Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Midnight (2021)

Wri/Dir: Kwon Oh-Seung | South Korea, Thriller 103′

An impressive first film for South Korea’s Kwon Oh-Seung highlighting his country’s negative attitudes towards women and the less able in a really tense cat and mouse thriller.

Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman, is attacked in a crowded street when she goes to the assistance of another young woman, onlookers siding with the assailant (serial killer) Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon) and viewing her cries for help as female histrionics – or even a tantrum.

The implication here is that these two women really shouldn’t really be out and about after dark. But putting misogyny aside for the moment, the film inadvertently sheds a grim light on the male characters: a control freak brother and an outright killer.

Kyung Mi and her mother may be aurally challenged but they certainly make up for it with their courage and resourcefulness refusing to be put down despite their impairments, without coming over as self-pitying. The director makes clever uses of a soundscape that imagines the world from the POV of the hard of hearing and that is its selling point, despite the rather trite finale. MT

Midnight is released on 14 March on digital platforms courtesy of EUREKA

Psycho (1960)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles | Thriller 109′

Herschel Gordon Lewis used to boast that his films where the first in which people died with their eyes open; but that’s precisely how the first victim ends up here.

One of only two films Hitchcock made in black & white after 1953 (which probably accounts for it’s relative eclipse by Vertigo in recent years), it demonstrates that a cheap horror movie can reach the heights if made by people with talent; witness Bernard Herrmann’s pulsating all-string score and a script that includes lines like “a son is a poor substitute for a lover” and “if it doesn’t gell, it isn’t aspic”.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

It was Hitchcock who had the bright idea of changing Norman Bates from a middle-aged recluse to a personable young man (who in retrospect resembles Lee Harvey Oswald). Flashes of The Master’s wit can be discerned in Marion’s smirk as she imagines her client’s outrage, the moment when we’re rooting for Norman when her car briefly stops sinking, Sheriff Chamber’s wife lowering her voice when she says Norman found his mother and her lover’s bodies together “in bed”, and realising a long-held ambition by showing a toilet flushing in close-up; while Hitchcock’s famous fear of policemen finds full flower in the scene with the patrolman.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

People tend to not to notice that the film takes place at Christmas and forget that the close-up of Norman (lifted from that of Michael Redgrave at the end of his episode in ‘Dead of Night’) is not the final shot in the film, since it actually ends with the car being winched out of the swamp (thus providing one final shudder since you know what they’ll find when they open the boot). @RichardChatten

Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) Original Theatrical Cut 4k restored and in UK/Eire cinemas from 27 May as well as selected international territories, including: France, Austria, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland | Park Circus is representing PSYCHO on behalf of Universal Pictures.

Without Warning (1952)

Dir: Arnold Laven | US Thriller

I became aware of this film years ago from a passing reference to it in Carlos Clarens’ ‘Horror Movies’, which had led me to assume that it was better known than it actually is.

The maiden production of the company Levy-Gardner-Laven (later to become very active in TV), and the directorial debut of Arnold Laven, Without Warning! isn’t particularly original – following as it does in the well-worn footsteps of flavourful location-shot police procedurals like The Naked City; and the ending wraps things up a little too abruptly. But as photographed by the veteran Joseph Biroc it treats us to a magnificent tour of some of the seamier parts of Los Angeles as they looked in 1951 (no crime film set in Los Angeles at this time, for example, became complete without a visit to its storm drains, which duly put in an appearance). One of many memorable images the film provides is the all-blonde police decoy squad who resemble something out of The Man from UNCLE; and despite the ultra-noirish title sequence and the occasional night scene, much of the action actually takes place bathed in glorious Californian sunlight for a change.

There are hints that the grip of the Breen Office was beginning to weaken (the wedding ring visibly worn by the blonde that Martin picks up in a bar, for example, would have been vetoed a few years earlier for depicting adultery), and the killer in this film is obviously motivated by sex; although the fact that we later learn that he’s bearing a grudge at the blonde wife who left him makes him more of a sore loser than the all-out sadistic sex fiend the film initially promises (and doesn’t really square with the glee he takes in reading about the case in the papers).

Edward Binns, who plays the police lieutenant, will be most familiar to viewers as Juror 6 in 12 Angry Men, and both he and killer Adam Williams were in North by Northwest; the former again playing a detective and the latter again playing a gardener. @RichardChatten

The Dissident (2020) Bfi player

Dir: Bryan Fogel | Wri: Mark Monroe, Bryan Fogel | US Doc, 119′

Academy Award winner Bryan Fogel’s latest doc dives into the ghastly murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

It offers a comprehensive and sobering an account of the execution as one could possibly imagine. Fogel won an Oscar for Icarus (2017), a look into the Russian sports doping scandal, and has now assembled this immersive investigation in an impressively short amount of time; Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, but one feels no stone was left unturned in researching and conveying the story in grim horror. As the crime famously implicates the Saudi ruling family at the highest levels, there will be a keen interest in this riveting work across the globe.

Anyone who follows world events knows that Khashoggi, a member of the Saudi royal family who had moved to the United States and wrote for The Washington Post, went into the consulate early in the afternoon on the date in question to obtain a marriage licence. But he never came out. The Saudis denied, delayed and dissembled as long as they possibly could, but finally had to admit that Khashoggi had died on the premises. This resulted in great embarrassment for the royal family and diplomatic distancing by many countries, at least for a while. Eventually 11 men were tried in Saudi Arabia, with three acquitted, three others sentenced to prison terms and five given the death penalty.

Fogel’s investigation is vigorous, thorough  and comprehensive. It centres first on one of Khashoggi’s closest friends, fellow dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who lives in Montreal in a state of near paralysing fear of being tracked down by Saudi agents. We then meet Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside the consulate all afternoon for him to come out. Both of these intimates stand as living testament to their friend’s resolve, the wages of exile and the high anxiety all too plausibly connected with any opposition to the all-powerful ruling authorities.

The Dissident is cut and scored like a dramatic Hollywood thriller, making impressive use of suspense-engendering editing techniques, mystery-building music and other devices to tease out all aspects of the drama, with the entirely reasonable objective of drawing in viewers who might otherwise not readily watch a political documentary. There is absolutely nothing lost with this technique, especially as the film tends to its essential business of revealing the nature of the Saudi regime and its refusal to countenance any dissent.

In a shrewd and discreet way, the film casts a bigger and stronger net as it progresses. References to other comparable events in the Arab world, such as those in Egypt some years before, are useful, as are comments about liberation movements in other countries. It charts the sacrifices made in becoming an outsider in middle life after having so long been an insider in an insular country. And there are extraordinary random sights, such as the crown prince’s commercial-sized private plane being accompanied by six fighter jets flying alongside when he travels.

Building his case as shrewdly as a skilled lawyer, Fogel finally, and shockingly, offers conclusive evidence that Khashoggi was treated like “a sacrificed animal,” cut up with a bone saw after apparently having been suffocated. The deep penetration of the Saudis’ surveillance and, especially, their hacking of private phones and computers, is brought to startling light; it even compromised Jeff Bezos. Especially impressive are the statements by United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard in which she accused the Saudi government of “premeditated extrajudicial killing by high-level authorized agents.”

This is a documentary both tragic and poignant, not to mention maddening – in that only a few acolytes, rather than the perpetrators themselves – will pay for the crime committed in Istanbul. The evidence is all here for the world to see. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | AMAZON PRIME | premiered at Glasow Film Festival 

 

Adoration (2019) Locarno 2019

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |

Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that thrilled audiences at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival, and is now on Bfiplayer.

Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality. Based on a delusional notion of love, this warped obsession takes over the life of an innocent pubescent boy living with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria (the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy), Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.

Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff at his mother’s workplace, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.

Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses are aroused by sounds of bees and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.

Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a convincing nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his overwhelming feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs –  and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is a fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2019

 

Murder me, Monster (2018) ***

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

Murder Me Monster’s widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – and there are vague echoes of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed. As a herd of sheep and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder. A feeling of unease creeps over proceedings when it transpires that the bloodshed is connected to a feral beast on the prowl and out of control in this desolate and remote corner of Argentina where the sun rarely shines.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. There’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes in a film that takes on an increasingly Lynchian feel as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good, eventually leaving us stranded in its own mysterious backwater. This study of fear and perversion in a Pampas backwater will certainly made you feel nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

UK releasee to stream or download or own | 4th December 2020 AVAILABLE

 

The Glass Cage (1964) ***

Dir: Antonio Santean | Wri: John Hoyt | Cast: Arlene Martel, John Hoyt, Elisha Cook Jr, Bob Kelljan, King Moody | Henry Darrow | US Thriller

Off-beat to put it mildly, this location-shot murder mystery and psycho-drama was co-written and co-produced by veteran actor John Hoyt, who saw to it that the tiny budget was well employed while enjoying himself as a seasoned cop working the mean streets of early Sixties L.A. It sees two detectives investigating the murder of a local businessman by a mysterious woman.

If you were working on a budget as low as this bizarre cross of William Castle and early Kubrick you could probably do pretty much what you wanted as long as you didn’t go over schedule, made sure there was film in the camera and didn’t upset the censor. Although not exactly good it’s certainly strange enough to linger in the memory and gives a juicy role to TV actress Arlene Martel (billed as ‘Arlene Sax’), best remembered for the very different role of Spock’s Vulcan bride T’Pring in the classic Star Trek episode ‘Amok Time’. The film’s biggest liability is actually a noisy music score.

Slight spoil alert: It also has the bonus of Elisha Cook as the heroine’s father; although despite being billed fourth he appears so fleetingly it feels as it he was just visiting the set while they were filming and offered a walk on (or – since he walks with a stick – a hobble on). We’re told he’s an evangelist but sadly don’t see him in the pulpit. Richard Chatten.

 

 

 

Dede (2017) **** Georgian Retrospective DOCLISBOA 2020

Dir.: Mariam Khatchvani; Cast: George Babluani, Nukri Khatchvani, Natia Vibliani, Girshel Chelidze; Georgia/Croatia/UK/Ireland/Netherlands/Qatar 2017, 97 min.

This first feature from Georgian documentarian Mariam Khatchvani is based on true events that took place at the outset of the Georgian Civil War in the remote mountainous community of Svaneti, far removed from the modern world. It pictures a patriarchal society where forced marriages, pride and tradition dictate the code of daily life. Dina is a young woman promised by her draconian grandfather to David, one of the soldiers returning from the war. Once a marriage arrangement is brokered by two families, failure to follow through on the commitment is unthinkable.

Khatchvani uses an evocative visual approach with minimal dialogue to tell the story of this woman essentially trapped by men. Gegi (Babluani) has just saved his best friend’s David’s life. Ironically this leaves David (N. Khtachvani) free to marry Dina (Vibliani). But in reality Gegi is in love with her – the two fell for each other, though their original meeting was so brief they never even exchanged names. When Dina reveals her true feelings to David, he simply replies: “you will marry me, even if you are unhappy for the rest of your life”. David then suggests Gegi join him for a hunting trip which ends in tragedy leaving this intelligent woman thwarted by the controlling men in her life.

DoP Mindia Esadze impresses with towering panoramas of the mountains, and the more domestic-based clashes between progress and tradition. Babluani is really convincing in her passionate fight for happiness, even though she hardly raises her voice. 

Khatchvani shows the backward life for Georgian women in a country where traditional Spiritualism and the Muslim faith both conspire against them, and men end arguments by simply stating: “a woman has no say in this matter”. The director is living proof that women can succeed – with this atmospheric arthouse indie made on a restricted budge. The feature leaves only one question: since both fatal accidents were shown off-camera, we are left wondering whether Girshel might have been the perpetrator in both cases. AS

SCREENING AT DOCLISBOA, GEORGIAN RETROSPECTIVE 2020 | AVAILABLE ON AMAZON VIDEO & PRIME, DVD (AMAZON) VIMEO ON DEMAND AND INDIEFLIX

 

Dementia (1953/55) ****

Wri/Dir: John Parker | UK Drama 56mins

A woman’s paranoia proves to be more than just a nightmare, in John Parker’s influential 1953 horror film Dementia.

Made on a shoestring and certainly none the worse for it, the film shows how much can be achieved with a slim budget.

Attracting a great deal of controversy surrounding censorship, Dementia had a doomed start in life: it fell foul of the New York State Film Board in 1953, who deemed it “inhuman, indecent, and the quintessence of gruesomeness”. It had a limited release two years later, and was then re-named Daughter of Horror in 1957, and given a VoiceOver narration by Ed McMahon. Well ahead of its time, it is a startling portrait of a woman working through vivid emotional trauma to come to terms with her troubled family past.

Dementia was Parker’s only film, expanded from a short, it barely makes the full length feature category. Garnering cult status after appearing on TCM’s late night horror spot ‘The Underground’, furore for the film’s strange blend of Gothic and fantasy horror gradually developed.

It came into being as a result of a dream experienced by John Parker’s then secretary Adrienne Barrett, who plays the main character. Awakening from a nightmare in a squalid hotel room in the back streets of Los Angeles (where the film was also shot), ‘the gamin’ begins her journey into the deep recesses of her mind – whether real or imagined. Clearly her reverie connects with some deep hidden anxiety. Armed with a flick-knife she sets off into the night where darkness envelopes her, along with a string of menacing and exploitative characters.

An interesting companion piece to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), Dementia is also a harbinger of the sinister brand of psychological drama  that would follow: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) : Roman Polanski’s 1965 outing Repulsion strikes a chord, although visually Dementia connects with Guy Maddin’s hallucinatory fantasy outings such as Keyhole (2011) or even the cult classic Blue Velvet (1986). There are film noir and expressionist elements in the oblique black and white camerawork, the shadow-warped backstreets and pervasive paranoia. Narrative-wise Dementia could even come out of the pages of a Shirley Jackson novel with its chillingly sinister sense of foreboding; the heroine sinking into madness, consumed by terror.

Dialogue is minimal – apart from the occasional scream or laughter – the focus is on tone and atmosphere, with an unsettling soundscape by George Anthiel (Ballet Mécanique). ‘The gamin’ rushes through the empty streets where she collides with a series of weirdos and wayfarers (including a deranged flower-girl), culminating in a salutary meeting with the lascivious, cigar-chomping Bruno Ve Sota. He takes her on the town, only to be mesmerised by a suggestive nightclub performer.

Meanwhile the woman is gripped by a fantasy of her own which takes the shape of a foggy graveyard vignette, where she is approached by a black-hooded man carrying a lamp. As she stares down at her mother’s grave, the incongruous figure of a glamorous woman is seen smoking on a chaise-long. The woman – potentially her mother – is involved in a violent encounter with a smirking man. These characters are clearly symbolic yet shrouded in mystery, and the evening comes to a dreadful end.

The director (1899-1980) remains an elusive figure. According to a back copy of Variety magazine he was the son of Hazel H Parker who owned a chain of cinemas in Oregon.

ON BFI DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL on 19 OCTOBER 2020 | simultaneous release on iTunes and Amazon Prime |EXTRAS include a newly recorded commentary, and an alternative cut of the film, retitled Daughter of Horror (1957) which has added narration by actor Ed McMahon.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Cast: Eric von Stroheim, Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Timaroff, Peter van Eyck, Fortunio Bonanova | US War thriller 96′

Before he made one of the most lauded film noirs ever committed to celluloid Double Indemnity Billy Wilder directed this gutsy Second World War espionage thriller that froths with energy despite its rather stagey confines of a chamber-piece. He had only been in Hollywood for a decade but Five Graves proves that Wilder and screenwriter Charles Brackett—who would collaborate on thirteen films, winning screenplay Oscars for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard—were already at the top of their game having cut their teeth together on a star-studded comedy The Major and the Minor with Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers, the previous year.

Enjoying an equally strong cast of Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter and Eric von Stroheim (who gets some of the best lines, including the fiendishly misogynist: “I don’t like women in the morning, go away”) the thriller is based on a play by Hungarian writer Lajos Biro, and retains a slightly claustrophobic feel despite the stylish camerawork of Oscar nominee John F Seitz who creates evocative shadow-play within the confines of the hostelry and inthe wonderful opening desert scenes (filmed in Arizona) recalling those velvety sand dunes in Laurence of Arabia. 

The plot is an engaging one. Tone is British Corporal Bramble, the only survivor in his unit after a battle with Rommel’s soldiers in North Africa. After falling from his tank and staggering to the isolated Empress of Britain hotel, he is offered sanctuary by owner Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and his French employee Mouche (Anne Baxter). But Eric von Stroheim’s Rommel soon fetches up crunching on a cigar and shooting the cuffs of his elegant desert rig-out (designed by Edith Head who really goes to town on the costumes). He soon commandeers the hotel in an extraordinary performance and claims it as the new quarters for his Nazi sidekicks. Meanwhile Bramble is back-footedly forced to assume the identity of a recently killed waiter. It soon emerges that this waiter was also serving as a German spy, a role Bramble now has to adopt for his own survival. And while Mouche knows Bramble’s true identity, she has her own reasons for not wanting to aid and abet him as they survive in close quarters in this nest of wartime vipers.

Named by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite films, Wilder enriches the minimal action scenes with archive war footage and explanatory inter-titles. The interior scenes dice between light-hearted wittiness and sinuous tension as the disparate group of characters are huddled up hiding their own secrets and ulterior motives. The director would soon become one of Hollywood’s most lauded talents, but his genius was clearly evident in this early work.

Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present the film in its UK debut on Blu-ray from a new 4K restoration

https://youtu.be/rmrE1FHUyjY

 

The Traitor (2019) Bfi player

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Writers: Marco Bellocchio, Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela, Francesco Piccolo | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessio Pratico, Maria Fernanda Candido, | Italy, Drama 135′

In the early 1980s, an all-out war rages between Sicilian mafia bosses over the heroin trade. Tommaso Buscetta, “boss of the two worlds”, flees to hide out in Brazil. Meanwhile back home, scores are being settled and Buscetta watches from afar as his sons and brother are killed in Palermo, knowing he may be next. Arrested and extradited to Italy by the Brazilian police, Tommaso Buscetta makes a decision that will change everything for the Mafia: He decides to meet with Judge Giovanni Falcone and betray the eternal vow he made to the Cosa Nostra.

With thundering vehemence Marco Bellocchio portrays the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Sicily’s real-life ‘men of honour’, and although The Traitor certainly packs a punch, it somehow lacks the heart and soul of many Mafia-themed features – and particularly Kim Longinotto’s recent documentary Shooting the Mafia – in telling the story of the Mafioso boss turned informant. In explaining the inner working of the organisation, the director blends dark humour and brutal violence with vibrant set-pieces (in Sicily, Rome, Brazil and the U.S) to provide a visual masterpiece with a palpable sense of the era. The mammoth endeavour runs at two and a half hours, blending archive footage (of Falcone’s tragic death ) and entertaining court scenes that revel in the cut and thrust of the debate and the raucous ribaldry of the gangsters showing just how impossible it was actually to bring them to justice and how dishonourable they actually were – and some are still on the run.

Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) once again emerges a gentleman and a diligent lawyer who garnered great respect from Bruscetta, and met his terrible end for simply doing his duty. Bruscetta is a macho man with a lust for life and love, and Pierfrancesco Favino is tremendous in the lead as this main mafioso figure who decided to testify before Falcone and appear in the mafia ‘Maxi Trial’ that lasted from 1986 to 1992. His testimony was historically crucial in implicating others and also securing him reduced prison sentences.

The action begins in 1980 when the two main Sicilian families in Palermo had decided to call a truce (Bruscetta from the Porta Nuova family and Toto Riina from Corleone). Tommaso had moved to Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian wife (Maria Fernandez Candido) but left two of his eight children behind in the care of Pippo Calo’ (Fabrizio Ferracane), a big mistake as we soon discover.

After a resurgence of killing back home, shown in savage bloodshed, Tommaso decides to stay put, his sidekick Totuccio Contorno (Luigi Lo Cascio) surviving the massacre. But Tommaso doesn’t escape being arrested and tortured for drug-trafficking during which his wife is seen dangling from a helicopter over the bay in Rio. Extradited back to Italy he agrees to meet the authorities and  starts a dialogue with Falcone, mutual respect being the watchword.

The courtroom scenes are amongst the most stimulating in this bodyblow of a film, Nicola Piovani’s operatic score ramping up the emotional timbre. Once the trial is over, Buscetta and his family enter witness protection in Florida, but he is still determined to settle old scores, despite suffering from terminal cancer.

Naturally, this is not a film to be overjoyed about, but at least Bellocchio leaves us with a message of hope posited by Judge Falcone: “the mafia is not invincible; it had a beginning and will have an end,” MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

The Vanishing | Spoorloos (1988) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: George Sluizer | Gene Bervoets, Johanna Ter Steege, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu | Thriller | 107′

A simple plot grows into a suffocatingly desolate psychodrama exploring the depraved wickedness of the human mind. Although Stanley Kubrick claimed it was the most terrifying film he’d ever seen, George Sluizer was unable to find distribution for his film that screened at the Sydney film festival to critical acclaim. And it’s not difficult to see why. A group of singularly unappealing characters fill a narrative so bleak and uncharitable it leaves you utterly dejected by the time the credits roll. What starts as a tender love story in the sun-drenched South of France ends in an autumnal Amsterdam as leaves fall on human tragedy.

A young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia  (Bervoets and Ter Steege) are on their way to her French holiday home, in a battered old Peugeot. After stopping for drinks and petrol at a service station near Nimes, Saskia vanishes into thin air. A protracted and febrile search by Rex draws a blank. Scripted by Tim Krabbe from his own novel The Golden Egg, a parallel narrative introduces Raymond Lemorne, a devious and conceited father of two who starts to contact Rex claiming to know the whereabouts of Saskia, via taunting postcards that reveal a disturbed mind.

In this portrait of obsession and frustrated desire, Sluizer focuses on Rex’s desperation but also on Donnadieu’s conniving Raymond who makes for a cynically asexual psychopath with his immaculately trimmed goatee beard. He lives a banal quotidian existence with his two daughters and pleasant wife, who starts to question his protracted lone visits to the family’s country house.

Rex, by contrast, cannot move on emotionally after losing Saskia and is tortured into an angry mess of a man by his troubled dreams, despite a supportive new girlfriend. Eaten up by his desire for closure, Rex confronts his nemesis and ends up in a Faustian pact, submitting himself to Raymond’s unfeasible requests just to satisfy his inner demons. Clinically plotted and devoid of any humanity after the upbeat opening sequences Sluizer’s thriller makes for a critically watertight but thoroughly unpleasant watch.MT.

ON VOD, EST and Blu-ray from 8 JUNE 2020

 

I Walk Alone (1947) *** Talking Pictures

Prod: Hal Wallis. Dir: Byron Haskin. Scr: Charles Schnee. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Wendell Corey, Kristine Miller. Crime Melodrama. 98 mins.

Yet another choice rarity unearthed by Talking Pictures. Burt and Kirk’s first movie together belongs to the very brief period when Lancaster (who is for once permitted to tower over Douglas) played bullet-headed, blue-chinned tough guys (here carrying a huge chip on his shoulder having finally emerged from fourteen years in the slammer), and Douglas slick but shifty desk villains.

I Walk Alone is also historically significant as Byron Haskin’s return to the director’s chair after twenty years as a cameraman and special effects photographer at Warner Brothers; but being a Paramount production Edith Head was on hand to slinkily attire Lizabeth Scott. Richard Chatten.

On Talking Pictures at 10.05 p.m. on Wednesday 3 June.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) **** BfiPlayer

Dir: Val Guest | Wri: Wolf Mankowitz | Cast: Edward Judd, Janet Munro, Leo McKern, Michael Goodliffe, Bernard Braden | Fantasy Sci-Fi | US 96′

Valmond Maurice Guest (1911-2006) was an English film director and screenwriter who started his career on the British stage and in early sound films. He wrote over 70 scripts many of which he also directed, developing a versatile talent for making quality genre fare on a limited budget (Hell is a City, Casino Royale, The Boys in Blue). But Guest was best known for his Hammer horror pictures The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II, and Sci-Fis The Day the Earth Caught Fire and 80,000 Suspects which nowadays provide a fascinating snapshot of London and Bath in the early Sixties. Shot luminously in black and white CinemaScope the film incorporates archive footage that feels surprisingly effective with views of Battersea Power Station and London Bridge. A brief radio clip from a soundalike PM Harold MacMillan adds to the fun.

The central theme of this energetic and optimistic fantasy thriller is nuclear paranoia that plays out in flashback in the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Express newspaper reporting on a crisis involving H-bombs tests in Russia and the US, causing the titling of the Earth and leading to cyclones, dangerously rising temperatures, and a lack of water with fears of a typhus epidemic : “and what about all this extra Polar ice that’s melting”  (a prescient reference to global warming).

The opening scenes rapidly sketch out the febrile tension in the air and introduce us to the voluable characters involved through some extremely zippy dialogue between science editor Leo McKern, Bernard Braden, and bibulous reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd), who then falls for savvy telephonist Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro) who gives him the firm brush off. The real-life Express editor is played rather woodenly by Arthur Christiansen. There’s even an uncredited vignette featuring Michael Caine as a traffic officer – his voice is unmistakable.

NOW ON Bfi Player

Suspicion (1941) *** BBCiplayer

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock; Cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine; USA 1941, 100 min

Suspicion rarely emerges as a Hitchcock favourite. Critics don’t like writing about his 1941 feature, everyone opting for: Psycho, North by North West and Vertigo. Yet there’s Cary Grant, Hitchcock’s hero for all seasons, and the timidly appealing Joan Fontaine, who had starred in Hitch’ first American feature Rebecca (1939). ‘Brain trust’ writers Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) adapted the script from Before the Fact by Francis Iles aka Anthony Berkeley Cox. And Harry Stradling (A Streetcar named Desire, Angel Face) served up memorable black-and-white images. So what could go wrong?

Well, the Hitchcock thriller is really about the destructive power of love, rather than its redemptive qualities.  Suspicion showcases how women are often drawn to charismatic cads rather than more sincere, stable types. And Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) is certainly one of them. A quietly bookish be-spectacled heiress she first sets eyes on Johnny (Grant) during a train journey where he cockily sits in First Class with a cheaper ticket, launching a charm offensive on the guard in a bid to stay there. She is smitten, and marries him fully aware that he doesn’t really love her in the slightest, and is a liar, and a profligate. Doubt and desperation gnaw away at her self-esteem as she suspects him of wanting to murder her. She wants to believe he’s a hero, and this powerful urge becomes a destructive force that feeds her toxic addiction. The studio atmosphere is not a great setting for this emotive tale, heavy back-projections spoiling the atmosphere. We are left with a few memorable vignettes where Hitchcock returns to his silent roots, with no need for dialogue.

Lina’s short-sightedness is a metaphor for her emotional blindness, although intellectually she is sharp cookie. And as her suspicion festers, the more the spiderwebs trap her, a prisoner of her own fear. Hitch makes us well aware from the get go that Johnny is fickle and emotionally shallow: first we see Lina enjoying few flowers in a vase on the table, these are replaced by a bouquet of roses, but then the flowers are gone, and Lina is fretting over the ‘phone. The coup of coups, and the only reason Suspicion is mentioned in the Hitchcock canon at all, is the famous light bulb, hidden in the glass of milk that Johnny carries upstairs to his wife – the spider webs in the background showing his evil intent. Fontaine is simply brilliant as the decent, love-sick woman who wants to believe her husband and live happily ever after – and we feel for her. But Grant’s bad-boy allure if more irritating than appealing – we just want to knock his block off!

But, alas the ending, Hitchcock returning to the botched plot in a very polite English way when talking to Francois Truffaut: “Well I am not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted – but it was never shot – was for Cary Grant to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned, Joan Fontaine having just finished a letter to her mother. ‘Dear mother, I am desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he is a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him”. Then Grant comes in with the fatal glass, and she says ‘Will you mail this letter to my mother, dear?’ She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out, and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mail box and pops the letter in”. If this sounds a little like Shadow of a Doubt (1943), you’re right. That wasn’t too difficult, was it?  

https://youtu.be/1j_pqa74WbU

Curse of the Cat People (1944) **** BBC iPlayer

Dir.: Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch; Cast: Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Simone Simon, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell, Eve March); USA 1944, 68 min.

The Curse of the Cat People launched Robert Wise and Austro-Hungarian Gunter von Fritsch as directors. Wise would make a further 38 features in a career which went on until 1989, winning two Oscars for Sound of Music and West Side Story. Von Fritsch, would be less prolific: he managed to complete half the film in the allotted 18 days of the schedule, but would only occupy the director’s chair on three more occasions before a TV career beckoned, and retirement in 1970.

Most people agree that not calling the feature The Curse of the Cat People and selling it as a sequel to the classic Cat People (1942), would have enhanced the fantasy thriller’s reputation. But it was an opportunity for Val Lewton to re-unite writer de Witt Bodeen, cameraman Nicolas Musuraca, as well the actors Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Elizabeth Russell from Cat People so the outcome was a done deal:  Hollywood’s way of selling sequels was already long established. The Curse references events from Cat People, but is anything but a horror movie, even though it drifts that way in the end. Overall Curse is much nearer to Lewton’s production of Ghost Ship, and ironically was set in a place called Sleepy Hollow.

Curse begins seven years after the tragic events of Cat People: Oliver Reed (Smith) and his workmate Alice Reed (Randolph) have a six-year old daughter Amy (Carter). The family lives in rural New England, where Amy is at prep school. She has the tendency to daydream, rather like his first wife Irena whose traumatic death still haunts him.  And Irena becomes Amy’s imaginary friend, after Oliver burns her photos to obliterate his past. Amy wanders into the gloomy mansion of ageing actor Julia Farren (Dean) and her daughter Barbara (Russell), and befriends them after being rejected by her school chums. But Julia had trouble in excepting that Barbara is her daughter, showing more empathy with Amy, and causing Barbara to mutter “I will kill the brat, if she appears again”. After the Amy gets her first (off-screen) ‘spanking’ from her father over her fantasy of Irena (Simon) appearing to her in the garden, the little girl runs away into woods and meets Barbara who is only too willing to make her promise come true.

DoP Nicholas Musuraca creates a parallel universe to that of Cat People. Although the panther scenes there intrude into a world of hyper-realism shared by Oliver and Alice share, that leaves Irena as the outsider. Curse shows a family which looks perfectly normal to the outside, but is crippled by Oliver’s inability to come to terms with the past. Then, there is the voice of reason that comes courtesy of Amy’s teacher Mrs. Callaghan (March), Oliver rejecting her rather modern approach. Irena is much more benign fantasy than Cat People‘s Panther. In analytical terms, Irena is a much better mother than the rational Alice, who, like her husband, has not worked through the events leading to her marriage with Oliver: she is deeply suspicious that Oliver is still under Irena’s spell, and therefore punishes Amy, just to show just the opposite. Furthermore, the Irena sequences in Curse are the total inversion of its predecessor: Irena here is about peace and harmony, while her Panther ego was just the opposite. Curse also demonstrates that Oliver has not learned very much from his experience with Irena: he still  not able to show empathy for those who do not share his “pragmatic” approach to life. His inability to realise that emotions are the most important qualities human’s possess, costs Irena her, and now threatens that of his daughter.

When all is said and done, Curse of the Cat People is anything but a sequel to Cat People: it’s a story about loneliness, repression and denial – both the Farrens and the Reeds have much more I common than at first glance. AS

NOW ON BBC iPlayer

 

    

Revenge (2018) **** Blu-ray release

Wri/Dir: Coralie Fargeat | France, Thriller 106′

Dirty weekends don’t come any dirtier than the one in this ferocious indie revenge thriller that has ravishing locations, a twisty storyline, and a female lead who is not just a pretty face.

Revenge is the impressive debut from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. This is a movie that will resonate with women everywhere with its feminist humour, from the dreaded chipped nail polish to the unwelcome male attention, especially the unwanted male attention. Bathed in garish technicolor and pulsed forward by a pounding electronic soundscape, Revenge snakes its way through the Moroccan desert where its heroine, the cheeky bummed hottie Jen, fetches up with her smugly married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a sexy sun-drenched ménage à deux. But this French woman (Mathilde Lutz) is not just gorgeous, she is also extremely cute. And although she can play the seductive siren at will, she can also be as tough as old boots. And when two of Richard’s friends suddenly appear on the scene, their company is distinctly ‘de trop’.

Revenge is a playful film that teeters on the brink of fantasy: combining surreal Grande Guignol with down to earth horror in a gore fest so stylishly achieved it actually becomes vital to the plot line in the incendiary finale laced with spurts of subversive humour, along the lines of I Spit on Your Grave. Jen is seen rocking raunchy tops and a seductive smile that makes up for her monosyllabic part, she is just there to perform on the shag carpet which is perfect for soaking up the bloodshed that will follow.

Meanwhile the misogynist love rat Richard makes disingenuous phone calls to his wife back in France, discussing the canapés for a forthcoming event, and pretending he’s there just to enjoy some downtime with pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), who are later seen leering at Jen through the enormous windows of the glamorous modern villa.

Fargeat makes brilliant use of the local flora and fauna echoing the over the top, tongue in cheek decadence of it all: insects crawl over a rotten apple core, as Dimitri urinates over a scorpion emerging from the sands. But it all turns nasty when Stan takes a shine to Jen and ignores her clear rejection of him. Just because Jen presents herself as a purring sex kitten it doesn’t follow that these men can stroke her at their own volition. What comes next will set this cat amongst the pigeons in a prolonged showcase showdown that sweats out between the foursome in the dazzling desert heat. A woman behind the camera allows a licence for extremes, and Fargeat pushes her story to the limits in a thriller with appeal for every sexual persuasion. And the moral of the tale: if you have a secret lover, keep them strictly to yourself. MT

LIMITED ADDITION BLU-RAY FROM 11 MAY 2020

https://youtu.be/YTJrztVvmx0

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Talking Pictures

Dir.: Martin Ritt; Cast: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Peter Van Eyck, Oscar Werner, Sam Wanamaker. Michael Hordern, Rupert Davies, Bernhard Lee, Cyril Cusack, Robert Hardy; UK 1965, 112 min.

Martin Ritt (1914-1990) best known for The Long Hot Summer, was one of America’s most sensitive directors with a keen understanding for the British post-war scene which he portrays with great feeling in this stylish adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1963 novel.

Based on a script by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper – and shot brilliantly in black-and-white by Oswald Morris. Ritt, who was a victim of the HUAC witch hunt, which he worked through in The Front, shows the same palpable appreciation of the murky borderlines of Nazi induced terror,  as far removed from the glittery Bond mania that had started in 1962.

Alec Leamas (Burton) is a British MI6 operative, working for Control (Cusack) who has sent him to West Berlin to direct the espionage net in East Germany. But GDR Counter-Intelligence, under the leadership of the ruthless Hans Dieter Mundt (Van Eyck), has killed nearly all agents. Now Leamas is sent into the GDR to discredit Mundt. For this purpose, Leamus is kicked out of MI6, hits the bottle and is, as hoped, picked up by GDR agents Ashe (Hordern) and Peters (Wanamaker) in London, whilst he is working in a library, where he meets and sleeps with Nancy Perry (Bloom), a member of the local branch of the CPGB.

All goes to plan when Leamas is smuggled into East Germany and meets Fiedler (Werner), Mundt’s deputy, who believes (rightly) that Mundt is a British spy. At a secret trial, Fiedler accuses Mundt of treachery, but it turns out Nancy, who has entered the country as an adoring visitor to the country of Marx and Engels, is present at the trial.

She has been compromised by MI6 to save Mundt and condemn Fiedler who, like Nancy, is Jewish. Leamas discovers too late he was not sent by Control to incriminate the Ex-Nazi turned communist turned British agent Mundt, but to save him from Fiedler who was on the verge of exposing him. At nightfall Mundt frees Leamas and Nancy, having arranged a safe conduit over the wall into West Berlin. But when Nancy is shot, Leamas would rather take a bullet himself, than jump over the wall to his waiting colleague Smiley (Davis).

The cast is supported by a sparkling array of British talent, not least the undervalued Michael Hordern as Ashe, who is gay. He picks up prisoners from Holloway prison and tries to seduce them in the guise of being a charity worker, and is also in hock to the Sam Wanamaker’s East German agent Peters who treats him with contempt. Bernhard Lee plays a grocer who is witness to Leamas’ violent temper tantrums after being fired from MI6. His casting is particularly ironic since he was playing M, James Bond’s MI6 boss, in the first of the 12 movies. In the role of George Smiley the movie also stars Rupert Davies, who played Inspector Maigret for many years trying in vain to coax his friend Alec to jump back into his old life.

Burton is like a reeling boxer, seconds away from being floored. His beliefs are on the line, but he is not ready to give them up: being an agent is his drug. Seething with self-disgust on discovering he is the fly in Mundt’s spider’s web. He does not actually love Nancy, but neither does he want her to become another statistic in his deadly game.

Bloom convinces as the fragile, naive communist, totally unaware of what her adored comrades are doing behind the wall. Peter Van Eyck, who spent the war as an emigrant in Hollywood (Five Graves to Cairo), is the personification of evil as Aryan – detached swopping sides remorselessly and totally lacking in empathy. Werner (Fahrenheit 451), his polar opposite, shows conviction as a man who would rather sacrifice himself, than give up.

There is a sinister shadowplay between all these characters, lurking in the gloom, they are as lost as the Flying Dutchmen, waiting in vain for redemption. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a harsh but trenchant portrait of spies suffering from multiple personality disorders, caused by their addiction to lies and double play. AS

AVAILABLE ON ON TALKING PICTURES TV, YOUTUBE AND GOOGLE PLAY and to own on Bluray from 17 May 2021

     

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir: James Whale | Wri: Benn Levy/J B Priestley | Cast: Boris Karloff| Charles Laughton | Eva Moore | Gloria Stuart | Melvyn Douglas| Raymond Massey | Horror / Comedy |US  75′

James Whale’s greatest film was arguably The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House comes a near second with its spine-tingling blend of thrilling suspense piqued with deliciously dark humour, cleverly sending up the horror genre in a subtle and brilliant way, thanks to Benn W. Levy’s script based on J B Priestley novel, Benighted. The storyline is secondary to spirited performances from a superb cast led by Raymond Massey, Mervyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart as a trio forced to take refuge in a macabre household presided over by sinister siblings (Ernest Thesiger and Elspeth Dudgeon). Things go bump in the night and Boris Karloff plays the monstrous hirsute butler off his rocker – hinting at an early version of Frankenstein himself. But it’s the quirky characterisations that make this supremely entertaining, along with an eerily evoked Gothic atmosphere. Another threesome soon emerges – a ménage à trois between Charles Laughton’s bumptious  Yorkshire mill-owner and his gal (Lilian Bond) who is chivalrously courted by Douglas whispering sweet nothings in the gloaming. Good fun all round. MT

New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN | and on dual format from 21 May 2018 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS of CINEMA | ALSO SHOWING AT THE CINEMA MUSEUM, LONDON on FEBRUARY 23  

 

 

First Love (2019) ***

Dir.: Takashi Miike; Cast: Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Rebecca Eri Rabane, Takashiro Miura, Mami Fujioka; Japan/UK, 108 min.

Japanese director Takashi Miike, who will be sixty this year, has made over a hundred films in a career spanning 28 years. Many have gone straight to video, but there are standout treasures like Ichi the Killer and 13 Assassinst offering Miike cult status amongst an avid fanbase who love his fast and furious style. His latest, First Love was shown at last year’s Director’s Fortnight in Cannes. Written by Masaru Nakamura, it explores the changing world of the Yakuza who are under threat from Chinese triads.

Leo (Kubota) a young boxer who has just lost an easy fight, discovers he has an aggressive brain tumour. His parents had dumped him in a box as a baby giving him rather a negative outlook on life, so he seems resigned to his fate. Wandering on the streets, he meets a woman who cries for help: Juri has been abused by her father for as long as she can remember, and now she is making up for his debts, being used as a sex worker for the Yazuka. She is also an hallucinating drug addict, often seeing a half-naked man in a bed sheet following her.

Leo beats up her attacker without knowing that it is Otomo (Omori), a corrupt cop. Otomo is in league with Kase (Sometani) who is stealing drugs from his Yakuza gang. The baby-faced killer has just killed Yasu (Miura) who came close to finding out what Kaso was planning. With Otomo and Kase scheming, Yasu’s girl friend Julie (Rabane) is on her way to revenge Yasu with her huge sword. Leo and Yuri (her work name is Monica) try to get away from it all, but the Chinese triad  Chiachi (Fujioka) appears on the scene. During the showdown in a warehouse Leo gets a phone call from his doctor, arms and heads flying around during a rising body count.

This is strictly for committed fans. That said, you have to admire the choreographed action sequences, particularly the car chases. And when all fails, Miike makes use of state of the art pop-art style animation to show a car turning into a plane. The acting is convincing, and the innocent leads Kubota and newcomer Konishi win our sympathies among the professional baddies. Somehow Miiki manages not to take himself too seriously. Slick production values make for a brilliant rollercoaster ride, but like sushi, an instantly forgettable one, and the next Takashi Miiki feature is just around the corner. AS

ON BLURAY AND IN CINEMAS FROM 14 FEBRUARY 2019

Mr Jones (2021) Ukrainian Relief

Dir: Agnieszka Holland | Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Fenella Woolgar, Kenneth Cranham, Celyn Jones, Krzysztof Pieczyński, Michalina Olszańska, Patricia Volny | Poland, United Kingdom, Ukraine 2019 | Cinematography: Tomasz Naumiuk, Editing: Michał Czarnecki | Music: Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz | 141′

This riveting romp through Russian history follows a young Welsh journalist who ventured into the Soviet Union in 1933 to discover the sinister background to Stalin’s Communist regime. Stalin was feeding Moscow while millions of Ukrainians were dying of famine due to forced state control of their farms and food. Andrea Chalupa has been developing the script for 14 years, conflating the story with that of Animal Farm, based on her own book: Orwell and the Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm.

The man in question is Gareth Jones (Norton), a respected attache of Lloyd George (Cranham) who sets off for Moscow where he comes up against pro-Stalin press supremo and Pulitzer prize-winner Walter Duranty (a cold-eyed Sarsgaard) tasked with keeping the famine under wraps from the World.

During his stay, Duranty invites Jones to luxuriate in the excesses of the State budget, but the Welsh gentleman gracefully declines, preferring the intellectual stimulation of one Ada Brooks, a journalist for the New York Times, and in thrall to Duranty. Against advice from all sides, Jones then makes a perilous journey south and nearly dies himself of hunger- and Holland makes this second act a gruelling one to impress upon us the suffering endured by the rural population, women and children. Jones then exposes the story to the World, via Randolph Heart, putting Sarsgaard’s nose out of joint. But tragedy is to follow – as it often does when Russian secrets are shared.

Holland’s ambitious attempt to pull the various strands together leaves a subplot showing Orwell writing Animal Farm slightly adrift, and the use of montage to invigorate the various train journeys is rather hammy. But the entertainment factor rides over the structural imperfections and superb performances make this a really entertaining romp. Norton is simply brilliant as Jones, a decent and persevering professional gifted with integrity and a pioneering spirit. Kirby also shines as the conflicted woman at the centre of the furore. In thrall to Duranty, she shuts down Jones’ romantic advances, unable to develop them, despite their chemistry. There is great support from Fenella Woolgard; Kenneth Cranham does Lloyd George with a charming Welsh accent; and Sarsgaard seethes with shifty antagonism tempered by a veneer of supercilious charm.

Shot in Poland, Scotland (not Wales) and in original locations in the snowbound Ukraine, the homecoming scenes in Barry with Jones and his father are particularly poignant. Chulapa’s script and dialogue shows an acute English sensibility. It’s a mammoth achievement. Agnieszka Holland works with her Polish craftsman to make this a thoroughly engrossing experience which flashes by despite a running time of over two hours. MT

LONDON SOUTH BANK UNIVERSITY HOSTS SPECIAL FILM SCREENING FOR MR JONES  | TO HELP RAISE FUNDS FOR UKRAINIAN RELIEF  |TUESDAY 10TH MAY | 5:45 FOR 6:05PM START | LSBU KEYWORTH CENTRE  KEYWORTH STREET LONDON SE1 6LN

Crime Wave (1953) ****

Dir: Andre de Toth | Writer: Crane Wilbur | Cast: Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson, Niedrick Young, James Bell | US Noir Thriller 73′

The Cinema Museum’s Kennington Noir thread hits the new year running with this bleak crime drama shot on location in the streets and police stations of L.A. in just 13 days by veteran Hollywood cameraman Bert Glennon.

