Posts Tagged ‘US Drama’

In Cold Blood (1967) DVD

Dir: Richard Brooks | Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Tex Smith, Paul Stewart, Jeff Corey, Gerald S O’Loughlin | US Crime Thriller, 130′

Truman Capote’s celebrated reporting of a Kansas murder case, In Cold Blood, is the basis for Richard Brooks’s disturbing docudrama. The film opens as a Greyhound bus roars into the darkness of a desolate prairie night, bound for Kansas City. Black silhouetted figures stand out, one is a man with a guitar. A girl passenger sees a boot with the famous catspaw soles (‘catspaws won’t slip’), and this is the clue that will eventually lead to the murderer – and the Capote’s nemesis.

Formally ambitious yet elegantly restrained the film crisply evokes the small-town Sixties Kansas in Conrad Hall’s stylish black and white visuals with a classy score by Quincy Jones. New Yorker Capote had spent over six months getting to know the Kansas locals for his ‘non-fiction novel’, and one local in particular would be his unravelling. He trusted Brooks to transfer his own ideas to the screen, and they were both sold on black and white, Hall creating a gritty true crime feel, and some stunning Wild West style panoramas, Brooks carrying the authenticity through by filming in the town and the exact house where the murders actually happened, but Capote became mesmerised by one of the perpetrators, Perry Smith.

The events of the case grippingly unfold in a chronological narrative recounting how four members of the ‘God-fearing’ Clutter family were slaughtered in cold blood one night in 1959 by two two ex-convicts looking for cash during a random burglary in the remote  rural property. They stole a radio and a few dollars and left few clues as to their identity, but Brooks shows how Kansas Police (lead by a superb John Forsythe) embark on a lengthy and painstaking investigation eventually catching and convicting the killers and bringing them to justice in 1965.

Robert Blake (Perry Smith) and Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock) are utterly convincing as the ruthless killers. And although we already know that they committed the murders from the early scenes Brooks generates a palpable tension while he fleshes out the investigation and we get a chance to fathom the broken minds of the perpetrators.

At the end of the day, who can really understand why two people only intending to rob the Clutters, and who had not committed murder before, suddenly decided to sadistically murder four innocent people on a quiet night in 1959? And what did the modest Clutters do provoke such vicious violence?

Richard Brooks’s fractured narrative flips nervously back and forth brilliantly evoking both the frenzied minds of the killers and the fervent need of detectives to nail and endite their suspects. Conrad Hall’s noirish visuals re-visit the rain-soaked scene of the crime, the remote locations and the fugitives’ brief escape to Mexico and their chance arrest in Las Vegas, while allowing brief glimpses of the genesis of their disfunctional family stories.

Brooks skilfully avoids showing bloodshed, violence or macabre crime scenes, allowing the terror to haunt our minds rather than the cinema screen. The mercilessness of the intruders and the abject fear and vulnerability of Clutters in their final moments is more evocative than any blood-soaked bedroom scene. By the time we reach the trial and imprisonment, we are glad to be done with these sordid criminals, although Brooks a scintilla of sympathy for Perry Smith who seems to have been led on. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give chilling and resonant portrayals in the leading roles. MT

ON DVD | REMASTERED COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS.

 

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) ***

Dir: Patty Jenkins | Gal Gadot, Kirsten Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Chris Pine | US Action Drama, 151′

Women are the superheroes of this Amazonian flight of fantasy that soon crashes down to earth in an over-bloated final hour. As blockbusters go Wonder Woman 84 is tremendous fun, swinging us back to the Eighties in a blousy, big haired way, and with a heroine who is clever, kind, gorgeous, and vulnerable – but not a fool for love, as we soon discover.

That’s Gal Gadot in the title role of Diana Prince. Since her last appearance in the 2017 original there are new tricks up her sleeve: the ability to make mincemeat out of cheesy dialogue, and add emotional ballast to the splashy set pieces that see her young self defying gravity as the pint size heroine (Lilly Aspell) in the film’s opening sequence. Learning life’s lessons early, she cheats and gets a ticking off from her mother Hippolyta (Nielsen) “No hero is born from lies”. All well and good, so far.

This sequel to brilliant original epic is set in greedy mid-1980s America. This time around, there’s a plot device involving a mysterious crystal that will grant a single wish to its possessor, but that works both ways too – life’s never easy, even for wonder women.

Diana now finds herself gainly employed at the Washington’s Smithsonian where her most cherished wish is the return of the – now dead – love of her life  – Steve (Pine), although the chemistry has certainly fizzled out of that affair. She also meets the geeky be-spectacled Barbara (a fab Kirsten Wiig), who is a dashing blond beneath her bookish exterior. And must contend with a power-crazy profligate Maxwell (Pascal) an overblown twat looking to dominate the world wearing a wig and false teeth (not to mention ‘too much info’ trousers). Naturally good triumphs over evil in a happy ending, but one which ends up confused, strung out, and far too excited to keep us entertained for two and a half hours. . MT

Wonder Woman 1984 is now on release

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

 

American Pickle (2020) ***

Dir: Brandon Trost | Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen, Eliot Glazer, Kalen Allen, Sean Whalen, Jorma Taccone, Kevin O’Rourke, Marsha Stephanie Blake | US Comedy 90′

Seth Rogen gives not one but two clever performances – as a Brooklyn techie and his Eastern European immigrant great-grandfather – in this upbeat and intelligent cultural satire bringing to mind Fiddler on the Roof.

An American Pickle underlines just how far we’ve come in the political correctness stakes. Notions of family rivalry and what it takes to succeed in in life are served as a refreshing cocktail of black humour, the weight behind the storyline offering home truths and caustic observations and making this comedy worthy of serious consideration, although Simon Rich’s script based on his novella Sell Out slightly loses its sting in the final stages.

In the Hollywood style opening scenes Seth Rogen plays a fiery but likeable downtrodden Polish peasant Herschel Greenbaum who accidentally falls into a vat of pickling brine in the Jewish community of Schlupsk during the Cossack invasion of 1919. Re-surfacing perfectly preserved in present-day New York (please suspend your disbelief) he meets his tech-designer ancestor Ben, a subdued singleton who has spent his last five years develop0ing an app, and is now looking for investors.

Director Brandon Trost has worked with Rogen before in comedies such as This is the End, The Night Before, The Interview. This latest is fraught with Jewish jokes and immigrant references but the strong theme of hard work and perseverance against the odds rings true more than ever before and resonates with the tough times we’re all going through.

Herschel Greenbaum fetches up in Brooklyn ‘penniless’ and moves in with great grand-son Ben, determined to pay his way by inventing home-cured pickles using rainwater, recycled jars and gherkins thrown out by neighbouring restaurants. This ‘natural’ product this goes down a treat with the ‘woke’ locals (Eliot Glazer and Kalen Allen), and soon he’s making a few dollars.

Determination and self-belief keep him going and spur him on to buy the local Jewish cemetery where his wife Sarah (Snook) is buried, and where construction workers put up a billboard for Russian vodka. The thought of ‘Cossacks’ invading once again is the motivating force for his beef. When the workers refuse to remove the sign, a punch-up ensues and he and Ben find themselves in prison custody, scuppering Ben’s chances of securing finance from ethically conscientious investors. Furious, Ben hits back at Herschel and secretly shops him to the ‘health and safety’ authorities, Herschel losing his pickle livelihood on the grounds of consumer safety.

There is much to enjoy in the tussle between Herschel’s old-fashioned hard-grafting verve and his more passive aggressive modern relative Ben and the family rift drives this feel good comedy forward showing that in the end blood is always thicker than brine. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 7 AUGUST 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Bigamist (1953) *** MUBI

Director: Ida Lupino. Screenplay: Collier Young. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn, Kenneth Tobey, Jane Darwell. Drama / United States / 80′.

Ida Lupino directs and stars in  this final feature for her production company The Filmakers before moving into television.

The blunt title serves as a massive spoiler from the word Go. There’s no doubt as to where the plot is going, but strange as it may seem today, bigamy was surprisingly common at the time, as this film is at pains to point out.

A British film called The Bigamist had been made as early as 1916; but during the 195os the subject was usually treated light-heartedly as a subject of comedy (as in the same year’s The Captain’s Paradise, with Alec Guinness, Celia Johnson and Yvonne de Carlo). But when children are involved – as is the case here – it really becomes significant; and bigamy is just one of a whole raft of issues – including unplanned pregnancy and adoption (where do most adopted children come from in the first place?) – the film explores in just eighty minutes.

With so many people raising kids these days without bothering to get married, the mores of this era seem rather quaint and as remote as the silent era. The earnest tone of the film rather recalls the silent ‘social problem’ films of pioneer women directors Lois Weber and Mrs Wallace Reid in whose footsteps Lupino was following.

The Bigamist is rather like a silent film in the way Lupino’s pregnancy is implied to be the result of the sole occasion she had slept with her lover (O’Brien) as a “birthday treat” for him. And she becomes pregnant the very first time she had slept with a man since she got a ‘Dear Phyllis’ letter from a previous boyfriend several years earlier. O’Brien never squares with her that he’s married; but the thought must have crossed her mind.

It was brave of Edmond O’Brien to take on such an unheroic role, and interesting that Lupino chose to cast herself as the Other Woman rather than the wife. Under any other circumstances it would have been refreshing to see Joan Fontaine as the wife so confidently holding forth on technical matters at the dinner table were she not shown immediately afterwards to be neglecting O’Brien’s need for physical intimacy by immediately turning her back on him in bed (they sleep in separate beds and have been unable to have children).

Could there have been some way of engineering a happy resolution by having O’Brien present Lupino’s child to Fontaine to raise as their own? Perhaps. But Lupino probably wasn’t seeking a tidy resolution, and instead it all ends messily in court with O’Brien getting his knuckles sternly but regretfully rapped by a judge. Richard Chatten.

THE BIGAMIST IS now SCREENING ON MUBI

Phantom Thread (2017) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Paul Anderson | Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, 130′ | US | Drama

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is quite unlike anything he has done before. PHANTOM THREAD is a deliciously thrilling love story with a slow-burning tight-lipped tension bred partly out of the discrete haute couture world of its gracefully dapper central character Reynolds Woodcock. Played peerlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis in his ‘swan song’, Reynolds is a Hardy Amies-style fashion designer who lives and works in London’s Fitzroy Square where he presides over a celebrated 1950s fashion house specialising in dressing high society and the Royals.

This stylishly buttoned-up affair is all about control, power and prestige in maintaining a veneer of respectability through discipline, dedication and duty that drives Reynolds forward, preventing him from acknowledging the hole in his soul, left by the death of his dear mother, and the absence of true love in his life.  Anderson constructs a world of superlative elegance where the daily round involves the pristine almost priestly preparation of his dress, coiffure, floral arrangements and particularly his breakfast: “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” Says Reynolds primly as he goes through the motions of his morning tea ceremony (lapsong, please) and silently buttered toast. “Nothing stodgy”. And no “loud sounds”. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville at the top of her game), trundles in all red-puckered lips and seamed stockings. She rules the roost with utmost decorum, helping Reynolds as his business advisor and mentor. Reynolds is a disillusioned romantic, a bachelor in his fifties secretly yearning for love, but unable to let it into his tightly-corseted schedule. So his lust for carnal pleasure is channelled into luscious food – runny egg yolks and jugs of cream – until the real thing comes along to unleash his passion in the shape of a scrubbed up waitress named Alma (Luxumbourgeoise actor Vicky Krieps).

In his weekend retreat, he delicately delivers a breakfast order to her: poached eggs, butter, bacon, and jam – but not strawberry, raspberry…and some sausages –  is the verbal equivalent of an orgasm. And beneath Reynolds’ fussy exterior there really does lie a highly sensual man capable – we feel – of giving sexual pleasure to a woman, as well as tailored perfection, and this is the fine line that prevents Day-Lewis’ performance from being too prissy, although it sometimes veers in the direction. Alma is slightly gauche but also sensuous – like a ripe peach that won’t yet yield its stone. And so love gently blossoms in the autumn of Reynolds’ life while storm clouds linger on the horizon.

PHANTOM THREAD feels like a perfect metaphor for the well-known adage: AISLE ALTER HYMN (I’ll alter him, for the uninitiated) and this is just what the innocent-looking Alma has in mind when the two start working together in the West End atelier. This is a drama that sums up the utter dread many men feel about losing control of themselves to a woman. Reynolds will not cede to Alma’s charms and refuses to sacrifice his precious craft by allowing her control of his inner sanctum – the House of Woodcock – which represents his heart and life blood. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him yet repulsing him by equal measure. Day-Lewis is adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance flickers across his face in a display of mesmerising petulance. It’s impossible not to admire his gentle delivery and his chiselled, tousled allure. As an actor his economy of movement is unparalleled; he possesses the feline grace of Roger Federer and the innate style of breeding of George Sanders. During a delirious night of Alma-induced food-poisoning, Reynolds reveals his deep love attachment to his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress)  and somehow her power is magically transferred to Alma, who from then on gets to wear the tailored trousers.

PHANTOM THREAD is Anderson’s eighth feature, and refreshingly is not based on anything but his own inventiveness. It perfectly suits its 1950s setting, an era where England was still on its knees after the war and rationing, and duty and pride in one’s work was paramount – people were so glad to have a job – and this is conveyed by a team of first rate unflappable seamstresses (with names like Biddy and Nana) who understand implicitly when a deadline looms, and a wedding dress must be tweaked or repaired for the following morning at 9am.

There is an erotic charge to PHANTOM that cannot be underestimated despite its immaculate and primped aesthetic. And the acerbically brittle Reynolds is no high-performing borderline psycho. He can transform at the doff of a cap into an amorous and extremely tender lover.  As in “The Master (2012) this is a film about the power and control dynamic between man and woman, and who eventually wins. It moves like the well-oiled engine of Reynolds’ blood red Bristol he drives down country lanes to his retreat. “I think you’re only acting strong,” says Alma, to which he replies, “I am strong.” And the two continue their power play in a way that never resorts to extreme physical or extreme verbal displays, although there is an extremely sinister side to Alma’s methods that make her the perfect antiheroine of the piece, Reynolds, like some overtly powerful  men, emerging the weaker of the two.

Jonny Greenwood’s music is the crowning glory, setting a tuneful rhythm of piano and strings for the soigné scenario that often feels quite claustrophobic, particularly in the final scenes, where we find ourselves shouting: “Don’t!” (you’ll soon see what I mean). At one point Reynolds says: Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?” These are the long-held suspicions of the committed bachelor who desperately longs for love, but constantly suspects the worst from his loving mate. Regretfully PHANTOM THREAD is our last chance to see Day-Lewis on the screen. He will be much missed from the films that he has graced. And this is possibly his best. MT

PHANTOM THREAD IS ON Blu-ray

Cross of Iron (1977) **** Amazon Prime

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | US War Drama, 132′

How many English language films, realised by an American director, portray German combatants in trenches and dugouts during the first and Second World War? At first four films spring to mind depicting the German army at the end of the two wars. For the First World War there is All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). For the Second World War we have The Young Lions (1958); Cross of Iron (1977) and Inglorious Besterds (2009.) Yet there are really only two films that deal with the practicalities of German combatant warfare, solely from the viewpoint of approaching defeat, and remaining resolutely determined in their anti- war stance. They are All Quiet on the Western Front (the 1980 remake could be included but that poor film is negligible) and Cross of Iron. The other films I’ve mentioned, that potentially stand alongside the German-centred The Eagle Has Landed (1976) or Where Eagles Dare (1968), may show German soldiers over-heroically or ineptly fighting, but don’t attempt to describe the day to day life of an army trying grimly to survive. 

Cross of Iron deals with a German platoon involved in the 1943 retreat from the Russian front. The ordinary soldiers and officer class are equally disillusioned and realise they have probably lost the war. An aristocratic Prussian officer Captain von Stransky (Maximillian Schell) arrives as the new commander of the platoon. The regimental commander Colonel Brandt (James Mason) and his adjutant Captain Kiesel (David Warner) express surprise that Stransky deliberately applied for transfer to the Eastern front, as he had a greater chance of winning the Iron Cross from this standpoint. What he fails to mention is his lack of loyalty to the Nazi state, a medal will serve as a symbol of pride for his family. The arrogant Stransky immediately clashes with Corporal Steiner (James Coburn) who disrespects officers and appears to conduct his own form of anarchic warfare. The conflict between the ambitions of Stransky and the cynicism of Steiner takes centre stage.

This was the only war film made by Peckinpah but he directs with the aplomb of a war veteran. Cross of Iron contains some of the best staged minor battles in any WW2 film. The sound design captures explosions and gunfire with an intensity not fully developed until Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) which is a precursor, sound-bombardment wise, to Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). Yet because Cross of Iron is not aiming to be an immersive experience (As Ryan and Dunkirk often are) an argument for realism can be credited to it more than the other films. Peckinpah has an instinctive feel for the relentless bombardment of war – true, you could argue that his slow motion killing effects (apropos The Wild Bunch) has a stylising effect on proceedings, somehow Peckinpah manages successfully to integrate these slow-mo sequences and the noisy hell of battle into a plausible and intelligently written storyline. 

Ultimately, the all too human clash of class conflict, military authority, ambition and personal freedom is what makes Cross of Iron so engrossing. As in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) the film attempts to be analytical about a military power structure and the questioning of motivations and needs. Stransky wants his cross, Brandt wants to maintain a semblance of order, and Steiner seems to escape into his own bitter anti-authoritarian war game.

“Do you know how much I hate this uniform and everything it stands for? 

“I believe God is a sadist but probably doesn’t know it.”

“What will we do when we lose the war? Prepare for the next one.”

All these utterances are from Corporal Steiner, who rejects his promotion to Sergeant when in arrives, continuing to act as a partly shell-shocked outsider. James Coburn is very good and very watchable in this part but sometimes appears to  respond like an outlaw or renegade in a Western, rather than a war film. Is he fighting a private war against the Nazi war machine (that he’s part of) or merely being self- destructive? Arguably a bit of both. Cross of Iron depicts Steiner hallucinating about a Russia boy soldier whom he saves and sets free, only for him to be mistakenly shot by the Russian army. The splits in Steiner are only an exaggeration of conflicts to be found muted in Brandt and sadistically expressed by Stransky who would lie, cheat, blackmail – he discovers two gay soldiers in his platoon – and have men killed in order to get his iron cross.

Cross of Iron has strong performances from not only Coburn but Maximillian Schell (who makes a repellent aristocrat seem sympathetic) and James Mason (the General’s hurt and shock at Steiner’s disrespectful behaviour is superbly conveyed.) I’ve mentioned the soundstage but the editing by Michael Lewis and Tony Lawson is terrific whilst John Coquillon’s photography has a dusty war-weary beauty. There are weak episodes: Steiner’s convalescing and subsequent brief relationship with a nurse (Senta Berger) at the hospital fails to convince and feels all a bit hurried and undeveloped. The sequence when the platoon captures an all-female Russian detachment certainly raises a familiar accusation made about Peckinpah’s films that he’s a misogynist. And powerful though Coburn’s performance is, his character has an untrammelled and violent energy that feels too much at odds with the film. But perhaps I am wrong here. Steiner is certainly not a despicable Rambo action man. Steiner’s character is much more reflective and intelligent. Not a brute, but a crazed, even philosophic force?

All Quiet on the Western Front ends with that unforgettable shot of a German soldier reaching out for a butterfly, just beyond his trench, only to be shot down by an enemy sniper. There is no such poetic ending for Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. In fact, it doesn’t quite appear to have an ending,  more an abrupt, though perfectly satisfying, anti-conclusion; the film’s producers ran out of money and had to halt filming prematurely, but this proves an aesthetic bonus. For at its ‘end’ the bitter laughter of James Coburn is heard off-screen, scornfully indicating that this hellish defeat of the German army will be a recurrent bad dream. It would be a shame to disclose the finale. Let’s just say that Cross of Iron’s final bleak sense of a death-trap has none of the tragic ‘release’ of the young soldier’s death in All Quiet on the Western Front. 

 “Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Those lines from Bertolt Brecht’s play about Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Aturo Ui appear in the end of the film’s titles sequence. However a line before that has been cut out, “This was the thing that nearly had us mastered”. I wonder if Peckinpah dropped that line because it was another reference to Hitler, and by losing such specificity he wanted to generalise more about men in war fighting on madly and uncontrollably, to erase the ‘heat’ of their own private all consuming war? Certainly in the figure of James Coburn as Sergeant Rolf Steiner he looks, at the ‘end’ of Cross of Iron as if he has lost, along with the war, the plot (his sanity) and can only self-destructively fight on.

Cross of Iron reminded me of a Brechtian experience at London’s Riverside Studies in the 1980s while watching “The Berliner Theatre Ensemble” reciting Brecht’s poetry, in German, on stage. I had an English language translation sheet in my hand but what gave me most pleasure that evening was listening to the harsh, rasping sound of an East-German dialect. The sounds of that all male ‘chorus’ had an unforgettable and meaningful sting of anger, compassion and political concern. This memory resonated with the considerable sting of Peckinpah’s remarkable film. Alan Price

CROSS OF IRON  IS NOW ON BLU-RAY

Becky Sharp (1935) Blu-ray release

Dir Rouben Mamoulian | Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke | US Drama 84’

The first feature film shot entirely in the newly perfected Technicolor process, Becky Sharp – which had cost an estimated $950,000 – was dismissed at the time by Otis Ferguson as “As pleasing to the eye as a fresh fruit sundae, but not much more”. Unlike The Jazz Singer – which had blazed an equivalent technological trail eight years earlier – Becky Sharp was not a box office hit, and colour was to take another thirty years to become the cinema’s default setting the way sound did; more associated with historical rather than contemporary subjects.

Becky Sharp was in fact the third film version to be made of Thackeray’s sprawling 1847-48 novel (which had originally appeared in serial form) set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This version was based upon the hit 1899 Broadway dramatisation by Langdon Mitchell, and as meticulously designed by acclaimed theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones. The rigours of early Technicolor filmmaking resulted in an extremely stagy and studio-bound experience which whizzes in just 84 minutes through an originally very long and convoluted narrative under the punishingly hot lights that made early Technicolor films such a trial to act in. (Mira Nair’s 2004 remake with Reece Witherspoon, by comparison, clocks in at 141 minutes!)

The men at whom Miss Sharp sets her cap are all inclined to be pompous middle-aged caricatures (with the honourable exception of Alan Mowbray as Rawdon Crawley), since she is after financial security rather than romance. Opinion continues to remain divided over Miriam Hopkins in the title role, whose stature as an actress has dimmed considerably since she received an Oscar nomination for this film; but she does bring sparkling blue eyes to the part, seldom apparent in her other movies. Although the most eye-catching moments involve red British army uniforms, much of the rest of the film actually employs blue (a hue hitherto absent from the Technicolor palette) to attractive effect. The credits, for example, are in blue, and the first shot of the film itself is of a blue stage curtain being pushed aside.

For over forty years the film languished in the public domain in a cheap 67 minute 16mm Cinecolor travesty until finally restored in 1984. It subsequently received only one British TV screening ten years later; but now be enjoyed on BluRay as the “triumph for colour” Graham Greene declared it on its first appearance. Richard Chatten

BECKY SHARP (1935) NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Werner Klemperer; USA 1961, 179 min.

Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was always ready to bring controversial stories to the screen, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner being one of them. When he directed Aby Mann’s adaption of his own story in 1961, Judgement at Nuremberg was very much a slap in the face for Cold War warriors, who had forgiven (West) Germans the Holocaust, just to have old Nazis to fight against Bolshevism. 

Four years after the original Nuremberg trials, Chief Justice Dan Harwood (Tracy) is presiding over the trial of four German judges who had sentenced the defendants to death following the orders of Nazi laws. Dr. Ernst Janning (Lancaster), who heads up the defendants, had sentenced a Jewish man to death for committing “Rassenschande” (Blood defilement) by sleeping with a ‘gentile’ German girl of sixteen. Despite being aware of his guilt, Janning asks Harwood to reason with him: poverty in Germany had been one of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power and he was one of the many to embrace Nazism. But he denies knowledge of the death camps.

Colonel Tad Lawson (Widmark) is the combative military prosecutor. The same can be said for defence lawyer Hans Rolfe (Schell), who questions the US Judges authority. Defendant Emil Hahn (Klemperer) goes even further: he harangues Harwood: “Today you sentence us to death, tomorrow the Bolsheviks will do the same to you”. Trying to empathise with the German, Harwood befriends Frau Bertholt (Dietrich), the widow of a German general killed by the Nazis for his part in the uprising against Hitler on 20th July 1944. Harwood later visits Janning in prison, after the four defendants have been give ‘life’. Closing credits reveal that at the time of the film’s release all 99 defendants of the original Nuremberg trials, who were imprisoned in the American Zone of West Germany, had been set free.

Apart from the overindulgent length (and verbosity), Kramer succeeds again with this strong moral tale, raising the profile of war crimes that should never be forgotten, even when political alignments change. DoP Ernest Laszlo (Kiss me Deadly) re-creates the harrowing visual landscape of post-war Germany, zooming in on the court scenes to reflect the angst ridden trial. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor, with Montgomery Clift leading a starry cast that included Judy Garland. Judgement at Nuremberg does its best to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a moving testament to a monumental human tragedy. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF THE BFI 

https://youtu.be/Gz2USfzaCUE

Richard Jewell (2019) ***

Dir: Clint Eastwood | Wri: Marie Brenner | Cast: Sam Rockwell, Paul Walter Hauser, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates | US Drama 131′

Richard Jewell was an Atlanta security guard falsely accused of planting a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Clint Eastwood directs his latest ‘underdog’ story with sleek and workmanlike economy. Visually Richard Jewell is bland, but narratively straightforward, although some critics (who tend on the whole to be left-wing) may argue that Eastwood overlays the feature with his famous right-wing gaze.

Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell, a pleasantly portly figure who we first meet working as a janitor in a law firm, plying his lawyer boss (Sam Rockwell) with Snicker bars. Keen to get back into law enforcement with the police he is clearly doing his best to make a good impression and soon lands a job in security at the Centennial Olympic Park. A jovial and modest character he takes his job seriously and immediately calls a bomb expert when spotting a backpack under a park bench – although his colleagues accusing him of ‘crying wolf’. The bomb goes off as Jewell, the police and the FBI are clearing the area where Kenny Rogers has been entertaining a large crowd of merrymakers. Several people lose their lives and Jewell is named the hero of the day. But the tables are turned when the FBI decide to finger him as the lone-wolf bomber, taking him in for questioning. A nightmarish saga develops as Jewell and his homely mother – Kathy Bates plays a convincing Mrs Jewell who spends her time popping cakes in the oven to feed his paunch.

Eastwood does make us question Jewell’s innocence at first, but by the end of the investigation, Jewell seethes with a quietly affecting conviction as the former roly poly policeman whose life is put on hold and traumatised by the gross intrusion. The losers are the FBI, and of course the media. Kathy Scruggs, the brash journalist at the centre of the furore is also slated – but Wilde makes her glib and unlikeable, so no love lost there. But it’s due to her diligence – or over-zealousness – that Jewell suddenly becomes the villain of the piece, his status as a prime suspect is leaked to the press, Scruggs nabbing the story. After coming under intense scrutiny by the FBI, he is then defended by his former boss Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who was impressed by his Snicker habit, probity and upbeat disposition when they worked together. Jewell eventually gets off scot free due to a total lack of evidence.

Eastwood makes some salient points in this enjoyable moral tale that shows how democracy can work to the advantage of ordinary citizens, protecting them from the Police – as long as they can afford a good lawyer. Eastward also enforces his usual points about common decency and neighbourliness. Once an accuser becomes the accused – and this applies to false claims of all kinds: rape, robbery, stalking – society has clearly lost its way. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020

db9b2692-2ad2-11ea-8334-1a17c6a14ef4_1320x770_191352.jpeg

 

Waves (2019) ***

Dir.: Trey Edward Shults; Cast: Taylor Russell, Kevin Harrison jr., Sterling K.  Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alexa Demie, Lucas Hedges; USA 2019, 135 min.

Trey Edward Shults shot to fame with his debut It comes at Night. His third feature is an overblown melodrama. Aiming for East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause it is a film that rests on a  maximalist aesthetic to cover up for its emptiness, relying on the well worn love/forgiveness thematic. In other words, it is vacuous and dishonest, and the director’s self-importance is evident in the running time of over two hours.

Waves opens with High School teenager Tyler (Harrison jr.) being dealt a double blow: he is diagnosed with a muscle tear in his shoulder, ending his promising future in wrestling, and casting doubts on his university career. Then lover Alexis (Demie) decides not to terminate her pregnancy. Father Ronald (Brown), a sergeant major type, who tells his son ‘black people cannot afford to be average’ might be well-meaning but drives Tyler away. The South Florida mansion, once a status symbol for the family, becomes meaningless after Tyler kills Alexis during a school dance and is sentenced to life in prison. Stepmother Catherine (Goldsberry) blames her husband and gives his the cold shoulder. Timid daughter Emily (Russell) is ostracised at school, then falls for equally awkward Luke, a friend of Tyler’s from the wrestling team. Emily confesses her hatred for Tyler, and makes Luke visit his dying father in Missouri, despite his admission that his father deserves to die for abusing Luke and his mother. Via this second-hand act of forgiveness, Emily frees herself, making father and stepmother follow her into the newly found guilt-free paradise of love.

It looks like that Shults watched Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers over and over again in preparation for making Waves. The teen diving scenes are filmed with 360 degree rotating cameras, somehow implying direct danger. At High School, the camera pans constantly in a bid to convey the fraught nature of the setting. Moonlight and Terence Malick’s later films are also reference points for Shults. The diminishing aspect ratio has in mind Tyler’s isolation – slowly widening after Emily’s ‘rebirth’. Alexis’s killing is a particularly gruesome scene, Shults bathing her in fluorescent red. All this, with the words of the preacher telling his Sunday congregation: “We need love to bring us back”, makes for a conceptual second-hand feature. Sadly this is just retail therapy – Shults wants us to label his film as ‘ambitious’, hoping the critics will excuse his failure as a noble attempt. The director courts importance, but hasn’t yet earned it. In using Thom Yorke’s poetry at the end, he lays himself open to the emptiness of his own approach. And all this without the underlying question, who should make what type of films?. It would have made not one iota of difference if the family of colour had been replaced by Caucasians like Trey Edward Shults. If Meghan Markle made a film, this would be it. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

A Hidden Life (2019) ***

Dir|Wri: Terrence Malick | Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz, Karl Markovics, Franz Rogowski | US Drama 173′

Terrence Malick brings his tenth feature to Cannes with a reputation in the balance. Although appreciated by a small cadre of Malickians, his post-Tree of Life output even his defenders seem to agree needs defending.

So is A Hidden Life a return to form, or is it another stage in a sad decline. Well, the truth is: a bit of both. It tells the true story of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani, played by Valerie Pachner, who lived in St. Radegund, an Austrian farming community. Beautiful mountains form a backdrop, an idyll just as the tropical islands did prior to the hostilities of The Thin Red Line. But war is approaching fast with Hitler, a native of the same region, glowering from newsreel footage and ripping through first France and then into Austria. At this point, Franz decides that he cannot swear an oath of allegiance to a man he views as the antiChrist. How he comes to this conclusion is unclear as Malick’s typically syllopsistic style means we never see him read a newspaper or watch any of the newsreels we see.

Everyone in the village tries to persuade Franz against his decision from the ultra-nationalistic mayor to the well-meaning priest. Again the gaps in the narrative made by the relentless moving fluttering from one beautiful image to another means that we weirdly never hear Jews mentioned, despite the fact that anti-Semitism was rife.  Hitler wasn’t some exceptional monster. His hatred and xenophobia and anti-Semitism were a product of his Austrian upbringing. This was by no means exclusive to Austria or Germany, but there was a particular virulence which made the message of National Socialism resonate. But according to Malick everyone just wanted to cut grass and drink beer.

Franz’s rebellion is religious and almost anti-political. And again Malick’s style favours this approach. There are no dialogues in Terrence Malick’s cinema and it is almost impossible to talk about politics without allowing people to actually talk. We have a series of monologues directed at characters which typically take place in the context of some photogenic meandering. The letters which form the bulk of the voiceover (yes, there’s voiceover) simply reiterate much of what we’re seeing on screen. But again I never felt that above a lot of PDAs there isn’t much of a relationship between Franz and Fani. They say they love each other a lot, but again they don’t argue and frankly I don’t trust a couple that doesn’t argue from time to time. They also have three extremely pretty daughters, Franz’s mother, who frequently looks pitiable against a white washed wall and Fani’s spinster sister living with them.

A film with no scenes is way too long at three hours. Joerg Widmer’s camera peers into faces with a distracting lack of respect for personal space before zooming off to look for something else to be interested in. Again, the absence of the conventional blocking of scenes means that often actors are left to wander like non-player characters in a mid-90s video game. And the decision to make the film bilingual with the Nazis speaking German and the protagonists English is a ludicrous one. How can you aim to be daring as filmmaker on one hand and then submit to such a lazy Hollywood convention? And one with such damaging effect on your political position.

But again, what political position? I respect the true story behind this but Malick seems to want the whole of the second world war and the moral universe to hang in the balance here. Franz is held up as an exemplar – something like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc – but I couldn’t help but think of him as something of a von Trapp. His refusal to say the oath – he is offered the chance to work in a non-combat capacity – feels petty in the face of the unnamed Holocaust which is going on at exactly the same time.

Ultimately, Malick has made another technically beautiful film, with a gorgeous soundtrack and wonderful photography, that is at the same time unable or unwilling to engage with its subject. In always trying to go for the glory, he seems to miss what it is that makes us essentially human. We talk to each other. John Bleasdale

ON RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2020

Mickey and the Bear (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Annabelle Attanasio Cast: Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson, Donna Davis, Ralph Villa | US Drama

Camila Morrone is impressive as a conflicted girl forced kicking and screaming into womanhood in this tender and richly textured first feature from actor turned director Annabelle Attanasio

Father and daughter relationships can be challenging especially when the dad has a checkered past of drug abuse and drinking. Mickey is an 18 year old in a fraught relationship with her father Hank an Iraqi war veteran who is still on the bottle, Mickey keeping him on the straight and narrow and dealing with his occasional lapses. The two live in a trailer big country Montana where Mickey works part-time in a taxidermists and widowed Hank is now retired and mooches around in a semi-permanent fog, sometimes confusing Mickey with his late wife.

Attanasio’s nuanced characters have unpredictable edges and make this drama the success that it is. Father and daughter have a joint bereavement that binds them together and somehow they rub along although sparks occasionally fly. And Hank has a habit of hiding from reality.

Mickey’s boyfriend, Aron (Ben Rosenfield), is the weak link character-wise. A controlling whinger hooked on his ability to win Mickey back whenever she tries to leave him, while. she’s applied to college in San Diego in a bid to make something of the future, Aron only sees them settling down with kids. But then she meets aspiring musician Wyatt and suddenly Mickey’s head is filled with new ideas in a story that doesn’t go where you think it might. And Mickey soon finds herself struggling with two unstable males and a disastrous bear-hunting episode, not to mention an anaconda. DP Conor Murphy captures the lyrical journey with some imaginative camerawork and Brian McOmber and Angel Deradoorian’s soundscape echoing the highs and lows of the characters’ emotional journey along with a well-chosen musical selection, and some quiet moments too. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

.

The Report (2019) ***

Dir/wri: Scott Z Burns | Cast: Annette Bening, Jon Ham, Adam Driver, Ted Levine, Carey Stoll, Linda Powell | Drama | US 119′

The saving grace of this polished but rather plodding political potboiler is the engaging performances from its cast. In a quiet, deliberate but forceful way it tells how the CIA embarked on an intensive post-9/11 programme that bordered on torture, but actually revealed very little in the way of intelligence.

