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New York Confidential
(1955)

Everybody's out for what they can get.
New York Confidential is directed by Russell Rouse and collectively written by Rouse, Jack Lait , Lee Mortimer and Clarence Greene. It stars Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carrol Naish, Onslow Stevens, Barry Kelley and Mike Mazurki. Music is by Joseph Mullendore and cinematography by Eddie Fitzgerald.

The Kefauver Committee was set up at the beginning of the 1950s and its role was to investigate into the growing threat of organised crime. From this very real moment in time came a wave of films that jumped onto the possibilities on offer for dramatic filmic purpose, New York Confidential is one such picture.

In short order the plot has Crawford as New York Syndicate boss Charles Lupo, who borrows hit-man Nick Maggelan (Conte) from the Chigao branch to enact a hit. The pair quickly strike up a terrific relationship, but as problems within the Lupo home begin to mount up - and the heat starts to close in on the organisation - cracks begin to turn into chasms.

It says a lot about the efforts of the cast that this turns out to be better than it had right to be. The interesting slant here is the impact of family life on the main man. Lupo is a widower who still lives with his mother and daughter, he dotes on his mother and smothers his daughter Katherine (Bancroft) in what he thinks is fatherly love. She hates his criminal workings and rebels against it, something which Lupo can't quite understand. Thrust into the mix is Magellan, suave and good looking, he has tremendous loyalty to Lupo, so when Katherine grabs his eye he has to fight his feelings for her and his commitment to Lupo. Add in Lupo's sultry girlfriend Iris (Maxwell), who has no loyalty and wants to bed Magellan, then emotional conflict and tests of character are boldly prominent.

Beginning with shots of New York City and a narration telling us about how great and prosperous the city is, it is however the core of Syndicated Crime. We switch to a drive by killing, one which claims an innocent bystander, and the scene is set for Lupo and Magellan to meet and the story spins on from there. The dialogue is well written in quick fire noir speak, the best of which comes from Magellan who is calmness personified and Katherine who is bitingly bitter. There's a disappointment that we are sadly denied effective chiaroscuro, for the story demands it, more so when things go belly up and the world closes in on Lupo and Magellan's surrogate father/son relationship.

Come the last quarter the pic really hits its flm noir straps, where joyously it doesn't let us down. We are not fed improbables or lightweight fare, we get pure blackheart noirville, something which elevates a decent film into being a very good one. Family strife and conflicted matters of the heart blend with corruption and organised crime, all crammed into an hour and half of film making. Lovely. 7.5/10

The Double
(2011)

Spooks aren't supposed to be creatures of habit.
A retired CIA operative is paired with a young FBI agent to hopefully solve the case of a serial killer whose style of killings point to a Soviet operative long thought dead.

In amongst the plot holes and ridiculous resolutions there's a more than competent Cold War political murder mystery trying to get out. Unfortunately first time director and co-writer Michael Brandt thinks he's John le Carré and in his attempts to be clever and tricky for the final third of pic, he just comes off as an amateur who is insulting his audience.

Initially the pic is on safe footings. Ok! so it's conventional in formula, but the intrigue is there, Richard Gere and Topher Grace in the lead roles have our attention, and a turn of events at the 30 minute mark has us firmly in the story's grip. Sadly it never materialises into the top line suspense thriller the makers clearly were aiming for.

As the narrative spins into a muddled mess, Brandt is forced to rely on a couple of livewire sequences to save the day; cue interrogation machismo and some car crash chaseville, but it's never enough to save the day. More so when Martin Sheen wanders back into the fold, it is here when you realise you have forgotten he was in the pic anyway! That pretty much says it all. 4/10

The Toughest Gun in Tombstone
(1958)

The Sloane Ranger!
The Toughest Gun in Tombstone is directed by Earl Bellamy and written by Orville H. Hampton. It stars George Montgomery, Jim Davis, Beverly Tyler, Gerald Milton and Don Beddoe. Music is by Paul Dunlap and cinematography by Kenneth Peach.

Solid "B" type Oater finds Montgomery as Matt Sloane, an undercover Arizona Ranger sent into Tombstone to rid it of its outlaw elements. He also has a vested personal interest since the man who killed his wife - and who has shot and injured his son - also resides within the outlaw group.