Crime Wave probably influenced the young Stanley Kubrick, with three of the film’s cast going on to feature a couple of years later in his classic heist thriller The Killing (which is the next film in the season on 19 February; director Andre de Toth’s only other noir – Ramrod – will be shown on 15 April).

But there was a dark side to the story in real life as well as in the film noir itself: both writer Bernard Gordon and Nedrick Young (who plays the ill-fated Gat Morgan) were later blacklisted. But Young would be back – he is credited with co-writing the screenplay for Jailhouse Rock in 1957, which starred Elvis Presley, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). R Chatten.

KENNINGTON NOIR SEASON | THE CINEMA MUSEUM | LONDON SE11

 

Cloak and Dagger (1947) **** Home Ent

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Cary Cooper, Lilli Palmer, Robert Alda | 106′ US Spy Thriller

This virtuoso World War II espionage thriller is one of Fritz Lang’s most underrated films, its edgy European cast adding grist to Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner’s screenplay based on Corey Ford and Alastair McBain’ book: Cloak and Dagger – The Secret Story of the Office of Strategic Services. The noirish classic was Lang’s first post-war and stars Gary Cooper as a suave and sardonic nuclear physicist Alvah Jesper (Cooper) who is tasked by the U.S. OSS to become a reluctant undercover agent, embarking on a secret mission to Switzerland and then Italy to investigate Germany’s plans to construct an atomic bomb. His plans are waylaid when he falls for vulnerable resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer, in her first Hollywood role). The two then join forces in a eventful and often tortuous effort to smuggle a scientist out of Italy. Although Cloak and Dagger is not quite as pithy and focused as You Only Live Once, but definitely worth a watch. With Max Steiner’s rousing score, Sol Polito’s captivating chiaroscuro camerawork and some dazzling shoot-outs and set pieces, Cloak and Dagger is an intriguing wartime story that melds romantic melodrama with stylish spy thriller as the lovers embark on an adventure fraught with danger and sinister characters, into the unknown. Lang’s original footage was lost, and so the ending changed for the theatrical release. MT

CLOAK AND DAGGER (Masters of Cinema) out on 27 January 2020

Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/cloak-and-dagger/

Amazon https://amzn.to/3722tBW

Invasion Planet Earth (2019) ***

Dir.: Simon Cox; Cast: Simon Haycock, Roxi Drive, Toyah Willcox, Julie Holt, Sophie Anderson, Danny Steel; UK 2019, 93 min.

Director Simon Cox (Driven) has spent seventeen bringing this labour of love to the big screen, and his perseverance has paid off. Shot over six years, mainly in Birmingham, and with two years in post-production, Invasion was heavily dependent on crowd funding hence the 136 credits you can study on IMDB. The result feels like a pilot for a TV series, with the audience reactions anywhere between a sub-par Dr. Who and a cult movie.         

In a futuristic Britain the Dunn family has been hit by a series of setbacks. Thomas (Haycock) and his wife Mandy (Drive) are mourning the loss of their young daughter Rebecca. He works as a psychiatrist in a private mental clinic under threat of closure, and she is a kindergarten teacher who has just become pregnant again, just as Aliens invade the planet, threatening to separate them in the chaos. Meanwhile, rogue general Lucius is threatening to explode a nuclear bomb. Tom’s plea to continue his work is refused, he and his assistant Clare Dove (Willcox, who also wrote the music) are made redundant. Tom soon finds himself in turmoil with three of his patients Harriet (Hoult), Samantha (Anderson) and Floyd (Steel). Finally, when the Planet’s superpowers decide to go to war, after Lucius detonates a nuclear bomb, Tom comes to a surprising discovery and must take Mandy on a race against meltdown.

Originally titled Kaleidoscope Men, after a TV series, which is watched by young Thomas and his friends in the prologue, Invasion plays out very much like a run-of-the-mill SciFi film with CGI playing a big part, hiding the minimal budget. The twist in the plot helps to overcome the restrictions to a certain extent, but the scenes featuring the emotional conflict of doctor and patient relationship keeps Invasion from being just another run of the mill Britflick. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 5 DECEMBER 2019

Arracht | Monster (2019) Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Tom Sullivan; Cast: Donall O Healai, Saise Ni Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Elaine O’Dwyer, Elise Brennan, ROI 2019, 86 min. (In Gaelic with English subtitles)

Tom Sullivan sets his melancholic feature debut in 1845 Ireland, just before the outbreak of the potato famine known as the Great Hunger. A fisherman gives sanctuary to a stranger at the behest of a local priest. This former soldier arrives just ahead of ‘the blight,’ a disease that eventually wipes out the country’s potato crop, contributing to the death and displacement of millions.

Narrative-wise this is a nebulous and enigmatic mood piece that recreates this unsettling period of Irish history, helped along by a brilliant cast and the haunting intensity of its remote countryside setting in the costal region of Connemara. Donall O Healai is particularly impressive as the dogged Colman Sharkey who lives with his wife Maggie (O’Dwyer) and young son in a small but cosy coastal cottage. When the local priest introduces him to Patsy (Devaney), who might be a deserter from the British Army from the Napoleonic Wars, Colman takes him in. It soon becomes clear that Patsy has an uncontrollable temper: when Colman is visited by two British soldiers collecting the rent for the British landlord, he explains his reluctance to pay as – like all the other locals – he has been forced to sell his fishing boat and is nearly starving.

So Colman pays a visit to the English Landlord’s lavish abode to request a stay on rent increases that predicted to destroy his community. His request falls on deaf ears and Patsy’s subsequent actions set Colman on a path that will take him to the edge of survival, and sanity. After the mayhem Colman then takes refuge in a sea cave, where near starvation sends him to the edge. It is only upon encountering an abandoned young girl called Kitty (Ni Chuinn) that Colman’s resolve is lifted. Just in time for the darkness of his past to pay another visit.

Sullivan relies on symbolism is this often surreal fable with its striking visual allure, and echoes of poems by Seamus Heaney, and Defoe’s lyricism. AS

NIW ON BFI PLAYER

Betrayed (1988) *** Blu-ray release

Dir:Costa-Gavras |Screenwriter:Joe Eszterhas Cast: Tom Berenger, John Heard, Ted Levine,Jeffrey DeMunn, John Mahoney, Betsy Blair, Debra Winger | Thriller UK 127’

With its universal themes of alienation and racial division, comes a particularly timely re-release that highlights the continuing issues surrounding anti-semitism in the Labour Party thirty years on, and nearly fifty years since the Holocaust.

After the Chicago killing of a controversial radio talk-show host by right wing extremists, FBI agent in the shape of Debra Winger goes is tasked with investigating the prime suspect (Tom Berenger). A thanks to his moves on the dance floor, and tousled haired charm, it doesn’t take long before she is seriously smitten by this outwardly clean living widower despite nagging feelings of doubt.

But it all goes pear-shaped when this appealingly earthy guy takes her on a night time  hunting expedition of a very sinister kind, one involving human beings. Clearly Winger is not impressed but her boss and ex-lover (John Heard) forces her to keep on his trail, one that reveals serious crime involving a white supremacist conspiracy against Jews, blacks and the LGBT crowd in the heartlands of America’s tradition-bound midwest that serves as a thorny counterpoint to her own ambivalent feelings about her new lover. Highly intelligent she may be as a detective, but we are sometime fools for love.

The strength of this thriller is undoubtedly in the performances. Winger and Berenger skilfully navigate Eszterhas’ flawed script, riding over the potholes to make this convincing and often gripping viewing, with its highly corrosive subject matter. MT

On 2 December the BFI will bring Betrayed to Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. Special features include a new audio commentary and audio interviews with Costa-Gavras and Joe Eszterhas.

 

Permission | Aragh-E-Sard (2018) ****

Dir.: Soheil Beiraghi; Cast: Baran Kosari, Amir Jadidi, Sahar Dowlatshahi, Leili Rashidi, Hoda Zeinolabedin, Abbas Moosavi; Iran 2018, 88 min.

Best known for her debut feature Me, Soheil Beiraghi’s second film is based on real events: in Iran, a husband has the legal right to stop his wife from travelling abroad. And this is the case no matter how high profile or successful the woman becomes. At least eight prominent female athletes have fallen foul of this law – not to mention the countless numbers of ordinary women.

Permission plays out like a thriller Beiraghi setting the tone from the opening scenes. The supervisor reminds the national team members about the zero tolerance policy on exposure of female hair or skin – they will be banned if they break this rule. After winning the final qualifier for the finals, the captain of the Iranian Women’s Futsal (indoor football) team, Afrooz (Kosari), joins the players at the airport for the flight to Kuala Lumpur, only to discover she has been grounded: her husband Yaser (Jadidi), a TV presenter, has invoked the law to stop her from travelling. The couple are separated, the relationship irreparable.

Together with her best friend and co-player Masi (Zeinolabedin), Afrooz discusses a strategy to convince her ex to change his mind. This seems to have worked: the suave, reptilian Yaser has signed a document permitting his wife to travel – but in exchange she must give up her half her divorce settlement. Then outside the court, he rips the document to shreds forcing Afrooz to seek help from a feminist lawyer Pantea Aledavood (Rashidi). They argue with Yaser in front of an (unseen) judge, but Yaser is adamant: he simply wants to destroy his wife.

Mostly shot during the hours of darkness Permission sees Afrooz and Masi drive around, hotly pursued through the streets by the angry Yaser: a nightmare of medieval proportions set in the present. For Afrooz the car becomes her home – quite literally, after Yaser throws her belongings out of her flat, changing the locks. She is reduced to an animal in fear of its life. Beiraghi avoids a happy-ending, staying with what is the reality of a society where women are owned by their husbands. Kosari (now blacklisted by Iranian State TV) is brilliant. And there have been few more unlikable villains than Amir Jadidi’s slimy, whining creature who turns into a despicable bully when cornered by his wife.

When Permission opened in cinemas across Iran, Hozeh Honari, a large cultural institution affiliated with the Islamic Propaganda organisation, boycotted the feature. It was not shown in any of Hozeh’s 100-branch cinema chain. And the Iranian State TV, controlled by hard-liners, did not broadcast the trailer. The only consolation for the filmmakers is that the film has gone viral on social media, and has now become a protest watch for vast number of Iranians, and not just women. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | 22 November 2019

  

  

The Invitation (2016) Bluray release ***

Dir: Karyn Kusama | Wri: Phil Hay  | US Thriller 100′

In this hypnotic psychological thriller Karyn Kusama creates a cocoon of tension that slowly implodes during a friends’ evening get together in the Hollywood Hills.

Grieving father Will (Marshall-Green) turns up to visit his ex-wife Eden (Blanchard) who has clearly put their tragic past behind her. But an unsettling vibe seems to haunt this shadowy get-together where everyone is behaving in a bizarre fashion while secrets and desires slowly muddy the familiar water. Will gradually becomes convinced there is a hidden agenda at play behind the invitation to join the people he thought he knew and loved. The tension mounts amid an increasingly unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion as the evenings turns decidedly hostile – and friends soon become enemies. Kusama’s taut pacing, spooky sound design and suggestively ambiguous narrative combine to make this impressively tense thriller well worth a watch. MT

ON BLURAY FROM SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 4 NOVEMBER 2019

 

Earthquake Bird (2019) ****

Dir.: Wash Westmoreland; Cast: Alicia Vikander, Riley Keough, Naoki Kobayashi, Jack Huston; USA 2019, 107 min.

Wash Westmoreland (Colette) turns Susanna Jones’ 2001 debut novel into a traumatic nightmare, set in 1989 Tokyo. The ménage-à-trois between two ex-pats from the UK and a Japanese photographer ends in murder – or does it?

In Tokyo, Lucy Fly (a brilliant Alicia Vikander) works as a translator and is haunted by the accidental death of her brother, for which she blames herself. She is emotional fragile and hates showing her feelings, very much in keeping with Japanese whosemotions are equally repressed. She plays the cello in a quintet of women musicians, and tries hard to fit in. All that changes, when she meets Teiji (Kobayashi), who works during the day in a noodle restaurant, but is obsessed by taking photographs. He lives in a sort of container, high up in the sky. Lucy falls for him, and for the first time forgets all her inhibitions. Enter Lily Bridge (Keough), a nurse who has just arrived in Tokyo and is equally taken by the mysterious Teiji. During an outing, Lucy falls ill and is left behind by Teiji and Lily. But then, in a bizarre twist, the police arrest Lucy at work for the murder of Lily. Lucy confesses, but the Japanese inspector is not convinced about her guilt, and the results of the DNA tests are inconclusive.                       

This is not so much a who-done-it but a study in guilt and betrayal. It is unfortunate that the first man Lucy trusts could well be a murderer. Vikander plays her like a cornered animal, plagued by psycho-somatic illnesses, due to her on-going low-level depression. She is often unable to find find a way through life, because nightmares are intruding more and more in her perception of reality. DoP Chung-hoon Chung shows Tokyo at night like a horror-movie, and during the day a cold landscape lingers gloomily. Vikander’s Lucy is caught in a flight from her past, only to be delivered to a haunting existence, in which she questions everything and everybody. For once, an atmospheric thriller with a gripping narrative. AS

ON NETFLIX FROM 1 November 2019

 

                      

Five Films by Samuel Fuller | Bluray release

A towering figure of American cinema, Samuel Fuller was a master of the B-movie, a pulp maestro whose iconoclastic vision elevated the American genre film to new heights. After the major success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was put under contract by Twentieth Century Fox after being impressed by Darryl F. Zanuck’s direct sales pitch (other studios offered Fuller money and tax shelters; Zanuck simply told him, “We make better movies.”).

Over a six-year period, Fuller would produce some of the best work of his career, (and therefore, some of the best films in American cinema), an uncompromising series of masterpieces spanning multiple genres (the Western, the War film, film noir, the Crime-Thriller) that would establish the director as a true auteur, whose influence continues to be felt today.

Five of the films from this fruitful period, are now presented on blu-ray from stunning restorations. The impossibly tense Korean-War drama Fixed Bayonets! (1951); the outrageous and confrontational spy-thriller Pickup on South Street (1953); the Cold War submarine-actioner Hell and High Water (1954); the lushly photographed, cold-as-ice film noir House of Bamboo (1955/main picture); and the audacious Western with a feminist twist, Forty Guns (1957). Also included is Samantha Fuller’s 2013 documentary, A Fuller Life, featuring friends and admirers of the great director reading extracts from his memoirs.

ON BLURAY | 28 OCTOBER 2019 | EUREKA 

 

Joker (2019) **** Golden Lion Winner Venice 2019

Dir: Todd Phillips | Cast: Joaquin Pheonix, Robert De Niro
Joaquin Phoenix coruscates with desperate anger as a tortured mentally ill loner in Todd Phillips’ tale of the age old arch-nemesis. Imagine Taxi Driver ten years on without the heart and soul of Scorsese or Bernard Herrmann’s iconic 70s score; add some hyper violence and a dose of livid desperation and you have Joker, another rich character study not for the feint-hearted.

Robert De Niro also stars as a glib gameshow host Murray Franklin but this is Phoenix’s film and he is a firecracker as the disgruntled and delusional Arthur Fleck tending his ailing mother whilst trying to juggle various jobs, gradually losing his sanity. He is also cursed with a corrosive condition forcing him to cackle with laughter – uncontrollably and mostly inappropriately – whenever he is stressed or put upon. One such incident occurs in the opening scene where he is chased down and beaten up by kids who steal his sale placard.

Shocking in its sheer intensity, Joker is a film for everyone who has ever been scorned or short-changed, so that’s just about everyone. Joaquin Phoenix looks as if he nearly died preparing for the role, his emaciated body and strung out demeanour testament to the sheer dedication of an actor at the top of his game – thoughts of quitting should now be way behind him.

Phillips and Scott Silver’s script is not based on any of the DC Comics oeuvre, but its resonance will delight an eager fan base. In Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era, Fleck is also fond of his role as a clown, and he is good at it. Strutting his stuff in the local children’s hospital but also imagining himself performing as a stand-up comedian – one of his jokes is “let’s hope my death makes more cents than my life”.

After the street punch up Fleck is lent a gun by a workmate, but foolishly incorporates it in his act at the hospital, a mistake that leads to his sacking and final down-spiralling. One night in the tube he becomes trigger happy when taunted by some City workers and is soon running for his life, the sheer payback exhilaration infecting the audience with complicit delight as he becomes everyone’s misguided ‘have a go hero’.

Without revealing the rest of the plot, let’s just say Arthur makes one bad choice after another. And when certain facts come to light about his family and background, he morphs into a fully fledged psychopath not caring what happens next – to him, or anybody else’s for that matter.

Phoenix brings a scathing humanity to a tragic soul in crisis. Even a romance with a neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) seems to be a figment of his shattered psyche as he descends into a hellish underworld of his own making. Although technically brilliant you have to question the sheer level of the gratuitous violence. That said, this cuastic moral tale will leave everyone with a vague sense of satisfaction and sadness as Joaquin struts his stuff to Gary Glitter’s 1972 hit Rock and Roll, part 2. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER 2019

The Birdcatcher (2018) ***

Dir.: Ross Clarke; Cast: Sofie Boussnina, Arthur Hakalahti, Jacob Cedergen, Laura Birn; Norway/UK 2019, 100′.

Ross Clarke has adapted Trond Morten Venaasen’s script in this gripping thriller that uncovers a relatively unknown slice of Norwegian Second World War history. It follows an enterprising Jewish teenager who takes refuge in a farm belonging to a Nazi sympathiser in a bid to escape persecution and deportation. From collaboration to resistance, the local population’s reaction to their Nazi conquerors was not always clear-cut. And while some of the action pieces here feel unconvincing, strong performances make this an absorbing drama.

In 1942 Trondheim, Esther (Boussnina) dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress despite her humble beginnings. Her father has planned their escape to the USA, but Nazi raids on the Jewish population condemn Esther to a lonely struggle in the remote countryside, after escaping a deportation convoy.

She ends up at a farm house, dressed as a boy and calling herself Ula. Although the owner Johann (Cedergen) supports the Nazi occupation, he does little to help his son Aksel (Hakalahti), despite his disabilities. The only person who rumbles Esther is Johann’s wife Anna, who is having a affair with a Nazi officer, and keeps quiet about the girl in defiance of her husband. During a bloody shoot-out between Johann and his wife’s lover, Esther and Aksel try to escape on a sleigh over the frozen sea to Sweden. An epilogue set in Trondheim after the war delivers the final surprise.

Clarke uncovers some original takes on Nazi politics during the occupation. Johann goes with Esther to the local cinema where German propaganda films are casually screened alongside dance-features and bogus propaganda newsreels showing unanimous Norwegian support for their German occupiers. Boussnina is outstanding as Esther, and the rest of the ensemble offers convincing support. DoP John Christian Rosenlund creates an impressive sense of place, with glorious widescreen images and realistic shots of Nazi Party meetings. AS

ON RELEASE in Cinemas, Digital HD & DVD from 4th October 2019

 

 

 

Pickup on South Street (1953) ***

Dir.: Samuel Fuller; Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Marvyn Vye, Richard Kiley, Willies Bouchey; USA 1953, 80 min.

Pick Up is another classic film noir that gained considerably from Fuller being adamant about the female lead. 20th Century Fox wanted either Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters or Ava Gardener for the role of Candy, but director Samuel Fuller not only resisted the three divas on the grounds of them being “too beautiful”, he also threatened to walk off set if Betty Grable (who wanted a dance number for herself) was cast instead of his own choice Jean Peters.

Pickpocket Skip McCoy steals a wallet from Candy (Peters) in a subway train. FBI agent Zare (Bouchey) is tailing Candy, but loses Skip. He then contacts Police Captain Tiger (Vye), who asks his old informer Moe (Ritter) to identify Skip. She agrees happily, and Zare can now go on the hunt for the micro film in Candy’s purse, which she got from her ex-boyfriend Joey (Kiley), a communist agent. He later murders Moe – who had cashed in a second time on Skip’s identity, selling it to her killer. Candy has fallen in love with Skip, but he has no faith in her. Finally, Skip tracks down Joey and the communist ringleader, and starts a new life with Candy.

Samuel Fuller was known as an anti-communist, but Pick-Up, in spite of its topic, is ambivalent about taking sides. As often in Fuller’s films, the American bourgeoisie which had most to gain from the status quo, is ‘saved’ from communism by the down-and-outs of society. Moe, who lives in utter squalor and Candy, the ex-prostitute, are the most violent defenders of the system, Moe does not want to sell her information after she learns Joey is a communist: “Even in our crummy kind of business, you gotta draw the line somewhere”.

Pick Up is first and foremost a gangster film, a milieu which the ex-crime reporter Fuller knew well. Fuller might have been right-wing, but he took very badly to J. Edgar Hoover’s criticism of Pick Up; Skip laughs off appeals to help as ‘patriotic eyewash,’ and only goes after the communists in revenge for the beating they gave Candy – with producer Daryl F. Zanuck backing Fuller up in an acrimonious meeting with the FBI boss. The film was selected for the 1953 Mostra in Venice, where it won a Bronze Lion in a year when the jury withhold the Golden Lion for the ‘lack of a worthy film’, – in a selection which included Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari.  The festival compensated with six Silver and four Bronze Lions.  AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

The Dark Half (1992) *** Bluray release

Dir: George A. Romero | Horror 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) adapts his intelligent chiller from the bestselling novel by Stephen King, who wrote the novel as a nod to his own literary pseudonym, Richard Bachman. It stars Timonthy Hutton as small town tutor author and horror writer Thad Beaumont who kills off his own literary doppelgänger as a publicity stunt to distance himself from the killings in his own novels and from George Stark, the pseudonymous name he has used to author them. But things don’t go according to plan. And when people around him start dropping dead in macabre scenarios – and his own fingerprints appear at the crime scenes – Beaumont is bewildered until he learns that Stark is back with a vengeance.

The Dark Half is now on Blu-ray

Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-dark-half/

Amazon https://amzn.to/2MYjqph

Wasp Network (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Olivier Assayas | France, Thriller

Olivier Assayas always surprises us in style, theme and genre. This Cuban-set thriller has the same energetic ambition as his other Caribbean set outing Carlos the Jackal (2010) but from then on Wasp Network buzzes in another direction altogether.

A professional pilot René González says goodbye to his wife and child as he jets off in a yellow biplane. We later discovered he has defected to the US fleeing the communist regime’s lack of opportunity and grinding poverty to live in a modern Art Deco apartments in Miami and hopes his family will join him in due course.

Not without a fight. This politically aware film sheds light on the exiles who targeted communist Cuba in the 1990s. These men are in actual fact funded spies engaged in infiltrating US-based groups opposed to Fidel Castro and sending their intelligence back home.

Saturday Fiction | Lan Xin Da Ju Yuan (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Lou Ye | Cast: Gong Li, Mark Chao, Joe Odagiri, Pascal Greggory, Tom Wlaschiha, Huang Xiangli, Ayumu Nakajima, Wang Chuanjun, Zhang Songwen | Drama, China 126′

Saturday Fiction is not as cool as it thinks in portraying the enigmatic life of a famous actress in 1941 Shanghai. Filmed in crisp black and white over the course of a week in December it sashays all over town in telling a shady tale of love and espionage in the Japanese-occupied Paris of the East where the legendary Jean You – played by Chinese actress Gong Li – has returned to star in her ex-lover’s titular play at the Lyceum Theatre in the French Consession. Rumours have it that Yu is back to free her ex-husband from the clutches of Japanese authorities but she soon becomes caught up with paternalistic French man whose intentions are ambiguous, as is everything else in this smokes and mirrors affair.

Lou Ye establishes the plush milieu from the rain-soaked opening scenes where the graceful and elegantly coutured Yu is speedily ushered into a palatial suite in the Cathay Hotel run by Saul Speyer (Tom Wlaschiha). Her ex-lover (Zhang Songwen) is excited to see her again and has cast her as a foxy Western vamp in a play about Japanese expats in 1920s China, inspired by Yokomitsu Riichi’s 1928 Shanghai,

Sumptuously dressed characters flit in and out of the picture, and it seems they all have various guises and motives up their silken sleeves: Bai Yunshang (Huang Xiangli), for example, is straight out of All About Eve but nobody seems to know her true identity. The play’s producer Mo Zhiyin (Wang Chuanjun) is dressed up to the nines in his round glasses and fedora – all he needs is a big cigar to channel Cecil B de Mille.

Yingli Ma’s script itself is based on female author Hong Ying’s 2005 bestseller Death in Shanghai. In the 1940s this is a place where only the lucky and plucky will survive and tell their tales of intrigue but there’s a flitting, episodic feel to the way Saturday Fiction plays out. Clearly intending to beguile us with intrigue and revelation Saturday Fiction eventually starts to drift away in a puff of style over substance, always retaining a demure coyness that lacks the torrid chaleur and dramatic heft of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, which was set in Shanghai just a few months after this story. Gong is nevertheless magnificent is a bewitching performance of charm and subtlety, he facial expressions conveying all we need to know. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 5 -15 September 2019

 

Nobadi (2019) *** Toronto Film Festival 2019

Dir: Kark Markovics | Drama, Austria 83’

This darkly amusing social satire premiering at this year’s TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL is the third outing for actor turned director Karl Markovics who is also turning out to quite a talent behind the camera winning awards at Cannes, Sarajevo and Zurich for his features Breathing (2011) and Superwelt (2015).

Stunningly captured on the wide screen and in crisply shot close-up his latest NOBADI has quite a few surprises up its sleeve in a story that seems at first like a less ambitious version of The Interpreter – two characters come up against each other from across the divide – but this moral fable soon takes a much darker direction plumbing the depths of the immigrant crisis for one young man from Afghanistan.

A pithy and sardonic script and a steely central performance from veteran Austrian actor Heinz Trixner make this a winner. He plays a curmudgeonly old buffer Robert Senft who grudgingly employs a desperate manual labourer down on his luck to help him dig a hole in his back yard to bury his dead dog. After beating him down on his hourly rate, he agrees to pay a measley three euros to the well-mannered Adib (gamely played by newcomer Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh). But as works starts the old man’s character is revealed in all its complexity. Meanwhile Adib comes across as decent and biddable. But what happens next is both unexpected and tragic allowing Markovics to make some subtle but light-hearted digs at the sad state of affairs in his native Austria. MT

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5-15 September 2019 WORLD PREMIERING ON SEPTEMBER 8th

 

 

Adoration (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |

Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that screens out of competition at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival.

Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality  based on a delusional notion of love as a warped obsession taking over the life of an innocent pubescent boy, who lives with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria, the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy, Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.

Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff and his possessive mother, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.

Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses feel aroused by sounds of bees, and and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.

Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his misplaced feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs –  and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is an fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

The Incident (1967) **** Bluray release

Dir: Larry Peerce | Cast: Martin Sheen, Tony Musante, Beau Bridges, Thelma Ritter | US Thriller

Larry Peerce’s raw and intense urban tension thriller offers a snapshot of 1967 New York City in all its seedy, black-and-white glory, The Incident also features an iconic 60s cast that must be seen to be believed. Martin Sheen makes his feature film debut as one of two small-time hoods – the other is Tony Musante (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) in one of his earliest roles – terrorising a subway car full of trapped passengers, portrayed by an ensemble cast including Thelma Ritter (Rear Window), Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), Ed McMahon, Donna Mills (Play Misty for Me), Jack Gilford (Save the Tiger), Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird), Ruby Dee (A Raisin in the Sun), and a host of other instantly recognisable faces from NYC films and television of the era.

After mugging an old man for a few dollars, thugs Artie (Sheen) and Joe (Musante) hop a subway deep in the Bronx, and proceed to threaten and intimidate the Sunday night commuters all the way to Times Square. The terrified riders are a mixed group – an elderly Jewish couple, a family trying to protect their 5-year-old daughter, an alcoholic, two teens on a date, two military Privates, a bigoted African-American man and his wife, etc. – but they are united by their fear and sense of helplessness as switchblade-wielding Joe and Artie block the subway doors from opening at stops, and prevent the riders from leaving. Will any of them have the courage to confront the two maniacs?

A high-velocity “home invasion”-styled hostage drama on rails, The Incident is a NYC transit suspense film that precedes the better-known The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by seven years. When director Larry Peerce (Goodbye, Columbus) and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld (Young Frankenstein) were denied permission to shoot in the NYC subways, they did it anyway, using concealed cameras for some footage, providing a gritty time capsule of the 60s Big Apple as it begins to rot. Review courtesy of Eureka.

WORLDWIDE DEBUT on Blu-ray in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range from 12 August 2019 | Eureka Store  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-incident/

Amazon https://amzn.to/2MGREz5

 

Holiday (2018) ****

Dir/Writer: Isabella Eklöf, Wri: Johanne Algren| Cast: Thijs Romer, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde | Thriller | Danish | 112′

If you’re worried about the current state of male empowerment this film from Denmark will adjust the skewered perception, in this year’s BFI London Film Festival showing, that women are somehow pulling rank in the pecking order and getting too big for their boots.

HOLIDAY certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing and there are some shockingly sadistic pornorgraphic scenes that are by no means gratuitous, and are actually pivotal to the plot. It’s the debut feature of writer and director Isabella Eklöf who co-wrote Cannes winner Border and also worked on Tomas Alfredson’s lugubrious vampire standout, Let the Right One In. Her third outing at the LFF is a stunning looking but savage satire that explores sexual abuse and domination.

Some may say HOLIDAY overplays its hand in its overlong preamble, making us wait nearly a hour before the feisty finale kicks in. But this torpid first hour allows Eklof and her co-writer Johanne Algren to set the scene for a devastating denouement by slathering her thriller with rich layers of texture, establishing the lowlife criminal ethos of the humans to just how boring and beastly they have become. The venal antihero Michael (Lai Yde) plays a Danish drug baron who has taken call-girl Sascha (a well-cast ectomorph Victoria Carmen Sonne) for a break in a Villa in Bodrum. While he does ‘a bit of business’, she suns herself by the pool with a motley crew of family members and hoodlums. Crude is very much the watchword in HOLIDAY. These mindless meatheads are be-decked in timepieces the size of telephones, garish trainers and vulgar designer labels such as Philip Pleinn.

In the opening scenes Sascha rocks up at the Turkish airport wearing a platinum hairpiece showing more black roots than Kunta Kinte. Her personality could be best described as vacant, she is an symbol of female submission, and for most of the film she is as naive as Bambi. But something is clearly ticking away in her reptilian brain that makes her strike out like a cobra when we’re least expecting it. Once ensconsed in the villa, Sascha has her work cut out dealing with the macho Michael who flexes his muscles with regular psychotic outbursts that end in abusive sex. This is the school of hard-knocks and not even Michael’s henchman escape a bloody good hiding when they overstep the mark. The only sights Sascha sees in the ancient Turkish port are expensive jewellery shops and lap-dancing clubs. She is there as an extension of Michael’s ego: when he’s feeling good she gets a hug or some emerald earrings (“they’re more expensive than diamonds”); when he’s feeling bad she gets a punch in the nose or even worse. But never is there meaningful sex.

On the contrary, the two have no emotional bond, but control freak that he is, Michael soon asserts his authority when Sascha strikes out on her own, and is drawn to an attractive Dutchman, Thomas (Thijs Romer), whose yacht is moored in the marina. At first it feels like she’s looking for a life raft, and escape route from Michael – but not a bit of it. Sasha flirts with Thomas, but her goal is to garner the emotional strokes she craves, feeding her latent narcissism.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Michael takes another bad mood out on Sascha, roughing her up and then abusing her sexually on the cold marble floor. The violent release gives Michael a psychopathic high and he falls asleep feeling totally fulfilled in her annihilation. Sascha soaks up the intended rejection that enforces her own lack of self esteem: the two are one. Victorious, Michael now has to lift his leg, metaphorically speaking, on Thomas. Arranging a quiet tête à trois, with the subtext of discussing yachts, Michael invites the unsuspecting Dutchman to join him and Sascha for dinner. In an act of vicois bravado, he then flagrantly humiliates both of them, and Thomas rapidly gets his coat.

The material in this uncomfortable but brilliant film could to be developed into others of the genre, if Eklöf so desires, and let’s hope she does. As female writers go, she is certainly on a par with Patricia Highsmith in her ability to create psychological complexity and conjure up tightly-plotted thrillers in glamorous surroundings, as demonstrated in this dynamite debut. MT

ON RELEASE from FRIDAY 2 August 2019

 

 

 

Oldboy (2003) **** re-release

Dir: Park Chan-Wook | South Korea 120′

Many found Korean cult horror outing ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ too violent, but Oldboy takes the Asian Extreme genre even further.

Don’t be misled into thinking this is about public school boys or even dapper English gents of a certain age. Although on the surface of it, businessman Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik), appears just to be a drunken old bore. We first meet him being mysteriously abducted and imprisoned by nameless villains until he’s released from captivity after nearly 15 years, only to be contacted by his captors and offered a deal: if he can fathom why he was held prisoner in the first place he will get a chance to avenge his captors – if not, the cocktail waitress he has recently starting dating will lose her life. Some price freedom, but Oh Dat-Su is not going to put up with any more threats. Hammer in hand, he embarks on a brutal killing spree fuelled by vehement anger and searing emotional pain. Choi Min-Sik is retribution personified in an extraordinary performance that ranges from abject fury punctuated by bouts of seething humiliation – and we feel for him – aided and abetted by Park’s masterful direction. In the Asian Extreme firmament this is a coruscating Hitchockian-style Neo-Noir. MT

NOW OUT ON RE-RELEASE from Friday

The Night Has Eyes (1942) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Leslie Arliss | Cast: James Mason, Wilfred Lawson, Tucker McGuire, Joyce Howard | UK Gothic Horror 79′
Although he directed some of the biggest British box office successes of the 1940s, Leslie Arliss‘s contribution to British cinema remains under-celebrated. He was born Leslie Andrews in London on 6 October 1901, and started life as a journalist in South Africa, returning to London in the late 1920s to take up a job as a screen writer during the 1930s, turning his hand to various genres from comedy to historical epic dramas such as William Tell (1958); The Wicked Lady (1945) and Idol of Paris (1948). One of his most successful scripts was for Ealing studio’s The Foreman Went to France directed by Charles Friend in 1942.  
Based on the novel by Alan Kennington The Night Has Eyes sees James Mason at his most suave and sinister as a troubled ex-soldier from the Spanish Civil war. Schoolteachers Marian (Howard) and Doris (McGuire) are looking for their friend Evelyn who has gone missing in the Yorkshire dales (actually filmed at Welwyn Garden City Studios, an overflow for Elstree). Retreating during a storm to a remote cottage for the night they soon fall under the seductive thrall of the owner, a reclusive pianist Stephen Deremid (Mason) who is strangely appealing especially to Doris who soon senses some connection between this cool customer and the disappearance of her friend. Gunther Krampf’s evocative camerawork does wonders with shadows and light while Arliss keeps us gripped with his tortuous storytelling. MT
NOW OUT ON Blu-ray at AMAZON.CO.UK
https://youtu.be/lwts14_PIlc

Kursk: The Last Mission (2018) **

Dir.: Thomas Vinterberg; Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Lea Seydoux, Artemy Spiridonov, Colin Firth, Peter Simonischek, Max von Sydow; France/Belgium/Luxembourg 2018, 117 min.

Based on the true story of the Kursk submarine tragedy of 2000 in which 188 men lost their lives, Kursk: The Last Mission is a rather surprising choice for Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), whose adaption of Robert Moore’s factual story A Time to die, written for the screen by Robert Rodat (Private Ryan), has all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson inspired would-be Hollywood production. This narrative of the nuclear-powered submarine disaster which befell the Kursk in August 2000 in the Barents Straight, is short on truth and rather overbearing of masculinity and clichés.

In this mega European disaster feature we meet the hero Mikhail Kalekov (Schoenaerts) on home ground: pregnant wife Tanya (Seudoux) and son Mischa (Spiridonov) are the lively family who play around, not knowing that disaster lurks around the corner. The crew of the Kursk is introduced as a good natured bunch – only interested in getting the alcohol for a team members wedding, which Mikhail organises, paying part of the bill with his watch. On August 12th disaster strikes: two explosions (caused by a faulty weld) occur, leaving only 23 of the 115 men crew alive. Stonewalling by the Russian authorities – they even invented a collision with a Nato submarine as a course for the accident – meant that the survivors died a slow death, since the help of British and Norwegian rescue teams were postponed, until it was too late.      Unfortunately, Firth as British naval attaché David Russell has more in common with a Victorian counterpart, and Russian Admiral Grudzinsky (Simonischek) ”is on the outlook for an enemy”, but does not now his identity. President Putin gets away “with being on holiday for most of the time” – even though he clearly had a hand in the avoidable tragedy, but particularly in the incident with the wife of one of the victims.

DoP Anthony Dod Mantle tries his best to save the heavy handed direction, his images are halfway between apocalyptic and eerie-romantic. Particularly the oxygen-cartridge retrieval scene is a masterpiece – the photographer is the only production crew member who can hold his head high. Overall this feature is mostly interested in simple male moral boosting: songs more at home on the terraces of a football stadium replace any analysis of this technology disaster, which was the result of scandalous political motives. AS

Kursk: The Last Mission in Cinemas and on Digital HD 12 July 2019

      

Korean Film Nights | Love Without Boundaries

Korean Film Nights continue with a second season for 2019 ‘Love Without Boundaries’ – a programme of titles exploring Korean cinema’s bold exploration of romantic relationships existing on society’s margins.

Love, in its many guises, has always been a central concern in cinema. From the long-established vision presented in Hollywood studio pictures to the local dialect of any national cinema, romance has always had a place on film. Outside of cinema’s mainstream however, many exemplary filmmakers have long strove to represent a range of transgressive love stories in their work, bucking the idealised view codified in typical cinema fare. Delving deep into the key works from Korean cinema that have pushed against socially-accepted views of love and relationships, our season seeks to offer a snapshot into a diverse range of people and attitudes not typically seen on screens.

Comprised of six unique works from some of Korean cinema’s boldest voices from the past two decades (plus one remarkable early feature from 1956), our season explores representations of love located on the fringes of the cinematic landscape of their time. Challenging preconceived notions of what love should be, these films push up against societal views of what’s considered ‘normal’ to depict a variety of romantic relationships and the powerful human emotions they elicit. Encompassing taboo-busting depictions of same-sex romances and other marginalised individuals, the season offers a range of perspectives on bold, challenging subjects, offering a rare fully-realised and compassionate vision of people struggling for acceptance.

In our current social climate, past norms concerning gender, sexual orientation, and race, are increasingly being questioned and we’re seeing a sustained fight for diversity and inclusion in the film industry, both behind the camera and in front of it. ‘Love Without Boundaries’ aims to show how Korean filmmakers have pushed against societal norms by giving voice to characters who are not out to change the world, but are trying to live their lives and embrace their passions as best they can.

A Girl at my Door 도희야 / Thursday 4th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2014, July Jung’s directorial debut follows lesbian police officer Young-nam (Bae Doona, The Host) after she is stationed to a quiet provincial town following a personal scandal.

No Regret 후회하지 않아 / Thursday 11th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Regarded as the first South Korean feature from an openly gay filmmaker, No Regret follows the complicated love and working life of a young man after he heads to Seoul and finds work at a factory and as a ‘taeri’- a designated driver for wealthy patrons after a night of drinking.

The Hand of Fate 운명의 손 / Thursday 18th July, 7pm / KCCUK

This melodramatic spy-thriller utilises a visually striking, film-noir style, and acts not only as anti-communist propaganda, but also as a commentary on the shifting roles and expectations of Korean women.

Love Without Boundaries: Shorts Night / Thursday 25th July, 6:30pm / Birkbeck Cinema

Love Without Boundaries presents Queer Love: Loving Outside the Mainstream, a night of short films, revolving around a strong central theme of LGBTQ+ struggles within South Korea.

Wanee & Junah 와니와 준하 / Thursday 1st August, 7pm / KCCUK

Wanee is a disenchanted animator living in the city with her scriptwriter boyfriend Junah, but cracks begin to show in their outwardly peaceful relationship when childhood friend So-yang visits in this taboo-breaking forbidden love drama.

Oasis 오아시스 / Thursday 8th August, 7pm / KCCUK

Burning director Lee Chang-dong won Venice’s Silver Lion for his challenging portrayal of the relationship between a woman with cerebral palsy (Moon So-ri, Little Forest) and a man (Sul Kyung-gu, Memoir of a Murderer) fresh out of jail for manslaughter.

Information supplied by the Korean Cultural Centre | Screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK and Birkbeck Cinema and are free to attend. More info here

 

The Hummingbird Project (2018) Mubi

Dir: Kim Nguyen | Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando, Sarah Goldberg | Tech thriller | US 111′

In Kim Nguyen’s ambitious financial thriller Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard are New York tech wizards working for Salma Hayek’s Stock Exchange trading magnate.

Meanwhile the two cousins have a secret money-making plan of their own. It involves the construction of a high speed fiber-optic cable that allows information to travel in a nanosecond (the beat of a hummingbird’s wing) so stockbrokers can beat their competitors hands down.

Although it sounds rather highfaluting, this is a slick and intelligent film that explores the humanity in a high octane premise, even finding humour in those dark nights of the soul. Salma Hayek is Eva Torres, a wacky but believable City whizz babe with roots as dark as Kunta Kinti. Her ironic approach to her uptight character is one of the highlights here along with. Jesse Eisenberg whose suave sales patter barely hides an existential angst of his own and in his element as a man under pressure, fronting up a dicey operation with considerable aplomb while everything around him  is in doubt. Meanwhile Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) is the hypochondriac nerd helping him to pull off the scheme with conviction — and even though we know the project is outlandish – it very much buys into the zeitgeist. There’s a angsty atmospheric score by Yves Gourmeur that primps the tension and then mollifies it in all the right places.

Half way into the story, Vincent decides they should both resign from Torres’ employ and focus on their own project, finding investors for their new-fangled cable, and trousering the profits. But this is easier said than done, and Vincent’s tip-top negotiating skills are soon compromised by his deteriorating health.

The seemingly unfeasible project involves drilling a line horizontally under private land, a logistical nightmare that involves endless red tape and deep pockets on the financial front. Vincent schmoozes the home-owners, contractors and drillers, while Anton disappears into the world of computer coding, hilariously oblivious of his wife’s increasingly histrionic  demands. Clearly on the spectrum, Anton is mesmerised by his work,  Skarsgard fashions a fascinating portrait of emotional detachment that almost borders on autism.

Clearly Hummingbird has issues quite apart from its outlandish premise and tonal flaws, but this is an engrossing study of ambition, perseverance and the human desire to make one’s mark, however challenging, or unfeasible. Nguyen manages to humanise the much maligned world of finance and technology by deconstructing those struggling with their demons both physical and mental. He does so with a quirky vein of humour making The Hummingbird Project an enjoyable and original watch. MT

 

Odette (1950) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Herbert Wilcox; Cast: Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard, Marius Goring, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Schieske; UK 1950, 124 min.

Directed by Herbert Wilcox (1890-1977) and scripted by Warren Chetham-Strode after the book Odette, The Story of a British Agent by Jerrad Tickell, Odette was produced by Wilcox and his leading lady and wife Anna Neagle (1904-1986). 

A popular star of the British cinema from the 1930s onwards, she played Neil Gwynn, Queen Victorian (twice) and Edith Cavell, Neagle was nevertheless reluctant to be cast as Odette Hallowes- Samson-Churchill, a French born British Special Operations agent, who survived Ravensbrück Concentration Camp after being captured working for the resistance in France. Wilcox (The Lady with a Lamp) offered the part to Michèle Morgan and Ingrid Bergman, who both turned him down. The real Odette Samson finally convinced Neagle to take on the role.

Odette works with the resistance as British operative in France. She meets and works for commander Peter Churchill (Howard), whom she would marry after the war. Odette and the Russian agent Arnaud (Ustinov) are lured into a trap by ‘Henri’ (Goring), who is really the German Abwehr spy Hugo Bleicher, pretending that he is on the side of anti-Hitler forces. The three of them are captured, and Odette is tortured in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris. Whilst Arnaud (real name Rabinovitch) is sent to the extermination camp Rawicz, near Lodz in Poland, Odette is transferred to Ravensbrück, where she is to be executed. But the camp commandant Fritz Suhren (Schieske) believes her lie, that she is Winston Churchill’s niece. He hopes to bargain for a pardon after letting her go free to meet the advancing American troops. Odette is reunited with Peter in the UK, and a witness in the trial against Suhren – who was, ironically hanged the same year, the feature Odette hit the British cinemas, being the forth most successful film that year at the box-office.

