Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies

Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies is a documentary film available to rent and buy from 26th April. It’s a touching tribute movie from Amanda Ladd-Jones the daughter of one of the film industry’s most unknown and yet most influential film executives and producers – Alan Ladd Jnr – Laddie.

The film shows a series of interviews with directors, producers and stars of the film industry who have worked with Laddie, a man whose credits list is so huge it would be hard to find someone who has had the same commercial success or general popularity. With over 150 academy award nominations and 50 academy award wins, his jaw dropping collection of films include Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Once Upon a Time in America, Thelma and Louise, Braveheart and Chariots of Fire, to name just a few.

The film has a somewhat loose and informal feel perhaps because of his daughter’s familiarity with the subject matter. The interviews have family, friends and colleagues of her father giving candid accounts of some of the most important deals and events in film history with an outpouring of respect and admiration for a man in a role where the two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Considered a traditional studio style producer from a bygone era with a reputation for putting the film and the artist first, compared to the studio films of today that have become synonymous for their corporate management approach and committee decision making, this guy is held up as a man of integrity whom all the major directors and actors find it easy to talk highly of.

Using pictures and video clips taken through the years, it’s like a family album yet of someone married to his job. Aided by his daughter’s narration who is in search of the man behind all these great pictures, whilst looking for some kind of placation as to why she feels her father had been missing from her life. Intriguingly something similar had happened to him, as we find out Alan Ladd Snr, himself an early Hollywood film idol, had ostracised him, and left him feeling the burden of his family name, in what is a real life tale about Hollywood royalty. 

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A driven man who had devoted his life to film from his early days as an agent working with a similarly high profile list of film names including Judy Garland, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty, to heading up London International Management Ltd in the UK before switching to producing because the roles conflicted and he ended up becoming head of 20th Century Fox. His management style brought success and he is widely regarded as the man responsible for getting Star Wars made. Hard to believe, but it was his belief that convinced a reluctant boardroom to make a film casting ‘a hairy dog’ as a lead. The films that follow are equally as iconic.

For students of film it is a great opportunity to be able to place a man and his role in the history of cinema but it also brings into account the emotional ties of family. His influence on films was more than just his backing, he was known for his creative verve and willingness to take a risk and back the talent. He would be involved with the creative process, even putting women forward in an industry not noted for it, most notably here with Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott’s Alien and the success of Thelma and Louise in one of the most popular female protagonist stories ever made. He also pushed for women behind the camera too, all in all, making a conclusive link to recognising the influence of his daughters, which seems very much sort after here.

The film only skims the surface of a life in an industry that has touched so many lives in so many different ways. The role of the movie mogul doesn’t get much credit in comparison to the famous actors and directors featured here. How much of an influence he has had on them all is hard to tell but by the sounds of this he has done a fair amount in shaping the films that have been the backdrop to our lives, making this essential viewing for any film buff.

Film: Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies

Director: Amanda Ladd-Jones

Stars: Mel Brooks, George Lucas, Ron Howard, Ridley Scott

Genre: Documentary

Run time: 1hr 23min

Rated: PG

Rating: 4/5

Righteous Villains

Righteous Villains will be released on DVD and digital download from 19th April and is the third instalment from director Savvas D. Michael for distributors Saints and Savages, this time taking a London crime story into the dark underworld of secret societies and devil worshipping.

It starts with a wild mob thirsty for blood and a bloodied man lieing in bed berating a secret society he’s fallen foul of. He begins to narrate his story about how he got into this position. A self-confessed thief, liar and con artist; this door-to-door salesman, Jeremiah (Jamie Crew), dupes vulnerable people with his lottery postcode scamming. Having lived a life of poverty he’s doing whatever he can to survive, so when he gets an anonymous invitation from a man in a white suit, it is one he can’t refuse. The strange invitation introduces him to a spiritual preacher, Adrestos (Cavin Cornwall), weirdly keen on self-harming. He’s also joined by a foul mouthed Jolie (Lois Brabin-Platt), hellbent on trouble having lost her lover, Mickey Monroe (Gary Dourdan), the man who saved her from a life on the streets. She too has nothing to lose and they accept their challenge to visit the secret society, a New World Order, who sell their souls to Satan. Their job is to find a child, a descendent of the illuminati, in return for a handsome reward and for Jolie she will be reunited with her dead husband. But only one of them will be able to escape Satan’s lair.

