Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’

Doberman (1997)

Dir.: Jan Kounen; Cast: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Tchéky Karyo, Dominique Bettenfeld, Romain Duris, Stephane Metzger; France 1997, 104 min.

A tour-de-force of misogyny and profanities Doberman champions its anti-intellectual stance with an unrelenting orgy of violence that would make the first time director later fare look comparatively sane and docile. After cutting his teeth with a strong cast of Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Romain Duris, the Dutch director would graduate to more sober features in the shape of quasi western Renegade and stylish biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.

Cassel and Bellucci were already real life lovers setting the tone here as an ’80s Bonnie and Clyde duo, based on the comic strip series by Joël Houssin, who adapted the film version with the director.  It all kicks off with Yann (Cassel) still wet behind the ears at his Christening, after the CGI Dobermann had lifted his leg over a dead cameraman in the opening credits. Just in time for young Yann to end up with a .357 Magnum in his stroller.

Twenty years later he has teamed up with mute Roma beauty Nat (Bellucci) and a crew of violent misfits: narcissistic L’Abbe (Bettenfeld) enjoys his fake priest outfit, while Nat’s brother Manu (Duris) has incestuous longings for his sister. The gang specialises in bank heists, driving psychotic police inspector Christini (Karyo) mad with nightmares of revenge. After successfully managing three parallel robberies, Christini again being foiled, the inspector and his men raid the family home of Sonia (Metzger) who lives a double life of law student and trans sex worker. Threatening Sonia’s baby son, the policeman then finds the gang is celebrating with raids in an S&M techno club.

Hard core sex and strobe lights accompany an orgy of brutality in a prolonged police raid that gradually loses its sting and shock impact: the stylish, glittering surface gliding over the film’s rotten core. DoP Michel Amathien’s cross cutting with extreme wide-angle shots, split screens and frenetic editing by Benedict Brunet and Eric Carlier only makes this feel more remote, less reachable. What remains is an exercise in nihilistic violence. Symbolically, near the end, one of the gangsters uses a copy of Cahiers du cinema’ to wipe his bottom in full view of the police cars. Kounen might have aimed for something like Nikita by Luc Besson, but he ended up with a third rate self-parody. AS

IN CELEBRATION OF ITS 25th ANNIVERSARY DOBERMAN IN CINEMAS AND ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD | 13 MAY 2022

Miss Zombie (2013)

Dir: SABU | Japan, Horror 85′

In Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies (1966) the local squire was resuscitating recently deceased Cornish villagers in 1860 to work in his tin mine, while the American writer William Seabrook claimed to have watched zombies in the late 20’s working on plantations in Haiti.

George Romero later parodied contemporary society in his Living Dead trilogy, so it was only a matter of time – on screen at least – before 21st Century zombie farmers would eventually be supplying zombies (complete with instruction manuals) to do household chores for the affluent.

Shot for the most part in grungy black & black minus the breathless pace that characterised SABU’s earlier thrillers, Miss Zombie – SABU’s first horror film – is pretty evidently an allegory of the developed world’s increasingly insatiable appetite for cheap imported labour, and the bullying and exploitation – including sexual – that goes with it. When Shara starts collecting knives we seem to be entering Jimmie Blacksmith territory and order eventually breaks down with consequences that should be sufficiently bloody to satisfy the gorehounds in the audience. @Richard Chatten

 

Station Six-Sahara (1963) VOD

Dir: Seth Holt | Writers: Brian Clemens, Bryan Forbes, Jean Martet | Cast: Caroll Baker, Peter van Eyck, Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Biff McGuire, Mario Adorf, Hansjorg Felmy | UK Comedy Thriller 101′

Not a film for anybody currently climbing the walls under lockdown. Station Six-Sahara demonstrates that a wide open expanse can be as claustrophobic as a tiny little cabin; the oppressive desert backdrop (of Libya’s Sahara) vividly rendered by veteran cameraman Gerald Gibbs as a blinding white nothingness stretching to infinity (like snow but also oppressively hot).

Usually mistaken for a drama, Station Six-Sahara is more properly enjoyed – if that’s the right word for such an intense experience – as a very black comedy. Bryan Forbes rewrote Brian Clemens’ original script based on a play by Jean Martet which anticipates The Flight of the Phoenix and Dark Star in it’s unsparing depiction of a group of men who didn’t have much in common in the first place driven further round the bend by being cooped up together; or to suffer the final twist of the knife when Carroll Baker literally crashes in on them.

There’s little overt action, the tension deriving from what’s going on inside them rather than what they are actually doing. Or wish they were doing. Richard Chatten.

NOW on PRIME VIDEO 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

The Prowler (1951) ****

Dir.: Joseph Losey; Cast: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, Emerson Tracey, Wheaton Chambers, John Maxwell; USA 1951, 92 min.

The Prowler was Losey’s favourite among the five Hollywood features he directed before blacklisting forced him to emigrate to Europe. The HU-AC witch hunt also affected the film’s writers Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler, PD John Hubley and German émigré writer/director Hans Wilhelm, who co-scripted the project.

The alternative title The Cost of Living, is actually a more appropriate one for this rather nasty little noir thriller that takes its cue from Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Losey’s feature has nothing of the grandeur of the Wilder film, being simply a story of mundane greed and lust. Fred MacMurray’s insurance salesman Walter Neff has a a shred of charm and a conscience, even though he ‘mislays’ it. His equivalent here, police officer Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), is just in it for the money and the sex.

LA socialite Susan Gilvray (Keyes, married at the time to co-producer John Huston) has been disturbed by a prowler. Inspector Webb Garwood (Heflin) fetches up at her mock Spanish villa with his partner Bud Crocker (Maxwell) – the good cop – who will shadow his buddy to the bitter end.

Webb is smitten by the lady, but much more impressed by her wealth. Susan is married to William (Tracey)M a late-night radio host who is infertile. After rebuffing Webb at first, Susan falls for him, and they have an affair. Webb then sets up a scene where the “prowler” (who is none other than Webb, having the foresight to use the William’s revolver) shoots the husband dead, grazing his skin.

The inquest is quickly over, but Susan discovers she is four months pregnant by Webb – something the couple clearly need to keep a secret. They travel to a quiet backwater in Yermo, California, to wait for the birth of the child. But complications arise, and Webb fetches Dr. James (Chambers) from LA. Susan, who now knows the truth, is afraid Webb will also do away with Dr. James after he is no longer needed. Webb flees when the cops show up in town, but instead of surrendering, he takes the bullets from his former collegues.

The Prowler is bleak and also rather squalid with its petit-bourgeois values. Webb is corrupt, using his position in society for murder. He is the “typical” victim of circumstances: a former basket ball player, whose career had been cut short by injury. Webb wants to take revenge for his misfortune, and has no qualms about his victims. Susan is a superficial woman, only in the end mustering some moral fibre. This was the last feature for veteran DoP Arthur C. Miller (The Song of Bernadette), who was elected as President of the American Society of Cameramen, dying in 1970.

Producer SP Eagle (Sam Spiegel) had a lot in common with the anti-hero of the piece: making Losey and his writer Trumbo sing for their supper, and in the end having to seek recourse to justice for their fees – including the USD35 Trumbo was paid for giving his voice to the radio host. AS

A GOOD PRINT IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE

      

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 Ninth Gate (1999) Prime video

Dir: Roman Polanski | Cast: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford | DoP: Darius Khondji | Wri: Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu | 133mins   Horror Thriller

A book collector pops his clogs – quite literally – during the title sequence of this amusingly sardonic thriller starring Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, a shady book dealer hired to locate the last remaining copies of a demonic manuscript purportedly written to raise the Devil.

Perfectly indulging Polanski’s penchant for the macabre, the idea was taken from ‘El Club Dumas’ a novel by Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte, and is one of five horror films the maverick filmmaker has made so far in his eclectic career.

Wojciech Kilar (The Pianist) conjures up an atmosphere of sinuous evil with pristine camerawork from Darius Khondji (Funny Games), Polanski once again surrounding himself with the crème de la crème to create an enjoyably unsettling foray into a world of conspiracy, murder and satanic ritual.

The Ninth Gate (which gets its title from a fictional work ‘The Nine Gates Of the Kingdom of The Shadows’ (1666)  by Aristide Torcia) was not well received critically, despite a well-judged turn from Depp as a tough and noirishly scuzzy lead who is soon joined by a foxy and sinister sidekick in the shape of Emmanuelle Seigner, who follows him around in an anorak in similar mode to her Mimi from Bitter Moon (1992). But the film did pave the way for The Pianist (2002) which was greeted as a much-awaited return to ‘form’ and won his an Oscar for Best Director.

Judge for yourself. Ninth Gate is a good-looking, globe-trotting tale of intrigue with Hitchcockian overtones that unspools in a shadowy New York and travels to the more edgy corners of fading 20th century Europe (Sintra, Toledo and Cathar France) involving a range of seedy characters – and it’s the performances that really make this worthwhile. It then wanders down a rather absurdist plotline until a denouement which strangely echoes Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).  In The Ninth Gate Polanski blends style and technical finesse with the playful nonchalance of a director who has already done it all and can afford to have some fun with this outlandish but engaging tale. MT

THE NINTH GATE IS ON PRIME VIDEO

True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) ****

Dir: Justin Kurzel | Cast: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Thomasin McKenzie | Biopic 124′

Australian thrillers are usually brutal and anarchic, emblematic of the scorched earth savagery of their remote and often desiccated homeland. Justin (Snowtown) Kurzel’s latest foray into fiendishness is adapted by Shaun Grant from Peter Carey’s novel, and inspired by the infamous Ned Kelly, who raged through the bush in a melodramatic meltdown during 19th-century English colonial occupation. 

This incarnation of Kelly is a tightly muscled racier beast that Carey’s animal, bred out dysfunction to become a macho psychopath of the worst order, and obsessed by an abusive mother Ellen (Essie Davis) who sold him as an apprentice to local bandit Harry Power (a scabrous Russell Crowe ) who taught him the tricks of the trade. Kurzel excels in creating vicious villains. Here he shows us the how Ned Kelly (an outlandish George MacKay) became such a hell-raiser, through a serious of episodic accounts that link the past with his criminal activities as leader of the gang. These encompass a weirdly mixed-up sexual ambivalence and a predilection for homoeroticism and cross-dressing. 

Kelly emerges a weak-willed brothel-creeper from the outset, unable to avenge his mother’s sexual abuse at the hands of an English sergeant (Charlie Hunnam), and drawn to the company of other low-life members of the English regiment. One is Nicholas Hoult’s Constable Fitzpatrick who frequents a local brothel, where Kelly falls into the clutches of Mary (Thomasin McKenzie) and morphs into full-blown insurgency against the British (The Nightingale here we go again). And it’s at this stage that film starts to visually resonate with Kurzel’s 2015 outing  Macbeth and there are also echoes of Snowtown (2012) but it’s also here that is starts to unravel into something unhinged but also hypnotic, breaking free from its period drama into a psychedelic thriller.

Mesmerising for the most part, True History is an ultimately an uneven experience unable to maintain the sheer pace of its early scenes. But its vehemence, passion and visual allure burn bright, and the final part of the film descends into extraordinary surreal psychodrama. Kelly is a chameleon character who always knows where his bread is buttered, and is able to ingratiate himself with the right people at the right time – and George Mackay once again shows his amazing talents in this transformative role. A psychedelic and shatteringly violent experience but one that is compelling despite its flaws. MT

LIVE YOUTUBE Q&A WITH DIRECTOR & CAST 28 JUNE 2020

 

WITH DIRECTOR JUSTIN KURZEL

AND ACTORS GEORGE MACKAY, ESSIE DAVIS, AND EARL CAVE

 

Only the Animals (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Dominik Moll; Cast: Damien Bonnard, Bastien Boillon, Laura Calamy, Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Roger ‘Bibesse’ N’drin, France/Germany 2019, 116′.

German born director Dominik Moll has been sadly neglected of late. Best known for his psychological thrillers Harry He’s Here to Help and Lemming and the hilarious News from Planet Mars (which never got a UK release) he came to Venice last year with one of the best features in the Venice Days line-up . Adapted from Colin Niel’s 2014 novel of the same name, this is an intense non-linear study of human behaviour, showing greed and possessiveness as the motivator that drives us all forward in the belief we are in love.

Most of the action takes part in a remote snowbound part of the French Massif Central, but the drama opens in the port city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. There Armand (N’drin) sets in motion a sort of Ariadne trail, with one woman paying with her life for the sins of others. Armand is a small time grafter who finds photos of Marion (Tereszkiewicz) on the net, setting her up as bait for the French farmer Denis (Menochet), who is married to insurance saleswoman Alice (Calamy).

She has fallen for one of her clients, Joseph, an unstable farmhand in Denis’ employer who has been disturbed by hallucinations since the death of his mother: “I only talk to the animals”, he tells Alice. Meanwhile back in Abidjan, Armand has succeeded in making Denis fall for Marion, extracting the first tranche of the money transfers from the farmer. Armand, who nicknames Marion ‘Armandine’ – even though he has never met her – then invents a precarious story making Denis fall into the trap of wanting to rescue Armandine – whatever the cost. But the real Marion in in a relationship with Evelyne (Tedeschi), who shares a holiday home with her husband Guillaume just down the road from Alice and Denis.

This is a complex plot, intricately put together by Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand (who worked with him on Harry). Suffice to say it keeps up absolutely glued to the screen, enthralled by a seductively simmering plot line, Patrick Ghiringhell’s camerawork providing plenty of visual thrills including panoramic images of the magnificent mountain region and the lively African port city. A spine-tingling score of strings primps the moments of tension.

The saying “money makes the world go round”  has never been so true, and in this particular drama it is spot on: internet and money transfers connect every part of the globe. And every character wants a part of the action. Apart from Joseph, who leaves no clues to his disappearance from the scene in this enigmatic mystery thriller. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX
https://youtu.be/5HYJ6CjOzi8

The Whistlers (2019)

Dir/Wri: Corneliu Porumboiu | Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agusti Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, George Pisterneanu | Thriller, 97′

This Noirish Romanian arthouse thriller is not the first to use whistling as a vital part of its storyline. Last year’s Locarno Critics’ prize winner Sibel showed how vital this ancient style of communication is in isolated parts of the World. And La Gomera is one of them. The craggy hideaway in the Canaries is where a dark and sinuous double-crossing drama plays out. It also travels to the Romanian capital Bucharest, and Singapore. Swinging backwards and forwards in time tense The Whistlers is a rather forboding film with a retro feeling of the Sixties and another saturnine performance from Porumboiu’s regular Vlad Ivanov (who appearing in Tegnap and Sunset).

He is Cristi, a detective under surveillance from his colleagues who is rapidly finds out that this special language from local Spanish-speaking gangsters can keep him under the radar. Porumboiu’s clever lighting techniques and a ravishing score of modern classics and operatic arias keeps the action pumping to a surprising finale.

You may find the plot rather complicated and the crooks hard to identify (I did), but basically it goes as follows: Vast wads of illegal euros are being laundered in a mattress factory outside Bucharest whence they’re transported to the crime ring in Spain and Venezuela. The factory owner and middle-man is a petty criminal called Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) and his girlfriend Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) seduces Cristi in the sexually-charged opening sequence (which takes us back to Basic Instinct). Meanwhile Zsolt’s boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga) instructs another honcho Kiko (Antonio Buil) to teach Cristi the whistling lingo. The place is riddled with surveillance cameras and no one can really be trusted in this edgy atmosphere of uncertainty so the arcane hissing comes in handy as a form of covert communication.

Meanwhile, Cristi’s sidekick Alin (George Pisterneanu) and their boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) make up the Police contingent. All these characters are out for themselves. La Gomera takes a leading role   with its inaccessible stony beaches, crystal waters and dense wooded hillsides. The final coda in Singapore doesn’t quite dovetail into the film and has a whiff of being added just to spice things up for the glamorous reveal in a light show taking place at the Gardens by the Bay.

In true noir style The Whistlers is not a long film and slips down easily – there are no deep messages here – despite its rather intractable plot. An ambitious and intriguing addition to the Romanian filmmaker’s oeuvre. MT

ON CURZON WORLD FROM FRIDAY 8 MAY 2020

 

 

Mr Klein (1976) Blu-ray

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Berge, Juliet Berto, Michael Lonsdale | Thriller, 123′


What a fabulous and resonant contribution American director Joseph Losey made to the world of European cinema: each film a work of art that seems to live on. reinventing itself with each new generation. Mr Klein is a case in point and seems more relevant now that it did on its original release in 1976 in telling a story from Nazi-occupied Paris of the early 1940s.

Elegant, unsettling and strangely brooding this noirish thriller reflects another world of caution and insecurity reflecting the current state of crisis. Opulently set in and around the quartier of a Parisian apartment belonging to an art dealer – a superb Alain Delon who plays the central role with a suave and amiable dignity alongside his pouting heroines Jeanne Moreau and Juliet Berto exquisitely attired by French costume designers Collette Baudot and Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca. Gerry Fisher’s subtle camerawork and chiaroscuro lighting enhances Alexandre Trauner’s magnificent production designs creating an atmospheric sense of place in the beautiful bourgeois Parisians settings. So much so that you almost forgot the storyline that is stealthily working its way to a compelling conclusion, in the background. Not to mention the salient subject of Jewish persecution and anti-semitism which is at the film’s core. And crucially, it is the police that are carrying out the rounding up of Jews (some 13,000), not the German soldiers.

Elliptical in nature, in the same way as The Servant and Accident, Franco Solinas (Battle of Algiers) wrote the script along with Fernando Morandi and Costa-Gavras, but Losey drew on his experience with Hollywood Blacklisting to create the atmosphere of creeping uncertainty and mistrust that steals through the feature.

Delon’s Robert Klein is running a tight business buying up art works from Jewish Parisians desperate to leave the country. But gradually his facade drops when a Jewish newspaper bearing his name is delivered to his private address, forcing him to check the provenance of the paper, and prove his identity and his raison d’être. And as he digs deeper, the more the mud seems to stick to his hand-tailored tweed suits, eventually landing him in deep shit when things spin out of control, as they eventually do, in the best possible taste. A fascinating film about suspicion, illusion, collective recrimination and the strange way people behave when the ground starts to shift. MT

Joseph Losey’s MR. KLEIN | Fully restored on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital on September 13

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) **** BFI player

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, DoP: Gokhan Tiryaki | Cast: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan | 180mins Cert15

Climates, Distance, Three Monkeys. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films cast a knowing glance over Turkish life with slow-burning plots and a hypnotic style that resonates with the characters and the landscape they inhabit.  Here in Anatolia he feels his way intuitively through a murder mystery road story with no regard for time or stricture, on a long hot night that hangs in the air and in the memory.

