphs into an advertising Midas, giving the common touch and lending products and his own show huge boosts in sales and ratings. Soon he’s being sought to give advice to a possible Presidential candidate, whose image he revamps. His trajectory is witnessed by a jaded Walter Matthau (was Matthau ever not jaded?) and a beautifully tragic Patricia Neal as Marcia, a woman who discovers Rhodes, falls in love with him, only to be thrown over for a baton-twirling cheerleader, played with minxy relish by Lee Remick.

The brash charm of Rhodes however hides an ambition and cunning that soon sees him vaulting all and leaving cinders in his wake. If none of this sounds even a little bit familiar then good morning Rip, you’ve got some catching up to do. Even Lonesome’s downfall, thanks to a microphone he thinks isn’t on, has an all too familiar sound.

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In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Val Guest’s British disaster movie: The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

You don’t usually expect a disaster movie to be made in Britain. Strange because H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is probably one of the earliest templates for the disaster film. And other English writers such as John Wyndham and JG Ballard have made entire careers out of imagining the United Kingdom being variously flooded, burned up, taken over by weird children or invaded by killer potted plants. Val Guest’s amazingly stark Hammer channels some of this foreboding. Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) is an angry young man very much in the Albert Finney / Richard Burton mold. A jaded Fleet Street journo with a drink problem, a broken marriage and a complete disinterest in his work. However, when the Russians and the US test two nuclear bombs at the same time the course of the Earth is altered and the world is sent hurtling towards the sun. Of course, this isn’t immediately obvious as the government tries to hush things up, but Stenning with the help of the beautiful Janet Munroe, as a Met Office secretary who might have the secret to what is going on. It isn’t that Stenning discovers himself a crusading reporter. In fact, there’s a glum lack of melodrama and instead a pessimistic drift towards disaster as the unseasonably warm weather becomes something more sinister.

With some amazing scenes of desolation prefiguring 28 Days Later, the thin veneer of civilization is scratched and mad partying takes over. Leo McKern is superb as Peter’s long suffering pal. Less good is the actual editor of the Daily Express who plays himself unconvincingly. For extra points try and spot an extremely early appearance by the young Michael Caine.

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In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Paul Schrader’s hard-working Blue Collar.

Films about the working class in American cinema are pretty rare. As a matter of fact we don’t even like the words working class. We prefer to call everybody middle class and in that way pretend that dentists and dock workers, lawyers and lettuce pickers, studio execs and gaffers are all in the same boat together. Paul Schrader’s 1978 directorial debut Blue Collar knows there’s a working class and he goes right into the heart of it. Three pals – the loudmouth Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor), tough guy ex-con Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto) and Jerry Bartowski (Harvey Keitel) – work on the production line of a huge auto factory in Detroit. Their complaints and gripes range from the trivial to the fundamental and their union rep pays lip service but little else. Despite working full time, they’re all squeezed for money with Jerry working two jobs and Zeke running various scams to pick up more dough and them both trying to support their families. Meanwhile, an investigator is prowling the after work bars looking for dirt on the union which is considered one of the most corrupt in the city. At the end of their collective tethers, they decide to knock off the safe in their local union office and split the money three ways. Cue a low paid caper like something out of Palookaville with the least appropriate dime store masks as disguises.

Of course, everything begins to go wrong and of course their friendship begins to buckle under the strain. The frustration which bubbled under the surface throughout the film begins to rise to the surface in large bubbles of simple rage. This is an angry film which is able to see more than one side of an argument while at the same time knowing which side it is on. No punches are pulled and yet at the same time it is funny, with some of the best swearing ever put on screen. The three leads supply career best performances and Pryor in particular is allowed to truly let rip with the anger that inspired some of his best stand up.

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In our continuing series of 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams, we look at Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing.

Nicolas Roeg along with John Boorman and Ken Russell were the most active and fascinating filmmakers to come out of the British Isles during the 70s. Roeg was a former cinematographer whose credits included Doctor Zhivago and The Masque of the Red Death before he turned his hand to direction with the co-directed the gender-bending meditation on crime, stardom and identity Performance. His fragmented editing style and brutal frankness made provocative and exciting cinema in an unbelievable run of films that included Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Walkabout. Each film gnawed at the very idea of what it means to be human. Roeg was the antithesis of the Chariots of Fire school of prestige English cinema. His films are not scared of being ugly when looking at ugliness, but it is this clear-eyed courage which makes the moments of beauty and tenderness all the more meaningful.