Adam Driver plays a pioneering investigator who is tasked by his boss Senator Dianne Feinstein (a convincing Bening) to uncover the truth. What follows is a speechy, preachy affair that almost sinks under a weight of dates and data but will appeal to lovers of court room procedurals that eschew dramatic flourish but are compelling nevertheless. What emerges is a deliberate attempt on the part of the US government to subvert the law and bury evidence in one of the most appalling attempted cover-ups in recent US history. It won’t set the night on fire but is certainly serious, reliable filmmaking from the man who made Contagion and The Bourne Ultimatum. 

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2019

 

Five Films by Samuel Fuller | Bluray release

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

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

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

ON BLURAY | 28 OCTOBER 2019 | EUREKA 

 

The Goldfinch (2019) ***

Dir: Jason Crowley | Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Willa Fitzgerald, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Ashleigh Cummings | US Drama 149′

A young boy takes a 17th century painting of a goldfinch from the scene of an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art where his mother is killed. The famous work of art serves as a constant reminder of her love and a metaphor for his own fight for survival. The boy is Theodore Decker and The Goldfinch is by Dutch master Carel Fabritius.

Based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer winning best-seller, this sprawling but deeply affecting drama has been adapted for the screen by British writer Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall) who has decided to slowly reveal the beginning of the story at the end of the film. It’s as if elements of the tragedy have remained buried in Theodore’s subconscious and with time gradually come flooding back during the course of the narrative. Although the book’s essential plot elements are retained, this structural change has divided audiences faithful to the original.

New York is slick and sumptuously cinematic in Roger Deakins’ lush camerawork that breathes life into the stiff upper lip of its Upper East side locations where Theodore lives out his bereaved childhood. Even the explosion scenes take on a dreamlike Tarkovskyian feel as the boy pieces together the tragic event in tortured recollections: “We’re so used to disguising ourselves to others, that in the end we disguise ourselves to ourselves”. Played convincingly as a boy by Oakes Fegley, and bravely as Ansel Elgort as a young man, we feel for his buried and buttoned-up pain although he does his best to hide it growing up as an well-behaved orphan in the prim Barbour household: Nicole Kidman is suitably nipped, tucked and botoxed as the winsome lady of the house, where he finds a soulmate in her sensitive young son Andy (Foust). But his abusive estranged father (Luke Wilson) has an eye to the boy’s inheritance and soon scoops him up and away to a repossessed housing estate in Las Vegas with his railer-trash girlfriend (Paulson), and it is there that he does most of his growing up in a gambling-fuelled, drug-addled lifestyle. And this is where Theo also forms a lifelong friendship with Ukrainian Boris – played by a spiky Finn Wolfhard as a kid. Theodore will meet him again years later in New York and Aneurin Barnard playing adult Boris as a nervy restless fervour, not unlike a male take on Fleabag’s Villanelle. Boris’ new life and their close friendship holds the key to the importance of the painting for Theodore, who grows into just the kind of emotionally detached adult you would expect given his past. Constantly absorbing new traumas, he puts his best food forward with a slick persona, and Ansel Elgort is superb at projecting this rather glib exterior as Head of Sales in the antique business headed up by the urbanely earthy antique dealer Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), but Theo remains wedded to security net of the Barbour family. His discrete passion for fellow survivor Pippa (Ashleigh Cumming) shines through his well-manicured exterior. Clearly he’s crying inside when they meet up again as adults, bonded by pain. And it’s one of the more emotional scenes of this engrossing saga that slowly gathers momentum in the final moving reveal. The book is not the film. The film is a slow-burning but intriguing portrait of childhood grief and survival. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

The Farewell (2019) ***

Dir: Lulu Wang | Comedy Drama | 98′

Korean Chinese actress Awkwafina is best known for the standout comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She gets another chance to flex her undeniable talents in this slim but enjoyable farce that explores the theory of “mind over matter” with a rather satisfying takeaway.

She plays Billi, an easygoing Chinese woman who originally moved to New York as a child and returns home for a family wedding, and to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother Nai Nai who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Well, her granny’s unaware of her imminent demise, the family have decided to keep shtum: they simply haven’t the heart to tell her. And strangely, Nai Nai never cottons on to why they all seem so miserable, instead of relieved at her clean bill of health, after the scan.

Despite its cultural specificity, this is a convincing family tale like any other, and Wang spices her drama with plenty of light-hearted humour, tinged with understandable melancholy. Each family member expresses their sadness in different ways and degrees, and Wang keeps sentimentality at bay instead opting for something more nuanced and appealing. Awkwafina’s Billi is a triumph of independence and vulnerability and her dying grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) manages to be calm and philosophical. The lightweight narrative builds towards in a satisfying conclusion, offering plenty of food for thought in the final reveal. MT

NOWON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 SEPTEMBER

Apocalypse Now Final Cut (1979) ****

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola | Writers: Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius | 180′ US War Thriller |

In celebration of its 40 year anniversary Apocalypse Now Final Cut, offers a chance to see the full 180 minute version for the first time ever. Coppola’s spectacular cinematic masterpiece on the big screen and in a Blu-ray version.

Restored from the original negative, Apocalypse Now Final Cut is Coppola’s most complete version of his multi-awarded classic – a haunting journey into madness that fascinated generations of movie lovers and now feels even more monumentally alive than ever before. Apocalypse Now was nominated for 8 Academy Awards® (including Best Picture) and won 2 Academy Award® for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, 2 BAFTAs for Best Direction and Best Supporting Actor and the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

 

The film follows Army Captain Willard (a restrained and resplendent Martin Sheen), a troubled man who nevertheless manages to keep his shit together when sent on a dangerous and mesmerising odyssey into Cambodia to assassinate Marlon Brando’s maverick renegade American colonel Kurtz, who has fallen foul of the horrors of war and become a cultish leader in a remote outpost. The film speaks of the horrors of war and of human alienation, exploring the darker side of human nature and the depths to which every man and man can sink, in the worst of circumstances. Themes of  cult worship, despotism and survival of the fittest – both in mind and body – coalesce in a hypnotic experience that embraces sound and vision at its most inventive and mind-blowing, thanks to Enrico Storaro’s spectacular visuals.

This is the first time the original negative has ever been scanned and over 11 months and 2,700 hours were spent on cleaning and restoring the film’s 300,173 frames. Apocalypse Now Final Cut has been mixed in Dolby Atmos® to offer a truly immersive sound experience and it has been enhanced Meyer Sound Laboratories’ newly developed Sensual Sound™, a technology engineered to output audio below the limits of human hearing.

In cinemas & IMAX only on August 13 | 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray Edition – August 26 | August 13 screenings will include a filmed conversation with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh recorded at the premiere at The Tribeca Film Festival in April 2019.  Screenings will include a filmed conversation with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh recorded at the Tribeca premiere.

HOME ENT RELEASE | 26th August 2019 – a 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray edition with 4 discs plus Steelbook editions (Exclusive to Zavvi) – featuring all three versions of the movie (The Final Cut, The Theatrical and The Redux), new artworks and exclusive bonus material.

 

 

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. 

  

    

                   

Coming Home (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Hal Ashby | Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern | Drama US

One of director Hal Ashby’s biggest hits (second only to Shampoo) is a compelling and uncompromising tale of love and loss, exploring the shattering aftermath of the Vietnam War and starring a trio of Hollywood’s best: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern.

When Marine Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) leaves for Vietnam, his wife Sally (Fonda) volunteers at a local hospital. There she meets and falls for Luke Martin (Voight), a former sergeant whose war injury has left him a paraplegic. Embittered with rage and filled with frustration, Luke finds new hope and confidence through his growing intimacy with Sally. The relationship transforms Sally’s feelings about life, love and the horrors of war. And when, wounded and disillusioned, Sally’s husband returns home, all three must grapple with the full impact of a brutal, distant war that has changed their lives forever.

Coming Home is sometimes over-sentimental in its portrayal of a nation’s guilt but the performances win through and the movie won three Oscars, for Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Actor (Jon Voight), and Original Screenplay.

Available on The Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July 2019.

Support the Girls (2018) ****


Dir.: Andrew Bujalski; Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shyna McHayle, James Le Gros, Brooklyn Decker, Lea DeLaria; USA 2018, 89 min.

Andrew Bujalski  pays homage to working class feminism in his raucous comedy caper.

Set in a joint called Double Whammies, run by a largely absentee owner, it features a cast of skimpily clad women waitresses although the real work is done by Lisa, who keeps staff and customers at bay. We meet Lisa Conroy (Hall) already distraught before her day begins. She has too much on her plate: a rotten marriage, an interfering boss and a rapid staff turnover. Her deputy Dannyelle (McHayle) and the boisterous Maci (Richardson) have to keep staff and customers happy, they range from flirtatious to downright rude, and get two minutes attention per table, and you may touch a customer, but not squeeze him – one of the rules Lisa tries to get over to the ingénues of the day.

One of the waitresses has problems at home, another was mixed up in an attempted robbery of the place. And today, they discover a would-be robber in the ventilation pipes. He is wedged in, and Lisa has to call the cops to have him freed – and arrested. Then the sound system breaks down. But that it is not the end of Lisa’s woes: the TV system is down too, and there will be no wrestling matches on ESPN for the mainly male clientele. But Lisa puts the angst of the future behind her – at least for the time being – because the present has too many problems. All the male characters are a misogynous bunch, let alone a butch lesbian (DeLaria) who supports the crew.  

DoP Matthias Grunsky’s camera is very intimate, but also conveys Lisa’s isolation. The feature is dedicated to ‘Mothers’ – and while Lisa may be childless, the rest of her crew definitely qualifies, all shouting their frustration from the roof of the ManCave building: they remain indomitable and Regina Hall is outstanding in this breezy and understated comedy of survival. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 28 JUNE 2019

 

Robert the Bruce (2019) ** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir: Richard Gray | Cast: Angus MacFadyen, Gabriel Bateman, Macaulay Callard, Jared Harris, Zach McGowan | US Drama

Headlining Edinburgh Film Festival’s latest edition this very Scottish saga is unconvincing and lacklustre, and far too ambitious for its limited resources. Directed by the Australian Richard Gray and made in the US it comes hot on the heels of another disappointing exploration of the Hibernian legend of machismo – Outlaw King from last October’s London Film Festival.

Setting itself up as a sequel to the superlative original interpretation of the story, Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, Robert the Bruce is much anticipated, particularly by the Scots. And with Angus MacFadyen in the leading role as the swashbuckling Scottish king – what could go wrong?. The answer is a great deal.  Co-scripter Eric Belgau sets the epic during the interregnum between the death of hero William Wallace and the First War of Scottish Independence. Heavy-handed and decidedly dour this is a film with an overinflated sense of its own importance despite its lack of authenticity and dodgy Scottish accents (due to a largely US cast). A restricted budget and pallid performances across the board further ensure that Robert the Bruce will fall on the sword of its predecessor.

In 1306 the war-weary Robert has been violently attacked by his former henchmen keen to get their hands on the bounty of 50 gold sovereigns offered as a reward for his death by the English King, Edward I. A family of crofters take the injured nobleman turned outlaw under their wing and he sallies forth again keen to avoid further ado with the bounty seekers. But brutal scuffles continue to break out as he goes on his lonely way plagued by doubt and desperate to survive the inclement winter of discontent. Rather than make the best of its indie low budget credentials with a pared down, gritty character study about a beaten down hero, the film tries to channel Braveheart‘s epic quality with a smattering of wide screen set pieces, while the Robert ruminates introspectively with squirrelly speeches about honour and duty.  And that lack of cohesion is ultimately the film’s downfall. MT

EIFF 2019 | 19 -30 JUNE 2019 

Frankie (2019)

Dir: Ira Sachs | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinear | US, Drama 104′

Ira Sachs makes his Cannes Competition debut with this sedate drama set amongst the balmy hillsides and fairytale castles of Sintra which is very much the star of the show. Pleasant and well-paced it has Isabelle Huppert in the title role as a terminally ill actress who gathers her family around her for a final – occasionally fraught – summer break.

This languorous drama explores the intimate interlocking stories between the nine friends and family style. Frankie (Huppert) is a luminous presence throughout the film with her dry sense of humour and effortless allure  remaining serene and very much in control despite the anxiety of her loved ones.

Writing and his regular scripter Mauricio Zacharias Sachs doesn’t look for easy connections between these rather sedate showbiz types, the pencil-slim narrative ticking all the right boxes and gradually finding its way to an unspectacular conclusion.

From the outset, Frankie hums a Schubert tune which pretty much sums up the slumbering tone of the narrative. After a winning scene that sees her diving into an aquamarine swimming pool surrounded by lush gardens, her step granddaughter Maya (Nenua) reminds her there are guests in the hotel who might take photographs: “It’s alright, I’m very photogenic.” she cooly responds. And this sardonic wit flows throughout.

Frankie is stoical about her illness as she puts her affairs in order with the family: husband Jimmy (Gleeson in lowkey affectionate mode) his daughter from an earlier marriage, Sylvia (Robinson), and Ian (Bakare), the husband she is on the verge of leaving. There’s also Frankie’s son Paul  (Renier) and his father Michel (Greggory), who married a man after Frankie left him. Frankie’s best friend New Yorker Ilene (Tomei) joins the party with docile cameraman boyfriend Gary who is eager to propose to her – a nice touch in these non-committal days – she nevertheless damns him with faint praise. Sachs adds another strand involving Tiago (Cotta), a local Portuguese guide hired to show them the sights.

Cinematographer Rui Pocas, who photographed the fabulous arthouse films Zama and The Ornithologist, captures the splendour of the setting At usual, Huppert reigns supreme throughout, even in the fading days of her life she eclipses everyone. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

 

Bull (2019) *** Un Certain Regard

Dir: Annie Silverstein | Drama | 104′

Annie Silverstein’s feature debut is muscular filmmaking at its best: high on atmosphere the enigmatic narrative ebbs and flows but there’s no major dramatic heft just plenty of pulsating moments of tension.

The story centres on 14-year-old protagonist, Kris (Amber Havard), who has no father to speak of and a mother (Sara Albright) in prison; without anyone to guide her she hangs out with lowlifes in a downtrodden community — directionless and full of doubt. There are shades of The Rider and Bullhead here but none of that strong storytelling.

Guided by her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) while her mother’s behind bars, she also takes care of her little sister. Her pit bull terrier menaces and kills the chickens belonging to her African-American neighbour, almost getting her a criminal record.  Abe (a towering Rob Morgan) decides not to press charges, on the proviso that Kris agrees to help out around the house. Abe was once a Bull Rider pro, but now works as a rodeo protection advisor, bating the bulls so they chase the cowboys. Naturally, he’s a hardbitten but appealing character and there’s a terrific scene where he stares down a bull as it cowers visibly in its pen. The focus gradually moves towards Abe and he carries the film along with Kris, who exudes vulnerability but also teenage nous.

BULL is certainly a powerful first film, so perhaps Silverstein will emerge with a stronger narrative next time, building on this impressive start with its appealing cinema vérité style. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Lizzie (2018) **** | Bfi Flare 2019

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Dir: Craig William Mcneill | Bryce Kass | Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart | Drama | US

The story of Lizzie Borden has always fascinated with its macabre murder story that over time has spawned numerous TV series the best starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the New England axe murderer who was tried and acquitted in 1893 of slaughtering her father and stepmother. This claustrophobic domestic drama directed by Craig William Macneill from a script by Bryce Kass, persuades us that it was actually due to her gender that she was let off: the jury couldn’t believe a well-heeled gentlewoman could do such a thing. But there are many downsides to being Ms Borden in the late 19th century. LIZZIE not only imagines an intriguing and plausible lesbian twist to proceedings, it also reveals how her draconian and misogynist  father was partly responsible for his own demise by dominating her, serially raping her housekeeper (Kristen Stewart is mesmerisingly glum) and then leaving her repugnantly obnoxious uncle (Denis O’Hare) in charge of her inheritance. No wonder Mr Borden got wacked.

Kass adopts a fractured narrative that opens in the aftermath to the twin murder, then traces back to reveal a story that informs the final scenes. And although this is a traditionally-crafted and rather bland-looking affair, its slowly draws you in to its compelling storyline mainly due to the brilliance of its international cast. We have Chloë Sevigny in the leading role: an unmarried, wilful but sympathetic pigeon-fancier. She gives a commandingly confident performance and we really feel for her because of the calm and intelligent way she handles herself, never giving in to histrionics or melodrama, despite suffering from epilepsy – quite the opposite – in the final denouement she appears unaffected by what she has done. She warms immediately to Kristen Stewart’s Irish housemaid Bridget who is respectful and diffident, tolerating Mr Borden’s nighttime visits with sombre forbearance. Their lesbian chemistry is convincing but quite why the filmmakers contrived it is questionable. There’s scant evidence that the real Lizzie was a lesbian, but due to being closeted away it’s quite possible that it was the only sexual outlet available, and the two are clearly very protective of one another. Ruth Shaw has a small role as Lizzie’s dour stepmother, but she makes a decent go of it.

There’s a dark wittiness to Sevigny’s brushes with the menacingly pompous Mr Borden (Jamie Sheridan), and their intellectual sparring makes us root for her, as he emerges a brutish coward rather than a family man of integrity with one of the “biggest fortunes in New England”. And although Stewart seethes with a quiet rage, Sevigny excels in a more difficult role, exerting a calm allure as the troubled Lizzie.

Although the ending is hardly a mystery, the film maintains an powerful air of suspense as it moves to the inescapable finale, adding another dimension to this true crime story, by attempting to examine the whys and wherefores. LIZZIE is certainly harrowing to watch, and although we don’t see the murders, we hear them as the violence provides a much-needed cathartic release after all the injustice that’s been witnessed. A sad and rather mournful drama that certainly bring greater understanding to this almost mythical episode of American social history. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 14 DECEMBER 2018

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

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

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

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

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

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

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

Picnic (1955) **** Home Ent release

(more…)

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

 

 

 

The Lady Eve (1941) *****

Dir: Preston Sturges | Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Eric Blore, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest | US Drama 94′

In one of Preston Sturges’ most enjoyable romantic dramas Barbara Stanwyck (1907—90) dusts down her comedy talents to play an opportunistic con woman with a chink of humanity still glinting in her steel-plated armour. As one of a trio of classy card sharks Jean embarks on a tantalising tease to snare the awkward heir to a brewery fortune, but falls for him along the way.

Henry Fonda is the dapper but rather dopey heir to millions, Charles Pike, whose life has been devoted to snakes until he gets ensnared by Stanwyck’s feminine charms on a cruise liner making its way back from South America. Disarmed by Charles’ gallant but rather clumsy charisma, Jean mends her ways in a performance that sees her as a crook, but also a seductress with a vulnerable streak into the bargain. Travelling with her father (Charles Harrington and his valet), Jean is suddenly aware that playing her cards right is more important now that ever, and her father advises her accordingly: “Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.” But Henry Fonda plays the most redeeming characters in this delicious drama. He remains vulnerable and sincere throughout because, like all young men who are madly in love, he remains focused on the void in his heart that only Jean can fill.

Stanwyck is terrific in this screwball comedy romance where she is funny but also graceful and sardonic. After seducing Charles she then toys with his heart as the narrative unspools in  unexpected ways that add to the dramatic tension despite the modest running time. After boy meets girl and then loses her, boy then falls for another girl who is really the same one – when Jean poses as “Lady Eve Sidwich.” Here the film moves on from its seaborne setting to Charles’ family pile in the country where another crook in the shape of her “uncle” Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith (Eric Blore), agrees to accommodate Jean, allowing her to complete her seduction and her swindle. Meanwhile, Charles’ trusty bodyguard Muggsy (William Demarest) has already rumbled Jean’s game: ”It’s the same dame!”. But Charlie can’t – or won’t – believe him, and follows Jean in her trap, amid a series of pratfalls, like a faithful love-struck puppy..

Barbara Stanwyck (1907-90) was one of the most hard-working actresses of her era  (Golden Boy, Stella Dallas, Baby Face) but always wanted a comedy role and Preston Sturges (1898-1959) eventually gave it to her and she excels herself throughout. Fonda manages to be comical while exuding a strong masculine presence. And his looks and stature are elegantly showcased by Edith Head’s impeccable designs. The script, based on a story by Monkton Hoffe, is wittily adapted for the screen by Sturges and there are hilarious scenes especially during the country visit. As Peter Bogdanovich said himself “You can’t get a better romantic comedy than The Lady Eve”. MT

COMING TO THE BFI AND ARTHOUSE CINEMAS 15 FEBRUARY 2019

So Dark the Night (1946) *** Bluray release

Dir: Joseph H Lewis | Cast: Henri Cassin, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden | US Noir, 70′

Joseph H Lewis dabbled in various genres but is particularly well-known for his 1940s film noir outings . So Dark the Night has the advantage being shot by the Oscar-winning Burnett Guffey (Bonnie and Clyde) whose chiaroscuro mastery elevates this rather implausible French-set whodunit making it stylish and worthwhile, along with its fine score by Hugo Friedhofer (who would win the music Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives in the following year). Based on a novel by London-born Aubrey Wisberg, it stars Steven Geray as exhausted Parisian detective Henri Cassin who decides to take a break in the country. There he falls for the hotelier’s daughter Nanette (Hollywood star Micheline Cheirel) who is already engaged to a local farmer, but who (as usual) yearns for the bright lights of gay Paree. On the night of their engagement both Nanette and the farmer disappear leaving the hapless detective with another mystery – and more work – on his hands. Plus ça change!. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 18 FEBRUARY 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW

Fourteen (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Dan Salitt Dir:Tallie Medel, Norma Kuhling, Lorelei Romani, Mason Wells, Dylan McCormick USA 2019 | 94’

Mara and Jo go back a long way. They were at school and together and now meet up regularly in Brooklyn where live a  precarious urban existence much as any young women in their twenties, Jo more so than Mara. Boyfriends drift in and out of the picture and their sexual lives are gracefully hinted at with some glowing bedside vignettes. 

Dan Salitt’s thoughtful and accomplished character is compulsively watchable well written and elegantly framed with a meditative quality that pays tribute to its slow-emerging subject matter: Jo deteriorating state of mind. Norma Kuhling’s tour de force as this fragile, fractious young soul is one of the more nuanced and engaging performance of the year so far, She combines the poise, elegance and authority of a modern day Marlene Dietrich,  capturing the wit of Dorothy Parker in some her choice lines. And we don’t take on board her crumbling state of mind until the film is well into its second half, where the tonal darkens, denting avoiding histrionics apart from one remarkable scene where Jo gradually dissolves into a well of desperation. And we feel for her as her sate of mind implodes. Tallie Medel (Mara) is a fine counterbalance in this richly satisfying portrait of modern womanhood. Her job as a junior school teacher allows her to demonstrate her gentle kindness tempered with integrity. She tries to be there for Jo. Their friendship is a wonderful thing that avoids sentimentality or seething outbursts, drawing gracefully and poignantly on the nature of friendship that will be familiar with all of us in our in our relationships, particularly female ones. .  

There are long resplendent frames where Salitt delicately lingers on a landscape sketching out the slowly unveiling plot line – such as the once the at the station where Mara arrives to visit Jo and her family after a difficult time for them both. Comparatively compact but redolent in thought and detail this is an impressive fourth feature for Salitt (All the Ships at Sea). But it’s the performances that resonate and will stay with you for a long time after the curtain falls. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Vice (2018) ****

Dir.: Adam McKay; Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Alisa Pill, Lilly Rabe; USA 2018, 132 min.

Writer/director Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, The Big Short) amply demonstrates the banality of evil in this glowing satire, worthy of a Jonathan Swift or Molière. Vice is a bio-pic about Dick Cheney, former US Secretary of Defence in the Cabinet of George H. Bush and Vice President under his son George W. Bush. Above all else, it’s a portrait of a man who made the most of his limited qualities, using his “Everyman” persona to grossly misuse power by deceit, helping to lay the ideological foundation for the current USA administration.

We meet Dick Cheney – an extraordinary Christian Bale, who put on 45 kgs to morph into Cheney – in 1963’s Wyoming, where he is arrested, for the second time, for DUI; an offence he shared with the younger Bush. Cheney, a Yale dropout, was also a drunken layabout who had to be reminded by his wife Lynne (Adams) that he resembled her drunken and abusive father, not the responsible husband she thought she had married.

At least Cheney managed to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War (like Bush the younger), accumulating five deferrals, based on sub-par academic achievements, and getting married and having children at the right time. When Dick joined the Nixon administration in 1969 as an Intern, he fell under the spell of Donald Rumsfield (a commanding Carrell), who taught him the President’s dirty tricks. Cheney himself was a Congressman for Wyoming from 1979-1989, a seat his daughter Lynne jr. (Rabe), holds today. He became one of the leaders of the Republican Party in the House, and got the attention of George H. Bush, for whom he served as Secretary of Defence (1989-1993). After Bush’ defeat to Clinton, Cheney left politics for a while, to become CEO of Halliburton, a company specialising in services to the Oil industry. When the Republicans looked for a running mate for George W. Bush (Rockwell), Cheney was asked to select a candidate. He chose himself and the rest, as they say, is history.

It is not a small co-incidence, that Cheney would outdo Rumsfield, when the latter was Secretary of Defence for George W.: Rumsfield asking Dick “do you want to get me sacked, or is it the Bush kid?” Needless to say, that Rumsfield had to go as a scapegoat, because Dick had much more than the ear of George W. By then, after the deception of the Iraq War, Dick Cheney had subverted the cabinet: Condoleezza Rice (National Security Adviser) and General Colin Powell (Secretary of State) were bulldozed by him of towing the line when it came to the invasion. And after the lack of evidence for the “Weapons of mass destruction”, Rumsfield, his former ‘teacher’, was scarified. 

There are some highlights, for example the faux-ending after a third of the running time: Mary (Pill), Cheney’s younger daughter, was a self confessed, married lesbian, and whilst Lynne was aghast, Dick was supportive. McKay ‘closing’ his film with end-credits, claiming “that Dick chose his daughter above a political career, and the Cheney family vanished from public life”. Alas, Dick manufactured the Iraq War, which became very profitable for Halliburton, their shares rising by a mere 500%. American soldiers, who were not so apt to be deferred as Cheney, died in their thousands – so did 800 000 Iraqi civilians. McKay shows the couple in bed, declaimed Shakespeare: Macbeth and his Lady.  

It is difficult to contemplate a serious, straight portrait of Cheney: whilst his criminal wrong-doings were as countless as they were unpunished, there is nothing extra-ordinary about the man: he did all this, because he could. Neither his ideological orientation nor greed were more than average.

Only McKay’s approach of a permanent subversity makes this bio-pic watchable. This is an anti-hero with very little attributes, but Vice shows him exactly as the little man he is – but like a ‘Contrapunkt’ in music, there is always a funny side to the proceedings – even if the laughter is anything but liberating. DoP Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher) supports the director’s approach with homely images of the couple, and the bloody contrast of newsreels and TV images. He also never denounces Dick and Lynne, they are not shown as buffoons, but  ordinary people wanting to better themselves: their house is a shrine to mediocrity, they really care for each other and are rather subdued in their personal affairs: they often shown from behind, always ready to leave the frame, unobtrusive to the last. Vice is the great exception: a major feature made in Hollywood. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019    

https://youtu.be/eTk2N03-m8U

 

  

        

     

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2019 with an array of provocative new titles. This year’s selection has the latest documentaries from Alex Gibney and Kim Longinotto (Shootin the Mafia). There will be biopics about Harvey Weinstein, Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy), designer Halston, and tragic actor Anton Yelchin. English director Joanna Hogg’s latest drama The Souvenir will compete in the World Dramatic section, and Shia LeBoeuf’s scripting debut Honey Boy will compete in the US Dramatic section.
PREMIERES 2019 | D R A M A T I C 

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) has dedicated her life to working with the children in an orphanage in Calcutta. Theresa (Julianne Moore)…
Dir/Writer: Bart Freundlich

Animals

Would-be writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her free-spirited bestie Tyler (Alia Shawkat) share a messy Dublin apartment and a hearty…
Director Sophie Hyde Writer Emma Jane Unsworth

Blinded by the Light

1987, Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the town of Luton. His father’s recent job…
Director Gurinder Chadha, Writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Koepfler (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist…
Director Joe Berlinger. Screenwriter Michael Werwie

I Am Mother

Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol….
Director Grant Sputore, Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green

Late Night

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being…
Director Nisha Ganatra. Screenwriter Mindy Kaling

Official Secrets

Based on the book , tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up…
Director Gavin Hood, Screenwriter Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Paddleton

An unlikely bromance between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when one of them is diagnosed with terminal…
Director Alex Lehmann. Screenwriter Alex Lehmann, Mark Duplass

Photograph

Rafi works as a street photographer in frenzied Mumbai, snapping improvised portraits for tourists at the city’s landmarks. When his…
Director Ritesh Batra. Screenwriter Ritesh Batra

Relive

Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to…
Director Jacob Estes Screenwriter Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt

Sonja – The White Swan

Before there were the Ice Capades, there was Sonja Henie. In 1936, Henie has three Olympic gold medals and ten…
Director Anne Sewitsky. Screenwriter Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for…
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor Screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Mustang

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tightly wound convict fresh out of solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in…
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Screenwriter Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock

The Report

Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program….
Director Scott Z. Burns. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns

The Sunlit Night

Summer is off to a terrible start for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her art project fails, her boyfriend unceremoniously kicks her…
Director David Wnendt. Screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein

The Tomorrow Man

Retiree Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) spends his quiet days watching the news, checking internet forums, and preparing for the end…
Director Noble Jones. Screenwriter Noble Jones

Top End Wedding

Lauren and Ned are engaged. They are in love. And they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother (who…
Director Wayne Blair. Screenwriter Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell

Troop Zero

Nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When…
Directors Bert&Bertie. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar

Velvet Buzzsaw

In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds…
Director Dan Gilroy. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy
PREMIERES 2019 | D O C U M E N T A R Y
The Brink / U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman, Producer: Marie Therese Guirgis) — Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message. World Premiere
ASK DR RUTH (2019) 

Don’t let her small status fool you. She may be under five feet tall but Holocaust survivor Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force to be reckoned with, as chronicled by Ryan White in his documentary portrait of the noteworthy sex therapist.

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

Fashion designed Halston combined talent, notoriety and sheer gorgeousness to become a legend. From humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa this doc explores his meteoric rise to fame.

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

Prolific young actor Anton Yelchin was wise beyond his years and influenced around him to strive for more.

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

Is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In the 1970s Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender.

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Using words from Miles Davis’ Autobiography, Stanley Nelson’s biopic offers insight into our understanding of the legendary musician.

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

With razor-sharp wit, outspoken journalist and firecracker Molly Ivins took on the good-old-boy corruption in the political establishment

Dir: Janice Engel. Writer: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski

The Great Hack

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you received ads for products

Dir: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujam Wri: Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Karim Amer

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After a stint as an editor early in her career, this American writer got the measure of publishing.

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein is laid bare.

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native America.

COMPETITION TITLES | U S   D R A M A T I C

Before You Know It

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel;…
Director Hannah Pearl Utt. Screenwriters Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

Big Time Adolescence

It’s funny: humans have been growing up for a really long time, but somehow we still suck at it. Just…
Director Jason Orley. Screenwriter Jason Orley

Brittany Runs A Marathon

Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks…
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo

Clemency

How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your…
Director Chinonye Chukwu. Screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu

Hala

Hala is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a…
Director Minhal Baig. Screenwriter Minhal Baig

Honey Boy

When 12-year-old Otis starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood, his ex-rodeo-clown father returns to serve…
Director Alma Har’el. Screenwriter Shia LaBeouf

Imaginary Order

For Cathy, life as she’s always known it seems to be slipping away. Her sense of significance is crumbling as…
Director Debra Eisenstadt. Screenwriter Debra Eisenstadt

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea,…
Director Julius Onah. Screenwriter JC Lee, Julius Onah

Ms. Purple

In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie works as a girl, a young hostess paid to…
Director Justin Chon. Screenwriter Justin Chon, Chris Dinh

Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man, lives with his mother and siblings in Chicago. Half-heartedly involved with a…
Director Rashid Johnson. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks

Share

After a night of partying, high-school sophomore Mandy discovers that a series of cell-phone videos of her—half-dressed and semiconscious—have gone…
Director Pippa Bianca. Screenwriter Pippa Bianco

The Farewell

After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead…
Director Lulu Wang. Screenwriter Lulu Wang

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails has one hope in life: to reclaim the majestic Victorian house his grandfather built. Every week, Jimmie and…
Director Joe Talbot. Screenwriter Joe Talbot, Rob Richert

Them That Follow

In the rugged wilderness of Appalachia, the members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel…
Director Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage. Screenwriter Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage

The Sound of Silence

A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented….
Director Michael Tyburski. Screenwriter Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

To The Stars

In a god-fearing small town in 1960s Oklahoma, bespectacled and reclusive teen Iris endures the booze-induced antics of her mother…
Director Martha Stephens. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary
US   D O C U M E N T A R Y  

Always in Season

Claudia Lacy wants answers. When her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina,…
Director Jacqueline Olive

American Factory

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands…
Director Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

APOLLO 11

NASA’s vaults open for the first time to spill this exquisite, never-before seen audio and 70 mm film footage of…
Director Todd Douglas Miller

Bedlam

is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles,…
Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

David Crosby: Remember My Name

We’re all acquainted with archetypal rock bio-doc tropes: the unexpected rise to stardom, calamitous love affairs, a descent into drugs,…
Director A.J. Eaton

Hail Satan?

What kind of religious expression should be permitted in a secular nation? Holy hell, something is brewing! Just a few…
Director Penny Lane

Jawline

Austyn Tester—handsome and 17—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming…
Director Liza Mandelup

Knock Down the House

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from…
Director Rachel Lears

Midnight Family

With striking vérité camerawork, drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of…
Director Luke Lorentzen

Mike Wallace Is Here

Deemed the “enemy of the people” by our current president, journalism in America is on the chopping block. Lies, fake…
Director Avi Belkin

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Irene Taylor Brodsky builds on her powerful first feature (Audience Award winner at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) by delving…
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky

One Child Nation

In order to expose rampant human-rights abuses, filmmaker Nanfu Wang fearlessly confronted Chinese government agents in her 2016 Sundance Film…
Director Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Pahokee

Four high-school students, Na’Kerria, Jocabed, Junior, and BJ, embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on…
Director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan

TIGERLAND

In the span of only a handful of generations, the tiger has been transformed from a venerated creature with a…
Director Ross Kauffman

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock…
Director Ben Berman

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of twentieth-century American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues—from Senator Joseph McCarthy to…
Director Matt Tyrnauer
WORLD CINEMA   D R A M A T I C 

Dirty God

After a vicious acid attack leaves half her body covered in scars, Jade (Vicky Knight) must come to terms with…
Director Sacha Polak. Screenwriter Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell

Divine Love

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds…
Director Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriter Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas ParaÍzo

Dolce Fine Giornata

Maria Linde, a free-spirited, Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner, lives in Tuscany surrounded by warmth and chaos in her family’s…
Director Jacek Borcuch. Screenwriter Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch

Judy & Punch

In the rough-and-tumble town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), villagers flock to Punch and Judy’s marionette theatre. Though Punch…
Director Mirrah Foulkes. Screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes

Koko-di Koko-da

Three years after their daughter Maja’s eighth birthday was interrupted by sudden tragedy, Elin and Tobias embark on a mirthless…
Director Johannes Nyholm. Screenwriter Johannes Nyholm

Monos

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like…
Director Alejandro Landes. Screenwriter Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Queen of Hearts

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when…
Director May el-Toukhy. Screenwriter Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy

The Last Tree

Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster-mother…
Director Shola Amo. Screenwriter Shola Amoo

The Sharks

Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal…
Director Lucía Garibaldi, Screenwriter Lucía Garibaldi

The Souvenir

Between script pitches and camera setups, Julie hosts a film-school cohort party where she meets a mysterious man named Anthony….
Director Joanna Hogg. Screenwriter Joanna Hogg

This is not Berlin

As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to…
Director Hari Sama. Screenwriter Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

One sunny day, four young strangers—Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura—meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost…
Director Makoto Nagahisa. Screenwriter Makoto Nagahisa
WORLD CINEMA.  D O C U M E N T A R Y

Advocate

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal…
Director Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. . It’s understood…
Director Mads Brügger

Gaza

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the…
Director Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Honeyland

In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze, a 50-something woman in a bright yellow blouse and green headscarf, trudges up a…
Director Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Lapü

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and dreams…
Dirs Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes. Writers Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, after Hassan Fazili’s documentary aired on Afghan national television, the Taliban assassinated the film’s main subject and put…
Director Hassan Fazili. Writer Emelie Mahdavian

Sea of Shadows

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the…
Director Richard Ladkani

Shooting the Mafia

In the streets of Sicily, beautiful, gutsy Letizia Battaglia pointed her camera straight into the heart of the Mafia that…
Director Kim Longinotto

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

Since his untimely death, Stieg Larsson has become one of the world’s most famous authors. His Millennium Trilogy— and its…
Director Henrik Georgsson. Screenwriter Henrik Georgsson

The Disappearance of My Mother

Benedetta Barzini is a revered Italian model who shattered stereotypes by becoming a journalist and professor and gained notoriety by…
Director Beniamino Barrese. Screenwriter Beniamino Barrese

The Edge of Democracy

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a…
Director Petra Costa. Screenwriter Petra Costa

The Magic Life of V

Wizards, magic spells, and heroic sword battles are just fantasy for some, but for Veera they’re a meaningful part of…
Director Tonislav Hristov. Screenwriter Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 | PROGRAMME COURTESY OF THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE 

The Upside (2017) ***

122’Dir: Neil Berger | Cast: Brian Cranston, Nicole Kidman | Kevin Hart | US Drama | 

Neil Berger’s slick big budget remake rides roughshod over some serious themes and its own narrative flaws, but thanks to Brian Cranston at the wheel central role. But after a clunky first act, The Upside does improve, and culminates in an enjoyable drama.  