This was a picture with some real howlers (like Bleicher apologising to Odette, and making it possible for her to see Peter Churchill in prison ‘for a last time’), Neagle is superb in her understatement. But the star is veteran DoP Max Green aka Mutz Greenbaum (1896-1968), a German émigré who founded the ‘Deutsche Bioscope’ and was after his emigration responsible for classics like The Stars look Down, Night and the City and So evil, my Love. The black-and-white images, particularly the one in Fresnes and Ravensbrück, belie the studio background. Only slightly dated, Odette is still a harrowing reminder of the price women had to pay in the liberation from fascism. AS

DVD, BLU-RAY, DOWNLOAD | JUNE 11th | STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS | COMMEMORATING THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF D DAY 

When a Stranger Calls (1979) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Walton | Wri: Steve Feke | Cast: Carol Cane, Steve Beckley, Rachel Roberts, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst | Thriller | US, 1979 | 97′

A sinister soundtrack, the camera playing on ordinary objects in a shadowy sitting room, a neurotic woman, and our own pavlovian response to a ringing phone all coalesce to inspire terror in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Fred Walton’s astute psychological thriller starts with a 20-minute scene that gradually develops into something altogether more horrific and a showcase showdown. The second act explores the criminal mind through two scary looking specialists in the shape of Rachel Roberts’ Dr Monk, who has let the killer escape from her mental asylum, and Charles Durning’s hard-eyed police investigator who has himself become unhinged in his determination to catch up with the felon. Infact, the entire cast of this urban thriller look pretty unsavoury – but Tony Beckley tops the bill as the psychopathic murderer who terrorises a lonely babysitter, savagely rips apart her two charges with his bare hands and then returns to menace her again, seven years later with the chilling phrase “have you checked the children?”.

After Beckley (the killer) has done time, he escapes the asylum and fetches up on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles where he chats up a confident woman (Colleen Dewhurst) in a bar, and is later duffed up by another barfly – he really strikes an unnerving chord in the scenes that follow. As much a portrait of social alienation and emotional disintegration in the seamier side of Los Angeles, as a spine-chilling thriller, this auteurish arthouse shocker is one of the best, and certainly the most atmospheric. Beckley brings out the pitiful humanity of his character who is both vulnerable and deeply hateful. It’s an astonishing performance and his last. He died six months after the film was released. MT 

Along with its recently released WHEN A STRANGER CALLS/WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK: LIMITED EDITION and the rarely seen, short THE SITTER. Brand new interviews; a 40-page perfect bound booklet; Original Soundtrack CD; reversible poster featuring new and original artwork; reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork | 1 July 2019 |

 

Les Miserables (2019) Cannes Film Festival 2019 ***

Dir: Ladj Ly | Drama France 102′

Not to be confused with Victor Hugo’s 1862, Les Miserables is in a way a 21st update of the milieu where the French classic took place. With echoes of TV’s Law & Order Ly channels the anger and malaise of modern city life into his contemporary story, that kicks hard against the system.

Opening with documentary footage showcasing the national unity leading up to France’s 2018 World Cup victory, to the headline “There are no bad plants or bad men; there are only bad cultivators,” is an apposite one that could apply to dogs and children as well.

This good cop, bad cop urban thriller follows a day in the life of officer Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard), who’s recently fetched up the backwater of Montfermeil from the almost genteel by comparison town of Cherbourg. Ly – who directed and co-wrote the debut feature from his own short film – grew up in this badass council estate and we soon find out that the cops are as venal as many of the locals they victimise. This soon emerges when Stephane is tasked with shadowing two Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (played by the distinctly unappealing (co-writer) Manenti, a really nasty piece of work, and his black sidekick Gwada (Djebril Zonga) who, interestingly, also abuses his power, and almost manages to corrupt Stephane’s straightforwardness and strong sense of public duty. The trio roam around the neighbourhood where drug dealers are free to peddle their wares and kids run wild. Meanwhile the local Muslims try to go about their business, and a petty criminal called Issa, who has stolen a baby lion from the circus, nearly loses his eye when Gwada fires a flash-ball gun further adding to mayhem. Clearly Ly is playing things up for dramatic effect but it also transpires that this community has more or less been abandoned by the authorities for so long that it has developed its own dog eat dog existence. And this sad fact is portrayed with a great deal of humour and humanity by Ly and his co-writers Alex Manenti and .Giordano Gederlini.

Julien Poupard’s camera captures the area warts and all with his brilliant images, often from the officers’ moving car and this is amplified by drone footage, adding considerably to the gritty allure of this everyday story of life in a place where little has seemingly changed in nearly 200 years. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 14-25 May 2019

High Life (2018) ****

Dir Claire Denis. Germany/France/US/UK/Poland. 2018. 110 mins

Women filmmakers are fascinated by Sci-Fi. Back in 1995 there was Kathryn Bigelow with Strange Days, Mimi Leder followed with Deep Impact, and Karyn Kusama with Aeon Flux (2005. Meanwhile in Europe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic brought us Evolution (2015) and Jessica Hausner has made this year’s Cannes Competition line-up with her thriller Little Joe (2019).

Claire Denis’s first foray into science-fiction is a cold, violent, enigmatic affair. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey springs to mind and so does Solaris but this is more brutal and provocative despite its lush colour spectrum and virtuoso visuals that come courtesy of Yorick Le Saux. Human desire and pent up sexual energy is expressed with a baleful malevolence that occasionally erupts into livid outbursts. But many will struggle to comprehend its fractured narrative, arcane motives and curious timeframe, despite it being Denis’ first English language feature, you come away none the wiser but bemused and enriched and by its visual allure.

Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche anchor an eclectic cast which includes Agata Buzek (The Innocents). He plays the most sympathetic, accessible character – Monte – who is stranded in a spaceship after a gruelling mission that has left him with a gurgling baby daughter who needs to be cared for. And this he does well. The spaceship has a lush vegetable garden, the only natural environment to speak of, with juicy courgettes and cabbages kept alive by an ambient mist.

There is a strange sense of danger brought on by the feeling that something tragic has happened leaving the rest of the crew to stifle and repress their bitter resentment and lightly veiled hostility towards one another, made worse by their claustrophobic surroundings. Flashbacks vaguely allude to this sense of unsettlement but no explanation is offered.

The space ship is bound on a journey to reach the nearest black hole to planet Earth. Binoche plays Dibs and has clearly asked Denis to give her a complex and foxy role and she excels with her black glossy tresses and zip-up uniform that reveals plenty of cleavage. There’s an odd scene where she mounts a steel phallus, having careful slipped a Durex over it, her muscular body girating in feral pleasure. She seems to be conducting some sort of sexual reproduction experiment on the crew, and is called “the shaman of semen” as she’s tasked with injecting the women with semen produced by the men in a cubicle. None of them seems very keen on the idea or why it’s being done in the confines of the spaceship. She even forces the slumbering Monte to capitulate by mounting him and then extracting the fluid with a large pipette and injecting it into another sleeping inmate.

As Monte gets rid of a growing mound of corpses, we realise that the crew’s mutual hostility has actually ended in tears. As he pushes the bodies out of the craft the sound of silence is one of the gratifying high points, courtesy of Stuart Staples (Minute Bodies). The scenes in Space are straight out of 2001, or even Gravity (2013). Robert Pattinson and his child who eventually reaches puberty during  are the only sympathetic characters in a film which is clever and daring but ultimately leaves you empty. Such is Space. MT

HIGH LIFE IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 17 MAY 2019

 

Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT

BFI STANLEY KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL-MAY 2019 at BFI Southbank 

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***

Dir: S Craig Zahler | Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn | Thriller | US, 16o;

S Craig Zahler’s latest thriller lacks the slick, pared-down momentum of his previous outing Brawl in Cell Block 99. Overlong and often ponderous it nevertheless carries some weight in the social message it pushes forward. But two hours and 40 minutes is pushing it too far.

Mel Gibson (Lurasetti) and Vince Vaughn (Ridgeman) are cops who decide to play some criminals at their own game by disturbing a suspect’s love nest during a drug raid, giving him a bloody nose. Their boss (Don Johnson) gets to hear about it from a neighbour’s video footage, and decides to suspend them. Both have major family commitments so they turn the tables on the law to raise some much needed spondulix. Ridgeman’s plan is to make a quick buck by staking out a local safe house, and stashing aside some filthy lucre. Lurasetti is not keen on the plan, but goes along for the ride.

Suffice to say, it all goes pear-shaped and there follows a rather drawn out denouement involving another strand to the storyline. The action sequences are entertaining, particularly the one involving the slow dissemination of their vehicle. And it’s quite clear, once again, where Zahler’s sympathies lie. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 19 APRIL 2019

Greta (2018) Netflix

Dir. Neil Jordan. US/Ireland. 2018. 98 mins.

Neil Jordan’s latest drama Greta has the basis to be something much greater, but  chooses the silly route, becoming creepy too soon. Luckily Isabelle Huppert’s blood-curdling turn as a lonely widow saves the day.

Falling between comedy and horror this enjoyable pulp thriller throws a spanner into the works of seriously gripping psychodrama  – instead we get an over-baked absurdist potboiler with one or two electric shocks that will have you screaming out loud. The moral of the story is: one good turn doesn’t lead to another.

Jordan and Ray Wright (The Crazies) have co-written a script that melds Hollywood slickness with European arthouse subversiveness deftly rendered in DoP Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping visual wizardry, with a small role for Stephen Rea. Chloë Grace Moretz is naive Ivy League graduate Frances who shares a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone with her more savvy friend Erika (Maika Monroe). One days she finds a smart-looking handbag on the subway and duly heads to the home of its owner – one Greta Higed – who inhabits a small secluded house in a Manhattan backwater. A soignée Isabelle Huppert (Greta) opens the door to a cosy French country interior, although it later transpires she is originally from Hungary.

It turns out that well-meaning Frances has recently lost her mother and is feeling isolated emotionally and unhappy with her father’s new relationship. She is instantly drawn to Huppert’s faux bonhomie and the two bond, Greta missing her own daughter, who apparently lives in Paris. A few espressos later they are swearing undying allegiance to each other, all too much too soon. To add further credibility to her caring side, Greta adopts a dear old dog (Morton) on his last legs in a nearby sanctuary. Alarm bells ring. Huppert does her best not to let this descend into a schlocky psycho-scenario but it does, and she knows it, but is having a lovely time with her role. She is also the only woman with normal lips, the others having blown theirs up with fillers. Jordan is having fun with his soundtrack – a blend of classics from Vivaldi to some smaltzy French chansons, just the right background for a ‘girls only’ night in where the femme fatale cooks up some recipes Frances hadn’t bargain for: “Good, no?” says Greta, an evil glint in her eye as she morphs into mean mummy – spouting fluent Hungarian – just to add menace to the mix.

Jordan occasionally makes some bad decisions disrupting Huppert’s subtly crafted character performance and misjudging the mood. One example is the restaurant scene that starts with chilling elegance and is ruined by cack-handed melodrama. Greta is a surprising departure from Jordan’s usual fare and will certainly appeal to the mainstream crowd with its devilish humour and slap in the face thrills. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX

La Vida in Comun (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir.: Ezequiel Yanco; Cast: Isaias Barroso, Pablo Chernov, El Apoyo De, Uriel Alcaraz, Yuliana Alcaraz; Argentina, France 2019, 70 min. 

This lyrical rather eclectic coming-of-age documentary is set in the remote indigenous settlement of Pueblo Nacion Ranquel in Northern Argentina, where animals and the past play a central role. A puma is stalking the community and a group of young boys start tracking the animal, as part traditional rite of passage. La Vida En Comun is imbued with an atmosphere of transition, as if the whole colony is waiting and watching for something to happen. And Yanco captures this transitory nature of this temporary set-up with its Avantgarde houses that seem to be part of another world. Infact, Pueblo Raquel is decisively otherworldly – the buildings are from the future, but the teenagers live in the ancient world, where animals and humans lived side by side.

Apart from a few teachers, there is an absence of adults and so the unobserved teens are left to their own devices. The action is narrated by one of the girls who relates how, in an act of bravado to impress a girl, one of the youngest boys Isaias (Barroso) defied the older ones by hunting down the mighty puma, and maybe even killing him. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe.

Everything seems opaque, ephemeral, ready to disappear at any second. These are the reflected emotions of a land where expropriation was (and is) rife; where the natives who once owned this country are pushed back into a reservation where they are marginalised by the interlopers. The lyrical tone often betrays this savage past, but it is always there, hovering over the living souls.

Yanco creates his own world where teenagers hunt animals and look for an identity that remains elusive. La Vida en Comun is like a huge question mark: is it a mirage, or reality? The only thing that is certain is mighty puma. We can only watch in wonderment, looking at a unique world in-between. AS

VISIONS DU REEL | 5 -13 APRIL 2019

 

        

The Wind. A Documentary Thriller (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir.: Michal Bielawski; Documentary; Poland/Slovakia 2019, 74 min.

This poetic essay plays out like a thriller set in the mountain region of Podhale in southern Poland. Although the Tatra mountains are well known as a paradise for winter sports, Bielawski focuses on the cruel and unpredicable natural phenomenon of the ‘halny’ winds. These often terrorise locals but also cause rapid changes in atmospheric pressure strongly influencing the wellbeing of both people and animals and wreaking havoc with their habitat. Bielawski shows how the communities organise themselves to fight back.

A poetess, a female ambulance driver and old farmer, all unnamed, are the main protagonists of this tour de force eco-doc. The farmer is trying to batten down the barn hatches where a cow has just given birth to a baby bull. The storm is so strong that only planks nailed to the door will prevent them blowing open by the strength of the wind. Meanwhile the ambulance paramedic takes a call from a gentleman who says he wants to report a suicide. “Yours, or someone else’s” she asks him. “Mine” comes the strange reply. She remembers a long journey to a town far away where she had to deal with the corpse of a person hanged for his crimes. Meanwhile, the poetess emerges as the one most ‘in tune’ with the wind’s forces. A very fit woman in her fifties, she enjoys reciting her verses in the woods, hugging the trees, many of which have been felled in the recent storms.

The film then tracks back to the farmer who, with his friends, erects a small pylon, later fitting it with a windmill. The farmer and some children decide to go up to the mountain on the cable car, but the old man starts to feels sick. He later visits a doctor, who runs an ECG. Far away, we see a Ferris wheel, like a fata morgana. The poetess collects wood from a fallen tree, she saws it in little pieces and tells the forester she wants to buy a small part of the woods. The ambulance driver meanwhile deals with a drunkard and a victim of epilepsy, while his colleague fails to resuscitate a patient. The poetess sings in the woods where the snow storm is blowing a gale, trees are blocking the road, the windmills are devastated and a fire breaks out in the farmhouse, spreading to the barn and killing two cows before he can open the door. After the storm, the poetess saws off a piece of a fallen tree, takes out a piece of paper, and writes a new poem on the tree. Meanwhile, the old farmer, repairs the windmill as the children watch on.

Bielawski develops an elliptical rhythm as humans permanently try to mend what nature has destroyed. But ironically they don’t blame the storm, or even think of leaving the area: they have accepted their lot, but go on loving the mountains. DoP Bartek Solik’s fly on the wall images, particularly the close-ups, show us a rich emotional life. Most impressive is the poetess who is happy to be a witness to the living and the dead, animal and nature. A unique study of how an ongoing struggle has strangely becomes a rewarding way of life. AS

VISIONS DU REEL | 5-13 APRIL 2019

 

 

 

A Clockwork Orange (1971) 4K restoration

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clark, James Marcus, Michael Tarn, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Miriam Karlin, Michael Gover, Anthony Sharp; UK/US 1971, 136 min.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 decline-of-civilisation novel, A Clockwork Orange, remains a chilling, thrilling and unsettling cinematic vision of nihilistic violence and social control.

The brutal socio-political satire was a big success for Kubrick taking £618K at the UK box office on its opening weekend in January 1972. Burgess’s oeuvre of over thirty novels is overshadowed by A Clockwork Orange. The author claimed writing was merely a “jeu d’esprit, just for money, finishing the novel in three weeks”. But during WWII his first wife Lynne had been raped by American soldiers, which led to a miscarriage.

Set in a futuristic Britain, teenager Alex DeLarge (McDowell) is the leader of a teenage quartet called the ‘Droogs’. Brutal and psychopathic, they enjoy wreaking havoc after school. Alex is the gang-leader keeping Dim (Clarke), Georgie (Marcus) and Pete (Tarn) under the cosh: disobedience is immediately repressed with violence. After a fight with a rival gang, they break into the Hertfordshire home of writer Alexander (Magee), reducing him to a cripple and raping his wife Mary (Corrie) while warbling “Singing in the Rain”.

Next day, Alex, a keen Beethoven fan who lives with his parents in a garish high-rise, plays truant from school. Later the Droog break into the house of “Catlady” (Karlin), a yoga freak, who Alex kills with the bust of his beloved Ludwig. Arrested and imprisoned in a masterfully performed series of scenes demonstrating just how draconian the authorities were back then, Alex is offered the chance of submitting himself to a new-fangled therapy “the Ludovico treatment”, which aims to ‘reset’ his mind, making him averse to violence and sex. The therapy has the desired effect. But in one of the films, selected by Dr. Brodsky (Duering), Beethoven’s Ninth is played, making Alex feel nauseous when he hears the music. After a demonstration by the Interior Minister (Sharp), during which Alex faints at the sight of a naked woman, he is released. But his parents do not want him back, they have rented his room to a male lodger, who now fulfils their parenting needs. So Alex is forced onto the streets for a touch of his own medicine.

Attacked by an old hobo, whom he had punched up in his Droog days, he is saved by two policemen – Dim and Georgie. They drive him into the countryside, beat him senseless and leave him for dead. Half-crazed, Alex finds himself once again on the doorstep of Mr. Alexander’s house, who is wheelchair-bound, and widowed. Strangely, Alexander does not recognise Alex without his Droog outfit, instead he publishes articles in his defence, claiming he is a victim of the government’s inhuman treatment. But when he hears Alex crooning that same song of the original attack, his trauma resurfaces and he finds a way of getting his own back by playing Beethoven’s music. Alex jumps out of the window. The fall resets the therapy, and soon Alex returns to his evil ways.

The minister promises to help, accusing Alexander of cruelty, and uses Alex in his campaign to quieten down critics of his government. Alex wakes up in a hospital with broken bones. While undergoing a series of psychological tests, Alex finds he no longer abhors sex and violence. The Minister arrives and apologises to Alex, offfering to take care of him and get him a job in return for his cooperation with his election campaign and counter-offensive. As a sign of goodwill, the Minister brings in a stereo system playing Beethoven’s Ninth. Alex then contemplates violence and has vivid thoughts of having sex with a woman in front of an approving crowd, and thinks to himself, “I was cured, all right!”

So what is the message behind A Clockwork Orange? Obviously it’s a film open to individual interpretation but there a few clear themes running through the narrative: crime and retribution; personal responsibility; the nature of forgiveness.

DoP John Alcott widescreen images, using frog eye lenses, show the bad taste of the 1970s aesthetics in all its glory, presenting us with a dystopia of mind-blowing crassness. McDowell is the prince of darkness, his long false eyelashes giving him a satanic look. With gang violence erupting in Britain on a large scale – Kubrick himself received death threats and asked Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from circulation for  good. One victim of this ban was the famous repertoire cinema “Scala” in Pentonville Road, which showed A Clockwork Orange in 1993 and had to close the same year for good, after rising rents and the prohibitive legal costs of Kubrick’s legal team led to insolvency. AS

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | 4K RESTORATION | IN CINEMAS from 17 September 2021

 

 

 

Pet Sematary – the novel and the film versions

Stephen King’s terrifying novel, Pet Sematary was written back in 1983 and King then collaborated on the script with Mary Lambert directing a big screen adaptation in 1989. To celebrate the 30th anniversary release of the original Pet Sematary (1989) film, we’re looking into the key differences between the novel and the movie adaptations. With the latest film version out on March 29th  – how do they differ, and which is better?

Ellie or Gage Creed

In Stephen King’s terrifying novel and the 1989 version of Pet Sematary, the youngest Creed, Gage, is killed by a monster truck. This is a crucial element to the narrative as the loss of their son is the catalyst for the haunting events that unfold later. However, in Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 version of Pet Sematary, Gage’s older sister Ellie is the one to be hit by the truck. 

In many ways this has a marked effect on the storyline, as Dennis Widmyer explained in a recent interview: changing the death to be that of the older child adds more psychological layers to the narrative. Ellie Creed understands what she becomes whereas Gage in the novel and the 1989 version is unaware, making it more unsettling and haunting. 

Zelda, Rachel Creed’s Sister 

Rachel Creed’s sister is a significant and haunting character in all versions of the Pet Sematary story, yet she is portrayed in different ways. In both Stephen King’s novel and the upcoming film adaptation, Zelda is described and portrayed as a 10-year-old girl with spinal meningitis. However in the 1989 version, Zelda is played by an adult male actor, which is debatably one of the most hair-raising elements in the film. Either way, Zelda’s horrific deterioration and lonely death is one of the most terrifying elements of the story.

Timmy

Timmy Baterman is a 17-year-old boy killed during World War II and then affected by the curse of the Micmac burial after his father laid him there. Timmy appeared ‘normal’ at first, but then we soon find out that Timmy didn’t return from the dead with a soul. Timmy’s tale is only alluded to in the novel and the 1989 adaptation, although it’s not mentioned in the upcoming adaptation. Instead we get to know the protagonists a little better.

Regional Accents 

A smaller yet crucial difference in terms of being true to the novel is the loss of the Maine accent. Stephen King clearly details in the novel that the Creed’s neighbour and keeper of the Micmac burial ground, Jud Crandall, has a very heavy Maine accent.  However, in the 2019 version, Oscar-nominated actor John Lithgow (Jud) whom does not take on the Maine accent. He recently stated in an interview that he believes Jud has evolved into “a more serious character” since the novel, casting a distinct slur on regional accents.  

THE 2019 VERSION IS IN CINEMAS ON 29 MARCH 2019 

PET SEMATARY (1989) is on 4K ULTRA HD AND BLU-RAY™ MARCH 25.

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski will be in London to celebrate this year’s Kinoteka Polish film festival. Joining him are veteran Polish auteur KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI with his latest film Ether, a spotlight of female filmmakers and a special Sci-fi retro strand featuring cult classic gems from STANISŁAW LEM.

Another highlight will be the latest film from maverick wild child Andrzej ŻuławskiOn the Silver Globe. The festival will also showcase the work of legendary cinematographer WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI and a documentary exploring the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk

OPENING NIGHT GALA at Regent Street Cinema with a screening of ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, a beautifully animated adaptation of acclaimed Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s early book. 

CLOSING NIGHT GALA – Another chance to enjoy Pawel Pawlikoski’s Oscar-nominated COLD WAR’. The charismatic director will be there to present his film. The event is  followed by a dinner with live music from Zbigniew Namyslowski, former collaborator of the legendary film composer Krzysztof Komeda (The Fearless Vampire Killers/Polanski) followed by a gourmet menu inspired by Polish folk cuisine. 

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

Female filmmakers from Poland get their own special side-bar this year at the BFI Southbank with Jagoda Szelc’s deeply unsettling psychological horror MONUMENT, Olga Chajdas’s award- winning LGBT romance NINA and the disorientating and acclaimed new film from director of THE LURE, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s FUGUE. 

RETROSPECTIVES 

Two SCI-FI  extravaganzas are on offer at this year’s festival: A major retrospective from one of the godfathers of modern sci-fi  STANISŁAW LEM  will take place at the Barbican. This includes the rare Russian television film SOLYARIS and the East German space opera SILENT STAR. The Quay Brothers also present their film MASK followed by a panel discussion about Lem’s legacy and the challenges of adapting his work to the screen. 

Andrzej Żuławski ON THE SILVER GLOBE – will screen at the Horse Hospital alongside an exhibition of costumes and ephemera from the film. Shut down by the Communist party in 1977 after 80% of the footage was shot, the film was luckily saved by the crew who ignored orders, and Żuławski’s fantastical creativity was preserved.

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI – The renowned auteur will be there to present his latest film ETHER and introduce his 1971 classic FAMILY LIFE.

WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI – the influential DoP’s work is celebrated at Close-Up Cinema with four archive screenings: Zanussi’s FAMILY LIFE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s HANDS UP!, THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM from director Wojciech Has and Andrzej Żulawski’s THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT.

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

Taking place at Regent Street Cinema, ICA and Watermans, the New Polish Cinema programme offers a selection of ten films encompassing the exciting breadth of contemporary Polish filmmaking – from the brutal realism of Piotr Domalewski’s SILENT NIGHT to Filip Bajon’s epic costume drama THE BUTLER via the hysterically funny situational humour of Paweł Maślona’s PANIC ATTACK.

DOCUMENTARIES 

The ICA’s festival documentary strand includes an intimate look at life’s final moments in END OF LIFE and an examination of the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk in LOVE EXPRESS: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WALERIAN BOROWCZYK.

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Barbican, BFI Southbank, Close Up Cinema, Frontline Club, ICA, Tate Modern, The Horse Hospital, Regent Street Cinema and Watermans Art Centre (Cambridge). 

 

Sink the Bismarck (1960) **** Bluray release

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Kenneth Moore, Dana Wynter, Carl Mohner, Laurence Naismith | UK, Wartime Drama 97′

British post-war cinema was fraught with films depicting how we triumphed with our Allies. And one of the most successful and stylish was this 1960 epic featuring actual combat footage. Lewis Gilbert bases his spectacular action thriller on real events that took place when British warships set off to eliminate the pride of the German fleet, the Bismarck, in the North Atlantic. Kenneth Moore is the star turn as the British naval officer tasked with leading the 1940s mission, and putting duty first when still recovering from his wife’s death in an air raid. Sink the Bismarck depicts the human story behind the war effort, showing respect for the enemy, and commemorating the courage of our own brave soldiers, and the unsung ‘backroom heroes.’ This thrilling and authentic adventure drama also features the cruiser HMS Belfast (now preserved on the Thames in London) which was used to depict the cruisers involved in Bismarck’s pursuit. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 11 MARCH 2019 COURTESY OF EUREKA FILMS 

The Prisoner (1955) **** Blu-Ray

Dir: Peter Glenville | Wri: Bridget Boland | Cast: Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness | UK, Drama 95′

Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness are the dynamite duo driving this intellectually daring and morally complex thriller forward. With its themes of pride and betrayal, The Prisoner is based on Irish Catholic novelist Bridget Boland’s play of the same name, embellished by a rousing minor love story that bubbles along under the surface of its main plot line involving an inquisition between Guinness’s ‘Cardinal’ and Jack Hawkins ‘Interrogator’ that takes place in solitary confinement in an unspecified totalitarian Eastern European country under siege. The outdoor scenes are pure social realism, but the interiors benefit from John Hawkesworth’s elegant set design. Guinness exudes a peerless subtlety as the breathtakingly sinuous man of God interrogated, tortured and broken – with equal finesse – by a charismatic Jack Hawkins. Benjamin Frankel’s sinister occasional score compliments the slow-burning narrative directed with stylish aplomb by Peter Glenville (Becket, Term of Trial) and photographed by DoP Reginald H Wyer in velvety black and white. This is a fine British film ripe for rediscovery. MT

OUT ON BLURAY 11 MARCH 2019 |

The Hole in the Ground (2018) **

Dir: Lee Cronin | Writer: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields | Cast: Kati Outinen, Seana Kerslake, James Quinn Markey | Horror, 90′ Ireland

The fabulous Finnish actor Kati Outinen lends her screen presence to this rather threadbare thriller about mother and son’s search for a fresh start in life.

A Hole in the Ground certain looks atmospheric but Lee Cronin and his scripter’s slim storyline makes it feel more like an extended short than a full blown horror feature, A more imaginative narrative would have lend this the life blood to wake up and scare us senseless, but not even Kati and an able can re-animate this tired corpse with not enough meat on its bones, so we have to contend with the usual clichés, a hackneyed score and jump scares that have been round the block too many times before.

Mother Sarah (Kerslake) and her son Chris (Marley) fetch up in a village but fail to heed a strange woman’s warnings of doom and gloom. When things go bump in the night, Chris runs off to hide in the titular hole in the woods, but that’s not the only void. Sarah is told that “her child does not belong to her”, and soon finds out this is true. She fights to get her son back – we don’t know where from exactly, but all’s well that ends well (apart from the feature). MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 MARCH 2019

 

Starring Barbara Stanwyck | Retrospective | BFI 2019 | February – March

The STARRING BARBARA STANWYCK season offers a chance to see one of Hollywood’s most successful and memorable actors of all time, whose career spanned more than four decades. The season will include an extended run of Preston Sturges’ hilarious comedy The Lady Eve (1941), also released in selected cinemas by the BFI on Friday 15 February. During March, the season will highlight the breadth and depth of Stanwyck’s characters, whether in classics or in less familiar, rarely screened titles.

Diva, grande dame and femme fatale, Stanwyck adapted to any genre, be it comedy, melodrama or thriller. Her natural wit and raw emotion was particularly resonant in her Westerns, where she played  resourceful, confident women holding their own in a male-dominated world. The BFI are screening 3 examples in March. Her first western Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935) was based on the life of ‘Little Miss Sureshot,’ one of the most famous sharpshooters in American history; Stanwyck oozes confidence in her portrayal of the determined and spirited protagonist. Cecil B. DeMille brought a characteristically epic sense of scale to the western with Union Pacific (1939), about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Mixed in with the historical elements is a love triangle between a troubleshooter, a gambler, and a train engineer’s daughter played by Stanwyck. The director was mesmerised by her performance, and she became one of his favourite stars. In Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957), a late-career highlight for Stanwyck, she portrays a wealthy landowner exerting influence over an Arizonian township by commanding a staff of 40 men. Beautifully shot and packed with psychosexual subtext and directed with bravura, Samuel Fuller’s western influenced a generation of filmmakers, including Godard.

In the delightful screwball-mystery-romance The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason, 1938), a scatty but canny heiress (Stanwyck), whose claims to have discovered a murder are dismissed by the police, enlists a working-class journalist to help prove her case. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941), follows a nightclub dancer who needs to lie low, and a house shared by eight professors provides the ideal hideout. Inspired by the story of Snow White and boasting razor-sharp dialogue and perfect Hawksian comic timing, Ball of Fire is another classic screwball comedy. Written by a master of screwball – Preston Sturges – Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) sees a New York attorney (Fred MacMurray) take pity on a shoplifter he’s prosecuting. He gets her out on bail and invites her to his family home for Christmas – which somewhat complicates their relationship. There is genuine chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray in their first film together, an amusing and affecting blend of courtroom drama, road movie and romance. The pair reunited for another tale of adulterous temptation There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955); he’s a toy manufacturer feeling neglected by his family, and she is the ex-employee whose return to Pasadena reignites illicit passions. Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932) sees her playing a librarian falling for an unobtainable man.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Two more Frank Capra films will screen in March – in The Miracle Woman (1931) Stanwyck plays a minister’s daughter who, following the death of her father,  teams up with a conman to stage evangelical shows in which she performs ‘miracles’. Meanwhile Meet John Doe (1941) sees her play a journalist who invents a story about a tramp planning to commit suicide in protest of the state of the world. The resulting interest forces her paper to get someone to fit the role and the man they find (Gary Cooper) instantly becomes a celebrity – and a political pawn. Completing the season will be screenings of Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948), a noir thriller adapted by Lucille Fletcher from her acclaimed radio play, focusing on a wealthy, rather complacent, bedridden woman who overhears a conversation involving a planned murder. (All images are strictly the property of the BFI, and not to be copied)

SCREENING AT THE BFI, SOUTHBANK | FEBRUARY – MARCH 2019 | BFI WEBSITE

Ring (1998) *** Home Ent Release

Dir: Hideo Nakata | Mystery Horror | Japan, 96′

Ring was only his second feature, yet director Hideo Nakata became an over-night sensation with this supernatural B-movie, written by Hiroshi Takahashi, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki. And despite budget-related poor production values, Ring spawned many worldwide copy-cat features and although it now feels dated, the original impact is still tangible.

It all starts with teenage girls, Tomoko (Takeuchi) and Massami (Sato) discussing a strange video with three other friends in a motel room in Izu. At the end of the video, comes an even stranger phone call telling them they will die in a week’s time. And sure enough, death comes to them all on the day in question in the form of a cardiac arrest, their faces bearing expressions of the horror they encountered. 

Journalist Reiko (Matsushima), Tomoko’s aunt, starts to investigate the mysterious deaths, and watches the video tape in question. She too gets a strange phone call after watching, but this time she enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji (Sanada), to avoid the fate of the earlier victims. The couple has a son, Yoichi (Otaka), who, like his father is gifted with sixth sense. Both father and son watch the video, before the parents discover some clues, buried in the past: The psychic Shizuko who predicted the eruption of the volcano in Mount Mihara, later leaped into the volcano, after a scandal involving her mentor Dr. Ikuma and her uncle Takashi. But the real mystery surrounds her daughter Sukado, who was murdered and thrown in a well. Reiko and Ryuji are working against time – but Ring has a rather ghastly surprise in store.

Performances are on a par with the rather crass images. The overall effect verges on the theatrical, Kenji Kawai’s doom-laden score always warning of some imminent threat. There is blatant misogyny, with Ryuji slapping his ex-wife brutally, when she shows signs of fears. He also accuses her of not looking after their son, whilst he is a totally-absent father. The murder victims (in both the flashback and the main story) are, with one exception, all female. There is also the question of Japan’s very violent past (which has never been addressed), like the invasion of China and the consequent taking of sex slaves in the occupied country – perhaps the flash-backs are a form of recognition of these crimes. Finally, TV and video are seen like a virus, infiltrating Japanese society – a warning in a country, which, whilst very modern in its approach to technology, is still moored in an ancient past, which, though denied, comes back to haunt the present. A successful sequel was directed in 1999 by Nakata with Ring 2, in which most of the main cast re-appeared. AS

RING, will release in cinemas 1st March 2019 | It will then release on Digital, DVD, Blu-ray, Limited Edition Steelbook, and Limited Edition Collection featuring Ring, Ring 2, Ring 0and Spiral 18th March 2019.

Piercing (2018) Mubi

Dir.: Nicolas Pesce; Cast: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa; USA 2019, 81 min.

Writer director Nicoals Pesce (Eyes of my Mother) has adapted Ryu Murakami’s novel for the screen – with the same success that Takashi Miike had with Audition (1999), another Murakami work. The Eyes of My Mother was shot in black-and-white, as an homage to the film-noirs of the 40s, PIERCING – while not as good – has its aesthetic roots in the ‘Giallo’, Italian crime/horror films of the 70s, and there are echoes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and some early Brian de Palma.

The beginning could hardly be more disturbing: new father Reed (Abbott) stares down at his newborn, holding an ice pick. Stressed out by the baby’s constant squealing, he feels like using it. It comes as a relief  then to mother Mona (Costa) that Reed takes a break and moves out: his destination is a hotel, where he rents a room with a plan in mind to murder a prostitute. Every step is prepared and written down in a red notebook. Just to make sure everything goes he rehearses the process, acting out all the gruesome manoeuvres, including de-capitation.

But a phone call changes everything: his first choice of call-girl is running late, and Reed cannot wait: he orders an immediate replacement. When Jackie (Wasikowska) enters the hotel room, Reed is hyped up for the kill – but then he finds Jackie in the bathroom, stabbing herself multiple times in the thigh. But that’s just the start of a wild night.

Piercing is deliberately artificial: everything is composed for impression, its appeal is purely visceral; even the tall apartment blocks – the camera searching out illuminated windows – are not real. Jackie’s room is a composition in red and brown, a mausoleum of shadows dappled with light. She retains her sense of enigma: “I want you to wear my skin”, which also is ironic, because Jackie’s yen for sadomasochism is an obsession for both these characters.

There are flashbacks, filling us in on the childhood traumata they have suffered. Luckily, graphic violence is minimal, Piercing is much more L’Age d’Or than Slasher feature. Mona, in contrast to Jackie, is all mother and house wife – in the novel she bakes cookies – but Reed keeps her in the picture from the phone box. DoP Zack Galler creates a galaxy of effects which alone makes the film worth watching.

Music by Morricone and Simonetti (the latter’s score from Argento’s Tenebre) drives the atmospheric eeriness even more over the top; Wasikowska literally out-performing Abbott in the endgame of this dazzlingly dramatic psycho thriller: and the running time is just right for a spectacular B-picture with a morbid imagination. AS

ON MUBI

 

 

 

Breve Historia del Planeta Verde (2019) *** Berlinale | Panorama 2019

Dir: Santiago Loza | Drama: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany | 90′
Santiago Loza was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1971 where his edgy, award-winning dramas such as La Paz, Lips and Strange go down well with the arthouse crowd. There’s a Lynchian quality to his latest, a stunningly surreal story that revolves around Trans woman Tania who discovers her favourite grandmother has died peacefully after spending her final years with an alien. With two friends in tow Tania sets off across rural Argentina to bring the creature back to its origin. But when they arrive at Granny’s home in the depths of a petrified forest, the reality is even more bizarre than expected. Powerful childhood memories come flooding back to Tania. And the alien being is not the only surprise they encounter.
There are echoes of Amat Escalante’s 2016 feature The Untamed and even cult classic ET to this thrilling road movie that also works as a lyrical horror mystery. We never know what to expect. And Loza achieves this sense of discombobulation and dislocation with a mixture of magic realism, slo-mo camerawork, photo montage and an eerie electronic and ambient score that wafts us into the unknown depths of the dark continent, blending the commonplace with the utterly absurd, strange and uplifting: literally and metaphorically. Loza’s unique cinematic language and delightfully delicate visual style make this an ethereal experience. MT
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | PANORAMA SECTION | 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) ***

Dir.: Marielle Heller; Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtis, Anna Deavere Smith; USA 2018, 109 min. 

Celebrity biographer Lee Carol Israel (1939-2014) made a decent living writing biographies of the likes of Estée Lauder and Katherine Hepburn. But when her books no longer sold she turned her hand to a deceptive means to make money in this darkly caustic literary ‘thriller’ adapted from her memoirs by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl).

Scripted by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty it follows Israel’s descent into forgery after her literary career comes to a grinding halt. Mellissa McCarthy atones for some mediocre support performances with her powerhouse portrayal of a misanthrope who cannot accept that her work has gone out of fashion. Meanwhile, her bills pile up and Lee sinks deeper and deeper into alcoholism and unreasonable behaviour. Agent Marjorie (Curtis), tries to help Lee, but only gets disdain and anger for her trouble.

Then quite by chance, Lee comes across a note written in a library book and accidentally left there by a well-known writer, and it gives her an idea: she starts forging notes purportedly written by Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, spurred on by her jailbird friend and accomplice Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Israel cashes in with booksellers, who re-sell with a profit at a time where this kind of activity was alarmingly unregulated. Among them is Anna (Wells), who is blinded by Lee’s past glory, and fancies a romantic engagement. But this is furthest from Lee’s mind: she is afraid of any sort of intimacy; a meeting with her ex-lover Elaine (Smith) confirms this. But the easy money  soon slips away: Lee is blacklisted when her forgeries come to light, so she has to go one step further in this dark biopic of descent into shameless deception.

There is hardly anything positive to say about Lee Israel: she is unattractive physically and personally and also extremely arrogant, claiming “I am a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker”. Unable to feel any empathy, Lee goes through life with a tunnel vision of arrested development. It is to McCarthy’s credit that she wrings some withering humour and a chink of humanity laced with sardony from this egomaniac. 

DoP Brandon Trost lovingly re-creates a New York before the internet, and there are some glowing skylines, welcoming bars and cosy bookshops where people had the leisure of reading and discussing. Marielle Heller directs with great panache, and McCarthy carries the feature with gusto for the socially inept and deluded Lee Israel, whom she humanises with a performance of nuances. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2019

   

Magnetic Pathways (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Edgar Pera; Cast: Dominique Pinon, Alba Baptista, Pauko Pires, Ney Matograsso, Albano Jeronimo; Brazil/Portugal 2018, 90 min.

Avant-garde Portuguese auteur Edgar Pera follows his weird and wonderful adaptations of Rio Turvo and O Barao with this mystery drama screening as part of a retrospective of his work here at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Again he indulges in the creation of a Lynchian universe, where past and future amalgamate in an anarchic dance of loss and angst, all held together by the overwhelmingly monstrous images of DoP Jorge Quintela.

Elderly Raymond (Pinon) lives a nightmarish life without escape: he is either drowning in his dreams, or running helpless and disorientated through a dystopian Lisbon. His main obsession is his daughter Caterina (Baptista) who is getting married to Danio (Pires), one of the henchman of the autocratic regime, which runs on the lines of Orwellian surveillance, the TV anchor giving out the orders for the day. During his nightly sorties Raymond encounters the past and present Portugal, meeting among others General Spinola (Jeronimo), who was one of the Generals in the successful revolution of 1974, before he turned against the socialist government and joined Ex-president Caetano and his fellow generals in exile. Raymond is never quite sure if he is living through the period of post- or past revolution. Raymond falls under the spell of Andre Leviathan (Matograsso), a mixture of religious leader and revolutionary. But Raymond develops a jealous obsession with Caterina and Danio. When the couple have sex, Raymond kills Danio with a knife, only to wake up with a feeling of joy despite realising that Caterina would have never forgiven him. 

Whilst the couple are on a barge, Raymond jumps into the water, but is rescued. Fearing the worst, he is amazed not to land up in prison, but back home, which by now resembles a brothel.

Dissolves dominate this spectacular poem of male madness: Raymond is straight out of L’Age d’Or, and Lisbon is a rather drab background, the city’s modern architecture An emblem for the soul destroying world of the Regime. The religious fanaticism of the President echoes Bunuel; Raymond’s hallucinations are the reflection of male impotence. Some music by Manoel de Oliveira embellish this unique feature, directed by a masterful and uncompromising Pera. AS

SCREENING as part of the EDGAR PÊRA Retrospective | IFFR 23 January – 3 February 2019

Edgar Pêra – A genuine original | Retrospective IFFR 2019

There is no filmmaker like Edgar Pêra (b.1960). His work may be an acquired taste but it is always inventive and Avant-garde referencing his heroes in creative ways and keeping the past alive. The Portuguese auteur often pays tribute to Dziga Vertov, Branquinho da Fonseca and Fernando Pessoa – but always in an ingenious way – transforming their ideas into bizarre and refreshing features, some will screen in a retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2019

Edgar Henrique Clemente Pêra first studied psychology, but soon realised his vocation in Film at the Portuguese National Conservatory, currently Lisbon Theatre and Film School.  But it was the work of Russian director Dziga Vertov that made him pick up a camera in 1985, and his strange visual style and quirky dark humour found an outlet in twisted arthouse fare that is completely unique. He has made over 100 films for cinema, TV, theatre dance, cine-concerts, galleries, internet and other media, and his latest mystery drama Caminhos Magnetiykos screens at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019.

His love of music influenced his work in the mid 1980s, and he filmed Portuguese rock bands in a Neo-realist, ‘neuro-punk’ style. In 1988, Pêra shot a film in the Ruins of Chiado, a neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, decimated by a large fire that year. In 1990 Reproduta Interdita was shown at the Portuguese Horror Film Festival, Fantasporto. In 1991, his documentary short raised the profile of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco – The City of Cassiano, (Grand Prix Festival Films D’Architecture Bordeaux). But from thereon his penchant for the weird and radically different took over.

In 1994, Pêra’s first fiction feature Manual de Evasão LX 94/Manual of Evasion (for Lisbon 1994 Capital of Culture), channelled the aesthetic legacy of soviet constructivist silent films, with what the filmmaker called “a neuro-punk way of creating and capturing instantaneous reality”. The film has divided the critics in Portugal and abroad. It will be also screened at the retrospective Rotterdam Film Festival 2019.