Standard rules apply here, clocking in at just 72 minutes in run time, the requisite fist fights, chases, shoot outs and good versus bad shenanigans fill out the play. There's some nifty cryptic detective work going on, even some stentorian narration suggesting the makers have been watching the noir crime movies of the era. The romantic angle is not over played, with a nice surrogate mother thread ticking along nicely, and the cast and tech crew perform capably within the confines of the low budget production limits.

With the opening broadly telling us about the "infamous" named characters operating in Tombstone, it should be noted this is of course not a history lesson, so don't expect one. While elsewhere after being told that President Chester A. Arthur has "ordered" the end of outlaws, it's a little disappointing that there wasn't more scope to expand upon the birth of The Arizona Rangers. But as it is this is sturdy and enjoyable fare for the genre fans to pass the time away with. 6/10

Split
(2016)

You like to make fun of us, but we are more powerful than you think.
Split is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu-Richardson and Jessica Sula. Music is by West Dylan Thordson and cinematography by Mike Gioulakis.

Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 different personalities. They must try to escape before the apparent emergence of the 24th - known as The Beast...

We now know that Split is the second instalment of a trilogy by Shyamalan that began with Unbreakable and is ending with Glass (released 2019). Always proving to be a most divisive director/writer/actor, Shyamalan has returned to the sort of noticeable form that had him earmarked in his early days as a director to follow - with the proviso that inevitably this is going to still infuriate some for its handling of the subjects at hand.

The plot trajectory is simple enough, girls kidnapped by a patient suffering from multiple personality disorder, as the girls in fear try to escape, a number of his personalities put in an appearance. Which builds up to the finale, which explodes after following on from the suspense and dread atmospherics so beloved by the director. In the mix joining the mental health issue with our main protagonist is a good meaning doctor (naturally), and the spectre of child abuse rears its ugly head. So not a movie to be cheered up by then! While if looking for a detailed and attentive look at the mental health issues to hand you will be disappointed.

However, there is a style to the picture in how it draws you into the predicament of the main players, boosted no end by McAvoy on irresistible form. Given licence to chew every scene, he delivers his various characters with great relish and no little amount of skill. Props to for Taylor-Joy, who as the lead kidnappee has deftly blended youthful innocence with resourceful strength (aided by Shyamalan's writing of course). Conversely, Shyamalan is guilty of just making a pic for entertainment purpose, which works as it's a very good creepy thriller with its black humour moments, but the mental health plot devices ensure his gimmicks will not be welcomed by all. 7/10

The Illusionist
(2006)

Life and death. Space and time. Fate and chance. Theses are the forces of the universe.
The Illusionist is directed by Neil Burger and Burger adapts the screenplay from "Eisenheim the Illusionist" written by Steven Millhauser. It stars Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell. Music is by Philip Glass and cinematography by Dick Pope.

How splendid, a period romantic mystery that's filled with the mysticism of magical conjurings and political volatility. Plot essentially has Norton as Eisenheim The Illusionist, who later in life runs into Sophie (Biel), his childhood sweetheart, and finds that she's on course to marry Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell). Leopold has a bad reputation and it's not long before Eisenheim comes under Leopold's disdain, forcing Eisenheim to try and pull off the ultimate magic act to save Sophie and himself.

Creator Neil Burger crafts a picture that has everything going for it. The story is rock solid with intrigue credentials, where appropriately for a story based around magic tricks nothing is ever as it seems. The period flavours are smartly assembled, the Czech Republic locations smartly standing in for turn of the century Vienna, the art production is on point with the era of setting, as is the costuming. Glass drifts a tender melancholic score over the piece, while Pope's cinematography is simply gorgeous, offering up colour lensing that's aura enhancing, the kind you could get lost in for days.

The magic tricks are beguiling, as they should be and are in fact required since the narrative tantalisingly suggests Eisenheim may have supernatural powers? The story itself has no historical worth, but is fascinating none the less. It all builds towards its revelations, and much hinges on if the pay off is worth the admission fee? Most assuredly so it is, even if from a personal point of view this writer wouldn't have minded if pic had finished five minutes before the final revelation.