There’s a saturnine-looking murderer (Ercan Kesal) but no body, and a series of random events that make this a meandering but enjoyable journey through stunning set pieces and widescreen photography, meeting the locals, with no hurry to solve a crime. The interplay between the main characters; a Columbo-style chief prosecutor (Taner Birsel); a humane police chief (Yilmaz Erdogan) and a slightly seedy doctor (Mohammet Uzuner) is skilful and amusing but the real star is the social commentary that at first seems trivial but grows more relevant and revealing as the night wears on. By dawn things start to fall into place. Keep with it, this is a tale that takes its time but never outstays its welcome. MT ©

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

They Live By Night (1948) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell | US, Film Noir 95′

Legendary director Nicholas Ray began his career with this lyrical film noir, the first in a series of existential genre films overflowing with sympathy for America’s outcasts and underdogs. When the wide-eyed fugitive Bowie (Farley Granger), having broken out of prison with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), each recognizes something in the other that no one else ever has.

The young lovers dream of a new, decent life together, but as they flee the cops and contend with Bowie’s fellow crims, who aren’t about to let him go straight, they come to realise there’s nowhere left to hide. Ray brought an outsider’s sensibility honed in the theatre to this debut, using revolutionary camera techniques and naturalistic performances to craft a profoundly romantic crime drama that paved the way for decades of lovers-on-the-run thrillers to come.

Available on Amazon from 20 April 2020

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

     

Oldboy (2004) **** Now on Mubi

Dir: Park Chan-Wook | South Korea, Thriller 120′

Park Chan-Wook’s dazzlingly stylish revenge thriller was almost as successful as Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite on the festival circuit, winning multiple awards back in the year of its making but being pipped to the post by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11 at Cannes 2004. And although the original raised the profile of Korean film, Spike Lee’s US remake ten years later has melted into obscurity despite having a brilliant Josh Brolin in the main role.

Based on the graphic novel by the Japanese Manga writer Garon Tsuchiya (illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi), Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-su, a middle-aged man who finds himself under lock and key for no apparent reason. After fifteen years he is mysteriously released from his confinement fuelled with a fearsome lust for revenge that catapults him down a narrow corridor, in one take, to get even with whoever imprisoned him. But there’s worse to come including a meal of live octopus in this ludicrously violent feature. MT

NOW ON MUBI

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

 

The Whistleblower (2019) ***

Dir.: Xue Xiaolu; Cast: Lei Jiayin, Tang Wei, Xi Qi, Ce Wang, Brett Cousins, John Batchelor; Australia/China 2019, 134 min. 

Love on the run meets environmental thriller in this over-ambitious feature debut from Chinese director/writer Xue Xiaolu (Ocean Heaven). The sheer pace and chemistry of the leads is bogged down by an overlong and convoluted storyline. What Xue really wanted to make was a complex love story rather than a high concept feature.

The film opens with an  earthquake causing a massive death toll in a remote region of Malawi. Meanwhile in Australia, an outfit called Eco Energy Technology sends rescue teams out to help the victims and joins forces to celebrate a clean energy project with Chinese Eco Company Han Coal Group on a coastal resort in Queensland.

Chinese expatriate Mark (Jiayin) is off to Africa where his former girlfriend Wen (Wei) is now married to the Chairman of Han Coal Group. The two find themselves in bed again, Wen missing her flight and narrowly avoiding death when the plane crashes, leaving no survivors. Meanwhile Peter (Wang), a diabetic is found dead at the resort, everything pointing to suicide by insulin overdose. Two weeks later, Mark having returned to his wife Judy (Qi) gets a phone call from Wen, who is alive and on the run from her husband who uses Harrison (Batchelor) to hunt her down. Wen and Mark are not only trying to save their lives, they also have to solve Peter’s death seemingly at the hands of Harrison, just like Tom Baker (Cousins), an engineer at the Malawi site of the company. He had warned the company that their procedure of energy supply was anything but clean: it actually caused the earthquake. Having enough proof of Han Coal Group’s compliance in the accident, Mark finds out that Wen has double crossed him twice, blackmailing her husband for ten million dollar, and keeping the findings to herself. With Judy losing trust in him, Mark has to make a final decision: can he trust Wen for a third time? High octane stuff and entertaining none the less. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE 6 DECEMBER 2019

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) *** Re-release

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Wri: Frederic Raphael, Stanley Kubrick | Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field | US Thriller 159′

Stanley Kubrick’s last film is ironically his biggest disappointment. Eyes Wide Shut  looks very alluring and the starry cast is impressive, but the story just doesn’t lead you where you hope it will: it doesn’t lead you anywhere for that matter – unless of course you’re want to be transported to a surreal dreamworld of ludicrous nightmares where the doom-laden sensuality is more important than the message it actually delivers. The  last act of this Gothic Manhattan thriller is completely out of context with what has gone before.

Ironically, this fantasty thriller is built around two cypher-like central characters who are merely there to serve the premise that marriage s first and foremost a flimsy affair built on fidelity. And any transgression from either side leads to the relationship imploding rather than being strengthened by its changed dynamic. If you lop a branch of a tree, it usually doesn’t die, it just grows in a different direction, and can even flourish from a little light pruning – and this what could have happened if we buy into the story that Kubrick tells, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s original Viennese novel Traumnovelle (he also wrote La Ronde).

We first meet Dr Bill Harford (Cruise) and his glib wife Alice (a sizzling Nicole Kidman)  dressing seductively for a cocktail party given by an illustrious patient of the good doctor, Victor Zegler (Pollack). They are very sure of themselves and their marriage to each other as parents of a 7 year old daughter. Being 1990s America, marital infidelity is still treated very seriously and the scantily clad couple spend a few minutes smoking a joint and fondling one another in bed, while projecting their sexual fantasies onto each other: Alice is very outspoken in her belief that woman are just as sexually promiscuous as men, given the opportunity. And what she says is convincing: that once a person has set eyes the object of their desire, they will do absolutely anything to consummate that urge, even if it involves cheating on their existing partner, who ironically attains a status of enhanced endearment and affection in their hearts – while their brain is almost locked in an atavistic need to mate. whatever the cost.

Thus Kubrick sets the stage for all kinds of possibilities to play out in the rest of the film having set the seed of doubt in the doctor’s mind, but not in that of his wife, who clearly trusts him and appears gung-ho at the cocktail party, flirting outrageously with her dance partner (Sky du Mont) while Bill shoots the breeze with a couple of floozies. In fact, Kidman plays Alice in same cocky and mannered way reminding us of very much of Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining. 

Eyes Wide Shut certainly showcases Kubrick’s mastery as a filmmaker. His daughter Anya said it was his favourite film and it positively glows with the rich and sensuous warmth of New York in the holiday season, both in the shimmering streets and the vibrant interiors. But a weird nagging doubt hangs over proceedings. And this doubt eats into the Doctor, unleashing all kinds ideas about his wife Alice who he imagines being seduced by the man in her fantasy projection. Dr Bill even succumbs to the charms of a passing prostitute but is saved from actually going through with the idea when a call from Alice stops him in his tracks..And as the evening develops an almost pervy desire creeps over Dr Bill when he meets an old school friend who talks about a late-night gig in an upmarket porno club. Fuelled by Alice’s revelations he is seized by the desire to join his friend in sampling this evening of erotica.

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

 

A Certain Kind of Silence (2019) **** Raindance Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Michal Hogenauer; Cast: Eliska Krenkova, Jacob Jutte, Monic Hendrickx, Roeland Fernhout, Jiri Rendl, Matthis Ijgosse; Czecj Republic/The Netherlands/Latvia 2019, 95 min.

This stylish Czech thriller centres on a secretive religious sect known as the Twelve Tribes. It is the impressive feature debut of Czech filmmaker Michal Hogenauer who offers up a cleverly crafted piece of evil in the guise of a domestic drama filmed in the forested stillness of suburban Riga, beside the Daugava river.

Eliska Krenkova plays Mia a young au pair who has emigrated from Prague to work in the pristine household of a formal professional couple (Hendrickx and Fernhout) who have one precocious little son, Sebastian (Jutte). Their house is immaculate, sterile even and Mia is not encouraged to become familiar with the parents or the boy. And although she stands her ground and refuses to be intimidated by their frigid demeanour, she soon becomes more and more worn down. Hogenauer employs a clever plot device that adds suspense and intrigue as the story plays out, by intercutting the action with scenes of Mia being interrogated by a faceless authority, presumably the police. It’s as if a crime has already been committed.

Sebastian is being trained to become a professional tennis player, and his parents take his progress very seriously. Their controlling behaviour also extends to Mia – who is actually called Mishka until they force her to accept a new nickname, just to add to her discombobulation. Mia’s presence is also required at unsettling social get-togethers (which turn out to be cult meetings) where she meets and becomes involved with a new boyfriend (Ijgosse). Soon the plucky and confident Mia finds herself drawn into a strange and sinister set-up where the gaslighting couple coerce her into doing things against her will, as they manipulate her mind. They force her into beating Sebastian, who eventually stabs Mia in retaliation. The flesh-wound is not life-threatening, but Sebastian is suddenly replaced by Daniel (Rendl), who wears a five-digit number on his back – we have already witnessed that Sebastian’s school is Number 23, and the school bus, which takes the children ‘off piste’ to school in a mystery destination. DoP Gregg Telussa captures the clinical atmosphere in the house with slickness doing justice to Laura Dislere’s immaculate set design, a paradise for those with OCD. All this is amplified by Filip Misek’s minimalist sound design which echoes something Philip Glass might compose. Hogenauer directs with great sensibility, never going over the top, by showing this ghastly utopian reality with restraint and admirable rigour. AS

The Twelve Tribes is a new religious movement founded by Gene Spriggs and was originally founded in Tennessee with the aim of raising 144,000 pure boys, so that Jesus can return to Earth. The children are corporally punished when showing emotion, playing or committing a disobedience. A raid in September liberated over 40 children from the organisation, who also run youth hostels, farms and restaurants. 

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON | 18 – 29 September 2019 

 

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

 

Notorious (1946) ***** Restoration

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock; Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Constantin; USA 1946, 142 min. 

International espionage, romance and intrigue coalesce to make Notorious one of Hitchcock’s most unsettling thrillers. Cary Grant plays a perverse American agent who pushes the daughter of a tragic German spy into the bed of a Nazi ring leader. She goes along with the plan because she is in love with him. And he doubts her love because she goes along with his dreadful plan.

Devlin (Grant) is a debonair agent working for the US-government in post war 1946. The Nazis are still lurking in the toxic undergrowth and Devlin is instructing Bergman’s beautiful but emotionally broken Alicia Huberman how to  infiltrate their midst. Devlin falls for her, but their ‘honeymoon’ in Rio comes to an abrupt end when Nazi ring leader Alexander Sebastian (Rains) turns out be a willing victim of a honey trap. Sebastian is an old friend of Alicia’s father, who committed suicide after being convicted of espionage. Despite their great age difference – the foolish old man has already been rejected by Alicia during the war – he makes another bid for her affections and she acquiesces disillusioned by a string of love with dashing but unsuitable men (just like Eva-Maria Saint in North by Northwest). Devlin and Sebastian are lost souls – emotionally immature, they obey their super-egos: and Devlin is in awe of his older superiors, all father figures; whereas Sebastian is under the cosh of his dominating mother (Constantin), who is jealous of all the women he meets. Devlin and Sebastian are equally jealous of each other, and it nearly ruins Devlin’s plan. But after he finds out that the Nazis are amassing uranium, used for developing the atom bomb – Sebastian and his cruel mother become aware of Alicia’s double play. Fully aware that her son would fall victim to his fellow conspirators, if they found out about Alicia, Mrs. Sebastian schemes to kill Alicia slowly with cyanide – a plan that holds weight, Devlin believing – in his blinkered egotism, that Alicia is back on the bottle.

Although Hitchcock directed North by North West as a comedy: Gary Grant’s Thornhill is much more victim than perpetrator, and James Mason is a much cooler antagonist; Claude Rains is just caught in a double-bind between Alicia and his mother. While Eva-Maria Saint is blonde (and therefore much more dangerous), Bergman’s brunette garners more sympathy, Ted Tetzlaff camera caresses her, but shows Devlin as a cold and unkind boss. Notorious is about a perverted ménage-à-trois, North by North West is more a comedy-thriller with a happy-ending. But there is a wide gulf between Grant’s emotionally buttoned up Devlin and playboy Roger Thornhill, who enjoys the dangerous ride – up to a point.  But the Mac Guffins and enemy characters are exchangeable as always. The proof is in the (German) pudding: The American distributors did not want the German audiences to be reminded of their recent past (bad for business), and changed the Nazis into drug lords.

Amusingly, Hitchcock and his screenwriter Ben Hecht were investigated for years by the FBI simply because they did not believe that the duo actually made up the uranium story: Notorious was shot before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In real life, the original producer David O. Selznick dumped the whole project for a mere 800 000 Dollar on RKO – who made a handsome profit with box-office receipts well over eight million; a profit of 237 Million $ in today’s money.

NOTORIOUS IS BACK ON 9 AUGUST 2019 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, WATERSHED BRISTOL, BELMONT ABERDEEN and cinemas nationwide. 

  

    

                   

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

 

 

 

The Candidate | El Reino (2018) **

Dir.: Rodrigo Sorogoyen; Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Barbara Lennie; Spain/France 2018, 121 min.

Even Antonio de la Torre can’t save this far-fetched, fast-talking made for TV crime thriller that eventually runs out of steam due to its outlandish lack of credibility. As the reprobate politician Manuel Lopez-Vidal, he tries to cover up for the embezzlement of a party college, but the fraud soon turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg – Lopez-Vidal himself has siphoned off much more public funding than anyone else in the party, and he’s soon unceremoniously dropped by his cronies. Sending his wife and daughter off to Canada, he invests their money to pay for information which will incriminate his party’s upper echelons. With his family out of the way, he then takes up with  an old flame, TV reporter Monica Lopez (Lennie), and takes it upon himself to do the dirty work, including murder. When he finally has all the proof of his party’s criminal involvement, he is interviewed by Lopez live on television, still trying to come across as the gentleman he never was. Sadly, The Realm is a story which has been told many times before and better, and the resonance with Scorsese’s Goodfellas is clear from the start. De La Torre is at his reptilian best as the arch villain, but we can’t quite see his fat-cat politician suddenly turning into an action man, and all the other characters are one-dimensional. Overall, The Realm is nothing more than an unremarkable B-picture, dressed up with slick production values.  AS

In cinemas and on HD from 2 August 2019

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

      

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Out of Blue (2018) ****

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer. Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors, James Caan, Jackie Weaver; US/UK 2018, 110 min.

Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) is a British auteur who brings so much more to her films that just the narrative. Her screen version of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train is a genre hybrid– noir in this case – and existentialism. Out of Blue is as enigmatic as its title and New Orleans is the shadowy setting where detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Gummer).

Rockwell is found dead in a planetarium where she’d given a speech the day before about Black Holes. Early clues lead to two main-suspects: Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) manager of the site, and Duncan Reynold (Majors), Rockwell’s lover and co-worker. But Hoolihan feels instinctively that the solution to the crime will lead her back into the past where Space will offer clues. A recovering alcoholic with a captivating cat (who steals many a scene) Mike nevertheless loses it completely when cornered by her own past, and performs a drunken semi-striptease on a bar table. Rockwell’s parents are also involved: Colonel Tom (Caan) – who may or may not be the suspect of a past murder spree – and her mother Miriam (Weaver), who has her own dark guilt complex, are not helping Hoolihan, neither are Rockwell’s twin brothers. When the tragedy unravels, more questions emerge, and even physical identities start to look questionable: as Jennifer says in her final lecture “our nose and our hands may not be from the same galaxy”.

The film’s main characters’ identities seem to emanate from a different past, and nothing fits any more. Out of Blue is very much Nicolas Roeg territory: his son Luc is also a producer. Morley’s narrative leads gradually leads us ‘out of this world’, where Rockwell felt much more at home than on this planet – never mind her rather dysfunctional family set-up. And Hoolihan herself is hiding behind her policeman’s (sic) mask, denying both gender and past. DoP Conrad W. Hall’s images play on tones of the colour blue: we race through the film like the night train of Martin Amis’ novel (on which it is loosely based): from the night sky to the cream receptacle found at the crime scene, and the murky metallic-grey of crimes past, everything leads to the indigo blue of cosmic Black Holes.

Morley is clearly interested in the who-done-it, but she also asks questions about human nature; and all her protagonists have something significant to hide. And she never lets them get away with it – the raison d’être of their life (or death) is always more important than the circumstances of the discoveries. To paraphrase the feature title: Blue is the new Noir. The director never gives in or compromises: the existential ‘why’ is her reason for filmmaking, the result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it satisfies an audience hungry for answers outside our immediate Universe. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

Under the Silver Lake (2018) **

Dir: David Robert Mitchell | Cast; Sibongile Miambo, Riley Keough, Jimmy Sampson, Andrew Garfield | Fantasy Comedy  | US |

David Robert Mitchell rose to international fame with his breakout horror hit It Follows which showed at Cannes several years ago. His latest is a trippy fantasy neonoir dream with the same feel and disturbing undertones as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive but none of the brilliance, and far too much indulgent navel-gazing. What carries you through the druggy hotch potch of wacky vignettes is Andrew Garfield’s captivating turn as a down on his luck LA creative, who resorts to voyeurism and sexual shadow-play as his mind wanders lazily through the backwaters of LA’s Silver-Lake area. But after a promising opening the film’s fascinating potential disintegrates into an incoherent and sprawling mindfuck punctuated by Hollywood references. There is far too much unfocused creativity gushing from Mitchell’s gifted pen in UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, and it ends in a messy gloopthis time. That said, he’s certainly a filmmaker worth watching out for. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 15 MARCH 2019

 

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 |

Working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)

Renate Leiffer, assistant director of World on a Wire talks about making the ground-breaking Sci-fi series with the iconic German filmmaker whose career as a director, scriptwriter, producer and actor was short but prodigious.

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Renate Leiffer with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (photo courtesy of Leiffer).

How would you describe Fassbinder as a director? What was his technique?

He wrote the scripts himself, having the actors in mind for the roles. Mostly he did not like to see the set before the shooting-day, it would have bored him. He trusted his crew mostly chosen by himself, in the leading jobs at least.

When the cameraman was ready and Rainer was asked he came on the set, mostly with a good humour and self-confidence, not doing much rehearsal before the shot, and not giving many more new orders to the actors so as not to confuse their minds. So everybody was switched on and tried to give their best. Everybody knew he would like to do every take only once, liking the performances better [in a first take] than in a second or third one.