In 1996 Edgar Pêra started an ambitious project which would take four years to edit. The surreal comedy feature entitled, A Janela (Maryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix), premiered at the Locarno Festival in 2001. From then on Pêra’s work, veered towards a more emotional style, but still kept the emphasis on non-realist aesthetics and eccentric humour. Pêra’s 2006 retrospective at Indie Lisboa won the festival prizes for Best Feature, Best cinematography and Audience Award: Running at just over an hour,: Movimentos Perpétuos/Perpetual Movements is a cine-tribute to legendary Portuguese guitar composer and player Carlos Paredes. Critic and programmer Olaf Möller wrote that “Pêra is too different from everything which we regard as ‘correct’, ‘valid’ within the culture of film, ‘realistic’ in a cinematic, socio-political way. Put more precisely: Edgar Pêra is different from everything that we know about Portugal”.

O Barão  is an adaptation of Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story, premiering in 2011 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it won the Gold Donkey Award. In 2011 he also started experimenting with the 3D format. His most controversial film yet, Cinesapiens is a short drama, a segment of 3x3D , described by our critic Michael Pattison as “an assaultive triptych that caused walkouts when it premiered at Cannes in 2013”. It forms part of a trio with two other films by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway at La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes.

In 2014 Pêra directed two 3D films, Stillness and Lisbon Revisited. Stillness was considered by many as  “astonishingly offensive”. Lisbon Revisited, with words by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, premiered at the Locarno Festival. Pera’s first commercial success came in 2014 with pop comedy feature Virados do Avesso/Turned Inside Out. This was followed by Espectador Espantado/The Amazed Spectator, a “kino-investigation about spectatorship” which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival, 2016 and was also the title of his PhD thesis. In 2016 his Delirium in Las Vedras, about the Portuguese Carnival in Torres Vedras, premiered in Rotterdam and São Paulo 2017.  And in 2018, O Homem-Pykante Diálogos Kom Pimenta, about the poet Alberto Pimenta, was shown for the first time at IndieLisboa. Caminhos Magnéticos/Magnethick Pathways, starring Dominique Pinon, will also be shown during his retrospective this year at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Destroyer (2018 **

Dir: Karyn Kusama | US Thriller | 121’

You will gawp at Nicole Kidman’s transformation in this rather bleak and messy crime thriller cum character study of a lovelorn woman whose desperate past derails her future. It comes as a shock from an actor who is used to playing vulnerable and smart but always beautiful women.

Karyn Kusama has finally given Kidman the chance to play a broken, badass bitch in Destroyer. And it’s a dynamite performance that may look unappealing but certainly strikes home. As Erin Bell, her baleful, sinister stare haunts nearly every frame and coiled anger springs out unexpectedly – this antiheroine is not out to please anyone. After a messy opening act where Kusama establishes the storyline, a fractured narrative seesaws backwards and forwards from the late 1980/90s to present day LA, Destroyer pictures Kidman as hapless antiheroine Detective Erin Bell, whose youth was spent going undercover with her partner/lover Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a band of robbers, headed up by glib psycho Silas (Toby Kebbell). But when Silas reappears on the scene, she’s determined to put an end to his antics, which have been carrying on since back in the day. But something else happened – Erin fell in love, madly. And that love, or loss of it on a fateful day that unspools in the satisfying final act, has made her into the woman she is in the current day.

And while her character is utterly believable in both the past and the present, it’s in the unravelling of the story – particularly in fin de siècle LA, that things sometimes feel unconvincing and rather anodyne, given the nature of crime-ridden LA. But Kidman’s detective is hard-hitting, intelligent and unafraid to be unpopular – easier when you’ve got nothing to lose, or live for. And that’s the essence of her character. And although occasionally she overstates her violent vehemence in the context of what’s going on around her, teetering on the edge of caricature, it’s a corruscating performance and one to be proud of.

Sadly this is a step back for Kusama whose brilliant thriller The Invitation (2015), was a shocker with a humane face. Here the band of brigands are almost laughably louche and lightweight, in complete contrast to Kidman’s detective character. And although they try to inject menace into proceedings, all we feel from them is disdain. The only refreshing contrast is a vignette from arch villain who sparks out interest, but not for long.

Kidman is so hard-bitten and bitter you start to feel uncomfortable watching her. Especially in scenes with her daughter’s nasty boyfriend, or jerking off a terminally ill low-life when she’s desperate for a lead. At the end of the day, Destroyer is an unpleasant, empty kind of film. It goes through the motions, but leaves you cold – and glad it’s all over.  MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 25 JANUARY 2019

Climax (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Gaspar Noé | Drama | 97′

The Argentinian provocateur is now in his fifties but still loves to see the worse in people, as his latest ‘thriller’ shows. This nihilistic metaphor for modern youth starts with a group of young Parisian dancers sharing the joy of their art through a series of video vignettes in the wake of their US tour. This all plays out on TV screen sunk into a bookshelf of bizarre titles ranging from suicide manuals to DVDs of Possession, Harakiri and Schizophrenia. With its ghastly blood red and green tinged camera work, Climax is a well-executed but unedifying affair that’s best left for the horror crowd or those who enjoy a touch of dirty dancing – and I mean dirty.

Shot in fifteen days and opening with the final credits – the camera erupts onto a dance floor basking in gory neon where skanky-looking types writhe and wriggle to the sounds of ‘Supernature’ – all spinning out in one hypnotic take. Scantily clad and in various states of undress the disco divas then move to the sidelines to share inane banter along the lines of: “you’re so fucking fake”. The dancing grows more frenetic after they unwittingly imbibe LSD spiked Sangria. And this is where the film finally descends into a nadir of full-blooded decadent debauchery.

Neither seductive nor particularly interesting, this devilish chamber piece may be a delight to Noe’s fanbase, but others will find it sad to see society’s bases impulses played out as a soi-disant arthouse piece.  Shirking a coherent narrative, the film’s throbbing electronic beats appeal to the darker more reptilian impulses of the human brain. As the camera plummets and soars, the desire to vomit grows stronger. Couples copulate and urinate in the name of art. Noé’s schtick is growing tiresome. Can we play at something else? MT

DVD and BLURAY | 21 January 2019 courtesy of Arrow Films 

https://we.tl/t-Rnh1zai4tW

 

 

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) **** Bluray release

Dir.: Robert Aldrich; Cast: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Morehead, Victor Buono, Mary Astor, Bruce Dern; USA 1964, 133 min.

This Grand Guignol of the Southern kind by underrated director Robert Aldrich stars Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. Scripted by Henry Farrel and Lucas Heller it re-unites the cast and crew of Whatever happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – minus Joan Crawford, who started the feature, but was driven out by rival Bette Davis, who asked for De Havilland as Crawford’s replacement.

In the unusually long pre-credit introduction, set in 1927, young Charlotte Hollis (Davis) is hoping  to elope with married lover John Mayhew (Dern) on the eve of a ball, but her overbearing father Sam (Buono) has other ideas after being informed of her intentions by goody-two-shoes cousin Miriam (de Havilland). Even though John obliges Hollis sen., he is decapitated by a meat cleaver, Charlotte being suspect number one in his murder. Jump forward to 1964 when Charlotte, who has being living alone in the big mansion in Hollisport, Louisiana, is still haunted by the murder – for which she blames her father. Losing her mind, she is plagued by an apparition of John’s severed head. Charlotte is forced against her will to leave the mansion, due to the building of a highway. Cousin Miriam returns to help her see sense, together with doctor Bayliss (Cotton). But with the support of her housekeeper Velma (Morehead), Charlotte goes on fighting the past and the present. An eerie meeting between John’s widow Jewel (Astor) and Miriam, throws everything even more into confusion.

It should be said that Davis insistence of getting rid of Crawford has done the feature a great favour, since Crawford would have never had the ability to play such an understated villain as de Havilland. Cotton’s doctor is a snake like performance. Meanwhile, Morehead’s Velma tries to outscore Davis’ hysterics; the latter swings between keeping her status as a wealthy Southern Belle and outright paranoia. All said and done, Hush Hush belongs to DoP Joseph Biroc, who shot eleven of Aldrich’s features. His black-and-white images are truly haunting, he plays with shadows and light and his interior shots of the mansion have an overbearing emotive, tormenting quality. 

Aldrich (1918-1983) made so many memorable features – Kiss Me Deadly, The Killing of Sister George, Vera Cruz, The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix – he should be considered one of the giants’ of his era. But all his genre-films contain a subversive sub-text, unsettling the audience. And this also applies to Hush Hush: which cannily compares the state of society with regards to race, nothing seems to have changed in those intervening forty years. Black and White are strictly segregated, the former only appear professionally in a serving capacity to the white masters. And the (all white) crowd in front of the mansion, watching Charlotte being carted off, gossip about their repressed sexual desires, Aldrich borrowing from Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Baby Doll. And watch out for a direct quote/steal from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques! AS

BLURAY RELEASE 21 JANUARY 2019 | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

King of Thieves (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: James Marsh | Cast: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Charlie Cox | UK Thriller |

James Marsh casts the diamond geezers of British acting as perps who bring their woes and their wiles to the table in planning their final felony – that actually took place over the Easter weekend in 2017. Joe Penhall’s script pieces together newspaper footage to provide a convincing account of a caper that’s more plodding than racy, often over-emphasising its veteran credentials in a narrative that focuses on settling scores rather than offering thrills. Michaels Caine and Gambon are certainly entertaining to watch, with Paul Whitehouse pulling off a comedy performance to remember. But Jim Broadbent is the real revelation as a sardonic softy whose sheep’s clothing disguises him as the real wolf of the pack. MT

OUT ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD ON 14 January 2019 | BLURAY/DVD 21 January 2019

 

 

 

3 Films in praise of Julien Duvivier

Julien Duvivier (1896-1967) was a prominent French film director largely active between 1930-1960 and best known for his early silent films and thrillers such as Pépé Le MokoLa Bandera, Life dances on, and Marianne de ma Jeunesse. He began life as an actor but after a disaster on stage, he moved on to write and direct, later relating the incident in his 1939 film La fin du Jour, with Michel Simon playing his character.

After working for Andre Antoine at Gaumont, Duvivier directed his first film in 1919. His early work was often religious in nature: La Tragédie de Lourdes, and La Vie Miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin which explored the Carmelite saint Thérèse de Liseux. Gaining experience with seminal French directors Marcel l’Herbier and Louis Feuillade, his first successful drama David Golder (1931) was a rags to riches story of an ambitious Polish Jew who falls foul of his wife. In 1934 Duvivier began a collaboration with Jean Gabin that would see them working together in The Imposter (1944), Pépé Le Moko, and La Belle Equipe (They Were Five). Like his countryman Jacques Tourneur, Duvivier moved to Hollywood and enjoyed the experience working with Charles Boyer, Edward G Robinson, Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. But like Tourneur he eventually went back to France where he often cast Fernandel, Alain Delon, George Sanders and Michel Simon in his dramas.

Revered by legends such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Duvivier is still one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and possibly the most neglected, due to the uneven yet thematically varied nature of his work. Critic Michael Atkinson sees the poetic realist pioneer as “a victim of auteurism, ignored for generations by critics who saw…his output as the work of an able journeyman without signature or invention,” Duvivier, Atkinson argues compellingly, “rarely let a dull or unevocative shot pass through his camera,” and his films “fairly leap and swoon with visual cogency, surprising compositional drama, and a quintessentially French embrace of narrative life, equal parts funeral and fete.” Despite all this, his best films are stellar and treasured by cinefiles all over the world. He died in a car crash in 1967.

Julien Duvivier taps into post-war France’s paranoia in PANIQUE (1944), a long unavailable thriller, adapted from a Georges Simenon novel. Proud, eccentric and anti-social, Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) has always kept to himself. But after the body of a woman turns up in the Paris suburb where he lives, he feels drawn to a pretty young newcomer to town (Viviane Romance), discovers his neighbours are only too ready to be suspicious of him, and is framed for the murder. Duvivier’s first outing after his return to France from Hollywood, sees the acclaimed poetic realist applying his consummate craft to darker, moodier ends. Led by two deeply nuanced performances, the tensely noirish Panique exposes the dangers of the knives-out mob mentality, delivering a pointed allegory of the behaviour of Duvivier’s countrymen during the war.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON

But Julien Duvivier’s 1956 thriller DEADLIER THAN THE MALE  (Voici les temps des Assassins) somehow manages to outdo them all when it comes to violent women in film Noir: Catherine (Delorme) is the daughter of the drug depending Gabrielle (Bogaert), and tries to escape from the milieu by marrying the restaurant owner Andre Chatelin (Gabin), who has divorced her mother. Telling him that Gabrielle is dead, the scheming Catherine succeeds in marrying the much older man, who soon learns that his wife is lying about her mother. He more or less imprisons her with her mother Antoinette (Bert), also a restaurant owner, who kills her chicken with a whip – which she also uses on Catherine. The frightened woman asks Andre’s friend, the student Gerard (Blain), to kill her husband, but when he refuses, she kills him. Her end – by the fangs of a particular vicious animal – is particularly gruesome. Again, the images of Armand Thirad are undeserving of this blatant ideology.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON 

The notorious Pépé LE MOKO (Jean Gabin, in a truly iconic performance) plunges into the gangster underworld as a wanted man: women long for him, rivals hope to destroy him, and the law is breathing down his neck at every turn. On the lam in the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police–until a Parisian playgirl compels him to risk his life and leave its confines once and for all. One of the most influential films of the 20th century and a landmark of French poetic realism, Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le moko is presented here in its full-length version. AVAILABLE FROM CRITERION COLLECTION | Amazon Prime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orphée (1949)*****

Dir: Jean Cocteau | Drama | France | Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, François Périer, Marie Déa | 95′

Jean Cocteau’s modern version of the Orpheus myth still retains its poetic magnetism and astonishing freshness despite a primitive post-war budget that features Cocteau’s delicately drawn astrally inspired opening credits. But this adds to the film’s allure just as it did four years earlier with La Belle et La Bête, also made on a shoestring budget.

There is a dreamlike logic to Cocteau’s narrative that combines with Nicolas Hayer’s inventive camera angles and Jean d’Eaubonne’s set design to give the film a fantasy feel where Orphée (Jean Marais) is transformed into a Left Bank singer obsessed with an enigmatic raven-haired demon princess (Maria Casarès) who captures his imagination inspiring him to follow her into the underworld.

Cocteau brings his talents as a novelist, playwright and artist together to impress his longtime mentor Diaghilev in a gleaming mythological drama whose contemporary resonance is clearly felt throughout the sumptuous production featuring a glittering cast of French talent and his own partner Marais. Particularly enjoyable is the scene where we take a backseat in a chauffeur-driven a Rolls Royce Fantom Cloud for a mystery journey through the French countryside

Orpheus and Eurydice (Déa) are lovers. We first meet the tousle-haired Orphée in the opening scene at the ‘Café des Poétes’ where the postwar Left Bank credentials are effortlessly established with writers and creative types shooting the breeze over Gauloises and Pastis. Death soon arrives in the shape of the Princess (Casarès) making her presence known gracefully in her black Rolls-Royce. Over the car’s radio the BBC’s coded instructions to the Resistance ring out. Meanwhile in Hell lurks the shadow of the German Gestapo. In Cocteau’s version of the story Orpheus and Eurydice are saved by Death’s self-sacrifice along with her soigné assistant Heurtebise.

Orphée has a mildly melodramatic tone, a lightness of touch and an appealing wit that complement the gorgeousness of its mise en scène making Cocteau of most admired and revered filmmakers of his own generation and the New Wave. So much so that Truffaut produced his  sixth and final film, Le Testament d’Orphée, which reunited most of the cast of Orphée and is dedicated to the Nouvelle Vague.

“Quite apart from its symbolism Orphée is tells a mystical adventure, sustaining a balance between the real and the magical and maintaining its hypnotic rhythm beyond the first scene in the poets’ café, at the end of which Orpheus goes off with the Princess in her car, and slowly building up a poetic and beguiling atmosphere – creating a fascinating dramatic arc as the mirror opens, the Princess appearing and disappearing again in the streets of Paris while Orpheus desperately pursues her, the motor cyclists shoot past along the dusty road, as the radio echoes its impenetrable messages in the car. The original tagline called it  – “The immortal thriller”.  

Cocteau replaces the arbitrary force which death represents in Greek mythology by human figures with human desires and feelings.  The Princess loves Orpheus: Heurtebise loves Eurydice: both sacrifice their love, knowing it cannot successfully be pursued. Poets have always been obsessed with death: here, death also falls in love with poets. The symbols, the mysteries and the powers of death must by their vibrant nature be “living”. The princess is a tragic creation despite her haunting beauty and Gothic allure. Auric’s recurring flute score is eerily evocative along with the striking drum rhythms of the Bacchantes, making this fantasy drama both ravishingly elegant and chilling’.

The magic of cinema is sensationally realised in Jean Cocteau’s darkly enigmatic Orphée, one of the great masterpieces of the French avant-garde. Newly restored by SNC (Groupe M6), Orphée returns to the big screen on 19 October 2018, released by the BFI in selected cinemas UK-wide and screening at BFI Southbank from 22 October as part of The Deep Focus season on the French Fantastique. 

Simultaneous bluray and iTunes release on 21 January 2019 

 

Red Snow | Akai Yuki (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

An island community is still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a little boy 30 years after he went missing, in this spookily stylish Japanese crime thriller. 

Premiering at Marrakech Film Festival RED SNOW is the feature debut of Sayaka Kai known for her award-winning short Ondine’s Curse (2014). The young auteur quickly establishes a sinister mood in the eerie snowbound location where her troubled characters are all victims of their own past and still fraught with pent-up emotion and debilitating psychological scars that threaten to break out and reveal a truth too ugly to bear.

Themes of unreliable memory, child abuse and mental illness play out in the sober, icy landscapes where Takumi went missing three decades previously leaving a mood of anger, bitterness and mistrust amongst the broken inhabitants. 

The main suspect is an eccentric female cleaner with an abusive childhood – seen in repetitive flashbacks where we witness the cruelty of her sociopathic mother. Not only is she generally unpopular with the rest of the islanders, but she is also in a toxic relationship with an older man who is purportedly her pimp. And the more Takumi’s brother urges her to share her recollection of what happened, the greater her reluctance to discuss the crime, or even talk about her memory of it. 

But when a reporter arrives on the island to investigate the cold case, clues and truth start to mingle with a trail of other unsolved crimes including insurance fraud and a devastating fire. It soon appears that Takumi’s reclusive brother, a talented lacquering specialist with a workshop close to the desolate shores, could also be involved in the disappearance. 

There are distant echoes of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes to this baleful piece that seems to languish in its own misery. YAS-KAS’ atmospheric score sets a sober tone occasionally giving way to scenes of lingering silence thats seems to accentuate the bleakness of the remote settings. Sayaka Kai makes use of a re-occurring luxuriant red motif that connects the lushly lacquered boxes with the blood of Takumi’s presumptive murder that stains the mournful flashbacks haunting his brother’s dreams and memories, and recalling that fateful day when he left home on a brief errand. 

A strong cast supports lead Masatoshi Nagase as the man trying to solve the mystery. RED SNOW’s visual aesthetic is way beyond what we can usually expect from Japanese first features marking Sayaka Kai as a talented auteur in the making. MT

WORLD PREMIERING AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Die Hard (1988) ****

Dir: John McTiernan | Roderick Thorp | US Action thriller | Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia | 132′

This ’80s hostage thriller with a soft-boiled soul ushered in the contemporary crime blockbuster, as we now know it. A tribute to Alan Rickman’s sharp-suited charismatic criminal with a voice of liquid gold. On Christmas Eve, Bruce Willis’ New York detective John McClane arrives in Los Angeles with the aim of reconciling with his estranged wife, Holly (a voluptuous Bonnie Bedelia). When the party is stormed by a group of hell-raising hostage-takers, led by the Rickman’s Hans Gruber. McClane goes out on a limb on a one man crusade. What follows is a slow-burning, skin of the teeth showcase showdown where Willis wages a one-man war against the criminals  attempt to rob his wife’s Japanese employer, whilst they occupy the LAPD and the FBI.  McClane battles on to the last in an auction thriller characterised by its astonishing performances  and dramatic action sequences rooted in reality rather than fake-ness, fantasy and CGI. MT

ON RE-RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS AT THE FOLLOWING VENUES

Suspiria (2018) ***

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Swinton in a miraculous double act spoof), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Suspiria from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Russian Film Week 2018

Russian Film Week is back for the third year running. From 25 November to 2 December the event will take place in London at BFI Southbank, Regent Street Cinema, Curzon Mayfair and Empire Leicester Square before heading to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford.

The eight-day festival celebrates a selection of award-winning new dramas, documentaries and shorts, bridging the gap between Russian cinematography and the West with the aim of building bridges rather than enforcing tensions. The festival will culminate in the Golden Unicorn Awards. This year’s selection has certainly upped its game and comes thoroughly recommended. Particularly worth seeing is Rashomon re-make THE BOTTOMLESS BAG, a magical mystery drama, in black and white.

Russian Film Week opens with Avdotya Smirnova’s prize-winning historical drama THE STORY OF AN APPOINTMENT (prize for Best Script at Russia’s main national film festival Kinotavr). Based on real life events, it follows an episode from Leo Tolstoy’s life. The opening night will be held at the largest screen in the UK – Empire IMAX Leicester Square.

Other seasonal highlights include Kirill Serebrennikovэ’s Cannes awarded biographical film LETO (Summer) and SOBIBOR, Russia’s foreign-language film Oscar submission 2018. The film is the debut feature for actor-turned-director Konstantin Khabensky, and focuses on events in the titular Nazi extermination camp during 1943. The film also stars Christopher Lambert and Karl Frenzel. Danila Kozlovsky, known for his role in BBC series McMafia (2018) and numerous Russian blockbusters, will present his debut project, sports drama TRENER (‘Coach’).

The festival c Golden Unicorn Awards ceremony, including the Best Foreign Film About Russia. British actor Brian Cox will head up the jury. The awards ceremony is in aid of Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation.

Russian Film Week and the Golden Unicorn was founded in 2016 by Filip Perkon with a group of volunteers on a non-profit basis. From 2017 the festival supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture, Synergy University, and the BFI.

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

Budapest Noir (2017) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Eva Gardos; Cast: Krisztian Kolovratnik, Reka Tenki, Janos Kulka, Adel Kovats, Franziska Töröcsik; Hungary 2017, 94 min.

Veteran director Eva Gardos (An American Rhapsody) serves up a slick but conventional noir spoof that offers decent entertainment despite its cliche-ridden script. There are too many holes in the narrative, the brothel scenes are voyeuristic, and without any knowledge of the complex Hungarian history of the era, audiences will find it hard to understand what’s going on. But BUDAPEST NOIR looks simply stunning and serves as a perceptive study of Hungarian fascism and Anti-Semitism.

In October 1936, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös, had died of cancer in Munich. His body was received in Budapest with full military honours (Gömbös had boasted about his fascist credentials). Crime reporter Zsigmond Gordon (Kolovratnik) meets an enigmatic young woman in a restaurant, who tells the waiter that the journalist will pick up her bill. When he finds her note to him, promising to pay back the money, the womanising journalist’s interest is aroused – only to discover her murdered a few days later. But when her body then disappears from the morgue, Gordon makes his own inquiries against the advice of the authorities. He finds out that the girl in question, Fanny (Töröcsik), is the daughter of Andras Szöllosy, a wealthy Jewish coffee importer with links to the government. He converted to Catholicism, and started a lucrative business with Nazi Germany. Helped by his on/off girl friend Krisztina (Tenki), a photographer who had just had an assignment in a German camp (sic), Gordon finds out that Fanny’s father had driven his daughter into prostitution, forbidding her to see her Jewish boyfriend, because of his fears for her future. But after Fanny had become pregnant in a high-class brothel, her situation deteriorated. And when Gordon finally catches up with Fanny’s parents, he mother Irma (Kovats) reacts dramatically.

Sad to say, Hungarian Fascists were as brutal as their Germans counterparts. The ruling Regent, Admiral Horthy, felt superior to Hitler, who had spent a decade in a dosshouse. Gömbös, Horthy’s Prime Minister, wanted two nations to be more closely allied, whilst Horthy only supported Hitler without reservations after the outbreak of WWII, when Hungarian troops fought on the side of the Axis.

It is ironic that Horthy was deposed by Hitler when it came to the deportation of the 400 000 Hungarian Jews in 1944 – it turned out that the Hungarian fascists (Pfeilkreuzler) and the population as a whole, did not share Horthy’s reservation, they enthusiatiscally assisted the Germans to send the Jews to the death camps.

There are scenes of open Anti-Semitism in Budapest Noir: in one scene, a bar singer croons a song composed by a Jew, and some Anti-Semites in the audience attack him. Gordon stops them, but the real fighter is his Krisztina, who leaves him for London, to show her death camp images in an exhibition “because over there are people who really care”. The Szöllosy’s family history is typical for Jews of the region: many had converted to Catholicism, trying to deny their Jewish heritage, and, like Fanny’s father, would marry their offspring to anybody but a Jew. Gordon represents the cynical by-stander, who is only after a good story, he does not mind taking a beating, but is totally non-committed on a personal and political level. Strangely enough, Budapest Noir is – in spite of its obvious faults – a mirror of a society where the points for the future genocide are being put in place. AS

SCREENING DURING UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 |

The House That Jack Built (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Lars von Trier | Cast: Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Riley Keough | Thriller |  Bruno Ganz | 155′

Controversy has always surrounded auteur Lars von Trier and his critically acclaimed work lives up to his reputation as a maverick talent, fuelling fierce debate and attracting attention from his devoted fans. And he is up to his tricks again refusing to be cowed by the controversy that got him ‘persona non grata status’ seven years ago.

This time he offers up the provocative portrait of a serial killer wreaking hell in the 70s world of America’s Pacific North West. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT confirms the director has no intention of mending his ways, although it’s never quite clear whether he intends to be a mischievous as he appears. That said, he has clearly managed to wind some viewers up with walks out at the Cannes world premiere of the film. And with various allusions to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao and Idi Amin a mild mannered approach was never going to be the balm needing to heal the wounds of previous damage he caused. 

Anti-Americanism and misogyny are the themes firmly in the forefront of this new and naughty endeavour that has Matt Dillon in the lead role as Jack, a sociopathic criminal who subjects women and kids to a sadistic fate that would put even the Moors murders in the shade, while simultaneously moaning: “why is it always the men’s fault”. The narrative clearly runs contrary to the current polemic over sexual misconduct. Lars was never going to be acquiescent in this regard but his gorefest feels like he’s upping the ante big time! And while there are plenty of sympathisers, there are also the detractors. So the choice is yours.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is certainly a film to see, despite its indulgent running time. And it is worth remembering that over the years, the Danish maverick has created some memorable roles for women, assuring Emily Watson a legendary turn in Breaking The Waves, Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Melancholia. In this new outing the victim to feel sorry for is Riley Keough — but von Trier cuts the victim characterisations down to a bare minimum, so as a result we know and feel little for them. They are merely there to serve the narrative’s ploy of putting a spanner in the works of the gender war that is currently raging. 

The film is seen from the perspective of Jack and the hidden voice of his mentor/shrink Verge (Bruno Ganz), who remains in the dark until he finally emerges into the limelight as Dante after some 60 killings have been reported, escorting Jack through the circles of Hell, Divina Comedia style. 

The killing spree is conducted dispassionately by Jack. It kicks off with an deliberately unlikeable motorist (Uma Thurman) who meets her maker in a surprisingly bloodless way, after showing a gross sense of entitlement to Jack, after her car breaks down. Von Trier judiciously leaving the gore to our imagination, we actually feel more empathy with Jack than the woman. The next victims are a recently bereaved widow, then Sofie Grabol and her sons, forced to enjoy a picnic before being unceremoniously ‘taken out’. The director is also clearly taking a swipe at elements of our indifferent and uncaring society that allow victims to go unaided when in peril. The ‘dumb blond’ girlfriend is the next to go, in a killing that mirrors that of Sharon Tate. But each time Lars desire to inflame the recent feminist lash-back is almost overdone and certainly too glaringly obvious to be taken seriously. 

Dillon plays Jack with suave insouciance, boredom even. Nitpicking over details such as bloodstains on the carpet – he has a cleanliness fetish – and as his trail of carnage grows, he experiments with the slowly growing mound of bodies in his cool room.

The mid section of the film is devoted to a treatise on art and its value in society – which is all a bit too arcane to be edifying in the context of a murder movie – and the constant musical motif of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ becomes a tad tiresome after a while. This detour gives nods to Glenn Gould, William Blake, gothic cathedral architecture, the work of Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer. A vignette about dessert wine production feels like an echo of the Silence of the Lambs fava beans episode. Ganz’s Verge is a soothing Peter Cook style psychiatrist who assures Jack that his feelings are all consistent with his personality profile as a psycho. JACK’s editor Molly Malene Stensgaard interposes archive material at various salient intervals to add ballast to the ongoing diatribe between Jack and Verge, but there is nothing particularly exciting about cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro’s grainy handheld camera work or choice of visual aesthetic, although he captures the final descent into Hell inventively.

A great deal of the film actually feels quite tedious. JACK is neither a crime procedural or a gripping character study, and when the film’s title is finally fleshed out – quite literally – we are all ready to go home. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018

The Evil Dead (1981) ***

Writer/Dir: Sam Raimi | Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker | Richard DeManincor | | US | Horror | 85′

The woods come alive with the sound of..laughter, or that’s how the cinema audience reacted to a screening of this cult classic that’s back in cinemas for a Halloween treat. Sam Raimi’s first feature is more disgusting than scary, and so blood-soaked it’s even downright hilarious. But back in the day, Tom Sullivan’s terrific make-up effects and gory details must have truly horrified its target viewers: teenagers and college grads. Long on bad taste and booming sound affects, but woefully short on narrative and characterisation, we care nothing for the group of five preppy kids on a budget who fetch up with the intention of partying all night in a ramshackle cabin in the wooded heartland of Tennessee. Well, they certainly have a riot all night, and most of them die painfully – then come alive again, and again! A heady brew of witchcraft, demonic possession and exorcism THE EVIL DEAD is sure to spook-out the faint of heart, others may just feel like throwing up. And an early scene involving female bondage and savage rape by tree branches adds a touch of misogyny to the heady mix. You have been warned. MT

THE EVIL DEAD | FROM 31 OCTOBER 2018 NATIONWIDE

Dogman (2018) ****

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Ugo Chiti | Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Edoardo Pesce, Laura Pizzirani | Drama | 120′ | Italy

Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller returns to his own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry in a downtrodden dog eat dog football-playing community barely scratching a living.

Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak beachside wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive.

At the heart of Dogman is a tour de force turn from actor turned director Marcello Fonte who plays an endearing and diminutive dog grooming supremo who, although popular and kind, has formed a toxic twosome with local hoodlum and sociopath Simone, a thorn in his side who is always dragging him into trouble. Marcello’s wife has cleared off and left him to care for his young daughter Sofia (Alida Baldari Calabria) –  and dog-grooming hardly makes ends meet, so to keep Simone sweet he supplies him with cocaine and courtesies, though secretly he wishes him dead.

Marcello possesses the same innate goodness as Lazzaro in Rohrwacher’s drama that played earlier in the competition line -up. And he’s gifted and patient with the dogs brought into his shop, and in one scene he actually goes out of his way to rescue a chihuahua who has been nearly frozen to death in a botched robbery.

Garrone uses similar ‘good and evil’ themes as Scorsese in his New York street thrillers where one good person is perpetually trying to redeem the others, against the odds, and often at his own expense. Marcello is keen on his friends and is popular and wants to keep it that way, but Simone is a liability and one day will lead him to tragedy.

This is a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness between his Marcello and his dependants, where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to desperado.

Garrone sets the desolate scene resonantly with his brilliant lighting and inventive camerawork, this time working with DoP Nicolai Bruel, who paints this part of Italy with an almost gothic desperation highlighted by Michele Braga’s mournful musical score. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | BEST ACTOR AWARD MARCELLO FONTE | CANNES 2018

https://youtu.be/LI2JE_xjAaY

The Little Drummer Girl (2018) Episodes One & Two ****

Dir: Chan-wook Park | Writer: Michael Lesslie | Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgard | Episode 1&2 | Thriller | UK

There’s a distinct whiff of James Bond to Park Chan-wook’s glamorous globetrotting spy thriller series coming to the BBC. THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL follows the pursuits of Michael Shannon’s Israeli spymaster Kurtz whose quarry is a cell of Palestinian terrorists targeting the Jewish European diaspora and blowing up a diplomat and his family in the opening scenes. Based on the John Le Carré novel of the title, the first two episodes flip between Munich, London and Greece where gutsy young actor Charlie (a charismatic Florence Pugh) is whisked off her feet by Michel (Alexander Skarsgard) a dangerous stranger she meets on a beach, and who will lead her into Kurtz’ clutches as she learns the arcane art of espionage. Park’s signature style and wicked humour meets John Le Carré’s sophistication and intrigue in this alluringly swish 1970s thriller where each frame is a visual delight. MT

EPISODES ONE & TWO SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

22 July (2018) ***

Dir.: Paul Greengrass ; Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Oigarden, Hilde Olausson; Norway/Iceland/USA 133 min.

British director/co-writer Paul Greengrass (United 93) imagines what actually happened during the Norwegian tragedy of 22. July 2011, when right-wing nationalist Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 children on the island of Utoya. Earlier in the day, he had already killed eight passers-by with a bomb in the diplomatic quarter of Oslo. The main focus here is aftermath on the island, and Greengrass ends with a moving court scene.

Anders Breivik (Lie) is a narcissistic killer who prepares for his atrocities meticulously – as if the world were already watching him. After the bombs go off near government offices, he sets out for the island of Utoya, where the Youth Section of the Norwegian Labour Party is meeting. After the killing spree Breivik is contained, treating the policemen who arrest him, with cold distain, as if to say “you should be helping me, not putting me in jail”. In prison, Breivik asks for a well-known liberal lawyer, Geir Lippesad (Oigarden), who takes on his defence, even though he is emotionally repelled by his new client. Lippesad was forced to move his children out of their local schools, as fellow parents could not understand him defending a monster like Breivik. The latter had never actually met a single member of the local Norwegian fascist scene. One of its leaders, who had communicated with Breivik via the internet whilst playing video-games (!) describes him in court as a loner, not worthy of being one of the movement’s leaders – whilst also condoning his actions. Breivik’s mother (Olausson) tries to apologise for what has happened, but blames it all on uncontrolled immigration.

After the attack, Greengrass then switches his focus to Viljar (Gravli), who has been close to death after being shot by Breivik, on the island. Learning to walk again, and living in fear of the shrapnel pieces near his spine moving and killing him, he confronts his attacker in a cathartic court scene. Breivik’s isolation and loneliness contrasts sharply with the solidarity of his family and fellow-survivors.

Apart from an over-schematic script, 22. July is laudable largely because Greengrass avoids sensationalism, and concentrates on the personalities of those involved. Lie gives a brilliant performance of the isolated, arrogant and self-controlled killer, who is unable to feel empathy for anybody – apart from himself. DoP Pal Ulrik Rokseth’s images treat the events like a documentary, keeping the audience involved without becoming over-emotional. This portrait of a self-obsessed, human killing machine traces all the ambiguity of his complex personality, without reaching a conclusion. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Mandy (2018) **

Dir.: Panos Cosmatos; Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache; USA/Belgium 2017, 121 min.

MANDY is a corruscating cosmic ‘boy’s own’ blow-out fuelled by Nicolas Cage’s well-known powers as the hell-raiser in the cultish extravaganza. But that’s about all. Panos Cosmatos dresses up a mundane script with some alarming visual effects driven forward by two dynamite performances. Cage is Red, a lumberjack who shares his woodland cabin with his shop-assistant girlfriend, the etherial Mandy (Riseborough). At night they watch cheesy TV-fiction. On her way back from work one night, Mandy is spotted by Satanic cult leader Jeremiah Sands (Roche), who immediately decides “he has to have her”. Living nearby with his mother and disciples in a ramshackle hut, Jeremiah then abducts Mandy, but when she laughs at his advances (in spite of being drugged), he has her burnt alive, forcing chained-up Red to look on, livid. Whilst Jeremiah can actually summon demons, there’s no matching righteous Red’s fury, who not only turns his skill to making lethal weapons, but is also handy with the chainsaw.

Using coloured filters, DoP Benjamin Loeb tries to pretend that this time-honoured story of a woman being abducted, drugged, tortured and killed has something to do with Art. Cage does his best to give an impersonation of an unleashed male, helping to make this reactionary charade a colossal success at the box-office. Watch it for the thundering score from the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018  

The Cannibal Club (2018)

Dir/Writer: Guto Parente |Ana Luiza Rios, Tavinho Teixeira | Thriller | Brazil | 75′

Satire is a dish best served with a slice of human flesh in this brilliantly dark, baroquely stylish Brazilian thriller from award-winning filmmaker Guto Parente, who co-directed My Own Private Hell. 

Ana Luiza Rios and Tavinho Teixeira play a wealthy couple in Forteleza who get more than they bargained for due to their carnivorous conniving. In this poor and crime-ridden corner of Brazil, the idle rich live a glorious lifestyle: the sun shines, their private villas are post-modernist and beach-fronted, and there’s more than enough obliging staff to cater to their fantasies, which invariably involve a ménage à trois with a good-looking servant who is then served up for dinner with a glass – or two – of Brazilian Syrah.

Gilda and Otavio are still desirable, along with their coterie of moneyed friends who include bisexual captain of industry Borges (Pedro Domingues). Octavio runs a successful company and belongs to a male only club who regularly meet over dinner to pontificate about the ills of modern life, followed by post prandial porn of the live and sensually Grand Guignol type.

Teixeira’s Octavio is particularly unappealing, an arrogant creep who finally gets his just deserts in the florid finale. Parente’s confidently vulgar narrative is so shamelessly bold it verges on the ridiculous. But The Cannibal Club makes for compulsive viewing punctuated by Fernando Catatau’s tango-style score and the lush backdrop of Fortaleza  Social connections are paramount, desires of the flesh are an hourly preoccupation. Orifices and appetites are voracious and must be filled and satisfied in an elegantly brutal way. And the razor sharp editing of some scenes is particularly masterful thanks to Luiz and Ricardo Pretti who contribute to this success of this slick, succinct and satisfying psychodrama. MT

NOW on BFI PLAYER  | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 PREMIERE

 

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writers: Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, Lawrence B Marcus | Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Torin Thatcher, Norma Varden, Una O’Connor | US Crime Drama | 116′

A veteran British barrister takes on a slippery client in Billy Wilder’s twisty courtroom triumph based on Agatha Christie’s international stage success.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is an enjoyable classic masterpiece that blends humour, intrigue and stunning performances from an outstanding cast lead by Charles Laughton as the bombastic diehard Sir Wilfred Roberts (Laughton), who is determined not to be outwitted by his charmingly glib client the putative murderer Leonard Vole (Power) whose steely wife Christine (Dietrich) plays a vixen with a heart of gold. Wilder and his co-writer Harry Kurnitz lace this deliciously intoxicating cocktail with their signature witty one-liners that pretty up this elegantly pleasing theatrical courtroom drama with its robust legal underpinnings and insight into England in the late 1950s, the distant echoes of WWII and Colonialism adding gusto to the storyline.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and was reportedly praised by Agatha Christie as the best adaptation of her work she had seen. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 10 SEPTEMBER 2018

Bad Samaritan (2017) ****

Dir.: Dean Devlin; Cast: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Jacqueline Byers, Carlito Olivero, Kerry Condon, Tracey Higgins; USA 2018, 110 min.

Unjustly panned by major US outlets, this tight little B-movie directed by Dean Devlin (Geostorm) might not re-invent the neo-noir genre, but it has, thanks to writer Brandon Boyce’ (Apt Pupil), enough clever plot elements to keep the audience entertained. And  David Tennant’s well educated Ivy-League villain is truly frightening.

Sean (Sheehan) and his mate Derek (Olivero) work as car valets for a restaurant – but they have a nifty robbery sideline that keeps them flush: One of them motors via GPS to the house of the victim, and collects the loot, before returning the car before the pay check is exchanged. Enter Cale Erdenreich (Tennant), snotty and arrogant, who leaves his Maserati in the care of Sean (Sheehan), who has just come across Erdenreichs’s new credit card, which he gleefully activates. But his elation turns to horror when he finds a young woman (Condon) bloodied and held captive in a house they intended to rob. Sean miraculously morphs from small-time crook to upright citizen, promising to save the distraught victim. Which is easier said than done: first, the police don’t believe his story, only FBI agent Fuller (Higgins) takes him seriously. But the main obstacle is Erdenreich: cute and well-versed in alluding the police (via a flashback we see him kill a horse and its trainer as a teenage boy), and Sean is no match for him – at first. But after Erdenreich has beaten up Sean’s girl friend Riley (Byers) so badly that she has to be treated in Intensive Care, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Tennant makes the most of his psychotic serial-killer: he tells himself and his victims he is actually “correcting” them, breaking them in like the horse in the flashback. Like a true psychotic he believes he’s doing society a favour by murdering people who are “beyond correction”. Sometimes there’s a crack in the facade – when Erdenreich suddenly veers off script, hurling obscenities at his victims. But mostly, he is very much in control: in one scene, we see him, gun in hand, watching Sean under the shower. But instead of shooting, Erdenreich puts the safety on, mouths “poof” and leaves smiling.

DoP David Connell’s widescreen images pay homage to Portland/Oregon; his use of the electronic gear in the cat-and-mouse game between Cale and Sean is truly impressive. Devlin, producer of Godzilla and Independence Day, occasionally goes over but with a character like Erdenreich, this seems only logical. Finally, in classic noir tradition, there is a neat final twist: the filmmakers take on board a psychopath’s need to rid the planet of undesirables – wherever they find them. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 24 AUGUST 2018

 

The Senator | Chappaquiddick (2017) *** | Digital HD DVD

Dir John Curran | Cast: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, Olivia Thirlby, Bruce Dern | US | Political Drama | 97′

The Senator looks swanky enough with its Ivy League Sixties aesthetic but as a gripping account of when Ted Kennedy (Clarke) had a car accident in Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard that led to the death of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara), it’s a pretty flaccid affair.

And that’s no fault of these two versatile actors – Jason Clarke is a dead ringer for Ted, and Mara makes a cool but brief appearance as Mary Jo – or a decent cast that includes veteran Bruce Dern who do their utmost to serve this legendary incident in American 20th century history, that, on the face of it, offers luridly exciting dramatic potential with its themes of adultery, sexual shenanigans, cover-ups and dirty politics in an era fraught with glamour and intrigue. Not least is the fact that Ted Kennedy kept the whole thing under wraps from the authorities – or even his advisors, for a 10 whole hours, even enjoying a night’s sleep before spilling the beans about the mishap and his colleague’s disappearance.

Yet Curran plays all these explosive elements down to offer a sober, morose, almost worthy, drama that adopts a near religious respect to the scandal that rocked the final knockings of the Sixties, and debatably put paid to Ted’s Kennedy’s political career. In the event, the whole episode was buried under the breaking news of the first moon landing two days later.

Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s debut script plays out like a tame crime procedural maintaining that because the tragedy took place on Kennedy home soil in Massachusetts, it was possible to stage manage the incident and keep the incendiary potential underwater, drowning most of the scandal along with its sorry victim, who was only 28 at the time. What is not played down however is the strongly patriarchal influence of a frail Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) who continued to pull rank on his son: despite being semi-gaga and confined to a wheelchair he manages to deflate his progeny with a potent allure.

Curran and his writers make no attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the well-known facts – that Ted was offering Mary Jo a lift home from an ordinary campaign evening when his car left a bridge and somersaulted into the shallow river below. Kennedy escaped but did not rescue Mary Jo, claiming amnesia brought on by shock. After getting a metaphorical clip round the ear from pater during a telephone call where he asks for advice, Ted then disappears into the bosom of his family as advisors close ranks around him.

What transpires, unsurprisingly, is that this powerful US scion appears to be above the law: Curran shows Ted to be a rather spineless individual whose ill-conceived decision to don a neck brace for Mary Jo’s funeral also proves him to be rather narcissistic and lacking in integrity. In the event, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury and got away lightly with a two-year suspended sentence.

With its sonorous score by Garth Stevenson, The Senator offers decent but rather lacklustre viewing, and while it will certainly enlighten those not familiar with the story, it hardly sets the night on fire with what could have been an incendiary political thriller. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL HD AND DVD from 20 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Tegnap | Hier (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Balint Kenyeres | Cast: Vlad Ivanov | Thriller | 119′

Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres is best known for his Cannes awarded short film Before Dawn and The History Of Aviation which opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2009.