Cranston plays philosophical, philanthropic, paraplegic Philip who has amassed a small fortune the hard way, but is now confined to his glossy Manhattan penthouse due to a hang-gliding accident. But not only is Cranston’s Philip richer and more sassy, he’s also streets ahead in the acting stakes compared to his co-stars Nicole Kidman who plays an obsequious business manager, and Kevin Hart his full-time carer. The Upside is always going to come up and finish second to the original which was the most successful French language film of all time in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Mexico to name a few countries. This was all largely due to the intensively moving way it presented its subject matter.

Phil is mainly depressed because he’s recently lost the love his life and the film opens with the tawdry search for someone to look after him now she’s gone. But when the crass and bungling Dell appears on the scene his bullishness somehow strikes a chord with Phil, even though the ex-con appears entirely unsuitable for the job. It soon emerges that Phil’s made the right choice. Dell’s down to earth attitude (think Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places) and refusal to be politically correct chimes with Philip’s own maverick qualities: the two have great chemistry as fearless, free-thinking individuals, and that’s why they hit it off together in this inspirational drama about friendship, forgiveness and the indomitable human spirit.

The Upside hits some high notes with its breath-taking setting: New York has never looked so majestic in widescreen skyscapes and the glitzy interiors of Phil’s lavish home. The Bronx too looks commanding and this is where predictably we meet Dell’s chuntering girlfriend and his sparky son . And there are some well-choreographed car chases with Dell at the wheel of Phil’s fleet of Ferraris and Porches. There’s humour to be had in the situational nuances: Phil’s po-faced neighbours are lampooned and so are his bathroom facilities (a shower that speaks German). Nicole Kidman is glacially prim and proper as the house manager, and certainly doesn’t convince as Phil’s potential love interest. But we soon realise he’s a true romantic who loves women and being in their company. And he’s started an old-fashioned ‘pen-pal’ courtship into the bargain.

Even though The Upside (and the original French film) is loosely based on a real story, the formulaic narrative leaves nothing to the imagination and very much toes the party line that Dell is a ‘jackass’ who’s taken the easy life of crime, and now suddenly starts admiring classical opera and developing painting skills akin to Jean Michel Basquiat. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) and screenwriter Jon Hartmere have some insightful comments to make and there are a few laughs, but that doesn’t negate the film’s racial undertones, and or the slightly glib treatment of Phil’s infirmities. The Upside slightly manipulates with its charming glibness but Cranston gives things a much needed shot of nuanced dynamism, and this is what ultimately makes The Upside fly. MT

OUT on 12  JANUARY 2019

The Old Man and the Gun (2018) ****

Dir: David Lowery | Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek | US Drama | 93mins

This mellow arthouse movie is a tongue in cheek tribute to gentlemen villains everywhere. The perfect antidote to crime thrillers, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN shoots the breeze with Robert Redford’s real life career criminal Forrest Tucker, reflecting over his glorious life of bank robbery. With its themes of ageing gracefully, living life to the full and being true to ourselves The Old Man and The Gun is a wistful experience enriched by polished performances from its well-oiled leads Spacek and Redford.

Redford’s Forrest Tucker is already into his 60s when we meet him in 1981 during a genteel crime spree in the Midwest. Approaching his banking targets he simply produces a gun and asks for the money. With a dozy detective on his trail in the shape of Casey Affleck (as John Hunt) Tucker is meanwhile casually turning his thoughts to romance and dating a rather sceptical woman called Jewel (Spacek), who’s not quite sure what to make of the charming old roué.

The Old Man is Lowery’s follow-up to his rather dour haunting fantasy A Ghost Story. But although both share that undercurrent of navel-gazing introspection that has mulling over the meaning of life, this is a much more upbeat affair that nevertheless packs a powerful undercurrent of tension in its final scenes. The real life Tucker was well into his 80s when he died in 2004. And there’s something faintly laudable about his method of making a living. No-one ever gets hurt, and there’s no deception, although Tucker possesses a steely resolve in his recidivism — Lowery plays on that most disarming of human qualities: the element of surprise. Tucker maintains a genial charm throughout, always cutting to the chase but with charisma in spades. And he slowly builds a convincing relationship with Jewel, who’s attracted to his magnetism despite her better judgement, always aware that at some point she be short-changed.

Old Man has a criminal pulse but it’s a steady one. Craftily, Lowery has us believe that Old Man will be a cat-and-mouse game between Hunt and Tucker. But then he film turns into a much more subtle affair, building rich characterisations of the smiling but steely villain and his half-hearted oppressor, Old Man plays out as a slow-burning study of criminal motivation and mutual respect. Affleck’s Hunt is bemused and mildly fascinated by what makes Tucker tick. And there’s one scene where the two meet in the bathroom that really showcases this charm offensive between the two men. But Hunt’s more interested in staying home with his wife, and mentoring his kids on police methods rather than rushing around frenetically chasing wrongdoers.

The Old Man owes its immense charm to Redford who is really brilliant as the twinkly- eyed thief. There’s deep sadness and longing behind the warmth of his wry smile, rather than any desire to hurt or deceive. His atavistic urge to escape and re-offend is clearly rooted in his childhood – it’s at his very core and keeps him alive.

Joe Anderson’s grainy Super 16mm visually gives the film that retro feel. Daniel Hart’s loose-limbed tuneful score puts a rosy spins on proceedings — Spacek barely conceals her clear affection for the loveable cad, but also the fear that she may lose him to pastures new.   Tucker is a leopard who has no intention of changing his spots. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 7 DECEMBER 2018

Atoll K (1951) *** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Leo Joannon | Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy | Comedy Drama | 98′

ATOLL K marked the big screen comedy return of Laurel and Hardy in 1951. It was also their swan song. The much loved duo were lured back during a European stage tour to take a trip of another kind – this time involving a ramshackle voyage to the Pacific to save Stan’s island inheritance. The odyssey was actually filmed off the coast of the French Riviera and was an ambitious attempt to add a satirical twist to their well-known slapstick scenarios. It  certainly showcases their versatility and inventive comedy talents. Atoll K (the French title) also comes as a welcome ‘Laurel and Hardy’ refresher in the wake of a new feature film: Stan & Ollie, that arrives in the New Year and stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.

After 1945 Laurel and Hardy had found new popularity with audiences deprived of their films who during the war years. The comedy duo had signed up with 20th Century Fox and MGM for a series of movies, but by the end of the 1940s their career had ground to a halt after a long association with producer Hal Roach. Atoll K (also known as Utopia and Robinson Crusoeland) was the result of a big budget French-Italian initiative, with the production to take place in France. But the project did not run smoothly, and filming took over a year – from Spring 1950 to the following April – instead of the projected 12 weeks. To make matters worse, there were artistic and communication issues between Laurel and the director, who could only speak French. Lancashire born Laurel was diabetic and suffered severe complications during shooting, further hampering the production. And with seven writers contributing to the script, it’s hardly surprising the storyline drifts rather, despite some great comedy moments revolving around the usual setbacks and mishaps during a voyage that’s stormy – both on and off the boat. Despite its flaws this buried treasure from archives provides solid gold entertainment. MT 

ON RELEASE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2018

Wildlife (2018) ****

Writer|Dir: Paul Dano | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould | Drama | US | 105’

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in  Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel.

Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job.

WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), its similar theme of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town, in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the film that very much works to its advantage. The date is 1960 and in the mountains behind the family house a forest fire is raging, with warnings that it could well spread to the town centre if not controlled by rangers, who Jerry Brinson (Gyllenhaal) decides to join at a wage of only a dollar an hour, after much moping around the house when he loses his job on the local golf course. This comes as a big surprise to his wife Jeannette (Mulligan), an earnest homemaker who believes in her husband’s desire to make more of himself, and she sees this as a step backwards, career-wise. Meanwhile, Joe signs on as an apprentice to a local portrait photographer, a part-time job he takes to while doing very well in his school work.

Dano and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, stick to a clean, straighforward narrative but there’s a subtle brooding tension at play, and while Joe seems emotionally grounded and resilient (a tribute to his parents), Jerry and Jeannette are less so: although Jerry’s character is the most underwritten of the three, there’s a haunted quality to him as a straightforwaed dad who suddenly implodes after the shock of his firing. Jeannette also starts to lose her own sense of equilibrium:. “What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?,” Jeanette casts around for emotional ballast in an much older wealthy man, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), who she meets while giving swimming classes.

In some ways this fragmented behaviour is character-forming for Joe, his parents have clearly given him a rock solid babyhood, and so he can weather the shocking fliration scenes that take place between Millar and his mother, and his loss at his father’s temporary abandonment, although he finds it all difficult to fathom. This is not a film about adult infidelity and abandonment, but about how a teenage perceives and deals with it, and as such it is beautifully restrained and supremely elegant – the audience is required to suspend disbelief and take a trip back to teenagehood and the bewildering experience it offers. Dano makes the denouement an enigmatic affair, leaving the door open to hope, while acknowledging the inevitable. MT

NATIONWIDE FROM 9 NOVEMBER 2018

Some Like it Hot (1959) *****


Dir: Billy Wilder | Writer: I A L Diamond | Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon | US Comedy Drama | 123’

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this classic of all classic comedies features an all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. The men play a couple of struggling musicians in the wrong place at the wrong time when they witness the Valentines Day Massacre. Finding themselves on the run from the mob, they accept a new gig out of town as part of an all-girl jazz troupe, where they will meet Marilyn Monroe. Dragged up and made-up they’re soon raring to go – but can they keep their act together?

Billy Wilder’s multi-awarded feature picked up the Oscar in 1960, for Orry Kelly’s costume design.

The film played at BFI London Film Festival 2018 and will open at the BFI Southbank and at selected venues across the UK courtesy of Park Circus.

Major Arcana (2018) *** Raindance Film Festival 2018

Dir: Josh Melrod | US | Drama | 82’

A simple back to nature tale but none the worse for that, what MAJOR ARCANA really needs is a shot in the arm – ironic considering one of its central themes is addiction. Josh Melrod’s low budget indie sees a jobbing carpenter Dink (Ujon Tokarski) seek solace back in his home town in Vermont where building a wooden cabin serves as a kind of therapy for his long-term drug and money problems. Serendipity has him meeting up with an ex-girfriend Sierra (Tara Summers) who seems to share his troubled past – and is clearly glad to see him again despite their rather frosty surprise re-encounter which will provide the only spark in this gently smouldering tale. Dink’s father has left him a sizeable chunk of property including 52 acres of land that provides the film’s bosky location and cinematographer Ramsey Fendall’s freshly limpid visuals make best use of the lushly verdant landscape with a river running through it. The only thorn in Dink’s side is an alcoholic mother desperate for cash in this everyday story of countryfolk where life goes on but nothing really happens. MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/273335814

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON DIGITAL HD AND DVD from 20 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Diane (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Kent Jones | Cast: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parson, Andre Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Summerville, Ray Iannicelli US | 90′

Kent Jones has made some dynamite documentaries: Hitchcock Truffaut, A Letter to Elia; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows. His feature debut is an earnest and perceptive drama about an ordinary woman forced to find inner strength when her family crumbles around her. Diane could also be a US version of our long-running BBC4 series The Archers with its cheesy and occasionally awkward moments of ‘raw’ sincerity veering on the maudlin side. It pictures Diane padding around in a pink fluffy housecoat making chicken casserole to take to a sick friend, or having one margarita too many while unwinding in the local bar. This is not Hollywood or New York but somewhere like Denver Colorado where the characters sit around in thick cardies, pouring tasteless coffee into giant mugs and reminiscing over the dead and dying in their local community. What saves it and actually makes it rather watchable is the impressive cast that Jones has assembled: Mary Kay Place gives a subtle but stunning performance as the titular heroine, a divorced do-gooder whose son (Jake Lacy) has lost his way. Deirdre O’Connell is wonderfully convincing as her cousin Donna dying from cancer, and Andrea Martin simpers as her trusted friend. The whole thing plays out like ‘an every day story of countryfolk’ (The Archers’ tagline), as they support one another, do good in the community and occasionally argue but gradually work through their issues. Diane is never hard-edged, but honest and straightforward, despite occasionally striking a bum note – the scenes exploring Diane’s spiritual quest feel rather bogus, as does the character of her aunt Mame (veteran star Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that sympathetically reflects the world we live in now. MT

Premiering at Locarno 2018 | Screening during MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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 Apartment (1960)***** 4K restoration

Billy Wilder’s comedy The Apartment takes us back to the ordered world of Mad Men when men still ruled the world and the workplace: but it didn’t always work in their favour. There’s so much to enjoy about the sly camaraderie and refreshing lack of political correctness that still make this a winner, and a reminder of the (sometimes) good old days.

And back in the day it won five Oscars at the 33rd Academy Awards, including for best picture, dynamite writing duo Diamond and Wilder (Jewish emigrés from Romania and Germany), The Apartment is a romantic comedy verging on melodrama that trips lightly over a scorching satire of the old school network that still exists today, in a much more covert way than even back then. The movie is positively bristling with social commentary but all of it dressed in a chipper sense of upbeat bonhomie. Sometimes its characters are vulnerable, lonely and frustrated but the humour skips on relentlessly always presenting its best face to a world that knew firmly where and how its bread was buttered, and accepted it with dignity and good grace.

And none more so than Jack Lemmon’s character C C Baxter, a hard-working, hard-done-by corporate servant, who thinks the best of everyone and everything, and is gifted with an enviable optimism and a indomitable will to survive. Lemmon brings an acute sense of comic timing and slapstick skill to his memorable performance. Wilder puts a positive spin on this immoral world knowing that his stock in trade was to entertain not to depress of deflate. Baxter is grafting his way slowly to the top, knowing that his ace card is his Manhattan home, a small but snug pied à terre that provides a priceless bolt hole for his bosses to conduct their extra-marital dalliances. But this cosy corner is somewhat of a poisoned chalice, as even Baxter will admit.

Meanwhile, Shirley MacLaine is the lift lady in the office building where Lemmon works, and is secretly dating one of his married bosses (Fred MacMurray) who makes use of the apartment from time to time. Miss MacLaine (Fran Kubelik) and Lemmon are both likeable losers, disillusioned romantics who finally fall for each other after bonding over Baxter’s meatballs after she tries to kill herself on Christmas Eve, spurned by MacMurray’s Mr Sheldrake (who finally gets his comeuppance at the hands of his secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), one of the five philanders who make use of the apartment. The other are flippantly played by Ray Walston, David Lewis, Willard Waterman and David White. His next door neighbour Dr Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) provides a vibrant vignette featuring the comforting Jewish doctor and his wife Mildred (Naomi Stevens), who save the day with their nous and matzah ball soup.

The script is full of perceptive moments and witty dialogue that plays on a verbal motif using the suffix ‘wise’; when Fran Kubelik asks Baxter if he wants candlelight over dinner, he replies: “it’s a must, gracious living-wise” and this goes on to hilarious effect, as Wilder and Diamond clearly enjoy themselves writing the multi-awarded script.

Joseph LaShelle’s black-and-white Panavision photography glows to great effect in the restoration, picking out the period details and the impeccable fashions of the day (Miss Olsen’s faux leopard hat and handbag combo and her cat’s eyes sunglasses are still on trend today) and this is all set to Adolph Deutsch’s imaginative score, with its jazzy tunes: an Ella Fitzgerald album cover on Baxter’s sideboard provides a perfect cultural counterpoint to an era where to be successful in the workplace was to be male and white; but that was ok. MT

4K RESTORATION by PARK CIRCUS and MGM from an original 35mm print in cinemas later this year. With thanks to Nick Varley and John Letham for Park Circus. 

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | Grand Prix winner

Dir: Spike Lee | Cast: Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Corey Hawkins | Biopic Crime Comedy | US |

Spike Lee’s latest film follows Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, who successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan.

BlacKkKlansman, champions the Black Lives Matter brigade and is Spike Lee’s most engaging film in years, playing out as a straightforward 1970s style tale that sees a Black rookie detective get close up close and personal with the KKK, by posing as a potential punter over the ‘phone then sending his white colleague along to do the honours. Adam Driver plays game in fine form. 

There shades of Shaft here and other blaxploitation films of the era, but the accent is on comedy and irony rather than outright thriller, although Lee has done his research seriously offering plenty of historical detail and some archive footage from the Charlottesville riots from August last year, and the camera swivels firmly in focus of President Trump, and DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

The white supremacists are a nasty bunch, as you can imagine, and no one escapes their vitriol which is aimed at Jews and anyone not of Aryan blood. Topher Grace plays David Duke, the head honcho of the local branch, the film also features Black characters who are racist such as Patrice..

After joining the surprisingly racist Colorado Springs Police department, his first mission is to attend a Black Power meeting addressed by Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Here he meets and falls for Angela Davies Patrice (Laura Harrier). The film then charts his progress to infiltrate and bring down the KKK organisation in scenes where the tone is taut but always firmly upbeat. With lowkey natural performances from leads Adam Driver and John David Washington, and a stellar score of ‘70s hits, this is an enjoyable, informative and undivisive drama and certainly worthy of winning the Palme d’Or. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | GRAND PRIX WINNER 2018

Tully (2018) ***

Dir.: Jason Reitman; Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan; USA 2018, 96 min.

Tully, the third cooperation for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody – after Juno and Young Adult – is a realistic, bitter-sweet study of suburban family life near New York, and a flirt with the supernatural, which will not be disclosed (no spoilers). Apart from the lame ending, the two strands form an exciting unity, held together by the female leads Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine).

We meet Marlo (Theron) heavily pregnant in her third trimester – and not loving it at all. Theron was either over-committed to her role, or her fat-suit is superior to anything seen so far. But Marlo has to carry the whole weight of the new arrival, the third, and not a happy accident. “I feel like an abandoned trashbag” and My body looks a relief map for a war-torn country” are some of her choice comments. The reason for the overload is mainly husband Drew (Livingston), who is more absent than present, and has substituted their sex-life for nocturnal marathons on the Play Station. Her brother Craig (Duplass) is higher up the bourgeois ladder, and offers to pay for a night time nanny; whilst his perfectly trim wife Elyse (Tan) puts her foot in with comments “I had to crawl to the gym in my last month of pregnancy”. Needless to say, Craig and Elyse have a couple of perfect children, who love their greens, whilst Marlo’s daughter Sarah and son Jonah would prefer something more filling like pizza. Sarah’s reaction to the new arrival is a loss of self-esteem, and to compound matters, Jonah is about to be kicked out of kindergarten because his parents pretend that he is just “quirky”, rather than on the autism spectrum.

After the birth of Mia, and some sleepless nights amidst the rising domestic chaos, Marlo decides to accept her brother’s offer of help: Enter Tully (Davis), an optimistic, practical angel of competence, who not only liberates Marlo from the nightly child duties, but brings order into the household.. But there is a slight android quality about Tully, enhanced by her androgynous looks. We suspect the worst, when Tully helps Marlo to spice up her sex-life, wearing a waitress uniform, one of Drew’s beloved fetishes. But nothing comes out of this encounter, and soon Marlo and Tully become a unit. After a night-out in Brooklyn, Marlo’s old haunt, Tully announces suddenly, that she has to leave.

Certainly, Cody’s script is the soul of this feature, her dialogue is witty; and well-informed by her own experience of motherhood. One of her next projects, titled Barbie, is a live action film about a doll from Barbie Land, who is expelled from this universe and has adventures in the real world. With Tully Cody asks whether motherhood has to be the end of an independent life – is the old Marlo of Brooklyn dead or, can she be re-animated?

DoP Eric Steelberg’s images work best during the chaotic time in Marlo’s household and the confrontations between Marlo and the kindergarten teachers. But sometimes, like the whole project in the end, he finds too many comprises, choosing soothing colour schemes, avoiding more innovative angles. Tully could have been a great feature, but taking back so much of the critique at the end, spoils the whole enterprise. 

OUT ON RELEASE THIS FRIDAY, 4 MAY 2018

Marty (1955) | Dual format release

 Dir.: Delbert Mann; Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minicotti, Joe Mantell; USA 1955, 90 min.

Based on the TV play by Paddy Chayevsky, who would later script Network (1976), Delbert Mann won both the 1955 Oscar and the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his debut feature (he had directed the original TV Playhouse production with Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand).

Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for his thoughtful performance in this  independent production (Hecht/Lancaster) which had a mini-budget of USD 300 000 but grossed over five million US Dollars at the box office. It was a follow-up to his impressive turn as the sadistic sergeant in From Here to Eternity,

Director Delbert Mann was an intellectual with a TV background, restricting his Hollywood output to a few, but memorable, features such as The Outsider (1961). His career would lead him back to TV, a medium which gave him more freedom than the Hollywood studio system. Shot in brilliant blackand-white by the veteran Joseph LaShelle (Laura, The Apartment), Marty is a chamber piece, which g set in the Bronx, during two days between Christmas and New Year’s Day: Marty (Borgnine) is an affable but rather thick-set butcher, who is mistreated both by his mother (Minicotti) and his “best friend” Angie (Mantell), a superficial misogynist. They both criticise 34year old Marty for not being married, but would rather keep him under their control, to suit their own needs. Up to a certain point, Marty plays ball, talking in the Mickey Spillane style  – but deep down he is aware of his lack if appeal to the opposite sex, his social clumsiness: he is the anti-hero, and he knows it. When he meets Isabel (Blair), a schoolteacher who has just been stood up on a blind date, the two outsiders slowly find happiness together – in spite of their shyness and awkwardness.

In an era dominated by big, colourful blockbusters from Hollywood, fighting the advent of TV with more and more sensational technical innovations and lame, simplistic plots, often featuring invincible male heroes, Marty was the antithesis to all these adventures: escapism, which never engaged the audience brains, so they would not forget where they had parked the car. Marty and Isabel were anything but the heroic winners, which sailed through the feature, but ordinary working people, whose problems were rooted in a society, where interaction between the genders where stereotype, and “a good line” was more important than a reliable character. Angie is the classical example of male insecurity, who is only too happy, to transfer his helplessness onto Marty. Having said this, Marty relies very much on the witty dialogues by Chayevsky, who identifies the conflict with the lines between the two friends: Angie trying to keep Mart at his side, as a fellow man, who never wants to grow up, and lives in the phantasy land of hard-boiled detective novels.

After winning an Oscar for her part in Marty, the Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem would cast Blair in his subversive anti-Franco feature Calle Mayor, where she plays another unfortunate female in a story about three bored young men, one of whom pretends to be in love with her, while his friends support this illusion. Sixty years later, Marty’s humane message is still strong, and the acting is outstanding, avoiding sentimentality at all times as its simple appeal shines through. 

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

 

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth or Dare (2017) **

Dir.: Jeff Wadlow; Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violette Bene, Hayden Szeto; USA 2018, 100′.

Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow is behind the popular Purge franchise with together  Blumhouse Productions, and has tried the same thing with Truth or Dare with an that ending hints at a sequel, but is its audience gullible enough. On present form, the answer is probably yes.

On their final Spring Break, a group of college students take a vacation in Mexico, where they are lured into a Truth or Dare game by a mysterious stranger in a spooky church cellar. Retuning home, they soon discover that the game has followed them. If any of the participants refuses a challenge; lies or fails a dare task, she/he is dead. The first victim, Ronnie sets the tone: he is dared to show all, standing up on the pool table, but chickens out. The demon punishes Ronnie with sudden death: he falls of the table and crashes his head in. Perhaps not the most sensational start to a killing spree; but even though blood is not spared, it soon turns out that Truth or Dare is more interested in the hidden secrets of its participants. Does goody-two-shoes Olivia (Hale), who rather would have rather spent a week doing humanitarian work than go to Mexico, really fancy Lucas (Posey), the philandering boyfriend of Olivia’s best friend Markie (Beane)?. And has Olivia also a hand in the suicide of Markie’s father? And then there is Brad (Szeto), who can’t confess to his homophobic cop-father that he is gay, and is duly killed by his Dad’s fellow-cop. Finally. Olivia gets on a trip to Mexico to interview a mute ex-nun, the sole survivor of a massacre in the church where the ordeal first started.

Symbolic for the whole enterprise is a scene where one of the afflicted has to drink a bottle of spirits whilst walking on the roof of the house, spikes looming, and her helpers running along the house with a mattress. Truth or Dare is anything but frightening – very much Scooby Doo meets Gossip Girl. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 APRIL 2018

Wonder Wheel (2017) ***

Dir/Writer: Woody Allen | Cast: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jack Gore, David Krumholtz | US | Melodrama | 101′

When the world desperately needs a slice of his comedy genius Woody Allen delivers a miserable melodrama, a metaphor for modern life – or perhaps it’s just the mood he is in with the current wave of abuse allegations rocking Hollywood.

So he returns to the 1950s and his childhood days in Coney Island where sad and frustrated housewife Ginny (Kate Winslet) is living out her life, but not her dreams. The Neon-lit shadow of the Ferris wheel sheds a Lucozade-tinged light on the chintzy interiors of the home she shares with her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore), obese husband Humpty (Belushi) and his newly-arrived daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), a marked woman who has just left her gangland husband. Ginny and Humpty are overblown alcoholics and there’s no joy in their lives, but while he is content with his fishing trips and games with the guys, Ginny is an unfulfilled actress wasting her life waitressing in their boardwalk clam diner. Then she falls for a perma-tanned literary-minded lifeguard in the shape of Micky, a desperately miscast Justin Timberlake.

To be frank, this is Ginny’s fillm and without the voluptuous emotional heavyweight Winslet, the film would fail to resonate. She is the meaty Maine lobster in this claustrophobic clam bake-off, with Belushi the French fries, Timberlake the healthy salad and Juno Temple the frothy vanilla milkshake. We’re persuaded that Mickey lives in Greenwich village where he reads Eugene O’Neill, but he’s strait outta modern Memphis and unconvincing in this role. The two fall in lust until Ginny gets heavy and Carolina frolics into focus whereupon Mickey is smitten, realising the reality of the age-gap. “When it comes to love, we often turn out to be our own worst enemy” is one of the more telling lines.

Wonder Wheel is a shade overlong with some scenes lingering uncomfortably, but the redolent musical choices and perfect-pitched performances are convincing and heartfelt. Vittorio Storaro’s wizardry with his colour wheel bathes everything in a neon-suffused technicolour rainbow tracking Ginny’s emotional ups and downs as the wheel spins from orgasmic bliss to histrionic meltdown. The placid rain-soaked beachscapes provide thoughtful contrast and relief to this bold and believable portrait of a woman driven to the edge. And you feel for her. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

Mom and Dad (2017) ****

Dir.: Brian Taylor | Cast: Nicholas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Samantha Lemole | USA 2017 | 86′.

Director/writer Brian Taylor, co-creator of Gamer and Crank, delivers the perfect American nightmare: what would happen TV stations all gave up the ghost, and sent coded messages ordering loving middle-class parents to kill their off-spring?. This is not simply a schlock horror movie: it is set very much in the psychological reality of suburban America, where parental love and even sacrifice is the stable diet of all sugar-coated Hollywood films.

Parents Brent (Cage) and Kendall (Blair) are fighting middle-age disappointment: he is frustrated by his reduced means:“Ten years ago I earned 145 000$, now it 45 000$”), she is driven crazy by her attempts to look twenty again. Meanwhile son Josh (Arthur) is still in pre-puberty, and daughter Carly (Winters) drives her parents mad, as the teenager from Hell, her placid boyfriend Damon (Cunningham) is the only one not getting in her way. When the TV incident occurs, Kendall is in hospital, where her sister Jenna (Lemole) is giving birth to a baby – which she immediately tries to kill – Kendall, not yet affected by the curse, helps to save the newly born. But at home she joins her husband in a mad pursuit to kill Josh and Carly – their rage so virulent, that they overlook the body of the housekeeper’s child, murdered by the mother. Damon does his best to defend the children, who are locked in the cellar, while Mum and Dad come up with a new idea: poisoning by gas. When Brent’s parents arrive in midst of the chaos, the former finds out, that old age is not a barrier to child murder.

What make Mom and Dad so realistic is the use of exactly the same aesthetics used by Hollywood to promote the nuclear family: all is clean, antiseptic, feelings (apart from Carly) are repressed, everything is secondary to getting the show on the road every morning: impressing the neighbours and keeping up the gold-standard of superficiality and intellectual banality. This dream, perpetuated in the media, is now simply turned on its head: It is now the most efficient child killer who is top of the ratings. This is a role written for Nicholas Cage, who rises demon-like to the occasion, with Blair not far behind. The American home is a battle-field devastated by the forces of parental revenge. DoP Daniel Pearl indulges in a pastel colours prelude to the gory terror of the uprising: the schoolyard scenes are a terrific example of parental mob violence. Even the ending delivers a refreshing twist – anything but a new beginning. Provocative and brave, Mom and Dad is a incendiary tour-de-force of America’s middle-class dreams descending into Hell. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) **** | Bluray release

Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmund O’Brien, Warren Stevens; Rosanno Brazzi; USA 1954, 128 min.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had won an Oscar for his 1950 Hollywood satire All About Eve (1950),  aims for the same with Barefoot Contessa, but this lacks the bitter cynicism of its predecessor, despite Jack Cardiff’s vibrant visual mastery of its Mediterranean setting. Somehow, Eve’s stark monochrome treatment by Milton Krasner  are better suited to a critique – colour gives the Hollywood system an excuse to shine and escape nearly unscathed.

Humphrey Bogart plays down-on-his-luck Hollywood director Harry Dawes who is asked by multi-millionaire Kirk Edwards (Stevens), to ”discover” a new star and restart his career with her – whilst also making lots of money for Mr. Edwards. Dawes chooses the Madrid nightclub dancer Maria Vargas (Gardner), a country girl who is rather naïve and trusting. She is no match for Dawes or Edwards, or the rest of Hollywood for that matter, and her – wildly publicised – marriage to the Italian Count Vicenzo Torlatto-Favrini (Brazzi), comes unstuck after it turns out he is impotent.

Starting with Vargas’ funeral – Bogart inconsolable in his dripping trench-coat – the narrative is told in flashbacks, which is, like so often, not the best choice. The – meagre- storyline is somehow held together by Edmund O’Brien’s press agent Oscar Muldoon, who got the best lines, with O’Brien receiving the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Bogart is strangely absent: Having just ‘escaped’ from a disaster in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, where he and Audrey Hepburn lacked any chemistry, Mankiewicz casts Bogart as a marginal figure, a mere chronicler of events. He is a monument to himself, showing his age (54) proudly, whilst putting on a pair of glasses, happy to be ageing (for the era) and detached. Gardner outshines him easily and proves again that Bogart’s identity was (apart from The African Queen) clearly linked to black-and-white features.

The Barefoot Contessa is an entertaining ‘soft’ satire; not much more than a soppy melodrama. It lacks any real bite and relies mostly on great production values. Apart from Jack Cardiff, it’s worth seeing for Mario Nascimbene’s music (his last film score was Matchstick Men in 2002) and Arrigo Equini’s ravishing sets (Furia). AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA Masters of Cinema | 12 March 2018

Willem Defoe | Berlinale Homage 2018

This year’s Berlin International Film Festival is awarding the American actor Willem Defoe with an Honorary Golden Bear in recognition of his career featuring over 100 performances and spanning nearly 40 years since his 1981 debut in Kathryn Bigelow’s debut drama The Loveless. His enormous technical range as an actor extends all the way from the personification of the unfathomably evil to the portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth. In addition to his celebrated cinematic appearances, Dafoe has also pursued a parallel career in theatre, his other passion.

Born in Wisconsin in 1955, Willem Dafoe began studying theatre formally at the age of 17. In 1977, he was one of the founding members of the renowned New York theatre ensemble “The Wooster Group”, where he remained a member for several decades. In addition to his activities on stage, Dafoe increasingly began to turn his attention to film work starting in the early 1980s. Walter’s Hill’s Streets of Fire (1984) was soon followed by William Friedkin’s police thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) where he played ruthless counterfeiter Eric “Ric” Masters, a villain who will stop at nothing to rival his adversaries.

In 1986, Dafoe’s portrayal of Sergeant Elias Grodin in Oliver Stone’s anti-war drama Platoon would expose him to a wider audience. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in the break-through film. Two years later, Martin Scorsese successfully recruited him to fill the leading role as Jesus Christ in his hotly debated literary adaptation The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Still in the same year, Dafoe co-starred alongside Gene Hackman in director Alan Parker’s civil-rights-era drama Mississippi Burning (1988) (right). In the film, Dafoe plays a young FBI agent fighting against racism and the Ku Klux Klan.

Many multifaceted roles would follow, in films such as Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Wim Wenders’ In weiter Ferne, so nah! (Faraway, So Close! 1993) and The English Patient (1996). In the year 2000, Dafoe shined as Max Schreck in the horror film Shadow of the Vampire by director E. Elias Merhige. His brilliant turn as a member of the undead earned him his second Academy Award nomination.

In 2002 Dafoe appeared under the direction of Paul Schrader in the biopic Auto Focus. In 2004 Dafoe collaborated with director Wes Anderson on the latter’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Parallel to these appearances, he slipped into the role of Norman Osborn, aka the villainous “Green Goblin”, three times for the Spider-Man movie franchise (in 2002, 2004 and 2007).

In 2009 Danish director Lars von Trier cast him as the male lead alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg in his psycho-thriller Antichrist – the film became the subject of controversy due to scenes featuring graphic sex and violence. In 2011 Dafoe put on an extraordinary acting performance once again as a lonely hunter in Daniel Nettheim’s thriller The Hunter. Three years later, in Abel Ferrara’s biopic (right) Pasolini Dafoe portrayed the Italian filmmaker in the final period of his life, shortly before his murder.

Last year Dafoe has appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s feature Murder on the Orient Express (2017). The German-American joint effort The Sleeping Shepherd (directed by Frank Hudec) is currently in pre-production. He has also finished filming under the direction of Julian Schnabel for At Eternity’s Gate, in which he plays Vincent van Gogh. Dafoe’s role in The Florida Project earned him both a nomination for the British BAFTA Awards and recently his third nomination for an Academy Award, in the category of Best Supporting Actor.