Either way, and with smart acting (Giamatti as the police inspector standing out) without histrionics holding things at the top end, this is delicate film making that engages the emotions fully for entertainment rewards. 8/10

My Cousin Rachel
(1952)

Rachel, my torment. My blessed, blessed torment.
My Cousin Rachel is directed by Henry Koster and adapted to screenplay by Nunnally Johnson from the novel of the same name written by Daphne du Maurier. It stars Richard Burton, Olivia de Havilland and Audrey Dalton. Music is by Franz Waxman and cinematography by Joseph LaShelle.

In short order the plot finds Burton as Philip Ashley, a sombre English gentleman who is disturbed by news that his much admired foster father has been poisoned to death by Rachel Sangalletti (Havilland). When some time later Rachael turns up at the ancestral Ashley cliff top mansion, Philip finds himself torn between proving his hatred is warranted towards her, or from falling deeply in love with her.

A splendid slice of brooding Gothicana, Koster's (skilled hands as usual) picture is firmly dealing out the cards of sinister mystery and simmering passions. A constant is the big question of if Rachael actually is a murderess, the screenplay deliberately vague as it dangles clues from either side of the fence. The setting is ripe for some psychological discord and matters of the heart, the cliff top mansion bathed in shadows, the sea below bearing witness to events with a mixture of tidal menace and serene waters. Across proceedings to further pump up the atmospherics is Waxman's sweeping musical score, and with quality acting to match the literary smarts, this is a high end technical production.

The ambiguity is a little tiresome come the finale - itself weak and a disappointing resolution, but it's a film to get swept away with. For to dive right into the Ashley Mansion and be in the company of fine purveyors of their respective crafts, ensures the rewards are plenty. 7.5/10

The Brasher Doubloon
(1947)

Now I know this is going to sound kind of radical, but did it ever occur to you that it might make things easier if you told the truth occasionally?
The Brasher Doubloon is directed by John Brahm and adapted to the screen by Dorothy Hannah and Leonard Praskins. It stars George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Conrad Janis, Roy Roberts, Fritz Kortner and Florence Bates. Music is by David Buttolph and Alfred Newman and cinematography by Lloyd Ahern.

Adapted from Raymond Chandler's novel "The High Window", plot has Montgomery as Private Investigator Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is hired to find a missing gold coin known as The Brasher Doubloon, but soon he finds himself in the middle of a blackmail and murder case that puts him in jeopardy.

The lesser light of the Marlowe filmic adaptations, that should not however deter anyone from seeking this out. The novel has obviously been condensed down and simplified for ease of viewing, but it maintains the sharp dialogue touches so beloved by Marlowe's fans, whilst the characterisations are splendidly noir in substance.

The look and feel is suitably atmospheric, where in Brahm's and Ahern's hands the mansion at the heart of the story is ominously photographed. Both men compliment each other, where one tilts the angles the other brings the shadow bars, these tech touches bring alive the key scenes in the story. Also nice to get some Los Angeles locations in the production, while the sound mix is a sneaky accompaniment as the wind features prominently throughout.

Montgomery is just fine if you accept his more breezy portrayal of Marlowe, managing to be suave and sharp enough to deliver the killer lines for entertainment impact. Guild is lovely and does enough to bring out her character's troubled vulnerability. Bates grand-dame's it with suspicious glee, while Kortner is the stand out performer from the roll call of sinister baddies.

Good solid entrant into the film noir pantheon, arguably stronger on visual terms than actual plot devices, but enjoyable either way. 6.5/10

Footnote: The High Window was previously adapted into Time to Kill (1942) and starred Lloyd Nolan and Heather Angel.

The Man in Black
(1949)

Oakfield Towers ... The Scene...
The Man in Black is directed by Francis Searle and Searle co-writes the play with John Gilling. It stars Betty Ann Davies, Sheila Burell, Sid James, Anthony Forwood and Mollie Palmer. Music is by Frank Spencer and Rupert Grayson and cinematography by Cedric Williams.