In this paradoxical psychological thriller Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov (Toni Erdmann/Sunset) plays Victor Ganz, an architect/builder who fetches up in North Africa on a business trip that will lead him into a place of unreliable memories and exotic characters. Slowly he plunges into a labyrinthine world where present and past collide, as the future gradually closes in on him – or so it would initially seem.

In HIER Hungarian auteur Balint Kenyeres creates a scenario where a seemingly decent businessman travels to an exotic country where nothing is what it appears to be. On his arrival at the bustling port Victor cuts a reassuringly suave figure at the wheel of his Swiss registered black Range Rover on route to a 5-star hotel through the shabby streets of the souk. He gives short shrift to the locals, throwing his weight around with the local cultural attaché and barks orders to his staff back home on a mobile ‘phone. On the face of it, he is the sophisticated European on a mission connected to some property he bought many years ago on a previous visit. After the affairs of the day, he retreats into the shady backstreet where the local bar The offers lives music of a chance to ‘kick back’ with an old acquaintance. But this is where the mood changes and grows more sinister as echoes of the past flood back to a long-lost lover who has mysteriously disappeared. At this point, we assume that Victor is going through some kind of mid-life crisis, as he will never be the same again. Or is the the real man emerging from behind the soigné persona. After making probing inquiries, a scuffle breaks out and Victor wakes the next morning in a building site being robbed by two young boys who make off with his wallet. Injured and empty handed, he makes his way to the villa of another old friend who sets him up with fresh clothes and the briefcase left behind on his last visit. But on the way to the airport his cranky old bus breaks down and leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Perpetually making telephone calls home, Victor promises to be on the next plane home but there is no urgency in his desire to leave, the search for his old lover propelling the narrative further and further into remote corners of the desert as he desperately questions each random contact for information that may lead to the mysterious woman.

HIER is a strange and beguiling thriller with a tense undertow that makes it watchable and compelling. Shooting in Super 16, Kenveres achieves just the right grainy 90s feel without it being a retro affair. The essence of the story lies with the character of Victor, and gradually we start to question his motives. Apart from being unlikeable and difficult to connect with, he lacks conviction as a businessman or an architect, for that matter, once he moves away from the respectable surroundings of his comfortable hotel. Initially we believe in Victor: he seems plausible enoug and businesslike, going about his days with a sense of purpose. But gradually Victor becomes an unreliable witness to proceedings, an antihero unable to stick to his timetable or even stand by his word, let alone his memory. He brushes people up the wrong way, continually oversleeps and is deceitful to his partner waiting for him at home: He is the proverbial ‘man with feet of clay’; and whilst we identify with his situation, we certainly don’t identify with the way he handles it, driven by a near psychotic desire to uncover the past and obsessed with this enigmatic woman who he names ‘Sonia”. Kenyeres’ script continually subverts our expectations in his paradoxical film. The characters Victor meets in his alien surroundings prove to be increasingly more solid and reliable than he is: an old doctor who kindly stitches up his wounds; a professor researching into hyaenas and a friendly shopkeeper who finally puts him on the right trail. But Victor rewards the kindness of these strangers with truculence – even stealing the professor’s jeep – as his behaviour deteriorates into a state of lust-crazed psychosis. The enigmatic denouement is left to the imagination, making it even more powerful as the antihero is finally trounced by the very people he previously held in disdain. It’s an inventive idea for a story and Kenyeres pulls off. He raises vital questions about social stereotypes and the human condition – can we really reliably connect, identify and compare our own experiences with those of another person? And this is the crux of this unusual and compelling existential thriller. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FILMMAKERS OF TODAY STRAND 

Acid Forest (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rugile Barzdziukaite | Doc | Lithuania | 63′

Rugile Barzdziukaite describes her eco-film as a creative documentary. It is set in her native Lithuania where a strange phenomenon has occurred in the forested region of the Curonian Spit, a scenic peninsular edged by the Baltic from one side and the lagoon from the other. ACID FOREST makes its premiere at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Taking her cue from the likes of documentarians Sergei Loznitsa and Jem Cohen, Barzdziukaite’s debut feature often sees the funny side of this blot on the landscape. This humour comes out of the spontaneous comments made by unsuspecting visitors to the otherwise appealing UNESCO world heritage site, known for its natural resources and high-end beach resorts.

Training his camera on a look-out platform in the midst of the acid forest, her DoP Dovydas Korba gets a bird’s eye view not only of the tourists, but also the black cormorants who migrated back to the area nearly twenty years ago in 1989, after becoming extinct, and have since laid waste to the native pine trees with their acid-rich droppings that fall from the nesting places. where these destructive birds roost and bring up their young. But it’s not all bad. Deciduous trees have now started thrive in the area, feeding on the cormorants fishy manure. And so gradually the forest is mutating from one of pines to one of oaks and ashes. And this narrative very much chimes with the cycles of human migration that have happened all the world since time immemorial. Acid Forest is a an unusual but fitting metaphor for the surreal world that we live in. MT

OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

The Deer Hunter (1978 *** Bluray release

Dir: Michael Cimino | US War Thriller | 183′

Another great film of the Seventies and one of the most salient on the futility of war, this was undoubtedly Michael Cimino’s masterpiece.  The lives of three Pennsylvanian steelworkers are changed forever when they sign up as volunteers for Vietnam. Patriotic and poignant, THE DEER HUNTER is underpinned by a terrific cast and two towering performances from Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken – one a victorious hero, the other a tragic victim of the hostilities and of life in general. This rich character epic portrays how men can be tested by the worst of circumstances and can survive or fail. Magnificent both as a moral tale and a soaring testament to community and comradeship, the Nietzschean saga is not for the feint of heart, nor those lacking in viewing stamina – it runs for over three emotionally gruelling hours. MT

THE DEER HUNTER | BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION TO COMMEMORATE 40th ANNIVERSARY | IN CINEMAS 4TH JULY 2018ON BLU-RAY, COLLECTOR’S EDITION (INCLUDING FIRST EVER 4K ULTRA HD VERSION) AND EST 20TH AUGUST 2018

 

El Mar La Mar (2017)

Dirs: Joshua Bonnetta, J.P. Sniadecki | USA 2017 | English, Spanish |Doc | 94 min · Colour

Renowned documentarian J P Sniedecki teams up with Joshua Bonetti for this episodic reverie that scratches at the edges of fantasy horror as its gradually emerging narrative explores strange occurrences in the Sonoran Desert between Mexico and the United States (rather than the seascapes suggested in its obstruse title).

The opening scene, entitled Rio (River), is a dizzying affair bordering on nausea as the camera flickers alongside a waterside seen peeping through vegetation. The second is called Costas (coasts) but it is difficult to make out its obscure subject matter, as the mood gradually grows more unsettling.

Disparate reports of strange sightings occur daily in this sparsely populated and inhospitatble region and nameless locals narrate their experiences against blacked out footage: visits from travellers and immigrants making their way from Mexico seem totally unprepared for the horrors that await them: snakes, insects, fierce climatic changes and spiky vegetation are some of the perils of this dangerous route, not to mention the human element in the shape of border guards, both official and self-appointed, who are are known to open gunfire both day and night.

The directors’ approach has a highly bewildering feel, and as the mood grows increasingly sinister, faceless voices talk of traces of human remains and even dead bodies sadly left to decompose without trace, save for their faded clothing. Abandoned rucksacks, shoes and toys are testament to this trail of tragedy, gradually becoming part of the gruesome landscape.

EL MAR LA MAR‘s polyphonic soundtrack, disembodied voices and 16-mm visuals are a stark and strangely beguiling tribute to human endeavour, recording for posterity those who never made it in their quest to seek a more financially rewarding life. Sometimes the grass is not greener. MT

AWARDED A SPECIAL MENTION AT BERLINALE 2017 | FORUM SECTION

The Changeling (1980) **** Bluray release

Dir: Peter Medak | Cast: George C Scott, Trish Van Devere, Joh Colicos, Melvyn Douglas | Horror | 107′

Born into a Jewish family of textile merchants in 1937 director Peter Medak fled his native Hungary during the late 1950s uprising to embark on a film career in the UK which would see him directing for both TV and the big screen. In 1963 he signed with Paramount Pictures where his feature debut was Negatives (1968). This was followed by such successes as The Ruling Class (1972); The Krays (1990) and Let Him Have It 1991). Medak’s TV work includes episodes for The Wire; Hannibal; Homicide: Life on the Streets and Breaking Bad. Slated to world premiere at Venice this September, his latest film is a documentary entitled The Ghost of Peter Sellers based on the unreleased film Ghost in the Midday Sun, filmed in Cyprus in 1973.

The Changeling is a gripping supernatural thriller anchored by a terrific turn from George C Scott as a talented composer who seeks solace in a remote West Coast mansion after the tragic death of his wife and daughter. In this stylish horror outing, Medak quails away from cheap thrills and sensationalism in favour of a more elegant and intriguing approach gradually inveigling us into the life of John Russell (Scott) and the mysterious history of his haunted home and its connections to a powerful local senator (Spencer Carmichael). All the usual tropes are deftly employed to disturbing effect: murderous wheelchairs, mysterious banging doors and séances, as the sceptical Scott and his friend Claire Norman (real wife Trish Van Devere) gradually identify both victim and usurper in a shocking and satisfying denouement.  MT 

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 13 August 2018

https://youtu.be/ro4aYYPgctI

It Happened Here (1965) | dual format re-master

Dir: Kevin Brownlow/Andrew Mollo | Cast: Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison, Reginald Marsh, Derek Milburn | Drama | UK | 93′

Made on a shoestring budget – and none the worse for it – Brownlow/Mollo’s Neorealist re-imagining of a Nazi invasion of Britain is plausible and chilling: even though the event never happened. Financed by Tony Richardson and his Woodfall Film Production Company, it was shot in 16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and incredible attention to detail.

Eight years in the making – Brownlow was only 18, Mollo 16 when they started – IT HAPPENED HERE pictures the whole scenario in the wake of the British retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 where the German army are strongly resisted at first, but finally crushed, lacking outside support. Then in 1944, it reappeared and the result sees history being re-written with Germany winning the Second World War with England under occupation.  MT

SCREENING AT BFI SOUTHBANK ON 23 JULY AT 18.00 FOLLOWED BY A DISCUSSION WITH KEVIN BROWNLOW AND ANDREW MOLLO TO MARK BROWNLOW’S 80TH BIRTHDAY | DUAL FORMAT RELEASE NOW AVAILABLE.

 

 

First Reformed (2017)***** | Sundance London

Dir: Paul Schrader | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried | US | Thriller | 108′

Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED is a sleek and elegant beast; economical, eco-themed and uncompromising yet firing on all cylinders, powered by Ethan Hawke as an anguished Christian minister fraught with spiritual and existential thoughtfulness.

The film’s richly textured themes of religious tradition, radicalisation and global warming underpin a graceful story of faith, hope, despair and finally love, redeeming all. And we wrestle and ruminate with Hawke on his personal journey from a sombre starting point to a place of peace in a rich character study that sees Schrader back on form after his ill-advised experiments with The Canyons and Dog Eat Dog.

Hawke is Toller, a sorrowing military chaplain whose marriage has failed due to the death of his son. In a white wooden-clad church in upstate New York, he has a new start in life leading a congregation that includes Mary (Seyfried), a pregnant woman who seeks his moral support over her activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). It soon emerges that Michael wants to get rid of their child due to his disenchantment with the corporate world he holds responsible for climate change and pollution.

There are comparisons here with Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver and Light Sleeper which also explore despair and disenchantment, although Toller is a much more down to earth decent character than John LeTour (Defoe) and Travis Bickle (De Niro) from the outset, and only seems to lose his sense of direction when his health deteriorates, and cancer becomes a possibility, leading him into a dark place of soul-searching made blacker by a tragedy involving Mary and Michael.

Toller also becomes convinced that a local businessman, sponsoring the church renovations, is actually responsible for environmental pollution on a large scale, and this presents a moral dilemma that further challenges the minster’s troubled state of mind. As the film slides between reality and somewhere more sinister. he desperately tries to lead his followers maintaining respect, compassion and dignity. Seyfried plays Mary as an open and honest woman whose motivations at first seem enigmatic but soon become clear as the two share a mutual sense of desperation and denial. There are strong performances also from Cedric the Entertainer, as a Toller’s ecclesiastical mentor and Esther, a fellow pastor who falls foul of Toller, despite her best intentions, inspiring one of the film’s most killer lines: ” I despise you: you bring out the worst in me”. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | PREVIEW SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE LONDON

Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

Dir: Michael R Roskam | Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adele Exarcholpoulos | Belgium | Crime Drama | 130′

Best known for his glowering Flemish thriller Bullhead, Michael Roskam is back again for the forth time with Belgian heavyweight Matthias Shoenhaerts who plays smalltime gangster Gigi in this classy high octane ‘amour noir’ thriller set on the race track.

The opening scenes introduce us to Gigi Vanoirbeek early days of danger where his father used to a fierce Alsatian to discipline him. Things have moved upmarket for Gino, who now operates in the luxury car market where he falls for young racing driver Bibi Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Their sexual chemistry is incendiary and love is spurred on by their risk-taking personalities, despite their wildly different backgrounds.

This is a stylishly fluid piece of kit and wonderful to watch as Roskam and his stars hold our attention and the action-packed hour that sparks on all cylinders fired up by the fizzing fervour of the pair’s glamorous lifestyle. But then Roskam makes an abrupt left turn, just as he did in Bullhead, and the adrenaline runs out as plot lines blur and the vehicle gradually trundles off the tracks.  This is no fault of Schoenhaerts whose mesmerising physical presence is matched by Exarchopoulos cutsy charm both in and out of bed they are a perfect couple but the script can’t sustain 130 minutes of their lust as the romance peters out with his sociopathic lies about ‘business travel’ to cover his back, and her life-challenging down-spiral after smelling a rat. Clearly Gigi has a built-in factory default that limits his reliable shelf life but Bibi can’t let go until she starts to lose her own mind and friends come to the rescue.

As a story of doomed love this feels terrifically convincing but Roskam doesn’t know how to call it a day and add fuel to his fire. That said, this is definitely one to watch with its firebrand finale courtesy of ace DoP Nicolas Karakatsanis. MT

Michaël R. Roskam was born in Flanders. He studied at the St. Lucas Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and the Maurits Binger Film Institute in Amsterdam. His directorial credits include Bullhead (11), which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and The Drop (14), which played the Festival. Racer and the Jailbird (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 |

 

The Long Good Friday (1980) | New restoration on Bluray

Dir: John Mackenzie  Writer: Barry O’Keefe  Composer: Francis Monkman (Curved Air) | Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Paul Freeman, Pierce Brosnan.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is firmly built on a dynamite performance from Bob Hoskins who smoulders throughout as hard-edged East End crime sion masterminding a deal that heralds the dawn of London’s Big Boom transforming the Docklands wasteland into a property powerhouse and ushering in a new dawn of prosperity for the capital.

As underworld boss Harold Shand, he is poised to pull off a multi-million-pound property deal to be built on the backing of American money. It all turns out to be a dodgy as Shand himself when it emerges that the Mafia is involved. But just as he’s hoping to trouser a tidy profit, Shand comes under siege from one of his own trusted clan; and rapidly his house of cards collapses as bomb blasts blow away his Rolls-Royce, East End pub and his dreams, in scenes of epic destruction. Helen Mirren is queenly and kittenish as his savvy moll, who knows just when to bare her claws and when to purr in the background.

The meat-heads are called in for a moratorium –  a hilarious “heads-down” that takes place in a local abattoir as they are notoriously up-ended  from meathooks – but it ends in tears. A furious Bob Hoskins steams with anger, surprise and indignation throughout, fetching up in a fiendish finale of facial gesticulation – as Francis Monkman’s classic score blares out to mask Mackenzie’s off-scene encouragement to his lead. The last scene also marks the debut of a sly-eyed, fresh-faced newcomer in the shape of Pierce Brosnan. But this is Bob’s film and will go down as his most legendary performance. MT

A BRAND NEW RESTORATION SOURCED FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVES AND APPROVED BY CINEMATOGRAPHER PHIL MEHEUX IS OUT ON BLU-RAY WITH INTERVIEWS AND EXTRAS COURTESY OF ARROW FILM FROM 16 JULY 2018

 

 

My Friend Dahmer (2017) ****

Dir.: Marc Meyers; Cast: Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Alex Wolff, Tommy Nelson, Harrison Holzer, Vincent Kartheiser; USA 2017, 107 min.

Marc Meyers (Harvest) scores a winner with this brilliant screen adaptation of ‘Derf’ Backderff’s comic book tracing the final year of the legendary serial killer Jeff Dahmer.

Meyers’ work is best known in the US but this fascinating biopic thriller resonates far and wide due to the universal appeal of its gruesome subject matter. Born in Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer grew up in the small town of Bath, Ohio, where Meyers captures the final year at college before his fragmented psyche exploded, leading to the murders of seventeen young men. Disney star Ross Lynch is cast against type turning in an excruciatingly realistic performance that brings with it an understanding of what drove Dahmer to murder, cannibalism and necrophilia. And the idea that society does not produce serial killers, but is in some way responsible for their existence – soon begins to percolate through the subconscious.

Dahmer’s senior year at Revere High School ran from 1977-78. And we learn how his role as an outsider was pre-determined by his dysfunctional family life where the atmosphere was fraught with discord: Father Lionel (Roberts), a chemist, and his wife Joyce (Heche) argue non-stop: Joyce is undergoing psychiatric treatment for her belligerent attitude to almost everything, but mainly her family. Only Jeffrey’s younger brother Dave (who name was changed due to legal anonymity), seems to find parental approval, largely due to the masculine attributes he shares with father: Both revel in the seclusion of the laboratory, avoiding social interaction, despite Lionel asking his son to develop a more outgoing attitude.

At school, Jeffrey’s obsession with dead animals is well known, he collects carcasses and dissolves them in acid, playing with the bones. His three ‘friends’ Derf (Wolff as the future comic book author), Neil (Nelson) and Mike (Holzer) make full use of Jeffrey’s willingness to be the class clown: they even pay him to perform his antics, which run to mock epileptic seizures and cerebral palsy routines in the local Mall. But Jeffrey is no fool: he is perfectly aware that he doesn’t belong and takes to drinking spirits and developing an early gay crash on a jogger (Kartheiser), who nearly becomes his first victim. Aware of his sexual orientation, Dahmer is condemned to silence, since there is no opportunity to discuss or explore his sexuality in this macho mid-western state  – and little has changed, even today. And so, Jeffrey ‘sleep-walks’ into his first murder, picking up a hitchhiker three weeks after his graduation (another milestone unacknowledged by his family).

From today’s perspective, it seems incredible that the early warning signs of Jeffrey’s fragmentation were not picked up at school, and that a court should find him “mentally sane” to stand trial in 1991. His murder by a fellow inmate serves as a sad but logical epitaph to a life in which the troubled 34 year-old actually kept the remains of some his victims for company. Meyers’ detached case study shows Jeffrey Dahmer as a spectator, looking in on his own life. He is unable to identify with anything alive, his sexuality making him even more of an outcast. His cerebral intelligence was no help: his pent up emotions were so over-powering that he could only find an outlet in physical cruelty, in revenge for being locked out of everyone’s life. DoP Daniel Katz’s wide-screen images underline the joyless grey world he experienced, an arctic emotional landscape. Lynch’s peerless performance underlines the fact that Dahmer was actually handsome, but lacked the wherewithal to connect physically or emotionally with anyone alive. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 June 2018

 

eXistenZ (1999) | Bluray release

Dir: David Cronenberg | Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe 
Visionary director David Cronenberg (Videodrome) challenges the boundaries of reality in sci-fi thriller eXistenZ. During a closed-door demonstration of her new virtual reality video game, brilliant game designer Allegra Geller survives an attempt on her life by a crazed assassin. On the run with Ted Pikul, a young marketing trainee who falls into the role of bodyguard, Allegra convinces Ted to join her in her game, eXistenZ. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur, the real-life dangers they sought to escape start to merge with their virtual world.
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• The Leader: An interview with Christopher Eccleston
• Commentary with Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie
• Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Enemy of Reality: David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ’ by Alex Morris, and ‘Of Fabrics and Flesh: An interview with Denise Cronenberg’ by Phillip Escott.
 
Additional Extras
• Audio commentary by David Cronenberg
• Making-of documentary
• Promo Featurette
• Special Effects Featurette
• Backstage interviews with Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, Jim Isaac (visual effects) and David Cronenberg
• Trailer
 
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

 

The Grifters (1999) **** Bluray release

Dir: Stephen Frears | Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening | Thriller |

Directed by British auteur Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) and producer Martin Scorsese, The Grifters, is a taut thriller that explores themes of seduction and betrayal. When small-time cheat Roy Dillon (Cusack) winds up in hospital following an unsuccessful scam, it sets up a confrontation between his estranged mother Lilly (Huston) and alluring girlfriend Myra (Benning). Both Lilly and Myra are con artists playing the game in a league far above Roy, and are always looking for their next victim. As Roy finds himself caught in a complicated web of passion and mistrust, the question is who’s conning whom? Frears elicits memorable performances from this talented cast in one of the 20th century’s most edgy and memorable cult classics. 
 
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• Seduction. Betrayal. Murder: The Making of The Grifters: A brand new feature length documentary on the film’s production, including new interviews with director Stephen Frears, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, editor Mick Audsley, executive producer Barbara De Fina and co-producer Peggy Rajski.
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Jim Thompson, Noir, and the Popular Front’, an essay by David Cochran, and ‘Elmer Bernstein: Grit not Grift’, a review of the legendary composer’s career by Charlie Brigden
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

1987: When the Day Comes (2017) Korean Film Festival

Dir: Jung Joon-hwan | Political Thriller | South Korea |

With an impressive ensemble cast and polemic real-life story, director Jang Joon-hwan’s powerful portrayal of the events that led to Korea’s historic June Democratic Uprising was as much a hit with audiences as it was with critics when it stormed the box-office at the start of this year.

In 1980s South Korea, the military regime of President Chun Doo-hwan pushes the masses to breaking point with its widespread corruption and oppression. In 1987, a series of events will be set in motion through which the heroic actions of ordinary people from all walks of life result in nationwide protests, altering the course of the nation’s history forever.

When a student protester dies under police interrogation, the order is given to quickly cremate the body, effectively burying the evidence. Unfortunately for Director Park (Kim Yoon-seok, The Fortress), the head of the Anti-Communism Investigations Bureau in Seoul desperately trying to cover up the crime, Prosecutor Choi (Ha Jung-woo, Assassination) is not playing ball. Suspecting foul play, Choi refuses the request and insists on an autopsy. When it’s discovered torture was the likely cause, the race is on to bring the crime to light. Prison guard Han (Yoo Hai-jin, Confidential Assignment) his niece Yeon-hee (Kim Tae-ri, The Handmaiden) and idealistic student Han-yeol (Gang Dong-won, A Violent Prosecutor) are just some of the ordinary people who put their lives on the line to uncover the truth.

Highly regarded director Jang Joon-hwan (Save the Green Planet, 2003) has made his most ambitious film to-date with this fast-paced, tightly plotted political thriller based on the shocking true events of 1987 Korea. Like last year’s A Taxi Driver, 1987: When the Day Comes gives the blockbuster treatment to a turbulent period, resulting in an exciting thrill-ride of a film that never loses sight of the human drama at its core. Korean Film Festival Review

HEADLINING UK KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Teaser Screenings | Monday 18 June  | Picturehouse Central

Murder me, Monster (2018) *** | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

MURDER ME MONSTER’S widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – and there are vague echoes of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed and as a herd of sheep, and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder, as slowly Fadel builds suspense out of a series of weird incidents that seem to indicate that a feral beast is on the prowl and out of control in this remote corner of Argentina where it invariably appears to be night.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. And there’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes that turn increasingly Lynchian as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good as a satisfying narrative that eventually leaves us stranded in its own mysterious backwater, and we feel rather nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

https://vimeo.com/268725708

 

The House That Jack Built (2018) | Cannes Film Festival

Writer/Dir: Lars von Trier | Cast: Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Riley Keough | Thriller |  Bruno Ganz |

Controversy has always surrounded auteur Lars von Trier and his critically acclaimed work lives up to his reputation as a maverick talent, fuelling fierce debate and attracting attention from his devoted fans. And he is up to his tricks again refusing to be cowed by the controversy that got him ‘persona non grata status’ seven years ago.

This time he offers up the provocative portrait of a serial killer wreaking hell in the 70s world of America’s Pacific North West. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT  confirms that the director has no intention of mending his ways  although it is never quite clear whether he intends to be a mischievous as he appears. That said, he has clearly managed to wind some viewers up with walks out at the Cannes world premiere of the film. And with various allusions to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao and Idi Amin a mild mannered approach was never going to be the balm needing to heal the wounds of previous damage he caused. 

Anti-Americanism and misogyny are the themes firmly in the forefront of this new and naughty endeavour that has Matt Dillon in the lead role as Jack, a sociopathic criminal who subjects women and young kids to a sadistic fate that would put even the Moors murders in the shade, while simultaneously moaning: “why is always the men’s fault”. The narrative clearly runs contrary to the current polemic over sexual misconduct, and Lars was never going to be acquiescent in this regard.  

That said, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is certainly a film to see, despite its indulgent running time. And it is worth remembering that over the years, the Danish maverick has created some memorable roles for women, assuring Emily Watson a legendary turn in Breaking The Waves, Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Melancholia. In this new outing the victim to feel sorry for is Riley Keough — but von Trier cuts the victim characterisations down to a bare minimum, so as a result we know and feel little for them, they are merely there to serve the narrative’s purpose of putting a spanner in the works of the gender war that is currently raging.. 

The film is seen from the perspective of Jack and the hidden voice of his mentor/shrink Verge (Bruno Ganz), who remains in the dark until he finally emerges into the limelight as Dante after some 60 killings have been reported, escorting Jack through the circles of Hell, Divina Comedia style. 

The killing spree is conducted dispassionately by Jack, and kicks off with an deliberately unlikeable motorist (Uma Thurman) who meets her maker in a surprisingly bloodless way, after showing a gross sense of entitlement to Jack, after her car breaks down. Von Trier judiciously leaving the gore to our imagination, we actually feel more empathy with Jack than the woman. The next victims are a recently bereaved widow, then Sofie Grabol and her sons, forced to enjoy a picnic before being unceremoniously ‘taken out’. The director is also clearly taking a swipe at elements of our indifferent and uncaring society that allow victims to go unaided when in peril. The ‘dumb blond’ girlfriend is the next to go, in a killing that mirrors that of Sharon Tate. But each time Lars desire to inflame the recent feminist lash-back is almost overdone and certainly too glaringly obvious to be taken seriously. 

Dillon plays Jack with suave insouciance, boredom even. Nitpicking over details such as bloodstains on the carpet – he has a cleanliness fetish – and as his trail of carnage grows, he experiments with the slowly growing mound of bodies in his cool room.

The mid section of the film is devoted to a treatise on art and its value in society – which is all a bit too arcane to be edifying in the context of a murder movie – and the constant musical motif  of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ becomes a tad tiresome after a while. This detours involves nods to Glenn Gould, William Blake, gothic cathedral architecture, the work of Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer. A viignette about dessert wine production feels like an echo of the Silence of the Lambs fava beans episode. Ganz’s Verge is a soothing Peter Cook style psychiatrist who assures Jack that his feelings are all consistent with his personality profile as a psycho. JACK’s editor Molly Malene Stensgaard interposes archive material at various salient intervals to add ballast to the ongoing diatribe between Jack and Verge, and there is nothing particularly  exciting about cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro’s grainy handheld camera work or choice of visual aesthetic, although he captures the final descent into Hell inventively.

A great deal of the film actually feels quite tedious. JACK is neither a crime procedural or a gripping character study, and when the film’s title is finally fleshed out – quite literally – we are all ready to go home. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Out of  COMPETITION 2018

Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night, Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | MARKET SECTION | Winner of the Moscow Critics’ Award

Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night,  Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | MARKET SECTION

Border | Grans (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir : Ali Abbasi | Fantasy Drama | Sweden | 104’

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first with writing partner Isabella Ekloff.

Tina (Melander) has always been an outsider because she suffers from a neanderthal physical appearance of flaring nostrils and a facial gurning movement that mark her out to have the heightened sensory perception of an animal. She feels a particular affinity to the wildlife near her comfortable cabin in the heavily forested woods between Finland and Sweden, and can sense when deer or moose are about to cross the country road. As a customs officer, she has a keen awareness for criminality but she feels diminished by her otherness and lonely: her live-boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorssen) is more interested in his pack of dobermans.  

One day she spots an unusual traveller going through custom who looks like her male double and Tina feels a palpable attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff) who seems to be an entomologist, from the contents of his luggage,  though on further examination this is not all he appears to be. Has Tina found love for the first time, or just somebody from her own tribe? There’s a tone of optimism on the romantic front, and also workwise as Tina’s talents see her become the key investigator in the hunt for a local paedophile.

Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a dark humour bubbling under the surface. Melander’s Tina is gentle and almost submissive character who keeps her tale between her legs, and we feel for her even when her confidence make her more assertive after meeting Vore,  particularly towards her elderly father who has clearly duped her since childhood, and her useless boyfriend. But the denouement of is quite unexpected in this rare curio that keeps you guessing all the way to the end. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

Beast (2017) ***

Dir: Michael Pearce | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Trystan Gravelle | UK | 107′ | Thriller

Two troubled souls are drawn together in this twisted and intriguingly intelligent psychological thriller debut from British TV director Michael Pearce.

On a Jersey beach during her birthday celebrations, Moll (Jessie Buckley) breaks away from the fraught family gathering drawn to a tousled-haired wayfarer Pascal ((Flynn) who is implicated in a series of murders rocking the island. Tour guide Moll is far from squeaky clean but her vulnerable, wide-eyed appeal provides a suspenseful counterpoint to Pascal’s sensitive knowingness; such a breath of fresh air compared to her boring police officer boyfriend Cliff (Trystan Gravelle). Moll still lives at home with her dementia-ridden father and dominating martyr of a mother Hilary, a feisty Geraldine James, who is holding everything together – including the church choir – while clearly favouriting supercilious brother Harrison (Oliver Maltman). To add insult to injury, sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) has just announced her twin pregnancy on Moll’s special day. Clearly there is more to Moll than meets the eye, but Pearce keeps us guessing about her dark secret which is cleverly reflected through her family’s harsh and controlling attitude towards her. There is also something gently sinister about the prickly Pascal who prowls around with a hunting rifle while the two grow closer complicit in their shared orbit of shadowy darkness; Moll’s unhappiness piqued by the sense of danger and romantic thrill that gradually comes to a head in the final beachside denouement. BEAST is a subtle thriller that skates around the edges of melodrama and horror primped by Benjamin Kracun’s luminous images and superbly nuanced performances from Geraldine James, Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn as the tense lead trio. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 April 2018

 

 

 

The World is Yours (2018) ***


Dir: Romain Gavras | Writers: Noe Debre, Romain Gavras, Karim Boukercha | Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Vincent Cassel, Francois Damiens, Karim Leklou, Norbert Ferrer | Comedy Crime | France | 100′

Romain Gavras’ rambunctiously glossy gangster comedy is stashed with French household names and beats as it sweeps towards a preposterous finale. Best known for his music videos for the likes of Jaz-Z, this energetically stylish comedy is full of French verve and punchy argot making it less accessible for non-French speakers with its raucous, over-the top absurdity. Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Cassel boost a brash and ballsy plotline that sees a North African crime syndicate dream of better things from their humble Paris council flats. A Prophet‘s Karim Leklou (Fares) is the surprising standout as a feisty grifter who is desperate to make some cash so he can retire to the sun. Meanwhile his unmanageable matriarch Danny (Adjani) has her own hair-brained schemes, so it’s up to mid-mannered Fares and his motley crew to make it all happen. Bonkers but delightful if you like this kind of French caper. MT

NOW SHOWING AT CINE LUMIERE FROM 25 APRIL 2019 | QUINZAINE 2018

Cure (1997) **** | Dual Format release

Dir/Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Japan | Mystery Thriller | 111′ 

Twenty minutes into Cure (Kairos) I was reminded of David Fincher’s Seven, and the first Japanese Ring film, both causing me to think that they had influenced Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In fact Seven (1995) was 2 years before Cure: with Fincher’s urban decay corresponding with Cure’s grimy and rundown suburbs of Tokyo. However Cure was made 1 year before Ring and shares some of its long dark-hair menace (from both ‘villian’ characters) pulsating as strongly as their similar eerie soundtracks. A further link is the menacing way that spilt water is filmed, prefiguring Dark Water (2002) and reminding you of the malevolent power of water in old Japanese ghost stories.  

Putting influences to one side, Cure is more of a hybrid than the other productions. Part psychological thriller, cop movie and supernatural horror film – blending all these generic elements with impressive skill. This is a film absent of sensationalist gore and full of creepy menace. There is no cure for anyone in this ironically titled drama. Quite the opposite. Characters are infected by a sinister hypnotism event, from 100 years back, causing people to be mentally manipulated to kill those they work or live with.

Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is a Tokyo detective investigating a serious of gruesome murders – a large X is cut across the victim’s neck. The killers are caught and cannot explain what made them kill. Takabe accompanied by psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) trace a connection with a young man called Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara). When brought in for questioning Mamiya appears to be an amnesiac – he’s very dazed and confused about who he is, where he is and what he’s doing. After searching his apartment the police discover that he used to be a psychology student who studied the ideas of the 19th century hypnotist Anton Mesmer. They conclude that Mamiya is capable of planting hypnotic suggestions in people that turns them into murderers.

The ex-student mesmerist, the stressed detective and his mentally unstable wife are pitted against a force which initially appears emphatic. Mamiya wants to know his victim’s emotional state. “Let’s talk about yourself” is a re-occurring request through Cure. Mamiya wishes to make “the inner become the outer” and have them act on their darkest impulses. The very matter of fact depiction of the killings in Cure is what makes for an unsettling experience. The scene where a policeman takes out his gun and kills his colleague, just outside the police station, is chilling for its casual horror. He carries on working then drags the body inside. Filmed at a distance, acutely well framed and morally detached: nothing unusual is seen to disturb the policeman’s banal routine. 

There is little obvious thriller action in Cure. Many clashes of will and personality occur in a hospital or police headquarters: the best of these almost equalling the interrogations in Silence of the Lambs. Aided by excellent performances from Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara, setting up their suspenseful games, Kurosawa powerfully creates a highly personal and atmospheric world of damaged individuals.

If you carefully examine the plot then you will find holes. Why would Anton Mesmer be such an influence – where’s the real proof? Why did the hospital nurse appear to tear off the face of the bloodied corpse in the waiting room? It’s never explained. How was the ‘curse’ of hypnotic suggestion actually passed on to new perpetrators over time? But this is the logic of a mysterious and highly intelligent horror film where emotion suppresses cold rationality. By not explaining too much Cure allows its creepiness to infiltrate the viewer. And like all good horror stories plants its dread of the unknown in a plausibly real and indifferent world.  

Cure is so strong and gripping that it makes me eager to seek out Kurosawa’s other works, both horror movies and art house cinema. He is subtle, understated, visceral, very in control of his medium and ought to be better known. A remarkable filmmaker. ALAN PRICE ©2018    

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s CURE [Kyua] (Masters of Cinema) now out on Dual Format |  Available from Amazon 

 

 

Hell Drivers (1957) **** | Bluray release

Dir: Cy Endfield | Writer: John Kruse | Cast: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell. Sidney James | 108′ | Crime Drama

“They fight to the death – and their weapons are ten-ton trucks.” So screams the poster publicity for Hell Drivers. This tough and tautly directed thriller unconsciously echoes the lorry driver tribulations of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and anticipates the internal combustion engine, as monster, in Spielberg’s Duel. The Wikipedia entry for Hell Drivers actually supplies a credit for the vehicles “The Doge 100 Kew” parrot-nosed truck, with a tipper body.” The trucks are as much a star of this film as are the macho guys who manically drive them, loaded with gravel, on 20 mile round trips.

Tom Yeates (Stanley Baker), just released from prison, gets a job as truck driver after seeing Carley, (William Hartnell) the manager for a local building contractor. He soon meets Red (Patrick McGoohan), the head Irish driver and violent bully. Lucy (Peggy Cummins), the manager’s secretary, is dating driver Gino Rossi (Herbert Lom), but is really more interested in Tom. Red and Tom compete fiercely and dangerously to be the top driver so they can claim a gold cigarette case (their prize and flashy symbol of strength). Meanwhile, Hell Drivers’ sub-plots of managerial corruption, loyal male friendships and the attraction of the hardly conflicted Lucy, all simmer in the pot for this powerful duel.

Hell Drivers is fascinating for its Americanisation of the parochial British thriller of the 1950s. Director Cy Endfield (a victim of the McCarthy purges) is an émigré who directs as if whipping up a posse pursuit in a Western, with a nod to that Warner Brothers melodrama about truck driving: They Drive by Night: all the action being sharply spiked by an angry script about worker exploitation. Yet Hell Drivers seems to address conflicting forms of masculinity rather than small business swindles in today’s climate.

Stanley Baker is outstanding as Tom. It’s a perfect role for his idiosyncratic fiery Welsh temperament. Baker consistently expresses a potent mix of surface menace and suppressed tenderness. He cares, yet doesn’t really care. Baker’s wayward “devil may care” persona was always impatient to get things done and achieve a kind of class justice in a treacherous world. His acting had a fantastic edge. He was at his very best when directed by Cy Endfield and Joseph Losey: exhibiting a Celtic Brando-like power (minus any method acting) that gripped you by the throat and worth a quote from critic David Thomson here.

“Until the early 1960s, Baker was the only male lead in the British cinema who managed to suggest contemptuousness, aggression, and the working class. He is the first hint of proletarian male vigour against the grain….”

Patrick McGoohan was compelling in the role of Red. But unlike Baker he is a bit too self-consciously acting for effect. He was a highly individual and intense performer who was most famous for his TV work on Danger Man and, of course, the iconic The Prisoner. In The Prisoner he was always searching to find ‘No 1’. Whilst in Hell Drivers he is the foreman driver of the ‘No 1’ truck. After several viewings of Hell Drivers I’m beginning to think that Red is just a bit too much of a stereotyped baddie. McGoohan snarls his way through the film as if aping Lee Marvin on a bad day. Or prefiguring an imitation of Eli Wallach in a spaghetti western. Yet in spite of the hugely enjoyable over-acting, Red’s character doesn’t flaw the realism of Hell Drivers: it works to provoke the Tom character to discover some moral virtue behind his gritty attitude.

The third element of masculine force is Gino – finely played by Herbert Lom. Any caricature of an Italian abroad in a rough community, is avoided. True, he does have a Catholic side, in the form of a prayer-room point in the lodging house. But religious sentimentality, mama mias and a love of pasta are absent. Lom touchingly stresses the sensitivity and kindness of Gino. He acts as a feminine catalyst between the opposing forces of Tom and Red: pairing himself up with the tough Lucy (a strong performance from Peggy Cummins).

All the characters in Hell Drivers – including the minor supporting actors, such as a very young Sean Connery – keep testing one another. And not simply on a testosterone tough guy level. They’re challenged by the company’s demand for profit and hence their need for insanely reckless driving. Through an exposure of the cheating management, Red does eventually receive his come-uppance and Tom, a form of salvation, or more specifically he comes to his senses and might be a changed man.

The crisp photography of Geoffrey Unsworth; tight editing; expertly-used locations and a strong pace to the story make for an exciting film. Although the benefits of American materialism hadn’t yet fully hit British society, our cinema was invigorated by the intervention of outsider Cy Endfield (and soon after by Joseph Losey with Blind Date and The Criminal both starring an even more intimidating Stanley Baker). And what with Hammer’s Dracula and the British New Wave waiting in the wings, sedate manners trembled. ALAN PRICE©2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | NETWORK

The Third Murder (2017)

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Thriller | Japan | 120′
Festival favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Nobody Knows) offers an engrossing murder mystery about a defence lawyer who believes that his client — a self-confessed killer — is the fall guy for a conspiracy. A lengthy crime procedural provides the backbone to this luminously filmed but alienating arthouse affair that asks the question: who is judging the judges?

The central character is the suave and convincing lawyer Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu/Like Father, Like Son) who is called to investigate the case of a man who has spent three decades in prison for a double murder and has subsequently confessed to killing his factory-owning boss and burning his body. We witness the murder in the opening scene, so clearly Misumi (Yakusho Koji) must be guilty; strangely, it is Shigemori’s father who handed him a life sentence, instead of the death penalty, but times have changed.

The problem is that Misumi keeps changing his story, making things difficult for
Shigemori, the son of a retired judge, who is forced to keep writing and re-writing his script in order to get the most plausible defence for the murderer. To make matters worse, his own personal life is fraught with problems: estranged from his daughter, who is caught for shop-lifting, he is also separated from his wife. As he gets to know Misumi over their constant meetings, it soon emerges that their behaviour is very similar, they appear to be one in the same person, on different sides of the law.

This is a subtle but thematically rich crime thriller, brilliant in concept but less so in execution, despite Takimoto Makiya’s stunning camerawork, and Ludovico Einaudi’s moody score. The fault, at least for non-Japanese speakimg audiences, is its dialogue-led narrative which keeps us glued to the subtitles while scanning up and down the screen in case we miss vital clues, making it heavy-going, despite its universal themes rippling out to provide endless food for thought. MT

Hirokazu Kore-eda was born in Tokyo, where he studied literature at Waseda University. He is a master dramatist whose features include Maborosi (95), After Life (98), Distance (01), Nobody Knows (04), Hana (06), Still Walking (08), Air Doll (09), I Wish (11), Like Father, Like Son (13), Our Little Sister (15), and After the Storm (16), all of which have played the Festival. The Third Murder (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017

You Were Never Really Here (2017) ***

Dir: Lynne Ramsay | Writer: Jonathan Ames| Lynne Ramsay | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman | Thriller | 95min

New York is the setting of Lynne Ramsay’s claustrophobic psychodrama about a troubled soul who brings his abusive past to bear in his work as a hit man. Featuring a tortured performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it glimpses a world much darker and more deadly that the woozy snapshot we get here. Ramsay is more interested in probing the inner workings of her character’s mind than focusing on the sordid underworld of ‘private security’ and directs from a script adapted by Jonathan Ames from his original novel.

Phoenix plays Joe, a damaged Travis Bickle-like loner and former soldier who would have us believe there is a righteous place in the world for him that is hitherto undiscovered. But until that moment arrives he is tasked with rescuing a teenager whose wealthy father wants to avoid contact with the authorities. Teenager Nina (a fragile Ekaterina Samsonov) is the daughter of minor politician Votto (Alex Manette), a sidekick in Alessandro Nivola’s election campaign for senator, and has been lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Joe is tasked with getting the teen back to Votto, in a local hotel. But the scheme backfires when other criminal elements infiltrate the ring and the film descends into a hazy contemplation of Joe’s broken psyche that gradually melds with the ambiant violence of the botched release.

Ramsay’s effort to blend a crime thriller with claustrophobic character study is a brave one that feels much more nuanced and tuned-out than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but sadly lacks the resonance and gutsy sense of time and place. That said, it’s a well-crafted thriller with an auteurish, almost poetic feel that contrasts impressively with the stark stabs of savage violence that punctuate this tawdry twisted tale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 9 MARCH NATIONWIDE

Nightcrawler (2014) | Bluray release

Writer/Dir:Dan Gilroy | Jake Gyllenhaal Bill Paxton, Sharon Tay | US Thriller | 118′

When Nightcrawler was released in 2014 it proved popular with both audiences and critics. It did well at the box office and even received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 87th Academy awards. On the visual front Nightcrawler is a gripping affair but for me it’s been very over-rated, especially narrative-wise. So much of Nightcrawler is simply a shiny surface – outstanding photography of L.A. night scenes, from Robert Elswitt, does not compensate for an undeveloped and foreshortened plot. Which is a great pity because initially the storyline appeared to be aiming for a head-on jugular attack on the American public’s craving for violent crime reports satisfied by an ugly, breakfast TV news agenda.

Louis Bloom (A glassy-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed guy who’s thieving material from a scrap yard. Unable to get a job after selling the scrap, he turns his attention to other late-night prowling. Bloom follows freelance journalists who turn up, with the police, to film violent crime scenes and accidents. He’s captivated by the idea of making a living from this work. After buying a camera he films the carnage and sells the footage to a TV company. An assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) is hired and they both begin to dangerously expand into filming territory that borders on the illegal. Bloom produces some seductively graphic material for TV director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) that will please her network. Yet the police department begin to suspect that Bloom may be withholding important evidence gathered at a crime scene.