What was Fassbinder like to work with?

You always had the impression that you were working on something very important, and that every member of the crew was important for the result, no matter which job you were doing – that was motivating. Mostly the crew members liked and respected him. In real life Rainer was a shy person, therefore he always needed a crowd of people around him, also because he was afraid being on his own, being left like his parents did after their divorce.

Professionally he was strong, he learned by going to cinema already as a young boy, he learnt to cut his films and was shooting the scenes so there was no chance for a cutter to change anything. He understood the camera-angles very well, and knew where to set a close up. He was a real professional. Producers who worked with him the first time were anxious, but were surprised after the first days. And professionally he was not resentful – if you told him a mistake you made, he would defend you. I am speaking of his professional life, in his private life one better not get involved, there were a lot of manipulations.

Fassbinder famously struggled with drugs – did that affect his work?

In the beginning, he was consuming too many drugs – it hurt to look at him. It was not only drugs but medications as well, he could not work without it.

Rainer hated when someone in the group was only smoking Haschisch, he did not want them around him. And then in the Sixties it was in to smoke at least grass. He got involved in it in 1974 during his work at the theatre in Frankfurt.

At the end he was taking drugs and a handful of medications at the same time. And alcohol, that was too much. He told me during [filming Berlin] Alexanderplatz: I will not be older than 40. He only got to 37 – and I am still cross with him that he left so early.

How did the shoot of World of a Wire go, generally? Was it a smooth shoot, any incidents?

I do not remember any real difficulties on those shoots. Except that we missed the dawn several times for a scene with Eddie Constantine, a homage to Godard and Eddie. On the 4th day (cinematographer Michael) Ballhaus got more time to set his light, and was called Monsieur Crepuscule [Mr. Twilight] for a long time.

 

Still from World on a Wire – courtesy of Second Sight Films

Also, at the end of the film, there is a black bird that should have been trained to pick at the gas-pipe, so the audience gets afraid and thinks: “Oh, now the hut will explode,” – and it does. [When we were filming] that bird did not pick, Rainer went mad, but that silly bird did not pick at the pipe. It picked somewhere else.

Did you get a sense that you were making something good / bad / mediocre?

My feeling was that I was doing something good, but not that his work would be so overwhelming one day. No one expected that, except Rainer himself. In Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), I worked as production-assistant and did not want to be written on the titles. I wanted to go on working as assistant-director with other people. Already then, 1971, Rainer answered me: “But with me it will be for eternity!” He was the most ambitious of all.

World on a Wire is out now in a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Second Sight.

[Edited for clarity]

Human Desire (1954) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Fritz Lang | Noir Thriller | US, 1954, 90′

Fritz Lang brings a seething expressionism to this steely hard-boiled Noir. And although Jean Renoir’s 1938 version is better known, Lang’s American remake re-works themes of fear, jealousy and hatred into an equally provocative and suspenseful thriller that translocates the action to a working class New Jersey railroad setting. Loosely based on Emile Zola’s La Bête Humaine, Alfred Hayes script pictures Glenn Ford’s tortured train engineer cum Korean War veteran (Warren) fall for Gloria Grahame’s married femme fatale (Vicki Buckley). Set amidst the bleak monochrome marshalling yards, their doomed love affair is the only spark. Vicki’s abusive alcoholic husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) is fired from his job and blackmails her to stay with him using as his weapon a letter that links her to a jealousy-fuelled murder he committed on a train. He begs Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to speak to John Owens (Grandon Rhodes), an influential businessman. But when her love affair is revealed, it all ends in tears. Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey creates a remarkable opening sequence where a train hurtles through the urban landscape. Set to Daniele Amfitheatrof’s rousing score, which primps the highs and lows of the narrative, this is one of the highlights of the mean and moody affair. Meanwhile costumier Jean Louis works his mastery on some seriously well-tailored rigouts. MT

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA

 

 

 

My Name is Julia Ross (1945) ****

Dir: Joseph H. Lewis; Wri: Muriel Roy Bolton, Music Mischa Bakaleinikoff, Art Director Jerome Pycha Jr | Cast: Nina Foch May Whitty George Macready Roland Varno Anita Bolster Doris Lloyd | Noir thriller US, 64’

Joseph H Lewis’ tautly tense psychological melodrama runs for just over an hour, yet every minute is packed with seconds with Muriel Roy Bolton’s clever script adapted from Anthony Gilbert’s novel The Woman in Red about a decent girl down on her luck who falls into the clutches of a Machiavellian mother and her disturbed son. 

My Name Is Julia Ross immediately secured Joseph Lewis a place in the noir firmament, and was soon to be followed by A Lady Without Passport and Gun Crazy in 1950; Cry of the Hunted (1953); and The Big Combo in 1955.

The premise is slightly outlandish, but suspend your disbelief and you’ll enjoy this Noirish thriller with its eclectic international cast. Dutch actor Nina Foch plays a secretary who secures a live-in position working for a wealthy English dowager (Dame May Whitty) with a dark secret. It soon transpires that Julia (Foch) has been employed under false pretences, as a shoe-in for the dowager’s dead daughter-in-law. She then wakes the following morning to discover she has been heavily drugged and transported to a Cornish seaside mansion where she is now Mrs Marion Hughes, and married to the dowager’s son Ralph. But that’s not the end of a waking nightmare that sees her trapped by circumstances beyond her control. 

Foch makes for a vulnerable yet stylishly foxy heroine decked out in Jean Louis’s elegant designs. Meanwhile, Burnett Guffey’s subtle lighting and chiaroscuro shadow-play spices up the sinister nature of this sinuous English-set psychodrama. Whitty gives a chillingly commanding turn as the mother, and Macready is suitably convincing as her abusive son. In this first class B movie, Joseph H. Lewis shows that great results can be achieved with a modest budget. MT 

OUT ON Bluray 18 FEBRUARY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS 

The Golden Glove (2019) * Berlinale

Dir: Fatih Akin | Drama | Germany, 2019 | 102’

There are brief echoes of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul in opening scene of The Golden Glove. This schlocky sortie into the squalid life of a serial killer also brings to mind Ulli Lommel’s cult thriller The Tenderness of Wolves. But that’s where the comparison ends. These films offered another string to their bow. Akin’s thriller just revels in its own ghastliness, descending into drab drama territory and a desolate world of grim bars and pick-up joints where in 1970s West Germany, Fritz Honka was a voracious sexual predator, butchering his victims at will.

Chilling it is not, nor remotely terrifying. The true story plays out as a pointlessly gory procedural recording each death with sensationalist fervour. Blood, gore, body parts and disgusting lavatories – you’ll laugh and shake your head at the mindless depravity of it all. 

Rather than explore the psychological profile of this demon, Akin just pedantically pictures the gruesome daily grind of Fritz Honka, a Hamburg serial killer who kept dismembered body parts of prostitutes in his attic flat in the red light district of St Pauli. When visitors complained of the smell, Honka blamed his Greek Gästarbeiter family that lived downstairs “and didn’t work”. There’s no attempt to humanise the murderer or to probe his inner life or backstory. Honka remains a cypher from beginning to end.

This is a film that doesn’t serve anyone – least of all its victims. It takes a swipe at racism but forgets to finger misogyny – championing ageism into the bargain. Obviously you’ll see it as Warner Brothers have snapped it up. But as the credits roll, the films suddenly turns sentimental offering up poignant portraits of the real women who died – as if suddenly coming to its senses to do the right thing and garner self-righteous respect. We go home without understanding, clarification or even sympathy, other than for those who died. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir: Syllas Tzoumerkas | Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Youda Boudali, Hristos Passalis, Argyris Xafis | Drama | Greec | 120′

There is a sisterhood in Greece, according to Tzoumerkas. This hysterically overwrought melodrama takes place in a swampy eel-farming backwater in the west of Greece, where two woman live out their own personal trauma. Elisabeth is an alcoholic single-parent police chief, Rita (co-writer Boudali) is the subdued soul sister of a local ‘rock star’. They are brought together after the tragic death of a lounge singer. Worn out and world-weary Elisabeth is neverless as sharp as a nail. Drinking heavily she smokes like a chimney throughout this lagubrious eel-themed affair.

Rita’s bullying brother Manolis (Hristos Passalis) is a slippery eel of another kind. He runs a nightclub where he uses her as a hostess to deal drugs through his establishment. Close to his mother he is also a pampered narcissist with dreams of international stardom. But his mistake is also to mock Mesalonghi in a song he sings at the club one night.

And it all ends in tears on the beach in the small hours. But not before bizarre bacchanalian orgies involving drugs, drinks and multiple orgasms enjoyed by Manolis and his friends. Rita is sadly drawn into this dysfunctional debacle and somehow Elisabeth tunes into her pain and decides to help her in the intense finale. Heavy stuff. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Laura (1944) **** Bluray edition

Dir: Otto Preminger | Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson | Film Noir, Mystery | US | 88′

Otto Preminger, the bombastic Austro-Hungarian protegé of Max Reinhardt, trained as a lawyer in his homeland before emigrating to make his name in Hollywood with this glorious Noir love story. A divisive director, he often tackled themes that were taboo during the Hollywood era, such as drug addition (The Man with the Golden Arm 1955) and rape (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959). The project started life with director Rouben Mamoulian in 1944, but Preminger soon took over the reins and Laura gained iconic status due to its sparkling script, adapted from Vera Caspary’s novel, and velvety black and white visuals that won Joseph LaShelle an Oscar at the 1945 Academy Awards. But David Raksin’s soaring score is one of the most memorable things about Laura – and you find yourself humming it long after seeing the film.

Gene Tierney stars as the beautiful New York advertising executive, Laura Hunt, who is mysteriously murdered, raising an investigation by Dana Andrews’ Detective Mark McPherson, who falls in love her, Hitchcock-style. There are also roles for Laird Cregar (The Lodger) who is brilliant as the film’s villain, and Vincent Price who plays Laura’s lascivious boyfriend Shelby Carpenter. Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder was undoubtedly a better crime thriller, as the genre goes, but Laura somehow captures the imagination and lives on in our memories as a lasting classic. MT

BLURAY RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | JANUARY 2019

Benjamin Naishtat interview | Marrakech Film Festival

We spoke to Benjamin Naishtat about his San Sebastian Best Director winner ROJO, a moody socio-political thriller set during Argentina’s Dirty Wars in the mid 1970s.

ROJO is now on general release via New Wave

Rojo (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Bergamo Film Meeting 

Eureka (1983 ) *** Nic Roeg Tribute

Director: Nicholas Roeg     Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg   Writer: Mashall Houts (Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes)

Cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, Mickey Rourke, Ed Lauter, Joe Pesci, Cavan Kendall, Corin Redgrave The story of a man richer than Getty, stranger than Hughes

130min | Thriller  | UK US

Nicholas Roeg was a true visionary: his films are unique in portraying our struggle with the mysteries of the universe; in viscerally capturing what it is to be human: Walkabout; Don’t Look Now; The Witches; The Man Who Fell to Earth. They are all romantically sexual, visually audacious; formally superb, thematically adventurous and always powerfully acted and intense as here with this fascinating mix of European and American talent – Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci and Rutger Hauer at their elegant best before they went for seedier roles, a delightfully graceful Jane Lapotaire and Theresa Russell, the sensual jewell in the crown. Gene Hackman is captivating and masculine in the lead, rocking a rather ill-advised yellow tint in his receding coiffure, he is nonetheless the svelte hero of this impressive fantasy drama. He also gets some dynamite lines: “I’m the most dangerous man I know – once I had it all, now I just have everything”.

EUREKA is a complex tale about greed, power and passionate love. And Roeg certainly knows what it is to be in love and how to express that potently through his characters powerfully portrayed by a international cast of Gene Hackman, There Russell, Rutger Hauer and Jane Lapotaire.

Based on a true story, in 1925, a man (Jack McCann/Hackman) finds a rich source of gold after being empowered by a supernatural lover in the magnificent opening scenes – a ‘mystic Meg’ (Kallianiotes) who has the wonderful line: “we had all the nuggets we needed between your legs”. Becoming the richest the man in world however is not the answer to his McCann’s dreams, and as more complex issues start to emerge in this imagined utopia, we soon learn why.


From the icebound snowscapes of the Yukon the film fast forwards to a sultry Caribbean Island of ‘Eureka’ (actually Jamaica) where Jack now holds sway in the Colonial splendour of 1945. Married to a soignée Coco Chanel lookalike Helen (Jane Lapotaire), the couple no longer have sex so she passes her time reading the cards in hope of inspiration (“You don’t need your fortune told, you’ve got a fortune” quips Jack). They have a daughter Tracy (Jane Russell) whom Jack is obsessed with physically and emotionally but, despite still being daddy’s little girl, she has fallen madly in love with Rutger Hauer’s Claude Maillot Van Horn, a statuesque roué whom Jack falls out with on a regularly basis amid scenes of hilarious violence involving meat cleavers and vituperative exchanges. Strangely, Tracy is also deeply in love with her father but she is sexually in hock to Van Horn. The serpentine narrative is driven forward by Jack’s almost psychotic belief that everyone is after his money: and they are, in their various ways.

EUREKA is a fascinating mess: elegant costumes, spectacular set pieces with cleverly devised supernatural and voodoo elements often threatening to topple the bewildering narrative, although pacing and editing never quite allow this to happen; Roeg deftly mixing moments of raucous melodrama with some quieter meditative scenes. Theresa Russell keeps things exciting both in and out of the bedroom with her extraordinary range of looks (designed by the talented Marit Allen – Eyes Wide Shut and Brokeback Mountain), appearing sexually alluring one minute; kittenishly coy the next and elegantly vivacious in the explosive final court scene. Russell had just married Roeg at the time and was only in her mid twenties but clearly possessed an amazing maturity and feminine allure for one so young.

Paul Mayersberg’s script is fantastically curt: full of witticisms and Roeg brings a scintillating vision to the party with his larger than life characters: women who really know how to exude love and sensuality and men who are masterful and powerfully driven despite their human weaknesses. Hackman and Russell hold sway with their magnetism and extraordinary charisma in this intensely watchable, often complicated, but extremely rewarding rollercoaster. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY AND DVD COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA EUREKA | NICOLAS ROEG 1928-2018

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

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

Possum (2018) ****

Dir: Matthew Holness | Cast: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong | 82′ | UK |

Writer-director Matthew Holness’ impressive feature debut is given considerable resonance by outstanding performances from Sean Harris as a traumatised puppeteer locked in toxic turmoil with his abusive uncle (Alun Armstrong).

Very much genre festival fare and unlikely to appeal to mainstream audiences this low-budget psychological thriller scratches at the edges of horror telling a tale of childhood trauma and abuse revisited on an adult puppeteer Philip (Harris) who desperate to escape the emotional clutches of his noncey uncle Maurice (Armstrong) who still holds him in thrall after decades of abuse following the death of his parents in a fire. In this lugubrious labour of toxic trauma, Philip tries to eradicate his childhood – represented by a spindly, spider-like puppet (the head is an replica of the actor’s) – while perpetually playing out a macabre dance of desperate dysfunction with his uncle. Philip detests Maurice yet can’t live without him: a momentary failure to locate the demon despot in their grimy shared coffin of a crib sends him spinning into full blown psychosis. 

Set in dank and desolate part of the Norfolk marshes this atmospheric tribute to the British nasty fare of the Seventies often feels quite stagey in its interior settings which take place in a decrepit, boarded-up 1930s hovel, but the surrounding locations really bring home what it meant to grow up in an England of second rate secondary modern schools where family members and figures of authority still inspired dread in those whose lives they controlled.

Returning to his childhood home as a 50-year old the outwardly morose and troubled Philip still recalls each painful flinch of his abusive upbringing as fleeting expressions of trauma haunt his pinched face, like passing clouds on a stormy night. His wiry body is contorted and tortured by the terror of his young days; shoulders and hands writhing and gurning in memory of the misery. And we feel for him despite his ghastly appearance and unappealing persona.

Slim of narrative but rich in atmosphere this slow-burning shocker gradually throws up clues to the past in an enigmatic storyline that occasionally feels repetitive in the first two acts despite a meagre running time of 82 minutes. But the final denouement pays off with its gratifying themes of retribution and redemption. 

This splendidly stylised horror outing is shot on 35mm by DoP Kit Fraser, complete with a scary score from the Radiophonic Workshop (which formerly provided the sounded effects for Dr Who – Holness is best know for his TV work). But Possum really belongs to Sea Harris giving him full rein to his flex his considerable talents as one of the best British actors on the contemporary scene. MT 

OUT ON 26 OCTOBER 2018

 

The Hate You Give (2018) ****

Dir.: George Tillman jr.; Cast: Amanda Steinberg, Lisa Carter, Russell Hornsby, Algen Smith, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Anthony Mackie; USA 2018, 133 min.

Director George Tillman jr. (Faster) and his screen writer Audrey Wells have made a brulliant job of adapting the novel The Hate U Give, avoiding clichés and easy answers in this case of another shooting of a black youngster by a white police officer. Instead of solutions, Tillman explores the issues through a teenager representing both communities: she – and other young people – are the victim of a fight they did not chose.

Starr Carter (a brilliant Amanda Steinberg) lives with her family in the black neighbourhood of Garden Heights. Every morning she puts on the uniform of her prestigious prep school and becomes somebody else. Her boyfriend Chris (Apa) and ‘bestie’ Kayleigh (Carpenter) are both white, as are the majority of the students. Starr’s mother Lisa (Hall) has insisted on her choice of school. She wants security for her daughter. Her father Maverick‘Mave’ (Hornsby) is deeply politicised, Black Panther leaflets are all over the house. Starr’s half brother is also very much into his black identity. As a small child, Starr has been the key witness of her classmate’s shooting by the black drug lord (Mackie), who rules Garden Heights with an iron fist. History will soon repeat itself, when Starr is in the car with childhood friend Khalil (Smith) who is shot dead by a white police officer, who mistook a hairbrush for a piece. But, as black officer Carlos (Common) explains to Starr and her father, this is not a simple case because the officer suspected that Khalil was a drug dealer (which he actually was), and reacted in self defence.

When Mave asks Carlos if he would have shot Khalil, the officer nods. “But, if the person in question would have been a white man in a Mercedes, would you have shot too?”, asks Mave. Carlos replies that he would have asked the white man to raise his hands. This double standard is not a question of race, but of tribal law: police officers of all colours are used to dealing with drug lords like the one running the black neighbourhood. It does not matter to them, in the moment of confrontation, that the huge majority of the black population is equally afraid of the drug dealers. Nevertheless, a heated street battle is being fought, and Mave is not only fighting the police, but the black drug dealers, who suspect him of collaborating with the police. In the final analysis, Amanda surmises that hate and violence is not only a question of race.