The ten films of the Berlinale Homage:

 

Antichrist (Denmark / Germany / France / Sweden / Italy / Poland 2009, Director: Lars von Trier)
Auto Focus (USA 2002, Director: Paul Schrader)
The Hunter (Australia 2011, Director: Daniel Nettheim) (image/left)
The Last Temptation of Christ (USA / Canada 1988, Director: Martin Scorsese)
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (USA 2004, Director: Wes Anderson)
Mississippi Burning (USA 1988, Director: Alan Parker)
Pasolini (France / Italy / Belgium 2014, Director: Abel Ferrara)
Platoon (USA 1986, Director: Oliver Stone)
Shadow of the Vampire (USA / United Kingdom / Luxembourg 2000, Director: E. Elias Merhige)
To Live and Die in L.A. (USA 1985, Director: William Friedkin)

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 14 – 24 FEBRUARY 2018 

Last Flag Flying (2017) **

Dir.: Richard Linklater; Cast: Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vazquez; USA | 124′

It’s difficult to believe that LAST FLAG FLYING was directed and co-written by the filmmaker of Boyhood, Richard Linklater. Based on the 2004 novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote Last Detail (1970), later filmed by Hal Ashby, This is a tired road movie which vehemently contradicts its opening message in the sentimental closing stages. ‘Doc’ Shephard (Carell) is looking for his Vietnam buddies Richard Mueller (Fishburne), now a Reverend, and Sal Neaton (Cranston), an alcohol dependent bar owner. Shephard wants their support in burying his own son, who has been killed in Iraq, where he was on a tour with the Marines. Doc, who was a paramedic, actually tried to talk his son out of his decision. So the trio set out to bury Doc’s son in Arlington, bickering among themselves and the government, old and new, who send the soldiers into one mess after another. Meeting Washington (Johnson), a fellow soldier of Shephard junior, it then transpires that the young man was killed whilst buying Coca Cola for his buddies (it was actually Washington’s turn) – not the heroic death the army suggested. But slowly, despite being put off by a robotic Colonel (Vazquez), the Vietnam veterans get into the swing of things, and in the end come to an agreement that the young soldier’s death was heroic after all, ”because we are an okay country, even if the government sends young people out to die in foreign countries”. Very much inferior to Ashby’s Last Detail, of which it is supposed to be a sequel, LAST FLAG FLYING is much too wordy, the characters are one-dimensional, and the trip with the coffin across the country feels somehow awkward. A very unfunny road movie, with a dubious final message. AS

SCREENING AT ARTHOUSES NATIONWIDE | 17 JANUARY 2018

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

Dir: Phil Goldstone | Writer: Frances Hyland from the play by Willis Maxwell Goodhue | Cast: Zita Johann, Alan Dinehart, Paul Cavanagh, Claire DuBrey, John Miljan, Henry B. Walthall, Cora Sue Collins | USA / Drama / 65 min

Although this poverty row avant-garde masterpiece plainly avails itself of the relaxed censorship of pre-Code Hollywood, it’s quite unlike anything else from that era; its most obvious pre-Code hallmark being the astonishing amount it manages to pack into just over an hour’s running time. Long before the end, your head is spinning from the film’s unending assault on your senses, and critics at the time just didn’t get it (not helped by the catchpenny title derived from ‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’, for which Helen Hayes had recently received an Oscar; the working title had been ‘The Woman in the Chair’). Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, for one, dismissed it simply as “all very muddled and parts of it are apt to be exceedingly depressing.” He also claimed that it “strives to emulate the “narratage” story treatment as it was done in ‘The Power and the Glory'”. Since production of ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ wrapped at the end of June 1933 while William K. Howard’s ‘The Power of the Glory’ (often stated to have inspired the non-linear structure of ‘Citizen Kane’) opened in August, this has to have been simple coincidence, and ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ goes way, way beyond Howard’s more celebrated film in its use of the form. To Hall, ‘Nora Moran’ was just “a bewildering mass of scenes”, but seen today it’s perfectly easy to follow; you just never know what new technical flourish the extraordinary hybrid of narrative and visual elements past, present and future this film is going to next throw in your face.

Polish-born independent producer-director Phil Goldstone (1893-1963) was a silent film veteran and former president of Tiffany Pictures who had recently acquired the poverty row outfit Majestic Pictures with the intention of upgrading its product. ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ was the first of only two talkies he directed (the other being a 1937 version of that old exploitation warhorse, Eugène Brieux’s ‘Damaged Goods’); which makes his mastery of the new medium all the more remarkable, aided by Ira Morgan’s Germanic photography and editing by Otis Garrett (later a director himself) that makes Eisenstein look like Mizoguchi. (An uncredited Heinz Roemheld contributes an energetic score that never lets up for a moment, adding to the film’s continental feel.) The film completed, Goldstone continued to demonstrate his commitment to this labour of love by commissioning a sophisticated (if extremely misleading) poster from Alberto Vargas that is better known today than the film itself.

The most surprising thing about this film is that it’s not a remake of a European original, since it certainly feels like one. It was actually based on a play by newspaperman Willis Maxwell Goodhue (1873-1938) originally titled ‘Burnt Offering’; and as befits the title, the script at one point goes into remarkably graphic detail about the process of execution in the electric chair. Nora is injected with an “opiate” (the word used) to prepare her for the end, which paves the way for the hallucinatory stream of consciousness that follows. Sometimes it feels like a German silent kammerspielfilm, at others like forties ‘film noir’ and still others like a wide range of art cinema yet to come (including late Dreyer and early Bergman, Resnais and Oshima). The nearest equivalent I’ve hitherto come across to the remarkable associational non-linear structure of this film – constantly jumping between times, places and viewpoints – is in another neglected masterpiece (from Japan of all places!) Keisuke Kinoshita’s ‘Snow Flurry’ (1959).

Dark-eyed Zita Johann, whose short-lived film career was nearing its end when she made this film, looks haunted as only she could in the demanding title role; while Alan Dinehart is given rather more to get his teeth into, and a somewhat more nuanced characterisation than he was usually accustomed to. Highly recommended. RICHARD CHATTEN

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLuQgtTVPNE

The Big Combo (1955) | Four Film Noir Classics

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In a Lonely Place (1950)

IALP_3DDir.: Nicholas Ray Writers: Andrew Solt and Nicholas Ray

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Graham, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart; USA 1950, 94 min.

Based on the novel by Dorothy B.Hughes, and scripted by Andrew Solt with collaboration from director Nicholas Ray and producer Robert Lord, IN A LONELY PLACE was the second time that Ray and Santana, the production company owned by Lord and Bogart, had worked together after Knock on any Door. Shot in the autumn of 1949 at Columbia Studios, with only three days location work in LA, IN A LONELY PLACE has become a true Film noir classic for various reasons not least because the marriage of Ray and the film’s leading actress, Gloria Grahame was on the rocks, rather like that of her relationship with leading man Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart).

Dixon Steele, a Hollywood scriptwriter, “whose last success was pre-war”, is an alcoholic, violent and ageing man. In a nightclub, his agent Mel Lippman tries to interest him in an adaptation of a novel. Steele is grumpy and bored, and asks the hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson (Stewart), to come home with him to read the final part of the novel for him while he relaxes at home. Next morning, Steele is visited by his friend and army buddy, Detective Sergeant Brub Nicolai (Lovejoy), who tells him, that Atkinson was murdered on her way home from Steele’s house, and her body thrown from the taxi. Meanwhile Steele has fallen in love with a neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame), an aspiring actress. He wants to marry her, but after Gray experiences Steele’s violent temper she gets cold feet, only to make him keener with the famous lines: “I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she  loved me”.  Steele, who has made remarks that tie him to the Atkinson murder, is in the end cleared by Nicolai, but Gray leaves him for good.

Shot by legendary DoP Burnett Guffey (Human Desire, Bonny & Clyde and Bogart’s last feature The Harder they Fall), IN A LONELY PLACE evokes the spirit of Scott Fitzgerald in that it is a film about angst and alienation in Hollywood. In the original ending, Steele kills Gray, and is arrested by Nicolai. Ray shot the new ending more or less in secret, being afraid that Columbia boss Harry Cohen would explode at the unhappy ending. But to be on the safe side, Ray directed both final sequences in three days in mid November. One critic wrote at the time of the premiere, that – “not unlike Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Nicholas Ray’s remarkable IN A LONELY PLACE represents the purest existentialist primers”. AS

NOW SHOWING AS PART OF THE BFI GLORIA GRAHAME RETROSPECTIVE | FROM 24 NOVEMBER 2017

 

BFI Gloria Grahame Retrospective | Film Noir | Nov/Dec 2017

null

null

This Winter the BFI are celebrating the life of screen siren GLORIA GRAHAME with a retrospective of a smouldering film career showcasing her talents – usually in supporting roles – garnering her critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her nine-minute role in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) starring alongside Kirk Douglas, who was nominated but went away empty-handed. 

Gloria Grahame appeared in more than 30 films during the 1940s and 50s and died shortly after returning to her native New York, from a visit to her friend Peter Turner, a stay which forms the basis for the 1987 biography Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Paul McGuigan biopic drama which opens the retrospective on 14 November 2017, and stars Annette Bening as Grahame.

Born Gloria Hallward, in Pasadena, California on November. 28, 1923 to the British actress, Jean Hallward, who had played Shakespearean and other classical roles on the British stage, Gloria Grahame made her stage debut in Chicago soon after finishing high school. Broadway then beckoned, where she worked as understudy in Thornton Wilder’s play By the Skin of Our Teeth, an a number of other stage roles. Her Hollywood debut was in 1944 with Richard Whorf’s comedy flop BLOND FEVER. She went on to star as Ginny in Edward Dmytryk’s 1947 racially-charged noir thriller CROSSFIRE, alongside Robert Mitchum. She later claimed Ginny was her favourite role and she was nominated for an Academy Award which sealed her success for the following decade in titles such as THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Offers dwindled during the 1950s as she brought up her family with Nicholas Ray, occasionally appearing in TV and stage outings, particularly in comedy roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner; Head Over Heels. She was married to Stanley Clements, Nicholas Ray, Cy Howard and Anthony Ray. MT

Here is the BFI Line-up:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

UK 2017. Dir Paul McGuigan. With Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. 105min. Digital. Cert tbc. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Ageing Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Bening), a goddess of the silver screen in the 1940s, now resides in Liverpool doing small theatre gigs to help support her children. While dealing a health scare, she develops an unlikely romance with charming 20-something Peter Turner (Bell) – a relationship that’s soon tested to its limits.

Tickets £15, concs £12 (Members pay £2 less)

Gloria Grahame: Femme Fatale Film Noir Icon | TRT 90min | TUE 14 NOV 18:10 NFT1

This lavishly illustrated talk by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London, will celebrate the onscreen brilliance that defines Gloria Grahame as one of the iconic femme fatale heroines of the era. Wootton will explore her working relationships with major filmmakers such as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang and Vincente Minnelli, as well as her tumultuous and often controversial personal life. Tickets £6.50

IN A LONELY PLACE | MON 13 NOV 18:20 NFT3

USA 1950. Dir Nicholas Ray. With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. 98min. Digital. PG. A Park Circus release.

Nicholas Ray’s beguiling blend of murder mystery and unusually adult love story is one of the finest American movies of the early 50s. The lonely place is Hollywood: scriptwriter Dix (Bogart) is prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, until neighbour Laurel (Grahame) provides him with a false alibi. But as the pair embark on a romance, his volatile temper – exacerbated equally by the studio and the cops – makes her wonder whether he might have been guilty… Brilliantly adapted from Dorothy B Hughes’ novel, Ray’s tough but tender film is spot-on in its insightful characterisation of Tinseltown and of the troubled lovers. Marvellously cast, Bogart and Grahame bring an aching poignancy to their painful predicament.

nullTHE BIG HEAT | FROM FRI 24 NOV

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin. 89min. Digital. 15. A Park Circus release

Fritz Lang’s stark thriller about a cop fighting city-wide corruption is also a classic tale of revenge and redemption. After a senior policeman kills himself, detective Dave Bannion (Ford) begins to suspect a cover-up between his superiors, local politicians and a seemingly inviolate crime-lord. Persisting with his investigations, he comes under attack, at which point his mission turns personal rather than professional. Famous for its (off-screen) violence – notably a scene involving Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and boiling coffee – Lang’s film is pacy, unsentimental and to the point in exploring the thin line between the law and rough justice. The robust direction, terse script and unfussy performances ensure the movie feels strangely modern.

CROSSFIRE | FROM FRI 24 NOV

USA 1947. Dir Edward Dmytryk. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young. 86min. 35mm. PG

This was one of Grahame’s earliest substantial roles. Her portrayal of a dance-hall girl who witnesses a murder earned her an Oscar® nomination and also set the mould for her screen persona. As the police investigation into the crime leads to a manhunt for a missing GI, the film takes an uncompromising look at the problems men had readjusting to life after war.

WED 15 NOV 18:30 NFT2 / SAT 18 NOV 18:30 NFT2

Sudden Fear + intro by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London*

USA 1952. Dir David Miller. With Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Jack Palance. 111min. Digital. PG

Gloria Grahame read Macbeth in preparation for the role of Irene Neves – looking to Lady Macbeth to locate the emotional drive to manipulate a man to murder, as she does with Palance’s actor-cum-fraudster Lester Blaine. Joan Crawford is at the film’s core and plays the melodramatic angle to perfection but Grahame is compelling as the driving force behind the murderous plot

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL | MON 13 NOV 20:30 NFT2* / SUN 19 NOV 17:00 NFT2

USA 1952. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon. 118min. 35mm. PG

This classic Hollywood take on the movie business tells the tale of a ruthless producer and the effect his dealings have on his friends and colleagues. Grahame received a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar® for her portrayal of Rosemary, the wife of screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Powell), despite being on screen for only nine minutes.

null

null

THE GLASS WALL | FRI 17 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / THU 30 NOV 20:35 NFT2

 + intro by season curator Jo Botting, BFI National Archive*

USA 1953. Dir Maxwell Shane. With Gloria Grahame, Vittorio Gassman, Ann Robinson. 85min. 35mm. PG

One of Grahame’s lesser-known titles, this film also offered her a rare starring role. She appears opposite Italian star Vittorio Gassman, who plays a Hungarian illegal immigrant determined to remain in the US, with one night to track down the person who can save him from deportation. Grahame gives an exquisite performance as a woman on the breadline who forms a bond with the desperate man.

HUMAN DESIRE | MON 20 NOV 18:20 NFT2* / MON 27 NOV 20:40 NFT

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford. 91min. 35mm. PG

The role of Vicki Buckley in this classic noir about a man’s affair with a married woman shows Grahame at her most complex and scheming. As the film progresses the layers of her character are slowly peeled away, and the audience teeter between sympathy for her tragic life and abhorrence at her capacity for manipulation

THE COBWEB | TUE 21 NOV 18:20 NFT3 / SUN 26 NOV 14:45 NFT1

USA 1955. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish. 123min

Vincente Minnelli’s lush melodrama revolves around the struggle for power among staff and inmates at a psychiatric hospital. Grahame plays the neglected wife of Dr McIver (Widmark), frustrated by his dedication to his work and stifled by the small-town mentality of those around her. The colour photography emphasises her brassiness, enhancing her waspish yet sensual performance.

OKLAHOMA! | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1955. Dir Fred Zinnemann. With Gloria Grahame, Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Rod Steiger. 145min. U

While she was not a natural chanteuse (she was tone-deaf) Grahame’s naïve, endearing vocal style in this musical western brings genuine charm to her portrayal of Ado Annie and she sung the role completely without dubbing. Annie’s romantic to-ing and fro-ing offers comic relief from Rod Steiger’s menacing pursuit of the wholesome Laurey (Jones), while the whole is interspersed with some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s liveliest tunes.

NAKED ALIBI | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1954. Dir Jerry Hopper. With Gloria Grahame, Sterling Hayden, Gene Barry. 86min

A policeman pursues a suspected murderer to a Mexican border town, both men driven by desperation and their own personal demons. Grahame is at her most seductive as a nightclub singer caught between them; she finally finds the love she’s desperate for, but will the chance for happiness come too late?

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

Merton of the Movies

USA 1947. Dir Robert Alton. With Gloria Grahame, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien. 82min

Showing how fast Hollywood forgot its roots, this broad parody of silent cinema was made barely 20 years after the coming of sound. Red Skelton was coached in physical comedy by Buster Keaton for his performance as a small-town boy seeking fame and fortune in the movies. Grahame luxuriates in the glamour of her role, as a film star who seduces the innocent abroad.

nullODDS AGAINST TOMORROW | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1959. Dir Robert Wise. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters. 96min

Director Robert Wise offers a heist movie with a twist, as Robert Ryan’s troubled WWII veteran confronts his prejudices when he embarks on a bank job with a black jazz performer (Belafonte). A very personal project for Belafonte, the film is one of the last Hollywood noirs ever produced. Grahame makes an impression in the small role of Ryan’s sexually frustrated neighbour, in her swansong as a screen siren.

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER STILL TO BE CONFIRMED 

 

Stronger (2017) | Bfi London Film Festival 2017

Dir.: David Gordon Green; Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson; USA 2017, 116 min.

Features based on true-life stories, particularly when terrorism is concerned, usually turn out to be questionable. But director David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) has plumbed new depths with the story of Jeff Baumann, who lost his legs in the terrorist attack during the Boston marathon in 2013.

Baumann (played by the film’s producer Gyllenhaal,) is a charmer, but a bum. He has split up with his girlfriend Erin (Maslany) for the third time, and after leaving work early to watch a Red Sox game, he knows that he has to it make up to her. So he promises to support her marathon run with a placard. Erin suspects that this will be the usual botched effort, but for once Jeff is on time – but in the wrong place. His efforts turn into a fight between Erin and his mother (Richardson), the alcoholic matriarch of a family of lazy underachievers. Only after Erin gets pregnant (we have to endure sex with violins playing), does mother give in: she delivers Jeff to Erin, complete with his artificial legs. But her middle class family refuse to tolerate sloppy underachievement.

On the positive side Jeff is shown around at sporting events just like a hero, and Green shows that this is an affront to Jeff’s sensibilities. But that’s about the only thing John Pollono gets right in his script based on Baumanm’s co-written memoir. Richardson is a caricature of a slovenly, over-protective mother, and the rest of the family are as one-dimensional in their drunken passivity, using the attention Jeff gets for endless selfie opportunities. Erin’s family are also stereotypical in their straightlaced lifestyle. Only once does STRONGER get behind the facade, when Jeff asks Erin: “why do you want me”. Sadly her martyrdom takes over again, and Jeff is literally delivered like a schoolboy from a bad home to the sanctity of proper discipline and achievement.

Green directs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, DoP Sean Bobbitt keeps it simple with one to one realism and Michael Brook’s score is suited to the whole exercise with its sentimental meowing. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

The Big Sick (2017) | Sundance London Festival 2017

Dir. Michael Showalter | Cast: Holly Hunter, Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan | US, 2016, 119 mins

A thoughtful and daringly witty script with some surprising twists and turns make this cross-cultural romantic drama, based on the true life of Pakistani Muslim comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his onscreen American girlfriend, a real pleasure. Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon co-wrote the script that successful sends up terrorism, religion and racism. The film is given a gutsy kick up the pants by Holly Hunter, superb as Emily’s mother, sparring with onscreen husband Ray Romano.

There’s a lot going on here aside from Emily’s parents’ spicy show and Kumail’s Pakistani family backstory that plays out very much like At Home with the Kumars. The film opens as Kumail is working Chicago’s comedy standup circuit with a group of convincing and funny collaborators. Naive but well-meaning, and very much a metrosexual man, Kumail drives Uber taxis in the daytime and endures regular dinners with ‘suitable’ girls who “just stop by” the family home, courtesy of his overbearing mother. MA student Emily (Kazan) enters the picture, blond and very American, and neither wants a relationship, despite hot sex on their first date. They continue to see each other, enjoying the chemistry and growing closer each day until Emily calls time on their affair realising that Kumail must marry a Muslim woman. Clearly this is not the end – despite verbal assurances to the contrary – but Emily’s sudden illness and hospitalisation forces Kumail to reconsider his future and his life. Enter Emily’s frank and forceful parents (Hunter and Romano) who at first reject him and then recognise his dedication to their rather spoilt daughter. Kumail feels warm and comfortable in this close and protective family, not dissimilar to his own.

Despite its indie credentials this is a slick and polished affair, believable and utterly engaging from start to finish with its rich vein of humour, strong performances and timely storyline. In short, it’s a winner. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 28 JULY 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Dir.: Matt Reeves; Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notari, Steve Zahn; USA 2017, 140 min.

In trying to make a ‘serious’ blockbuster, director/co-writer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has certainly achieved his intellectual intention. But the running time of 140 minutes is simply not justified by a narrative which too often treads water plundering Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and a biblical symbolism that takes us back all the way to the 1951 epic Quo Vadis.

WARS’s production values are nevertheless stunning, particularly the CGI images of the beasts whose war for planet earth is faring badly, led by its chief Ape Caesar (Serkis). The US troops, under the command of ‘The Colonel’ (Harrelson), a psychotic sadist, are driving Caesar’s army and civilians into the woods: extinction is a distinct possibility. After soldiers have killed Caesar’s wife and eldest son, the leader is bleeding tears of revenge and goes to hunt The Colonel down aided by Maurice (Konoval); Rocket (Notari) and Bad Ape (Zahn). On their way to The Colonel’s camp in the mountains, where large numbers of Apes are imprisoned, the group picks up a young mute girl, who they call Nova – a nice reference to the Linda Harrison character of the same name in the original 1968 Planet of Apes. When they reach the camp, Caesar is captured immediately and interrogated by The Colonel. Caesar is informed that he had to shoot his own son, afflicted by an illness that robs humans of their higher cognitive functions and the ability to speak. The Colonel is using the Apes to build a wall to resist the imminent arrival of US forces – but a reason why is never given. By the time these troops arrive, Caesar slips effortlessly into the Moses role, whilst Nova and the young Apes frolic around.

To be frank, Reeves has chosen the wrong genre to show this politically correct internal battle between Caesar and The Colonel: whilst the Colonel is (like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now) unhinged, Caesar dreams that his former opponent Koba (Stalin’s nom-de-guerre in the underground) appears to him; thus helping him to forsake personal revenge in the end. And we do not need signs like “Ape-ocalypse Now” in the military compound, since Reeves references his pet film often enough – right up to the helicopter formation during the battle scenes.

DoP Michael Seresin (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and composer Michael Giaccino (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) add terrific entertainment value, but ultimately the film fails the litmus test: our interest starts to wane after only 90 minutes (in the most comfortable of seats) and we are still required to sit through another fifty. Yet again, it boils down to less is more. Reeves’ effort to marry showmanship with a philosophical debate on the virtues of pacifism is doomed because, like all anti- war movies, the opulent fighting scenes are the beating heart of this hollow and gruelling ‘epic’. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 11 JULY 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

​Dir: Patty Jenkins | Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis | US | Adventure Drama

IMG_3790That sound you can hear right now is hundreds, if not thousands, of film writers and critics breathing a huge sigh of relief that they won’t need to think too hard about the positives in DC’s newest reboot of Wonder Woman. With a cast straight out any fanboy and girl’s dreams and more roles for women over 40 than you can shake a stick at, WONDER WOMAN is not only a welcome break from the usual male-centric superhero movies, but it also presents its audience with a truly engaging and thoroughly enjoyable storyline. Staring Israeli actress Gal Gadot and directed by the excellent Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003), the film manages to cleverly avoid the usual pitfalls of big summer blockbusters by offering up a plethora of very likeable characters and a wonderfully engaging plot. Fans and foes alike will have to admit that DC has finally got a big hit on its hands, and the fact that this was a female lead superhero movie is even sweeter for some.

​Diana (Gadot) lives on a mythical island inhabited by beautiful Amazonian warrior women, which has for centuries been hidden away from the prying eyes of the modern world. When American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the island with tens of German soldier in his pursuit, Diana goes to his rescue and helps free him from the wreckage of his war plane. Together, they hatch a plan to leave the island, him to go back to his top secret mission and her in search of Ares God of war, whom she believes is responsible for the current World War. Staring Robin Wright as the Amazonian warrior Antiope and Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, the film spends a rather unnecessary amount of time setting up the mythical story behind our heroine, but once it gets going, there’s no stopping it. Chris Pine manages to be both charming and insufferably smug, his performance is beautifully nuanced and commendably comedic at his own character’s expense.
​                                                                                                                                                                             Whether WONDER WOMAN is, as some have said, a feminist treatment of a classic story, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Gal Gadot not only puts in a brilliant performance, but also presents a whole new generation of little girls and boys with a badass alternative to the usual male counterparts. On the whole, the film is very silly in parts, but this does nothing to put a dampener on the proceedings. I would dare anyone not to be entertained, at least by its witty dialogue and touching storyline. A sure hit for DC and Warner Brothers. LINDA MARRIC.

WONDER WOMAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE 1 JUNE


​​

Walking Out (2017) |Sundance 2017

Directors|writers: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith Cast: Josh Wiggins, Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman | 91min | US | Adventure Drama

walking-outDirectors Alex and Andrew Smith make a welcome return to Sundance 15 years after The Slaughter Rule, with an auteurish inter-generational hunting adventure that is spare on narrative but long on macho bonding and wild grunting from its rather one-dimentional male leads.

With the cherished memory of hunting with his traditional father (Bill Pullman) echoing in the snowbound landscapes and mountain streams of Montana, hard-bitten dad Cal (Matt Bomer) takes his own teenage son Ted (Josh Wiggins) on an adventure that serves both as an iniation into the world of big game hunting and a rites of passage endurance test that will see their roles reversed and their lives changed forever.

Ted is a rather introspective Texas teenager attached to his mobile phone and his life in the city. Although he baulks at the idea of spending time out with his spiky father Cal, who loves nothing more than to track a moose or a stag, once Ted gets a taste for hunting and shooting, he starts to enjoy the wilds of nature until an accident forces him to dig deep into his inner reserves of stamina, courage and mental resiliance. WALKING OUT is a predictable but well-crafted drama enriched by Todd McMullen’s magnificent widescreen retro-style photography that gives the piece an almost poetic and transcendent feel. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON 1-4 JUNE 2017 | PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL

 

 

Finding Forrester (2000) | Eureka Dual format release

Dir: Gus Van Sant | Writer: Mike Rich | Cast: Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin | 136min |Drama | US

FINDING FORRESTER is a confident and complex character-driven drama that explores the story of two New Yorkers who couldn’t be more different. At opposite ends of the social scale they are drawn together by an intellectual pursuit; that of writing. As William Forrester, Sean Connery gives one of his finest performances never overplaying the tightly-scripted narrative. Rob Brown’s Jamal is impressive in a big-screen debut that resonates with its strength and authenticity.

In the Bronx, Jamal is a typical black teenager who lives for basketball and sleeps in late. William Forrester is an eccentric much older man, now a recluse he who once wrote a Pulitzer prize-winning novel and takes an interest in Jamal’s literary aspirations. After a chance meeting the two men gradually enhance each other’s existence in ways that are full of humanity and dark humour in a friendship that will prove beneficial to both. But first must kill their own demons in order to find their dreams. With a triumphant score and New York very much the third character this is an immersive and life-affirming watch. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 20 FEBRUARY 2017

 

Wild River (1960) | Dual Format release | Eureka Master’s of Cinema

Dir: Elia Kazan | Writer: Paul Osborn | Cast: Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, Albert Salmi, J C Flippen | 110min | Drama | US

The prologue to Elia Kazan’s Wild River, set in 1931, is black and white documentary footage depicting the Tennessee river flooding the county. A voiceover explains that The Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to dam the river but some residents living in homes on the banks and islands refused to move. From this touching if auspiciously New Deal propaganda opening WILD RIVER unfolds onto the screen in cinemascope and colour, giving us a melancholic story of change: the obdurate old against the rapid new, the individual versus the community, all entangled with questions about tradition and the positive side of progress.

TVA agent Chuck Glover (Montgomery Cliff) arrives from Washington to try and persuade Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) to move from Garth Island. It will soon be flooded but she refuses to leave. Glover meets Carol Garth (Lee Remick) and asks for her help to persuade the old woman to leave. She is a widow and single mother of two. Carol and Chuck fall in love. Chuck also develops a love and understanding of Ella and her connectedness to the land.

WILD RIVER has a classic simplicity. Kazan’s marvellously quietist direction digs deep into the complexities of this very American tale of ‘rugged individualism’ The early sequence of the Garth’s’ first meeting with Glover illustrates Kazan’s mastery at establishing his characters’ hopes and fears. Glover arrives at the farm and says he would like to talk to Ella. She says nothing, gets up from her rocking chair and goes indoors. Chuck then addresses Carol. She looks at him, revealing a slight hint that the stranger has awakened something inside her. Then she too remains silent and moves away. Chuck sees her six year old daughter sitting on the porch. Yet before he can befriend her she’s called in by her mother.

Glover threatens to uproot the Garths but they are staying put. We are made to feel the opposition of sense versus sensibility as Kazan draws out both the tenderness and danger of the encounter. It is a most basic confrontation, comprised of subtle glances and body language, yet so carefully and judiciously edited, introducing conflicts and hopes that the film will later develop (Note the exquisite framing and the moment when the front door is closed on Garth to evoke Ford’s The Searchers.)

WILD RIVER’s atmosphere is enhanced by Elsworth Fredericks’s photography. He and Kazan create lyrical compositions that are thoughtful and reflective even in the film’s moments of violence. Whilst Kazan’s direction of the romance between Montgomery Cliff and Lee Remick manages to achieve a screen chemistry up there with Marlon Brando and Eva Maria Saint in On the Waterfront. Such great acting, along with Jo Van Fleet’s superb performance (Remarkable for the fact that she was then aged forty five and made up to play a stubborn eighty year old woman of great dignity.)
“The most dangerous erosion is not to the land – it’s when your capacity for living gets eroded.”

Chuck refers here not only to the threat of social change, but ironically also his own inability to bond with Carol, who deeply loves him. For Wild River is a meditative film about the ambivalence of change and progress; with emotional loss being more intense than any material gain. Along with On the Waterfront, America, America and East of Eden Kazan is here at the height of his powers. ALAN PRICE

ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTER’S OF CINEMA

Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Martin Scorsese; Script: Paul Schrader; DoP: Michael Chapman; Score: Bernard Herrmann | 112 minutes | Cast: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, Albert Brooks, and Martin Scorsese.

Scorsese’s searing portrait of alienation is every bit as raw and relevant now as it was in 1976. But it carries with it a message of hope; a happy ending that so often is different from today’s reality. Robert De Niro plays a young Vietman war veteran who fetches up post-combat in a Manhattan bedsit, aimless and unable to sleep and : “Loneliness has followed me all my life”.

TAXI DRIVER captures New York in the seventies, a neon trashcan stuffed with the American Dream where hopes slowly seep away into the steaming sewers while politicians slogans still promise: “A Return to Greatness” forty years ago.

Meanwhile, in the city “all the animals come out at night: hustlers, pimps, pushers, frauds, and freaks—they’re all at large”.  So hero/loner Travis Bickle (De Niro) takes a job where he can work long hours driving out to Brooklyn, The Bronx and Harlem and popping pills and watching blue movies to relax. He’s a complex and strangely charismatic character driven to the edge by his seclusion. But when he sees Sybill Shepherd’s political campaigner Betsy working in a Columbus Circle office, he becomes obsessed with her grace and beauty and boldly asks her for a date. A mutual attraction but blossoms then deteriorates when he takes her to an explicit film. Travis Bickle’s latent pyschosis then floats to the surface of a landscape that is increasingly hostile and depraved, but distinctly New York in the ’70s,  as we are instantly wafted back there by Bernard Herrmann’s highly charged and woozily romantic score.

TAXI DRIVER is in many ways naive in its belief that its central protagonist can find salvation in such a sordid set of circumstances. When Travis is rejected by the fresh-faced college grad Betsy it feels like his world will implode and destruct but scripter Paul Schrader endows him with a backbone and integrity that fights back to vanquish evil, redeeming him as a hero of almost Christ-like proportions. He suffers, reaches out enters Hell and comes back again with glory. And De Niro plays him with a subtlety and strength of feeling and expression rarely seen on the bigscreen today. The spectrum of psychosis is so broad that it’s entirely plausible that this man eventually pulls through. He is not hard bitten criminal but a decent type who temporarily loses his way, like Dante’s hero.

More slick and than Scorsese’s other Manhattan movie Mean Streets, TAXI DRIVER is a deceptively nuanced narrative: drama, sex, politics, romance, violence coalesce in a richly textured character study. Scorsese himself appears in a vignette as a cuckolded husband watching his wife’s silhouette in her lover’s window; the scene in the gun parlour over-looking Manhattan island is full of authentic details, in another scene, a professional-looking street musician runs through Chuck Webb titles but nobody stops to listen.Travis Bickle is in some ways similar to Polanski’s tragic Parisian loner Trelkovsky in The Tenant which interestingly came out the same year. But he lacks the emotional ballast to underpin his psychosis, and get him back on the straight and narrow, like Travis. Clearly, Travis is a bundle of self-destructing neuroses but his redeeming feature is his respect and love for women. . He makes friends with the angelic and intelligent campaign worker, played by Cybill Shepherd. His unfortunate choice of movie shocks her, and their palpable sexual chemistry is unable to overcome this grave error on his part, committed not intentionally but due to his mind swimming with a complex brew of emotions and ideas. Jodie Foster plays a sympathetic teenage hustler, whose inner vulnerability captures Travis’ imagination and is his saving grace. Harvey Keitel plays a sleazy pimp. None of Scorsese’s main characters are inherently evil; they are just ordinary people driven to the wrong side of the tracks through of force of circumstance. And that’s probably why, with its positive, message of hope, TAXI DRIVER won the Palme d’Or that year, while The Tenant went away empty-handed despite its similar narrative vigour and acclaimed performances. MT

TAXI DRIVER IS BACK IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 10 FEBRUARY AND AS PART OF THE BFI MARTIN SCORSESE RETROSPECTIVE UNTIL THE END OF FEBRUARY 2017 

 

 

Gold (2017)

Dir: Stephen Gagham | Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp | US | Adventure Drama | 121min

“Inspired by true events”, is the old chestnut that warns us to be deeply sceptical about Stephen Gaghan’s ambitious attempt at boys own adventure with a financial thriller in his latest drama GOLD.

The perfect vehicle for Matthew McConaughey to play a traditional Southern oilman armed irrepressibly pioneering for the American Dream, it sees him break out from the confines of his father’s mining company to forge a booze-soaked path to hell and high-finance when he bets his bottom dollar and joins forces with the legendary geologist and copper striker Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) to forge a precious metal venture in the wilds of Indonesia.

As Kenny Wells, McConaughey cuts a comical figure, half Hottentot, half orangutang, striving with a genial gusto that impels him forward to keep panning for gold, despite numerous setbacks, and a narcissistic self-belief that sees him continually coming up smelling of roses, despite smoking a cartload of Marlboros on his indefaticable journey to the dream. But despite this ebullient tour de force and a gilt-edged ending, the film falls flat around him, largely due to an overly episodic and scatty script by Patrick Massett and John Zinman.