Out of Hammer Films, this adaptation from a radio series is a tight little "Gaslight" suspenser. Story basically entails a young lady recently bequeathed her father's inheritance, who is at the mercy of scheming family members intent on ensuring she doesn't get what's rightfully hers.

The core of the plot is quickly revealed to us, so there is no pretention as to this being a supernatural dark house spooker - which is on the cards given the splendid shadowy and creaky setting of the Oakfield Towers mansion.

Story moves through a number of pleasant surprises, murder and intrigue prominent, motives straight and sketchy depending on certain characters' involvements, and thankfully the final run in has some weighty surprise value as well.

It's all very correct in dialogue and a little camp in places, but it's clever in its telling and nicely performed by the cast. 6.5/10

The Ghost and the Darkness
(1996)

Oh, you're right. The devil has come to Tsavo. Look at me, I am the devil.
The Ghost and the Darkness is directed by Stephen Hopkins and written by William Goldman. It stars Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Brian McCardie and Emily Mortimer. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.

Tsavo, Kenya and a bridge engineer teams up with an experienced professional hunter to hunt for two lions that have been attacking local construction workers.

As is often the case, one should seek out the real stories that are involved in this retelling of the real instances involving the Tsavo Lions

The story itself is awash with mysticism, the lions (Ghost and Darkness) act as some sort of supernatural beings, who we are told are offing the native folk purely for pleasure. There's an odd juxtaposition with this, in that in the midst of colonialism and macho posturing, the hunters of felines are forgivable because they are defenders of mankind - even though we know that man hunts the great feline beasts for fun regardless of this particular situation.

Various stereotypes fil out the screenplay, though not as to be insulting, but you feel that the pic as first envisaged would have had more to say on political frontage and period turmoil. It basically all ends up as a creature feature, two great white hunters facing town the monstrous enemy as their very lives become perilous by the hour.

The attack sequences are nicely staged, wonderfully primal in fact, ensuring that what the pic lacks in intelligent narrative worth it makes up for with thrills and genuine nervy suspense. So with Zsigmond providing some lovely African postcard lensing, and Goldsmith adding music that powerfully bounces around the locales, the tech credits are ensuring our eyes and ears are suitably stoked.

One key character's story arc is stupidly given short shrift, annoyingly so and coming off like someone ran out of time to either write or perform something else, and the uneven feel to it all tends to gnaw away at the enjoyment factor. Yet in spite of the flaws and unfulfilled promise there's a nice old fashioned feel to it, something that seems to have engaged the movie loving public more than it does the pro critics. Interesting that. 6.5/10

A Time for Killing
(1967)

Protracted mess that's nearly saved by the high action quota.
Confederate POWs escape a Union camp and make for the Mexico border chased by Union troops. This in spite of the fact that the war has just been declared over...

Directed by Phil Karlson with Roger Corman on hand for uncredited duties, this stands up as an odd, interesting, but messy Western. The production problems involved do show, for we get a pic that more or less consists of similar scenes strung together as a whole. The pursued can be found squabbling and bickering, in fighting and macho posturing, while the pursuers do the same.

No opportunity is wasted for some violence on tap, lots of gunplay, bloodletting and noise, while sexual aggression rears its ugly head. Sadly it just comes off as trying to keep the pic interesting, to stop the viewers from falling asleep as the narrative fails to offer anything of substance. Oh it's trying, the futility of war and its corruption of the soul are bubbling away, but it never bears out, buried under the urgency for an action scene and awful over acting (Max Baer Junior is appalling).

In its favour is the cast list, which contains Glenn Ford, George Hamilton, Inger Stevens, Timothy Carey, Kenneth Tobey, Harry Stanton, Harrison "Indiana Jones" Ford and Todd "Jason Of The Argonauts" Armstrong - amongst others. It's a strange roll call befitting the strangeness of the piece, compounded by Mundell Lowe's awfully intrusive musical score - on the evidence of this it's not hard to understand why he had such a short and mundane career as a composer. The Utah and Arizona locations however are a treat, so props to Kenneth Peach, his work deserves a better picture.