Bad Timing comes at the end of a wonderful decade for Roeg but it wasn’t an easy decade despite the work produced (actually because of it). Performance was delayed for three years while Warner Bros struggled with what to do about it. Each film involved a battle with the studio, but the work would out. Taking its inspiration from an unread Italian novel, Bad Timing is the story of an unraveling toxic relationship. Dr. Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is a psychoanalyst who lectures at the university in Austria, and Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) is a beautiful young woman drifting through Vienna, enjoying her alcohol and her various lusts. She is recently separated from her Czech husband (Denholm Elliott). Alex does some spying on the side and when he meets Milena, he seems to have found his perfect subject. The cold repressed scientist however starts to fragment as he is unable to handle Milena striking demands, her sexuality and his own jealousy. He tries to possess her with a proposal of marriage, something she seems to ignore completely: ‘But I’m happy now,’ she says.

Their relationship is played out in flashback against the long midnight of the soul of Milena’s attempted suicide. Harvey Kietel is a police detective who is trying yo piece together the chronology of the night’s events, suspecting that Alex has raped Milena while she was comatose from her drug overdose. The Bad Timing of the title is a dark joke, about as dark as you can get. The two main timelines allows Roeg to inter-cut the most disconcerting conjunctions – sex with a tracheotomy, orgasm with the operating room, love with a vaginal swab. Romantic love is shredded by sharp need.

The editing doesn’t just make connections, it evokes the untouchable distances between times, episodes, moments – the gaps, the interstices through which what we had disappears. Stanley Kubrick would explore the same themes in his adaptation of a story by the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut, but Roeg’s vision feels much more uncomfortable, less glossy and detached, more naked and vulnerable.

On a side note, the soundtrack features on eclectic mix of jazz, classical and rock with Keith Jarrett and Tom Waits suggesting the yearning that makes this film so moving even at its most brutal. The studio Rank were so appalled by Roeg’s movie they had their famous logo removed from the cut and famously described it as ‘a sick film made by sick people for sick people’. In other words, this is one for us.

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In our continuing series of 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams, we look at William Friedkin’s Sorcerer

SorcererWilliam Friedkin‘s remake of Henri Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear – was a lumbering ego ridden production nightmare and on its release a big budget disaster at the box office which effectively ended Friedkin’s post-Exorcist wunderkind reputation and put him in the naughty corner, soon to be joined by Michael Cimino, but the film is an amazing sweaty feast of male angst and explosive tension. A group of disparate renegades – a stick up man, a French swindler, a hit man and a terrorist – wind up in a South American mining town. When a fire breaks out in the mine, they seize the high risk job of transporting boxes of nitroglycerin through the jungle in a pair of beaten up monster trucks. Friedkin throws everything at the men: rickety bridges, felled trees, roaring rivers and gun-toting banditos. The mutually suspicious men must learn to put aside their distrust and work together. 

Following his rocket to stardom with Jaws, Roy Scheider gives perhaps his best performance, and the film is full of intense furrow-browed seriousness and elemental . But coming as it did in the immediate wake of Star Wars with an opening quarter of an hour without any English dialogue and featuring a host of unsympathetic characters doing an apparently ludicrous thing, Sorcerer – oh and the f*cking title was a mistake as well – went directly down the box office toilet without touching the sides and was roundly thrashed by a critical community who were already hostile to the idea of a jumped up yank remaking a classic of French Cinema. A remastered version is due out next year and a revival will deservedly be afoot by then. 

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In our continuing series of 47 films to watch before you are murdered in your dreams, we look at Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Choosing a favorite Monty Python film is like choosing a favorite dad, utterly pointless. All your dads are fantastic and if you want them to take the blood test to find out which one is the real one then I pity your feeble-minded pedantry.

Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and John Cleese were both collectively and individually responsible for some of the finest British/American comedy ever made. Their first film And Now for Something Completely Different was a rehash of their sketch show repackaged for non-Brit audiences. The Quest for the Holy Grail has a frail pretense of plot but is essentially a sketch show around a theme, but is a work of anarchic genius that has managed to survive endless quote-athons. It is a ballsy, funny film, which throws ideas out as soon as the comedy has been done and includes some moments of such comedy perfection, it’s breathtaking.

Their next film had more plot and a tighter focus for the satire. The Life of Brian tells the story of the reluctant Messiah, Brian, the poor bastard born in the stable next door to Jesus. Along the way it rips the merry piss out of religion at a time when Christianity still had a stranglehold on the censors in a number of countries, leading to it being banned in a number of countries, leading to the hilarious poster tag ‘So funny, Norway banned it.’