As the third film in quick succession from Savvas D. Michael, it continues with the theme of exploring criminal underworlds full of unpleasant characters but this time looking into secret societies and devil worshipping. Like his previous films there are plenty of guns and violence and some shockingly offensive dialogue but it lacks much of the vibrancy from its predecessors including any entertaining soundtracks. The talk of lost sacred scriptures in juxtaposition with the brash tough talking cockney vernacular tries hard to entertain but lacks any likeable panache and the costumes and sets at times fall short in making believe we’ve been transported to anything but a fancy dress party on a northern isle of England. Lois Brabin-Platt is the gun wielding female gangster with full-on swearing, which she plays to a fault but her desire to be reunited with her dead husband (Gary Dourdan who is reduced to a somewhat limited zombie state) is a little bit deluded from the start. Adam Deacon is the authoritative demonic voice of Satan and whilst there is some light-hearted social mimicry, like the judge passing sentence on the sinners, the supporting cast of damned followers mostly fail to impress. There’s also a cameo from Steven Berkoff who is barely recognisable at the back of shot, unless watching on a big screen. He’s pampering his poor grandson, Jeremiah, played by Jamie Crew, who’s squirming uncontrollably on his bed doing his best tribute to the Exorcist, as he recounts his brush with the devil.

It’s another bold attempt at a gangster epic drawing upon pulp gangster stories and horror influences that raises the bar again, but sadly, mostly for offensiveness, in another unashamed attack on political correctness. There are flashes of mystical intrigue from the script which is overloaded with ideas but its narration and visual imagery never fully captivates in its attempts to bring the criminal underworld and the mythical underworld together.


Film: Righteous Villains

Director: Savvas D. Michael

Stars: Gary Dourdan, Lois Brabin-Platt, Steven Berkoff, Adam Deacon

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Run time: 1hr 15min

Rated: 15

Rating: 2/5

Into The Labyrinth

Available on DVD and digital download from 19th April, Into the Labyrinth, starring Dustin Hoffman, is a twisted psychological thriller in Italian and American English with a great international cast about a girl’s abduction and the hunt for her kidnapper.

The film starts with the strange disappearance of a young girl Samantha Andretti (Valentina Bellè) and her subsequent reappearance. We find her in hospital where she’s being interviewed by a psychiatrist (Dustin Hoffman). She’s on psychotropic drugs and finds out she has been missing for 15 years. Her memory is limited and all she can remember is her time in the labyrinth, a dark maze where she recalls doing tasks in order to receive rewards of food and water. Meanwhile retired credit recovery detective Bruno Genko (Toni Servillo) has been requested by the girl’s family to find her kidnapper and even though she’s been found, he doesn’t have much time, having been told he only has a number of days to live by his doctor. He get’s a lead from a young escort acquaintance of his who tells him the girl’s discovery was made by an anonymous phone caller and so he starts following a trail of clues leading to stranger and more sinister characters.

It’s an intriguing crime mystery written and directed by Donato Carrisi who has delivered a dark and twisted film full of strange characters, with disturbing sounds and supernatural special effects that play with the senses. The cinematography captures the humid heatwave conditions with some overexposed shots and the locations, like the imposing missing people bureau, with wall to wall pictures of unsolved cases, set an ominous tone. The atmospheric orchestra score supervised by Giovanni Arcadu heightens the investigative mood and the film switches between Italian and American English adding to the film’s disorientating nature but without any apparent reason except to accommodate Dustin Hoffman’s role. Toni Servillo plays a wonderful retired detective on one last case, recording his notes into his dictaphone in his husky Italian voice, who likes listening to religious radio. Dustin Hoffman plays the reassuring psychiatrist with his own unmistakable voice and Valentina Bellè is absorbing as the disturbed female who tries to recount her experience in the labyrinth.