Stylishly shot on the widescreen and revealing personal close-ups, Steinberg carries the feature with extreme maturity: she is a girl of divided loyalties. And must find a world where she can live in peace with both sides.

Without lecturing, Tillman tries to ask questions. And the audience has to to answer. And there’s no easy answer here, only an acknowledgement that the fault lines run much deeper than the agitators on both sides want to admit. At the same time, The Hate U give is a full-blooded thriller, and in spite of the length, it sustains its suspense. And the real triumph is the marriage of genre aesthetics and articulate political content. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 22 OCTOBER 2018 | SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

The Comfort of Strangers (1990) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Paul Schrader | Writer: Harold Pinter | Cast: Christopher Walken, Natasha Richardson, Helen Mirren, Rupert Everett | US Thriller | 104′

Perhaps better named ‘Never Trust a Stranger’ this unsettling cult thriller sees Colin (Everett) and Mary (Richardson) head to Venice to spice up their jaded sex life. But the trip will also lead to tragedy putting an end to the sensual piquancy they hoped for.

Harold Pinter wrote a winning script that explores the more exotic avenues of sexuality through the couple’s chance meeting with a generous but often brutally playful aristocratic Robert (Walken) and his submissive wife Carol (Mirren). The sultry Venetian ambiance lulls them into a devil may care sense of adventure as they endure a bizarre evening with this strange couple in their magnificent palazzo after which Colin and Mary discover a new zest for each other that melds with obliging uneasiness to comply with Robert’s wishes. Not put off by this second encounter, they surrender to a third get together with devastating consequences. There is seemingly no limit to their naivity which can only be put down to a distinct lack of judgement, and a foolhardiness resulting from their innate English politeness. Schrader’s gracefully paced slow-burner exerts a beguiling yet sinister torque on the viewer, while impressive performances make for an engrossing if unsettling watch, amplified, in hindsight, by Richardson’s untimely death less than a decade later. This is a stifling erotic thriller enriched by Dante Spinotti’s camerawork surrounding us in the richly torpid environment that is Venice in Summer, Gianni Quaranta’s sensuous sets showcasing scenes of stultifying horror. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT FROM 24 SEPTEMBER 2018 | BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

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 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

Hereditary (2018) ***

Dir: Ari Aster | Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Bryne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, 125′ US | Horror

Hereditary is in the upper echelons of atmospheric character-driven horror fare, but the film doesn’t end well for its characters – or the audience, for that matter. Superb in execution, characterisation and tropes, Ari Aster’s feature debut comes unstuck in a meandering narrative that simply doesn’t know where to go in the final act. And that’s the tragedy. Like an over-excited child at its first birthday party, Hereditary knows its been good and shared its new toys, and desperately wants the show to go on, but it’s also strung out and eventually driven to tears by exhaustion.

Favouring buttoned-up tension and tone-setting over blood and gore, this claustrophobic arthouse piece feels clammy rather than chilling, along the lines of The Babadook and It Comes At Night. Aster is clearly a consummate storyteller with tricks up his sleeve, but his desire to underpin a spiritual ghost story with traditional folklore goes awry in the final denouement.

And what a grim lot his Graham family are. Living in their morbid house in the dank Pacific Northwest, they make a morose and dysfunctional foursome, headed by Gabriel Bryne’s simpering Dad, Steve, who seems lost behind a pair of opaque ‘specsavers’. Meanwhile Toni Collette is miserable and malign-looking as Annie, the Mom who didn’t get on with her own Mom, and is regretting it as she reads her fumbling funeral elegy which follows a newspaper death announcement  in the opening scene. The couple have two teenage kids, petulant Peter (Alex Wolff) and zombie-like Charlie (Milly Shapiro) who is prone to tongue-clucking – a aural motif that will haunt you for the foreseeable future, bringing back memories of that well worn phrase from Cold Comfort Farm: “something nasty in the woodshed”.

When another woeful tragedy befalls this hapless household, the family dynamic turns stultifying, both to watch and experience. And this tonal claustrophobia takes a hold of the solar plexus for the rest of the story as Aster masterfully guides us through an increasingly grim and gruesome series of events that bring the sword of Damocles firmly down over all and sundry. To compensate for her feelings of loss and confusion, Annie decides to seek refuge in bereavement counselling and this course of action leads to her dabbling in the occult. But from this moment forward the film veers from suspense to disappointment and boredom, as increasingly matters just don’t stack up and Aster resorts to an outlandish scenario to compensate.

Collette, Byrne (who is used to coping with this kind of melodramatic meltdown) and Wolff are impressive in their subtle portrayal of family members steadily losing the plot, in more ways than one. Ann Dowd joins the fun as bereaved mother Joan who is purportedly there to help Annie in her Spiritual awakening, but actually makes matters worse in unleashing a sinister side to the matriarch’s hitherto grounded personality. And here Collette is extraordinary in a sustained performance as Aster’s multi-faceted anti-heroine whose grief and desperation know no bounds as she gradually – and literally – dissembles. But our sympathies ultimately lie with Bryne’s Steve, who plays the most decent character of the lot, and we feel for him as he holds out to the bitter end, trying to see the light but knowing full well, in his bemused bewilderment, that he taken on another film that will eventually end in a shambles. MT

SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE LONDON 2018 |NOW ON RELEASE

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

 

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  

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

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

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

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

Macbeth (2018) ***

Dir.: Kit Monkman; Cast: Mark Rowley, Akiya Henry, Al Weaver, Dai Bradley; UK 2017, 12

Kit Monkman creates a MACBETH for our times: part-experimental arthouse-cinema, partly a futuristic version of Games of Thrones, his adaptation of the Scottish play is shot entirely on green screen, with background matte painting effects and CGI creating a fleeting world where the camera roves seemingly at will through multiple stages, the action unfolding simultaneously.

Although this film’s aesthetics are anything but realistic, but the acting is physical to the point of open brutality. Macbeth (Rowley) and Lady Macbeth (Henry) are madly obsessed with each other: their lovemaking and post-coital deliberations make them look very much like the Noirish coupling of Laurie and Bart in Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy: Sex and violence rule their lives in equal parts, and once again, it is the female who is more dangerous than the male. That said, Macbeth does not need any encouragement, he is, after all, a young, successful general. His relationship with Banquo (Weaver) is that of rivalry and hidden admiration. Both are entrenched in violence. But Macbeth not only murders centre stage, but also casually: the slaying of Macduff’s wife is shown at the margin of the frame (again shades of Lewis).

Diverse themes often intermingle: sex and battlefield scenes are woven into each other, the audience always alerted to new thrills that dovetail into one another. Sometimes we lose lose perspective altogether: is the moon inside our outside Macbeth’s bedroom? Then there is the projectionist/porter (Bradley) running a 1909 silent film version of the play directed by Mario Caserini. He seems to function solely in his role as keeper of the past while the main-action might be set any time in the future. Grey and green pre-dominate, the blood-red crimson spurts like arrows into the murky mire of Scotland’s winter. Still looking for a distributor, Monkman’s visionary version of MACBETH is a worthwhile addition to the Scottish play’s canon. AS

SCREENING FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY 23 APRIL 2018 | SHAKESPEARE’ BIRTHDAY HERE   

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

 

 

The Real Estate (2018)**** | Berlinale 2018

xDir: Mans Mansson | Writer: Axel Petersen | Cast: Léonore Ekstrand, Christer Levin, Christian Saldert | Drama | Sweden | 88′

There’s no denying the similarities between the Grenfell tragedy and this caustic character thriller which shows that owning property can be as horrendous as not owning it. THE REAL ESTATE also offers a bracing blast of inventiveness to this year’s Berlinale line-up in a narrative that relies on its dissonant electronic score as much as its vibrant often chaotic images. In the wake of the European housing crisis this Swedish experience explores what happens when an elderly expat inherits a large block of flats from her father, forcing her to return home to Sweden and deal with the estate.

This darkly abrasive drama is not made easier to stomach due to its unlikeable characters. Nojet (Léonore Ekstrand) and her brother-in-law and nephew lock horns over her inheritance when it emerges that the men have sold illegal leases to the tenants on the 7th floor, not only making a sale of the block almost impossible – due to these existing tenants’ rights – but also revealing their widescale mismanagement of the property and trousering of the resulting funds: the heiress is faced with an intractable situation from which she cannot simply even walk away.

Described by the filmmakers Axel Petersén and Måns Månsso as a ‘family affair’ allowed them to get up really close and personal with Léonore Ekstrand, the only professional actor here who gives a feisty turn as a hard-nosed wealthy woman who had clearly retreated to sunnier climes, but retirement has not softened her toughness when it comes to business. After the funeral service and crematorium scene – pictured at hideously close quarters – Nojet gets down and dirty with her claws out. There’s an uncomfortable detachment here which has much in common with Ulrich Seidl or even Jonathan Glazer and the Swedes keep the tension taut with a jagged and unpredictable tale which sees Nojet decamp to the countryside home of her father’s lawyer, played by a dissipated Christer Levin, who has a lethal arsenal of weapons and is also a rather good cook. As with Grenfell, it soon emerges through Nojet’s door to door enquiries at the block that many of the inhabitants are subletting illegally or are immigrants. She gets intimate with a potential buyer who gives the property (and then Nojet herself) a good going over, but then backs off due to the inherent complications.

The ingenious plotline and bracing aesthetic is certainly a shot in the arm for avant-garde cinema, but may shoot itself in the foot beyond diehard arthouse audiences. This is an unsettlingly aggressive film with its hard-angled baleful bitterness, but those who stick with it may even applaud is sensory onslaught and shaky handheld camerawork. This is an intrepid and caustic film about sharks. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

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

 

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

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

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 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

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

Victim (1961) | re-release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Janet Green & John McCormick | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Anthony Nicholls, Hilton Edwards, Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, Alan MacNaughton, Noel Howlett, Charles Lloyd Pack, John Barrie, John Cairney, David Evans | UK / Drama / 100min

VICTIM was the second – and achieved by far the greatest impact – of a trio of topical “problem pictures” made by the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden from screenplays by Janet Green. Sapphire (1959) had been about race relations, and Life for Ruth (1962) about religion. Of the three, VICTIM had had the most clearly defined purpose behind it, which was the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 criminalising homosexuality – described in the film as “The Blackmailer’s Charter” – as recommended by the Wolfenden report of 1957.

Janet Green (1908-1993) had read the report, and while the government of Harold Macmillan – for reasons made only too apparent by VICTIM itself – was dragging its heels, she, with her husband and co-writer John McCormick, anticipated Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) in employing the conventions of a fast-moving, entertaining thriller to make a serious political film that packs a lot into a trim 100 minutes; embellished by handsome London locations and noirish interiors, by veteran cameraman Otto Heller (responsible for the visual impact of other classics like Peeping Tom and The Ipcress File).

It’s easy now to mock VICTIM for being dated, but politicians and other public figures today still dread the power without responsibility triumphantly wielded by our tabloid press. The role of the redtops in the fear and paranoia depicted in VICTIM is occasionally mentioned in passing; and just two years later the field day the Sunday papers had with the revelations that came out in court about the activities of our social betters during the trial of Stephen Ward vividly convey what Melville Farr could look forward to at the conclusion of VICTIM . On 9 November 1998 – over thirty years after decriminalisation – The Sun was still stoking the flames with its classic front page headline “Are we being run by a gay Mafia?”. In the United States VICTIM was refused a seal of approval by the Production Code Administration, and this remarkable passage in Time magazine that greeted its US release in February 1962 is worth quoting at length:

“What seems at first an attack on extortion seems at last a coyly sensational exploitation of homosexuality as a theme – and, what’s more offensive, an implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. Almost all the deviates in the film are fine fellows – well dressed, well-spoken, sensitive, kind. The only one who acts like an invert turns out to be a detective. Everybody in the picture who disapproves of homosexuals proves to be an ass, a dolt or a sadist. Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself.”

VICTIM was released bearing an ‘X’ certificate, and the era it depicts now seems as remote as the war years: a time when the police drove Bentleys and ‘phone boxes still had a button B. But anybody who considers the issues it raises moribund should remember that as I write there are about a dozen countries in the world today where homosexuality is punishable by death. One only needs look at the debate (and the language) the film continues to provoke in forums like YouTube to be reminded of how this issue still polarizes society, and that there are plenty of bigots still out there, irately convinced that they’re being muzzled by political correctness; “our crime”, as Lord Fullbrook puts it, “damned nearly parallel with robbery with violence”. While Eddy complains that “Henry paid rates and taxes…but they knew he couldn’t go out and call the cops”, it’s interesting to be reminded that one of the blackmailers accused the police of “Protecting perverts” even when homosexuality was illegal, and back in 1961 could firmly be of the opinion that “They’re everywhere, everywhere you turn! The police do nothing. Nothing!!”.

VICTIM goes out its way to avoid sensationalism, and it is precisely because it in every other respect so resembles a conventional black & white crime film of the period that one can still feel the shock audiences must have experienced in 1961 when Inspector Harris deceptively casually asks Farr “you knew of course that he was a homosexual?”, followed by the eye-watering statistic that at the time “as many as 90% of all blackmail cases have a homosexual origin”. If it seems too genteel for 21st Century tastes, the scene in which Derren Nesbitt wrecks Charles Lloyd Pack’s shop still provides a literally shattering reminder of the barely contained physical violence always ready to rear up from behind the prejudice now known as “hate crime”.

The casting of Dirk Bogarde makes the film what it is. Several other actors (including Jack Hawkins, James Mason and Stewart Granger) had understandably already turned down the role, but Bogarde accepted without hesitation; and on so many levels the film is inconceivable without him. (Anyone who thinks it was the first time he’d played a homosexual onscreen, however, plainly hasn’t seen the film he made immediately prior to it, The Singer Not the Song.) Almost as bold on Bogarde’s part was that in VICTIM he was for the first time playing his age – 40 – although this is more than compensated for by the fact that he never looked more debonair and distinguished than he does here. The entire cast obviously cared about their roles, right down to the smallest parts (as frequently happened in those days, veteran character actor John Boxer as the amiable policeman attempting to comfort Boy Barrett in his cell, and John Bennett – who in the opening episode of ‘Porridge’ was the prison doctor who asked Fletcher if he had ever been a practising homosexual – as “the bloke in the pinstripe”, make vivid impressions without being included in the cast list at the end). Although the blackmailers themselves are often described in accounts of the film as “a ring” or “a gang”, there in fact turn out to be only two of them; a pair of bloodcurdling ghouls worthy of the Addams family – the grinning, cheerfully amoral Derren Nesbitt and his vengeful associate piously convinced that “Someone’s got to make them pay for their filthy blasphemy.” As Inspector Harris (a superb performance by John Barrie) says to his stern Scottish sergeant (John Cairney), “I can see that you’re a true puritan, Bridie…there was a time when that was against the law, you know.”  Richard Chatten

VICTIM IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

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

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.

 

Indignation (2016)

Script|Director: James Schamus   Writers: Philip Roth

Cast: Sarah Gadon, Logan Lerman, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield, Tracy Letts, Margo Kazaryan

110min | Drama | US

Best known for his successful writing collaborations with Ang Lee, James Schamus adapts a Philip Roth novel for his directorial debut INDIGNATION.

Themes of love and religious commitment play out in this impressively mounted and gently affecting drama with dynamite performances from Logan Lerman, Tracy Letts and Sarah Gadon. Lerman plays Marcus Messner, an aspirational A student from a strict Jewish background who dreams of becoming a lawyer in the Supreme Court and avoids conscription to the Korean war by winning a scholarship to Winesburg College Ohio during the close-minded society of 1950s America.

Despite identifying as an atheist, Messner finds himself sharing a room with several disruptive Jewish boys (Philip Ettinger and Ben Rosenfield) who are desperate to involve him in their Fraternity. Against his better judegement, he then falls for the charms of fellow student Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) who is sexually experienced and emotionally unstable despite her respectable background.

Consumed by passion and finding it difficult to fit in, Marcus is transferred to a single room but not without the intervention of his college rector, Dean Caudwell, who debates the pivotal issue with him at length in a coruscating battle of wills and one of the best scenes of this intelligent drama. Schamus focuses on the intellectual and cultural aspects of the narrative rather than delving deeply into its romantic ideals: the love affair is there to serve the story rather than the other way round, and what transpires in the aftermath involves a deal with his mother (a superb Linda Edmond) who reads the riot act as only Jewish mothers can.

INDIGNATION is an absorbing and accomplished literary adaptation for James Schamus and a storming start to his filmmaking career. MT

IN SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 18 NOVEMBER 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

CallBack (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir: Carles Torras | Cast: Martin Bacigalupo, Lilli Stein, Larry Fessenden, Timothy Gibbs | Thriller | Spain | 80min

Catalan director Carles Torras makes his English language debut a watchable and darkly drole character study of a small time New York actor who gradually reveals his psychopathic nature in this lean and stylish thriller.

Slick and slightly sepia-tinted, CALLBACK stealthily follows Larry de Cecco (a sardonic Martin Bacigalupo) as he goes about his business playing bit roles for adverts that deal with the ennui of city life and keeping up with the American Dream (‘Drink megaboost, and you’ll be fine). At first Larry seems to rub along with this rather humdrum existence, at least that how it all appears. He clearly doesn’t have the chops to grab the headlines performance-wise, so he works in removals as a sideline, and often helps himself to things belonging to the people he moves, to the irritation of his weary boss (Larry Fessenden). By night, Larry is a peeping Tom to his latest tenant Alexandra (Lilli Stein) who also has aspirations to act, and amongst his other behavioural issues, he has a tendency for temper tantrums for which he attends the sessions of of a local religious pastor, purporting to be a ‘born again’ Christian..

But there’s something unpleasantly creepy about Larry who would certainly freak you out if you spent time with him at home. And flatmate Alexandra (Lilli Stein) is clearly either naive or far too polite to make anything of the way Larry talks in American clichés: ‘here’s some fresh towels’; ‘I’m a very driven person” and ‘thank you for sharing this with me’ or the way he plays Tchaikovsky classics at full volumn his car (is there a US equivalent to classic fm?). Musical choices add bathos to this delicious drama with Jimmy Fontana’s sixties love song “Il Mondo,” suggesting that Larry’s schizoid personality is fully conversant with a romantic life that he is unable to fulfil.