GOLD is a story rich in dramatic elements: an amiable opening in early ’80s Albuquerque, where Kenny courts his sweetheart Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) while working for the family business,Washoe Mining, father Craig T Nelson), an economic down-turn where Kenny scrapes the barrel and loses his home and is reduced to living in Kay’s flat-pack villa; an exciting interlude in the steamy jungles of Jakarta where the prospecting story deepens; and the lustrous lure of Wall Street where their discovery hits the dealing rooms. What transpires is a muddled mess, where even the score with its inappropriate hits has us confused and uninspired. (what has Iggy Pop got to do with gold mining or Wall Street for that matter). Bewildering too, is a series of flash-forwards to an interview with Kenny and an mystery interrogator (Toby Kebbell), which intends to elucidate but actually leaves us in the dark. Despite all this, GOLD is strangely enjoyable and entertaining –  rather like a piss-up in a brewery; you’re not quite sure what’s happening next, but it seemed fun in the afterglow, largely due to McConaughey and his antics. And although his character lacks impact, emotional integrity or intelligence there’s an authenticity to his relationship with Kay. And, in this end, his self-centredness is what really saves him. Kenny is not a selfish man, but his narcissistic self-regard prevents him from actually seeing the truth of the situation. Acosta is a man of few words who remains a cypher and a dark horse until the final denouement.

Corey Stoll’s New York investment banker is well played and Kenny’s flirt with Rachael Taylor’s City femme fatale provides relief but this is very much a one note film with few dramatic peaks and troughs despite the dramatic possibilities. Gaghan direction is uninspiring with the use of split screens feeling rather ineffective. The jungle scenes, filmed in Thailand are the most visually entrancing part of a drama that somehow fails to in impact despite its energy and potential. MT

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

 

 

 

 

 

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) | Bluray release

Director: Robert Wise | Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, Nelson Gidding; from a novel by William P. McGivern.

Cast: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame.

USA / Crime drama / 95mins

If ever a movie was made for Blu-ray this is it! It comes as no surprise to learn that Jean-Pierre Melville owned a copy of this, and watched it more than eighty times.

A downbeat heist film in the vein of The Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, The Killing and Melville’s own Bob le Flambeur, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW follows three desperate losers scratching a precarious living bumping along the lower depths of American society, to whom embittered ex-cop Ed Begley pitches a seemingly simple bank robbery that in Begley’s words will “let us live again”.

One of the gang has to be black in order to impersonate a black delivery boy; and therein lies the heist’s fatal flaw. Harry Belafonte reluctantly agrees to take on the job because he owes a loan shark $7,500. The third gang member is Robert Ryan in all-out bigoted psycho mode as a Southern racist from Oklahoma who’s done time for assault with a deadly weapon and manslaughter, is incapable of holding down a job owing to his quick temper, and is now suffering the indignity of being supported by his sad, put-upon girlfriend Shelley Winters. When Begley pitches his plan to him, he initially rejects it because “You didn’t say nuttin’ ’bout the third man being a nigger.” (His words, not mine!) But, like Belafonte, it’s his only chance of escaping the hole he’s in. (It’s plain that Ryan just can’t get along with people, and his problem with blacks is just one facet of a much bigger problem. We learn that he lost one of his jobs because of a bust up with “a Polack foreman in the auto works”. Nor has Belafonte much time either for whitey, and he chides his ex-wife for attempting to fit in: “It’s their world and we’re just living in it”). Ryan – possibly the greatest film actor never to win an Academy Award – is as usual superb; but Begley – no slouch at playing angry bigots himself – is if anything even better in the less showy part of the heist’s avuncular mastermind perplexed by Ryan’s attitude to Belafonte and forced to keep the two off each other like kids scrapping in a school playground. But the real star is cameraman Joseph Brun.

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW is often claimed to be one of the last of the film noirs, but too much of this takes place in realistically filmed broad daylight to properly qualify as a canonical noir. (Only in the movies, though, could the neighbour needing a babysitter be played by the unique Gloria Grahame, who wants to hear from Ryan “How did it feel when you killed that man?”) And what daylight! Those skies! It’s the best looking black & white film ever made; and Joseph Brun’s photography a masterclass in what the cinema lost when it abandoned black & white (along with stylish title design like the bizarre opening credits in which the novelist John Oliver Killens originally served as a front for the blacklisted Hollywood scriptwriter Abraham Polonsky). Much of Odds Against Tomorrow takes place in bitingly cold winter sunshine in New York; and the combination of glacial deep focus and the skilful, unobtrusive use of zooms renders the film’s locations and interiors so tangibly real you feel as if you’re actually there. It’s like watching 3D, especially in the final gut-wrenching nighttime robbery sequence (shot in Hudson in upstate NY), which packs in enough noir atmosphere to more than make up for lost time. Robert Wise also took the opportunity to do something that “I’d been wanting to do in some pictures but hadn’t had the chance”, and used infra-red film in some sequences, such as the opening shot of Robert Ryan in the street. Aided by John Lewis’s silky jazz score played by the Modern Jazz Quartet, the mood and look of Odds Against Tomorrow anticipates the similarly baleful atmosphere of Alan Pakula’s Klute.

Richard Chatten.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

Cafe Society (2016) | Cannes 2016

13227243_1104471159573819_1339233737504469676_o copyDirector|Writer: Woody Allen

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kelly Rohrbach, Anna Camp, Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis, Paul Schneider, Ken Stott

96min | Comedy Drama | US

CAFE SOCIETY satirises showbiz and gangsterland America during the 1930s, all wrapped up in a bittersweet romantic love story for a young New Yorker seeking his fortune in Hollywood.

The tone is upbeat and the musical choices spot on as Woody Allen’s latest film opens the 69th Cannes Film Festival with a clever cocktail of razzmatazz and auteur-driven artistry. Sunlit and softly-focused, CAFE SOCIETY blends the hilarious humour of Small Time Crooks, the gorgeous sunsets of Manhattan, the wittiness of Annie Hall and romantic tenderness Husbands and Wives and whizzes it all into a 5-star cocktail where Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart spark like dynamite as young lovers Vonnie and Bobby who meet when the naive Jewish ingenue arrives at the offices of his uncle Phil, a big studio executive in Hollywood, where he fetches up jobless and friendless after leaving New York.

After Bobby turns down the advances of a first time hooker, also in Hollywood to make her name, a tender romance blossoms when Uncle Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby the sights. It slowly emerges that Uncle Phil also has his finger in this romantic pie, promising to leave his wife Karen for the young brunette, in an on off affair that is celebrated when Vonnie, star struck by Phil’s power play, gives him a signed letter from Valentino for their one year paper anniversary. Meanwhile in New York, Allen plays up the other side of America where Bobby’s classic Jewish mother (a perfectly tart Shae D’Iyn) is keeping the homefires burning, in bitter disgruntlement with her loser of a husband (Ken Stott) “you don’t even have a Jewish head”, and her other son Ben (Corey Stoll), a financially dodgy nightclub owner who deep-sixes his rivals in liquid cement.

Splicing this tender but tragic love story with swipes at the Hollywood machine – “you wouldn’t know me –  I’m a writer”, and his beloved Jewish roots – “when a Jew cooks something it’s always over-done to get rid of the bacteria” – CAFE SOCIETY also offers some sublime musical choices from the vintage jazz world (often performed live) in what is Woody’s wittiest and most incisive film in a long time. Lensed by the thrice Oscar winning DoP Vittorio Storaro, this is a gorgeous film to look at as well as an enjoyable one to watch and the ups and downs of the romantic underpull keep things nicely taut in its modest running time. Jesse Eisenberg comes into his own as Allen’s alter ego, morphing seemlessly from a tentative “deer in the headlights” to a shrewd businessman but decent and disillusioned lover and Kristen Stewart is both vulnerable and alluring as the cunning love interest with her eye to the main chance. Steve Carrell is commanding as the power-punching megalith weakened by the lure of love. At 80 Woody Allen offers a happy ending in a story where the bad get their comeuppance, successful men make the best lovers, and clever women know the difference between the two. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

Equity (2016)

Dir.: Meera Menon

Cast: Anna Gunn, Sarah Megan Thomas, James Purefoy, Lee Tergesen, Alysia Reiner, Samuel Roukin

110min | USA 2016 | Drama

Director Meera Menon’s second feature, written by Amy Fox and co-produced by two of the leading stars, Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner,  sees Wall Street as a shabby place of deceit and back-stabbing, but, unlike the Wolf of Wall Street (where women were just trophies), there is no hedonism involved – and the only substance abuse is a pregnant woman drinking a glass of wine. Women in the City are too busy fighting male discrimination to have time for self-indulgence and displays of grandeur. Whether they are better than the money men, is left open.

Senior investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) is preparing a new IPO for her company: Cachet. The brainchild of Ed (Roukin), the new social media site is bigger and much more secure than Facebook. But Naomi is suffering from the failure of her last IPO, and her boss Randall (Tergesen), is more interested in playing with his Jenga tower than the details of the operations. That said, he does not let forget her failure. In a place were innuendos and rumours are often more powerful than figures, the comment “Naomi brushed up the clients of her last deal the wrong way” is just code for “she is not flirty enough”.

But forty something home boxing fan Naomi is no lightweight, but bloody good at her job. It’s the company she keeps that contributes to her downfall: her part time lover, hedge-fund broker Michael Connor (Purefoy) seems to more interested in the Cachet deal than making love to Naomi. And – beware of deputies – Naomi’s second-in-command, Erin Manning (Thomas), feels wronged by her boss who denied her a promotion, and will do everything to get her revenge. Erin sees her pregnancy and wimpy boyfriend as a hindrance in her quest for success. Still, Naomi needs Erin to be nice to Randall, after a source revealed that Cachet might not be so secure as advertised. The third women involved is an old friend of Naomi’s, Samantha. Joggling a lesbian lover and twins in her spare time, she works for the Justice Department, earning a fraction of the remuneration paid in banking. After bagging a trader, Samantha is soon convinced that Michael is also involved in manipulating the opening price of the Cachet IPO. Naomi’s future – to take over the global leadership of the bank – is tied to the success of her IPO, which is in the hands of Erin and Samantha.

There are some entertaining scenes in Equity: when Naomi is stressed during a meeting, she sees another man munching the same cookies as she is – but his have more chocolate chips – she explodes, making him count the chips! And when hedge-fund broker Michael passes on a tip about Cachet to a dealer, the information is hidden in a toy hedgehog. Equity offers a new perspective on the world of high finance, but does not follow the rules of the classic finance thriller. Manipulation and treachery are just as rife amongst the She-Wolfs of Wall Street as with their male colleges. The ensemble acting is admirable, with Gunn stealing the show. DoP Eric Lin images creates a hard-edged and cold-hearted environment overloaded with tacky art bought as an investment rather than an adornment. Naomi’s catch-phrase is ‘Money is not a dirty word.’ AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 2 SEPTEMBER 2016

Wiener Dog (2016)

Director: Todd Solondz

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Charlie Tahan, Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Zosia Mamet

90min | Comedy | US

Todd Solondz is often seen as a divisive figure in the world of filmmaking where his dark comedies are often uncomfortable to watch despite their mordant humour and edgy subjects. His eighth feature, the intriguingly titled Wiener-Dog is no exception. For those of us who may wonder at this canine breed, it is a dachshund or more commonly known as the sausage dog. And this one is billed as no ordinary pet who ‘changes or inspires’ the lives of its various owners, who will possibly enrage you but certainly leave you dreadfully sad.

WIENER-DOG takes the form of a series of four vignettes featuring the dog in question whose peripatetic life leads him to a selection of owners – and not all appear to be animal lovers. We first meet the female dachshund languishing in a cage in a dog’s home, where her little paws are trying to find a comfortable spot to settle down. Bought by the father of a boy to help him on remission from cancer (Keaton Nigel Cooke), his mother Dina (Julie Delpy) takes an instant dislike to the pooch, emerging from her own childhood pet who was ‘raped’ by a dog called Mohammed, and has him speedily put down.

But Greta Gerwig’s veterinary nurse Dawn Wiener (the grown-up version of the shy girl in Welcome to the Dollhouse) takes pity on Wiener-Dog and nurses her back to life before embarking on a weird weekend with an ex-classmate she meets while shopping. Leaving the pup with her friend’s Down Syndrome brother and his wife, Wiener-Dog ends up with Danny DeVito’s professor of film studies who is despairing of his lacklustre students. Clearly Solondz brings his personal feelings into this caustic satire: he dislikes dogs, and doesn’t think much of modern day Hollywood or even men called Mohammed…go figure.

But the closing chapter really takes the dog biscuit when it comes to cruelty, in an hilarious segment involving a bitter old woman (a superb Ellen Burstyn) who re-names the dog ‘Cancer’ and reminisces over her mispent youth. Beautifully filmed by award-winning DoP Ed Lachman (Carol) WIENER-DOG is an acquired taste – enjoyable enough but with an ending that is the worst nightmare for any self-respecting dog lover. You have been warned. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT SUNDANCE LONDON | PROGRAMME

 

Burroughs: The Movie | Criterion Collection UK

Dir.: Howard Brookner | Documentary with William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg; 90min | USA

What started as an expanded version of Howard Brookner’s MA thesis in 1978, became the portrait of beatnik author William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

The film premiered at the New York Film Festival and was based on the first time writer/director’s extensive footage that featured over a hundred hours of his subject shot between 1978 and 1983. Soon afterwards the documentary ‘got lost’, but Brookner’s nephew Aaron rediscovered it a few years ago in Burroughs’s flat in 222 Bowery in New York, ‘guarded’ by the poet John Giorno. Aaron not only helped with the restoration of the film material, but set Howard Brookner a moving tribute with his own documentary Uncle Howard, his subject having died aged thirty four in 1984 of complications from AIDS, a few days before his first feature film, Bloodhounds of Broadway, starring Madonna, was released.

It tells how William S. Burroughs was born into a wealthy family in St. Louis in 1914, and lived on for 83 years, despite “having ingested enough heroin to kill several entire rock bands”. He walks through the film like his own ghost, dressed immaculately in expensive suits, looking very much like a banker. When he turned up to give his readings in the off-beat New York venues, security staff at the door often refused to admit him, fearing he was a undercover agent. Burroughs shares much of his outward demeanour with another native of St. Louis, the poet T.S. Elliot (1888-1965), who actually worked as a banker, and cultivated the look of an aristocratic British gentleman covering up the turmoil of emotional contradictions.

Burroughs comes over as robotic, not only in his readings, but also when he talks about his past and his monotonous delivery often makes this a tough watch despite its fascinating content. When recounting the accidental death of his wife Joan Vollmer in Mexico in 1951, he seems to be talking like bystander – not a man who shot his wife, restaging the William Tell incident – a glass replacing the apple. His relationship with his son from this marriage, William S. Burroughs jr., was fraught, the young man died during the shooting of the film of liver cirrhosis in his mid thirties. Instead, Burroughs invested all his emotions in James Grauerholz (*1953), who was introduced by Allen Ginsberg into the circle. Grauenholz became Burroughs’ private secretary and ‘protector’ for the rest of his life, and his literal executor after his death. When William Burroughs muses over old family photos with his brother Mortimer in St. Louis, there is no hint of how different the brothers were, apart from one remark by Mortimer criticising his brother for the language used in Naked Lunch. Furthermore, when talking to the family gardener about his dead son, Burroughs very much comes across as the understanding patriarch of a feudal family. The true Burroughs emerges much more when talking about Wilhelm Reich’s ‘Orgone Box’ (which was supposed to give physical health through orgasms), to which Bill credits his longevity. The same Reich – a former student of Freud – who, incarcerated in an American prison, blamed Stalin for his imprisonment. And Burroughs really cuts loose when re-enacting a scene from his Naked Lunch, clad in a bloodied surgeon dress, performing a messy operation.

DoP Tom De Cillo conjures up a morose landscape, the overriding feeling is sadness as Burroughs traipses catatonically through the film like a, bereft of any compassion or empathy. He is a great raconteur but there are no smiles, let alone laughter – never anything but William S. Burroughs. The director’s puppy-love for his subject cannot hide a man caught in himself, lonely and terminally depressed, whatever the circumstances. Burroughs the author seems to have scarified everything about himself for his art – alone for decades in his symbolically soundproofed and windowless flat in New York’s Bowery. AS

RELEASED AS PART OF THE CRITERION UK SELECTION on 11 JULY 2016

 

Queen of Earth (2015) Mubi Retro

Director/Writer: Alex Ross Perry | Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Patrick Fugit, Katherine Waterson, Kate Lyn Shiel | 90mins  Drama Thriller US

One of America’s best loved indie directors takes a dramatic left turn with this entrancing thriller. He broke onto the scene with his low budget road trip comedy The Colour Wheel in 2011 and won over audiences with the wonderfully narcissistic Listen Up Philip, but Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of the Earth is a different fish entirely. Boasting yet another scenery-devouring central performance from Elisabeth Moss, QUEEN OF THE EARTH is a film of passive aggression, crumbling friendships and psychological trauma in an idyllic wooden cabin in the outskirts of New York.

We’re introduced to Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) in unforgiving close-up. Her boyfriend is breaking up with her. She’s in a bit of a mess. She wants to get away from it all, so decides to take a trip to her friend Jinny’s family cabin. We learn that the women have been friends for years but flashbacks to previous summers suggest it’s a relationship in free-fall decline.

It becomes apparent that neither Catherine nor Jinny have had such a difficult ride and, as blows are exchanged about their respective upbringings, a rotting passive aggressive atmosphere grows. When a local guy called Rich (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit, all grown up) is thrown into the mix things reach critical levels of toxicity. Nerves are shot; eggshells get trampled; Catherine soon loses her marbles.

The female ‘force-of-nature’ angle that Perry’s title suggests is never quite fully realized, but Moss has plenty of fun with it anyway. The Mad Men star gives a terrific central performance, stretching and contorting Catherine’s psyche into various degrees of mental disrepair. Katherine Waterston, hot on the heels of her Inherent Vice breakthrough, offers a fitting foil in the supporting role.

Fans of Listen Up Philip will be pleased to see Sean Price Williams back behind the camera and his lightweight grainy handheld photography is just as beautiful here, fitting surprisingly well into the psychological horror mold. The change of pace from Perry’s earlier outings might seem alarming and yet, with Mumblecore/gore head honcho Joe Swanberg among the producers; perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. Indeed, Queen of the Earth might seem a long way away from Jason Schwartzman’s troubled author and yet it does sort of fit in with the director’s fascination with narcissism in extremis. Whatever the case, it’s terrifically uncomfortable stuff and, for Perry’s catalogue, a finely navigated diversion. Rory O’Connor

ALEX ROSS PERRY SEASON | NOW AT MUBI | BERLINALE REVIEW 2015

Suture (1993) | Dual Format Blu| DVD release

Writer| Director: Scott McGehee

Cast: Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, Sab Shimono, Dina Merrill, Michael Harris, David Graf

99min | Thriller | US

SUTURE starts out like a Helmut Lang fashion shoot that morphs into an early ’90s episode of CSI meets Emergency Ward Ten, if ever there was one. Stylish and slick in its chairoscuro monchrome credentials yet rather stagey in its execution and hollow in its characterisation. It is certainly ominous in tone, intimate in its close-ups and visually intriguing while leaving you hollow and empty like an evening with the ‘in crowd’.

We are in Phoenix Arizona where two unlikely brothers meet up for the first time in years: a black one named Clay (Dennis Haysbert) and his half-brother called Vincent (Michael Harris) who is white. All the other characters in this cult classic curio are of the persuasiom that the two look alike and this is vital to the plot. Not that there is much of a plot – this is more a stylised concept than a real story as it never really develops beyond the initial idea which is the brainchild of one Scott McGehee whose flimsy narrative serves merely as an vehicle for him to try out a series of interesting visual techniques and glossy mise-en-scenes.

Borrowing from Hitchcock and Bunuel, SUTURE loosely explores the premise that Vincent is the only person aware of the existence of his ‘identical’ half brother. So if he murders Clay, the body will be identitfed as Vincent’s; enabling Vincent to do away with their father, claim a vast inheritance and then disappear while everyone thinks he is dead. All this works quite ingeniously but the film is so theatrical and self-conscious it fails to be convincing as it plays out like a series of commercials for linen suits, cars, shower equipement or even art deco light fittings; more aware of how it is looking than how it is engaging the viewer as a piece of engaging cinema. Scott McGhee and his co-director David Siegel lack the directorial experience to make the arrestingly visual glide over something more meaningful and immersive. They have achieved the former but not the latter in this promising visual experiment. MT

ON DUEL FORMAT BLU\DVD COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO | 4 JULY 2016

55 Days in Peking (1963) | Bluray release

Director: Nicholas Ray  Script: Robert Hamer

Cast: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven, Flora Robson, John Ireland, Harry Andrews, Robert Helpmann

154min | Action Drama | US

55 DAYS IN PEKING is an action drama depicting the 1900 Boxer Rebellion: an ethnic cleansing exercise to purge China of its foreign element. The film opens as British Consul, Sir Arthur Robertson (an excellent David Niven) and US Marine Major, General Matt Lewis (a convincing Charlton Heston) join forces to lead a resistance movement, expecting military relief to arrive within days. And although the film shows the rebels laying siege to the compound with nationalism ultimately winning through, the film lacks a coherent Chinese perspective – so why should we bother watching it today? Well mainly because it’s not simply a 1960’s history lesson.

Firstly, this is a Nicholas Ray film. Ray was a great outsider director, who made 55 Days at Peking hoping to make the money for more personal projects (Sadly, the film made no money). Secondly, it’s a thoughtful historical film coming at the tail-end of Hollywood’s wide screen epics (El Cid, Spartacus, and The Fall of the Roman Empire et all). Thirdly, 55 Days employs real extras and utilises superbly designed sets to create an authenticity that is more conducive to action/adventure film-making than today’s CGI. And finally the film’s principal scriptwriter is Philip Yordan, a highly intelligent writer who worked regularly with Nicholas Ray.

Unfortunately the biggest problem with 55 Days at Peking is that Ray collapsed on set and wasn’t allowed to finish the film. Andrew Marton, Ray’s second unit director, took over. The film then sags somewhat in the middle. Yet the battle scenes remain very exciting (remember Andrew Marton directed the thrilling chariot race in Wyler’s Ben-Hur). Ray was always a master of wide screen detail – Rebel Without a Cause, Party Girl and King of Kings being notable achievements. However Ray’s subtle eye for dense imagery and power of expressive composition, especially for the interiors of the court with the Empress (a commanding Flora Robson), is later on missing.
The most emotionally engaging scene of the film is when Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) has to tell a young Chinese/American girl Teresa (Lynne Sue Moon) that her US marine father has been killed. Lewis’s awkwardness and repression contrasted with Teresa’s openness and honesty is very touching. Suddenly it’s the Nicholas Ray of Rebel employing sensitive and nuanced direction. Given that Ava Gardner (playing a Russian Baroness) and Charlton Heston are the film’s leads, apart from their first encounter, there is no real passion or screen chemistry between them. Gardner’s performance feels somewhat detached. Perhaps because too many of the Andrew Marton directed scenes were condensed.

Although flawed 55 Days at Peking is never as bad as its reputation would have you believe. It’s an intelligent film that lovers of Ray’s work and ’60s epics must see. A film that promised so much, yet sadly resulted in Ray never again directing a major feature film. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY

 

Gilda (1946) | Criterion Collection UK

Dir.: Charles Vidor | Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready |USA 1946 | 109 min.

Two of Hollywood’s most iconic films, both directed by Hungarians, share a rather haphazard way of shooting: Michael Curtiz’ scriptwriters for Casablanca, Philip and Julius Epstein and Howard Koch, waited every day for a new development during WWII, trying to get the newest changes on the front into their script; while producer/ scriptwriter Virginia von Upp delivered the script for Vidor’s GILDA (based on a short story by E.A. Ellington) at the rate of one or two pages at a time – usually on the day of shooting.

Gambler Johnny Farrell (Ford) is saved by casino owner Ballin Mundson (Macready) after the losers in his last card game try to rob him of his winnings. Mundson employs Farrell as his assistant while he is away working as frontman for a Nazi organisation in South America. Mundson, a misogynist like Farrell himself, returns with a bride in the shape of Gilda (Hayworth). Farrell seems to be employed to look after Gilda, making sure his boss’s prize possession doesn’t meet other men – while falling for her himself. After Mundson fakes his own death, Farrell and Gilda marry but he wants his new wife, to remain faithful to her first husband. When Mundson, very much alive, learns about the marriage, he wants revenge – but a lavatory attendant kills him with his own stiletto.

Before shooting started on September 7th 1945, the marriage of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles was very much on the rocks, and an announcement was made that the couple was divorcing – even though there was a late reconciliation (for the time being). Columbia boss Harry Cohen was very keen in following the Hayes Codes to the point that the film did not make any sense (Gilda turned out to be a lady and not the tramp). He fostered a romance between Hayworth and Glenn Ford for the newspapers. Ford and Hayworth led him a merry dance, staying on the studio long after shooting: the money conscious Cohen asked them to leave: “I can’t keep the studio open all night. It costs money. Now, get the hell out of here and don’t forget to shut off the lights when you leave.” The pair had another drink on Harry.

GILDA is full of sexual innuendos: when Gilda and Johnny are dancing she says: “I have to keep dancing, Johnny, as long as I have my arms about you, or else I might forget to dance. Push my hat back, Johnny’”. The people in the Hayes Censorship office had obviously never heard that the star’s hair is used as a sexual metaphor. Neither did they object to Hayworth (or better Anita Ellis) singing “Puut the blame on Mame”, stripping off her long gloves, and asking the audience to help her with her striptease: “I’m not so good with zippers”. GILDA changed Hayworth’s image for good: she was no longer the good girl from the musicals but one of the new breed, the deadly femme fatale of the film noir, in the footsteps of Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon), Clare Trevor (Farewell my Lovely), Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) and Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice).

Glenn Ford was not very fond of the director: “Mr. Vidor was a very strict, demanding director who had a streak of sadistic, Hungarian love-hate understanding, and he sort of nurtured that aspect. His instructions, before we did a scene or were thinking of doing it, were pretty incredible – even in today’s market. I can’t repeat the things he used to tell us to think about. They are marvellous images to hold.”

Apart from Hayworth, Polish born DoP Rudolph Mate (To Be or Not to Be), was the other stars of Gilda. The black and white images literally glitter when the camera trails on Hayworth: the light plays with her, treating her like a dark, dangerous creature illuminated by star light. Her floating presence alone is the total subversion of the Hayes Code. AS

OUT ON 30TH JUNE 2016 COURTESY OF THE CRITERION COLLECTION UK

Close Encounters of the Third Kind | Director’s Cut (1998) | Re-release

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon

35mm | Fantasy Drama | US | 137min

Combining scenes from both the 1977 original version and the 1980 Special Edition, Close Encounters, released in the same year as the first Star Wars film, proves that director Steven Spielberg, at 28 years old, was a child of the 1950s: Close Encounters being a compendium of SF films from his teenage years, feeding on the fears of the Cold War.

Electrician Roy Neary (Dreyfuss) encounters an UFO on the road while investigating a widespread power cut. Somehow believing that he is in secret contact with aliens, he tries to rebuild the scene of his encounter, so that he can meet them. His wife Ronnie (Garr), his three children and the whole neighbourhood is convinced that he is going mad. In a parallel narrative, four year old Cary Guffey runs away from home in the middle of the night and is picked up by a spaceship, leaving his mother Jillian (Dillon) desperate to regain her son. Roy and Jillian meet and with the help of the US military and the French scientist Claude Lacombe (Truffaut), make contact with the spaceship. Although Jillian is only too happy to be re-united with her son. Roy, whose family has left him, is overjoyed to join the aliens on their journey home.

Spielberg takes his story seriously delivering some slapstick scenes, particularly when Roy is going overboard with his quest for meeting the aliens. These creatures are rather benign yet somewhat enigmatic. After landing in a secret field in Wyoming for the final sequence, they deliver the sailors of the navy ship Cotopaxi, which is found empty in the Gobi desert, and some crew from WWII planes, before taking the grateful Roy in exchange. Spielberg’s explanations are rather diffuse, being a mixture of religious and philosophical ramblings.

The final segment in the desert is stunning, but also includes a lengthy quote from Hitchcock’s North by North West, when Roy and Jillian try to climb a mountain, very much in the manner of Eva-Marie Saint and Gary Grant. Overall, one never has the feeling that writer/director Spielberg offers his own take on SF, unlike Kubrick’s vision in 2001. Close Encounters reallt belongs to DoP Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the only Oscar of all the many nominations the film garnered), special effects supervisor Dalton Trumbull and composer John Williams.AS

OUT NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 27 MAY 2016 Courtey of Park Circus Films

 

Spotlight (2016) | DVD Blu release

Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Richard Jenkins (voiceover)

Child abuse is as tragic a subject for the Catholic Church as Christ’s death on the cross. Tom McCarthy delves deep with this candid and intimate-feeling look at a newspaper exposé of one of their child abuse cases.

SPOTLIGHT takes the form of a rigorous and absorbing procedural by a band of journalists – not dissimilar in feel to All the President’s Man or the classical US-TV show Lou Grant (starring Edward Asner as the editor of a fictional newspaper), and  Spotlight has not made any aesthetic progress on this film or early 80s newspaper series. Stringing together ‘ah-ha’ moments from a random list of discoveries, chance conversations and ad hoc encounters until a picture slowly but surely emerges and the audience derives and even savours a palpable sense of conspiratorial satisfaction in uncovering a case concerning the extra curricular activities of nearly 100 Catholic priests’ in the Boston area (and statewide in Massachusetts) that had systematically been concealed by the Church in Boston for over a decade.

Following four senior journalists on the city’s Globe newspaper between 2001 and 2002 – Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, Michael Keaton as Walter Robinson (the Globe’s editor) and Rachel McAdams, Sacha Pfeiffer – all in relaxed ‘chinos-mode’, they are aided and abetted by experienced hack Matt Caroll (Brian D’Arcy James). Each has a different slant on their reporting but Pfeiffer, in particular, has a pleasant bedside manner and elicits candid confessions from people who had been subtly groomed by members of the clergy of which 50 percent were ‘celibate’ – amounting to around 90 priests: “this was the first time in my life someone told me it was ok to be Gay – and it was a Priest” and from the priests: “I fooled around with them but I never got any pleasure myself”.  But in no way are these revelations sensationalised as they are portrayed as part of the evidence.

Mark Ruffalo is on strong form as an earnest hack who’s like a dog with a bone in his investigating technique – attentive to every single nuance; nothing escapes his gaze as he works night and day on a case that’s unpopular as it’s unsavoury. Keaton plays it sober straight down the line. He won’t take any nonsense “we’re writing a story about the Catholic Church making a cottage industry out of paeodophilia”.

But it’s the The Globe’s new editor is Marty Baron, an unmarried Jewish guy from Florida (making him diametrically apposed to the average Bostoner) who ferrets out the original story and he gives a performance that’s quietly and impressively compelling. As children sing “Silent Night” as the sobering final moments play out. and unfortunately there are no happy endings for this intelligent and absorbing adult thriller. MT

SPOTLIGHT IS NOW OUT ON DVD BLURAY  | VENICE REVIEW 2015

 

Paterson (2016) |

Writer/Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani | Drama | US | 118min

Jim Jarmusch’s Palme d’Or Cannes competition entry could be described as ‘cuddly and serene’. PATERSON has Adam Driver as the eponymous New Jersey bus conductor who cherishes pretensions as a poet. The tone is upbeat, the pacing languid in a film that plays out as a meditation on untapped creative potential.

Unremarkably, Paterson lives an ordinary and cosseted existence in a town called Paterson with his pleasant Iranian-American wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and his daily duties involve walking his English bulldog, Marvin, and taking a leisurely beer at a bar while he shoots the breeze with the locals. Does he write those musings for the London Underground, one may ask? Potentially he might, for he treasures his notebook where he scribbles down lines of poignant poetry (they are, in fact, the work of the 73-year-old Oklahoma-born poet Ron Padgett.) but he quails away from publishing them as, for Paterson, these words are a private diary. Many secret writers often blog away on the internet all day with no conscious realisation that their words could potentially go viral, read by millions, but imagine they are tucking thoughts away in the ‘soi-disant’ anonymity of the web. In some ways Jarmusch has found another way of linking his narrative to contempo audiences through through this cosy tale that is influenced by 1950s pre-counterculture.

Jarmusch pictures Paterson and Laura’s life as idyllic and stress-free. Laura is a homemaker with artistic qualities that involve plastering the interior of their place in geometric patterns.The story follows the course of one week where events are slowly repeated in a pleasant clockwork routine in this simple linear narrative that mimics a well-scanned piece of poetry. A paean to a peaceful existence, this is a film that dwells in the ordinary and in the agreeable symmetry of a life well-lived but one that never pushes the boundaries. And in our rushed and aspirational society there is a great deal to be said for both. MT

PATERSON NOW ON RELEASE AT THE GATE CINEMA AND PICTUREHOUSES

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 May 2016

Easy Rider (1969) | Bluray Release

Director: Dennis Hopper  | Writers: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern | Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Luana Anders, Sabrina Scharf, Sandy Brown Wyeth | 95min | Adventure drama | US

Taking its name from a Bob Dylan number EASY RIDER is the ultimate road movie where two hippies journey across South Western America in a bid to discover themselves and freedom (“What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about”). What starts as an easy-riding peaceful mission in the spirit of Woodstock, rather than the menace associated with the lawless hoodlum biker gangs of the ’60s, EASY RIDER is not entirely devoid of tragedy by the time the dudes roll into their destination of New Orleans.

Peter Fonda rocks a ‘stars and stripes’ jacket and rides a classic long-barrelled motorbike. While Dennis Hopper opts for the Native American look with tasselled buckskins, full moustache and hippy hair. Gliding through big country landscapes, canyons and mountain ranges they enjoy hospitality where they can, teaming up Jack Nicholson, as a loquacious, well-heeled but naive alcoholic, who joins them on their trip but sadly bites the dust when the trio hit more hostile terrain. The journey includes a visit to a whorehouse where the pair indulge in grass and LSD, all shot in 16m. Hopper’s direction is for the most part fluid and the script trenchant in its depiction of gratuitous violence that occasionally takes on a poetic twist.

The upshot? A visually sumptuous and enjoyable romp that hints at philosophy and folklore, engaging cult and new audiences alike with its musical backdrop redolent of a freeweelin’ America of the ’60s. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD AT THE NEW LAUNCHED CRITERION UK LABEL

Green Room (2015) |Quinzaine des Realisateurs | Cannes 2015

Writer|Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart

94min  US   Horror

Saulnier emerged on the indie scene at Cannes 2013 with his richly-textured arthouse revenge thriller Blue Ruin. But this latest outing GREEN ROOM feels like he’s slid back into the teenage slasher territory of his debut Murder Party. Whilst being reasonably entertaining, this tale of a punk band who wander into the dangerous clutches of a gang of fascist drug dealers, feels slacker and less convincing with its throwaway gory violence and puerile stab at black humour that will go down well at Frightfest.

Another reason why GREEN ROOM feels less edgy and unsettling is the casting of mainstream actors, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart. Although this talent may be more of a box office draw, the result is a film that feels more anodyne despite some macabre moments. For a start Imogen Poots will always impart a Sloaney feel for British audiences and Patrick Stewart pales into insignificance compared with Ben Kingsley, in ‘gangleader mode’. The extreme schlocky violence is another reason GREEN ROOM fails to impress, causing many more eyes to roll, than heads and limbs. The continual meaningless re-makes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre have shown why ubiquitous hacked-off limbs and geysers of blood simply aren’t scary or horrific. Less is always more, where blood and gore are concerned.

The story follows a punk band that have just been on tour throughout the US and haven’t really been coining it. Petty arguments have broken out between band members – bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole); so guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner) are the only ones still speaking when they fetch up at a roadhouse in Oregon. This is extreme right fascist skinhead territory, apparently. After a pretty miserable go on stage, one of the ‘Ain’t Rights’ returns to the Green Room to discover a murder scene. One of the skinhead girls has been stabbed in the head and her friend Amber (Imogen Poots) is frightened to move. In the end, they barricade themselves into the Green Room while venue manager, Macon Blair (Blue Ruin), and the venue’s owner Darcy (Stewart) hang around outside with murderous intent.