The film has the mysterious air of a Twin Peaks with its creepy characters and supernatural flashes that results in a provocative Italian film noir where not everything is as it seems. It pushes the boundaries of plausibility and gets a bit weird but is cemented together with some beautifully spoken dialogues and an immaculate Godfatheresque scoring.

Film: Into The Labyrinth

Director: Donato Carrisi

Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Toni Servillo, Valentina Bellè

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Run time: 1hr 30min

Rated: 15

Rating: 4/5

Red Rage

Red Rage will be released in the UK on 12th April on DVD and digital download, it’s the second of three films to be directed by Savvas D. Michael who reunites with a host of UK talent including Vas Blackwood and Ian Reddington with a guest appearance from Steven Berkoff in this series of gangster thrillers.

The film starts with a vigilante couple Ella (Fernanda Diniz) and Oscar (Jack Turner) who are on a mission from God to rid the town of an addictive drug ‘Red Devil’ by killing the drug dealers whilst getting sexual kicks along the way. The town is full of seedy pimps, drug dealers and addicts such as Riley (Jamie Crew), one of the drug addicts, desperate for ‘Red Devil’, which is in short supply. His contorted contractions using ‘Red Devil’ make painful viewing as he desperately searches for drug dealers who are disappearing rapidly at the hands of Ella and Oscar. Hugo (Ian Reddington) is the spaced out local weed dealer who’s made his own special weed concoction ‘Triple Cream Dream’ as well as dealing in ‘Red Devil’. Hugo is a bit of a dope even for a drug dealer in his floppy eared hat, plenty of clientele pass through his doors but he wishes for a more compassionate punter who’ll stop and be more sociable but they never do, except that is for Gabrielle his much more imposing sidekick who keeps him company on his plush white sofa. Then there is the Virtual Reality shop where customers come for a virtual experience of their choice which ranges from plain old euphoria to some more unrepeatable sexual fantasies that completes this dark dystopian underworld setting.

The film has put a lot into making a visually creative gangster thriller. Shot mostly at night the film explores some interesting exteriors and interiors showing some stylised settings with lots of graffiti and neon lighting. Writer director Savvas D. Michael, working with some familiar faces that include a cameo from Steven Berkoff as one of Hugo’s hallucinations, Vas Blackwood as Father Barry and Adam Deacon as a pimp drug dealer, has created a mix of characters that are over the top and never really hit the mark. There’s lots of rambling dialogue and extreme themes and Savvas D. Michael is certainly not afraid to offend his audience. The music too is again an eclectic mix and has attempted to blend classical music, spaghetti western and 70s cop show brass sections but is likewise a bit hit or miss.

Whilst it’s been well shot and has some nice sound track moments, it lacks the writing flow and black humour of its more successful predecessors but maintains its level of shocking offensiveness. Compared to the first film Original Gangster, the male female relationship is noticeably on a much more equal footing of sexual desire and power this time but is still equally likely to offend. This film is shot entirely at night, compared to a mostly daytime shoot for OG and has similar stylised interiors and exteriors. There is much less glorifying of the drugs trade going on here, depicting more the desperation of addiction and the seedy depraved underworld with a great performance from Jamie Crew as the addict Riley but the rest of the cast look a bit out of character in this hazy drug addled thriller.

Film: Red Rage

Director: Savvas D. Michael 

Stars: Fernanda Diniz, Jack Turner, Adam Deacon, Steven Berkoff, Ian Reddington & Vas Blackwood

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Run time: 1hr 33min

Rated: 18

Rating: 2/5

Original Gangster

Original Gangster will be available on DVD & Digital Download from 5th April and can be pre-ordered here. It’s a British gangster film, directed by Savvas D. Michael, the first in a trilogy of films soon to be released, that features some star performances including an unrecognisable Steve Guttenburg from Police Academy fame.