And soon enough Alexandra gains confidence in the de Cecco household, eventually falling foul of Larry’s romantic sensibilities over dinner one night. The result is shockingly grim. But Bacigalupo is simply dynamite in his creation of Larry (his voice even sounds like Vincent Price at one point) which dovetails  with Lilli Stein’s foxy turn as Alexandra, making this compact and understated psycho thriller eventually worth its weight in gold. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016

 

The Wrong Man (1956) | Bluray release

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Script: Maxwell Anderson, Angus MacPhail

Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold J.Stone, Charles Cooper

US | 105 mins | Drama

Reviewing Truffaut’s monumental book-length interview with Alfred Hitchcock in ‘Punch’ in 1968, the late Richard Mallett made the interesting observation that “three-quarters of the way through the book [Truffaut] begins to show a tendency to argue and Hitchcock to contradict”. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the section devoted to The Wrong Man, when Hitchcock is eventually provoked by Truffaut into the rejoinder that “It seems to me that you want me to work for the art houses”.

Despite the extraordinary reputation that Hitchcock’s next film Vertigo today enjoys, relatively few people have even heard of – let alone seen – the far superior The Wrong Man. Superficially it couldn’t be less like what we expect from a ‘Hitchcock’ film (he himself said “it wasn’t my kind of picture”), and its indifferent box office performance led Hitchcock just to shrug his shoulders and “file The Wrong Man among the indifferent Hitchcocks”. Yet it is easily the most frightening film he ever made, and the most single-minded expression of one of his most personal and perennial themes: fear of the police and of arrest.

Countless films end with a character being led away by the cops; but it was a typically bold Hitchcockian reversal that in this film the arrest is simply the starting point. Plenty of films have been compared to nightmares, but of all Hitchcock’s films that description most truly belongs to this one. Sitting through this relentless Kafkaesque ordeal is almost as unbearable to watch as it must have been to experience; and is exactly like one of those awful dreams from which you wake up in a state of panic thinking “Oh, thank God! It was just a dream!”.

Ironically it took the most realistic film he ever made to create the Hitchcock film most like a nightmare. What happened to Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero (1909-1998) actually happened in 1951, and became the subject of an article called ‘A Case of Identity’ by Herbert Brean in Life magazine on 29 June 1953. To create what John Russell Taylor described as “the hallucinatory clarity of a bad dream”, Hitchcock minutely and unsparingly recreates the original events on the actual locations. We see events entirely from Balestrero’s viewpoint as he is spirited away by two strange men at his doorstep, submitted to the humiliation of being stared at during reconstructions of the hold-ups of which he is accused and in identity parades; then bundled into a prison van to be fingerprinted and spend the night in the cells. As he gazes out of the police car he watches other people leading normal lives as he himself had been only hours earlier; but which in an instant now seem like another world.

Although Hitchcock himself later said “I don’t feel that strongly about it”, this certainly isn’t the impression one gains from the film itself. Hitchcock was tiring of being considered merely a purveyor of “glossy Technicolor baubles”, and The Wrong Man was the first of two attempts to make something more astringent in black & white (Psycho being the second). Hitchcock made it for no salary and, minus his usual cameo appearance, appears before the opening credits to introduce the film. As the handsome new Blu-ray edition reveals, he has taken far more effort with the look of this film than he usually did. There is none of the sloppy back projection of exterior sequences that mar so many of his other films since Hitchcock disliked going out on location when he could possibly avoid it; and when his crew arrived to shoot the scenes at the country hotel, swiftly retreated to his limo to escape the cold. Fresh from winning an Academy Award for photographing the French Riviera in VistaVision and Technicolor for To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock’s versatile regular cameraman Robert Burks effortlessly switches to Jackson Heights and the other end of the visual scale; complemented by Bernard Herrmann’s melancholy, low-key jazz score.

The most chilling words in the English language are probably “If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.” And when Balestrero’s wife Rose (a sensational performance by Vera Miles in an already extremely well-acted film) finally completely loses it and proposes that the answer to their desperate situation is to barricade the front door the sheer hopelessness of their situation finally hits you like a thunderclap; for the exquisite irony of the film is that it is the very people whose job it is to protect honest, hard-working citizens like the Balestreros who are doing this to them. Resistance is futile.

As with Kafka there are flashes of very black humour, as in the attempt by the police to put Balestrero at his ease by initially calling him ‘Chris’ (his family and friends actually call him ‘Manny’); and they seem genuinely concerned on his behalf when they say “This looks very bad for you, Manny” when a particularly damning piece of handwriting evidence emerges. (The fact that Manny’s ordeal ends only after he resorts to prayer could be seen as a cynical comment on the fact that man-made justice had so far entirely failed him). The classic Hitchcock device of showing you one thing while people are discussing something completely different is well employed in the scene in which their lawyer (Anthony Quayle) discusses the case while we clearly see his concern at Rose’s deteriorating mental state. Nor does the concluding onscreen caption telling us that Rose made a full recovery square with what we’ve just see with our own eyes in her final scene in the sanatorium; Hitchcock had obviously forgotten that this was how the film had ended when six years later he said to Truffaut that “She’s probably still there”.

This was Henry Fonda’s only movie with Hitchcock. Coincidentally his next film also took a detailed look at the American judicial process, but instead took place in the jury room. 12 Angry Men wasn’t a hit at the time either; but posterity has made better amends to it than it has to The Wrong Man. Richard Chatten.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FOR THE FIRST TIME at Amazon.co.uk

The Reflecting Skin (1990) | Blu-ray release

Writer|Director: Philip Ridley

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, Sheila Moore, Duncan Fraser

96min | Fantasy Drama | UK

The Reflecting Skin is seasoned theatre director and novelist Philip Ridley’s feature debut. Unfolding with a blinding clarity of an advert for Kellogg’s Cornflakes. The hyper realist brashness of its copper-coloured cornfields and royal blue skies provide an unlikely backdrop to what is essentially a child’s nightmare rite of passage in fifties rural Idaho. The child is Seth and he’s barely nine years old.

This is American Gothic at its most doom-laden and bible-bashing. A burnished baptism of fire both for its protagonist and its viewers. By cherry-picking from the likes of David Lynch and Terrence Malick, and casting some worthwhile actors (a young Mortensen and Duncan) Ridley hopes to cobble together a decent  film. But he forgets about the script and characterisation and lacks the directorial experience. Stringing together a range of poorly thought melodramatic cyphers: a depressed father (Duncan Fraser) who self-immolates, an abusive unloving mother (Ruth Dove), an aimless widow (Lindsay Duncan) and a sheriff (Robert Koons looking as if he’s lost his way back to the set of a Tarantino movie) and, to cap it all, a carload of text book amateur paedophiles suddenly their hands to adult murder in the closing moments. he delivers an quasi operative experience that is both bafflingly inept and unsatisfyingly unengaging. With The Reflecting Skin he evokes a meaningless world that uncovers nothing and fails to move or entertain us in the process.

The banality of evil is David Lynch’s stock in trade but he also knows how to direct a film and create a false sense of reality where things are rarely what they appear to be. His masterful direction and sense of timing and aesthetics are flawless in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.  In The Reflecting Skin everything is out in the open: no mystery or magic, no sense of dramatic tension. It is a drama without drama, a horror outing without terror, a ‘fantasy’ that possesses nothing dreamlike for the subconscious.

As Seth Jeremy Cooper is a one dimensional character whose only emotion spills out in the final scene; probably with relief that it’s all finally over. Seth witnesses events that are horrible and bizarre not only from a child’s point of view but also to most adults. Lindsay Duncan is hopelessly miscast as the widow, although she does her best with an underwritten character who lives in a Barrett’s show home on the prairie. An embarrassingly awful love scene with Viggo Mortensen’s young soldier (Seth’s older brother) is singularly un-sensual and meaningless as the pair have no chemistry or romantic arc. Animal cruel aside: The exploding frog scene is sad rather than horrific and the female twins who drift by occasionally with a wounded bird feel out of place and non-sensical but are the film’s only horrific experience. A drop in the ocean of this weirdly irritating fantasy horror that thankfully has a brief running time of 96 minutes. Still that’s 96 minutes you could have been watching something worthwhile.THE REFLECTING SKIN is the perfect film to illustrate just how difficult it is to make a good film. MT

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 30 NOVEMBER 2015

The Anatomy of Evil | Anatomia Zla (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Director |Writer.: Jacek Bromski

Cast: Krisztof Stroinski, Marcin Kowalczyk, Michalina Olszanska

117min | Poland 2015 | Action Thriller

In his latest action thriller, Jacek Bromski (One Way Ticket to the Moon) paints a grim portrait of contemporary Poland. After the fall the of authoritarian Stalinist regime, which wanted to control all aspects of life in the country, Capitalism has brought liberation – but over the years, a new elite has developed – as it did during Communism – and those selected few live a rarified existence simply because of their financial means, connected to a global network of incredible wealth.

Professional killer Karol Lulek (Stroinski), has been released from prison on parole but is asked by his former boss, now the Attorney General, to do the classic ‘one last job’ for the authorities  who put him away in the first place. This involves collecting 100 000 Dollar and a new passport before he kills the Head of the Central investigation Bureau – who has become an obstacle in a multi-million deal involving American money.

Lulek reluctantly agrees but finds out that his sight is since impaired, making it impossible for him to competently undertake the mission. Instead, he finds a surrogate, the young sniper Stasiek (Kowalczyk) hounded down by a local journalist after he mistakenly killed an innocent citizen in Afghanistan. Lulek retrieves his hidden cash from a hut in the countryside, killing the woman who guarded his belongings. He then murders the journalist, hoping to get an emotional hold on Stasiek for his loyalty and trouble. Stasiek meanwhile, falls for a prostitute Halina (Olszanska) who works in a luxury hotel whence he plans to shoots the CBS boss, while he visits his Opera-singing mistress in the adjoining hotel. Naturally, the plan goes awry with disastrous consequences.

Bromski’s contempo Poland is a divided society where community and solidarity have given way to crass materialism, ‘get rich quick’ schemes and deteriorating human relationships. Values have deteriorated and led to indifference in a society ruled by invisible forces and subdued palette steel grey and brown; from the harshly lit scenes in the luxury hotel to the soulless streets where everything seems to be for sale. Lulek and Stasiek are grasping victims and perpetrators at the same time: each man for himself. Krzysztof Stoinski gives an award-winning performance as Stasiek: his naïve love for Halina giving him humanity and purpose. Bromski masterful direction concentrates on the interaction and motives of the characters; avoiding sensationalism. A sober and subtlely-nuanced study of a country fighting for a new identity. AS

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 7 – 27 APRIL 2016

Victoria (2015)

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Cast: Frederick Lau, Laia Costa, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff

138mins | Thriller | Germany

A night out for a Spanish girl in Berlin is a life-changing experience in this self-indulgent ad lib thriller whose unique selling point its shooting, in one single take, by German actor turned director, Sebastian Schipper (Run Lola Run).

Schipper is so focused on his mobile phone experiment that pacing and authenticity falls by the wayside in this woozily kinetic, high octane night ride into danger and then oblivion. It seems our eponymous heroine (Laia Costa) has lost her way and her moral compass in Berlin. The classically-trained pianist is so desperate to meet new friends she is prepared to tolerate any kind of nonsense from the crowd of dodgy guys she meets, who predictably turn out to be wasters at best, criminals at worst. Needing to open her cafe at seven, she is no hurry to prepare to a busy day and loiters around idly, shooting the breeze, until she finds herself in deep water, as part of a heist that endangers her own life.

The star turn here is Frederick Lau as Sonne, a charismatic natural who carries the film through from its dialogue heavy first act through to its dazzlingly dramatic denouement. As Victoria, Laia Costa fizzes with energy and high-spirits, refusing to call time on the one-dimensional guys who constantly push the limits on her good nature. She has a fleeting chemistry with Sonne, but doesn’t have to be there for him through thick and thin, with a gun against her head. Her character is the weakest link in this high-octane thriller that has its moments, but pushes its luck too far. There are just too many plot-holes in Schipper’s narrative. Would such an intelligent woman seriously engage in a robbery with three men she has only just met? Is there no security in Berlin’s banks?  In the hotel bathroom, after a tense shoot-out, wouldn’t you not need to use the loo or wash the blood of your hands? These are just a few of the endless implausibilities that make this slick and easy-going roadshow much less clever than it thinks it is, in retrospective analysis.

Schipper tightens the tension in the second act, the shaky camera tracking the action against the fuzzy nightscape of Berlin’s trendy Mitte district and making great use of the natural light of a gradual dawn from 4.30am until nearly 7am. Electronic music from Berlin compose Nils Frahm often takes over the dialogue, driving the action forward with its finger firmly on the pulse. Go for the ride but be prepared to suspend your disbelief. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 APRIL 2016

Eureka (1983 ) Bluray | DVD release

Director: Nicholas Roeg     Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg   Writer: Mashall Houts (Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes)

Cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, Mickey Rourke, Ed Lauter, Joe Pesci, Cavan Kendall, Corin Redgrave The story of a man richer than Getty, stranger than Hughes

130min | Thriller  | UK US

Nicholas Roeg is a living legend: his films are unique in finding ways of portraying man’s struggle with the mysteries of the universe; in viscerally capturing what it is to be human: Walkabout; Don’t Look Now; The Witches; The Man Who Fell to Earth. They are all romantically sexual, visually audacious; formally superb, thematically adventurous and always powerfully acted and intense as here with this fascinating mix of European and American talent – Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci and Rutger Hauer at their elegant best before they went for seedier roles, a delightfully graceful Jane Lapotaire and Theresa Russell, the sensual jewell in the crown. Gene Hackman is captivating and masculine in the lead, rocking a rather ill-advised yellow tint in his receding coiffure, he is nonetheless the svelte hero of this impressive fantasy drama. He also gets some dynamite lines: “I’m the most dangerous man I know – once I had it all, now I just have everything”.

EUREKA is a complex tale about greed, power and passionate love. And Roeg certainly knows what it is to be in love and how to express that potently through his characters. Based on a true story, in 1925, a man (Jack McCann-Hackman) finds a rich source of gold after being empowered by a supernatural lover in the magnificent opening scenes – a ‘mystic Meg’ (Helena Kallianiotes) who has the wonderful line: “we had all the nuggets we needed between your legs”. Becoming the richest the man in world however is not the answer to his dreams, as more complex issues start to emerge in this imagined utopia.

23622816473_001e542843_zFrom the icebound snowscapes of the Yukon we fast forward to a sultry Caribbean Island of Eureka where Jack now holds sway in the Colonial splendour of 1945. Married to a soignée Coco Chanel lookalike Helen (Jane Lapotaire), the couple no longer have sex so she passes her time reading the cards in hope of inspiration (“You don’t want your fortune told, you’ve got a fortune” quips Jack). They have a daughter Tracy (Jane Russell) whom Jack is obsessed with physically and emotionally but, despite still being daddy’s little girl, she has fallen madly in love with Rutger Hauer’s Claude Maillot Van Horn, a statuesque roué whom Jack falls out with on a regularly basis amid scenes of hilarious violence involving meat cleavers and vituperative exchanges. Strangely, Tracy is also deeply in love with her father but she is sexually in hock to Van Horn. The serpentine narrative is driven forward by Jack’s almost psychotic belief that everyone is after his money: and they are in their various ways.

EUREKA is fascinating stuff: the elegant costumes, spectacular set pieces with cleverly devised supernatural and voodoo elements often threatening to topple the intoxicating narrative but pacing and editing never allow this to happen; Roeg deftly mixing moments of raucous melodrama with some quieter more meditative scenes. Theresa Russell keeps things exciting both in and out of the bedroom with her extraordinary range of looks (designed by the talented Marit Allen – Eyes Wide Shut and Brokeback Mountain), appearing sexually alluring one minute; kittenishly coy the next and elegantly vivacious in the explosive final court scene. Russell had just married Roeg at the time and was only in her mid twenties but clearly possessed an amazing maturity and feminine allure for one so young.

Paul Mayersberg’s script is fantastic: full of witticisms, truisms, all endlessly engaging and Roeg brings a scintillating vision to the party with his larger than life characters: women who really know how to exude love and sensuality and men who are masterful and powerfully driven despite their human weaknesses. Hackman and Russell hold sway with their magnetism and extraordinary charisma in this intensely watchable, often complicated, but extremely rewarding rollercoaster. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY AND DVD COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA EUREKA | 21 MARCH 2016

Backtrack (2016)

Director|Writer: Michael Petroni

Cast: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Bruce Spence, Jenni Baird, Olga Miller

90min   Supernatural Thriller  Australia

A rain-soaked Sydney is the setting for Michael Petroni’s schematic supernatural thriller where a bereaved psychologist is traumatised by visions of the past after the tragic death of his daughter. Adrien Brody is stunningly intense as Peter Bowers, the anxious but sympathetic therapist and Sam Neil is masterful and fatherly as his tweed besuited superior Duncan, offering professional support as he struggles to keep his sanity and marriage on track. The loss of his daughter opens him up psychically to a series of patients who appear to be ghosts from the past, including one who is a dead ringer for his little girl.

Off he goes to his family home in New South Wales to gain clarity. No one seems pleased to see him, least of all his heavy-drinking ex policeman father (George Shevtosv) or his teenage mate Barry (Malcolm Kennard). A series of flashbacks depict a local rail accident decades previously and memories start to resurface suggesting Peter was to blame for the accident and he quizzes his father who led the police investigation.

An atmosphere of mounting tension seethes throughout this slick and beautifully crafted thriller that makes good use of its Australian rural scenery and a haunting original score by Dale Cornelius. Despite the rather contrived plot that feels spookily familiar, Brody and Neil hold things together and the clever fractured narrative serves to keep us guessing why Peter is not the only person responsible for the train tragedy. Adrien Brody morphs into an impressive action hero in the final scenes managing the same appealing vulnerability that won him his Oscar for The Pianist. MT

BACKTRACK IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2016 courtesy of ARROW FILM

 

Killer’s Kiss (1955) | blu-ray release | Kubrick’s early classics

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Frank Silvera, Irene Kane, Jamie Smith, Jerry Jarrett

67min   Noir Thriller   US

Some directors make perfectly formed debuts: Orson Welles (Citizen Kane); Nicholas Ray (They Live By Night)  and most recently Laszlo Nemes’ Son of Saul, spring to mindKubrick was not one of them. You would never guess the man who started with Fear and Desire – 1953 a skeleton in his closet – would go on to direct 2001 A Space Odyssey or The Shining but Kubrick was a fast learner and his technique improved in leaps and bounds with, two years later, his superb second feature KILLER’S KISS.

All Stanley Kubrick’s films are about a conflict of some kind and the New Wave Noir thriller KILLER’S KISS centres on a conflicted boxer who falls for a woman whose conflict come from the outside, her employer. With its Times Square setting and unusual naturalistic style, Kubrick’s KILLER’S KISS kicked off the first American New Wave but tighter techniques: perfect framing and velvety black and white visuals that are painstakingly pristine and unmistakably Kubrick – in contrast to the looser more ambiguous style of Godard and Truffaut’s later Nouvelle Vague.