There’s nothing inventive thereafter as, gradually, the band members meet their grisly deaths in ways that will unfold for those interested in seeing the film, which, to its credit, is laced with a lacerating black comedy. Dogs are involved but, for once, don’t seem to be involved in the death count. Disappointing and predictable then as an edgy horror outing, but entertaining if outright slasher movies are your bag. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT QUINZAINE DE REALISATEURS | CANNES 14 – 24UI MAY 2015 | CANNES 2015 

 

Funny Face (1956) | Blu-ray release

imagesDirector: Stanley Donen, Writer: Leonard Gershe, Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire | 103min | Romantic Musical | US

There’s much to enjoy in Stanley Donen’s joyful FUNNY FACE. The music and lyrics are by George and Ira Gershwin. The dancing is exhilarating – Fred Astaire’s fabulous technique makes for poetry – and Audrey Hepburn displays her ballet school training with huge confidence. There’s even downright sassy Kay Thompson zippy contribution to the dancing scenes.

Donen employs rhythmically precise editing techniques: The “Bonjour Paree!” montage turning into a split screen celebration of Paris; and masterly camerawork with Audrey Hepburn’s number “How Long Has this Been Going On” combining singing, acting, lighting, set design and overall balletic energy that’s five minutes of really great cinema.
Yet it’s the colour photography of Funny Face that makes Donen’s film so outstanding. In Joseph Andrew Casper’s book ‘Stanley Donen’ (1983) he concludes that throughout FUNNY FACE, “the film colour danced to tell a story.” For me this dancing narrative skilfully uses colour to psychologise character and satirise its subject matter – the fashion world and Parisian beatnik existentialism.

Take the film’s opening number “Think Pink” with its magazine editor (Kay Thompson) striding towards doors of different colours, seeking the right colour for that month’s issue. This is both a satire and homage to the 50’s women’s fashion magazine. The yellow and lime of Audrey Hepburn’s waved hat in her bookshop scene suggests a deep need for romance, Hepburn and Astaire’s flirtatious duet in the red filtered photographer’s darkroom, the red and green spotlights of the night club episodes and the abrupt freeze of model photography images against Parisian landmarks. All push the story forward, making me think that Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg not only absorbed the colour palette of MGM musicals but is Donen’s Paramount achievement.

“Colour is fundamental to fashion photography, and therefore to Funny Face, where, besides being both the chief carrier for movement within and between shots and a cutting principle, it is choreographed as well”: that is Joseph Andrew Casper being spot on again. Of course a film is not just about remarkable photography, the storyline is crucial. Admittedly in romantic musicals we can accept a simpler story. If there is a criticism of FUNNY FACE it’s the failure to fully convince us of the development of Jo Stockton’s (Audrey Hepburn) character. You could say that the script fails to choreograph her transition from book shop assistant/ philosophy student to fashion model icon with adequate scenes. Despite her misgivings (she agrees to it all, so as to travel to Paris and meet the leader of the Emphaticalism movement) her resistance to the fashion crowd is not strong enough. And her need to be swept up into a romance with the much older photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is a bit underwritten in the film.

Still it is a musical, and you principally come for the singing and dancing. FUNNY FACE gives you that in abundance with great elegance and charm. And if you are only an Audrey Hepburn fan, and could watch her in anything, then for me she’s never been more captivating than she is here. Alan Price

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

Johnny Guitar (1954) Blu-ray release

Director: Nicholas Ray  Writer: Philip Jordan. Cast: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, Royal Dano, John Carradine, Ben Coope | 110min  | Western | US

Nicholas Ray saw Johnny Guitar as a first step to independence. Little did he know he would be engulfed in a battle for control of the film with its star, Joan Crawford. She literally had the script re-written during the shoot to please her ego, and to denigrate co-star Mercedes McCambridge who was married to one of Crawford’s former lovers.

Vienna (Crawford), a saloon owner, is nearly bankrupt but she is waiting for the planned railroad to boost her profits. But the townspeople, led by Emma (McCambridge) want her to move on, suspecting her of the murder of Emma’s brother. With her four friends she terrorises the town with a gang led by Dancing Kid (Brady). When Kid’s gang holds up a stagecoach and kills a man, Emma wants to hang Vienna. But she is rescued by her former lover, Johnny Guitar (Hayden), and erstwhile famous gunslinger Johnny Logan. Emma burns the saloon down and after a long chase, Vienna gets her revenge.

The shooting of this cult film with its outstanding colour images by the legendary DOP Harry Stradling (Guys and Dolls) and Peggy Lee’s title song could not have been more problematic. Johnny Guitar was a project for four clients of the Lew Wasserman agency: Roy Chanslor, who wrote the novel of the same name, published in 1953, was the first. He dedicated the book to Joan Crawford, who had just finished her comeback film Mildred Pierce. Script writer Philip Jordan was a front for many blacklisted writers, particularly Ben Maddow, who wrote the The Naked Jungle and Men in War under Jordan’s name. “Just like Wasserman sold film packages, Jordan sold script packages with a guarantee of quality”.  Jordan worked with Ray during 1953 in Hollywood, their script run up to 200 pages, Ray depositing thirty pages with Cinematheque Francaise. Shooting started in mid October 1953 at Sedona, Arizona, where Republic had a Western Street, a permanent set. McCambridge, who played the villain, recalled in her memories “I felt I had a certain edge because a gentleman with whom [Crawford] had had some association, to the degree that she has given him gold-cuff-links, was now my husband”.

When Ray was filming McCambridge in the scene where she addresses the posse to hunt Vienna down, he sent Crawford back to camp. But after he finished the scene, he saw Miss Crawford sitting up on the hill watching. “I should have known some hell was going to break loose”. That night, Crawford asked for “five more scenes”, having strewn McCambridge’s clothes all over the road. As Jordan said, “They were on location, and Joan Crawford decided she wasn’t going to make the picture. They were shooting about 2 weeks without her. So Wasserman called me up and he flew out here.”

According to Ray, Crawford “got some crazy ideas. she said she wanted the man’s role.” Crawford commented: “I’m [like] Clark Gable, [but] it’s Vienna who has the leading part”. She threatened to leave for good, and the picture would have been finished. In this case, Republic might have gone bankrupt because they were used to making films for $50 000 and Johnny had budget of $2.5m.

Jordan had to rewrite the way Crawford wanted it: neither the novel nor the script mentioned that Johnny and Vienna had known each other before. And this way added much more weight to their relationship in the completedfkm. Jordan decided to let Hayden play Crawford’s part with her having the shoot-out at the end, killing Emma/ McCambridge. The 44 shooting days were very traumatic for Ray and as he was directing his next film, Run for Cover, he wrote to his actress friend Hanna Axmann: “The atrocity of Johnny Guitar is finished and released to dreadful reviews and great financial success. Nausea was my reward, and I am glad you were not there to share the suffering”. But there was no pleasing Crawford, in her autobiography she wrote, blaming McCambdrige and lashing out at Ray: “The responsibility lies with an actress who hadn’t worked for ten years [McCambridge had won an Oscar two years earlier]. There is no excuse for making such a bad film”. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 20 SEPTEMBER 2021 | MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

 

 

Heavens Knows What (2015)

Directors: Benny and Josh Safdie  Screenplay: Ronald Bronstein | Josh Safdi |  Writer: Arielle Holmes (book)

Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Arielle Holmes, Buddy Duress, Ron Braunstein, Eleonor Hendricks

94min | Drama | US

It takes one to know one, and former junkie Arielle Holmes has been there and survived to tell the story. HEAVENS KNOWS WHAT evocatively recreates the drug-adled world of her past in a ‘fucked-up’ and fuzzy portrait of the dark side of addiction in her native New York.

This tension-fuelled cinéma vérité mood piece submerges us in the squallid subculture of flaky friends and foul-mouthed existence. Even love is sordid and brutally raw as pictured here by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie. But HEAVENS is also poetic and tragically moving seen through Sean Price Williams’ soulful city panoramas and Isao Tomita’s trance-like and explosive original music.

The film opens with Holmes’ character Harley and her sociopathic lover Ilya Caled Landry Jones kissing each other on the tarmac before he shuts down emotionally and viciously rejects her without explanation. Clearly out of control, Ilya’s only comfort lies on the moral high ground where he hunkers down with a soiled blanket. Harley’s subsequent suicide attempt leads to her seeking refuge with an older woman and she while attempts to re-connect with Ilya, she joins her other junkie mates shooting the breeze, shooting up and throwing up..

Despite its slender plot and sketchy characterisation of these lost lowlifes, who mostly need a stiff kick up the backside rather than a stiff drink, this is a film that wallows in the angst-ridden atmosphere it successfully creates. Clever acting  effortlessly conveys this milieu and you don’t want to go there.MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 APRIL

 

Jane Got A Gun (2016)

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Cast: Natalie Portman, Joel Egerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich

Western l USA l 98 min.

Originally scheduled to be premiered in August 2014(!), this post-Civil War Western lost its original director, Lynne Ramsey, on the first day of shooting, followed by DoP Darius Khondiji, Michael Fassbinder, Jude Law, Bradley Cooper and finally its production company Relativity to insolvency, finally being picked-up by the Weinstein Brothers.

Despite this major setback, a team of various producers, including the film’s star, Natalie Portman and director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) have delivered a well-crafted, if rather conventional, genre product that is neither sensationalist nor gory in comparison with this year’s offerings The Hateful Eight or Bone Tomahawk.

Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) living with her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) on a farm in the New Mexico Territory, rides out to call for the help of her ex-fiance Dan Frost (Egerton), after her husband returns from a gun fight much the worse for wear courtesy of the Bishop gang. Frost is none too keen to help, since Jane was supposed to wait for him, after he returned from the Civil War. But he does not know that Jane and their baby Mary, had been taken prisoner by the gang, led by John Bishop (McEwan). Jane was sold into prostitution and Mary killed, before Bill liberated her. Reluctantly Frost sets out to make the Hammond house into a fortress, using Molotov Cocktail like glasses filled with kerosene, hidden underground in front of the house. While Bill is killed, Jane is hell bent on revenge but the captured Bishop has a surprise, which he hopes will save his life.

Whilst the heroine in this case is a woman, all the rules of the macho Western apply. The same goes for the narrative, with flash-backs of Jane’s life supplementing the audience’s understanding of the protagonists’ main motives. It is no accident that the Western as a genre has come to the end of its dusty life – no matter how many insufficient attempts at resuscitation have been made – simply because it is set in a bygone era with limited plot lines available, and the happy-ending is even more guaranteed than in any other Hollywood genre. The ensemble cast is impressive and Mandy Walker’s images are resplendent with fight scenes full of bravura; the overall impression is more of duty: JANE GOT A GUN is a comfortable ride in the familiar territory of the traditional Western. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 APRIL 2016

The Ninth Configuration (1979)

Director.: William Peter Blatty

Cast: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders

USA 1979 | Fantasy Drama | 117 min.

“I’ve been a lot of places but I think I’ve always known, that I’ll always come back to San Antone”: thus starts author turned filmmaker William Peter Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Mainly renowned for three novels turned into mainstream movies: Twinkle, twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane (filmed as The Ninth Configuration directed, written and produced by the author); The Exorcist, filmed under the same title by William Friedkin and ‘Legion’, directed for the screen by Blatty himself as Exorcist III. This strange and quirky horror drama, has some ‘laugh out loud’ moments and is so weird it’s certainly worth a watch as a cult outing of the most bizarre (it includes such choice lines as “far too numerous to enumerate”; “the Man in the Moon tried to fuck my sister” and “You wouldn’t know the Devil from Bette Davis”).

Situated in a Gothic castle in the Pacific North West of the USA (along the lines of the one in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers with the same kind of zany humour), Center 18, a Military Psychiatric Establishment, is run by Hudson Kane (Keach), who delivers his lines with deadpan nonchalence. He is tasked with to finding out if the inmates are simulating their illnesses or are truly insane. Capt. Cutshaw (a brilliantly perverse Scott Wilson) has adapted the whole works of Shakespeare for dogs (he has a Hungarian Vizsla), and Lt. Frankie Reno (Miller) is an astronaut, who is obsessed with the existence of God, asking Kane to show him a single act of self-sacrifice, to prove His existence. The medical office, Col. Richard Fell (Ed Flanders) finds out that Kane has murderous phantasies and declares him insane.

When a new inmate Gilman arrives, he points out that Hudson Kane is in fact the notorious Marine Killer Kane. Dr. Fell admits that he is Kane’s brother Hudson and that the killer, Vincent, has taken his personality to make up for his crimes, becoming a healer like his brother. All this was known to the authorities who treated Killer Kane like a laboratory rat in an experiment, leaving Dr. Fell in charge. Soon afterward Cutshaw escapes and in a fight with bikers Kane saves his life giving him the example of self-sacrifice and the proof of the existence of God.

Any film with lines like “You remind me of Vincent van Gogh – either that or a lark in wheat field” (Fell to Kane), is asking for a comparison to a Max Brothers comedy, but there are also strains of Blazing Saddles here. This impression is underlined by the long discussion between Cutshaw and Reno about Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Lynch’s Twin Peaks are also in the mix: Blatty directs as if he’s piecing together excerpts from the most outrageous films in history. His religious beliefs are no obstacle to him: he creates Hell on Earth, and gives the most unrewarding character a chance in order to show the astronaut a way to God.

British D0P Gerry Fisher (Highlander) is adept at mixing all genres in stunning images – while the ‘plot’ is more of a hindrance to the enjoyment of script; his is an “all or nothing” approach to filmmaking and the audience will either love it or hate it. A true Marmite film; in spirit and in humour. AS

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION IS OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD, DOWNLOAD AND ON DEMAND ON 25 APRIL 2016

Calamity Jane (1953) | Sing-a-Long

Director.: David Butler

Cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn McLerie, Philip Carey, Gale Robbins

101min  | USA | Western (Sing-along version)

Director David Butler (1894-1974) was a major Hollywood filmmaker who brought successful family entertainment to the silver screen during the 30’s, 40’s and ’50s with cult classics such as Bright Eyes, Leave it to Beaver and Road to Morocco. In the ’60s he moved on to major TV work with series Twilight and 77. Sunset Strip, adding 90 directing credits to his name.

In Deadwood City, deep in the frontier territory of Dakota, men rule supreme. So it’s hardly surprising that the gun-toting, whip-cracking Calamity Jane (Day) tries to garner attention from her male counterparts – with mixed success. She saves the life of Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (with whom she is secretly in love), liberating him from the Sioux and claiming “I understand why the Indians don’t want to give up this mountain country, it is so beautiful”. But the men of Deadwood want a real woman with feminine qualities and after travelling to Chicago to find such a ‘dame’ in celebrity singer Adelaid Adams, Jane mistakenly brings back the artist’s dresser, who promptly snatches Danny from under her nose.

There are cringeworthy moments galore in this comedy musical, particularly when Katie re-styles Jane’s home while the duo sing “A Woman’s Touch”. The ebullient Day overcomes most of this with her spirited and rambunctious performance, based on the real life character of Martha Jane Canary, a ‘scout’ who lived in the second half of the 19th century. The glorious technicolor images are a feast for the eyes – shame about the rather obvious back-projections. Writer James O’Hanlon can rightly claim he is the father of the central scene in John Ford’s Who Shot Liberty Valance (where John Wayne shoots the villain for John Stewart), in exactly the same way that Howard Keel shoots Jane’s glass out of her hand. The sing-along version is a great opportunity for audiences to join in with Doris Day’s gutsy heroine.

THE SING-A-LONG VERSION SCREENS NATIONWIDE FROM 8 APRIL 2016

 

Nasty Baby (2015)

Director|Writer: Sebastian Silva

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Reg. E. Cathey, Mark Margolis

100min  USA/Chile Drama

Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy, The Maid) treats us to a feel-good-movie about a gay couple trying to become parents with the help of their female friend – or does he?  Set in Brooklyn’s gentrified community of hipsters and would-be artists, Silva’s comedy of manners turns into a nightmare.

Mo (Adebimpe) and Freddy (Silva) would like a baby. Their best female friend Polly (Wiig) is only too willing to help out as her biological clock is ticking overtime. But Freddy’s sperm count is too low and Mo is at first reluctant to produce the sperm, driving the others crazy with his procrastination. Freddy is a would-be artist – like many in the neighbourhood – and tries to produce a performance act for a show, organised by a gallery; his contribution is called ‘Nasty Baby’, where Freddy and his friends take on the roles of babies – Silva lets no doubt arise about how embarrassing his ‘art’ is. When the trio travels to visit Mo’s parents outside New York, the friction between the hipsters from Brooklyn and the traditional lifestyle of Mo’s family becomes apparent in a repressed way – even though it spurns Mo on, to take the plunge. In a hilarious scene we witness the use of the full set of paraphernalia needed for artificial insemination. Whilst focussing on the would-be-parents, we may have overlooked a mentally disturbed character “The Bishop” (Cathey), who harasses people on the street; is clearly homophobic (attacking Polly for visiting the gay couple) and wakes the men up every morning at seven, using his noisy leaf blower – even though there are no leaves left. A friendly neighbour (Margolis) tries to mediate, but something in Freddy snaps, setting in motion a night in which he drags all his friends into a true Shakespearean drama.

Yes, in hindsight, there’s more than one sign of things to come – but hey, our trio is so lovable, that the audience is rooting for them unreservedly. Here we have the ultimate dream protagonists: a mixed race gay couple (with Mo being the peace-loving black teddy bear), a caring health worker (Polly) and lots of funny artist friends who might not do very much, but are so cool. What Silva is asking the audience to do is look behind the easy-go lucky facades presented to us: “It’s just an elitist group that can do and live a life like that. Most people in the world have to do a real job to make money, but in New York you have people doing the most whimsical things”. And he goes even further: “The film looks at how people are being displaced from their original homes, and displaced by rich kids buying everything. This film is a fable and lesson for these hipsters”.

Shot mainly with a handheld camera, DOP’s Sergio Armstrong’s images are truly chaotic, just like the lives of the protagonists. Everyone races around; permanent mobility is seen as a replacement for focus – the only exception is the Abyssinian cat who is more manhandled than petted by Freddy and, exceptionally for her species, not afraid of water – hence the cute scene in the bathroom), . The acting ensemble is impressive, particularly Wiig who tries not to show her vulnerability and emerges as a sort of “Alice in a (as it turns out) very troubled Wonderland”. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2016 | NASTY BABY WON THE TEDDY AWARD AT BERLINALE 2015

A Kiss Before Dying (1991) | DVD release

Director: James Dearden  Writer: Ira Levin (Novel), James Dearden

Cast: Matt Dillon, Sean Young, James Bonfanti, Sarah Keller

95min | Crime Thriller | US

James Dearden’s drama of Ira Levin’s novel doesn’t hold a candle to Gerd Oswald’s 1956 version but Matt Dillon makes a chilling psychopath as Jonathan Corliss, a Philadelphia student with ideas of making it big. In order to realise his dreams he decides to marry money in the shape of rich heiress Dorothy Carlsson (Sean Young), but things don’t go according to plan and he ends up murdering Dorothy and moving on to her younger sister Ellen (also Young), who becomes obsessed with investigating her sister’s death. A strong support cast of Max von Sydow (Thor Carlsson) and Diane Ladd (Mrs Corliss) fail to save this rather lucklustre affair although Sean Young is captivating in her twin roles despite winning two ‘Razzies’ in the Rasperry Awards in 1992. MT

One of Six Hollywood classics released on UK DVD on 21 MARCH 2016 courtesy of SIMPLY MEDIA

A NIGHT IN THE LIFE OF JIMMY REARDON (19880 | ARABELLA (1967) | THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945) | AIR CADET (1951) | A MAN CALLED GANNON (1968)

 

Hail, Caesar (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Directors | Writer | Producer

107min | Drama | US

The Coen brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR is the starry Berlinale 2016 opener, bringing a touch of FiftiesHollywood glamour to this year’s festival and starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum and Alden Ehrenreich.

Underneath its all-singing, all-dancing comedy pretensions and Busby Barclay showstoppers Channing Tatum Does a Comme des Garcons style vignette) lies the real-life story of a saintly studio ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), whose days are dedicated to serving the studio’s interest in an era where the studio controlled the actors, writers et al. Mannix is a decent man who does good by everyone he works with; not unlike the worthy Larry Gopnik in the Coens’ much undervalued A Serious Man. Hail is a mainstream commercial caper and Mannix is a suaver operator, that said. A devout Catholic with zealous confessional habits: his worst sin is nicking a few ciggies – he’s trying to stop smoking; his job is to ‘physically’ produce a picture called Hail, Caesar! aka A Tale of The Christ which has the studio’s man of the moment Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) starring in the lead as a Roman aristocrat who roots for Jesus, so impressed is he by ‘seeing the light’.

Dealing with his daily dose of prima donnas (male and female) Mannix copes with good grace and calm control thanks to the services of his hyper efficient PA who always manages to help him find a happy Hollywood ending. Apart from Hail, Caesar! He’s managing Scarlett Johanssen’s accidental pregnancy as the ballerina star of a pool-based musical and Ralph Fiennes in a Noel Coward turn as the director (Laurence Laurentz) of a dainty drawing room drama. Although Fiennes is slightly underused here, his owning leading man Hobi is a vehicle for the talents of Alden Ehlenreich who is dynamite as a Western star with a spectacular sideline in lassoing, and who also ends up saving the studio with his streetwise charm.

The butt of the Coen’s Jewish-style humour here is Catholism and although it manages not to offend, it doesn’t quite get it either – perhaps it’s easier to make a comedy out of a religion that’s closer to your heart and they should leave the Catholics to the likes of John Michael McDonagh or his brother Martin. Despite that, the script is whipsmart  and thanks to some deft editing keeps on firing like a kalishnakov with some really entertaining moments, particularly when Frances McDormand’s editor gets her scarf caught in the editing machine.

But Mannix’s biggest problem is that Baird Whitlock has vanished, kidnapped by Hollywood communists. These old, disgruntled writers hold their captive at a grand Malibu beach house where they ruminate over tea and cakes as to why their scripts never made them rich.- another underlylimg Coen theme. But as they await a $100,000 ransom payment, these salon Marxists try to enveigle Baird into their way of thinking. As Baird, Clooney gets a dorkish role which gives him plenty of opportunity to show off his thighs and his clever comedy skills while still being every inch a star (and clearly not just a pretty face).

Star power also comes in the shape of Tilda Swinton who plays identical twin sister gossip columnists who compete to dish the Hollywood dirt. But Eddie has his hand on the pulse as he beavers round cleverly manoevring Hobie into dating his co-star Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio), providing another glittering sideshow. Mannix is also toying with a temptingly lucrative offer that would allow him more ‘family time’ but clearly less work satisfaction – another evergreen theme.

In the end, the Coens manage to deliver a film that Frank Capra would be proud of, premise wise. The hotch potch doesn’t quite coalesce but it’s an entertaining charmer  that sprinkles stardust and glamour on its more weighty themes to deliver that classic Hollywood tenet the ‘happy ending’.

Mannix is the eternal everyman; the good shepherd leading his flocks and bringing them to safety each night. The man everyone wants as their friend or partner when the champagne glasses are put away. And Josh Brolin plays him well in a role that puts him firmly up there as a seasoned star in the Hollywood firmament. MT

BERLINALE 11 – 21 FEBRUARY 16

King Jack (2015)

Director| Writer: Felix Thompson

Cast: Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen

98mins. Drama. US

Slim yet watchable and charismatically captured by writer director Felix Thompson in a feature debut that won Festival Audience Award at Tribeca this year KING JACK takes place one low-key summer in leafy New York state.

Charlie Plummer plays the Jack in question, the put-upon youngest son of a working class one parent family, who must fight or fall between the cracks, in this poignantly-painted social realist drama.

A visit from his younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) gives Jack a chance to pull rank and turn the tables on the little boy in a charmingly protective way never extended to him by his tough older brother or his over-worked depressive mother. This arthouse pleaser is authentically told, the touch is light, fresh and honest, the tone gently playful without ever resorting to sombre sentimentality or hard-edged intent; although the occasional bursts of violence are sharp and short-lived. Not a great deal happens that we haven’t seen before: childhood boyish pranks jostle with pubescent longings and ‘i’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ gameplay, as the boys get to know the local more mature girls. But it’s a winning formula that will keep teenage audiences on tenterhooks and the arthouse crowd immersed in its soft-peddle dramatic tension and its rites of passage storyline.

Plummer gives it his all as a free-wheeling, sensitive 15 year old boy perpetually harried by his brother Tom (Christian Madsen, clearly the son of Michael) with his mother an absent figure in most of his days. He is also bullied by a local mob led by a bolshy Shane and his mates. Keen on a local girl Robyn, (Scarlet Lizbeth) he’s persuaded to take a picture of his penis, which puts him in the line of fire for more humiliation when Shane and his gang attempt to get the better of him once and for all.

KING JACK was supported by The Sundance Institute, and its moody camera work and dreamlike framing, by DoP Brandon Roots, gives the piece the sultry feel of a summer softened by the warmth and verdant background of its Hudson Valley setting. Bryan Senti’s occasional guitar-led score is often softer than the action it accompanies. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 29 FEBRUARY 2016| REVIEWED DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

The Benefactor (2016)

Writer|Director: Andrew Renzi

Cast: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James, Clarke Peters

90min | Drama | US

Richard Gere is back as the richest swinger in town. A kind of ageing Bill Gates, the successful batchelor iss using his millions to help sick children in Philadelphia together with best buddies Bobby (Dylan Baker) and Mia (Cheryl Hines). But tragedy leaves him the sole survivor of a car crash while the three are out driving and suddenly all he has left  is their teenage daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning), who blames him for the accident.

Fast forward five years and he’s morphed into a jovial bohemian who now looks like a cross between Gandolph and Karl Lagerfeld. Olivia is back in the story, pregnant and partnered with a pleasant young doctor, Luke (Theo James) and keen to reconnect with an old guy who was close to her parents. One hair cut later and some exquisite tailoring and Franny (Gere) is leading the band at the hospital opening shindig where James is now working as the latest doctor on the team.  Never one to be stingy, Franny is buying the couple Olivia’s childhood home as a present. But when the trio swing up to the empty property in Franny’s vintage Mercedes, the young couple are distinctly shocked and strangely underwhelmed. Olivia accuses him of being too dramatic. And it’s true: Franny is a character desperately wanting to be loved but without really loving. Gere plays him as an ebullient maverick who drinks too much and loves to play the slightly cheesy fool. Fanning plays her usual intense and enigmatic blond, looking limpidly into the distance, often on the verge of tears. James is sardonic, in his usual standoffish way. In trying to create the same chemistry he had with Olivia’s parents, Franny makes himself unpopular, forcing his unwelcome fatherly condescendence on them and feeling utterly unauthentic in the process. The rather sketchily-drawn support characters do their best but it all feels quite threadbare and hollow. Gere’s character is the only one that’s fully fleshed out: a cleverly-disguised control freak who hides his abusive narcissistic neediness behind a flashy cloak of bravado. Controlling the couple by a series of never-ending gifts and largesse, he holds them in the palm of his hand. Gere is hopelessly miscast here, but an actor like Robin Williams would have been just right.

Things get worse as the films plays out, with Fanning, a capable and strong actress, literally being faded out of thr storyline, as the remaining mismatched gruesome twosome of Gere and James finding themselves lost in a drama that just becomes tedious. Despite Renzi’s best intentions THE BENEFACTOR slowly disintegrates, its promising elements overtaken by Gere’s antics as an unconvincing antihero in a drama that has lost its way. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 FEBRUARY 2016

 

Noble (2014)

Dir.: Stephen Bradley

Cast: Deirdre O’Kane, Sarah Greene, Nhu Quynh Nguyen, Gloria Cramer Curtis

100 min.| Drama

Irish humanist and aid-worker Christina Noble founded children orphanages for more than 700 000 victims of war in Vietnam. Writer/director Stephen Bradley’s tribute to her efforts is worthy in tone, but hampered by a clumsy script and an unconvincing realisation. It doesn’t do any justice to an extraordinary woman.

Told in linear narrative form, Bradley reveals how Christina Noble (an ebullient Cramer Curtis) loses her mother when she is ten. Her father, an alcoholic, neglects the family and the children are separated and put into orphanages where they have to work. During the late fifties, teenage Christina (Greene) is living rough in Dublin and is gang-raped. A Catholic, she is tricked into giving her baby away in the local home. Moving to Birmingham with a friend, she marries Mario, a Greek Cypriot bar owner. They have three children, but Mario is unfaithful and beats Christina up. Forced to leave and bring up her children alone. Having had ‘visions’ about Vietnam in Birmingham, she travels there as a middle-aged woman (O’Kane), and with the help of Madame Linh (Nguyen), starts to lay the foundations for her orphanages, after meeting two young, abandoned girls in the street.

It is understandable why Bradley chose to do this biopic of Noble; her life story literally cries out to be filmed. But Bradley’s schematic structure accumulates all the clichés possible during its three sections, which lack any continuity, making it difficult for the audience to appreciate fully the extent of Noble’s heroism. There are some attempts at humour: we see Noble talking to God in an very argumentative way, and attempting to imitate her own heroine Doris Day. DOP Trevor Forrest’s visual are uninspired, particularly in Vietnam, where he oscillates between postcard idyll and shocking realism. Overall, this is a simplistic hagiography, leaving the audience often un-engaged, in spite of the emotional input by the three actresses portraying Christina in the three stages of her life. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 12 FEBRUARY 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Samuel L Jackson

187min.  Drama.  US

Quentin Tarantino’s HATEFUL EIGHT is ushered in by an ominous overture from Ennio Morricone rendered by the famous Czech National Orchestra and serves to warn us that tragedy is to follow, in more way than one. In the snowy wilds of post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is hand-cuffed to his fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), taking her to Red Rock to face her just deserves for murder. From their stagecoach they jossle with a handful of other bounty hunters on the way, including Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). The film is noteworthy largely because it may be the final film to be photographed on archaic 7omm film stock. Ben Hur and other epics used this medium for its panoramic potential but here the width allows Tarantino an estate agent-style perspective of Minnie’s Haberdashery where the chamber piece will unspool its tedious, over-talky 187 minutes’ running time spliced by an intermission.

Tarantino has always championed the underdogs of genre, technique and society and this makes his latest offering a particular let down. A garish, self-indulgent parlour piece so bloated with boring sollioquiys and longuers that it never lives up to what could have been an intriguing and punchy 90 minute whodunnit. Known for his screenplays, the one he delivers here is neither wry nor witty although Tim Roth does his best with a Mr Micawber style turn.

Highlights are the cinematography by Robert Richardson and the snowy wilds are similar to that of an infinitely superior film called The Revenant. But the widescreen wonderland soon narrows down to a claustrophobic closet where our eight hateful characters gradually grind each other down. When the charming cuffed together duo arrive at Minnie’s with the Major and a confederate soldier played by Walton Goggins, they discover another party has already taken up residence at the hostelry cum store in the shape of veteran Confederate general (Bruce Dern); an English hangman (Tim Roth; a raddled, blue-eyed cowboy (Michael Madsen); and a mysterious muchacho named Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir).

While Minnie’s whereabouts occupy the Major’s time, Ruth is mainly concerned with getting his bounty in RedRock and getting shot of his grotesquely-gurning prisoner. The viewer’s primary concern is why Tarantino is wasting the potential of 70mm on this stuffily verbose filmed play.

There’s plenty of woman-bashing and nigger-taunting which accurately reflects an era when misogyny and racialism was rife but at least Mel Brooks made it amusing in Blazing Saddles. Tarantino also does his best to window-dress his drama with a touch of historical background to betoken a cultural underpinning but this HATEFUL is otherwise a trivial caper. Dern is quietly powerful as the daintily vehement veteran. The others deliver performances straight out of the stock Western closet. The tone is crass, caustic and candid. After the intermission, the mass slaughter kicks off in earnest; the initial tension of the steely whodunnit blowing out with the wintry wind. Those out for gore will appreciate this loathsome rivers of blood climax which is delivered with glee and gusto as limbs fly and bodily fluids splatter as our characters monotonously spout forth their bloated bluster while we cease to care who did the dastardly deed. Gradually all is lost as a vomit of filthy teeth, futile posturing and blood-drenched faces fill the screen in this Quality Street without the quality. You’ll be glad when it’s all over and make a mental note to avoid those ‘bottomless’ coffee pots in future. MT

The HATEFUL EIGHT IS ON GENERAL RELEASE.

Heist (2015) | Blu-ray release

HEIST_DVD_2DDirector: Scott Mann

Cast: Robert De Niro, Summer Altice, Gina Carano, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Dave Bautista

93min |  Action | Thriller US

Robert De Niro heads a cast of punchy pros in this crime caper as the venal boss of a riverboat casino. But when he rebuffs his employee’s pleas for a loan to fund his kid’s vital medical treatment, the luckless father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) joins forces with his colleague Cox (Dave Bautista) to rob his employer for the money. It’s unclear why De Niro still turns his hand to these B movie jaunts but HEIST succeeds thanks to his suave charisma and ability to raise a wry smile as the grittily appealing Pope. Naturally, Vaughn’s robbery attempt goes pear-shaped, and he’s forced to hijack a local bus and appease the angry passengers while hotly pursued by the police – and Pope into the bargain – there’s a twist to the tale as Pope needs to get his money back for more reasons than just balancing the books. Mann delivers a tight and well-crafted thriller largely due to its strong and able cast. De Niro’s hefty swaggering rides roughshod over the wildly unfeasible plot contrivances right up until the cracking finale. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF LIONSGATE

 

 

 

At Any Price (2012)

Writer|Director: Ramin Bahrani

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham

105min  Drama   US

A father and son come into conflict in Ramin Bahrani’s well-made, pithy and absorbing MidWest drama AT ANY PRICE. that explores how country life has been made increasingly fraught by modern farming methods, as rural communities strive for commercial success.

Dennis Quaid is the main attraction here as the central character Henry Whipple: a morally ambiguous middle-aged family who exudes a bullish masculinity tempered by a finely-tuned understanding of human psychology that sometimes masks his unscrupulousness. As a craggy pater familias he rubs up against his more brooding, laid back son Dean (Zac Efron) who prefers to play things more honestly and is clearly frustrated with his small town existence. Whilst Quaid’s character occasionally echoes Kramer out of Seinfeld, his wife Irene (Kim Dickens) is attractive, calm and sincere despite his unfaithfulness with her rival Meredith (Heather Graham).

But this is Southern Iowa where women still take a backseat role. It’s a traditional world all round but seed farming is becoming increasingly more geared towards GM cropping and Henry Whipple (Quaid) is continually ambitious for his farming business seeking to acquire new land even if this involves swooping in on local landowners’ funerals where he makes ill-judged but often successful takeover bids to grieving families only too glad to sell their inherited farmland.

Meanwhile Dean is a keen petrolhead and has no interest in going into farming. A talented stock car racer, he dreams of making it to NASCAR, but a professional tragedy on the circuit curtails his budding career as storm clouds also gather over the future of the family farm.

The still beauty of the lush Iowa countryside collides with the brashness of the racetrack in scenes that stand as a metaphor for the conflict between father and son and grandfather, and things turn even darker when Henry’s seed-sales operation is placed under investigation. But when Dean to intervenes unwisely to protect his father’s business, the family is forced to reassess the future in the ever shifting sands of contemporary American morality.

Cinematographer Michael Simmonds captures the limpid beauty of the local landscapes with a clarity that feels calming against the overtones of  of domestic strife and Dickon Hinchliffe’s melancholy occasional score echoes this with a sombre undercurent. MT

OUT ON 1 JANUARY 2016 nationwide.