A Time for Killing (AKA: The Long Ride Home), more a curio piece than a genre pic to avidly seek out. 4/10

Can't Buy Me Love
(1987)

Whatever happens to your popularity, stay yourself, don't change to please others.
Can't Buy Me Love is directed by Steve Rash and written by Michael Swerdlick. It stars Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson. Music is by Robert Folk and cinematography by Peter Lyons Collister.

Plot has Dempsey as nerdy outcast Ronald Miller, who fed up of not being popular pays Cindy Mancini (Peterson), the most popular girl in school, one thousand dollars to be his girlfriend.

The 1980s was awash with films of this ilk, the teen dramedy topped up by a big hearted message and a finale of punch the air worth. What it all comes down to is if the film can hold its head above water, not become too twee, and crucially have you smiling come the finale. As evidenced by its popularity among 80s cineastes of a certain age, Can't Buy Me Love delivers all that you expect from such fare.

The core theme is of course self acceptance, the attainment of such in amongst the scary world of teenage school years. This shines bright in spite of some rather unconvincing dialogue and contrived corny moments. Director Rash just about holds it together, ensuring that the charm of the lead actors holds weight for character engagement, even though for thematic depth the screenplay only skims over the surface.

The teenage dramedy would evolve considerably once the 80s was left behind, becoming more biting, daring and observational. Yet for those who lived and loved this type of film in the 80s, there's a lovely nostalgic glow to be gleaned from revisits to the likes of Can't Buy Me Love. Nothing wrong with that. 6.5/10

Nightcrawler
(2014)

That's my job, that's what I do, I'd like to think if you're seeing me you're having the worst day of your life.
Quite a debut from director and writer Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhall as Louis Bloom, a low level Los Angles thief desperate for work. Stumbling upon an accident he is introduced to the world of video news filming, opening his eyes to the money that can be made out of real life crime. Muscling his way onto the scene, it's not long before Louis blurs the line between the rights and wrongs of the occupation.

We here have our eyes opened to the world of the nightcrawlers (genuine people), and it's a murky one. Gilroy enjoys multi genre blending, splicing bits of horror thriller conventions with satirical barbs pointed at the television based media. Bloom is a frightening character, a sociopath that easily manoeuvres his way around this shifty world, and Gyllenhaal superbly brings him to life. Gaunt (Gyllenhaal lost a lot of weight for the part) with hollow eyes, and spouting management monologues he has learned off of the internet, Bloom only see human misery as a way of making money. Not that TV station editor Nina Romina (Renee Russo) is that much of a better person, and the relationship between the two is troublesome yet dynamic thanks to the excellent script.

The look of the picture needed to be atmospherically tight to the thematics at work, and thankfully that is the case. Predominantly set at night, it's all darkness and shadows that in turn are mixed with neon lighted cityscapes and dimmed lamplights. Bloom is at home here, the surroundings match his bents, he has found his calling to a side of the City of Angels which has a fascinating car crash kind of believability to it. The key to it all is that Gilroy and Gyllenhaal rope us viewers in to the point we can't look away, even as Bloom gets worse, morally bankrupt, we are right there with him looking trough his cameras.

The relationship between Bloom and his sole employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed) is a little undernourished, but it's a minor complaint. For this is a sharp piece of film making, gloomy of course, but stylish with it, it's also thrilling and deliciously troubling into the bargain. 9/10

Southwest Passage
(1954)

Camel Caravan!
Southwest Passage (AKA: Camels West) is directed by Ray Nazarro and written by Harry Essex and Geoffrey Homes. It stars Rod Cameron, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Dehner and Guin Williams. Music is by Emil Newman and Arthur Lang and the Pathe Color photography is by Sam Leavitt.

A robber and hid girl join a Camel Caravan to escape their pursuers.

Originally filmed in 3-D, one might be surprised to find that as fanciful as the premise to this seems, it's very much grounded in facts. Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822 - 1893) the character played by Cameron is a most fascinating person whose real life work is far more interesting than the film is! Further reading on the subject is recommended.

This is all very routine as a group of various ethnicities and walks of life trek across the desert with camels in tow to test their usage for the U.S. Cavalry. Ireland (posing as a doctor) and Dru (gorgeous but looking like she just wandered in off of a Estée Lauder advertisement) are hiding out. So they are on the bluff which keeps the "will they get caught" factor simmering away. Naturally a rapscallion fellow (Dehner) figures things out and wants a share of the couple's stolen goods.