The story follows boxer Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) reminiscing about his past when he meets and falls in love with a troubled dancer Gloria (Irene Kane). She is fighting off the unwelcome sexual advances of her boss, nightclub owner Vincent (Frank Silvera). The film’s visually inventive dreamlike first half tightens up as it gradually becomes a more coherent and eventually mesmerising Noir thriller with a tense ménage à trois developing between the central characters as Davey and Gloria distance themselves from the sleazy clutches of Vincent. A nerve-jangling rooftop chase ends in a showcase showdown in a mannequin storehouse – and finally Kubrick notches up the tension for the compellingly weird fight to the death between the two men, with Gerald Fried’s atmospheric score builds to a climax. KILLER’S KISS may be uneven, but the style and energy emerging here was enough to make audiences want more of this fascinating filmmaker called Stanley Kubrick. MT,

KILLER’S KISS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO.

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The Gift (2015) | DVD VOD release

Wirter|Director: Joel Edgerton

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, David Denman, Busy Philipps

108min  Thriller

Australian writer-director Joel Edgerton stars in his own thriller debut that draws comparisons with Dominik Moll’s indie Harry He’s Here to Help (2000). He plays a strange character called ‘Gordo’ who re-aquaints himself with a couple who have moved into the neighbourhood to start a new life. Pacific Heights and Unlawful Entry also spring to mind here but The Gift takes things a stage further adding a creepy additional twist to this threesome thriller that will keep you guessing with its chilly touches of cognitive dissonance and briskly-paced, plausible storyline.

Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are well-cast as the couple – Simon and Robyn-  who quickly settle in a stylish house in leafy Los Angeles. But while Simon slots in seamlessly to the corporate culture – he’s a masterful decision-maker who ‘cuts to the chase’ and offers masculine stability to his emotionally frail wife – Robyn stands out in the cosy culture of stay-at-home mums called Duffy and Lucy, having just lost her own child. Shopping for cushions – wouldn’t you know – they run into Gordo, who turns out to be a friend from school days and after a socially awkward impromptu supper, Gordo swings by the following morning with a wee gifty; and starts to make a habit of it.

Alarm bells would ring for most women at this stage in the game. But strangely Simon seems to be the only one to find the ginger-haired misfit a bit of a ‘weirdo’ – in his own words. Talking in cliches, Gordo has nothing to show for his past but is anxious to ingratiate himself with these morning visits to deliver well-wrapped but inappropriate thank-you presents, including koi carp for the ornamental pond. Instead of telling Gordo to get lost, Robyn seems unruffled by his gauche air of vulnerable quirkiness and even starts telling him her woes. Clearly Robyn feels comfortable on some level with Gordo, and Edgerton’s script shrewdly taps into her feelings of insecurity at not having kids or absorbing work to keep her occupied. But Robyn even gives Gordo the benefit of the doubt when he proves to be a pathological liar and peeping tom. To give him his credit, Simon keep her involved in his new job and encourages her to think positively towards their future. But when a letter arrives from Gordo claiming his desire to “Let bygones, be bygones” Robyn inquisitiveness gets the better of her with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

Edgerton’s characterisation is a tad traditional, focusing on the classic narrative of a deteriorating husband and wife relationship, where the man is powerful and the woman is weak and neurotic. That said, they are a plausible pair, and the dialogue feels real as they interact seamlessly as Edgerton twists in the tale in anther direction. Whereas it might have been more inventive to flesh out the creepier dynamic between Gordo and Simon – offering rich pickings on the male bonding front – Edgerton reduces the mens’ quarrel to pure physical violence rather than rhetoric, blurring the lines between victim and villain by making us feel a misplaced sympathy for Gordo one minute and for Simon the next, but also cleverly providing two contrasting portraits of father/son abuse.

Stylistically, Edgerton’s film is also classic of the genre: the pet dog (Mr Bojangles) disappears mysteriously; the camera creeps through empty corridors spying upon the characters at night and in misty shower scenes, with an unsettling score.  The Gift is tonally consistent: there is no melodramatic shift or bloody climax, just a chilling realisation that leads us to our own conclusions. In the end, Edgerton offers pathos rather than pure horror. A clever and unsettling thriller and one of the most enjoyable out this summer. MT.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD \ BLU\ VOD

Bridge of Spies (2015) Netflix

Dir.: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Eve Hewson | 145 min | Spy Thriller | US

The Cold War dragged on from the late 1940s to 1989, creating a new genre: the Spy film. Many of these films were purely propaganda vehicles, or portayed a romantic or nostalgic world devoid of reality. Bridge of Spies focuses on an attempted exchange of two famous captured spies at the height of the Cold War, just after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and before the Cuba crisis. With Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg captures a realistic snapshot of an era where angst dominated day-to-day living on both sides. And who better to transmit this feeling of dread and make it compelling and entertaining but Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks in the leads, supported by a sinister Sebastian Koch, an incendiary John Rue and a smirking Alan Alda.

In February 1962, Rudolf Abel (Rylance), a Soviet Spy sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in New York, and the US pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who had been shot down over the USSR. The film gets its name from the Glienicker Bridge in Berlin where exchanges took place during the era. This bridge connected West Berlin to the GDR, the borderline between two systems being the mid-point of the bridge.

Spielberg’s real hero is insurance lawyer James B.Donovan (Hanks) who is tasked with defending Abel and saving him from the death penalty, but his success is somewhat of a poisoned chalice as it makes the Irishman unpopular with both his boss and the American people. Most lawyers experienced in this kind of work had declined to act as Abel’s defence attorney, so Donavan was more or less pressganged by his boss Thomas Watters (a gritty Alan Alda) into accepting the role. But Donovan and Abel (the latter a dedicated painter, and we see his daubing a few canvases in the cutaways), for all their opposed political views, somehow find common ground: and a mutual respect.

Shunned at work, Donovan’s family home is attacked by enraged citizens: his teenage daughter Carol (Hewson) nearly killed in hail of bullets, shot through the window of the family house. In the commuter train, with his photo in the newspapers, Donovan feels the probing stars of his fellow passengers. But this all changes when the CIA suddenly needs Donovan’s powers of negotiation for the exchange. As Donovan had cleverly predicted, sentencing Abel to death would have meant that an American spy, caught in the USSR, would have suffered the same fate. Now, Francis Gary Power, pilot of a secret spy plane, which was was downed over the USSR, was the pawn in the hand of the Soviet negotiators in Berlin, who wanted their man Abel back as badly as the USA wanted Powers. Donovan went to Berlin to start negotiating, making his mission even harder when he insists on having a young American student, Frederic Pryor (Rogers), who was arrested by the GDR authorities, released into the bargain – whilst the CIA and the KGB simply wanted a straight forward exchange between Abel and Powers.

Mark Rylance is the right choice for the role of the enigmatic and likeable spy, Rudolf Abel (the name of a friend in the USSR who died). Born William August Fisher 1903 in Newcastle upon Tyne, Abel was the son of ethnic Germans, who were revolutionaries in Tsarist Russia, Fisher’s father had agitated with Lenin in St. Petersburg. Later the family emigrated to the UK, before returning to the USSR in 1921. Fisher, who was fluent in six languages, became a radio-operator for the secret service (OGPU) in 1927, but was sacked in 1938 during the Great Purge, his brother being a follower of Trotsky. In 1946 Fisher was working again as a radio-operator, re-joining the security organisation, now called KGB. In 1948 he was sent to the USA to build up spy networks.

Obviously Spielberg has build up Donovan’s hero status: his insistence on having Pryor released too does not seem to have been the gamble the film makes it out. The young student, having written a thesis on economics in a socialist country, was in the hands of the Stasi, the East German security services. But the power over all aspects of life in the GDR really lay in the hands of the USSR. Since the KGB was not interested in Pryor at all, but wanted the Abel/Powers exchange to go ahead, one phone call from them was enough to release Pryor. And Spielberg certainly got it wrong when he has Donovan travelling to East Berlin, using the Friedrichs Strasse Control Point. All members of the four Allies powers crossed to the East Sector via Check Point Charlie. Showing East Berlin as a city of ruins and roaming gangs is in the first place an exaggeration, and simply wrong regarding the youths, who robbed Donovan of his coat: the East German police was extremely repressive: gangs, of which ever kind, were simply not tolerated.

But apart from these small details, Bridge of Spies captures the angst of the Cold War era when American children were shown films about nuclear bombs at school, and were asked to learn superfluous precautions for the time after an explosion. Little Roger, Donovan’s son fills the bathtub in his home with water in case he has no time after the attack to store the drinking water. And the wild shots, fired into his daughter’s room, are proof (both sides) could not tolerate sympathy with the enemy – even if it was, like in Donovan’s case, purely imagined.

DOP James Kaminski (War Horse, Lincoln) conjures up many worlds with his images: there is Donovan’s family home, the typical backdrop, where Donovan can relax after his adventures behind the Iron Curtain. Then there is the work environment, in the office (dimly-lit like an English Gentlemen’s Club). The courtroom for Abel’s trial feels undignified, rather like a Roman arena. The presiding Judge is antagonistic towards Donovan, the public gallery wants his head, after Abel is awaits his sentence in an atmosphere that thirsts for blood.

Mark Rylance’s Abel somehow dominating the scenes with his subtle intensity, even though Hanks is nominal the hero and more present on screen: Rylance is resigned, only interested in his painting, having experienced Stalinist terror in the first place, he knows he may be put against a wall on his return, or be celebrated as a hero. Hanks’ Donovan is like a kindly bear, loving the good fight, whoever the opponent; he would later negotiate very successfully with Fidel Castro to release hostages after the invasion of The Bay of Pigs.

Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a triumph; an epic about two men caught in a time of mistrust, violence and overriding paranoia on both sides. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

 

Runaway Train (1985) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: Andrei Konchalovsky

Cast: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle Heffner

USA 1985, 110 min.

Produced by the (in)famous Israeli Golan/Globus production duo and their distribution arm Cannon Films, RUNAWAY TRAIN is one of the most international films ever made in Hollywood. The story itself was originally by Akira Kurosawa, the script trio of Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker kept very closely to the masters plans. Director Andrei Konchalovsky was the son of Sergey V. Mikhalkov (1913-2009), who, in 1942 got a phone call from Stalin, asking the popular children’s book author to write the text for the new Soviet anthem, composed by A. Alexandrov.

After spending ten years at the conservatoire, Konchalovsky, decided to became a filmmaker after a chance meeting with Tarkovsky (for whom he would later script Andrei Rublev). His debut film The First Teacher (1964) was praised, but as so often happened with the Soviet Censors, his second one was surpressed. After Sibiriada was awarded at Cannes in 1979, Konchalovsky emigrated to the USA, where he lived with Shirley MacLane before leaving her for Nastasja Kinski, who got him a contract with Cannon Film. Interestingly enough, Konchalovsky directed the Inner Circle in 1992, which tells the story of Stalin’s love for films and hatred for filmmakers, from the perspective of his private projectionist.

RUNAWAY TRAIN is told on three levels: There are the two prison escapees, Manny (John Voight) and Buck (Eric Roberts), who meet Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) on the train which, as the title suggests, runs into difficulties. A bickering dispatch team try to blame the accident on the computer system. And then there is Warden Barstow (Kyle Heffner, who is not much different from Manny – who was called a beast in prison – and joins the hunt in a helicopter, grimly determined to catch the criminals. The snowy, white desert of Alaska is perhaps the greatest star of RUNAWAY TRAIN: an eerie background to human story of delusion. The stunts were performed by the actors themselves, something which contributes very much to its success.

As Roger Ebert wrote after the premiere: “The ending of the movie is astonishing in its emotional impact. I will not describe it. All I will say is that Konchalovsky has found the perfect visual image to express the ideas in his film. Instead of a speech, we get a picture, and the picture says everything that needs to be said. Afterward, just as the screen goes dark, there are a couple of lines from Shakespeare that may resonate more deeply the more you think about the Voight character.” AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AT AMAZON

Sicario (2015) | Cannes Film Festival 2015

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro

If it’s a pounding nihilistic macho thriller you’re looking for, Denis does the job here with this Michael Mann style Mexican-themed drug-busting ‘actioner’. Once again the Americans are down on the Mexicans, this time due to their high-level drugs operation which is feeding a ready market from wealthy US buyers on American soil.

Josh Brolin is well-cast as a swaggeringly confident US official Matt Graver, who will lead a raid against a Mexican cartel safe house on the Arizona border near to Phoenix. With him is with his catatonic side-kick Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is still getting over the trauma of his wife’s brutal murder. Emily Blunt is the token female FBI Agent called in to add ‘intelligence’ to the operation. As Kate Macy, she appears to be highly skilled and professionally sure of herself but is soon cut down to size by Mr Graver’s snide banter that diminishes her sangfroid early on in THE proceedings during the raid which leads to an horrific discovery: Kate soon realises that she is involved in something way beyond her capabilities.

Blacked-out SUVs feature heavily in continuous convey scenes, as does a thundering doom-laden soundtrack from Johann Johannsson that adds menace to Villeneuve’s superb action sequences. Taylor Sheridan’s script performs well, delivering a straightforward Hollywood-style genre piece to add to the growing collection. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

The Treatment | Der Behandeling (2014) | DVD VOD release

Director: Hans Herbots

Writer: Mo Hyder and Carl Joos

Cast: Geert Van Rampelberg, Ina Geerts, Johan van Assche, Laura Verlinden, Dominique Van Malder

125min |  Northern European Noir | French, Flemish with subtitles

If you’ve ever spent a wet weekend in Ghent you’ll instantly be familiar with the setting of this sombre Belgian film, adapted from British novelist Mo Hayder’s thriller. Complicated and very long at over two hours, those familiar with her novels will be at home with the characters; if not, it’s worth dipping into her debut ‘Birdman’ to acclimatise yourself with activities of Hayder’s regular protagonist DI Jack Caffery. In this screen adaptation of The Treatment, Caffery is transformed into Flemish investigator Nick Cafmeyer by Geert Van Rampelberg, who, apart from having a name to be conjured with, is a man who channels high levels of energy and emotion into investigating a paedophile crime linked to his past, and the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, Bjorn.

In the rain-soaked Belgian countryside, Cafmeyer is still suffering the effects of his brother’s abduction and is taunted by noncey neighbour Ivan Plettnickx (Johan van Assche) who was implicated yet cleared from the original investigation. Herbots builds tension with a niftily mounted series of slo-mo sequences that lead us to the discovery of a handcuffed couple imprisoned in their home. Cafmeyer and his colleague Danni Petit (Ina Geerts) are summoned to find out why the place is covered in urine and their son is nowhere to be seen. After the boy is found dead in a tree, the father (Tobo Vandenborre) and mother (Brit Vam Hoof) differ on their version of events, and it appears that the father has something to hide.

During the course of his investigation, Cafmeyer chances upon the suicide of Plettnickx, whose death clears him from the suspect list but the clues of his brother’s ‘death’ die with him. Another possible perp in the shape of a pasty-faced and puny swimming instructor (Michael Vergauwen) lurks around the locale with intent. Meanwhile the suspect, who leaves his trademark bites on his victim’s body, has broken into another couple’s home, Steffi (Laura Verlinden) and Hans Vankerhove (Roel Swanenberg), the same modus operandi. In scenes of heightened melodrama it emerges that this damaged individual is using his young victims as experimental fodder to further his belief that female hormones are responsible for his impotence but this fascinating strand is not the central thrust of Herbots’ narrative. He is more concerned with pursuing Cafmeyer’s histrionics as he is wound into a world of rampant paedophilia and the past. As the plot unspools, so does the dramatic tension despite Herbots’ histrionic treatment – it is simply untenable to countenance the extreme levels of hysteria and intensity demonstrated by our protagonist on an ongoing basis for over two hours without our attention wandering, for the sake of some light relief, into endless plotlines and characters whose backstories are never developed sufficiently for us to care. Despite excellent performances, (particularly from Rampelberg), and some masterful camerawork, THE TREATMENT cries out for a different treatment and would work better as a three or even five parter where Herbots could really get his teeth into this ground-breaking area of scientific crime and develop his characterisation more satisfactorily. MT

THE TREATMENT IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 MAY 2015

Out on DVD, Blu-ray & On-Demand: 14 September 2015

 

 

Pressure (2015)

Dir.: Ron Scalpello

Cast: Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole, Alan McKenna

UK 2015, 91 min. Thriller

Director Ron Scalpello (Offender) has made a thriller with absolutely no thrills or tension, for that matter. PRESSURE, the story of four divers trapped in their bell on the ocean ground is trite and hollow, on devoid of cinematographic values, due to the minimal spaces where the ‘action’ unfolds.

Classics of the genre, like Apollo 13, have shown that the use of a very restricted space for a man versus nature battle relies on the use of an alternative location and a narrative which uses fully-fledged characters with interesting/contracting backstories. PRESSURE is set nearly exclusively in the diving bell (apart from a few weak flash-backs showing the protagonists’ past), and none of the characters are anything but limp and under-developed. This is a shame, because Engel (Danny Huston) has a really dodgy past, but we learn nothing of substance about him. Mitchell (Goode) is ‘the’ family-man, but what emerges is the obvious, namely that he neglects his family due to his professional absence. Jones (Cole) the rookie, is just that; and even the semi-villain Hurst (McKenna), is just a weak wreck, unable to use his hands properly, thanks to to many hours under water, he nearly undermines the rescue work of the others, but redeems himself. It is difficult to root for any of them, and the main attraction for watching a film of this type is gone.

DOP Richard Mott tries his best to conjure up some images worth remembering, but narrative and locations give him little chance. PRESSURE is simply a wreck, better left to sink without trace AS

In cinemas 21 August | Available to download from 24th August & on DVD 31st August

 

Pleasure Island (2014)

Director: Mike Doxford  Writers: Simon Richardson/Mike Doxford

Cast: Ian Sharp, Gina Bramhill, Rick Warden, Nicholas Day, Samuel Anderson, Darwin Shaw

98min   UK   Crime Drama

Another British indie in similar vein to Blood Cells and Dead Man’s Shoes, centres on a sensitive ex-military man who goes back to his home town to find that things have changed and, sadly, for the worst. This time we’re on the North Lincolnshire coast, a once wealthy area until the fishing industry died and left a decent but poverty-stricken community to fend for themselves. ‘Pleasure Island’ refers to the theme park that grew up in Cleethorpes in the early 90s to create jobs and a lifeline for the locals.