This story is about Castor (Alex Mills) who has had his family brutally murdered in-front of him as part of a mob killing. He’s saved from execution by Milo (Ian Reddington) who as part of the hit squad refuses to kill a young boy. Castor is left a homeless orphan who has to survive on the streets and so we see how he grows up sleeping rough, scavenging for food and surviving through committing violent crimes. When he robs a drug dealer he ends up getting into difficulty and finds himself on the wrong end of another pointed gun but luckily for him it turns out to be Milo again, the same man that saved his life as a child. Castor sees their meeting as destiny and wants to be a part of his criminal organisation. His involvement brings him to the attention of the big boss Jean-Baptiste Philippe (Steve Guttenberg) which sets him on the path to a steady job in crime. Everything seems to be going well for Castor, he’s got his own place on the gangster’s compound, and he’s ditched his leather jacket for a smart suit but things take a turn for the worse when he gets mixed up with Milo and his attractive wife’s turbulent relationship.

The main story here is about how a child can become involved in crime and how fate plays a part in him becoming a gangster. Alex Mills who plays Castor brings an authentic London accent that is also the narration of the film. It is slow and deliberate, almost childlike reflecting his lack of education and understanding, played to humorous effect like when Milo has to explain to him what a bullet proof vest is, much to his annoyance. Milo is played by Ian Reddington who brings his TV and theatre experience to the fore, like Jean Reno in Leon, but a more aggressive, nasty version, who has fits of rage and treats his wife abusively. Then there are great cameo appearances like Steve Guttenburg as the kingpin gangster Jean-Baptiste Philippe, looking like a hippy Ozzy Osbourne, playing the eccentric psychotic boss and Vas Blackwood providing probably the most irrelevant bartender anecdote ever on film.

It’s got a London core but with an international flavour and it looks to elevate itself from some of the gangster cliches through injecting some interesting concepts and theories in amongst the dialogue such as the beginning quote from Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It doesn’t all work or maintain any degree of plausibility and is on the whole offensive and insulting like a British grindhouse movie but there is a nice ensemble of characters, who put in likeable performances despite their disagreeability, which includes some hugely misplaced and inappropriate misogyny. The music aims for a more sophisticated cool vibe with an eclectic mix of styles from classical music to country music and drum bass that sounds a little convoluted at times, but as is tradition, when all put together, this is what makes these gangster tributes entertaining escapism.

Film: Original Gangster

Director: Savvas D. Michael 

Stars: Alex Mills, Steve Guttenberg, Alex Mills, Adam Deacon, Ian Reddington & Vas Blackwood

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Run time: 1hr 50min

Rated: 18

Rating: 3/5


Nemesis

Nemesis is available on digital download from 29th March, it’s a cockney gangster film about a London crime family and their ageing boss who gets caught up in a web of betrayal and revenge. It has a big London cast full of familiar names including Billy Murray, Nick Moran and Frank Harper and promises a lot from UK gangster specialist, producer Jonathan Sothcott (Rise of the Footsoldier Part II, We Still Kill The Old Way).

The action starts with the return to London of family boss John Morgan (Billy Murray) who flies in by private jet with his busty wife Sadie (Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott) for a 3 day visit that starts with a special awards dinner. The presentations are interrupted by a heckler, plain clothes policeman Frank (Nick Moran), who makes himself known to the guests by berating Morgan whom he has a vendetta against. Drunk and over stepping the mark he’s escorted off the premises and his actions cost him his badge as he is suspended.

We then follow Morgan on a number of meetings. The first meeting is with his solicitor, Sebastien (Julian Glover), to discuss his newly resurfaced problem of Frank, who blames him for killing his father and wants to bring him down. He gets the all clear about the previous evening’s commotion before being summoned to another meeting with fellow London crime boss Damien (Bruce Payne). It’s a meeting of the head crime bosses with the later laying down his authority. He is not happy about ‘the noise’ being made, feeling Morgan needs to adapt to a more modern market…or perish.