Critics have tended to enthuse over Nightcrawler’s suspense. One commentator spoke of Nightcrawler as a “shattering critique of both modern-day media practice and consumer culture.” I would challenge the adjective “shattering” and replace it with the blander word “informative.” Its theme of morally reprehensive guys who feed television with voyeuristic content is hardly original. You can go right back to movies like Network (Grotesque satire) and Medium Cool (Semi photo-journalistic critique) to uncover dubious media ethics. Yet neither of those films fails to be disturbingly transgressive like Powell’s Peeping Tom (Its serial killer cameraman probably providing a model for the serial parasite/film reporter of Nightcrawler).

Nightcrawler isn’t the visceral experience that director Dan Gilroy intended it to be. Louis Bloom’s kind of newsgathering is only ‘shocking’ if it produces imagery and words that really get under your emotional skin. The beautiful lighting too often dilutes the violence – excitement, rather than suspense lies in the skill of lots of second-unit directors who worked very well on the car pursuit sequences.

I didn’t really believe that TV director Rene would let herself be so manipulated by Bloom (Even though she has job insecurity). As for Louis, he is an odd, strangely comic socio-path loner (Bloom’s business jargon echoed some of the autodidactic menace of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy – a far superior film to Nightcrawler.) If only Gilroy’s script had pushed the idea of media power to its limit. We might then have had Bloom storm his way up to becoming the head of the network and then Nightcrawler might have possibly delivered a ‘shattering’ critique. Unfortunately the film’s good ideas run out of steam leaving us with smaller plot triumphs for its anti-hero.

Jake Gyllenhaal is effectively creepy and delivers some good lines – “Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.” Riz Ahmed touchingly conveys his vulnerability as Bloom’s sidekick. But Rene Russo’s acting appears stiff and uncomfortable. She doesn’t convince me of her guardedness towards the over-intense Bloom or her sense of anxious ambition.

Nightcrawler is not a bad film, just a good, if disappointing thriller that acts as if it’s being very daring. It’s not really posturing in a fake manner: but lacks a dramatic investment to realise its strongly held moral attitude. The stand that Nightcrawler takes is sadly lacking a raw edge that could have delivered something more provocative about America’s salacious relationship with the smart controllers of its crime-box in the living-room.

NIGHTCRAWLER | NOW ON BLURAY | ALAN PRICE ©2018

 

 

Unsane (2018) Mubi

Dir: Steven Soderbergh | Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Juno Temple | Thriller | US

The expression ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ is a glib way of describing certain experiences in our increasingly bizarre world of today. But this unnerving twisty toe-clencher is exactly that. The times we live in are uncertain and strange, anything can happen and it invariably does. And Steven Soderbergh conflates the real and the unreal in his 2018 feature UNSANE, scripted by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer..

Shot on an iPhone (but not so you’d notice) it stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini an ostensibly straightforward career girl whose life becoming increasingly stressful when she is involuntarily confined to a mental institution, after seeking professional advice to avoid a stalker. Many may find this storyline outlandish but there are those who can attest to the manifold ways that stalkers and high-performing psychotics can gain access to remedies in law enabling them to slip through the net and continue menacing their victims, often incriminating them in the process. Pushed over the edge by PSD, Sawyer is forced into a twilight zone of the real and the imaginary when her stalker (Joshua Leonard) appears as a male nurse in the facility where she is now a patient.

This is a compelling and pacy thriller that grips and startles with its psychological meltdown. Soderbergh makes a convincing case for the stalker in creating an antiheroine who is often unsympathetic and as equally hard-edged as her sociopathic hunter who also exhibits traits that are plausible and even appealing, until the final reveal. Soderbergh punctuates the terror with plenty of dark humour and Jay Pharaoh is appealing as Sawyer’s close friend and ally. Juno Temple is the fly in the ointment, playing against her usual type as a trailer trashy fellow inmate. There’s a claustrophobic haunting quality to the iPhone’s gritty indie grittiness. A quick-witted film that keeps you guessing as it careens from panic to paranoia finally delivering a conclusion that satisfies and startles. MT.

NOW ON MUBi | BERLINALE 2018 REVIEW

U – July 22 (2018)* * * | Berlinale 2018

Dir: Erik Poppe | Cast: Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Brede Fristad | Thriller | 90′ | Norway

U 22 JULY seems a rather dismissive title for a film about the tragedy that killed 77 people, many of them teenagers, on the on the Norwegian island of Utøya on that fateful day in 2011. But if any director could tell the story with a sensitive way it is certainly Norwegian director Erik Poppe’s whose Oscar hopeful The King’s Choice made the shortlist to represent the country in the 89th Academy Awards. This docudrama vividly recreates the horror and the anguish without sensationalising the horrific events that turned a summer’s day into a living nightmare that went on for 72 minutes, and still continues to haunt the lives of an entire generation of Norwegian youth and those affected. Poppe’s approach is to focus on the victims who were in the midst of enjoying their holidays, but judiciously gives only a passing distant glance to the perpetrator, right-wing extremist Anders Briekvik.

Piecing together direct experiences and interviews with those present, his drama involves characters who are entirely fictitious, so as to spare the families further heartache. What results is  bodyblow of a film. Apart from showing a few bruises and bloody faces, the film focuses on the psychological effects of the onslaught that opens with the bombs exploding on the government buildings in Oslo and then relocates to the island, as the kids desperately flee for cover, huddling in groups in the thickly wooded shorelines. The camera follows teenager Kaya (Andrea Berntzen) who is sharing a tent with her younger sister Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne). After being separated when gunfire opens, she then rushes through the island trying to find her sibling while giving comfort and support to her friends and along the way until the final desperate moments. Not an easy or particularly enjoyable film to watch in its one-note tone of unremiting tension, but a story well-crafted and atmospherically told – and one you won’t forget easily. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

 

Entebbe * * (2018) Berlinale 2018

Dir: Jose Padiha | Writer: Gregory Burke | Cast: Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, Eddie Marsan | Thriller | 107′

7 Days in Entebbe (July 1976) felt more like 2 weeks in this hard slog of a thriller that cruises rather than soars, never mustering any real suspense. Despite some terrific performances from its stellar cast – and particularly Eddie Marsan for the best Hebrew accent this site of the Mediterranean – the direction is sluggish with most of the film’s running time spent on debate between hijackers and planning on part of bewigged and besuited politicians. Daniel Bruhl is bland as the ideological head of the German Revolutionary Cells that was purportedly one of the nation’s most dangerous leftist terrorists groups. Rosamund Pike does her best with a rather frosty role as his accomplice. Most of the time she looks frightened to death.

Any hostage tragedy offers rich dramatic potential, yet this feels like a detached procedural that fails to excite or entertain. There’s a terrific turn from Nonso Anozie as bumptiously sinister dictator Idi Amin. And the vaguely related dance routine that headlines the start and finale of the film is a welcome idea that gives a kick up the backside to this otherwise lacklustre affair. MT

BERLINALE 2018 | 15 -25 FEBRUARY 2018

Strangled (2016) | Home Ent release


Dir/Writer: Árpád Sopsits | Thriller | Hungary | 118′

For his third feature, director Árpád Sopsits (Videoblues, Abandoned) transports us back to post revolutionary Hungary in this taut and vividly atmospheric historical thriller based on the serial killings of six young women that took place between 1957-67 in the town of Martfű in the South East. The sinister mood of corruption and social unease bleeds into the murder investigation tainting proceedings and forcing local detective Katona (Zsolt Trill) to convict their initial suspect who continued to abused by fellow inmates in prison, while the murders continued.

The tone is cautious and unsettling as gradually events unfold in the industrial town where we first meet unappealing factory-worker Réti (Gabor Jaszberenyi) waiting for his girlfriend, who is later found murdered – but we’re constantly kept unsure of his culpability as he serves his life sentence, remanded from the death penalty, due to his previously clean record. The investigation procedural is complex and fraught with controversy, not least because the head of the inquiry, the rather unsavoury Bóta (Zsolt Anger) is unconvinced they’ve picked the right man, and also fancies Reti’s sister Rita (Szofia Szamosi). Meanwhile factory worker Bognar (Hadjuk Karoly) has been up to no good abusing his wife and attacking other women he meets along the way. His lascivious enjoyment of his victims makes for unsettlingly convincing viewing in Gabor Szabo’s stunning camerawork and lighting, but Sopsits focuses more on evocative sound effects – screams and deep breathing – than vision, keeping us in the dark, quite literally. When Katona’s sidekick Szirmai (Peter Barnai) enters the investigation, scenes of torture and depravity feed into the general atmosphere of corruption, mistrust and unease surrounding the anti-communist uprising of 1956 and there’s much to be admired in Rita Devenyi’s sleek set design. Although overlong, STRANGLED certainly creates an evocative sense of the joyless and sinister era in this small-town microcosm that echoes a wider political landscape. MT

NOW AVAILABLE. COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 5 FEBRUARY 2018

New World (2013) | Bluray release

Dir.: Park Hoon-jung; Cast: Park Seong-ung, Hwang, Choi Min-sik, Lee ja-seng, Ji-hyo Song; South Korea 2013, 134′

Park’s ultra-violent, epic gangster movie is unfortunately all mouth and no trousers. Images of mass slaughter, however stunning – and Chung Chung Hoon certainly pulls out all the stops in this department – can never replace the gaping void left by an incoherent narrative that ultimately leaves most viewers yawning on the sidelines, or even checking their ‘phones. 

After the death of the senior boss of the gangster conglomerate Goldmoon, three men fight in a bloody war for his succession: Lee Jeong-gu (Park) seems to have the best chance, he at least appears to have his act together – more than can be said for the loose cannon Jeon (Hwang), who is an out and out psychotic. The third contender is Lee Jong-jae (Lee), who happens to be a policeman who has infiltrated the gang on orders of his superior chief Kwang (Choi). To make sure that Lee is keeping on the right side of the law, Kwang has ordered Lee’s pregnant wife to keep an eye on him, sending regular reports to the chief. But Lee is really in love with Shin-woo (Ji-hyoSong), who is also a mole set up by Kwang. After her cover is blown, Lee has to shoot her to save her from more torture. After Kwang himself is killed, the plot deteriorates even more, ending in its bloody conclusion. That the gangsters  behave like corporate junkies, when not hell bent on killing each other, is hardly a novelty after a while. Overall, Park has nothing new to offer, just a higher head count than his fellow directors. Shame about the gorgeous images, and the highly skilled professional work of all departments. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA VIDEO MONTAGE SERIES | 18 JANUARY 2018

The Commuter (2017)

Dir.: Jaume Collet-Serra; Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern; USA 2018, 104 min.

In his fourth collaboration with Spanish born schlock-specialist Collet-Serra, Liam Neeson, now officially a senior citizen, is still winning every fight to defeat macho males young enough to be his grand children, in a thriller that barely breaks sweat.

Meanwhile COMMUTER‘S writers Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle have clearly binged on classic Hitchcock features to come up with an outlandish premise that suspends reality non-stop. Insurance agent and ex-NYPD cop Michael McCauley (Neeson) is fired from his job five years short of retirement. Commuting back to his home in Long Island, Michael gets an offer he can’t refuse – or his family will be held to ransom – from the enigmatic Joanna (Farmiga). She will give him $100 000 to identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who is not a regular commuter, but who has the McGuffin – a computer drive. After trousering an initial payment of $25 000, hidden in a ‘restroom’, Michael gets cold feet, and wants out. But Joanna is omnipotent, reaching Michael on every ‘phone he uses to call for assistance, and there’s worse: three people Michael had asked for help are killed by Joanna’s  unseen forces. Which begs the question, why does she need Michael at all? As the pace quickens, Michael’s past, in shape of his NPYD partner Alex Murphy (Wilson) and his ex-boss Capt. Hawthorne (Neill) muddy the waters even more. But all will be revealed when the baddies finally catch up with Michael and the rest of his commuters, who are an uninspiring bunch of carbon copies. But there’s no time for details that might actually make us think or feel for this motley crew of suspects (Latina nurse etc). And just as we’ve dropped off, the pyro-technical rail-crash finale then jolts us back to our senses, desperately trying to remember where we parked the car. AS

THE COMMUTER IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 12 JANUARY 2018

7 Restorations | Berlinale Classics 2018

BERLINALE CLASSICS 2018: SEVEN RESTORATIONS WILL CELEBRATE THEIR WORLD PREMIERES. The Berlinale Classics section of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival will present the world premieres of a total of seven films in digitally restored versions.

WINGS OF DESIRE | Der Himmel über Berlin by Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders’ prize-winning classic Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, Federal Republic of Germany / France 1987) returns to the screen in a new, digitally restored 4K DCP version. Two guardian angels keep watch over Berlin, until one of them falls in love with a mortal woman. He chooses to become human, giving up his immortality, and an entirely new world is revealed to him. The film was shot on both black-and-white and colour stock. At the time, that required several additional steps in the lab in order to produce a final colour negative, which was several generations removed from the camera negatives. This version, restored by the Wim Wenders Foundation, is based on the original negatives;

MY 20th CENTURY | Az én XX. századom by Ildikó Enyedi

Az én XX. századom (My 20th Century, Hungary / Federal Republic of Germany 1989), the feature debut of the winner of the 2017 Golden Bear, Ildikó Enyedi, is a complex, poetic fairy tale, and an homage to silent movies. Shot in black-and-white, the film follows the very different live of identical twins in Old Europe at the dawn of the 20th century. Using the original camera negative and the magnetic sound track, the film was digitally restored in 4K by the Hungarian National Film Fund – Hungarian National Film Archive, working with Hungarian Filmlab. Cinematographer Tibor Máthé (HSC – Hungarian Society of Cinematographers) supervised the digital grading.

Fail Safe by Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet’s thriller Fail Safe (USA 1964) is an impressive critique of the Cold War military doctrine. When an errant U.S. bomber threatens to destroy Moscow, the president calls the Soviet premier on the red phone to try to prevent a retaliatory nuclear strike. The film was restored in 4K under the aegis of Sony Pictures Entertainment and its head of restoration, Grover Crisp. The incomplete camera negative was supplemented with the use of a duplicate negative. Conforming the various different source materials presented a special challenge to the restoration team.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING | Letjat schurawli by Michail KalatosoV

Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, USSR 1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov was Soviet cinema’s first international hit after World War II. Made during the period of liberalisation that followed Joseph Stalin’s death, this unusual black-and-white film’s expressionist images tell the tragic story of two lovers after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The film brought international fame to Mikhail Kalatozov and his lead actress, Tatiana Samoilova. Letyat Zhuravli was restored by Mosfilm under the leadership of general director Karen Shakhnazarov. The ditigal 2K restoration, on the basis of the original negative, was supervised by the head of restoration Igor Bogdasarov.

LIFE ACCORDING TO AGFA | HaChayim Al-Pi Agfa by Assi Dayan

Director Assi Dayan was lauded by the International Jury of the Berlinale in 1993 for the courage and honesty of his HaChayim Al-Pi Agfa (Life According to Agfa, Israel 1992). The film revolves around a Tel Aviv bar, where a world of bohemians, business people, junkies, tourists, pimps, and soldiers all meet. The events of a single night, captured in black-and-white photos, are a microcosm of a society that considers itself liberal and tolerant, but in which seemingly trivial actions can become explosive. The 4K restoration was produced by the Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israel Film Archive, where the negative was scanned. It was supervised by cinematographer Yoav Kosh and supported by the Israel Film Fund.

TOKYO TWILIGHT | Tokyo Boshoku by Yasujiro Ozu

With Tokyo Boshoku (Tokyo Twilight, Japan 1957), Berlinale Classics will provide a rare opportunity to see a largely unknown and seldom shown work by Yasujiro Ozu. The theme of the end of a family living together is one that Japanese directing maestro Yasujiro Ozu often reworks, and here he has given it a dramatic twist. In wintery Tokyo, a family’s silence leads to its breakdown. Tokyo Boshoku, considered Ozu’s most sombre post-war film, was digitally restored in 4K on the basis of the 35mm duplicate negative provided by the Japanese production company Shochiku, managed by Shochiku MediaWorX Inc. Colour correction was led by Ozu’s former assistant cameraman Takashi Kawamata and cinematographer Masashi Chikamori.

THE ANCIENT LAW | Das alte Gesetz by E.A. Dupont

The Berlinale Classics section will open on February 16, 2018, at 5 pm in the Friedrichstadt-Palast with the premiere of the Deutsche Kinemathek’s digital restoration of the 1923 silent film classic Das alte Gesetz (The Ancient Law) directed by E.A. Dupont. ZDF/ARTE commissioned French composer Philippe Schoeller to create new music for this version, which will be presented by the Orchester Jakobsplatz München with Daniel Grossmann at the podium.

The full programme of the Berlinale Classics section:

Das alte Gesetz (The Ancient Law)
Dir: Ewald André Dupont, Germany, 1923
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 2K DCP

Az én XX. századom (My 20th Century)
Dir: Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary / Federal Republic of Germany, 1989
Presented by Ildikó Enyedi and Tibor Máthé
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 4K DCP

Fail Safe
Dir: Sidney Lumet, USA, 1964
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 4K DCP

HaChayim Al-Pi Agfa (Life According To Agfa)
Dir: Assi Dayan, Israel, 1992
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 4K DCP

Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)
Dir: Wim Wenders, Germany / France, 1987
Presented by Wim Wenders
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 4K DCP

Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying)
Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR, 1957
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 2K DCP

Tokyo Boshoku (Tokyo Twilight)
Dir: Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1957
Presented by Wim Wenders
World premiere of the digitally restored version
in 4K DCP

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL WILL RUN FROM 14 FEBRUARY – 24 FEBRUARY 2018 

The Housemaid |Co Hau Gai (2016) * * | Dual Format Bluray release

Dir/Writer: Derek Nguyen | Gothic Horror | Vietnam | 105′

Set in 1953 Vietnam during the First Indochine War, Derek Nguyen’s premise is a captivating one with faint echoes of Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly, but that is where this comparison ends. An orphaned country girl is hired as a housemaid at a haunted French rubber plantation where she unexpectedly falls in love with the French landowner Captain Sebastien Laurent, awakening the vengeful ghost of his dead wife, Camille. Despite being the third-highest-grossing horror film in Vietnam’s history THE HOUSEMAID is rather a derivative slice of Gothic eeriness which fails to deliver despite superb production values and superb cinematography from Sam Chase (who cut his teeth on Shaft and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Stunning visuals and overactive jump scares are strung together by a threadbare narrative that appears to cherry pick from far better films of the genre such as The Woman in Black, Thriller and even Night of the Living Dead. Amateurish performances across the board fail to inject the promised erotic charge of life into this rather moribund shocker that nevertheless has a certain sinister appeal for those committed to Vietnamese cinema. MT

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MONTAGE SERIES

 

 

 

Brute Force (1947) | Mubi

Dir| Jules Dassin | Crime drama | US  | 97’

There are prison dramas and there are prison dramas. Jules Dassin’s 1947 crime thriller falls into that strange arena of social hell where its prison bars also exist outside of a real prison. BRUTE FORCE is an allegorical movie, but not quite in the existential manner as viewed by some film commentators. They cite Sartre’s No Exit as a reference point. Yet rather than hell being the never-ending company of other people, it’s more that hell is the forced accommodation of prison codes that inhibit freedom. When the drunkard Dr. Walters (Art Smith) says, at the tragic climax of Brute Force, that “Nobody’s really free.” thereby denouncing a crushing, unjust and regulated system that pervades society as a whole.

“The point hammered home is that the prison system reflects the values of a society, Dassin castigates society for creating and then turning a blind eye towards the brutality and insensitivity of a prison system that offers no chance for rehabilitation.”

Dennis Schwartz Ozus ‘ World Movie Reviews’ 2004

Things “hammered home” with “no chance for re-habiliation” is also the outcome of Audiard’s 2009 film A Prophet. Gradually it dawns that only death, in the form of the gangster driven car that follows Tahar Rahim, outside the prison gate, will release him from his stress. Or maybe just before that you decide to risk everything, ram the gate with a truck (Brute Force) to create an apocalyptic inferno (Fire, explosions and machine-gunning of inmates) sharing a kinship with James Cagney’s ecstatic ‘madness’ at the end of White Heat. Here are some plot details to keep such fatalism percolating.

Brute Force sees Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) returning from solitary confinement in Westgate Prison. He is firmly decided to escape. Westgate’s tired and ineffectual Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen) is being pressured to improve discipline. Jailor Captain Muney (a name you want to pronounce as Monster), played by Hume Cronyn, is a Nazi thug who listens to Wagner’s Tanhauser overture as he beats prisoners with his rubber truncheon. Prisoner violence inflicted on prisoner informers means that horrible restrictions are imposed. Dr.Walters warns of the explosion that will happen. He demands a radical overhaul of prison treatment and secretly confides with Collins. Yet reforms will be a long time coming. “Nothing is OK. No way. Till we’re OUT!” snarls, the often half-naked Burt Lancaster at his most primal.

Brute Force belongs to a group of film noirs directed by Dassin. That is Thieves Highway, Night and the City and The Naked City. The cinematographer of Brute Force and The Naked City is the veteran William Daniels. The first film has a poetic realism whilst the second is justly famous for its location shooting. The look of Brute Force is one of unremitting despair and confinement. Its fatalistic tone is made immediately apparent in the opening sequence shot in the rain; an intense black and white rain that looks as if it will chill the bones of everyone. Difficult to make rain look both frightening and ominous yet Daniels brilliantly creates such atmosphere (The only rain I can recall as bleak as this is the downpour during the freaks revenge in Tod Browning’s Freaks). William Daniels is most celebrated for helping to create the screen image of Greta Garbo. But he was also responsible for the harrowing Death Valley desert scenes of Stroheim’s Greed. He was a remarkable artist capable of producing tortuous extremes of weather and painting human suffering for the camera, whilst making Garbo luminous.

Brute Force’s script is tough and anti-establishment. Two months after the film’s release, the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities) was formed. Brute Force was suspiciously viewed as the work of communist infiltrators. There are vivid performances from Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn. Some cracking direction by Dassin – especially in Brute Force’s final electrifying 15mins. I love the way fire curls round the base of the prison-gate clock, seemingly ticking on as if to say “I’ll survive this, whilst you will burn doing time here.” If Brute Force has a niggardly fault then it’s to be found in the casting of the Trinidadian actor Sir Lancelot as Calypso. He is a perfectly good actor but unfortunately his part was written up as a chorus for the film in the form of calypso-style ballads. They sound far too pat and badly underline the despair of the film. Thankfully after half an hour, the songs are dropped and only very briefly re-appear at the end.

Apart from A Prophet, the greatest foreign prison break films are still Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Becker’s Le Trou. The best British prison-life film is Joseph Losey’s The Criminal. And whilst acknowledging the power of Siegel’s Escape from Alcatraz, trying hard to forget The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, then Brute Force maybe my favourite Hollywood prison drama. It’s all about incarceration and the rules of the game will never be lightened. ALAN PRICE©2018 ****

TALES FROM THE URBAN JUNGLE: BRUTE FORCE and THE NAKED CITY now available on Arrow Academy Blu-Ray | and on MUBI

All the Money in the World (2017) ****

Dir: Ridley Scott | David Scarpa | Cast: Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charley Shotwell, Andrew Buchan | US | Biopic Drama | 132′

“There’s a purity to things, that I’ve never found in a human being” says the billionaire oil magnate John Paul Getty as he drools over his art treasures in Ridley Scott’s rip-roaring rollercoaster of a thriller that deftly explores the psychology behind the super rich. Yes, they are “different from us, they have more money” and they don’t want to part with a penny. Or so we discover in this lush biopic crime drama that takes us through the events surround the scandal. Apart from mistrust, this cinematic parable also explores the nature of power and of fear – a fear of letting amassed wealth drain away to the next generation.

Getty senior famously refused to pay the ransom demand for the release of his favourite grandson – then only 16. The film opens on a sultry summer evening in Rome (1973), where John Paul Getty III is bundled into a van by Calabrian gangsters. The tough old tycoon suspects the boy of colluding with his mother in the scheme, but also resents the power struggle and wants to avoid setting a precedent for kidnappings everywhere.

Gorgeous to look at – like flipping through a Seventies copy of Vogue or Tatler – this is an intoxicatingly visual romp through events. It also pictures the life of the glitterati at play and under pressure in their plush playgrounds. Richly adapted by David Scarpa from John Pearson’a paperback Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J Paul Getty. The story still has resonance for many who remember the spate of Red Brigade kidnappings (1973 – 1978), when kids of rich Italian industrialists – and often their entire families – were forced into exile in Switzerland.

Extraordinary also that Christopher Plummer was a last minute shoe-in for the disgraced Kevin Spacey: he slips into his role with the consummate ease of a python slivering over a plump leather setttee. Glinting and salivating over his precious art collection – as his oil empire ratchets up another million – he fondles the telex tape as if it were made of satin. There’s a touch of poetic licence to the drugged-up way Getty Senior’s son John (Andrew Buchan) is portrayed – in one scene he is wheel-chaired and comatose, but this gives more importance to Michelle Williams’s role as the smoothly delightful Abigail, his petite but deadly plucky wife and mother of kidnapped Paul (Charlie Plummer in another thoughtful turn). Mark Wahlberg plays his standard role as Chase, Getty’s CIA-trained negotiator and bodyguard. There is also a vignette for Olivia Magnani the silky brunette from Paolo Sorrentino’s sophomore feature The Consequences of Love (2004), she plays the wife of arch mobster Mammoliti (Marco Leonardi). The only slightly bum note is the over-sensationalised Italian kidnap sequences where Roman Duris does his best a good guy/gangster Cinquanta with a French accent and the swagger of League of Gentleman’s ‘Pop’. But that’s a small criticism of this lush and supremely enjoyable way to start 2018 filmwise, smug in the knowledge that money isn’t everything – but it helps MT

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 5 JANAUARY 2018

Raw (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Julia Ducournau | France/Belgium | Horror Fantasy Thriller | 99′

RAW has a distinctive visual style that made it one of the most refreshingly gruesome watches of 2016, scooping awards at Cannes, Sitges and London for Franco Belgian auteur Julia Ducournau. Often gory but never schlocky, her debut feature sees a young vegetarian woman struggle with an identity crisis as she completes her training to be a vet, while gradually growing obsessed by meat.

Justine is desperate to conform to her family’s expectations and fit in with her new friends but a freshers’ night hazing ritual forces her to sample raw rabbit liver, awakening her tastebuds to the temptations of flesh of all kinds – not just the animal variety. Previously committed to a diet of free from beast protein she suddenly finds herself drooling over the lusty bodies of the male students and the blood dripping from the severed finger of her close friend during a particularly challenging bout of bikini waxing.

There are echoes of Cronenberg’s body horror and Belgian cult outing Alleluia to Ducournau’s compelling mix of horror and fantasy thriller, which she describes as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”, Raw is both grim and bracing in its originality with a dynamite central performance from Garance Marillier (star of Ducournau’s 2011 short Junior) as Justine, the wide-eyed fresher student we first encounter spitting out a piece of sausage during a family lunch on the way to the Vet college, where they also trained decades before. An unsettling scene featuring a horse’s anaesthesia is then followed by a gruesome initiation ceremony where students are drenched in blood before their exams begin – is this from the horse? All very visceral and disturbing. The scenes that follow in her Vet college are steeped in motifs relating to bestiality and brutality.

Ducournau nips between the genres with the help of her cinematographer Ruben Impens who takes us down into a claustrophobic world of sweaty bodies and frightening procedures including one scene where Justine is plagued by a mysterious seeping rash, while mobile phones capture the zeitgeist of the student milieu echoed in a well chosen score that includes the Orties’ aptly named: Plus Putes que routes les Putes. “An animal that has tasted human flesh is not safe,” How true. This clever filmmaker has since returned to the small screen with the series Servant now on AppleTV+. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON limited BLURAY from 19th April 2021 |AMAZON.CO.UK

Five Sensationalist Movies of the 1930s

Sensationalism in the media is not a new trend: as early as 1930, film production companies have been luring audiences into cinemas with spectacular war films, swashbuckling historical dramas and lurid tales of the supernatural.


And who better to start with than Howard Hughes, the master of thrills and scandals – in his films and in private life. Hell’s Angels (1930) was planned as a silent film, but the sound revolution made Hughes change his mind. It took over two years to complete after shooting finished as the new technique had to be married to the older version. During the process of shooting, producer Hughes went through four directors: Marshall Neilan; Luther Reed; Edmund Goulding and James Whale. None of them lasted long, and when the feature was released, the credits just named Hughes as the director. The Danish silent-film star Greta Nissen was supposed to play the role the femme-fatale Helen, but Hughes ‘discovered’ the 18 year old Jean Harlow, who would have a successful but short career (she died aged 26 of kidney failure). The filming of the many aerial combat scenes cost the lives of three pilots, and Hughes himself was hospitalised after crashing his plane. By far the most expensive of the five features, Hell’s Angels would cost today 45 Million Dollars. But, compared to contemporary times the story was somehow mundane. Brothers Monte and Ray live in Oxford and join the Royal Flying corps at the outbreak of WWI. Monte is a womaniser, even having an affair with his brother’s girl friend Helen (Harlow)who is shown as a slut. Meanwhile Monty is denounced as a coward and will be dragged by his brother into a daring raid on a German munitions depot. But the escape is successful and their true colours come through when they are captured by the enemy.

Danish director Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Ordet) is known for his austere and minimalist features. Vampyr (1932) is quietly terrifying: DoP Rudolph Mate (D.O.A.) creates an unsettling atmosphere: constantly changing  angles as the protagonists emerge from an eerie world of shadows. The vampire in question is an old lady, Marguerite Chopin (Henrietta Gerard). But the real devil is the village doctor who poisons the young Gisele to lower her defences so that the vampire can attack her. Saviour Nicolas de Gunzburg (Allen Gray) has a particularly nasty revenge in mind for the doctor: he suffocates him in a silo of flour, before driving an iron stake through his heart. Vampyr is a poem of subtle images,minimalist in dialogue and sound, the inter-titles more effective than the spoken words.

William Dieterle, Hollywood emigrant from the famous Max Reinhardt Theatre in Berlin, filmed Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) as a cautionary tale and a timely reminder of xenophobia and societal prejudice against outsiders. Charles Laughton excels as the titular hunchback Quasimodo, and Maureen O’Hara is Esmarelda. Frollo, the Chief Justice is besotted by Esmeralda, even though she is married. After the Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, is killed, Esmeralda is accused of his murder by the jealous Frollo. Quasimodo and the King of the Thieves join forces to free the innocent woman. Dieterle uses the same fable-like style as in A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1935). Dieterle remains true to his theatrical background in this spectacularly surrealist outing, whose subtle nuances lie in the spoken word.

James Whale (Frankenstein) is the Daddy of the modern horror feature. The Invisible Man (1933) (main picture), based on H.G. Wells’ novel, is a brilliant variation of the “Mad Scientist” genre. Chemist Dr, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) invents a medicine which makes him invisible. His fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), daughter of Griffin’s boss, literally loses him from the beginning, while Griffin is staying in an inn, trying desperately to reverse the process. But the drug makes him aggressive and murderous, and his victims pile up – particularly during the train crash which sees the police hot on his trail. As always, there are darkly comic moments with Whale: Griffin’s underpants, ‘run’ around on their own, to the consternation of onlookers. The Invisible Man is much more subtle than Frankenstein because Griffin’s metamorphosis is truly chilling.


King Kong
, directed in 1933 by Merian C, Cooper and Ernest B. Schloedsack is, in spite of three re-makes, by far the most spectacular version of the tale of ‘beauty and beast’. The gigantic ape falls madly in love with Fay Wray and the ending on the Empire State Building still has an emotive pull that’s never repeated in the much more expansive and expensive modern versions. Having seen it for the first time as a student in Berlin, I remember many of us leaving the cinema, hollering just like King Kong under the arches, as the trains roared past above. AS

FILMS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME; EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, 

Top Ten Indie films of 2017

It’s that time of year again when we take a look back at a year’s worth of indie and arthouse films and remember some we enjoyed most. Meredith Taylor picks her Top Ten releases of 2017.

US DRAMA – CERTAIN WOMEN

The lives of three women intersect is this gracefully understated but convincing drama from US director Kelly Reichardt. Full of subtle insight and lasting resonance. Certain Women Meditates on contemporary life from the female perspective in an utterly enthralling yet low-key, often ambiguous way. Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern star

FOREIGN LANGUAGE DRAMA  – TONI ERDMANN

Filmmaker Maren Ade has created one of the most poignant and refreshingly humorous German arthouse comedy dramas of recent memory – it never drags despite its three-hour running time. Picturing the absurd and often awkward nature of family relationships, this is a life-affirming experience not to be missed, especially at Christmas time. After The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, Ade is working her way slowly but surely to the top as most of the most refreshing European writer directors around..

HORROR – THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

This sumptuously crafted thriller is compelling, twisted and terrifying in its quiet and light-footed depiction of loneliness and psychopathy. Nicholas Pesce’s debut is deeply enthralling from start to end (main pic).

UNREQUITED LOVE STORY  – SUNTAN 

There’s something sad and awkwardly compulsive about this cautionary tale of a misguided intergenerational liaison between a lonely man and a glib young woman who meet in an island paradise. One of the best recent dramas about delusional love and its grim aftermath that perfectly epitomises the sinking realisation of being ‘over the hill’ on a holiday fling, while still holding on to the dream . Slim and but beautifully scenic and deeply resonant in its evergreen theme.

ANIMATION – MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE

Claude Barras’ impressive stop-motion animation is a tender tale probing life’s saddest moments: not a kid’s film but one that chimes with the kid inside us. Heart-breaking yet uplifting at the same time, Celine Sciamma has cleverly scripted Gilles Paris’ sombre autobiography that is both a sensitive study in grief and an authentic portrait of children growing up, coming to terms with sadness and learning how to look after each other. A real gem.

THRILLER – HOUNDS OF LOVE

Based on a true story, this tortured and claustrophobic character study of evil and human depravity is set in a quiet middle-class Australian backwater. Showcasing the dynamite duo of Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as real life partners Evelyn and John White, this is a stunning debut from writer/director Ben Young.

LGBT DRAMA – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME 

Despite its awkward title, this charming drama was the breakout hit of 2017 for all audiences not just the gay crowd. Beguiling, mysterious and compelling, Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino conveys the claustrophobic August heat of the film’s Po Valley setting and the chemistry between leads Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet – who went on the win various awards – permeates every scene. This is Oscar material and deserves to be.

UK DEBUT – LADY MACBETH 

It’s rare that a virago creates mayhem and gets away with it in literature or film. But this is exactly what happens with Florence Pugh’s Katherine in theatre director William Oldroyd’s feature debut, based on classic Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In 19th rural England, Pugh plays a young bride sold in marriage who falls desperately in lust with a worker on her impotent husband’s rural estate in North Yorkshire. Oldroyd maintains an unsettling dread throughout in a drama brimming with venomous malcontent.

UK COMEDY – MINDHORN 

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then Mindhorn will appeal. This is a comedy that washes over you like a cloud of laughing gas – if you’re in the right mindset: there are scenes so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified; others so cringingly embarassing you will never been seen wearing lycra again – let along tight jeans, or at least in the way Julian Barratt does as the main character Richard Thorncroft in this big screen debut for TV veteran Sean Foley. Thorncroft is a pot-bellied ‘has been’ who lost his acting talent but not his sense of self belief. The Isle of Man is pictured as a rain-soaked backwater full of caravans and twee tearooms.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – WATER AND SUGAR: CARLO DI PALMA, THE COLOURS OF LIFE 

Carlo Di Palma was one of the most influential cinematographers of the 20th century, influencing the careers of Antonioni and Woody Allen with talent, warmth and personal magnetism. His story is told in this memorable documentary that showcases the collaborative nature of filmmaking, showing how Di Palma’s warm approach made everyone he worked with even better.

TOP TURKEY – HAMPSTEAD

Hopkins’ fraud of a film is full of middle-aged cyphers floating around in a fantasy world of the Seventies where they meet for coffee mornings and discuss worthy causes. But in the real place, this lot passed on decades ago to be replaced by the likes of Hugh Skinner’s fundraising nerd or the smiling Romanians touting The Big Issue at every street corner. Robert Festinger’s script teeters from crass to cringeworthy with no laughs to be had, and a score that jars. Hampstead is utterly specious and hollow – even Diane Keaton can’t save it.

BEST CLASSIC BOXSET – FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS 

A fantastic box set that brings together dazzling high def print of some of the best films in the crime genre: THE DARK MIRROR (1946) starring Olivia de Havilland; Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947) with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; FORCE OF EVIL (1948) directed by the underrated Abraham Polonsky; and Cornel Joseph H Lewis’ THE BIG COMBO (1955); with its terrific score by David Raksin with dynamite duo Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace. The dual format edition comes with a hardback book on the films. MT

ALL FILMS NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON, EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, ARROW FILMS & VIDEO, ARTIFICIAL EYE and STUDIOCANAL | all films were shown on general release in 2017 

 

The Big Combo (1955) | Four Film Noir Classics

 

Dir: Joseph H.Lewis | Noir Thriller | US | Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Helen  Walker, Jean Wallace

“I live in a maze, Mr. Diamond, a strange, blind and backward maze. All the twisting paths lead back to Mr. Brown.”

That is platinum blonde Susan (Jean Wallace) delivering Philip Yordan’s deliciously noir dialogue in Joseph H. Lewis’s THE BIG COMBO. Police Lt.Diamond (Cornel Wilde) not only loves Susan but is trying to expose and destroy the “combo”, a money – laundering / lending criminal banking system run by the sadistic Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). And the police’s only hope of evidence for this, and a murder rap, is to trace Brown’s wife Alicia (Helen Walker) now hidden away in a sanatorium under another name.

Susan is not a femme fatale; most of her screen-time she is an observer in a drugged, confused, almost dream-like trance: swaying dangerously between the sexual infatuation of Diamond and Brown, caught as Brown’s mistress, yet never actively Diamond’s lover. Although it is never explained why Susan (a ‘society gal’ and ex-concert pianist) was drawn to Mr. Brown, Jean Wallace’s captivating performance allows us to acutely feel her entrapment and vulnerability. Indeed, although the principal characters of The Big Combo are morally reprehensible, we experience such empathy for them that they retain our sympathy in spite of sleazy and brutal acts of torture and killing.

Take Joe Mc Clure (Brian Donlevy) the ineffectual second in-command of the mob. When he sees that Mr. Brown’s time is over, he thinks he persuades Brown’s hired killers Fante (Lee Van Cleefe) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to dispose of the boss. But it’s Brown who ends up instructing the killers to make Joe their target. Joe wears a hearing aid that’s pulled from his ear moments before his killing. From his point of view, we witness (in a quasi- surreal shot) the killers letting their machine-guns rip, with the sound now poignantly silenced.

Joseph H. Lewis always sought fresh ways to film conflicts. The Big Combo murder has a dreamy look that is an early throwback to Susan’s expression, before she faints, in the arms of an old music professor. Jean Wallace’s expression, the angle of her body and overall look are suggestive of a Man Ray photograph. Even the film’s opening is executed with style. Susan is not so much pursued by Brown’s men than engaged in a ‘balletic’ struggle paced by David Raskin’s fine jazz music. Proceedings are interrupted by the camera rapidly panning to an outside street diner consciously modelled on an Edward Hopper painting.

These touches probably annoyed Lewis’s producers who never appreciated the ‘fancy stuff’ and just wanted things done cheaply and quickly. Yet what probably disturbed them more were the risqué elements (for 1955) of The Big Combo. Though it is never graphically depicted, oral sex, between Mr. Brown and Susan, is certainly suggested. And the partnership of Fante and Mingo (separate beds in the same bedroom) signals a close gay relationship.

However the most powerful operative auteur in The Big Combo is probably cinematographer John Alton. His work has been praised for its masterly lighting and staging. Big Combo’s torture scene echoes a similar scene in Mann’s 1954 film T-Men (another Alton assignment) and looks forward to the Anthony Perkins cupboard-room interrogation in Welles’s The Trial (1962). Alton provides a menacing and sparsely lit inky darkness that wonderfully heightens the screen violence. The fog sequence at the climax of The Big Combo is probably the most thrilling element here.

Lewis wanted to convey an airport setting. Difficult when confined to a studio and having little cash. So Alton simply told Lewis to drape the whole set in black velvet, create a fog and have a constant revolving light. Critics have remarked that this reminds them of the airport ending of Casablanca. Yes, in black and white cinematography terms it does. But the ending of The Big Combo is anti-romantic, even despairing. The fog scenes it really emotionally connects with are those to be found in Antonioni’s The Red Desert and Identification of a Woman. If there’s a final sense of existential loneliness and uncertainty then the fog metaphor powerfully feeds into Susan’s neurosis that she’d been trapped in a maze created by Mr. Brown. Susan turns the car headlights on Mr. Brown (struggling in the fog) in an attempt to pin him down and free herself from the maze of the Combo nightmare. The fog may eventually clear, but for Lewis and Antonioni the characters remain decidedly shaken and lost.

Lewis’s four late illustrious films The Big Combo, Gun Crazy, The Halliday Brand and Terror in a Texas Town are minor masterpieces of B picture production values, containing a visual density of information worthy of study by aspiring filmmakers, for their mise-en-scene is both emotionally complex and remarkably crafted.

As for aspiring cinematographers, they should examine Alton’s work of the 1950s. Indeed, also read his seminal book on photography Painting with Light. And Richard Conte delivers a ruthlessly intelligent performance that should be a model villain for actors whether in B pictures or blockbusters.

Whilst for all who simply love the dark pull of film-noir, The Big Combo is a brilliant expression of its elements. Arriving near the very end of the classical American noir (Welles’s Touch of Evil is probably that) this is a heady irresistible nightmare that you perversely don’t want to come to an end. Let the fog never lift!  Alan Price©

ON ARROW PLAYER from 1 April 2021 |  DUAL FORMAT LIMITED EDITION: THE DARK MIRROR (1946), FORCE OF EVIL (1948), SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR |

 

Political Thrillers of the 1970s

The Seventies spawned a series of thrillers exposing the political tensions that were reverberating across Europe. It was a decade when the social turmoil that marked the late 1960s gave way to a more strident politics that involved stark and sometimes violent contrasts between left and right. A decade that was scarred by the emergence of uncompromisingly radical groups such as the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades.

In response to this charged moment, a number of filmmakers across Europe turned to the format of the thriller. Stylish and enduringly popular with audiences, they saw it as the perfect vehicle through which to explore conspiracies, authoritarian regimes, and political violence.

Costa-Gavras’ legendary Z (1969) headlines an era that would showcase some of the best political thrillers of an era that would continue with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975) and The Day of the Jackal (1973).

State of Siege (1972) (15) (État de siège) Bergamo Film Festival 2022

Dir Costa-Gavras | Cast: Yves Montand, Renato Salvatori, O. E. Hasse

A tense political thriller set against the background of Latin America’s dirty repressive politics, State of Siege is one of the finest political thrillers of the 1970s. Costa-Gavras casts Yves Montand in the lead as an undercover American agricultural advisor who is kidnapped by guerrillas in Uruguay.

Special Section (PG) 

Dir Costa-Gavras/FR IT West Germany 1975 | 118′ | Cast: Louis Seigner, Roland Bertin, Michael Lonsdale

Costa-Gavras sets Special Section in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. When a German officer is murdered, the collaborationist Vichy government decides to pin the killing on six petty criminals. Loyal judges are then called in to convict them as quickly as possible in a special court. Costa-Gavras won Best Director at the 1975 Cannes film festival for this brilliant thriller.

The Mattei Affair

Dir Francesco Rosi | IT 1972 | 116′ | Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Squarzina, Peter Baldwin

This investigative thriller The Mattei Affair focuses on the death of Enrico Mattei, an influential businessman who made enemies in the mafia. His story is interspersed with Rosi’s investigation into the disappearance of his friend, journalist Mauro De Mauro, who was undertaking research for the film. Led by a magnificent performance from Gian Maria Volontè, The Mattei Affair is one of Rosi’s finest works and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (ex aequo) in 1972.