Thoughtfully-crafted with a fabulous sense of place evoked by Shaun Cobley’s limpid visuals of the fish-market, Cleethorpes’s stunning beaches and aerial shots of the harbour, PLEASURE ISLAND is well-acted by a decent British cast led by Ian Sharp (as Dean), who is at odds with his pigeon-fancier dad Tony (Nicholas Day), who runs an ingenious side-line in North Sea skulduggery involving his birds. Meanwhile Dean’s ex Jess (Gina Bramhill) is a now a single mum who strips in the evenings for extra money, pimped out by Connor, a nasty coked-up businessman with a penchant for Caribbean shirts (Rick Warden),

Despite a promising start, PLEASURE ISLAND suffers in the script department from a rather cardboard set of characters for the most part. Although Tony, his rivals Connor and boss Russ (Paul Bullion) are well-drawn and authentic enough, the story soon descends into the usual narrative-style of this misogynist Britflic genre: loutish lads versus passive lassies, with dialogue resorting to endless effing and blinding in place of more convincing parlance. Women get the rough deal here and are portrayed as weak, pathetic characters who invariably get beaten up and verbally abused. Sadly, Jess and Cordelia are no different, endlessly giving in and showing no back-bone whatsoever. So it’s left to Ian Sharp’s Dean to come to the rescue with his military training, avenging Jesse’s honour and sorting Tony out in the process. Sharp does a good job as a strong and silent type but somehow Dean lacks ballast on the characterisation front. There is something pathetic about all these people, and at the end of the day, you can’t help feeling sorry for them all in their downtrodden lives, trying to make the best of things: they come across as sadly comical rather than deeply venal. So there is much to be admired about Doxford’s feature debut which is appealing and watchable despite its flaws. And despite the violent overtones, he softens a tragic story of love and loss with moments of calm combined with a gentle atmospheric soundtrack from The Jive Aces. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 August 2015 | PREMIERING IN CLEETHORPES ON 10 AUGUST 2015

 

War Book (2014)

Director: Tom Harper      Writer: Jack Thorne

Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Adeel Akhtar, Phoebe Fox, Antony Sher, Nicholas Burns

UK Drama

Wide in scope and intellect, Tom Harper’s WAR BOOK  is a chilling chamber piece based on a ‘game’ that took place regularly during the sixties and seventies in the political backrooms of Whitehall and is set here in contempo London. Key political staff assemble each day and are given a ‘scenario’  such as the aftermath of an international nuclear attack.  As ministers, they are then tasked with reporting their individual strategies to cope with the ensuing meltdown, in a roundtable discussion.

Sharply performed by a glittering ensemble cast of British acting talent including: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Antony Sher and Kerry Fox, WAR BOOK bristles with political intrigue and in-fighting from the arcane to the trivial: a coruscating ‘corridors of power’ drama, it ducks and dives through the personal feelings, sexual predilections, and intellectual standpoints of some of ‘finest minds’ in politics, who make decisions on our behalf, but who are not all elected.  Knives are drawn on the political front, and dirty washing is aired shamelessly behind an agenda of ethical and political stance-taking. Particularly good here is Ben Chaplin, an actor with ‘matinee idol’ looks who has been working away effectively for several decades in a variety of roles in both indie film (Dorian Gray) and TV (Game On). Here he shines as a suave and narcissistic sexual predator, Gary, to Phoebe Fox’s dilligent and seductive secretary who is tasked with taking the minutes. Antony Sher is integrity personified, in a ‘less is more’ role of senior advisor, elderly statesmen and contemplative intellect. Kerry Fox plays the soignée and experienced Maria – ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’ type who fashions herself as a more glamorous and more sensual version of ‘the Widdy’ (Ann Widdecombe), and is in recovery from breast cancer. Token ‘Ethnic minorities’ are repped by a brilliantly measured Adheel Akhtar at Mohinder (Mo) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the fresh-faced but highly capable Austin. Shaun Evans is the subversive and strung-out Tom, who goes against the grain and has to be cautioned by Philippa for his strident views and outbursts. And last, but not least, is Sophie Okonedo as Philippa, the dispassionate and masterful ‘Chair’, who turns in a performance that is both subtly nuanced and striking.

Anyone with a keen interest in the workings of politics and ‘the powers that be’ will find this quietly gripping and restrained drama an immersive and entertaining experience. MT

PREMIERED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS

Ivy (2015) | East End Film Festival | Best Feature

Dir.: Tolga Karaçelik

Cast: Osman Alkas, Kadir Cermik, Nadir Saribacak, Ozgur Emre Yildirim, Hakan Karsak, Seyithan Ozturk

Turkey 2015,104 min Thriller | Horror

Tolga Karacelik (Toll Booth) seems to tell a straight story about a mutiny on a vessel stranded off the Egyptian coast, when suddenly and unexpectedly he changes gear and genre, leaving the audience as stranded as the crew.

Captain Beybaba (Alkas), aloof and usually locked in his room, has little to choose from when he hires two new crew members: Cenk (Saribacak) and Alper (Yildirim) are both dope heads, but they will have to do, since the rest of the crew has not been paid for months. But the situation gets worse when Beybaba learns that the owner has been declared bankrupt, which means that if they pull into port, the ship and cargo would be impounded, and no wages paid. Beybaba, ankering a few hundred metres away from the shore, decides to stay on the ship with five men, the minimum number of crew, and wait for the situation to be resolved so that he and the men get their wages.

Apart from the two newcomers (who are running away from both the gang members and the police) the crew consists of Ismail (Cermik), the captain’s deputy, who tries to fulfil all orders with relish; the young cook Nadir (Karsak) and a nameless Kurdish hulk who says little (Ozturk). After over a month, and no prospect of wages, Cenk, a weasel of a man, finds it easy to stir up a revolt. Whilst Nadir is caught in the middle, Ismail has great difficulties keeping Cenk and Alper under control, ably assisted by the Kurd, whose size alone is threat enough for Cenk. But then, the big man disappears without a trace, even though some crew members admit to seeing his shadow. So it’s time for Cenk, who like Alper, is suffering from withdrawal symptoms, to force open the medicine cabinet. But somehow a curse has befallen the crew.

DOP Gokhan Tiryaki (who photographed Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s One Upon a Time in Anatolia), choses the usual Turkish  widescreen mode to underline the eeriness of the situation which echoes The Day of the Triffids. Karacelik leaves it open as to whether the crew are hallucinating for rest of the drama, but explanations are irrelevant: what happens is really horrific, particularly after the stark realism if the first 80 minutes. A haunting original soundtrack by Ahmet Kenan Bilgic and a very strong cast helps to make IVY into one of the few films were the fear factor is really tangible – made all the more horrific because of its suddenness. AS

IVy won the best feature at this year’s EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 1 – 12 JULY 2015

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The Lobster (2015) | Cannes 2015 Competition

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos  Writer: Efthymis Filippou

Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Coleman, Lea Seydoux, John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw

118min  Sci-fi Drama   Greece

THE LOBSTER is a cold-edged, dystopian sci-fi thriller set in an imagined near-future where citizens must choose a mate or be transformed into the animal of their choice. This is Dogtooth director, Yorgos Lanthimos’ first film in English and the first with a starry international cast, who give the impression of being ‘honoured’ to be there playing ridiculous roles with a script rammed with sexually explicit dialogue along the lines of: “I dreamt you fucked me up the ass” and so forth.

Colin Farrell has even developed a massive paunch for his part as David, a deadpan dork who has recently been dumped by his wife and arrives at base camp, one of those ghastly conference-style hotels with “luxury” over-stuffed pillows and maroon-tiled bathrooms, with his brother, Bob, who is now a sheep dog.

Later it emerges that the place is run by smug provincial marrieds (an erudite Olivia Coleman and Garry Mountaine) who give them 45 days to partner up with fellow interns or succumbing to their bestial fate. David choses to be a lobster because he likes swimming and wants a long life. As these harried citizens begin their pressurised life, they acquire nicknames defined by idiosyncratic traits: Limping Man (Ben Whishaw); Lisping Man (John C Reilly) and, like online daters, they are forced to find common interests and similarities in the hope of hooking up, whereupon they get to share a double room and are then assigned ‘children’. “The heartless woman” has been so successful in her dating efforts that she has been given a hundred extra days of human existence.

This theatre of the absurd takes place in deadpan seriousness as leaden clouds scud by in a moss-covered landscape. David eventually lucks out on a date with ‘Heartless woman” and the two have dispassionate doggie-style sex while she is wearing her undies. But, true to form, she finds dating dissatisfaction with David, and quietly slaughters sheepdog, Bob, on the white-tiled bathroom.

While Hackney viewers will be desperate to acquire the DVD/blu for “cool” nights in, other audiences may find this film quite tedious and obdurate in its desperation to be obtuse. There is a saving grace in David’s meeting with “Shorted sighted woman” (Rachel Weisz) who is part of the ‘loner’ party wandering around in the local woods and lead by a love-averse Lea Seydoux. As the two gradually bond, their random meeting proves that love is truly blind and motivated by the fear of being alone or metaphorically ‘turned into an animal’ – a spell in an old peoples’ home is possibly the real life analogy Lanthimos is alluding to here. Striking out as a married couple in the city, they discover that life is not as perfect as they imagined it would be. The moral of the story: Be careful what you wish for.  MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 24 MAY 2015 | CANNES 2015

The Arbiter (2013)

Director: Kadri Kõusaar

Cast: Lee Ingleby, Bille Neeve, Sofia Berg-Bohm, Tony Aitkin, Andrea Lowe, Lina Leandersson,

100min   Thriller   Estonia

Kadri Kõusaar’s unsettling thriller draws you into its dark and morally complex web from its opening scenes in a fin de siècle mansion in the chilly depths of the Estonian countryside. Here, we meet John (Lee Ingleby), a young and respectable research scientist who has been invited for an interview. The job? To provide sperm for a rich and intelligent woman who is looking for a perfect child. And so begins the exploration of a man’s descent into madness and a bleak tale of human genetics that explores some thorny and highly questionable ethical themes.

Fast forward a decade or so and John’s promising career has hit the skids and he is working as a backroom research scientist living with his girlfriend, a corporate high-flyer. Pregnant, she is opting for an abortion, on the grounds of John’s unsuitability as the father of her future child. We see the two of them by a frozen lake, scattering the ashes of the foetus into the icy waters. John is devastated by the brutal termination of his relationship and his fatherhood and retreats into himself, deciding that the best course of action is time out to heal the emotional scars.

Lee Ingleby, best known for his TV work, is brilliantly cast here as the lead in this eerily sinister story. He has the same quality of vapid  ‘otherworldliness’ as Christopher Walken, and also brings a touch of sardonicism to the role. It is a perfect pairing with Lina Leanderrson, (who you will remember from Let The Right One In) who plays his daughter Ronja from the successful donation project, and with whom he embarks on a sinister road trip. Although it appears outwardly that John has recovered, his emotional sadness has subverted into a troubling personality change.

During his time out John has infact been brooding over some provocative issues concerning the future of his fellow humans. Initially, initially his efforts as a vigilante-style do-gooder pursuing moral rectitude are faintly amusing: he transforms a rowdy night club into a classical music event. But when he gets his revenge on a religious paedophile by pimping Ronja into the equation, it is clear that he is developing a ‘God Complex”. After gassing a busload of elderly mentally disabled passengers, Ronja draws the line and they part company. Eventually John meets his maker in a rather chilling denouement that brings him back again to a lakeside. With a chilling score, subtle performances and a great sense of place, this is a compelling and provocative film that won’t be to everyone’s taste. Viewed dispassionately, it raises some alternative issues marking Kõusaar out to be a director of intellect and talent.

VIEWED AT KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2013

 

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Joe Turkel, M Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah

117mins  Fantasy Sci-Fi   US

BLADE RUNNER was considered so ‘out there’ when it originally ignited our screens back in 1982. Now, like that Thierry Mugler eighties suit, it feels dated despite its iconic status as a piece of finely-crafted history. Ridley Scott’s finely detailed Sci-Fi outing looks very ‘Now-Fi’ as his definitive ‘director’s cut’ takes to our screens, gleaming back at us with its bleak and cold-eyed vision. The replicants of yesteryear feel like the call centres operatives of today, minus their superhuman strength: they are ‘people’ who appear to be real but fail to engage on any level making us feel every sympathy for Harrison Ford’s character as he fumbles around in the new age darkness trying to make sense of things.

Based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, BLADE RUNNER is set in Los Angeles, but filmed at Burbank Studios – a HongKong shoot proving too expensive. It follows a detective called Rick Deckard who is brilliantly played by a permanently perplexed Harrison Ford. His sweat-soaked brow be-knitted with angst, he is tasked with tracking down ‘androids’ or replicants, as they are re-badged in Scott’s fantasy thriller. With all the semblance of flesh and blood humans, apart from their ‘shining’ eyes – created using a technique (the Schüfftan Process) that had actually been invented by Fritz Lang – they are robots from outer-space colonies where they have been investigating alternative living quarters for our over-crowded Earthbound population.

Rutger Hauer gives his ‘one hit wonder’ performance as a startlingly appealing yet lethally dangerous android, Roy Batty, with his now-iconic line “All those moments will be lost in time…like tears in the rain”. Daryl Hannah plays a female she-devil android whose initial cutesy mannequin charm turns deadly as she unravels in the final scenes and there is another memorable turn from Joe Turkel (as Dr Eldon Tyrell), the infamous barman from The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel. But the standout here is Sean Young as Rachael. Her spiky vulnerability and shimmering red lips are a legend in their own lunchtime and test Deckard’s male instincts to the limit. The final cut abandons the pseudo happy ending of the original version, opting instead for an unsettling unspooling of gradual dehumanisation. How prescient Scott’s vision turned out to be. MT

BLADE RUNNER: FINAL CUT IS IN CINEMAS FROM 3 APRIL.

HARRISON FORD WILL RETURN TO STAR IN A SEQUEL BY DENIS VILLENEUVE.

The Signal (2015)

Director: William Eubank

Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne, Lin Shaye

97min  US  Sci-Fi Thriller

Deep in the countryside, three ramblers cross paths with a strange and unworldly encounter in William Eubank’s slick indie that starts as an compelling weird Sci-FI mystery thriller but gradually joins the highway to mainstream city, veering off the path of arthouse intrigue.

Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp) are MIT students who seem to be involved in a computer virus dispute with someone called Nomad. When Nic agrees to take his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) back to University across country, Jonah goes to share the driving because Nic seems to be on crutches. On their way they pick up intelligence that may lead them to Nomad’s whereabouts. Against their better judgement, they take a detour into the desert.

This takes them through some glorious widescreen visuals and a retro vibe as we cruise zen-like along in the fields  of big mountain country, enjoying David Lanzenberg’s gorgeous cinematography until arriving at nightfall at an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. And this is where proceedings go pear-shaped as the mood becomes edgy and sinister. Haley is abducted by an alien-like being before and they all space out and loses control. Nic gradually comes to his senses in a space-age hospital staffed by men in white overalls. He can’t feel his legs.

The doctor in charge of Nic is Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). Apparently Nic and his friends came across an “extraterrestrial biological entity,” and it is vital for Nic to remain within the confines of the hospital for his own safety. But Nic, in a performance of palpable paranoia (by Thwaites), is not convinced and desperately tries to escape the sinister surroundings and endless white corridors and weird doctors. In vain. Then after an eerie dreamlike sequence of events where he is unable to move and is pursued by a very spooky-looking Fishburne as the doctor, Nic takes charge and breaks away from the hospital along a series of narrow tunnels and finally to freedom. But his troubles are far from over. Despite a delightfully off the wall turn from Lin Shaye as a religious nutter, this Sci-fi mystery fails to deliver the satisfying denouement that we’re hoping for as our interest gradually wanes in the last half hour. It’s watchable and wacky all the same and Nima Fakhrara’s ethereal soundtrack lends a surreal atmosphere.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015 | DVD FROM 13 APRIL 2015

 

 

The Killers (1946) | Master of Shadows | April 2015

Dir.: Robert Siodmak

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, William Conrad, Charles McGraw

USA 1946, 102 min. (spoilers)

Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, THE KILLERS was one of many classic Film Noirs by one of the key Noir craftsman, German born director Robert Siodmak (1900-1973). He was one of the team of filmmakers behind Menschen am Sonntag (1929); his fellow creators and emigrants Edgar G. Ulmer and Billie Wilder would, like him, excel in directing noir-movies in Hollywood, as well as another couple of ex-UFA directors: Fritz Lang and John Brahm. Considering that Robert’s brother Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), who became a busy script-writer in Hollywood, was also involved Noir-films, one can draw the conclusion, that all these emigrant directors transferred the traumatic displacement they had suffered in Nazi-Germany, into their new environment with films, in which everything, from the role of capitalism to gender roles, became questionable.

Robert Siodmak’s list of noir films between 1941 and 1949 is quiet staggering: Flight by Night,  Conflict  Phantom Lady, The Suspect, The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross and Thelma Jordan. Apart from being aesthetically original, these productions were often great successes at the box office, and Siodmak had enough clout with the studio bosses, to cast an unknown debutant in the leading role for THE KILLERS: Burt Lancaster.

The film starts with two psychotic killers Max (Conrad) and Al (McGraw) entering the small town of Brentwood in New Jersey at night, going to the local diner and enquiring about Pete Lunn, called “The Swede”. After being told that he has not come for his usual dinner appointment, the killers terrorise owner and personnel of the diner in frustration, before turning their enquiries elsewhere. Finally, they enter the boarding house where Lunn (Lancaster) lives, shooting him in cold blood. Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance inspector, investigating a life-insurance claim (Lunn had a life-insurance policy, a motel maid in Atlantic City being named the beneficiary), is puzzled why Lunn never ran away, even though he was warned by one of the guests in the diner about the arrival of the killers.