The next meeting is with his brother, Uncle Richard (Frank Harper). He tells him he is thinking of giving up the business and handing it over fifty fifty to him and his step son Eddie (Danny Bear), even though the two churlishly don’t get along. Uncle Richard knows who ratted on Morgan about his whereabouts and so Morgan and Eddie go after the grass. This starts the first outpouring of violence and the film begins to find its feet a little, leading up to the big family dinner, when everything suddenly goes totally mad.

The film tries to fit together the parts of a good gangster romp with the sharp suits, flash cars and cockney patter. But even with a big London cast, the head-to-head dialogues unfortunately sound more stilted than convincing and fall short of a comedy parody or a serious crime thriller. It does have some engaging moments like when Frank (Nick Moran) is chatting to the bar owner Billy (Ricky Grover) about his grievances and things momentarily appear back on terra firma as the Guy Richie ensemble take centre stage.

If you are a fan of this particular gangster genre you might enjoy this for its old familiarity. There is plenty of macho posturing, expletives and random acts of violence. The London gangster plot has been adapted with a twist or two to keep the audience guessing, that includes a lesbian love interest but in the end it looked like it had the actors guessing too.

Film: Nemesis

Director: James Crow

Stars: Billy Murray, Nick Moran, Frank Harper, Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Run time: 1hr 28min

Rated: 18

Rating: 2/5

The Secrets of the Surface – the Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani

Available to watch on Vimeo, The Secrets of the Surface – the Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani is a documentary tribute to Maryam Mirzakhani, Iran’s most successful mathematician and the first woman to win the most prestigious prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal.

The documentary interviews the lecturers, her collaborators and undergraduate students in the USA, where she emigrated to. The film also goes to Iran to interview her teachers, school friends and the current pupils studying at her school back home, at Tehran Farzanegan, to get an insight into her prodigious beginnings and to help explain her contribution to maths.

Directed by George Csicsery who himself has won an award for his contributions to maths albeit for the slightly less impressive success of bringing maths to non-mathematical audiences. The story begins with a brief introduction into the importance of maths in the world around us, from general problem solving, to architecture showing intricate images of mosques, and even maths as art. It also includes recordings and footage of Maryam who goes as far as saying science and technology owe everything to maths. 

Maryam tells us about how she had no real aptitude for maths at middle school preferring books, but between the influence of her brother and her high school, she got hooked. So much so, she left a lasting mathematical legacy, shown here by the students gleefully clutching the maths book she wrote whilst at university.

The first test she had to pass was the entrance exam to Tehran’s top school, set up for gifted children. Here she would share a desk with her best friend Roya for the next 7 years. They made a formidable maths team, although Maryam was always the standout student and soon began showing signs of being the child prodigy she was.

To get the children into mathematics, competitions were organised, but there had been no female entries, that was until Maryam and Roya arrived on the scene. So began her keen interest in maths competitions and she was soon representing her country at the maths Olympiad. She won gold with 40/42 and her friend won silver. The following year she would go one better winning gold with full marks 42/42, a first for an Iranian entrant.

Of course she went on to University, Sharif University, to study maths and, although women in Iran are not considered a privileged group, with maths and science they are often on an equal footing with men and 40-50% of students are female. Here she was on the Olympiad Committee, she was a trainer, and wrote the text book that is still an essential guide for students at the university today.

After university, the top students are expected to progress further and do a PhD outside of the country. Expecting their chances to be better by applying to different universities Maryam got accepted at Harvard and her friend would go to MIT, both in Boston, USA, which meant that they could remain together on the next stage of their studies. Coming to America is a big move and getting a visa and figuring out the language was just the start of their tough cultural acclimatisation, but with the help of the Iranian study groups they were able to make a successful integration.