The Odessa File  (Prime Video)

Dir: Ronald Neame | Cast: Jon Voight, Maximillian Schell, Maria Schell, Derek Jacobi, Mary Tamm | UK 130′ 1974

A Holocaust diary captures the imagination of Jon Voigt’s diligent investigative journalist Peter Millar, who sets out to uncover the truth behind a powerful Nazi organisation called ODESSA. Adapted for the screen from Frederick Forsyth’s bestseller by Ken Ross and Ronald Neame, who cut his teeth behind the camera working for Hitchcock on the first talking picture made in England, Blackmail (1929).

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (18)

Dir Elio Petri/IT 1970 | 115’/Italian | Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Florinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio

In Elio Petri’s visually stunning film was nominated for an Oscar having won a Silver Bear at Berlinale in 1969. It sees a corrupt police official attempting to show his invincibility by creating a murder scene where the evidence can only lead investigators to him. Starring Gian Maria Volontè who provides a mesmerising performance, this is a sly and slick condemnation of the state and the police from one of Italy’s major political filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s.

longfriday_thThe Long Good Friday (on Amazon Prime)

Dir John Mackenzie/GB 1980 | 115′ Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Paul Freeman

In this iconic British thriller, gangster Harold Shand, a gritty Bob Hoskins, sees himself as the big shot property developer of London’s rundown dockland and becoming a legitimate businessman in partnership with the American Mafia. However, his plans are waylaid when a number of his associates are brutally attacked and he realises that the gangland he thought he ruled over was a much more divided and complex territory.

The Day of the Jackal (15)  (Prime Video)

Dir Fred Zinnemann/GB FR 1973 | 143′ | Edward Fox, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair

Edward Fox made his name in Fred Zinnemann’s legendary film that explores the attempts of a right-wing paramilitary group to assassinate French President General De Gaulle following the independence of Algeria. The Day of the Jackal is one of the twistiest thriller of the 1970s and never outstays its welcome despite the long running time.

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (15)

Dirs Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta/Ger 1975 | 106′ | Cast: Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Dieter Laser

A key political film of the New German Cinema, a young woman’s life is scrutinised by police and press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta co-directed and adapted The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum from the controversial novel by Heinrich Böll.

Days of ’36 (12) (Meres tou ’36)

Dir Theodoros Angelopoulos/GR 1972 | 104′  | Cast: Vangelis Kazan, Kostas Pavlou, Thanos Grammenos

Angelopoulos’s stylised thriller is set in 1936 just before the Metaxas’ dictatorship. A trade unionist is murdered in broad daylight one of the suspects rounded up is Sofianos, who claims to be innocent. But when a minister visits his cell he takes him hostage with tragic consequences in an elegantly composed affair that one the Greek director the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale 1973.

Illustrious Corpses (PG) (Cadaveri eccellenti)

Dir Francesco Rosi/IT FR 1976/120′  | Cast: Lino Ventura, Tino Carraro, Marcel Bozzuffi

Lino Ventura stars in this atmospheric thriller based on Leonardo Sciascia’s novel Il Contesto. He is a quietly confident detective appointed to investigate the mysterious murders of several senior members of Sicily’s judiciary, linked to skulduggery in the Italian communist party.

Man on the Roof (15) (Mannen på taket) |

Dir Bo Widerberg | Cast: Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, Sven Wollter, Thomas Hellberg | 1976

In this 1970s Nordic Noir thriller based on The Abominable Man by Swedish crime writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt is Beck, a detective investigating a brutal murder in a hospital that leads to incidents of police brutality and culminates in a showcase finale on the rooftops of Stockholm.

The Flight (CTBA) (Die Flucht)

Dir Roland Graf/East Germany 1977/94′ | Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Jenny Gröllmann, Erika Pelikowsky

One of the final films made in East Germany featuring Armin Mueller-Stahl – who also appears in Costa Gavras’ Music Box (1989). Here he plays a doctor who is refused permission by the GDR to take up a research post in the West, and so links up with an underground network who claim to be able to cut through red tape. But there is is a hitch, as there always is. Grand Prix Winner Karlovy Vary 1978.

Circle of Deceit (18) (Die Fälschung) (Available on Amazon)

Dir Volker Schlöndorff/West Germany FR 1981/108′ | Cast: Bruno Ganz, Hanna Schygulla, Jean Carmet

In Circle of Deceit Schlöndorff weaves romance with political intrigue in a thriller shot on location in Beirut. Bruno Ganz and Hanna Schygulla are the lovers who navigate a complex moral and political maze in a country on the brink of war.

SOME TITLES NOW AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX, PRIME VIDEO, BFI PLAYER and BERGAMO FILM MEETING 2022

 

56, rue Pigalle (1949) | Bluray release

Dir.: Willy Rozier; Cast: Jacques Dumesnil, Marie Dea, Aime Clariond, Rene Blancard; France 1949, 88′.

Willy Rozier (1901 – 1983) was know for his exotic taste, and 56 Rue de Pigalle does not disappoint: a brazen mixture of film noir and melodrama, the plot swerves wildly between the two genres, the protagonists having to change track often.

Nautical engineer Jean Vigneron (Dumesnil) is also a fanatic water sportsman, competing in races with his yacht. Whilst having a collision with another boat, captained by Ines de Montalban (Dea), he falls in love with the married woman. Jean tries to meet her at social occasions, and makes friends with her husband Ricardo de Montalban (Clariond), who is much older than his wife. Ricardo declares his everlasting friendship with Jean in a nightclub, not knowing that Jean is lusting after his wife.

After the yachtsman finally seduces Ines, Jean’s butler Lucien Bonnet (Blanchard) blackmails him with letters from his mistress. Jean is willing to pay, and puts his yacht on the market. Ricardo, always the gentleman, but not very intuitive, lends Jean 1.1. Million Franc, but after Jean pays off Bonnet, the rogue turns round and murders his partner in crime, pocketing the money. Obviously, Jean is a suspect, and since he does not divulge Madame de Montalban’s involvement, he has to stand trial. By now, Ricardo has finally learned the truth (he wanted to shoot Ines during a hunt, but was disturbed), and hopes that Jean is found guilty and beheaded. But Ines finds the copies of the incriminating letters in his jacket, and Jean is quitted. But Ricardo swears revenge, and the lovers have to flee to a French colony in Africa, where they await Ricardo’s arrival, fearful of his revenge.

Shot in atmospheric black and white by renowned veteran Fred Langenfeld (Topaze, Le Coeur sur le main), the narrative is full of twists, but these swings and roundabouts are often too clumsy. Rozier did not only introduce Brigitte Bardot in Manina (1952) to a wider audience, but did the same for the beautiful Françoise Arnoul in L’Epave (1949), which was distributed in Britain as Sin and Desire. Finally, after the release of 56 Rue Pigalle in France, the critic François Chalais was very harsh on the film, and Rozier challenged him to a duel. They fought with swords, and Rozier got satisfaction, when he cut Chalais. An epitaph, somehow in line with the wild story of the feature. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY FROM 13 NOVEMBER 2017 COURTESY OF EUREKA | AMAZON

Blood Simple. (1984) Bfi player

Directors: Joel Coen | Script: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen | Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedeya, M Emmet Waltsh | US | Thriller | 92′   US

The Coen brothers pull a clever mix of cinematic tricks from their box in this tightly-plotted neo-Noir focusing on four characters. With brilliant cinematography (Barry Sonnenfeld) and a darkly humorous, whip-sharp script, this neo-noir thriller keeps you on your toes til the end with more nasty surprises than an angry rattlesnake.

Very much a throwback to the Hitchcockian thrillers of the forties and fifties, the action here unfolds in a shady Texan backwater in the eighties and established the Coens as creative leaders of the American art house genre.

Supremely well-cast: Frances McDormand came on board as a newcomer in place of Holly Hunter, and subsequently went on to win an Oscar for her performance in the Coens’ Fargo. John Getz stars as her lover Ray, and baddie Dan Hedaya plays her jealous controlling husband Marty who hires veteran villain M Emmet Walsh as a private detective Loren Visser to kill them. Naturally, the plan backfires. The car scene where the two are discussing the contract killing is a masterpiece of facial expression.

 

 

Blood Simple. won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance the following year. The Coen’s had spent a year raising the development finance by going ‘door to door’ to financiers with a two-minute teaser trailer of the film they planned to make.

The latest restored ‘Director’s Cut’ is actually shorter by 3 minutes than the original 1985 version due to tighter editing, shortening some shots and removing others altogether. In addition, they HAVE resolved long-standing right issues with the music. MT

NOW Bfi Player | 12 April 2021

 

Silence of the Lambs (1991) | BFI Thriller Series | Oct-Dec 2017

 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv ) 'THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' - Anthony Hopkins - 1991 VARIOUS


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991
VARIOUS

Dir. Jonathan Demme; Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Jame Gumb, Anthony Head, Brooke Smith; USA  114′

Jonathan Demme, who died this April at the age of 73, made some excellent films such as Philadelphia (1993) and Swimming to Cambodia (1987). But he will be best remembered for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris and written by Ted Tally, SILENCE is one of the few feminist thrillers of its era.

Centred around FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) who is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Glenn) to interview imprisoned mass murderer and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The idea is to get his imput with a new case: a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. In a cat and mouse game, Clarice gets Lecter to tell her the name of the killer who once his patient. After having kidnapped Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of an US senator, Buffolo Bill (Gumb), is tracked down by Clarice.

Clarice is much more emancipated woman than she appears in the film. She is well aware that the older Crawford has an Electra crush on her but still calls him “Sir”, knowing she has the upper hand emotionally, slipping out of his command even though she is just a trainee in the last stages of her studies. Howard Shore’s score provides a foreboding undercurrent, reminiscent of Bernhard Herrman, throught her prisom encounters with Lecter which plays out as a cat-and-mouse game. Crawford has warned her never to disclose any personal information to the psychiatrist, Clarice makes a bargain with Lecter: she answers his questions, while he has to answer hers regarding the identity of Buffalo Bill. The outcome justifies her strategy, since Lecter is extraordinarily vain and fancies himself as her Svengali.

Buffalo Bill has a long history of childhood abuse, and is not happy in his body; he tried for a sex change operation, but was rejected because of his violent nature. He dresses as a woman, but feels only contempt for the female species. Catherine is held prisoner in a well, and her captor talks to his poodle about her, objectifying her with the impersonal  ‘it’. He takes great pleasure in making her use skin cream and starving her: all necessary for the skinning operation, which is his way of keeping a trophy. The use of a moth, which he pressed down his victims throat, brings Clarice closer to his whereabouts: a moth is a symbol of transition, something the killer wanted for himself. The American flag is a freqently occurring motif through the film: Clarice always finds one in Buffalo’s former dwellings. The last flag, which she discovers in the lair where he has killed and skinned his victims and skinned is small version, made for a child. AS

ON RE-RELEASE at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 3 November 2017 to headline their THRILLER SERIES | BFI THRILLER: WHO CAN YOU TRUST October – December 2017 

Photo Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991

The Snowman (2017) Netflix

Dir: Tomas Alfredson | Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny, J.K. Simmons, Silvia Busuioc, Jamie Clayton | Horror Thriller | 119′

Tomas Alfredson’s first foray into thriller territory Let the Right One In was one of the most horrifying movies ever made and an instant cult classic. Sadly, The Snowman is horrifically bad. And not even star trio Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg or Toby Jones can do anything to save it.

Fans of ScandiNoir and the frosted pulpy fare of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø will be the most disappointed by this screen adaptation of the seventh Harry Hole thriller, where a serial-killer’s calling card is a haunting snowman that appears near his crime scenes. For some reason Alfredson has chosen not one but three award-winning writers to fashion the sprawling fractured narrative – and it’s a real dog’s dinner. But they do keep one trick up their sleeve: the identity of the killer.

Fassbender plays the maverick dipsomaniac detective who looks miserable as sin and permanently on the verge of ‘flu for the duration. But before he limps onto the scene, a mother has gone missing in snowy Oslo, abducted in the dead of night and leaving her young daughter and nervous husband (James D’Arcy) in the dark, literally and metaphorically. According to the crime motivation backstory, a ‘mother’ serial killer is on the loose. A little boy has been orphaned when his distraught and suicidal mum drove her Volvo into a frozen lake. A series of gruesome jump cuts feature severed limbs bloodying the snow, we then cut to the starkly-lit Ikea clad interior of a child’s bedroom.

The framing is off kilter, not to mention the gaudy aesthetic and lighting. The sinister tropes of Let the Right One In have gone out, and instead of feeling tense, we feel appalled at the ludicrousness of it all. The female characters are either wearing grotesque wigs (Chloë Sevigny has one of the worst examples) or tarty clothing for no apparent reason: Rebecca Ferguson’s sidekick detective is forced to don thigh books, red lippy and black lace to seduce one of the suspects, Arve Støp (JK Simmons).

Guffaws broke out in the cinema when a bloated, lumbering Val Kilmer appears (as Ferguson’s father), his dubbing wildly out of sync. And Charlotte Gainsbourg (as Hole’s ex) plays a moaning minnie, one minute wittering down the phone about their son, the next, seducing him in a mini dress and bare (almost blue) legs. Meanwhile Toby Jones sports poorly-advised blond highlights and a curious goatee beard. The Snowman is a real ‘shocker’ and not in a good way. On the plus side, the aerial shots of Oslo, Bergen and the wintery landscapes are wonderfully atmospheric: so you do get a trip to Norway’s highlights for your money, it’s a shame about the rest. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX

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Bitch (2017)

Dir.: Marianna Palka; Cast: Marianna Palka, Jason Ritter, Jaime King, USA 2017, 93 min.

Writer and director Marianna Palka (Good Dick) also stars in her anarchic portrait of a woman pushed aside by her husband once too often. BITCH is a slim but taut and deftly-handled feminist parable – the sheer pace and untamed aggression making it gripping and watchable.

Jill (Palka) runs home and kids for her husband Bill (Ritter), who works for a city corporation and is hardly ever home. Spending most of his time in the office, he sexually exploits a dependent co-worker into the bargain. When she gets sacked in a widespread office cull, Bill puts in a good word for her, but is rebuffed by the boss and vents his frustration on his wife, undeservedly calling her a bitch. Something snaps in Jill and she turns into a vicious virago, making life hell for husband and four children, whom she has served efficiently for so long. Moving into the cellar of the family home, Jill starts growling and behaving like a violent dog. The family is obviously shocked, and Jill’s sister Beth (King) suggests a psychiatric home. But Bill is against the idea – what would the neighbours think?. But his absence from work costs him his job, and when his lover arrives, inquiring caringly about his wellbeing, Jill ‘smells’ her presence and goes berserk. Scots actress Palka is astonishly convincing in both animal and human form, and shows how ultimately behaviour, rather than negotiation, is sometimes the only way to bring change. DoP Armando Salas assists with a handheld camera, capturing the human dog during long runs through the neighbourhood. The jazz score by Morgan Z. Whirledge is just right for this explosive tale which should send alarm bells to all males of the human variety. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 OCTOBER 2017

Tueurs | Killers (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: FRANÇOIS TROUKENS, JEAN-FRANÇOIS HENSGENS  | Belgium, France / 86’ |cast: Olivier Gourmet, Lubna Azabal, Kevin Janssens, Bouli Lanners

The first feature by a notorious 1990s ex-gangster turned director ABOVE THE LAW (Tueurs) is a high-octane, on the boil Belgian crime thriller that follows a hard-edged armed gangster who, in predictable style, has just completed his final heist. As the ideal suspects, Valken and his gang find themselves caught up in a criminal case dating from thirty years earlier. It looks as if the outlaws are back.

The chilling opening scenes remind us of the notorious ‘Brabant Killers’ who remained at large evading the authorities; archive footage showing how they gunned down 28 innocent bystanders in a series of town centre raids in the early 1980s. This glossy noir then takes shape 30 years later with another crime involving an explosion in the underground carpark in contemporary Brussels, where all witnesses are subsequently eliminated including the investigating inspector Veronique Perotte (Natacha Régnier). The narrative then flips back to the weeks preceding the murders where Olivier Gourmet’s Frank Valken and his gang prepare for the heist.

But the police and security forces have finally got their act together, headed by Bouli Lanners’ Dany Bouvy and astute detective Lucie Tesla (Lubna Azbal). As crime thrillers go, this is run of mill stuff but terrifically well-crafted and expertly performed in its slick Belgian settings that showcase the city’s underbelly and aerial views rather than it’s more refined venues. Clément Dumoulin’s throbbing occasional score keeps the action turning over in the breathless action sequences. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SETPEMBER 2017 .

The Vault (2017)

Dir.: Dan Bush; Cast: Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning, Scott Haze, James Franco, Q’orianka Kilcher; USA 2017, 92 min.

It’s easy to see what Dan Bush had in mind with The Vault: melding the bank heist genre with some gruesome Zombie action looked a great idea. Unfortunately, he gives away the plot in the off-commentary at the very start. Instead of suspense and thrills we get what we expected; and in spite of a strong ensemble cast, the suspense – on which both genres rely – is minimal.

Sisters Leah (Eastwood) and Taryn (Manning) are helping their brother Michael (Haze) to pay back his enormous debts to some vicious gangsters, by staging a bank robbery. The concept of a bank robbery today seems quite antiquated, and we soon learn why: the siblings are totally irrational in their planning, their execution, and thei family dynamics. Vee is an out-and-out psychopath; Michael flips between guilt and violence – making Leah the sanest of the lot (which doesn’t say much). The trio’s reactions are the most promising aspects of this slack thriller. Bank employees Susan Cromwell (Kilcher) and Ed Maas (Franco) are drawn into the powerplay of the would-be robbers, who are soon contacted by police officers outside the building. A narrative along the lines of Dog Day Afternoon, would have worked better, instead Maas tells the trio about a huge underground vault with six million Dollars in the cellar of the bank. When it emerges that the notes from the pitiful score of 70 000 Dollars are banknotes from the early 80s when the bank was the victim of a bloody heist, we realise what will happen after Michael forces his way into the vault….

This is bland and conventional stuff to look at and by way of its storyline – in the resulting incongruence of the genre collision we lose any interest in the protagonists’ fate. AS

NOW OUT ON RELEASE

https://vimeo.com/226969325

The Day of the Jackal (1973) | Bluray release

DAY_OF_THE_JACKAL_2D_BDDir: Fred Zinnemann | Crime Thriller | US | 143′ |

Some of the best US thrillers were made by European emigrés: Austrian-born Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal is a fine example. Slick, riveting and thoroughly classy, it transports us back to the early 1970s where a professional political assassin bags a million dollar fee to kill President Charles de Gaulle, on behalf of a group of French officers disenchanted with the way things turned out in North Africa.

The Jackal, the code name for the killer, is played by Edward Fox in the style of a Viyella-House clad test-pilot. But Fox is no slouch when it comes to negotiating his way around the hotspots of Paris, Vienna, London and the Cote d’Azur, and bedding Delphine Seyrig’s elegant baroness in a Château in Var, although she gives him the slip soon afterwards and is later found murdered.

Based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel, Zinnemann directs from a script by Kenneth Ross, but the suspense is slightly diluted because history has already revealed the ending. The enjoyment is all about seeing how Fox fails, hoping – the while – that he might succeed in his meticulously researched and gracefully performed endeavour.

Zinnemann plays it straight down the line in a crime thriller that certainly gets about in its glamorous international locations captured by Jean Tournier’s skilful camera. There’s very little humour here apart from Tony Britton’s hammed up Birmingham accent, which probably wasn’t intentionally drôle – he did in fact come from the West Midlands. The ensemble cast is solid gold with endlessly enjoyable turns from Alan Badel (whose voice was once described as “the sound of tears”); Terence Alexander; Cyril Cusack; Derek Jacobi; Jean Martin and Ronald Pickup – to name but a few. Marvellous, easy-going entertainment despite its running time of over two hours. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY on 4 SEPTEMBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

Dir: Patrick Hughes | Cast: Selma Hayek, Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson | US | Action Thriller

Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) must have been on auto-pilot when he made this tonally awkward generic buddy thriller – a sweary throwback to the far superior Midnight Run (1988).

In place of Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro we get Samuel L. Jackson, with Ryan Reynolds playing his body guard, in an action thriller with plenty of action but very few thrills or indeed, laughs, for that matter: the romance is provided by Jackson’s feisty relationship with his pouty wife (Salma Hayek) who is serving time for stabbing someone to death with a bottle. And that’s just for openers.

The action opens as Reynolds and Jackson are off to Holland to give evidence against Gary Oldman’s curious former president of Belarus in The Hague. This incorporates a rather good chase scene through the streets of Amsterdam which brings out the best in Hughes’ directing skills, but the film somehow misjudges the mood musically with I Want to Know Where Love Is playing when the pair are later seen drinking together in a bar.

Ultimately, this is a film that takes itself far too seriously, unlike its predecessor that exuded a wry eye-winking warmth throughout, providing a perfect foil for the rather silly shenanigans of the action-thriller going on around it. As a result THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is all action and no trousers in all the worse kind of ways, and despite Reynolds and Jackson doing the honours, it is largely unmemorable. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 18 AUGUST 2017

Dark Night (2016)

Dir.: Tim Sutton; Cast: Anna Rosa Hopkins, Eddie Cacciola, Andres Vega, Marilyn Purvis, Aaron Purvis, Robert Jumper, Ciara Hampton; USA 2016, 85 min.

Director/writer Tim Sutton (Memphis) tries to decipher the Aurora cinema shooting, when James Holmes killed twelve members of the multiplex audience watching Dark Knight Rising in July 2012. His non-sensational, near-documentary style shows a detached approach, not focusing on the individual – perpetrator or victims – but on the malaise of American suburban life, centred around celebrity and gun culture.

It is no accident that Sutton chose Sarasota/Florida as a setting for his absorbing drama: many crime novels are set here (Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard and Sue Grafton, to name a few), and in 1974 TV-Anchor Christine Chubbuck committed suicide on Air in the town’s TV station. Loneliness and fragmentation dominates. Google Earth shots of the Sarasota show uniformity and a lack of any individuality: the town planner seemed to have worked with his Lego set. And the music of Maica Armata is so otherworldly, that we sometimes forget that Sutton deals with real people and not ‘Stepford-like’ replicates of both genders.

After a cut from the black screen, we see a young, blond woman (Hampton) sitting in a parking lot, stunned. The sirens of the ambulances signal distress, their blue and red lights mingle with the same colours of the ubiquitous national flag. This short look at the aftermath is followed by an array of would-be killers and victims: no clue is ever given to who is who. Anna Rosa Hopkins has show-biz aspirations, she poses for the moment fame, she will certainly never achieve. Her real life and her dreams are only connected by a media, who still tells everyone, that everything is possible in the land of the American Dream. Eddie Cacciola is a veteran, visiting meetings with other victims of PDTS symptoms. He is burned out, near catatonic. Marilyn Purvis sits with her teenage son Aaron (who likes to play with his snakes) in front of a TV, where we see for a moment James Holmes on the stand at his trial.

Somebody is interviewing Marilyn about something her son did – but we never learn what it was. Instead guilt clouds their scenes, and there is no empathy between them. Andres Vega, a skater, dyes his hair red – like Holmes did – but is otherwise just a lonely cypher like the rest. Finally, there is Robert Jumper, who takes out his frustration on his dogs. All the characters will meet (symbolically) at the Mall in the evening, before going to the cinema. In sparing us the graphic scenes, Sutton achieves a greater impact than any re-creation of the massacre might have done.

French DoP Helene Louvart (Pina) combines off-centre framing with long, wide-lensed panning shots, where the isolation of the characters becomes clear. In one scene, a man takes out his huge sub-machine gun, pointing it at a neighbour’s house, without its occupant taking any notice. The underlying threat of the DARK NIGHT is created by the fragmentation of all the participants: their individuality is eroded by their longing for a lifestyle they will never achieve. Therefore, one of them will be the shooter: killing humans is, after all, a short step away from target practice and video games. AS

DARK NIGHT IS OUT ON 18 AUGUST 2017

Le Doulos (1962) tribute to Jean Paul Belmondo

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Monique Hennessy, Jean Desailly, Fabienne Dali, Michel Piccoli, Jacques De Leon, Rene Lefevre; France 1962, 108 min.

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) is known mostly for his stylish portraits of the Paris underworld, but he is also considered the ‘grandfather’ of the Nouvelle Vague; though his early friendship with Jean-Luc Godard (he had a role in A bout a souffle), ended in the late 1960s, when Godard started doing away with narratives. For Melville, a great lover of literature, this was sacrilege. LE DOULOS, based on a novel by Pierre Lesou, is an intricate work of continuous betrayal, very much like a Balzac or Flaubert classic.

The title is a French slang word for hat, but also informer, and the film opens with a brilliant long panning shot of Maurice (Reggiani), walking through an endless number of railway arches at night. Everything is desolate, including Gilbert’s dilapidated house. But we soon learn the reason for this atmosphere of doom and gloom: Maurice, just out of prison, is going to kill Gilbert for the murder of his wife. He also steals a lot of money and the jewellery from a recent heist, burying both under a lamppost nearby. A radical change of scenes follows, with Maurice planning a robbery in a wealthy Parisian suburb. He meets his friends Silien (Belmondo) in his chic but tasteless appartment where he lives with his girlfriend Therese (Hennessy). These two have something in common which will decide the fate of all concerned. The robbery goes wrong, when the police arrive on the scene, Maurice is wounded, his partner and a police detective dead. The gangsters here – like Melville himself – are very much in love with their American counterparts: drinking Bourbon in American style bars. While Silien is being interrogated by detectives led by Superintendent Clain (Desailly) in a magnificent continuous shot lasting nearly ten minutes, Therese’s body is found in car which has fallen into a steep ravine in a quarry. In a payback for the murder of Gilbert Silien kills Armand (De Leon), the lover of his ex-grill friend Fabienne (Dali), and his partner Nuttheccio (Piccoli). He also frames them for the murder when he deposits the money and the jewells in Armand’s safe. In the finale, a variation on a Cornel Woolrich theme of ‘race against time’, Maurice puts a contract on Silien’s head, before trying to stop the contract killer.

While Melville always insisted that all his films were really Westerns, LE DOULOS is typically French, starting with a glimpse of poetic realism when Maurice walks towards Gilbert’s house. What follows is very much Flaubert territory, with the protagonists trying to extricate themselves from the roles they have played all their lives, only to trap themselves in the schemes they set up. It really doesn’t matter who is on whose side, the execution of violence overrides all motives and intentions. Talking about violence, women are treated as second class citizens always at the beck and call of men, they are neglected at best. But whilst women, like in most Melville features, are marginal figures in the plot, men are romanticised to no end: they can only be victims or perpetrators.

DoP Nicholas Hayer, who worked for Melville on Two Men in Manhattan (1959), creates a black and white landscape of utter forlornness. Every room seems to be a trap: Maurice murdering ‘the fence’ in the shabby room with the victim’s own revolver, Therese left alone in her flat to be kidnapped and murdered, Silien in the police’ interrogation room, bargaining for his freedom, and finally in his own house, with the contract killer hiding behind a screen. As for Melville, there are shades of Le Samourai (1967) here, but his misogyny is much more striking in the earlier feature, spoiling it to a certain degree. AS

JEAN PAUL BELMONDO 1933-2021

Atomic Blond (2017)

Dir: David Leitch | Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones | Action Thriller | 115′ | US

Charlize Theron tries to save MI6 while the Berlin Wall tumbles in David Leitch’s visually arresting contribution to the espionage genre that often takes itself too seriously trumping internecine intrigue with vitriolic violence. There’s one impressive scene but you’ll have to wait until the final moments to enjoy it so the first hour or so will feel in retrospect like treading water – albeit squally Neon-lit and stormy water.

As the heroine of the piece Lorraine Broughton, the blond (and occasionally brunette) –  bruised and battered – bombshell possesses the requisite steely resolve to convince audiences of her integrity but is often forced to curb her characteristic verve – while displaying her unrivalled sex appeal in scenes where she’s not crossing keys or juggling fake passports in this action-packed affair from the director of stunt cult classic Fight Club (1999). ATOMIC BLOND is based on Antony Johnson’s comics and Theron stars alongside a sterling British cast of James McAvoy, as her sidekick; Toby Jones as her handler; and a rather underwritten Eddie Marsan as a Russian defector.

We first meet Theron’s MI6 agent freshly bruised in a bath of ice. She is in Berlin for a progress report with her local bosses (Jones and John Goodman) updating them on her work to flush out a confidential list of British spies operating on the Continent. From thence the plot withers in a thriller that can only be described as Besson (pre-Valerian) meets Bond. At the end of the day, ATOMIC BLOND is really just a vehicle for Charlize Theron in a rather sketchy narrative that relies on action and her saucy kit to drive its rather sketchy ‘plot’ forward, seducing you with stylistic technique so you won’t notice the rather slim storyline which is just a prelude so sit back and enjoy the ride to the fabulous finale. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017 | ON RELEAE NATIONWIDE 11 Aug

 

 

Let the Corpses Tan | Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres |Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani | Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Marc Barbe, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Herve Sogne | Thriller | 92′ | French/Belgian

Stylishly retro in the same way as their imaginatively entitled first feature The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres), is the latest edgy thriller from Belgium auteurs Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, adapted from Jean-Pierre Bastid’s noted novel melding thriller with social and political critique. While Strange Colour was are intricately Art Nouveau, Corpses pays hommage to Sergio Leone’s florid close-up/long shot style of filmmaking.

Corpses’s storyline also brings to mind a racier, more vibrant (thanks to Manu Dacosse’s vivid visuals), frenzied version of Cul de Sac with a stash of gold and shoot-outs all thrown in. Well that’s the way it starts off, at least. In craggy Corsica a raddled writer (Bernier) is lazing away his days in secluded sun-drenched splendour with his loopy lover Luce (the superb Elina Lowensohn). But their idyll is interrupted when some vague acquaintances arrive hoping to conceal their stolen booty in this remote spot. But the local cops (Herve Sogne, Dominique Troyes) are on their tail and promptly arrive on the scene before crims Rhino (Stephane Ferrara) and his gang have a chance to smooth things over. And soon Bernier’s wife (Dorylia Calmel) and son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) also join the impromptu party, on spec.

And once the action starts all thoughts of Cul de Sac’s intricate psychodrama and Bastid’s social commentary are literally blown away by an all out stylistic gun battle which blazes non-stop unremittingly – or so it seems – for the rest of thriller. And whilst there’s a welcome Sergio Leone style twang to the proceedings – which whips you back to the ’60s with slices of Ennio Morricone and the popular Italian singer Nico Fidenco (Su nel cielo) thrown in, the hollowness echoes after the twanging shots die out.

LET THE CORPSES TAN is fabulous fun while it lasts but sadly fades from the memory (not the eardrums) once it’s over. That said, it’s just the thing for a sizzling summer night in Locarno – or anywhere else, for that matter!. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

Jacques Tourneur: Fantasy filmmaker | Locarno Film Festival 2017

IMG_3877LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL is celebrating its 70th Anniversary with a feline, canine and fantasy theme leading up to the the real mystery – who will win the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD? There’s a surreal feel to this special edition with Isabelle Huppert struck by lightening in MADAME HYDE, a man who turns into a dog in Vanessa Paradis’ latest film CHIEN and of course the fabulous JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective with a chance to see CAT PEOPLE (1942); THE LEOPARD MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) in the Grand Piazza which seats 8,000 cinema-goers – Europe’s largest screening venue.

974750While Jacques Tourneur clearly had a feel for the surreal and a penchant for the macabre, he was not very fond of his four French features, shot between 1931 and 1934: “All those films are mixed up with each other in my mind. They resemble each other so much! It was always the same formula: musical, happy, young.”  This is certainly true for Tout Ça Ne Vaut pas l’Amour; Pour Être Aimé and Toto but Les Filles de la Concierge (1934) is a brilliant character milieu study of a concierge. Madame Leclercq is the titular heroine who wants the best for her three daughters, whatever the circumstances. She even ‘rents’ one, Ginettte, to a wealthy suitor, but the ‘happy end’ justifies her method. Les Filles must have had some impact on Tourneur because, thirty years later, he expressed the desire to remake the film: “One could make a marvellous film out of it. People don’t make enough films about concierges, they’re an amazing group.” Indeed, where would be without Carlton, Your Doorman, the legendary concierge in TV hit Rhoda?.

IMG_3929In 1934 Jacques Tourneur returned to Hollywood to work as a Second Unit director at MGM, where he also directed twenty short films. The most interesting of the shorts are Romance of Radium (1937), where the director takes us on a forty-year journey through the discovery process of what would become nuclear power, in just ten minutes! Part historical drama, impersonal chronicle and staged ‘docu-drama’, Romance is very dense; the treatment of the source as something “outside” of our world – it is clearly an early version of Experiment Perilous. What do You Think (1937) is a haunted house mystery, with the plot, structured like a Chinese mystery box, stretching out into the past, and the studios of Hollywood. It is certainly as obsessive as many of Tourneur’s features.

THEY ALL COME OUT (1939), Tourneur’s first feature in Hollywood, was first planned as a two-reel segment for a “Crime does not Pay” series of short films. It follows rather conventional lines (Bank heist and prison rehab), and, is visually satisfying, thanks to a very mobile camera, but its structure suffers from the late embellishment of the narrative.

Tourneur’s next projects for MGM were two Nick Carter features, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939) and PHANTOM RIDERS (1940). As Chris Fujiwara (who will present the retro) puts it: “Master Detective” is quicker and more immediately striking, but Phantom Riders has more in common visually with Tourneur’s later films. If MASTER DETECTIVE looks back to Tourneur’s past with its skilful interweaving of documentary and fiction, PHANTOM RIDERS anticipates the future with its sustaining of mood through rich décor and careful lighting; its low-budget exoticism; and its hint of thwarted sexuality”. But Tourneur really hated DOCTORS DON’T TELL (1941): “I detest this film, it is my worst”. All one can add, is that Doctors is really the most ‘un-Tourneresque’ feature of his career: it is bad, even for a routine film, its banality stupefying.

film-poster-for-i-walked-005So after dabbling in the art of filmmaking in the 1930s, Jacques Tourneur’s most important features were to follow during the 1940s. In 1942, Val Lewton, who worked with Tourneur on the Second Unit for A Tale of Two Cities (1935), joined RKO as the new head for B-Horror films. His first project was CAT PEOPLE (1942) directed by Tourneur; the duo would go on to create I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN in 1943 for RKO, before the studio made them go their separate ways with Tourneur commenting: “We were making so much money together that the studio said, we’ll make twice as much money, if we separate them”.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) went into production just two months after CAT PEOPLE, before the surprisingly successful release of Tourneur’s first RKO feature. Trying to decribe Zombie is not an easy task because Tourneur blurred the border between reality and phantasy in his narrative. Betsy Connell (France968402s Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes care of Jessica (Christine Gordon) on the West Indian island of St. Sebastian. Jessica is married to the sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway). She falls in love with Paul’s half-brother Wesley (James Ellison). After a scene with her husband, she falls into a trauma, and after several attempts of ‘curing’ her, Mrs. Rand (Edith Barnett), Paul and Wesley’s mother confesses that she has cast a voodoo spell on Jessica for bringing the family into disrepute. Wesley finally kills Jessica, to set her free. Tourneur preferred Zombie to Cat People, and often cited it as his favourite film. Zombie is Tourneur’s purest film when it comes to cinematic poetry, combining sounds and images into a “power of suggestion”, enhanced by the film’s narrative, which is full of enigma and contradiction, eluding any attempt to interpret it in a linear way. Zombie “is a sustained exercise in uncompromising ambiguity. Perfecting the formula that Lewton and Tourneur had developed in Cat People, the film carries its predecessor’s elliptical, oblique narrative procedures to astonishing extremes. The dialogue is almost nothing but a commentary on past events, obsessively revisiting itself, finally giving up the struggle and surrendering to a mute acceptance of the inexplicable. We watch the slow, atmospheric, lovingly detailed scenes with delight and fascination, realising at the end, that we have seen nothing but the traces of a conflict decided in advance.” (Chris Fujiwara).

974754THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) is seen, perhaps wrongly, as the weakest of the Lewton/Tourneur collaborations. Based on the novel by Cornel Woolrich (Rear Window), The Leopard Man is set in the nightclub milieu of New Mexico, where club owner Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning) finds a leopard for his girl friend Kiki (Jean Brooks) to perform on the stage of his club. Kiki’s jealous competitor, Clo-clo (Margo), sets the leopard free and becomes one of his – presumed – three victims. Nevertheless, O’Keefe and Kiki suspect, that the leopard is only used by the real murderer to cover his tracks. The title is misleading, The Leopard Man is not about a man who becomes a leopard, but a man who just pretends to be one. Furthermore, the narrative reveals that the three murders are not committed by one person – against the un-written law of the genre. And on top of it all, the killer’s identity is revealed at the very beginning. But in spite of this, The Leopard Man appears to be ahead of its time: the stalking of women and their violent death is not only associated with Hitchcock and his epigone Brian de Palma, but also with the Italian cult directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And to go a step further, “it also anticipates Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in making the sight of a victim’s fear the factor that fascinates the killer and compels him to kill”. Tourneur “attributed the commercial success of his films with Lewton to war psychosis. In war time people want to be frightened.” Leopard Man has the clearest connection to war of the trio, Edmund Bansak comments that “the film is a courageous essay in the random nature of death. War time audience may not have liked The Leopard Man’s downbeat message – that the young and innocent also die, but it was an important one for them to grasp”. Fujiwara calls The Leopard Man ”a pivotal work in the careers of both Tourneur and Lewton. Pushing to extremes the experiment with narrative ambiguity undertaken in Cat People and Zombie, this radical unusual film has its own precise, inexhaustible poetry.”

974742FROM OUT OF THE PAST (1947) reunites Tourneur with producer Warren Duff, (Experiment Perilous) and DoP Nicholas Musuraka (Cat People). Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, Tourneur claimed, “that he participated very closely in the writing of the script. I made big changes, with the agreement of the
writer, of course”. The complex and elliptic narrative is centred around Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who runs a gas station in a small town in California. In flashbacks we learn that Jeff was a New York based detective, who was asked by the professional gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress Kathie (Jane Greer), who had embezzled a huge sum from him. Bailey finds Kathie in Mexico, and falls in love with her. The couple hides, but Bailey’s partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) finds the couple, but is shot by Kathie, who disappears afterwards. Bailey, now owner of the gas station, is visited by a member of Sterling’s gang: Sterling has a new job for him, retrieving incriminating taxation forms from his accountant in San Francisco. Kathie is living again with Sterling, and Bailey finds soon out that he is used as the sacrificial lamb. After the murder of the accountant, Kathie shoots Sterling and escapes with Bailey – not knowing that he has phoned the police to tell them their escape route. Of the major features of Noir visual style, as identified by J.A. Place and L.S. Peterson in “Some Visual motifs of Film Noir”, Out of the Past exhibits several: low-key lighting; compositions that alternate light and dark areas; the use of objects as framing devices within the frame. All these elements are however, consistent features of Tourneur’s work outside the Noir genre. They are present to some degrees in Tourneur’s shorts and in all ten American features that Tourneur directed before Out of the Past, including the Technicolor Western Canyon Passage. Fujiwara talks about “the endlessly renewable source of cinematic fascination of Out of the Past”, even though Tourneur himself only belatedly – after the release of the film in France, when he had returned in the late 1960s to his country of birth – acknowledged it as one of his major works, calling it “along with I walked with A Zombie and Night of the Demon, his poetic manifesto.”

974669BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) was – regarding the topic – a one-off in Tourneur’s work, since the film is set mainly in contemporary post-war Berlin, the divided capital of Germany. Shooting in post-war Germany was like an adventure, the footage had to be sent back to Hollywood for processing. Billy Wilder had to wait for Berlin Express to finish, before starting shooting A Foreign Affair, because film equipment was a scarce commodity. The plot is, as often with Tourneur, secondary: Dr. Heinrich Bernhardt (Paul Lucas) a famous resistance fighter, is travelling from Paris to Frankfurt under an alias. During the journey, an agent, posing as Bernhardt, is killed by an explosion. In Frankfurt, Bernhardt is kidnapped by members of a Neo-Nazi movement. Four members on the train, each representing the four powers who rule Berlin, try to locate Bernhardt, after his secretary Lucienne Mirbeau (Merle Oberon) explains the situation to them. But, as it turns out the Frenchman Perrot is actually Holtzman, the leader of the Nazi underground. He is killed after another unsuccessful attempt on Bernhardt’s life. Lucien Ballard, the DoP was married to Merle Oberon, but his stylish photography does not favour his wife more than the Hollywood star. Berlin Express is actually three films in one: the first is a melodrama, where the Nazis try to kill Bernhardt. The second part is a documentary on Germany’s destruction. The third part is a typical Tourneur study of doubt, terror and impossibility.

IMG_3929Since displacement is a central part of all Tourneur films, post-war Germany was an ideal setting. Michael Henry comments that Berlin Express “was a characteristic Tourneurian work, distilling the feeling of insecurity in which his creatures find themselves plunged as soon as they have been uprooted, placed out of their element, literally side-tracked”. But in spite of the political undertone and the ideological certainty of the protagonists, Tourneur finds ambivalence. This points towards his two 1950s films, Appointment in Honduras and The Fearmakers, both have ideological topics, but are treated with the same ambiguity and doubt as all of Tourneur’s work.

Way-of-a-GauchoProducer/writer Philip Dunne was assigned to write the script and produce WAY OF A GAUCHO for 20th Century Fox, so that the company could recoup some of the money the Peron government had frozen in Argentina. In March 1951 Dunne informed Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck that the proposed director, Henry King would not be available, due to his wife’s illness. Dunne goes on: “The man I want to suggest for director is Jacques Tourneur. I am absolutely delighted with the job he is doing with Anne of the Indies. In my opinion, he is a much better director than many who have made big reputations for themselves and draw down huge salaries. He is quick, sure and economical and he is getting flawless performances from his cast.”

Zanuck agreed, and in May 1951 Tourneur arrived in Argentina. Dunne reported a month later to Zanuck: “that the Argentine government’s interest tends to become a little overwhelming. They want to have a hand in every phase of our production. Government officials were very insistent on having big stars in the picture. No reasonable government would behave in this way, but we must remember that we are dealing with incredibly stupid, provincial people”. Whilst Tourneur and Dunne were touring the country for locations, they where invariably followed by spies. Shooting under these circumstances proved difficult. There are rumours that Tourneur drank too much, but in the absence of testimony from Dunne or Tourneur, this cannot be proven. But what is true, is that Dunne and Zanuck did not employ Tourneur to add some scenes to make the central character, Martin Penalosa, more heroic. The film is set at the end of 19th century in Argentina, where Martin Penalosa is jailed for killing a man in a duel. Instead of prison he chooses the army, but does not like the harsh treatment at the hands of Major Salinas (Richard Boone). He saves Teresa Chavez (Gene Tierney), a noblewoman, from the Indians. Martin again disappears under pressure from Salinas, and leads a band of gauchos in resistance against Salinas soldiers. Martin and Teresa fall in love, and the former gives himself up to Salinas, for the sake of his wife and unborn child. It’s easy to see why this straightforward Hollywood adventure would not play to Tourneur’s strength. There is no ambivalence, white is white, and black is black. WAY OF A GAUCHO is beautifully shot, if nothing else. But it marked the decline of Tourneur in Hollywood and he would never been employed by Fox again.