 

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Dir: Roger Corman | Wri: Charles Beaumont, from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and a novella by H.P.Lovecraft | Cast: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney, Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon | 87 mins / Horror / US

The venerable status that Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of the early sixties continues to command within the Horror genre makes the continued neglect of The Haunted Palace all the more perverse. It’s usually just mentioned in passing as the last gasp of the Hollywood-made Poes before Corman packed his bags for England and ended the series with a bang with the acclaimed Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia. It didn’t even get reviewed by Variety when it opened in the summer of 1963 and wasn’t released in Britain until 1966. What comment it draws is usually as the Corman/Poe that was actually an H.P.Lovecraft; although just that fact alone actually makes The Haunted Palace a very interesting film indeed, marking as it does the big screen’s first-ever adaptation of a story by an author whose stature and popularity as a source of screen material has continued to snowball ever since Corman set the ball rolling (including a second version of the story Corman filmed called The Resurrected (1991), directed by Dan O’Bannon with Chris Sarandon as Charles Dexter Ward).

10380052_677091512340140_203678672462023752_o

The usually perceptive Leonard Maltin continues to dismiss The Haunted Palace as “Good-looking but minor”; which probably means that he hasn’t looked at it again recently. But over the years it has found unlikely admirers. William Everson – not usually a Corman fan – thought it “one of the better Roger Corman horror films of the 60’s”, while the usually hard to impress Angela & Elkan Allan in 1980 declared it “A really enveloping horror movie that chills you deep into your spine”. It is in fact easily the best of Corman’s American Poes – and quite probably one of Corman’s best films ever – as well as being first-class Lovecraft.

Adroitly if loosely drawn by Corman regular Charles Beaumont from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written by Lovecraft in 1927, and mostly set during the 1920s; the film moves the main action back to the 19th Century to visually bring it into line with Corman’s earlier films and recycle the costumes and sets from The Premature Burial. With each successive Poe adaptation the existence of standing sets from the previous productions meant that the films progressively got bigger and bigger looking with the addition of new sets by Daniel Haller. The Haunted Palace – photographed as usual for all that it’s worth by the veteran Floyd Crosby – is consequently the most expensive-looking of all the American Poes: all the better to savour on Blu-Ray!

Corman could also now afford to populate his version of Arkham (which Beaumont – who knew his Lovecraft – has cannily substituted for the original setting of Providence) with familiar faces like Lon Chaney and Elisha Cook: both making their only appearance in a Corman production. Lovecraft’s Charles Dexter Ward was a callow, unmarried young man in his twenties, so providing him with a wife (played in her final film appearance by Debra Paget) is one of several changes Beaumont makes to the original, along with beginning the film with the lynching of Ward’s evil ancester Joseph Curwen by burning – his demise in 1771 at Lovecraft’s hands was much more spectacular but also vastly more ambiguous – and Curwen’s curse upon the descendants of his executioners. Lovecraft describes Curwen as “a colourless-looking man of about thirty”, which hardly describes Price, who gives one of his best performance in a role strikingly similar to that of Ligeia the following year as both the benign Charles Dexter Ward and his utterly depraved great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Curwen.

Like most Corman productions it has an elegant and atmospheric title sequence; designed on this occasion by Armand Acosta to the sweeping accompaniment of Ronald Stein’s magisterial trumpet score. The main title reads “Edgar Allen (sic) Poe’s The Haunted Palace”, but Lovecraft share’s equal billing with Poe and Beaumont in the screenplay credit (the repeated misspelling of Poe’s middle name making an interesting Freudian slip). American International Pictures insisted over Corman’s objections on naming it after an 1839 poem by Poe; but apart from providing The Haunted Palace with a splendid title Poe’s only other contribution to the film – albeit employed to great effect – is the closing verse, read by Price on the soundtrack at the film’s satisfyingly spine-chilling conclusion. Try and see this one. @RICHARD CHATTEN

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO | EXTRAS INCLUDE AN INTERVIEW WITH ROGER CORMAN AND AUDIO COMMENTARY BY VINCENT PRICE’S BIOGRAPHER DAVID DEL VALLE and DEREK BOTELHO

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | blu-ray release

Director: Roger Corman       Screenplay: Richard Matheson

Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, Antony Corbone, John Kerr, Patrick Westwood

80min   Horror   US

“The agony of my soul found vent in one loud long and final scream” Poe

There’s an ethereal and otherworldly quality to Roger Corman’s impressively mounted opening sequence to his second gothic outing. Loosely based on Poe’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, it has a young English man John Kerr (South Pacific) arriving at an eerie sixteenth century hilltop castle soaring above the choppy seas of the Palos Verdes coast, (California) to visit the grave of his sister. This Spanish themed outing is set in the aftermath to the dreaded Spanish Inquisition – a time of torture and religious persecution – hence the title. Once again Vincent Price plays a suavely elegant aesthete (Don Nicholas Sebastian Medina) deeply disturbed by a woman’s influence: his beautiful (dead) wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), a woman he passionately adored beyond extremes (“Life was simple, quiet; richly pleasurable”) and became obsessed with after her mysterious death. It later emerges that she was buried alive due to the error of Dr Charles Leon (a rather spivvy Antony Carbone).

Elegantly scripted by pulp writer Richard Matheson (Duel), it benefits from Floyd Crosby’s widescreen colour visuals – that frequently cut back to turbulent seascapes – and the opulently authentic set designs of Daniel Haller, which belie its modest budget. The film was shot in 15 days. Matheson constructs his own narrative for the first two acts, the third more accurately reflecting the Poe story that culminates in a horrendous denouement involving the titular instrument of torture.

This is a richly atmospheric chiller scored by Les Baxter’s cleverly composed score that hovers between high romance and spine-tingling strings. As the cursed Don Medina, Price  gradually morphs into menacing madness as Italian giallo actress Barbara Steele makes her Hollywood debut as his darkly spooky revenant wife (to benefit European distribution). The Blu-ray edition ramps up the images giving the pendulum scene an almost 3D makeover with the set design reeking of German expressionism. MT

* Superb extras include Vincent Price reading a selection of Poe stories to a live audience.

* Commentary and insight by Roger Corman on making the film

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO

 

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) | Blu-ray release

Roger Corman  Writers Edgar Allan Poe (novel) Richard Matheson (screenplay)

Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

79min  Horror  US

Roger Corman turned his hand to eight screen adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s American Gothic horror novel and this was possibly the most faithful to the page and most masterful in its inventiveness. Vincent Price (as Roderick Usher) strikes a fay yet commanding dramatic pose that hovers between reality and the realms of fantasy in suffering certain “peculiarities of temperament” brought on by a family curse that make him indisposed to a normal life beyond the walls of the House of Usher. In other words, he is a vampire. Sporting a yellowing coiffure, his steely gaze and fleshy lips make him a captivating antagonist in Corman’s impressively-crafted horror outing. Corman eschews well-worn horror tropes to create a highly romantic feel for the core love affair between Madeleine Usher and her betrothed Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon makes for a saturnine matinee idol who could easily sprout fangs at any moment) as he arrives at the mist-wreathed mansion to claim his bride. Their moments together are made more sensual by Les Baxter’s original score which morphs into ghostly strings when Price is in the frame. Price is clearly incestuously involved with his sister Madeleine and has buried her while still alive. The dour claustrophobia of the Usher household (clearly a case for sick building syndrome) are magnificently evoked by Daniel Haller’s art direction and Floyd Crosby’s cinematography and almost give the impression of 3D in this gleaming blu-ray re-mastering.- the household is briefly brightened by the arrival of Madeline’s suitor. Richard Matheson’s imaginative script creates a world of evil imagery and trembling fear. The final dream sequence is particularly enjoyable. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO

 

 

Grandma (2015)

Dir. Paul Weitz

Cast: Lili Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott

USA 2015, 79 min.

Serious themes of abortion and lesbianism are tossed around playfully in this derivative Hollywood Screwball comedy. Paul Weitz (ABOUT A BOY)  trivialises a family’s conflicts, falling far short of Hawks or Cukor.

Elle (Tomlin), college lecturer and poet, has just split up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Greer), on the rebound from her longterm partner, Violet, who has recently died. Blaming Olivia (unjustly) for the split, Elle is in a foul mood, when her grand daughter Sage (Garner) appears in her flat, wanting money for an abortion. Elle, having just cut up all her credit cards, using the snippets for a creative mobile, tries in vain to borrow money from Karl (Elliott), an ex-boyfriend; the two women trying to avoid to involving Sage’s mum, the straightforward business executive Judy (Harden), who lives exclusively in the real world, and is equally exasperated by her ‘fly by night’ daughter and mother.

GRANDMA is a vehicle for Lili Tomlin to show off her considerable acting skills. Dominating the film, the cast are merely punchbags for her anger. There are some impressive scenes, like the one in front of the abortion clinic, where a vicious Pro-life lobbyist uses a little girl to argue her point; but mainly it is all about the frustrated Elle, having failed as a poet and is now lonely in old age. Worst of all is Weitz’ banal approach in trying to milk really serious situations for cheap laughter. Whilst Tomlin has a field day, the same cannot be said for the audience. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

[youtube id=”JrB3Uj51zgM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

True Romance (1993)

Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer. Brad Pitt, Michael Rapaport

USA 1993, 118 min.

TRUE ROMANCE is certainly the best Quentin Tarintino film ever. Yes, Tony Scott is the nominal director, but apart from changing a sober ending into a happy one, he made really no significant contributions to Tarantino’s script – how could the maker of bombastic, simplistic films like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, come up with a lyrical parable, told in the style of a fairy story but shot in the style of a cartoon?

Talking of cartoons, TRUE ROMANCE hero Clarence (Slater) works in a shop selling them – just like Tarantino worked in a video rental shop before his film career took off. Clarence is in love with martial arts movies and Elvis (the latter, played by Val Kilmer, often turns up to reassure Clarence that all will end will). Clarence’ idea of a birthday treat is a Martial Arts treble bill at his local cinema. There he meets Alabama (Arquette), a call-girl, as she insists, but only for four days, equalling four customers. Clarence’ boss has hired her, to give his employee a treat. The two naïve dreamer fall in love, and Clarence kills Alabama’s vicious pimp (Oldman, in leotards), but mistake the suitcase with drugs worth 5M$ for the one with his sweat heart’s (in true fashion they get married a day after meeting) belongings. As a good son, Clarence introduces his wife to his ex-cop father Clifford (Hopper), before the couple sets off to LA to make their fortune. Clifford will pay for this visit with a grisly death at the hands of Vicenzo Cocotti, Christopher Walken at his psychotic best.

In Los Angeles (=Hollywood), we get so many stand-out performance, that a few will have to do: like James Gandolfini’s vicious killer Virgil, beaten to pulp by his intended victim Alabama, Brad Pitt’s lodger, who is always so high, that he gives away the couple’ hideout to all visitors asking for them, and they are many, as the bloody mass-shootout in the end proofs. In Tarantino’s version, Clarence is one of the victims, but Scott “fell so much in love with the two main characters”, that he lets the hero survive, closing the film five years later at a beach in Mexico, where the couple frolics with their son Elvis. Tarantino later gave his blessing to Scott’s version, and few will disagree.

Apart from DOP Jeffrey L. Kimball’s (Windtalkers) candy-coloured images, Hans Zimmer’s main theme – based on Orff’s ‘Gassenhauer’ – is most memorable, a haunting, torturous tune, just right for this grim, violent tale, very much an adult variation of Alice in Wonderland. AS

BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN FROM 20 NOVEMBER 2015

 

Momentum (2015)

Director: Stephen S. Campanelli

Cast: Olga Kurylenko, James Purefoy, Morgan Freeman

USA/SA 2015, 96 min.

First time director Campanelli has honed his skill from being camera operator on big productions like Mazerunner and American Sniper: MOMENTUM is an out and out action bonanza where suspension of disbelief is a pre-requisite for watching. But he forgot the need for a good script.

Fleet-footed Olga Kurylenko, already versed in hand-to-hand fighting from Quantum of Solace and Hitman (she showed a more tender side in Terence Malick’s To the Wonder) is the heroine, surviving the whole 96 minutes – more than can be said about her countless opponents. After we learn that Freeman’s American Senator, a redneck, is behind all the machinations, we witness a bank robbery in Cape Town where the four robbers, clad in black leather outfits, identifiable by their blinking headlights (red, green, blue and violet), have difficulties opening the safe – the body of the bank manager is the key to the opening mechanism. The synopsis of this 20 million dollar caper, were all standard ingredients are perfectly executed, should be enough to identify and limit the target audience.

Whilst the standard elements of the genre (car/motorcycle, chases, technology and general mayhem) are perfectly executed, this is a play by numbers actioner whose absurb and untenable plot distances the viewer as much as its unlikeable heroine Alexis (Kurylenko): her arrogance is soul-destroying, and even her acting skills do not enhance her popular appeal. MOMENTUM is a cold, glitzy affair where technical bravado trumps soul and narrative twists to its detriment. AS

RELEASED FROM 20 NOVEMBER 2015 NATIONWIDE

Seconds (1966) | Dual Format release

19861908044_ec68b13227_mDirector: John Frankenheimer  Writer: John Carlino | David Ely (Novel)

Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer

106min | Sci-fi Drama | US

Seconds tick away in the hopelessly fragile, trivial life of an unhappy suburban middle-aged banker but when he agrees to an elaborate procedure that will fake his death and grant him a new life, there is naturally a price to pay. The title sequence alone to Sci-fi thriller SECONDS must have seemed highly original and unsettling at the time, with its eerie masks that were surely to influence Tobe Hooper in his Texas Chain Saw Massacre that was to follow eight years later. There is an febrile alienation to SECONDS’ opening scene where the camera tracks Arthur Hamilton’s sweating face as stares distractedly through the train window on his way home to Scarsdale station but when he arrives, his wife is there to meet him with her calming if rather formal banter about rose pruning and events of the previous evening. Later they are seen embracing in a way that acknowledges that strain and tedium has obliterated their physical relationship.

The third in John Frankenheimer’s unofficial “Paranoia Trilogy” after The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964), SECONDS (1966) is a subtle, unsettling ‘JG Ballardesque’ Sci-fi thriller that takes the paranoia-laden premise of the first two outings further to suggest that ultimately, the individual is his own worst enemy: or more explicitly: the ‘soul’ or ‘essential nature’ is an atavistic force that cannot be suppressed no matter how hard we try. So Nature will always triumph over Nurture.

After undergoing the procedure to become a “Second”, Hamilton turns into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) a younger, more vigorous (and let’s face it, a better looking) man who is given a new life as an artist in a hedonistic California beach community where he also has a butler (who sounds mysteriously like Joe Turkel in The Shining). But there’s something strange about this new neighbourhood and the reason is that all his local friends are also ‘seconds’. One of them, Nora Marcus (Salome Jens), has also left her unsatisfactory life (“I had a new house with a microwave oven”) until she left 4 years  to become a second.

Rock Hudson has hidden depths as Tony Wilson, a disappointed, tortured soul who doesn’t seem that delighted to have been reincarnated or to have met the exuberantly unhinged yet ravishingly attractive Nora, although after spending a day at a strange pagan-feeling wine festival during which ‘What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor’ is played in a minor key) the two become an item. But things take a sinister turn soon after when Tony’s mental state starts to unravel.

Celebrated cinematographer James Wong Howe’s camera angles, fragmented editing and Jerry Goldsmith’s sinister classical organ score is a enough to have you rushing to Harley Street for session on the couch with a…calming psychotherapist.

RELEASED ON DUAL FORMAT DVD BLU-RAY | 26 OCTOBER 2015 | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

A Haunting in Cawdor (2015)

Dir.: Phil Wurtzel

Cast: Shelby Young, Cary Elwes, Michael Welch

USA 2015, 101 min.

Writer/director Phil Wurtzel (Chameleon) tries the trusted formula of setting a horror film in a production of a classic play, in this case Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Unfortunately, he is not able to make anything memorable out of this pairing, let alone create something original.

Vivian Miller (Shelby) is part of a group of young offenders, spending time in a rural correction institution in the Midwest. Vivian has ben convicted of murder at the age of fifteen, and is on medication. The camp is run by Lawrence O’Neil (Elwes), a failed Broadway director with a murky past. Vivian (“I am afraid of what I don’t know”) is chosen to play Lady Macbeth. The reasons for her issues, as O’Neill points out to her, are “all the things you are holding inside”.

After this pop-psychology offering, Vivian finds an old tape of a Macbeth play, directed by O’Neill, where the female lead is killed by a stranger. A lamp falls from the stage ceiling, nearly killing Vivian and then Brian, one of the offenders, is found dead after an attack. One female member of the old stage play visits O’Neill, to warn him that the play is haunted. But he doesn’t listen and Vivian, who does not trust anybody in the institution, puts her trust in Roddy (Welch) the local outcast, to solve the mystery and save herself from the vengeful ghost.

What could have been at least an enjoyable horror flick with tongue-in-cheek vibes, is played straight with awful pathos and jump cuts, which frighten no one. B/w video clips are far too prevalent and dodgy colour clips of the old play are just second-hand. The cast tries in vain to escape the clichéd lines. Overall, A Haunting in Cawdor not only uses Shakespeare, but sells him woefully short. When O’Neill comes down heavily on one of the offenders for calling Shakespeare boring, with a vicious: “Shakespeare is talked about 300 years after his death, but nobody will think about you three minutes after your death”, he is unwittingly drawing a parallel with himself. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 OCTOBER 2015

The Naked Prey (1965) | DVD release

1588404-01Director: Cornel Wilde | Writers: Clint Johnsion | Don Peters

Cast: Cornel Wilde,, Gert Van Der Berg, Ken Gampu, Patrick Mynhardt, Bella Randels

94min  US  Action Thriller

THE NAKED PREY is a difficult film to watch by today’s politically correct standards and makes you realise just how far we’ve come on the human and animal rights road to freedom. Crass in the extreme with its wide-scale animal cruelty and vicious human slaughter that starts shortly after the two hunters – Cornel Wilde (a professional tracker) and Gert Van Der Berg (the Safari financier)- embark on their ill-starred safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe for a killing spree with ivory as their prize. Having argued and almost fallen out over the giving of gifts to the local tribespeople – advised by Wilde as the correct protocol – they start shooting elephants. But soon become the victims of their own cruelly-intentioned Low Velt outing.

This is certainly gruesome stuff complete with a score of native drums and the full tribal regalia including spears, and leather loin cloths. After the local tribe turn nasty, Cornel Wilde’s experienced tracker breaks lose -Tarzan-style, and makes his getaway across an arid and scrubby landscape peppered with savage beasts, and that’s just the natives. There are chameleons, snakes and scorpions to name but a few perils, fauna-wise. This is the ultimate boy’s own adventure and, archaic though it may seem to our 21st century eyes, it is outrageously entertaining and at times even exhilarating. Naturally, being the director, producer and star, Wilde gets to do his macho stuff: having rid himself of pesky natives and their spears, he’s seen tapping sap from a nearby bush, and tracking cheetah, baboon and even the odd fowl – the latter unsuccessfully. The locals are more savvy when it comes to hunting and do get their prey: a beautiful young impala, which they carry off silhouetted into the sunset.

Interspersed with these thrilling action sequences which continue into the more vibrant setting of the High Velt, there are shots of lions eating antelope, and snakes a plenty. THE NAKED PREY, put simply, is a metaphor for how easy it is for man to sink into the lowest form of life, given the correct conditions: you can take a man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man. And no one can extract an apology from Mr Wilde for his political incorrectness in making this thrilling adventure; he’s long gone, to that ‘jungle’ in the sky. The movie was even nominated for an Oscar in the 1965 Academy Awards. How times have changed!.

OUT ON DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA | MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES | 19 OCTOBER 2015

Addicted to Fresno (2015)

Director: Jamie Babbit       Writer: Karey Dornetto

Cast: Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne, Edward Barbanell, Ron Livingston, Aubrey Plaza

85min   US Indie Comedy

Aubrey Plaza and John C Daly are the only stars in this upbeat US indie that follows the ups and downs of two sex-mad sisters, Shannon (Greer) and Martha (Lyonne) working as hotels maids. Shannon has just been released from a sexual-rehab. The rub comes when they have to dispose of the body of a guest Shannon has just slept with (John C Daly). The humour is of the mainly ‘sex and lavatorial’ variety based on the premise that women don’t get down and dirty (cleaning loos and bidets, that is) on film). It certainly raises the odd chuckle if you’re looking for something light and airy after a hard day at the lending library but don’t expect the mere presence of Plaza and Daly to save your soul or offer you quality entertainment here, although it it’s decent made and acted. A bit of fluffy nonsense to download on VOD | DVD. MT

OUT ON 9 OCTOBER 2015

 

Beasts of No Nation (2015)| Venice Film Festival |LFF 2015

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Cast: Idris Elba, Ama K Abebrese, Abraham Attah

133min  War drama  US

Dir.: Cary Fukunaga;Cast: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Grace Nortey; USA 2015, 136 min.

Based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.

Cary Fukunaga who has directed such diverse productions as Jane Eyre (2011) and True Detective (2014) turns his hand here to another literary work with this screen version of Uzodimna Iweala’s novel of the same name.

Set in a unspecified country in East Africa, it tells the harrowing story of young Agu (Attah) who is caught up in the harrowing civil war which ravages his country that not only destroys his childhood but traumatises him for life. We meet him first as a fun-loving boy who plays pranks on everybody particularly his older brother. Once a teacher, Agu’s father, now helps the Nigerian peacekeeping force acting as a buffer between the two warring fractions. Agu’s life seems complete, but one day, government forces overrun the village, killing Agu’s whole family apart from his mother who manages to escape to the capital. When soldiers kill his best friend, he wanders into the woods before being picked up by an army of rebels commanded by an pompous and violent warlord (Elba). In love with violence, the sadistic killler soon teaches Agu to kill and sexually abuses him whilst pretending to protect him as a surrogate father.

Shooting mostly outside in Ghana, Fukunaga paints an unredeeming picture of the inhumanity in this compelling and convincingly dramatised war movie that witnesses the corrupting of a young boy. This is not a war between ideological forces, but simply a fight between two gangster armies, fought without rules and killing the neutral population of the country in far greater number than the enemies. But after the victory of the rebel army, the same leaders become statesmen over night, doing away with their brutal elements like the colonel. Meanwhile, Agu phantasises about his mother again in the capital, before becoming violent on his ow accord. His voice-over tells us that he has lost faith in God, and that he will never play kids games again. Questioned by a young woman working for the UN, he feels like an old man, talking to a young girl.

Idris Elba gives a dynamite performance full of layered subtlety and charisma and Abraham Attah is simply astonishing as the boy. Fukunaga spares no gruesome details and Agu’s journey through hell is told without sentimentality from an observer’s point of view.The images of war and destruction are so realistic that occasionally one has to look away. Running at over two hours the length and a forced happy-end are the only elements that detract from this otherwise harrowing tour-de-force. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

Irrational Man (2015) | Cannes 2015

Writer|Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Phoenix Abe, Parker Posey, Emma Stone

96min   Comedy | Drama     US

Woody Allen’s 45th film has him once again contemplating the perfect crime as he did in Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream and Crimes and Misdemeanours. With IRRATIONAL MAN (which takes its title from a 1958 work by philosopher, William Christopher Barrett, which aimed to explain existentialism to the uninitiated) his central character kills not for love or money but apparently as a intellectual exercise and out of a sense of social justice on behalf of a woman he takes pity on.

This rural drama takes place in the lush locale of the fictional ‘Braylin College’, at Salve Regina University, Newport Rhode Island, where Joaquin Phoenix stars a the rather louche and laconic philosophy professor, Abe Lucas (with beer belly). An immediate hit with all the women; he is single, vulnerable and a serial monogamist by his own admission, although too wrapped up in his own existential angst to be emotionally available ‘at the moment’. A red rag to a bull, and he knows it.

As he moves around the Campus, looking vaguely distrait, he also demonstrates courage and reckless abandon by playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun at a cocktail party: female students and lecturers are smitten. “Emotionally, I had arrived at Zabriskie Point” Abe tells us in voiceover, but this seems only to encourage his lustful entourage more, particularly the unhappily-married Prof. Rita Richards (Parker Posey in ‘cougar’ mode) who throws herself in his direction, offering to “unblock” him. And before you can say ‘Kierkegaard’ – they are in bed and he’s apologising (but not that much) for his lazy performance. Next up is fresh, young “ethical strategies” student, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). But Abe is keen to remain detached because his depressive state has temporarily rendered him ‘asexual’. He is also well-aware of the intimate confines of this Red Brick community and Pollard has a regular boyfriend, who becomes suspicious of her increasing interest in Abe’s ‘mind’. But she plugs on attracted by his previous activist and aid involvement in Darfur. This sense of social justice is piqued again when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation in a local restaurant. A desperate woman is bemoaning the bitter details of her divorce and the judge who’s siding with her ex-husband – fancifully hoping that the judge will die before the final trial.

This pathetic wish seems to capture Abe’s imagination, galvanising him into action as he feels the stirrings of an ideal murder shaking him out of his mental torpor and even ‘unblocking’ him sexually. Suddenly, he is alive again, with the strategy for this crime coming together in his head. The premise is so fanciful and yet so all-consuming, that somehow this leap of faith seems entirely plausible.

Allen’s direction and editing are really masterful in IRRATIONAL MAN and his cast performances slick and enjoyable. particularly that of Joaquin Phoenix, who exudes both charm and sexual chemistry as the feckless yet endearing Abe. Emma Stone and Parker Posey compliment each other as his amorous partners, each evoking their representative age groups, of hope versus experience.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji does great justice to the environs of Connecticut making it a verdant, appealing setting in contrast to the usual urban sprall and the score of The Ramsey Lewis Trio evokes the mood of mounting tension with original version of “The In-Crowd”. MT

IRRATIONAL MAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR | CANNES 2015 REVIEW.

[youtube id=”5vu2tyk8cvc?t=3s” width=”600″ height=”350″]

In Cold Blood (1967)

Director: Richard Brooks

Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Tex Smith, Paul Stewart, Jeff Corey, Gerald S O’Loughlin

130min   Historical | Documentary | Thriller  US

Truman Capote’s celebrated reporting of a Kansas murder case, In Cold Blood, is the basis for Richard Brooks’s disturbing docudrama is formally ambitious yet restrained with Conrad Hall’s stylish black and white visuals and classy score by Quincy Jones.

The events of the case grippingly unfold in chronological order recounting how four members of the God-fearing Clutter family were slaughtered in cold blood one night in 1959 by two two ex-convicts looking for cash during a random burglary in their substantial rural property. They stole a radio and a few dollars and left few clues as to their identity but Brooks shows how Kansas Police (lead by a superb John Forsythe) embark on a lengthy and painstaking investigation eventually catching and convicting the killers and bringing them to justice in 1965

Robert Blake (Perry Smith) and Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock) are utterly convincing as the ruthless killers. And although we already know that they committed the murders from the early scenes Brooks generates a palpable tension while he fleshes out the investigation and we get a chance to fathom the broken minds of the perpetrators.

At the end of the day, who can really understand why two people only intending to rob the Clutters, and who had not committed murder before, suddenly decided to sadistically murder four innocent people on a quiet night in 1959? And what did the God-fearing Clutters do provoke such vicious violence?

Richard Brooks’s fractured narrative flips nervously back and forth brilliantly evoking both the frenzied minds of the killers and the fervent need of detective to nail and endite their suspects. Conrad Hall’s noirish visuals re-visit the rain-soaked scene of the crime, the remote locations and the fugitives’ brief escape to Mexico and their chance arrest in Las Vegas, while allowing brief glimpses of the genesis of their disfunctional family stories.

Brooks skilfully avoids showing bloodshed, violence or macabre crime scenes, allowing the terror to haunt our minds rather than the cinema screen. The mercilessness of the intruders and the abject fear and vulnerability of Clutters in their final moments is more evocative than any blood-soaked bedroom scene. By the time we reach the trial and imprisonment, we are glad to be done with these criminals, although a papery vestige of pity remains for tawdry life of who Perry Smith who seems to have been led on. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give chilling and resonant portrayals in the leading roles. MT

IN COLD BLOOD IS ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI DURING AUGUST | THE FILM HAS BEEN REMASTERED COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS.

 

Early Winter (2015) | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Michael Rowe

Cast: Suzaanne Clement, Paul  Doucet

91min   Canada | Australia | Drama

It’s hard to remember a more an unremittingly gloomy portrait of deadbeat marriage than Michael Rowe’s EARLY WINTER. This tonally monotonous domestic drama, posing as social realism, drones on in the dreary dregs of a Quebec Autumn where early snow is an indication that a long winter of disillusionment and discontent is about to set in for a couple who have fallen out of love. Or have they?.

A painfully overlong opening sex scene sets the tone for what is to come – or not to come – in the case of Mandy’s (Suzanne Clement) orgasm: “It’s ages since you came” says her care-worn care-worker husband David (Paul Doucet). Mandy’s sad reply is simply “Don’t start”. Terminally depressed from a tragedy that ended his previous marriage, David works nights in a hospice for elderly patients and his family life is clearly suffering as a result. As he comes home, Mandy gets up to take their two boys: Sergei and Maxime to school before returning to her sofa where she smokes, plays video games and watches TV. Clearly frustrated, she is an unpleasant and tetchy individual whose only mild enthusiasm is her favourite son Maxim.

Paul Doucet’s David is far the most engaging character in the piece: a crumple-faced gentle giant on anti-depressants, he  gradually emerges as the driver in an accident that killed his daughter. Buttoned-up in his sadness and treading water in a ocean of repressed tears, he calmly radiates love and affection but receives little in return from either his wife, his patients or his co-worker who has her own tragedy to deal with.

EARLY WINTER works best as a character study of depression but there is no dramatic tension here in a story that features too few chinks of light or movement in its darkness. A talapia playing friskily by the waste bins and a mouse making its way warily across the family’s battle-strewn living room provide brief moments of release in a sober story that is shot in frames that enforce visual and emotional distance from the characters, whose lives are kept at arm’s length, and whose heads are often missing.

Cannes Camera D’Or winner Michael Rowe has made a difficult, often uncomfortable film to watch. Running at just over 90 minutes it feels much longer and gives us very little to appreciate about its characters or its subject-matter. Mandy and David are a fractile, toxic pair whose marriage, like many others, seems likely to endure even the bleakest Quebec winter. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 2 – 12 SEPTEMBER 2015.

Beyond the Reach (2015)

Dir: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti | Stephen Susco and Robb White | Cast: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine, Martin Palmer, Ronnie Cox, Hanna Mangan Lawrence | 95min US Thriller

A schematic battle of wits plays out against some rather splendid widescreen desert scenery in this bone-dry endurance test from French director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti (Carré Blanc). In contrast to the searing success of Lee H Katzin’s 1974 TV original Savages, this fails to deliver thrills or spills even with Michael Douglas as a sadistic gun-slinger, and Jeremy Irvine’s sunburnt good guy.

Douglas (Madec) arrives in the Mojave desert at the wheel of a souped-up SUV, pretending to be a City hot shot on the hunt for off-season game with his hired tracker Ben (Irvine). But a psychopathic streak gets the better of him when he ‘accidentally’ turns his hand-made gun on the local humans, taking out a local cave-dweller in the process (Martin Palmer), then attempting to bribe Ben to cover up his crime and lie to the local sheriff (Ronny Cox). Anxious to make some money, Ben agrees to Madec’s demands when it transpires that Madec will finance him through college and secure a lucrative City job to lure his girlfriend into (Lawrence) into a more permanent liaison. But when Ben draws the line at disposing of the body, Madec plays dirty, forcing him to strip down to his boxers and walk barefoot across the wilderness in a bid to survive.

Armed with a shoddy script our tediously miscast duo desperately make their way through Navajo country, a dissipated Douglas goading the saintly, sun-scorched Irvine through a series of trials and tribulations from the comfort of his air-conditioned Merc. It all plays out like some ghastly face-off between the Devil and a scantily-clad ‘Jesus’ in the wilderness. But on this occasion there’s no redemption in sight. MT

ON Amazon Prime Video. 

 

Love & Mercy (2015)

Director: Bill Pohlad    Writers: Oren Moverman

Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Dee Wallace, Jake Abel, Joanna Going

121min   US   Biopic of Brian Wilson

LOVE & MERCY explores the life of iconic Beach Boys front man Brian Wilson during the formative years of the band and the abusive relationship with his father that led to mental illness that worsened under the control of a doctor whose care he sought in his troubled adult years.

In a resonant and well-managed double act Paul Dano (young Brian) and John Cusack (older Brian) evoke the creative brilliance of an intuitive soul caught between the strong egos of his father and the other band members while he strove to channel his musical talents into a string of highly original hits capturing the upbeat sunny vibe of America in the sixties while echoing the tender tones of love and loss.

Oren Moverman’s fractured narrative flips back and forth from the opening scenes as John Cusack’s quirky and quixotic older Brian is buying a cadillac from Melinda Ledbetter (a superb Elizabeth Banks), who is to play a crucial part in his adult years – and the early life portrayed by Paul Dano’s sensitive young Brian who is physically and mentally abused by his unhappy father, as he patiently feels his way ahead on a thrilling musical adventure. Although occasionally slack in places where the film attempts to drift into the dreamlike mindset of a creative genius or reflect the gruelling nature of recording sessions, this affecting emotional drama sings out with spine-tingling soul.

In some ways Bill Pohlad’s direction has tragic overtones of a man who succeeded against the odds. Wilson is seen as being constantly besieged by negative characters, amongst them his father, Murry Wilson (Bill Camp) who will eventually sell the rights to the Band’s music for less than a million dollars; bandmate and naysayer Mike Love (Jake Abel), not to mention the vehemently vicious Doctor Eugene Landy (a brilliantly ebullient Paul Giamatti), his disturbed legal guardian, who uses a toxic brew of Pavlovian tricks to keep Wilson psychologically under control. But glimmers of hope gradually transform the drama in the final scenes – and if you don’t know the story, this will come as a welcome surprise.

In the early years, a puppy-like Paul Dano paints Wilson as a home-loving peacemaker who relies heavily of intuition to be productive and uses accomplished professional musicians known as the Wrecking Crew to create the unique sound of mega hits ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. In one scene, we see him cancelling a $5000 dollars recording session simply because “the vibes don’t feel right”. Drummer Hal Blaine offers Wilson the only professional praise in the entire piece, assuring him: “Phil Spector’s got nothin’ on you”.  This is a heart-warming moment in contrast to the many scenes of flagrant emotional abuse that Wilson suffers at the hands of Dr Landy and his father who continually puts him down: “Five years from now no one is going to remember you or the Beach Boys.”

John Cusack reflects Wilson’s inate good-nature but also his warped and tortured soul in the desperate lines “I want you to leave now, but I don’t want you to leave me”, after spending a romantic afternoon with Melinda in his beach-house. Their relationship develops under the constant control of Dr Landy, who insists on over-medicating Wilson, being a permanent presence in his daily acitivities and even dictating his living arrangements and attending his dates with Melinda. And as the couple gradually fall in love, the defensive Landy insists that Wilson wants no more of Melinda in his life due to his recording commitments.

Pohlad’s biopic is by no means hagiographic and this is the essence of its success as it accurately reflects the real nature of an intensely private man whose creativity strove to express deep-felt emotions and continual inventiveness and rather than a desire to engage with fans and pursue fame. And this is perhaps, in some ways, why Wilson was at odds with his bandmates. But even if you know nothing of the man himself but are familiar with the legend of the Beach Boys and their songs, this is moving musical biopic with appeal for the arthouse crowd and mainstream audiences alike. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 10 JULY 2015

[youtube id=”lpd4jzKA4SA” width=”600″ height=”350″]

3 Women (1977) | Robert Altman season BFI 2021

Dir.: Robert Altman | Cast: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier | USA Drama, 124 min.