Monty Python were no doctrinaire enemies of religion as such: their targets were the humorless. These included political fanatics ‘SPLITTERS!’; the authority figures of the Roman administrators ‘Biggus Dickus’ and the religious authorities ‘No one is to stone any one until I blow this whistle’ as well as the religious fundamentalists, who take little over three minutes from the creation of a new religion to the murder of the first blasphemer. Jesus is a distant figure preaching too far away to be properly heard, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers?’

In 1979, people were spitting feathers about this film, but I know priests who now use sketches from the film to prove their point about the twisting of religion to evil ends. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could have a Muslim Monty Python merrily upsetting the Ummah, and in the process puncturing some of the pomposity and self-seriousness which allows the most tragically absurd ideas to survive.

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HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our series of 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams, we look at Terry Gilliam’s suitably nutty Brazil.

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is an unambitious man working his humdrum job in records, dealing with a fully automated home where everything malfunctions and living happily enough in a society plagued terrorist attacks and an authoritarian regime that suppresses all freedom.  Like Hamlet, he would be happy ‘were it not that I have bad dreams’.  Okay. Sam’s dreams are a Mitty like escape from the fearful drudgery that surrounds him. He is a winged knight forever rescuing the fair maiden, but it is this which will get him in so much trouble when he meets his fantasy in the form of real life trucker Jill (Kim Greist). This leads him to accept the promotion his mother (Katherine Helmond) has finagled to Information Retrieval.

Brazil presents perhaps the most successful cinematic version of George Orwell’s 1984 – there are several direct references in the film. However, Gilliam’s dystopia is not only oppressive by design but arbitrarily incompetent. The whole course of events starts with a typo, the ghost in the machine is a squashed fly. The ludicrous – rogue plumbers who actually fix things on time are considered terrorists, socialites compete on who can have the most radical plastic surgery – mix with the horrifying. There’s something dreadful in Sam’s fate as he is essentially a little boy, cosseted by his mother and who has never questioned the world in which he lives, as he races whooping towards a confrontation with forces he doesn’t understand. Pryce is perfect in the role. And the cameos are all pitch perfect grotesques. Gilliam’s fellow Python, Michael Palin is excellent as Sam’s cheery peer, a friendly torturer who is as much fascinated by office politics as he is committed to his own gruesome efficiency; Bob Hoskins as Spoor, the government plumber and Robert de Niro as Tuttle, the rogue plumber.

Gilliam’s visual sense creates a detailed and visually striking world, the creaking 1940s technology of tubes and ducts. Tom Stopard co-screenwriter is on hand to give the same detail to the language of euphemism and coercion that dominates the film. Or the deputy minister Helpman (Peter Vaughn) with his endless supply of sporting metaphors. Read the posters in the background – ‘Don’t Suspect a Friend, Report Him!’

Brazil was Gilliam’s masterpiece and the troubles he had making the film and getting it distributed set him on a trajectory of awkwardness for years to come, but frankly it was worth it.

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HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our series of 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams, Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany star in Peter Weir’s seaworthy Patrick O’Brian adaptation Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

In a world where there are way too many hyphenated titles and way, way too many sequels, Peter Weir’s fantastic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the one that got away. Pirates of the Caribbean will be repeated until you’re seasick but Master and Commander is the magnificent one off, a heroic broadside of a movie.

Based on two of the Patrick O’Brian novels in the long running Aubrey/Maturin series spliced together, the film tells the story of Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) commanding the HMS Surprise and his hunting of the phantom privateer the Acheron in the Southern Oceans. Weir plumbs his source material brilliantly, with almost every character named without necessarily being introduced and with wonderfully observed period detail, from the food to the language. On one level a perfect adventure film, the sea battles are terrifyingly authentic with most combatants killed from flying splintered wood rather than cannonballs and smoke enveloping the scene. But as well as buckling swashes, this is a subtle bromance between the bluff but bright and a tad heavy Captain and his close friend, musical partner and proto-Darwinian the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin, played by a pitch perfect Paul Bettany.

Whether Weir was uninterested in repeating himself – he is after all the director of such diverse greats as The Truman Show, Dead Poet’s Society, Gallipoli, The Cars that Ate Paris, Witness and the sublime Picnic at Hanging Rock – or the studio was disappointed that they hadn’t got a Gladiator Goes to Sea, Master and Commander 2 never set sail. However, it would be churlish to focus on that.

Weir throughout his filmography has consistently explored closed worlds with their own rules and culture and the HMS Surprise is a perfect setting for him to explore his concerns and Crowe and Bettany give command performances in a well oiled ensemble. Master and Commander is that rarity, an action film which is clever, witty and fantastic fun.

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