With the help of police detective Sam Lubinsky (Levene), who knew Lunn when he was a young boxer and put him behind bars after Lunn took the rap for a jewel theft for his secret love Kitty Collins (Gardner), Reardon tries to uncover the truth behind Lunn’s suicidal behaviour and finds out that Collins was the girl-friend of Big Jim Colfax ((Dekker), who was in charge of a heist, in which Lunn and three other members of the team successfully robbed a payroll worth $250 000. The jealous Colfax wanted to cut Lunn out of the proceeds, but Kitty warned the latter, and Lunn grabbed the loot and disappeared for good, being hunted in vain by the other gang members. But the more Reardon learns, the less sense it makes…

The narrative is told at first as a series of flashbacks portraying Lunn’s life, before the two killers from the opening sequence make another appearance, this time trying to get rid off Lubinsky and Reardon, setting in motion a series of shootouts. The acting is near perfect: Lancaster’s “Swede” is a naïve, emotionally immature man, who does not even know that Lilly is in love with him – she prompotly marries Lubinsky – whilst Lunn just loves the unobtainable Kitty from afar, only confronting the rough Colfax once before the heist. When Lunn meets Gardner, she is tthe ‘little girl lost” in the company of gangsters, begging Lunn to save her, and Lunn is only too happy to oblige, even if it costs him three years of his life. Their meeting in Atlantic City, when Kitty tells him of Colfax treachery, is the high point of the film: one literally feels the burning lust. Dekker’s Colfax is steely and arrogant – Ronald Reagan would play him in Don Siegel’s remake of 1956 – and Conrad and McGraw are truly frightening in their unrestrained violence. DOP Elwood Bredell plays masterly with shadows and light, creating an atmosphere of violence and repressed lust. The male protagonists are all severely damaged, even Lubinsky is just shown as a cop, who easily sells his friend Lunn out, even though he had the chance to save him; whilst Reardon is just a stupid insurance agent, who risks his life to maximise the profits of his company. Siodmak creates a totally corrupt and amoral world in this near perfect film. AS

SCREENING DURING MASTERS OF SHADOWS: A ROBERT SIODMAK RETROSPECTIVE AT THE BFI LONDON IN APRIL 2015

 

The Offence (1972)

15771950614_6e4c03b14f_mDirector: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant, Ian Bannen

UK/USA 1972, 113 min. Drama

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) was always interested in subjects to do with judicial justice; his first great success, Twelve Angry Man (1957) shows the interaction between very different men on a murder jury. There, as well as in THE OFFENCE, he tries to describe violent actions committed by men, whose own disturbing nature is not far removed from the suspected criminals they are dealing with.

Sergeant Johnson (Connery) is a burnt out cop who humiliates his wife Maureen (Merchant) with sadistic fervour. When confronted with the suspected child molester Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), he sees very much of himself in the man, beating him unconscious in the end in this tense psychological drama that unspools within the confines of a police interrogation room. Later, when interrogated by his boss Superintendent Cartwirght (Trevor Howard), we see further parallels with Baxter: Johnson shrinks literally in front of Cartwright (“You are not up to it, still a Sergeant at your age”). Ambiguity runs through the fragmented narrative, the flashbacks underlining even more how close Baxter and Johnson are in their psychological profile. Whilst we never learn if Baxter is really guilty, Johnson’s reaction to the raped girls and murdered women leads us to believe that he too is very well capable of these crimes. Sexually frustrated and in a dead-end marriage himself, he tries to impose his own feelings onto Baxter, in order to draw a confession out of him. Finally, Johnson admits to Baxter that he has rape phantasies, and asks Baxter to help. “I have to have what you have got, help me!”. When Baxter recoils in disgust, Johnson starts killing him in an admission that he cannot bear his role as police officer anymore. The self-hatred, which could be observed before in his interactions with his wife, is projected onto to Baxter.

The script is by John Hopkins; based on his stage play. Hopkins wrote several scripts for “Z-Cars”, among them one for a very young Ken Loach. The acting, particular Connery’s ‘lost soul’ Johnson, is brilliant. And Trevor Howard also excels in his portrait of the senior police detective. Gerry Fisher’s camera catches the mood of the early 70s in Britain perfectly and the grim architecture of the Secondary Modern school where the victim (Maxine Gordon) attends school, and creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the police interview room. In 1971, before shooting Diamonds are forever, Connery had only agreed to star in this new James Bond film, if United Artists would finance two independent films of his choice, costing not more than 2 million. In the end, THE OFFENCE, which cost £ 900 000, was the only realised project – it was a box-office flop. Roman Polanski beat Connery to the post with the second project, a screen version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. AS

AVAILABLE FROM 20 APRIL 2015 COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | EUREKA

New 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
· Optional English SDH for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
· Optional isolated music and effects track
· Video interview with stage director Christopher Morahan
· Video interview with assistant art director Chris Burke
· Video interview with costume designer Evangeline Harrison
· Video interview with composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle
· Original theatrical trailer
· 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by critic Mike Sutton, a vintage interview about the film with Sidney Lumet, and rare archival imagery

 

The Ice Forest (2014) La Foresta di Ghiaccio | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Director: Claudio Noce   Writers: Francesca Manieri

Cast: Emir Kusturica, Adriano Giannini, Ksenija Rappaport, Domenico Diele

99min  Noir Thriller   Italian with subtitles

The feisty Bosnian actor and director Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies) is the reason to see this dourly sinister revenge thriller set in the wintery mountains of the Trentino Alto Adige, Northern Italy. He plays Secondo, in name and in nature – as this is not a lead role despite his being the best-known actor here. A Serbian national, he lives in a snowbound power plant next to the Slovenian border and runs a clandestine human trafficking outfit with half-brother Lorenzo (Adriano Giannini). A pre-credit sequence from 1994, shows the murder of a Serbian man by human traffickers whilst his little brother escapes, and we are led to believe that Secondo is the key contact involved in illegal immigration and money laundering in this remote location.

When young mechanic Pietro (Domenico Diele) arrives in the village to repair a dodgy electricity cable, the others become uneasy eyeing him with a savage mistrust. And it doesn’t take long for us to realise who Pietro really is, particuarly when Lorenzo suddenly disappears. Suspicions are further aroused with the arrival of Lana, a Slovenian (Ksenija Rappoport) forest ranger on the hunt for a dangerous bear: it soon emerges that she is really a detective investigating the disappearance and murder of a Libyan woman.

Claudio Noce does his best to ramp up tension in this confident, well-paced second feature, with a series of revelations that keep us on our toes to a degree, while admiring the Alpine setting with its icy landscapes and sweeping aerial photography of  a majestic dam over the valley. Performances, particularly from Kusturica and Rappoport, are strong and although the script could benefit from being tighter, there is a constant threat of skulduggery with animosity brewing between the predominantly male cast involved in cross-border intrigue and illicit subterfuge. An unexpected twist develops between Pietro and Lana adding a frisson to the proceedings and marking out Pietro to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and far from the unassuming character who originally came to town. In the brutal climax of this watchable Noir thriller, it becomes clear that the village victims are not going to be of the bear variety. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY RUNS FROM 5 -9 MARCH 2015 – TICKETS HERE

 

 

 

Snow in Paradise (2014)

Director: Andrew Hulme

Writers: Martin Askew, Andrew Hulme

Cast: Frederick Schmidt, Martin Askew, David Spinx, Aymen Hamdouchi

118min  UK  Thriller

In Hoxton, two young men have formed a friendship across the cultural divide Dave (Frederick Schmidt) and his friend Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi) are wide-boys on a small scale, working for Dave’s notorious East End family.

This gutsy gangland Britflick is the screen debut of Andrew Hulme, better known for his work editing Lucky Number SlevinThe American and The Imposter. SNOW IN PARADISE stands out for its portrayal of an increasingly gentrified East End where the old school crims are slowly being pushed aside by upmarket media types who would rather sip organic beer than chomp bacon sandwiches in the local greasy spoon and a Muslim ‘bruvverhood’ who spend their time preaching peace in the local Mosque.

The film is loosely based on the life of Martin Askew, who co-wrote the script and stars as arch villain “Uncle Jimmy”, a gangland hoodlum. Holding Dave in his thrall with a mesmerising presence, he offers Dave a chance to make some real money with a drug deal – a step up from his usual petty crime. Dave takes the unwitting Tariq along but events turn sour when Tariq goes missing causing Dave’s private demons, coke and crystal meth, to resurface in his life, clouding his vision as he gradually descends into a murky underworld caught between the false bonhommie of “Uncle Mickey” and his rival, the venal “Uncle Jimmy” (David Spinx). His desperate search for his friend eventually leads him to Tariq’s Mosque, where he is welcomed by the faux sincerity of Amjad (Ashley Chin).

As gangland Britflicks go, SNOW is a gripping and watchable thriller and certainly a cut above the rest but the problem lies with the character of Dave. Good-looking and cockily self-assured, he certainly cuts a confident dash in the opening sequences but then completely falls apart on Tariq’s disappearance, despite sexual and emotional support from his girlfriend Teresa, whom he openly adores despite her sideline in sexual favours. Sceptical and almost derisory at first about the power of Islam, Dave then appears to openly embrace the faith without a by-your-leave, making his character both implausible as a hardened petty criminal and a born-again, enlightened soul. All this is viewed through a trippy haze of stylised visual flourishes and a hypnotic soundtrack that occasionally serve to blunt the narrative rather than sharpen what could be a brilliantly hard-nosed thriller with some really first class acting, particularly from Askew, David Spinx and Frederick Schimidt in the volatile lead.  With a little more focus on Dave’s religious conversion (be it to Islam, Buddism, Christianity or any Faith) and what it actually means and stands for in the scheme of things, this cracking debut could have been a good deal more convincing. As it stands, SNOW IN PARADISE is nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the British gangland genre making Andrew Hulme a directing force to be reckoned with. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015

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20 Hot Titles for 2015 | Indie | Arthouse film| Part 1

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP-2THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The main reason to see this moving and ambitious biopic of our most famous living scientist Stephen Hawking, is that Eddie Redmayne’s is pure dynamite as the man himself. Combing through endless footage of the Professor Hawking’s voice recordings and photos, he literally inhabits his very being from early life at Cambridge right through to his epic achievements in the realm of Science. Co-Written by his wife, Jane Hawking. touchingly played by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman). Out on 1 January.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: If you’re ready for a grown-up thriller with a gripping storyline and fabulously crafted-performances, look no further this tightly-plotted, New York-based slow burner from J C Chandor (All Is Lost). Set in 1981, during the city’s most dangerous year for crime, if tells the story of an ambitious immigrant’s bitter fight for survival in a precarious and competitive world. Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davies) and Jessica Chastain star.  23 January 2015

Altman_1ALTMAN: There’s nothing to beat an absorbing biopic on a prolific film director, and this one eclipses them all. Ron Mann charts the story of Robert Altman’s career from his lucky first break, to his far-reaching TV work and finally his outstanding contribution to independent cinema. A pithy, poignant and highly-entertaining portrait. Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould and Paul Thomas Anderson reminisce to add ballast. T. B. A.

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THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Peter Strickland’s edgy and inventive seventies-themed drama tackles the delicate subject of sexual dominance and submissiveness amid butterfly buffs in a  seventies-setting deep in the Hungarian counrtyside. Sidse Babett Knudsengarnered Best Actress for her portrayal of a lesbian with performance fatigue in this unsettling but yet darkly comic treasure. 20 February 2015

whitegodWHITE GOD (Feher Isten): ‘Superiority has become the privilege of white Western civilisation and it is nearly impossible for not to take advantage of it’. With this premise Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s invigorating drama WHITE GOD scratches at the edges of horror to create a richly inventive fable where dogs take over the city of Budapest. Starting out as gentle and harmless, the narrative gradually darkens into something morbid and frightening. No shaggy dog story here but certainly one to salivate over. 27 FEBRUARY

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THE LOOK OF SILENCE: Following on the heels of his devastating documentary about man’s evil to man, Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is in some ways even more affecting. For a start, it’s running time of under two hours makes it a more manageable to engage with. Don’t be fooled though. Oppenheimer probes the killers much more harshly this time and elicits some unsettling revelations from the perpetrators and those affected by the terrifying regime in Indonesia. T. B. A.

downloadMACBETH: Roman Polanski was the last director successfully to adapt this most dark and sinister of Shakespeare’s plays. Here, Australian director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) casts Marion Cotillard as the chilling chateleine of Cawdor Castle playing alongside Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth as the fatefully ambitious couple whose ‘follie de grandeur’ leads them depose of Scotland’s King Duncan. T.B.A

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IT FOLLOWS; David Robert Mitchell’s latest film has emerged by general consensus amongst critics to be the most heart-thumpingly horrific indie thrillers of recent years. Simple in concept, this low-fi outing is inventive in creating a fairytale atmosphere in a modern-day setting. A must-see for all audiences. 27 FEBRUARY 2015

1001 NOITES: Tabu director Miguel Gomes is back with a re-working of the fabulous legend of Scheherazade locating his film in crisis-ridden present-day Portugal. Shifting between imagination and reality, the narrative takes on familiar elements to the original but  retains the same teasing quality that Scheherazade employed on the King. T.B.A.

PHOENIX 2013

PHOENIX: Christian Petzold’s heart-wrenching drama works cleverly as both a wartime love-story and an evergreen metaphor for regeneration and identity. Starring regular collaborators Ronald Zehrfeld (In Between Worlds) and Nina Hoss (Barbara) who gives the best rendition of ‘Speak Low’ known to mankind, it has also one of the most devastating climaxes of recent years. TBA

RELEASE DATES FOR ALL THESE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.

 

 

 

Mea Culpa (2014)

Dir.: Fred Cavayé

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Gilles Lellouche, Nadine Labaki, Max Baissette de Malglaive

France 2014, 90 min. Thriller

MEA CULPA runs on similar lines to his 2008 outing Anything for Her: Cavayé integrates the family of the main protagonist into the narrative, only this time the best buddy and his daughter are also part of the plot. These involvements are the saving grace of a film that relies heavily on action sequences, which often stretch reality far beyond breaking point.

We start on the beach, where the two cops Simon (Lindon) and Franck (Lellouche) are having a family holiday with Simon’s wife Alice (Labaki), their son Theo (de Malglaive) and Franck’s daughter, whose mother died at birth. The idyll is quickly shattered, when Simon, under the influence, crashes into a car, killing a family, including a child. He is dismissed from the police, sent to prison and after his release unable to care for his family. Fast forward six years: Simon is working as a security guard, neglecting his son, guilt ridden and full of self pity. Then Theo witnesses a game-changing event involving the Mafia which eventually leads to a grand finale on a the TGV, where not only the rather faceless gangsters are finished off for good, but we learn a secret that changes everything we have witnessed so far…

Set in Toulon, Cavayé endearingly evokes the closeness of the two families: the shattered existence of all protagonists after the car crash is painful to watch. When Simon re-establishes himself, we rout for him not only because he is the good guy, but we want him to succeed and overcome his trauma. Tension is ramped up in many chase scenes involving Theo which are shot in dimly-lit buildings and narrow streets, making for a very claustrophobic setting. Lindon, as usual, dominates the proceedings, whilst Lellouche is somehow relegated to second best. Labaki’s Alice is fragile but stands up to her husband, and de Malglaive’s Theo is perhaps a little too cute and precocious.

MEA CULPA has just enough emotional depth to qualify as a thriller, overall the sum is more than its, very well-executed, genre parts.

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 5TH DECEMBER 2014

 

Locke (2013) – DVD

Writer/Director: Steven Knight

Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Tom Holland, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels

85mins   UK    Thriller

Steve Knight’s one-handed ‘driving seat drama’ never feels claustrophobic although all the action takes place within the confines of a car on a journey from Wales to London. Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, in a skilled and gripping performance,  that window into his life and the people he shares it with plenty of action-packed thrills despite its decidedly low-budget premise. He plays a father, husband and lover whose life unravels as he races South on the M1 to meet the latest of his offspring while managing the tendering of a complex building project, that . All conducted over the telephone from his BMW, he talks to his wife (Ruth Wilson), his lover (Olivia Colman), two teenage sons and members of his building team: the traffic police would have a field day but they’d probably thoroughly enjoy this seat-clenching thriller.

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NOW ON DVD

 

 

Call Girl (2012) *** DVD/BLU

Director: Mikael Marcimain

Writer: Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten

Cast: Sofia Karemyr, Simon J Berger, Josefin Asplund, Pernilla August, David Dencik

140mins  Thriller Sweden with subtitles

This intelligent Swedish art house feature joins the recent influx of Scandinavian films to flood our cinema screens. Along with The Killing and The BridgeCall Girl makes challenging viewing not least for its subject-matter: the grooming of young girls to work as prostitutes for top politicians in seventies Stockholm. The city emerges as a bedrock of misogynist culture and child abuse emerges in the run-up to a scandal-ridden general election.

Shifting between two plot lines, the story focuses on how Iris (Sofia Karemyr) and Sonja (Josefin Asplund) gradually find themselves the victim of Pernilla August’s shrewd business woman, Dagmar, who operates a call girl agency with clients drawn from the top echelons of the local political and police elite.

John Sandberg (Simon J Berger) is hired to look into Dagmar’s activities but gradually his operation burgeons into a full-blown criminal investigation encompassing members of his own bureau, and in so doing casts a pall over other shady aspects of society which are inexorably drawn into the proceedings. It’s a tightly-scripted and skillful piece of filmmaking underpinned by a well-put-together seventies aesthetic and some truly excellent performances particularly from the two leads.

Told in a way that’s devoid of drama or sensationalism, it cleverly portrays a society where victims from the bottoms rungs of society are left without voice or proper recourse to justice; this absorbing drama is as chilling, dark and long as January in Stockholm. MT

CALL GIRL IS OUT ON DVD/BLU FROM 28 SEPTEMBER 2013 PRICE: £15.99 courtesy of Artificial Eye. 

 

Plein Soleil (1960)

Dir: René Clément | Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Leforêt, Erno Crisa | 118mins | France, Thriller

Writer: Patricia Highsmith

When it comes to style, no one does it better than the French and Italians. PLEIN SOLEIL, René Clément’s adaptation of ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, perfectly epitomises the laid-back sixties summer of a group of friends holidaying on the Italian riviera and slipping easily from French to Italian to English.

While retaining the sinister edginess of Highsmith’s novel, Clément floods the screen with a sunny Mediterranean vibe, skilfully directing his largely debut cast to produce a thriller embued with the insouciant glamour of the era and superbly performed by these three beautiful young French actors.

Plein 3

Alain Delon stars as a rather feline Ripley, moving sinuously across the screen-his physique honed from an early career as a paratrooper in the Marines, he’s a French version of Dirk Bogarde (or American, James Dean) both in style and background and, like Bogarde, fell into acting in the late fifties after a series of odd jobs, eventually becoming a star in Plein Soleil. Delon went on to find international success in Visconti’s ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (1960), he came to represent the ideal young male of the Nouvelle Vague: energetic, good-looking and rakish. He was perfect for the role of Ripley; a charming sociopath with murderous intent.

Marie Laforêt plays Marge Duval, in a sultry turn that exudes nonchalent sex appeal and Maurice Ronet, who had already made his name in LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD, is another genius piece of casting as her suave boyfriend Philippe Greenleaf.

The ending is a shocking departure from that of the original novel and displeased Highsmith on the grounds of its “indictment of public morality”. But although the more recent Anthony Minghella version starring Matt Damon clings more faithfully to her storyline, this by far exceeds the latter in style and execution and was to set the tone for the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut to usher in the French New Wave.  MT

ON NETFLIX AND PRIME VIDEO

 

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