At Harvard she was taught by Curtis McMullen a professor who had already proved a theory of his own to be awarded the prestigious Fields Medal and Maryam would begin to take his work further. Her first thesis would be published in the top 3 mathematical journals and along with her team of collaborators the work was considered so powerful it became known as the magic wand theorem for which she won her own Fields Medal in 2014. The first Iranian and first woman to do so.

She got married to a Czech mathematician, a non-Iranian, which was considered quite unconventional, but they were happy and had a child together. Sadly when her daughter was only 2 years old she was diagnosed with breast cancer that would turn out to be terminal.

Since her passing away, she continues to inspire female students to pursue maths in her hometown in Iran and the mathematical world at large. Her image can be seen on murals and in photographs in tribute to her in Iran (not all of them with a head scarf, something unheard of for public figures, but illustrating how much Maryam is revered) and she has had a building at her university named after her, as well as a global mathematical award.

The documentary is a nice life story talking about her mathematical achievements using examples of some of the maths she worked on. It gives a great insight into how absurdly difficult maths is, without totally losing a non-Mensa audience, although further explanation would help to explain the importance of knowing ‘the trajectory of a billiard ball on a mirrored pool table.’ And whilst most of us will never understand the significance of ‘counting the simple closed curves around hyperbolic surfaces’ either, we can certainly appreciate the mathematical genius of a woman who is worshipped in her own country and has left her mark on the world of mathematics with her work continuing to be cited in the top classrooms around the world.


Film: The Secrets of the Surface – The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani

Director: Geroge Csicsery

Stars: Alex Wright, Anton Zorich and David Dumas

Genre: Documentary

Run time: 59min

Rated: U

Rating: 4/5

Come True

Come True is a Canadian psychological sci-fi / horror available for digital download from the 15th March about a school girl suffering from a sleeping disorder who signs up to a scientific sleep study that does more than just check her R.E.M. frequency.

Set in the present day with a sense of the future it begins inside the dreams of a young girl, Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who has been having some dark dreams with a repeated shadow figure appearing in them. She’s sleeping rough and having to make some stealth visits home, as for some unbeknown reason, she is avoiding her parents. Her problematic sleeping troubles mean she is struggling at school and socially. She stubbles across an advertisement on a cafe noticeboard looking for trialists to take part in a sleep study and grabs this gift wrapped opportunity with both hands, to get paid to sleep.

The sleep laboratory tests get under way and she is part of a small group of applicants who are put in rooms to sleep, slipping on some smartly designed pyjama space suits that will monitor their sleeping behaviour. To begin with there seems nothing out of the ordinary as the scientists and lab technicians go about their observations, taking their vital readings but when the psychological tests afterwards have an adverse reaction on Sarah, she’s keen to pull out of the experiment.

She has an admirer in one of the nerdy scientists Riff (Landon Liboiron) and when her condition gets worse she wants to know what they have been doing and she persuades him to give her an explanation, and in exchange she’ll rejoin the experiment. He reveals to her that with the technology they have, they are able to process the mind’s information into actual moving images and are capable of seeing people’s dreams on monitors, as they fall into the hypnogogic state of sleep.

The CGI dream sequences are dark and foreboding and as a sci-fi horror it maintains an intriguing and slightly disturbing undertone, with some primordial shadow figures appearing in the dreams, although without ever going overboard. The film score has an eerie pop-synth from Electric Youth and Burns that adds to the films stylised cohesiveness.

Directed and edited by Anthony Scott Burns it has a minimalistic retro feel that gives a unsettling insight into the debilitating effects of insomnia. It conjures images of several films in the genre, particularly a quirky Donnie Darko, that allow you to enjoy its oddities and should keep you awake to the end.

Film: Come True

Director: Anthony Scott Burns

Stars: Julia Sharon Stone, Landon Liboiron, Carlee Ryski

Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror

Run time: 1hr 05min

Rated: 15

Rating: 3/5