Robert Altman despised Hollywood with the true hatred of a renegade and claimed that the idea of 3 WOMEN came to him in a dream. Nowadays you have to be careful with these kind of statements – suffice to say the film is a free association on the topic of female identities, leaving ratio and conventional narrative behind. Calling the film an ‘American answer to Bergman’s Persona, does Altman no justice; the point is that 3 Women is an exercise in psychological symbolism, avoiding any classification in itself.

It all takes place in a spa for seniors in the Californian desert near Palm Springs where Millie Lamoreaux (Duvall) works as a physical therapist acquainting newcomer Pinky Rose (Spacek) with her duties in the opening scene. Millie is a walking/talking ‘Cosmopolitan’ woman, full of witticisms and superficial knowledge which she sprouts continuously.

Millie sees herself as ‘God’s given gift to men’, too often getting the bum’s rush, so it’s quite a surprising that Pinky, fresh from small town Texan small town, chooses her as a role model and soon the two are flat mates, Pinky a sycophantic sidekick to her mentor Millie

The trio is made up with pregnant Willie Hart (Rule), who paints disturbing murals on the apartment buildings and pool – owned by her husband Edgar (Fortier) – where Pinky and Millie now live. Edgar is an ex-stuntman more married to the beer bottle than his artist wife. But a startling turn of events sees the film change gear, Pinky becoming a much more functional version of Millie (and even seducing Edgar). And as the mood changes, structure and narrative also become blurred as the three women somehow drift into one united by another tragic turns of events.

What starts as a mordant caricature of California (and Hollywood) shifts in tone towards the end, the images becoming more languid, as the three women seem to glide towards one other. But this not just female solidarity at play, we are actually entering a new sphere. Altman lets the audience decide what to make of it all, offering an alternative to what has gone on before. It is an invitation to cut loose from the American dream of crass materialism and superficial uniformity, in order to find a dynamic we can share with others. Altman sets himself apart from mainstream cinema both in form and content without providing a clearly defined alternative. But, like Bodhi Wind’s murals, the emotional journey taken by these three different souls is enigmatic and mystical. 3 Women is a cinematic invitation to step outside the constraints of society, and try something different, for a change. AS

NOW AT THE BFI Southbank LONDON | ON BLU RAY RE-MASTERED COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS & VIDEO

Every Secret Thing (2014) | Edinburgh Film Festival 17 -28 June 2015

Director: Amy Berg,  Writer: Nicole Holofcener

Cast: Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Banks, Danielle MacDonald, Nate Parker

99min  Psychodrama | Mystery | US

Oscar-nominated Amy Berg brings her documentary expertise (West of Memphis | Deliver Us From Evil ) to bear in this feature debut that makes an interesting pairing with her documentary Prophet’s Prey, also screening at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, touching on similar issues. Although initially challenged by its fractured narrative style that takes place in two different time lines, the overtly sombre-toned psychological drama, based on  Laura Lippman’s best-seller, goes on to exert a relentlessly unsettling grip throughout its 93 minute running time.

This is largely down to four good female performances from Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald). Ronnie and Alice, (played as adults by Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald, respectively) are suspected of kidnapping two mixed-race kids in separate incidents a decade apart. We join the story as an investigation into the latest disappearance is taking place in contempo New York state. And gradually we discover more about the initial crime which resulted in the young girls being incarcerated for 10 years until they emerge as women in their late teens. Told through flashbacks with mock newspaper footage and news bulletins, the original murder is relayed from the perspective of the young girls, as the real story only emerges in the final stages of the movie.

Skilful edits require intense concentration as we bring our instincts to the forefront. In analysing the characters of the girls and their families,  we become involved in determining the upshot of a story of female disturbance and deception that is open to so many different possibilities, twists and turns. Berg casts aspersions at a dreadful early childhood for both Alice and Ronnie but the circumstances surrounding their start in life, that lead them to become, in effect, psychopaths, is shrouded in mystery. Even at the finale, there is no way of knowing exactly who initiated the kidnapping or who committed the murder although it is possible to make an educated guess based on our own experience and intuitions. There is also the element of false memory that makes this a very exciting and engaging drama, particularly from a feminine perspective.

Themes of parenting, bullying, dating, adoption, the break-down on the family unit and its affects on female relationships, not to mention issues of re-integration into the community, are all carefully woven into the storyline and seen from each different female’s perspective with Rob Hardy’s stunning cinematography which incorporates inventive camera angles and a haunting original score from Robin Coudert (Populaire).

Diane Lane is superb as a single mother who appears to be grappling with a difficult daughter who she is also in competition with, as a female. Dakota Fanning is mesmerising, particularly in one scene where she attains almost horror status as a outwardly vulnerable but clearly cunning individual. But Danielle MacDonald gives the most frightening turn as a narcissistic fantasist with body image issues. And last, but not least, Elizabeth Banks plays an awarded woman detective tasked with investigating the case and bringing her own psychological insight into this nest of vipers. You will have a field day. MT

EVERY SECRET THING screens at EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 -28 JUNE 2015.

The Misfits (1961)

Director: John Huston   Screenplay: Arthur Miller

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, Estelle Winwood

125min   Drama Romance Western  US

The jury’s still out on posterity’s final verdict on the merits of this early road movie set in and around Reno. While it was in production a major event was anticipated: Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Arthur Miller’s script was his first original screenplay – written especially for his movie star wife Marilyn Monroe – and by the time it hit cinemas in early 1961 audiences also knew the film would mark the final screen appearance of Clark Gable. But no one could have dreamt that the film would turn out to be Monroe’s swansong too.

Miller continued ceaselessly to rewrite the script on location as his marriage to Monroe fell apart, and would later describe the shooting of THE MISFITS as a low point in his life. (The pair were divorced just before the film’s premiere). Doped up to the eyeballs, Monroe’s constant late arrivals on set – or complete no-shows – resulted in production relentlessly dragging on for months, and when Gable finally completed his scenes he sighed “Christ I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack. I’ve never been happier when a film ended”. Just two days afterwards Gable did suffer a heart attack, from which he died ten days later. Despite the massive advance publicity THE MISFITS received, the filmgoing public proved uninterested in the two-hour ramblings of a bunch of blue-collar losers and stayed away. The film continues to dismissed by some as a failure.

The_Misfits_1Yet from all this wreckage – aided by the immaculate location photography of Russell Metty (fresh from his Oscar-winning work on Spartacus) and the editing of Hitchcock’s regular collaborator George Tomasini (fresh from Psycho) – a beautiful and moving film somehow managed to emerge. While the fragile mental state of both Monroe and co-star Montgomery Clift are all-too apparent in the finished film, Monroe remains hauntingly beautiful in a role a million miles from the Hollywood glamour her name usually evokes. With the subsequent untimely loss first of Monroe and then of Clift the film’s morose self-pity began to mellow into melancholy (and it’s always wonderful to see Thelma Ritter again!).

Although making the film almost certainly killed him, THE MISFITS has ironically secured Clark Gable’s reputation with a younger generation that might otherwise know him only – if at all – as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Even those who know their old movies would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of his post-war vehicles; and his name remains largely the property of those who cherish the classic Hollywood cinema of the thirties. (Gable himself once said that “The only thing that has kept me a big star has been revivals of Gone With the Wind“). Hence the glorious incongruity of his towering presence in this early example of independent US filmmaking; which in retrospect resembles the first of an unofficial trio of black-&-white early sixties contemporary anti-westerns, each dominated by a commanding male lead performance as a drifter in a stetson: the latter pair being Lonely Are the Brave with Kirk Douglas and Hud with Paul Newman. The late David Shipman described THE MISFITS as “an attempt by a New Yorker to come to terms with the West”. A precursor had been Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), whose star Robert Mitchum had also been John Huston’s intended lead for THE MISFITS. Mitchum however didn’t like Miller’s script (or the prospect of strenuous stunt work roping steers in the searing heat of the Nevada desert) and ironically turned it down; since the film is now unthinkable without Gable. He lost two and a half stone for the part, and at 14st looked trimmer than he had in years; and although looking every one of his fifty-nine years, the virility and charisma that nearly thirty years earlier had wowed Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard survives intact. After more than half a century THE MISFITS continues to remind audiences just why Gable was known in his heyday as the King of Hollywood; and his closing speech (“Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it. It’ll take us right home”) has long ago taken its place in film legend alongside Scarlett O’Hara’s “After all, tomorrow is another day”. Richard Chatten.

THE MISFITS IS ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI  FOR THE MARILYN MONROE SEASON FROM 12 JUNE 2015

Marilyn Monroe: Victim or Manipulator?

Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_3 Marilyn Monroe’s success in the Hollywood firmament was built on a ruthless control of her own image: and whilst the myth would suggest that the Studio controlled her success, it was Marilyn herself  who ultimately called the shots. And there were always enough men around to help achieve her aims. When she finally collapsed under the burden of stardom, she had successfully fashioned her profile for her own profit and that of the studios.

First of all, there was the Russian born Johnny Hyde (1895-1950), vice-president of William Morris’ West Coast office. In spite of being 31 years older than Marilyn, he wanted to marry her, and left his wife. He negotiated Monroe’s contract with 20th Century Fox, which lead to her having small, but noticeable roles in All About Eve and Asphalt Jungle. In the first one, she plays a dim-witted actress, seemingly wiling to sleep with anybody who would be of use to her. For five years Monroe would play roles which were just a variation on this theme. But, much more importantly, Hyde arranged for a portrait of her in ”Photoplay”. By this time, she had already been on the cover of both “Look” and “Life’ magazine. But her “Photoplay’ profile played up her vulnerability and loneliness and, of course, underlined her troubled past. Crucially, it stressed her lack of female confidantes, an important point, since female audiences were still not sold on Miss Marilyn Monroe. In confessing her need for female friendship and solidarity, Monroe made a direct appeal: “There’s a thing called society that you have to enter into, and society is run but women. Until now, I’ve never known one thing about typical ‘feminine activities’”.

River_of_No_Return_2

In calling for the help of ‘her sisters’ Marilyn Monroe, and the studio, made a strong bid to change the male bias of her audience. Her self-confessed “vulnerability and innocence” helped this process on the way, films of the mid-fifites  like Niagara, Gentlemen prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire made her blossom into a fully fledged star.

In 1948 Monroe had posed naked for the photographer Tom Kelley for “Golden Dream” calendar. And these photos had been reprinted in other girlie calendars. When she was a star in the making, she offered appealing reasons for posing in the nude: “I was hungry”, “three weeks behind with the rent” and, “Kelley’s wife was present”. Obviously, the real money came from the reprint as a centre-fold in “Playboy”. But her ‘honesty’ was well-received and this clever attitude meant that her image did not suffer greatly.

Prince_and_the_Showgirl_6

Her marriages to Joe DeMaggio and later Arthur Miller, were handled by her and the studios to maximum effect. Again, “Photoplay” was helpful in creating the image of Monroe after her marriage to the ex-baseball star: “At home their lives were as ordinary as any couple’s in Oklahoma. Monroe slips into an apron and begins opening cans and getting things ready for the big fellow’s dinner, which she cooks with her own hands”. Another magazine described her life style, as calling for “candlelight on bridge tables, budgets and dreaming of babies – simple, plain domesticity”. Monroe adding herself that “Joe doesn’t have to move a muscle. Treat a husband this way and he’ll enjoy you twice as much.” The reality looked different, during their honeymoon n Japan, Monroe left DiMaggio for Korea, where she appeared in ten shows for the serving GIs. A month later, Wilder let the public watch the famous “air vent” scene for The Seven Year Itch, and the enraged DiMaggio soon filed for a divorce.

Bus_Stop_2In 1953, Monroe rebelled against the studio, she did not want to appear in the dim song-and-dance film The Girl with Pink Tights. Suspended by Fox, Monroe with the assistance of Milton Green (1922-1985), a photographer and PR agent, formed her own company ‘Marilyn Monroe Productions’. Fox gave in, and Monroe returned with a better contract, and a fine role in Bus Stop (1956), for which she received the best reviews of her career. During this time she met the playwright Arthur Miller. The gossip industry soon invented the new Monroe. Turning up for the press conference for her new production company wearing a full length ermine coat, signified better than words how serious she was about her art and her new marriage. Real life again has been re-invented: Monroe and Arthur Miller split up even before the shooting of The Misfits (their common project) began, Miller meeting his new wife during the shoot.

The_Misfits_5Marilyn Monroe was adept at being her best PR agent and stylist, she played the press more often than the other way around. The “Saturday Evening Post” was perhaps best in projecting her persona: There was the ‘Sexpot” image of the early 50s, followed by “frightened Marilyn Monroe, after the publication of her childhood history and than the “new Marilyn Monroe”, the legend, a composed and studied performer”. Whilst the ‘Legend’ was draped in furs, and responsible for the ‘Monroeism’, the ‘Woman’ herself was still shy, hesitant, removed and terribly lonely. AS/MT

THE MARILYN MONROE SEASON RUNS AT THE BFI, LONDON | 1-30 JUNE 2015 

 

Cannes Film Festival| Projections for 2015 | 13 – 24 May 2015

In a months time the World’s most well-known film festival will once again be rolling out the Red Carpet and bringing you the latest in World cinema. Meredith Taylor speculates on this year’s programme hopefuls, ahead of Thierry Frémaux’s official unveiling in mid-April.

salt

Joel and Ethan Coen will Chair the Jury this year, so let’s start with American cinema. Todd Haynes’ glossy literary adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s novel Salt: CAROL (below) has been waiting in the wings since being a possible opener for last year’s VENICE Film Festival. Starring Cate Blanchett it is a glamorous choice for this year’s Palme D’Or. Terrence Malick made his entrance earlier this year at BERLIN with the divisive (amongst critics) drama Knight of Cups and it’s possible that his next film, a documentary on the creation of the Earth, VOYAGE OF TIME, will be ready to grace the Red Carpet this May. Narrated by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, this mammoth project is currently in post production. Cannes habitué Jeff Nichols also has a new film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a father and son Sci-Fi road movie starring Adam Driver and regular collaborator, Michael Shannon, who discovers his boy has special powers. For star quality, Cannes thrives on US stars, and who better to add glitz to the Red Carpet than George Clooney. He stars in Brad Bird’s  TOMORROWLAND, a Sci-Fi adventure that also has Hugh Laurie. Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES, a story of friendship between an American and a Japanese man (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) is another possible contender. William Monahan’s lastest, a thriller entitled MOJAVE, (Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac) could also bring some glamour to the Croisette. Natalie Portman’s will bring her Jerusalem set screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS to the Croisette. It is a drama featuring an Israeli cast including herself, as his on-screen daughter, Fania Oz.

imageMost of this year’s films will be come from Europe and Italy has some brand new offerings from their côterie of well-known directors. Nanni Moretti was last on the Croisette in 2011 with his comedy drama WE HAVE A POPE, this year he could return with another drama co-written with Francesco Piccolo, MIA MADRE, in which he also stars alongside the wonderful Margherita Buy (Il Caimano) and John Turturro. There is Matteo Garrone’s long-awaited THE TALE OF TALES, adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th Century work and featuring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek in the leads. Another literary adaptation from Italy, WONDERFUL BOCCACCIO, is a drama based on The Decameron: the tales of ten young people who escape to the hills during an outbreak of Plague in 14th century Italy. A stellar cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts appear in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, A BIGGER SPLASH, a thriller that unravels in Italy – when an American woman (Tilda Swinton) invites a former lover to share her villa with onscreen husband Ralph Fiennes, sparks fly, particularly as Matthias Schoenaerts is the love interest.  After Cannes success with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino could be back with YOUTH (La Giovenezza), a drama of trans-generational friendship that takes place in the Italian Alps with a starry cast of Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. Definite Red Carpet material. And Marco Bellocchio could well be chosen for his latest historical drama L’ULTIMO VAMPIRO which stars Italian actress of the moment, Alba Rohrwacher – recently in Berlinale with Vergine Giurata.

The Scandinavians could well be on board with Joachim Trier’s first anglophone outing LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a wartime drama in which Isabelle Huppert plays a photographer. Tobias Lindholm’s follow up to the nail-bitingly  rigorous A Highjacking, is A WAR. It has Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek as soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, with echoes of Susanne Bier’s war-themed drama Brothers. Russian maverick Aleksandr Sokurov could present LE LOUVRE SOUS L’OCCUPATION, the third part of his quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001) and filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the Parisian museum. And Greeks could bear gifts in the shape of THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian love story set in the near future and forecasting a grim future for coupledom, with Léa Seydoux, and Colin Farrell. There’s also much excitement about the long-awaited follow up Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, with his 1001 NIGHTS, a re-working of the legendary Arabian tale; certainly destined for the auteurish “Un Certain Régard” sidebar together with Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski’s Sintra-set COSMOS, a literary adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’ novel and starring Sabine Azéma (the former partner of Alain Resnais).

macbeth-Further afield, it’s unlikely that Taiwanese fillmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien THE ASSASSIN will be ready to grace the ‘Montée des Marches’ but from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s drama fantasy, CEMETERY OF KINGS, could well make it. Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is in post production. The Japanese director is best known for award-winners, Tokyo Sonata and The Cure. Many will remember Australian director Justin Kurzel’s incendiary thriller debut SNOWTOWN, and his recent drama THE TURNING that is now on general release. His latest outing MACBETH (right) featured strongly in the Film Market at Cannes last year, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, so it could well enter the fray. For star quality and sheer impact MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (below) will make a blast onto the Riviera. Starring Britons Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult and the lovely Charlize Theron, the fourth in George Millar’s action thriller series could will certainly set the night on fire, in more ways than one.

 

SUNSET-SONG-premieres-images-du-nouveau-Terence-Davies-avec-Agyness-Deyn-47013From England there is Donmar Warehouse director, Michael Grandage’s GENIUS, a biopic of the book editor Max Perkins, who oversaw the works of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F Scott Fitzgerald. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law all take part. Asif Kapadia has two films currently in production: ALI AND NINO starring Danish actress, Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin, and adapted for the screen by scripter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a book by Kurban Said. But his anticipated biopic on the life of Amy Winehouse UNTITLED AMY WINEHOUSE DOCUMENTARY is sadly not quite ready for screening. Other British titles could include Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a Sci-Fi drama based on J G Ballard’s eponymous novel centred on the residents of a tower block and starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Millar and Jeremy Irons. Veteran director Terence Davies could also be back in Cannes representing Britain. In 1988, he won the FIPRESCI Prize for his autobiographical drama Distant Voices, Still Lives. His recent work SUNSET SONG, (above left) is a historical drama based on the book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and stars Agyness Deyn (Electricity) and Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur).

 

Cannes PicAnd last but not least, the French have plenty to offer for their legendary ‘tapis rouge’. Cannes regular Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who escapes to France and ends up working as a caretaker, Gaspar Noé’s first film in English, a sexual melodrama, in which he also stars, LOVE, is ready for the competition line-up. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s BELLES FAMILLES is the latest vehicle for Mathieu Amalric to showcase his talents. After his stint at directing made the Un Certain Régard strand in the shape of Blue Room, he appeared in the recent English TV serial ‘Wolf Hall’. Here he plays a man who is sucked back into his past while visiting his family in Paris. Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) and veterans André Dussollier and Nicole Garcia also star. And what would Cannes be without Philippe Garrel’s usual contribution. This year it will be L’OMBRE DES FEMMES, a drama co-written with his partner, Caroline Deruas. Palme D’Or Winner 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche, latest film, LA BLESSURE, starring Gérard Depardieu, it not quite ready to be unwrapped. But the well-known star may well appear on the Croisette with THE VALLEY OF LOVE, Guillaume Nicloux’s California-set saga which also stars the luminous Cannes regular Isabelle Huppert, never one to shirk the Red Carpet. I’ll be bringing more possibilities as the filming year takes shape, so watch this space. MT.

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FRM 13 MAY UNTIL 25 MAY 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

 

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Writer/Director: Nathan Zellner, David Zellner

Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellnar,

The surreal collides with the banal in Nathan and David Kellner’s genre-blurring black comedy drama, in which the directors also star. Kumiko, a doltishly passive Japanese woman, abandons her dull life as a secretary in Tokyo to travel to snowbound Minnesota, on the strength of an imagined treasure trove she sees buried in a field somewhere outside Mineapolis, while watching a scratchy DVD. She is aided and abetted by the kindness of the local countryfolk who help her on her mission and provide humorous texture to this quirky but endearing road movie. If you can suspend your disbelief and tune into the weird humour, this is a work of inspired genius and well-planned eccentricity: Alexander Payne put his money into it and the Kellner Brothers’ drama has shades of Joel and Ethan Coen about it. MT 105min.

REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 2014 | FORUM

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 FEBRUARY 2015

Love Is Strange (2013)

Director: Ira Sachs

Writer: Mauricio Zacharias

Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Darren E Burrows, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan,

94min  Drama  US

Ira Sach’s previous feature Keep the Lights On was an exploration of gay love seen from the perspective of a young man in a troubled relationship. Fraught with despair and conflict it was a difficult film to watch. Here is something more gentle and kind about a couple who have been together for nearly forty years are appear to have found true love and contentment together.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally decide to formalise their relationship but scarcely have the champagne glasses been put away than outside influences put a strain on their their early days of marriage. George is fired from his job at the local church because his new status is not considered acceptable there. During an odd interlude with their their close family and neighbours the pair fail to raise enough capital to pay their bills so while selling their place and searching for new accommodation Ben moves in with his nephew Elliott (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). George manages to find a room with some neighbours.

Forced apart, their relationship comes under strain and this is where Love Is Strange gradually becomes unconvincing. For a start, it seems implausible that this affluent-looking and established couple in their sixties/seventies would prey upon their younger family for help with accommodation and then agree to living apart in a rather bogus set-up. Once Ben is established at his nephew’s place he becomes unbearably self-centred and particularly irritating in his insensitivity towards Kate; seemingly unable to understand how their family functions and lacking any graciousness in his status as a guest. Yet when he meets up with George in the evenings, he behaves in quite a different way: as a normally-adjusted and sympathetic adult. As a result we feel little for this rather spoilt old man whose only focus is to paint on the roof of his nephew’s apartment block in the afternoons. As George, Alfred Molina shines as the more mellow and appealing character of the couple. The fact that they are gay is incidental here as Sachs’s narrative focuses on love, coupledom and the nuclear and wider family dynamics. Whether Sachs is simply telling a story or whether he is trying to probe and explore the differences between the intimate love of two people (essentially coupledom ) and the love of a couple and their inherent responsibility to their kids and extended family network and community is unclear. However, the result is that we feel nothing for Ben and George as they simper over their cocktails but every sympathy for Kate and Elliott, who are holding their union together with the additional stress of kids, while trying to be supportive to their rather cantankerous uncle.

Make of it what you will. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias craft some interesting characters in this slim but engaging drama which has some wistfully dreamy moments (such as those when Ben is painting over the New York skyline) that allow space to drift and imagine the strangeness of love, responsibility and human dynamics to an appealing piano score. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015

 

The Misfits (1960)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter; USA 1960, 120 min.

Nearly four month in production, shot in chronological order, THE MISFITS was the most expensive black and white film in 1960, costing 4$m, roughly 31$m in todays money. A stellar cast helmed by John Huston at the zenith of his career, and written by the intellectual giant of the era Arthur Miller – whose script was based on his own short story, what could go wrong? Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was on board, leading a team of nine photographers shooting in the Nevada desert. The result seemed disappointing at the time, even though today THE MISFITS is very much a cult outing, appreciated much more that it was forty- five years ago.

Roslyn (Monroe), a newly divorced night club dancer, fancies the “simple” life away from the city. Unfortunately she meets two cowboys (Gable and Wallach) and a rodeo rider (an intense Monty Clift ), who catch horses with lassoos, just like in the good old days. The men are a cynical bunch, full of macho values and more often drunk than sober. Roslyn soon discovers the reason for their bravado: the men are fully aware the mustangs they catch, are destined for the abattoir, soon to be dog food. Having flirted with the whole trio, Roslyn goes for Gay (Gable), the oldest and most stable, also, perhaps because of his humanity – after one of the most shocking scenes ever committed to film, involving wild horses being savagely rounded up – Gay decides to let the horses escape, even though he knows his career is finished. THE MISFITS is an elegy for an America long lost, profit is the only game in town, and Huston’s poetic masterpiece is a long good-bye, shot in alluring black and white by Russell Metty. The grainy pictures somehow recall a ‘romantic’ Hollywood lost to colourful, spectacular super-productions. THE MISFITS has stood the test of time, a worthy forerunner for many “late Westerns” of the eighties and nineties, which confront a rotten the present with a make-belief past: fables for grownups.

The melancholic atmosphere almost presaged doom, spilling into real life: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in different hotels during the shooting, and were divorced shortly afterwards; Miller would soon marry Inge Morath, one of the nine photographers present. Montgomery Clift would die an untimely death after a serious accident; Monroe would never finish another film, and Clark Gable suffered a fatal heart attach before the premiere. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY | DVD

Thief (1981)

Dir.: Michael Mann

Cast: James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky

USA 1981; 122 min.

For his feature debut THIEF Michael Mann (Manhunter, Miami Vice) delivers a perfect action movie and a philosophical discourse on the unattainability of the American Dream. Frank (Caan), a middle-aged professional safe breaker who has honed his skills in jail and now wants to press a button and settle down to a ready made family and a financially secure life. To remind him of his goal, he carries a postcard with cut-out motives of middle class happiness. In order to achieve this, he has to do a last caper. But instead of working with his own crew, he agrees to work with Leo (Prosky), a big crime lord.

Frank’s choice of a woman, the vulnerable, disillusioned and poorly paid Jessie (Weld), demonstrates his powers of projection: he wants to save her as much as himself. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. Frank’s personal life changes in 24 hours: he loses a father figure, who “told him everything about the job”, who dies of a heart attack after spending too much time in jail – Frank can’t make good his promise to spring him loose. His substitute father figure, Leo, procures a baby for the couple, after they are turned down at an adoption agency. The preparations for the job take Frank’s mind off family life; his trust in Leo is unshakable, as is his near religious belief in a happy, carefree life after crime.

The success of the heist brings in millions of dollar in form of small diamonds, but then Leo presents Frank with just $85000, the amount missing a zero at the end of his agreed share. Strangely, Leo presents an intact family life as an excuse for cheating Frank, who, after watching one of his men killed by Leo’s hired men, goes into an all-out war with Frank and his numerous enforcers. Even though action scenes dominate through pure force, Frank’s loneliness is the central aspect of THIEF. Even in the company of his men, he is the lone wolf – he takes his responsibility for them very seriously, a sort of “Pater Familias” in the crime world. His relationship with Jessie is founded on his wishful thinking, that they can both escape their past. Leo turns from a benevolent godfather into a brutal killer, whilst still keeping his identity as a family man – Frank, so skilful at work – is too naïve to see Leo’s game right from the beginning. Frank is the real outlaw, fit for any Western.

Well-cast and fabulously crafted, Donald E Thorin’s camera-work is brilliant, long shots show the city of Chicago as a decrepit background, Kentish Town on a bad night. It never really gets light, and the night drives are exceptionally emotive. Caan and Weld are a couple lost in their dreams for a future they were never made for, and Prosky’s Leo is one of the best all-time baddies. Frank Hohimer’s novel is the basis for this sleazy chronicle of unobtainable respectability. AS

A LIMITED SLIPCASE EDITION OF THIEF IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY INCLUDING TWO VERSIONS OF THE FILM, THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL CUT AND AN EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT. £19.99 COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS. 

 

Life of Crime (2013)

Dir.: Daniel Schlechter

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher, Mos Def (as Yasiin Bey), John Hawkes, Will Forte

USA 2013, 94 min.

Based on the novel The Switch (1967) by Elmore Leonard, LIFE OF CRIME is set in Detroit in 1978, were two small time crooks Ordell (Bey) and Louis (Hawkes) are setting their minds on a million Dollar coup: they kidnap Mickey Dawson (Anniston), wife of the crooked property developer Frank (Robbins). But they have not bargained for Melanie (Fisher), Frank’s girlfriend, who has persuaded him to send his wife the divorce papers, which coincides with her kidnapping. And when Ordell phones Frank at Melanie’s at her place in Florida, Frank seems to be reluctant to come up with the one million Dollar ransom – particularly since Melanie is telling him how much he can save if his wife “disappears” for good.

Meanwhile, Ordell and Louis have trouble on their own: they have incarcerated Mickey in Richard’s flat, but the fat man is a crazed fascist and Hitler fan, who wants to rape Mickey. Louis saves her just in time, and takes her back to her home, where she finds the divorce papers. Meanwhile, Ordell has travelled to Miami, where he meets Melanie, to put the screws on. But after they got to get to know each other better, Melanie tells him that he is a great stud, but a lousy extortionist. She goes with him to Detroit, to take things into her own hands. But Louis and Mickey convince Ordell, that they have taken the wrong “Mrs” Dawson..

Schlechter stays very much with the style of Barry Sonnenfeld’s film of Leonard’s novel of the same name, Get Shorty, from 1995. Apart from the Richard character (who is later shot by the police) nobody is really dangerous, just misguided. Robbins is particularly convincing as the double-crossing husband, he is ice cold when he meets Mickey after her ordeal, just interested in how much the divorce will cost him. Fisher is slightly over the top in her utter superficiality, but Bey and Hawkes are brilliant at the two low-lives, being in over their heads. There is little to chuckle about, because everything is simply too lightweight to make any impact. Whilst everything, including the camera work, is very professional, LIFE OF CRIME feels like one of those slick but slightly anonymous pictures from the nineties. And there’s nothing wrong with that.. AS

OUT ON 5 SEPTEMBER 2014 COURTESY OF CURZON WORLD

Nothing But A Man (1964)

Director: Michael Roemer

Writers: Michael Roemer and Robert Young

Cast: Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, Yaphet Kotto, Julius Harris.

95mins   US  Drama ***

First released in 1964, Nothing But A Man appears to have suffered the fate shared by so many low-budget independent films: festival success and critical acclaim, followed by a small release and a sink into relative obscurity. However, in 1993 the Library of Congress declared the film ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ and selected the film for preservation, leading to a successful re-release in the US. Now, 20 years later, comes the film’s first-ever UK cinema release, courtesy of the BFI.

The film depicts life among the black community in a small town in 1960s Alabama, focusing upon the burgeoning romance between section hand Duff (Ivan Dixon) and local schoolteacher and preacher’s daughter Josie (Abbey Lincoln). If the romance itself follows a somewhat predictable narrative arc, the film makes up for it with its searing examination of the town’s racism, and the myriad of relationships surrounding the protagonists. In its detailed exploration of the life of Duff and Josie, and the various prejudices and troubles they face, the film questions not only the relationships between blacks and whites, but also between men and women, parents and children, friends and co-workers, and middle-class and working-class citizens. The fact that the film is able to fluidly and cohesively incorporate such a large canvas, and do so with so much wit, style and compassion, is testament to the deft hand of (white Jewish) director Michael Roemer (there’s only one sequence, towards the end of the film, which seems to ring false).

Roemer, alongside his unusually hyphenated cowriter–cinematographer Robert Young, frames the action in stark black and white images, punctuating the drama by filming the characters’ frank exchanges in powerful close ups. The film is permeated with a sense of neorealistic naturalism, its nuances and textures coalescing into a vivid portrait of 1960s Alabamian life. For all its scope, the film is tied together by Dixon’s transfixing charisma, which imbues the film with a level of charm which could easily have been absent with a lesser presence playing the protagonist. Dixon’s wry smile lends an air of charm to the proceedings, and grounds the film in a gentle, engrossing humanism. Add to this the film’s interestingly open ending and its scrupulous examination of social mores, and it’s easy to understand why the film was dubbed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.  ALEX BARRETT

 

Frances Ha (2012) **** CANNES Film Festival 2013

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7SxMaA0Om8

Director: Noah Baumbach   Script: Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver

85mins      US Indie      Drama

A ‘kooky’ and charming twenty-something New York tale that could have been penned by Hal Hartley or even Woody Allen, Frances Ha is the latest outing from Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale).  Typically American indie in feel and freshly shot in crisp black and white and a large dose of chutzpah, it tells the story of a slightly jejeune sofa-surfing dancer who’s vulnerable yet determined to have fun in her quest for happiness.  As Frances, Greta Gerwig gives a suberb performance that shows she’s much more clever than her friends would give her credit for.  It’s a stylish film and well worth a watch for its sharp script, authentic characterisation and sparky performances. MT

FRANCES HA IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 26TH JULY 2013 AT EVERYMAN CINEMAS, VUE CINEMAS, CINEWORLD AND THE BARBICAN LONDON.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovelace (2013)

Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Script: Andy Belin

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone

92min    US Drama

[youtube id=”4WeFol7PWm0″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

In this compelling account of how a vulnerable young woman becomes the porn star Linda Lovelace, there are a some dynamite performances. Amanda Seyfried takes centre stage as the delicately elfin Linda with her mop of tousled curls. The product of a dysfunctional home-life that distances her from parents (Sharon Stone is suberb as her buttoned-up, embittered mother), she is thrown into the arms of Peter Sarsgaard’s disarmingly sexy but sleazy hustler and manager, Chuck Traynor. Taking her to New York as his wife, he then peddles her legendary ‘bedroom skills’ to porn directors Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria and Butchie Peraino (Bobby Carnevale) to create the phenomenon Deep Throat (1972): a money-spinning film that created a career for both of them and launched the era of ‘Porno Chic’, bringing pornography into mainstream popular culture.

Through a clever narrative structure, the truth behind the porn legend is gradually revealed in the second half of the film where the tone shifts from light-hearted comedy to disturbing and moving drama. We discover the extent of the abuse that Linda suffered to achieve this financial dream for all those involved (accept herself) and how she eventually manages to move on with courage and dignity. A really entertaining piece of filmmaking that really captures the spirit of the seventies made all the more memorable by its upbeat score featuring hits from T.S.O.P. and George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ (1974). MT

LOVELACE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19TH JULY 2013

 

 

 

 

13 (2010) | DVD release

Writer/Director Gela Babluani

Cast Sam Riley, Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, 50 Cent, Mickey Rourke, Ben Gazzara

87 mins 2012 US remake Suspense thriller

13 Tzameti was originally made by Georgian filmmaker Gela Babluani in 2005, starring his brother and located in his native Georgia. It went on to win World Cinema Jury Prize the following year at Sundance and also won two awards at Venice. Despite not having seen this original, one cannot but help think that it must have been far better, retaining a raw edge and energy that this poor remake lacks, to have propelled it so far, earning the attention of Hollywood.

Despite a very good performance by Sam Riley, this so-called suspense thriller lacks much suspense and is less than thrilling. The movie is chock full of testosterone, but lacks cold logic; a requisite ingredient, if one is to believe the story as it unfolds.

It also fails to divest enough of its low-budget predecessor in terms of making it big screen and not small screen; it comes across rather as a late night schlock TV movie, rather than a big screen outing.

One is constantly aware of the star turns and therefore never really enter into the world the film is trying to create, as these stars just get in the way. So one finds oneself just looking at Mickey Rourke or Ray Winstone, rather than the characters they are meant to be portraying. This of course would not have been the case with the original, where one also feels a syndicated game of Russian Roulette might also be more plausible in the first place in a desperate, twilit, Mafia-run Georgian underground.

I sincerely hope for his sake that the filmmaker Babluani hit paydirt when he got the greenlight to do this all-star remake but, as with so many remakes these days, it simply falls far short of majestic and rather begs the question ‘why?’

There was far too much showboating and a reliance on assumed ‘cool’, but in the cold light of day, I didn’t buy into the game; it was meant to be the ultimate in super-organised, high-end bet-chic, but was demonstrably wide open to sleight of hand, to cheating. Critical detail was lazy- they dish out the same type of bullet to at least five different gun types and none of the character stories really ever rang true. If you’re going to do it, at least do it properly. All of this fakery exemplified by the gun hammers clearly not having firing pins either. No wonder it failed to go off. Andrew Rajan.

NOW ON DVD and Blu-ray 8th October

Copyright © 2022 Filmuforia