UnknownTHE FEARMAKERS (1958) is perhaps Tourneur’s last respectable feature before his final decline. Darwin Taylor’s novel The Fearmakers was published in 1945. Allen Eaton (Dana Andrews) returns from a Chinese POW camp after the Korean War. Eaton returns to his Washington PT office to learn that his partner Clark Baker has died under mysterious circumstances, after having sold the business to Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran). Meeting with his friend Senator Walder (Roy Gordon), Eaton is informed, that McGinnis is a suspected foreign agent (meaning he is a Communist). Eaton decides to get a job with McGinnis, and soon finds out he has forged some poll numbers for lobbyist Fred Fletcher. Eaton gains access to the poll material, and with the help of McGinnis’ secretary Lorraine (Marile Earle), proves McGinnis’ guilt. But McGinnid, with the help of his associates, attempts to kidnap and kill Eaton and Lorraine, who overpowers them and despatch McGinnis to the police. Whilst Tourneur thought, “that the film was a failure”, he certainly brings out the contradictions in the plot, featuring a McCarthy-esque Senate Committee for the defence of democracy. Eaton is a typical Tourneur hero, his vulnerability recalls the main protagonists in Nightfall and Easy Living. His recurrent headaches are the psychosomatic manifestations of his doubts. There are moments when we wonder if Eaton is fantasising part of the action. When McGinnis calls him a “brainwashed psycho”, we are again reminded of the thin ice Eaton is walking on, but the film never really challenges his worldview. Eaton is like all true Tourneur heroes – unable to leave reality, which follows him into his dreams: When the camera pans from a window across a dark room and hovers over Eaton’s bed, lit dimly with mottled shadows, we see his anguish in his haunted features. Tourneur suffused his characters with his own anxieties. AS

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST ’17

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

Writer|Dir: Roger Michell | Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino, Simon Russell Beale, Vicki Pepperdine, Poppy Lee Friar, Katherine Pearce, Tim Barlow | 110min | Drama

Rachel Weisz plays the enigmatic heroine in this rather subdued adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic romance, with Sam Claflin as the naive country boy who falls under her power, completely misjudging the mood. The 1951 novel was first adapted for the big screen a year after its completion with Nunnally Johnson and Henry Koster brilliantly capturing the sinuous mystery, and giving a chilling sense of spiteful danger that this version fails to convey, despite its lavishly atmospheric mise-en-scene and an unsettling denouement for the impressive cast. Performance-wise, Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton were always going to be a hard act to follow but chemistry certainly smoulders between Claflin and Weisz’s Rachel, although she comes across as coldly reticent rather than alluringly mysterious, and by the end we are glad to be done with her.

In 1830s England, Sam Claflin is warm and exuberant as Philip Ashley, the fresh-faced orphan who “knows nothing of women”, growing up in his cousin Ambrose’s Cornish manor. Unsophisticated and puppyish, he is close to his godfather’s English rose of a daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) but they lack the erotic charge to be more than friends. Philip idolises Ambrose (who he also plays) and compressed opening scenes show them enjoying outdoor pursuits, in shades of Schlesinger’s Far From The Madding Crowd. Come the winter, Ambrose heads for Italy for his health and finds love with his cousin Rachel, extolling their happiness and marriage in letters back home. But clouds soon gather over their idyll as a note of suspicion, then terror, enters his correspondence, and his “kindest companion” soon becomes “my torment”. And when Philip arrives in Florence to offer support, the mysterious Rainaldi is waiting to tell him that Ambrose is dead from a brain tumour, and Rachel is heading for Cornwall.

Devastated and angered, Philip hot foots it home on a mission of revenge. There, Rachel’s urbane grace disarms him, inviting him to tea, demurely dressed in black, eyelashes ‘a flutter. She is captivated by his strong resemblance to her dead husband, but after a tepid boudoir encounter, he clearly proves to be a pale imitation of the real man, both in and out of the bedroom. From then on Rachel turns to mind games rather than sexual ones, becoming the châtelaine and ordering refurbishments to the shabby decor. This is a household devoid of women so naturally Rachel goes down a treat, even the crusty old retainer Seecombe (Tim Barlow) fumbles more that usual over the tea things. There are open references to Rachel’s ‘unlimited appetite’ from her snivelling house guest Rainaldi, but the only appetite in evidence is her profligacy as a black hole appears in the family finances, and she comes across as simpering, inscrutable and histrionic when challenged, rather than bewitching or seductive. Philip enters a vortex of jealous obsession over Rainaldi (who is later revealed as gay) and rashly signs over his entire inheritance to the object of his desire in a wonderfully played cameo by Simon Russell Beale as his stickler of a lawyer (It’s my job, to stickle”) and rather a twee scene where his godfather (a dignified Iain Glen) plays the harpsichord, on the verge of tears.

Our trust lies in these erudite elders to save the day, but the recalcitrant Philip will have none of it, as the post-coital narrative gains melodramatic momentum driven forward by his stonking lust, Rachel’s ambiguity, and the legal twists and turns. Ambrose’ letters hinted at Rachel poisoning him and Philip discovers laburnum seeds amongst her possessions, while her specially brewed twig teas drive him, quite literally, to delirium, in scenes of woozy magic realism. During a bosky interlude in the bluebells, she again grimly tolerates Philip’s sexual advances, while later claiming to be a liberated female whose emancipation has somehow been challenged by his prescient announcement of their betrothal. It’s clear as the family crystal that Philip has been making advances, so why was she unable, despite her feminist pretensions, to signal her feelings of doubt – or distaste – before his clumsy announcement. Eventually we too become confused by their dalliance. She owns the house, so what is her game plan, if not marriage? She clearly doesn’t appreciate his lovemaking and yet continues to hang around the house titivating and forcing toxic tisanes on the reluctant household, and makes flirtatious sorties to see her Italian friend. Clearly the film’s feminist agenda has been lost in translation somewhere between the 19th and the 21st century. But still our heroine continues to exert a subtle suspense. A very timely film for today where certain women seem stuck in the dark ages while desperate to enjoy the privileges offered by the modern world. MT

 OUT ON 9 JUNE 2017

 

Lily Lane (2016) |

Director | Bence Fliegauf | Cast Angéla Stefanovics, Bálint Sótonyi, Miklós Székely, Mária Gindert,, Maja Balogh

90mins  Fantasy Drama  Hungary

Hungarian filmmaker Bence Fliegauf creates a world of fantasy based in the reality of a divorcing couple and their small son. With a few simple devices: a ghostly original score, technical effects such as slo-mo and extreme close-ups as the camera glides over his toys and giving them a otherworldly appeal, while a young woman slowly spins a fairy story. Bence Fliegauf’s mesmerising debut drama slowly emerges like an enigmatic crystalis from its cocoon. By associating simple objects and images – a broken toy, a stuffed animal, a mask, a stormy skyline: a suggestive narrative emerges connecting with our own childhood experiences of fear. Rebeka and Dani face these fears head on – embracing them to create their own fantasy world that drives the narrative forward.

In flashback, Rebeka (Angéla Stefanovics) casts back to happy times when her son was born. Clearly she was loved but now wants a separation from his father, but not a divorce on paper. LILY LANE shifts backwards and forwards; a stream of consciousness that sparks subconscious fears and memories of childhood, life and love.

The story unravels in black-and-white photos, snapshots of the physical intimacy and unique bond between mother and child. Often the camera creeps around at strange angles, giving a voyeurish feel of impending and oppressive doom and building palpable suspense. Angela Stefanovics is well cast: her dark looks are bewitching and she gives the impression of a being a soul from a bygone era. Her sudden emotional outbursts evoke impending tragedy or mental instability brought on by post traumatic stress. Her son asks simple questions: “what happens when we die” yet in the film’s context they often appear ghoulish. Fliegauf’s cognitive dissonance technique is similarly used by Veronika Franz in her debut Goodnight Mommy. Based on montage made with cleverly edited mixed technology LILY LANE is a simple yet highly effective fantasy drama that plays on the senses and remains in the memory. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT THE BARBICAN | 31 MAY 2017

 

Based on a True Story (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir Roman Polanski | Writer: Roman Polanski, Olivier Assayas | Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Eva Green, is back with a happy ending in this formidably-crafted tradionally styled thriller.

Emmanuelle Seigner and Eva Green go tete a tete in this tongue in cheek psychological drama adapted by Polanski and Olivier Assayas from Delphine de Vigan’s story about an author and her envious admirer (D’Apres un Histoire Vrai).

THERE are shades here of the 83-year old director’s award-winning 2010 thriller The Ghost Writer, not least because Green’s feisty character pens books for well-known people. That said AFTER A TRUE STORY wears its heart more playfully in a formidly-crafted thriller that inhabits a chic quarter of Paris and a Normandy farmhouse where Seigner’s divorced Delfine spends weekends with her part time lover Francois (played insipidly by Vincent Perez/La Reine Margot) and host of  book programme.

We first meet Delphine at a signing for her latest bestseller as adoring fans extoll the virtues of her literary genius. But Delphine is now struck by writersblock in a period of anxious navel-gazing, and this is where Elle comes into the story. At first we get the impression that the two are going to be romantically involved as they kiss warmly but this is all part of Polanski’s teasing style. Delphine exuding an air of confidence that Delphine seems to be lacking in her current state of flux but Alexandre Desplat’s unsettling score signals a warning of danger.

Alarmingly Elle soon takes over the writer’s life advising Delphine’s contacts to give her space and strangely she acquiesces. Meanwhile, Francois has dropped out of the story on a name-dropping tour to the US  (Bret Easton Ellis and Cormac McCarthy, don’t you know!) and soon the women are living together in Delphine’s flat – apparently sharing their life together, with Elle even impersonating her at a student lecture.

Green and Seigner are convincing in their roles, as the sassy Elle and more laid-back – almost submissive – Delphine,  but there’s no mistaking a steely side to the author who looks likes she’s just rolled out of bed. DP Pawel Edelman’s confident lensing and Jean Rabasse’s sophisticated set design ensure a enjoable watch in this sophisticated game of wits that, unlike Polanski’s usual fare, has a happy outcome leaving us pondering whether Polanski is softening in his dotage. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | OUT OF COMPETITION

 

Wind River (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner | US | Thriller | 111min

Taylor Sheridan is the writer behind Cannes UCR 2016 breakout hit Hell or High Water and scripted the competition title Sicario in 2015. He returns to Cannes this year with his own mystery thriller set in Wyoming and starring  Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.

Shedding more troubling light on American contempo society this action thriller explores events surrounding the violent murder of a teenage girl found in a snowy corner of Wyoming and its investigation by Renner Cory Lambert, a  thoughtful and sensitive wildlife ranger who clearly has some issues relating to the recent loss of his own teenage daughter and breakdown in his marriage. Joining him in the investigation (Sicario-style in black SUV) is Olsen’s rather green FBI sidekick, Jane Banner. Clearly Cory is a hands-on type who is used to the territory, whereas she is not.

It also emerges that the dead girl has a brother whose sidekick Pete (James Jordan) seems to have some past connection with the oil company located on the Native American land, and although her father (Gil Birmingham) offers little insight into possible perpetrators, clues start to reveal that Pete is in some way connected.

Their inquiries lead them to an alarming confrontation with a group of Mexican oil-workers and this rather melodramatic second act sits uncomfortably with what has gone before. But Sheridan makes this good in the final denouement which brings us to an impressive close in this enjoyable thriller with its twists and dramatic turns. Clearly Sheridan is still learning but his directorial debut lacks the dialogue finesse of his former outings. WIND RIVER is solid entertainment showing Sheridan to be honing his skills as a consummate talent in the making. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 17-28 MAY 2017 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

The Red Spider|Czerwony Pajak (2015) | Kinoteka 2017 | 17 March – 5 April

Dir/cine. Marcin Koszalka | Thriller | Poland |  Czech Republic | Slovak Republic | 2015 | 90 min.

With a quiver of macabre shorts and documentaries under his belt, Krakow-born filmmaker Marcin Koszalka is one of contemporary Poland’s most interesting talents and gathers around him an award-winning design crew.. Inspired by real events, his first fiction feature is a stylishly pristine and cryptic affair that delivers its sinuous storyline in a tightly-paced 90 minutes.

There are sinister things going on in communist Krakow in 1967. In a snowbound park, champion diver, medical student and dutiful son Karol Kremer discovers the multilated body of a teenage boy on his way home. In the shadows, lurks a man in a beret and Karol follows him home to discover he is the local vet, Lutek. The nightly news announces the 11th victim of a serial killer, a young boy. But Karol (Filip Plawiak) is hardly a straightforward chap himself and clearly a fantasist who becomes obsessed with the murders, visiting Lutek (Adam Woronowicz) with his ailing pet terrier (who he has pre-poisoned), and cross-examining him over the murders, which the vet doesn’t deny. Meanwhile, Karol is also conducting a slow-burning seduction of female photographer Danka who soon becomes the killer’s next victim in a frenzied hammer attack. Kremer is arrested as the prime suspect and bizarrely goes along with police inquiries, relishing the opportunity of becoming the centre of attention yet oblivious to the consequences.

More than just a film about serial killing, THE RED SPIDER is very much an evocative mood piece echoing unsettling political events of the time of widespread student protests with the government in disarray in the run-up to the Prague Spring in neighbouring Czechoslovakia. Koszalka’s immaculate camerawork echoes the chilly climate of sexual repression and uncertainty of the strictly Catholic country. Magdalena Dipont’s sets evoke the sleek minimalism of Sixties design in the interiors and street scenes. Although much of the narrative remains fairly enigmatic, Koszalka constructs a spider web of plausibilities that are not beyond reasonable doubt, and the froideur of perfectly-pitched performances adds allure to this his frigid thriller. MT

KINOTEKA 2017 | 17 MARCH 5 APRIL 2017

Cul-de-Sac (1966) | Criterion UK | Bluray release

577_BD_stickerDirector: Roman Polanski |Writers: Polanski and Gérard Brach | DoP: Gilbert Taylor | Score: Krzysztof Komeda | Cast: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier, Geoffrey Sumner | Thriller | 113min

This cruel and dark comedy follow-up to Repulsion is supposed to be Polanski’s favourite, indulging his penchant for awkward social situations, where the underdog is pitted against the stronger personalities. It is another battle of wits fought out in the wild and remote beaches of Lindisfarne where a mismatched married couple are besieged by a couple of robbers and then forced into keeping up appearances when their weekend visitors eventually arrive.

Donald Pleasence and the exquisitely gamine Françoise Dorleac, play the couple (Dorleac was to die in a car accident for the following year at only 25), he is mesmerised by her sexual allure and obsessively in love, she ambivalent and flirtatious playing teasing games when they are interrupted by the arrival of an American crook Richard (Stander) and his mate Albie (MacGowran) whose car has been washed up on a sand dune. The third of the trio, a man called Katelbach, never appears.

The back-footed and half-dressed couple squirm and squabble as they try to get the better of the criminals – who terrorise and torment them. But when Jacqueline Bisset arrives as a glamorous guest, Richard is forced into a submissive role as a butler to maintain his cover, and this gives him a dose of his own medicine – for a while, at least. Of course, it all ends in tears but not before a witty and rather nasty and drawn out interplay between the protagonists.

With Polanski you’re never going to get harmony or a happy ending but CUL-DE-SACs characters are all unlikeable and unpleasant in different ways as the toxic dynamic plays out.

As usual, Polanski surrounds himself with the creme de la creme in cast and crew: DoP Gilbert Taylor’s images gleam with a velvety lustre, Krzysztof Komeda (Rosemary’s Baby, Knife in the Water) provides a perky, score and the production design comes courtesy of Voytek. The whole lot produced by Gene Gutowski (The Pianist, Repulsion, Fearless Vampire Killers). And for once we can be proud of a British-made indie cult classic. CUL-DE-SAC really is arthouse cinema at its best. MT

ON BLURAY COURTESY OF CRITERION UK | 27 FEBRUARY 2017

 

 

 

Lies We Tell * * * (2017)

Dir.: Mitu Misra; Cast: Gabriel Bryne, Sibylla Deen, Jn Uddin, Harvey Keitel,Mark Addy, Reece Ritchie, Emily Atack, Danica Johnson, Harish Patel, Harvey Virdi; UK 2017, 109′.

First time director Mitu Misra tries, perhaps too hard, to construct a complex narrative that leaves too many loose ends to be convincing.. On the other hand, Misra offers a vey honest portrait of the underbelly of the Pakistani Muslim community in Bradford.

When crime lord Demi Lamprose (Keitel) dies, his chauffeur and general dogsbody Donald (Bryne) has to clear his luxury flat, forcing his fledgling solicitor lover Amber (Deen) to move out immediately. As Donald, Byrne rocks his signature hangdog look: estranged from his wife after the death of their daughter Amy, he gets involved with Amber, who has a troubled past -and present, for that matter. At sixteen she was forced to marry her cousin KD (Uddin) in Pakistan, and he is now a high profile gangster in Bradford. Having raped Amber, he tries to marry her 16 year old sister Miriam (Johnson), whose parents are only too willing to give her away, since the bounty from the marriage will cover their debts. It also emerges that Amber was pimped out to by her father to Lamprose for the same reason. When Lamprose’s son Nathan (Ritchie) wants to ‘inherit’ Amber from his father, Amber’s troubles get out of hand. She  successfully disrupts KD and Miriam’s marriage – and KD goes on to marry his pregnant girl friend Emily (Atack), whom he abuses, bloody revenge killings conclude this saga.

DoP Santos Sivan steers clear of bleak social realism and instead uses shadows and innovative angles for his noir images. The nightlife, ‘sponsored’ by KD is from another planet compared with the tradition of Amber’s family, both parents clinging to a religion they have great difficulty in following. Ambers’ workplace is cold, clean and white, a place she somehow finds comforting. Perhaps seedy KD is a little bit over the top in his nastiness, but Misra coruscating portrait of organised crime and this male-dominated culture, fed from both second-hand western macho images and Muslim religiously motivated misogynist ideology, feels very real. There are some great performances, particularly from the reliable Bryne and Deen, and in spite of structural difficulties, LIES WE TELL is always gripping. In the end, the brutal honesty of Misra’s arguments outweigh the flaws of this convoluted chronicle. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 2 FEBRUARY 2018

Creepy (2016) | Dual format Bluray | Eureka

29899698103_b1468e3833_zDir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi | Thriller |130min | Japan

Kiyoshi Kurosawa adopts a soft and deadly approach to creep you out in his latest, a psychological thriller where Hidetoshi Nishijima’s criminologist Takakura looks back into a cold case that involves the disappearance of a local family in the vicinity of a place where he has moved to seek some well-earned peace and quiet. CREEPY gropes its way tentatively through a  procedural that sometimes feels like a crime by numbers affair, but the tension slowly mounts its seething attack on the subconscious, as the elements gradually fall into place. This slow-burn technique pays off eventually, drawing you in so that there is nowhere left to hide. A dynamite Japanese cast ensures in a toxic brew of Japanese horror and American chiller.  MT

OUT ON 23 JANUARY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Stigmata (1999) | Eureka Bluray DVD release

Dir: Rupert Wainwright | Cast: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce | US | Horror | 203min

Rupert Wainwrights bring his skills as an MTV promo director to this Gothic tale of possession that melds the past and the present in exploring how an ordinary hairdresser from Pittsburgh is taken over by dark forces and finds herself afflicted with stigmata wounds, similar to those that Christ suffered when nailed to the Cross. The Vatican’s Father Kiernan is initially sceptical of the story but when her condition worsens he arrives to investigate the case, and the two develop a powerful sexual chemistry.

Patricia Arquette brings an eerie otherworldiness to her performance morphing between a vituperative virago spouting ancient Aramaic and a down to earth blond from the ‘hood, Frankie Paige. Gabriel Byrne brings his potent sensuality to the part of Father Kiernan: a man of the cloth whose black robes could easily be hiding something more sinister. The scenes he shares with a malign Jonathan Pryce (as the Vatican Head) are the most convincing and enjoyable in this stylish and well-paced cult thriller that nonetheless feels quite dated when Arquette does her supernatural stuff to strobe lighting and a score from The Smashing Pumpkins. Blood spurts and the fires of Hell blaze forth and we ponder whether Arquette and Byrne are going to make it through the night as lovers or simply as the Priest and the Possessed. Stigmata certainly still packs and punch but it’s more entertaining that terrifying. MT

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA.

 

In the Heat of the Night (1967) Sidney Poitier tribute

Dir: Norman Jewison | Cast: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates | US | Crime Drama | 109min

Directed by Norman Jewison (Rollerball), and scripted by Stirling Silliphant from the novel by John Ball – In the Heat of the Night was shot during the height of the Civil Rights movement and the Anti-Vietnam war protests, in the openly racist Southern state of Mississippi. It was the year before Bobby Kennedy’s murder and Richard Nixon’s victory in the Presidential elections: this was not only a topical, but also a brave undertaking, considering the violent climate in politics which spilled over into the streets.

In the little town of Sparta, Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) waits at the railway station for the next train, taking him on to Memphis. Tibbs is arrested, without reason by the sheriff’s deputy, Sam Wood (Oates) – just because he is black. For Wood and his boss, sheriff Gillespie (Steiger), Tibbs is a godsend: he is the fall guy for the murder of industrialist Colbert who has been killed on the streets of the sleepy town the night before. After Tibbs shows Gillespie his police shield, the sheriff checks his identity with his home precinct, then asks Tibbs to help him clear up the murder, since he has already imprisoned the second wrongly accused man. Against his better judgement, Tibbs takes on the task: his main suspect is the cotton farmer Endicott (Grates), who had a motive to kill Colbert. Endicott slaps Tibbs, who retaliates, making the stunned Endicott cry out “my grandfather would have shot you for this”. In spite of being chased by a deadly quartet of racist killers, Tibbs solves the case, winning finally Gillespie’s respect.

This is not really a whodunit but a portrait of Southern society still living in the days of the Confederation whose flag can not only be found on cars and buildings in this film, but still proudly raised above the Governmental Mansions (and many ordinary houses) in some southern States today. Tibbs is permanently taunted being called “boy”.  Meanwhile other black people in Sparta can’t get their minds round how a fellow black man could be a police officer.

Institutional racism is the order of the day and even the local café waiter ignores him. Verbal and physical threats poison the atmosphere – Tibbs is made to feel like a second-class citizen. The Voting Act of the 60s helped to restore some lawful semblance of order – at least at the polls, but the Supreme Court abolished it before this year’s election – making voter suppression in the South of the USA rife again.

The cast is stunning, but DoP Haskell Wexler is the real star (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Mulholland Falls) is the real star: his images reflect the simmering heat and violence, the evil lurking in the shadows and in broad daylight. His confrontational close-ups of Tibbs and Gillespie show restrained anger confronting bullying prejudice. The seediness of the little town where Wood lurks voyeuristically, looking at naked white women, is symptomatic of the era’s repressed sexuality. Edited by director-to-be Hal Ashby, Jewison has created not only an aesthetically supreme film, but a political document, that is still resonant today, nearly 50 years later. AS

NOW On MGM with Prime Video Channels

The High Frontier (2016) | Fantastic Fest | Austin, Texas

Writer|Dir: Wojciech Kasperski Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Marcin Dorocinski | Thriller | Poland | 98min

Andrzej Chyra (In the Name 0f) and Marcin Dorocinski (Anthropoid) are the stars of this stylish survival thriller that makes great use of stunning snowbound locations and an atmospheric soundtrack in a trekking holiday that turns into a sinister endurance test for a family of three.

Chyra is Mateusz a former frontier official who is keen to toughen up his teenage boys and teach them the meaning of machismo through heavy drinking bouts and stiff walks through the remote snowscapes and hostile terrain of Poland’s border with Ukraine.

The trip gets off to an inauspicious start when their truck hits a deer on the way to the wood cabin that is to be their remote retreat and the claustrophobic setting for this unsettling nail-biter. Shortly after they arrive the mood turns tense when Janek (Bartosz Bielenia) and Tomek (Kuba Henriksen) open the door to a bloodied and bruised man called Konrad (Marcin Dorociński), who promptly collapses at their feet. Mateusz ventures into the permafrost to look for Konrad’s vehicle and discovers more injured survivors of a serious crash, But while he is gone, the teenagers find themselves having to deal with Konrad who turns out to be a vicious psychopath, despite his life-threatening injuries, and by the end it’s clear that someone is going to die.

Debut director Wojciech Kasperski certainly knows how to generate an unsettling ambience with a sinister soundtrack and DoP Lukasz Zal (IDA) supports the story with his impressive camerawork complimenting the remote locations and edgy standoff between Konrad and the boys. But his script sadly lets him down and leaves the boys robbed of any personality – let alone masculinity – until the final scenes. And with Andrzej Chyra gone for most the running time, the emphasis is on Dorocinski to carry the action forward almost singlehandedly  – apart from a scene featuring Andrzej Grabowski (Lechu) – with Bielenia and Henriksen paling into insignificance as sappy teenagers in rather underwritten roles. It is never made clear why Konrad is free to be travelling with the truck that overturned or why Lechu suddenly turns up at the cabin in its isolated location. The film picks up in the final act where a corruscating finale is the payoff for those who stay the course of this relentlessly gruelling story. MT

THE HIGH FRONTIER WON BEST SOUND AT THE POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

 

Capote (2005) | bluray release

Dir: Bennet Miller | Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper,

Before watching Capote, in the cinema, in 2005, I hadn’t read In Cold Blood. Afterwards I bought a copy and devoured it. The book stunned me as much as Bennet Miller’s stunning film. CAPOTE isn’t an adaptation of In Cold Blood (for that go to Richard Brooks 1967 film) but the story of how Truman Capote wrote his documentary fiction. Last night, viewing CAPOTE again, in a fine blu-ray transfer, I was still moved by its emotional power, sombre atmosphere and high intelligence.

In 1959 four members of the Cutter family were murdered on their Kansas farm. Truman Capote was gripped by the newspaper account and impelled to document the tragedy. Accompanying him was the writer Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) who acted as a facilitator between Capote and the detective on the case Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper). Capote was gradually taken into the confidence of Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jnr), one of the two killers.

Capote is a dark film about a writer’s motivations. It exposes Truman Capote’s contradictory pull to create a work of fiction that will inform, instruct, entertain and
gratify his egoistic and narcissistic impulses for notoriety and fame; whilst he ruthlessly manipulates the accused to achieve his deadline and finish the book. Capote, the man, fascinated (possibly with erotic undertones) by Perry Smith, also finds an empathy with his sad background. “When I think how good it (In Cold Blood) can be I can hardly breathe.” declares Truman Capote, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He gives a masterly performance, full of nuanced pain and joy that cunningly captures the mentality of a brilliantly gifted writer. Yet if there’s a sole flaw in Capote it’s a technical issue. Hoffman says his lines in a quiet, whispering, whiny manner. This is authentically Truman Capote but sometimes difficult to hear in the film’s sound mixing.

Capote has unforgettable moments. Especially the scene where an impatient Truman wants Perry to tell him what really happened during the killings. Both actors modulate their acting – one listens and the other talks. Perry conveys a chilling detachment. And Truman, both excited and repelled, becomes a witness to a heart of darkness. The tone of this remarkable sequence, with its brooding low key lighting and judicious cutting back to the crime, has a severity that evokes the style of Robert Bresson. In substance, the film hints at the kind of malevolence you’ll find in Laughton’s Night of the Hunter or Thompson’s Cape Fear.

Capote probes and disturbs with equal measure. Not just because of its superb performances, but the restrained direction of Bennet Miller, a brilliant screenplay by Dan Futterman and the beautiful, often pastoral, photography of Adam Kimmel.
The film Infamous was released in 2006 and dealt with the same story. Although Infamous was more dramatically balanced between the two killers, it took fictional liberties with the story that were unconvincing. CAPOTE is for me the superior portrait of this fascinating writer and is already high up on my list as one of the great American films of the early 2000’s. ALAN PRICE

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

Private Property (1960) | LFF 2016

Dir.: Leslie Stevens; Cast: Kate Manx, Corey Allen, Warren Oats, Robert Ward; USA 1960, 79 min.

Leslie Stevens (1924-1998) is hardly a household name – but the director/writer of PRIVATE PROPERTY – a film wrongly panned by Andrew Sarris – has contributed significantly to film history: he not only adapted the play The Left Handed Gun by Gore Vidal for Arthur Penn’s screen version of 1958; but, as executive producer of Daystar Productions, he was responsible as writer and director for the cult series The Outer Limits (1963-65).

PRIVATE PROPERTY starts with a long tracking shot, two men seemingly crawl out of the ocean and walk along the beach. They soon steal from a petrol station attendant, and force the guy, who gave them a lift to LA, to follow a posh Corvette car, driven by an attractive blond woman. Then Duke (Allen) and Boots (Oats) settle into an empty house in Beverly Hills, overlooking the property of Ann (Manx) and Roger Carlyle (Ward). Whilst watching Ann sunbathing, Duke promises Boots, who has never slept with a woman, and is obviously gay, that he will make Ann sleep with him. Duke, a psychopath who can mirror the wishes of people he wants to seduce, gets to work, and introduces himself to Ann as a gardener. The bored housewife is only too glad of company, her husband spends all day in the office and travels often, and she and Duke get very close. But when Duke is about to make his move, he introduces Boots and Ann runs away from him. What follows is a surprising orgy of violence.

Shot in five days for $60 000 at the home of the director, who was married to Manx at the time – she would commit suicide at the age of 34 after they split up in 1964. PRIVATE PROPERTY was condemned by The League of Decency and did not get a PCA certification. It nevertheless grossed over two million US dollars, even though it could only be seen outside the big cinema chains. Stevens, who had worked with Orson Welles at the Mercury Theatre, shared his former boss’s taste for unsettling subjects, and innovative camera angles. DoP Ted McCord (East of Eden, The Sound of Music) moves the camera often from the POV of Duke and Boots, catching Ann like an animal in the zoo: she is their object; but, in spite of Freudian innuendos, like opening a bottle of perfume with a stopper resembling a dildo – not a sexual one. Duke is only interested in his power games, and for Boots, she represents just a fairy-tale figure, who he wants to admire but only from a safe distance. The black and white images, sometimes grainy, sometimes dreamy, capture a creepy atmosphere, a sort of harbinger of the future when the Manson gang would commit their murders ten years later. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016

Smoke and Mirrors (2016) Silver Shell Winner | San Sebastian 2016

Dir: Alberto Rodriguez | Cast: Eduard Fernandez, Carlos Santos, Jose Coronado, Marta Etura | 135min | Thriller | Spain

After his atmospheric thriller Marshland, SMOKE AND MIRRORS (El Hombre de las mil Caras) is an ambitious but soulless affair enlivened by San Sebastian Silver Shell winner Eduard Fernandez who plays Spanish government spy Francisco Paesa in this true story, based on a book by Manuel Cerdan.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS often feels like a parody of classic international spy thrillers with its constant wanderings from world capital to capital taking in the sights of Paris, Madrid, London, Singapore and Geneva to mention a few. But despite Alex Catalan’s impressive visual wizardry and intense performances from leads Jose Coronado and Eduard Fernandez, the film leaves us feeling increasingly detached from its often complex narrative which fails on characterisation in an attempt to concertina the detailed meanderings that play out before our eyes in a slick docudrama format that smoulders enticingly but never really catches fire and eventually outstays its welcome,

The thriller explores the intriguing adventures of Paesa who was interviewed by Cerdan after faking his own death in 1998 after fleeing Spain and his loveless marriage to Gloria (Mireia Portas) during the 1980s . Paesa was never paid for his efforts to secure government defence against the Basque terror faction ETA and wreaked revenge on the authorities by helping arch criminal Police Head Luis Roldan (Carlos Santos) to launder his ill-gotten gains squirrelled from the public purse. But Roldan fails to pull off his plan, ending up in hiding in a squalid Parisian mansard – the ones with the tiny oval windows. Reports of his disappearance throng international news channels and impressively Rodriquez has garnered footage of BBC 80s News Reports to give these scenes added authenticity. Where he falls down is in making the story feel too episodic and eventually rather tedious as it flits around trying to cover the whole truth in an exhausting saga that goes on for 135 minutes and ultimately feels repetitive.

That said, Fernandez makes for a sleazy and convincing antihero who manages to be all things to all men, and women, for that matter, with his reptilian gaze and glib excuses. As Roldan, Santos is less successful, rocking an ill-advised bald pate that makes him look weirdly inhuman, it’s difficult for us to take his character seriously and detracts from his performance. His wife Nieves (Marta Etura) remains largely a cypher in an underwritten role. The most compelling performance comes from Paesa’s sidekick Jesus Camoes (Jose Coronado), who is both devilish and appealing in this watchable but unsatisfactory Spanish spy caper. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 25 SEPTEMBER 2016

The Net | Geumul (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Kim Ki-Duk | Cast:

Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum, Lee Won-gun, Kim Young-min, Choi Guy-hwa

112min | Korea | Thriller

Nobody wins in Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk’s latest film – a brutal North|South ‘defection’ tragedy that opened the new Cinema del Giardino at Venice Film Festival 2016.

With moments of dark and lacerating humour and a really grim scene where a potential North Korean spy gurgles to his death by swallowing his own tongue, this is a social and political story that condemns both the Communist regime in the North and the South’s rampant Capitalism showing that, at the end of the day, both are morally and politically corrupt and unsatisfactory for completely different reasons – although the North Korean hero, an honest fisherman who thinks the grass is still greener in his homeland until the mournfully tragic denouement.

When his fishing boat breaks down in a slim stretch of water between North and South, sending it into the ‘no go’ zone, he is captured by the South Korean security forces and remanded for questioning. Although he answers openly and frankly, his assigned investigator is an embittered sadist who is desperate to convict him for spying against the South and subjects him to a series of harsh cross examinations reducing his morale to rock bottom despite his fierce attempts at self preservation claiming his toughness and physical strength is earned him the name ‘Iron Fist’ – during his National Service days. A sympathetic guard (who secretly fancies him) desperately tries to protect him in the face of the ambivalent Head of Security but things go from bad to worse when he finally tries to make it on his own when his guard loses him while taking him on a reccy in downtown Seoul – engineered to see if he really has nefarious intentions. ‘Iron Fist’ shows himself to be a good guy by first refusing to open his eyes to avoid the corrupting forces of the surrounding commercial district, and then beating off some venal pimps who are chasing a prostitute clad only in her baby dolls. This lands him back in custody where he is practically forced to defect to the South, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds after insisting on returning home. But his problems are far from over when he is eventually released back to join his wife and daughter in the North.

Kim Ki-duk tells his political satire in a straightforward linear style taking a disenchanted look at each regime, not really coming down on either side but but exposing the gross inhumanity and injustice of both parties. At the end it is the common man who suffer; the ordinary self-employed worker. Sound familiar? MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CONTINUES UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Blood Orange (2016) | DVD release

Director/Writer: Toby Tobias | Thriller | 85min | Cast: Ben Lamb, Kacey Clarke, Antonio Magro, Iggy Pop

Stealing a march on Jim Jarmusch’s superior Gimme Danger, the poster boy for decrepitude Iggy Pop makes his big screen debut in BLOOD ORANGE an erotic thriller showcasing his perma-tanned, reptilian physique and parlous acting skills as Bill, a partially blind and crippled old timer who allows his wife (Kacey Clarke) to sleep with the gardener (Antonio Magro) but takes exception when her stepson (Ben Lamb) attempts to claim a share of his late father’s inheritance. Fans will lap it up, the rest should stay away. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD from 11 July courtesy of METRODOME 

Remainder (2015)

Director.: Omer Fast | Cast: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Asher Ali | UK/Germany 2015, 103 min.

Well known for his video installations, REMAINDER is Israel-born filmmaker Omer Fast’s first full-length feature after his debut with the medium length hybrid documentary/fiction Everything that Rise must Converge. Based on the novel by Tom McCarthy, the obtuse drama deals with the function of human memory, and is difficult to classify.

Tom (Sturridge), loses his memory after being hit by a big black box falling from a highrise office block in central London. He spends the rest of this film trying to reconstruct his life before the accident. After receiving an £8 million settlement, he buys an old-fashioned mansion block, where he believed he had lived before. He then employs all the tenants to act out his memories. Two men, supposedly agents from the Security Services, kill a man with whom Tom was in contact, near a phone box out side his flat. The mysterious Catherine (Jumbo) visits him and he has her repeat some dialogue from their past. With the help of the equally enigmatic Naz (Ali), who is supposed to be an architect, Tom assembles a crew in order to restage a bank robbery in a private City bank, where Catherine works. When the restaging turns real, Tom feels as if he is caught in an endless time loop.

REMAINDER is well crafted on all levels, but lacks any emotional interest for the audience. We are tossed a few red herrings about Tom’s past but he remains a cypher along with the other protagonists in this guessing game exercise: Fast plays with the audience, but he does not engage for a moment. DoP Lukas Strebel’s images are fittingly cold and ascetic creating an atmosphere of enigma, where the protagonists float rhythmically in this soulless operation that fails to connect on any level. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 24 JUNE 2016

 

The Violators (2015)

Director.: Helen Walsh

Cast: Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Stephen Lord, Liam Aisnworth, Derek Barr, Challum King Chadwick

97min | Drama | UK 2015

Novelist turned filmmaker Helen Walsh sets her debut feature The Violators in and around the sink estates of Birkenhead (Cheshire), a grim post-industrial heartland. Ultra-realistic in tone and supremely acted by the two female teenagers, Walsh’ script plays with the underlying sexual motives of female solidarity before a dramatic final rush destroys the intricacies that take place beforehand.

Sixteen year-old Lauren (Mc Queen) has to look after her two brothers – the adult, near catatonic Andy (Barr) and the schoolboy Jerome (Chadwick) – in their rundown council flat. Lauren strikes up an unlikely friendship with Rachel (Ellis), who lives in a posh house in a gated complex. Lauren showers Rachel with gifts a in a relationship that seems  impenetrable and enigmatic. But Lauren panics and turns to middle-aged pawnbroker Mikey (Lord) when she hears that their violent father is to be released from prison. The would-be sugar-daddy exploits her sexually and when she discovers that their father is not coming home she then turns to her neighbour, a friendly army cadet Kieran (Ainsworth). With the audience still wondering about the implications of the Lauren/Rachel relationship, Walsh decides to deny all the previous festering malevolence, opting for a dramatic finale. But the botched ending is not the only problems with The Violators. Walsh’s underwhelming script leaves too many unanswered questions to satisfy the shroud of seething tension created by first time cinematographer Tobin Jones’ dark and eerie images, which are the most potent element of this edgy drama; with the teenage leads impressively acting out the individual nuances of their quiet emotional despair. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 17 JUNE 2016

 

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Director: Gavid Hood   Writer: Guy Hibbert

Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northam

102 min | Thriller | UK

Aaron Paul is a drone pilot who balks at pulling the trigger for Helen Mirren in Gavin Hood’s new film.

Before you dismiss EYE IN THE SKY as just another film about terrorism, think again. Gavin Hood’s gripping imagined drama is a tightly-plotted moral maze that places us right in the heart of the decision-making process with a front row seat.

In this Drone Drama, you will share and sympathise with army chiefs and governments ministers, the decision-making red tape that has to be gone through, laboriously and stringently, before anyone can pull a single trigger. The War on Terror is a now worldwide issue but here the anxiety here is distilled into a the sweaty confines of a tiny boardroom where the ‘powers that be’ debate and clash over matters of life and death under pressure and with nerves of steel, making sure that their own backs are covered in the chain of responsibility. Hood shows us the man at the coalface who feels his responsibility to his target just as keenly as a soldier confronting a civilian face to face – on the streets or battlefield.

But where Hood’s thriller falls down is in imagining that so many major minds would be involved in the life of one single person – and that Government ministers and trained soldiers could be driven to tears over such a decision. That said, Guy Hibbert’s script feels plausible and persuasive: in a Whitehall Cabinet office senior officials are summoned by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in a masterful final role) to curtail the activities of “most wanted” set of terrorist villains including a British woman allied to the Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi. Meanwhile an American drone is gliding over the African village and sending information to British Colonel Katherine Powell (a steely Helen Mirren), who in turn is reporting back to the Cabinet and also liaising with her ground staff and local troops in the village locale. The order is sent out to capture but not to kill.

These highly-skilled ground operatives also have at their disposal tiny remote-controlled insect-shaped drones equipped with cameras that can fly into buildings and monitor the movements of their desired targets. As such they are sent in motion by these trained allies in ‘civvies’ nearby, to assist in the bombing of headquarters of the praying terrorists, who are plotting their ambush. Crucial also is the damage limitation required in such an exercise: the chances must be weighed up of a bomb causing collateral death and destruction. In particular, to a  little girl selling bread in the street outside the perpetrators hide-out. To humanise the little girl, we see her  sans hijab, with her parents in their home. When her mother has baked the bread, she is sent off with her camping table to sell her wares.

There are some terrific moments of tension where we root for the ground ally (Barkhad Abdi) and empathise with the ministers and Powell who is tasked with completing her vital mission. There is a deadly humour too to the board room buck-passing that shows how ultimately politicians always cover their backs before reacting; it is not doing the right thing that is important, but how it will be perceived in the newswire aftermath. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 APRI 2016

 

The Beat that My Heart Skipped | Mubi

Director: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Romain Duris, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Niels Arestrup | 108min |French

In THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED Jacques Audiard ((Rust and Bone) turns the story of James Toback’s 1978 Fingers into a profound and gritty study of alienation and redemption experienced by Tom (Romain Duris) a petty Parisian crook who is caught up in a web of dodgy property deals, inherited from his father (a masterful Niels Arestrup). Essentially a decent bloke, Tom is desperate to get on the straight and narrow so he can focus on his real dream; that of becoming a concert pianist. Romain Duris is superbly watchable here as Tom, balancing the two sides of his life with tangible nervousness in a drama as taut as the strings of his treasured piano. MT

NOW ON MUBI

 

Bone Tomahawk (2016)

Director.: S. Craig Zahler

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, Richard Jenkins

USA 2015, 132 min.

First time writer/director S. Craig Zahler has delivered the companion peace to Tarantino’s Hateful 8: slightly less obnoxious and with a narrative at least worth the name, Bone Tomahawk nevertheless falls victim to the gross and gratuitous violence served up in this Western cum Horror, exploiting the myths of the traditional genre.

When a bounty killer comes to the settlement of ‘Bright Hope’, he is followed by some weird creature – half Indian, half Zombie – wanting revenge for the killer’s desecration of the Indian burial site. The creature kidnaps not only the killer, but also one of he Deputy Sheriffs and Samantha (Simmons), wife of Arthur (Wilson), a rather peace-loving man, suffering from a leg wound. Sheriff Hunt (Russell) sets up to rescue the two, together with the bitter racist Brooder (Fox), his old deputy and ex-medic Chicory (Jenkins) and Arthur, who joins the group against the advice of the Sheriff and his Deputy. Brooder is killed and Arthur finally falls far behind, but reaches the mountain hideout of what turns out to be cannibals, in time for the showdown.

Some scenes are only just watchable, sometimes the gore is unflinching vile. The appearance of flesh eating Zombies in the middle of a desert makes no sense, particularly when Zahler tries so hard to emulate Ford’s The Searchers, only succeeding in making Brooder a soul mate of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Chicory is supposed to be another Walter Brennan as Eddie in Hawk’s To Have and Have not – but Zahler is just a grave digger of past classics himself: showing a person ripped in half has nothing to do with serious cinema, never mind exceptional great ones.

DOP Benji Bakshi tries equally very hard to create images worthy of bygone eras, but he just copies and does not invent. Russell is a reliable lead: the trusty, slightly cynical and very tired. Matthew Fox, even though sometimes over the top, does create the menace and salaciousness of the eternal revenge killer. Wilson and Simmons are shown as a loving couple, but their characters are by far not fleshed out enough. Overall, Bone Tomahawk gives away any pretence to be serious film, by mixing a classic story with elements of a third rate Slasher movie. AS

OUT ON FRIDAY 19TH FEBRUARY 2016

 

Breakdown (2016)

Dir.: Jonnie Malachi

Cast: Craig Fairbrass, Emmet J. Scanlon, James Cosmo, Olivia Grant, Amanda Wass, Rab Affleck

UK 2016, 110 min.

What happens if a contract killer has a mental breakdown and wants to leave the profession? First time director and writer Jonnie Malachi answers with a brutal, cliché ridden and poorly acted piece of film full of bad taste and gratuitous violence. The only redeeming feature is an occasional involuntary joke it throws up.

Alfie (Fairbrass) is a contract killer with a decent family and a home straight out of House & Garden. His wife Catherine (Grant) and teenage daughter Maya (Wass), are there to be protected by him – mainly from his employers, a nasty gang called ‘Homefront’. The boss, Albert (Cosmo) is furious when Alfie suddenly blacks out, due to remorse, while torturing a victim in front of a chuckling client. Albert finishes the job and Alfie has to kill a whole gang to keep the rather disappointed client happy, Alfie’s best friend and college, Connor (Scanlon) lusts after Catherine and is only too ready to slip into Alfie’s shoes. Luckily for Alfie, the mighty ‘Homefront’ consists only of six, rather incompetent members, and with the active participation of his family in his revenge killing-spree, Alfie could be all set up for a happy-end. DOP James Friend makes it easy for the audience: soft lensed action means family life; hard colours represent action – of which there is a lot – just enough to kill any idea that this apology for a film could be taken seriously in any way. AS

AT SELECTED CINEMAS ON 15 JANUARY. DVD DIGITAL FROM 18 JANUARY 2016

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