To further complicate matters and up the peril quota, the water is running low. Add in the fact we are in Apache country and you get the drift of where the picture is heading. Cast make things watchable at least, while the location scenery out of Kanab, Utah, is a treat for the eyes. It all builds to a frantic finale, which is well staged and high on rapid gun fire, but once the "too tidy" resolution is reached it's a Western that quickly fades from memory. 5/10

The Nice Guys
(2016)

Waltons, Poronography, Tricky Dicky, Hitler, Equanimity, Bumble Bees ... And Stuff!
The Nice Guys is directed by Shane Black and Black co-writes the screenplay with Anthony Bagarozzi. It stars Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice. Music is by John Ottman and David Buckley and cinematography by Philippe Rousselot.

1977 Los Angeles and a private detective and a muscle for hire enforcer wind up on the same case looking for a missing girl. Can opposites really attract? More importantly, can they survive not just the perils of a case that gets murkier the longer it goes on? But also each other?

I don't care if Colonel Mustard did it in the study with a candlestick. I just wanna know who he did it with and get the pictures.

How wonderful to have had Shane Black back in his comfort zone and producing such a joyful buddy buddy neo-noir of considerable substance. It was eleven years since the superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had reminded us that Black had few peers when it came to blending high action macho twosomes who are also armed with sharp tongues to match, this was after all the guy who also penned Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. The idea for The Nice Guys had sat in gestation for a number of years, finally it was unleashed to reward fans of his work and for those in sync with the style of film making he homages.

Much like his other buddy scriptings, we are in the company of two mismatched guys. Gosling's ex-cop Holland March is a bit goofy, afraid of the sight of blood and morally bankrupt. Crowe's muscle for hire Jackson Healy beats people up for money, but he's a stand-up guy, likes his pet fish, even has a hero streak. What binds them together is troubled family baggage, that they are both men in search of a better world, to be better men themselves, and thus Black - to give them a chance of life improvement - pitches them into the seamy underbelly of the L.A. pornography industry - with some corruption elsewhere thrown into the equation.

As a coupling March and Healy prove to be a riot. Crowe is menacing and funny with it, Gosling is affably flaky but charm personified, and thankfully both men have a knack for visual comedy (see Gosling's Lou Costello homage and Crowe's reaction to a henchman's act of fish murder). Crucially both actors can deliver killer lines, which is an absolute must for a Shane Black inspired production, for here there is never any let up, zingers are unbound. Then there is Rice (superb and actually the third lead in the play) as March's 13 year old daughter, she's got youthful zest and a killer matter of fact skill in reacting smartly to the two men currently dominating her life.

The L.A. of the 70s is expertly designed, all blink blink blinkity blink neon lighting, side-burns and disco music, dubious fashions and protest groups protesting about the most mundane of things. Then you got the pornography angle, the 70s a hot-bed (no pun intended) for the sex sells profiteers, the perfect setting for Black to trawl through it all in noir clobber. As a noir piece it has it all, femme fatales, thugs, conspiracies, voice overs and an array of colourfully odd characters (excitable and troubling henchmen, a porno Pinocchio, a young lad willing to flash the contents of his underpants for cash!). And of course there's mysteries to be solved and rocks to be upturned, all of which is played out in a whirl of stylish violence, situational comedy and fluid camera work.

Black kind of wants it all, to stay cool whilst having wry observations on the Americana of the era, and he enjoys going close to the knuckle when he can, which to some (not me) will come off as a shock value humour tactic just to ruffle feathers. It's also a minor itch that he sort of snatches from his previous works in search of reassurance - note for instance the similarities between the opening to Lethal Weapon and here with The Nice Guys. But itches be damned, so much fun and hidden dramatic depth on show here, a real treasure that makes you wish Black would stroll down neo-noir lane a bit more often. Don't believe me? Then may Richard Nixon come after you the next time you go for a swim in the pool! 9/10

There Was a Crooked Man...
(1970)

Don't tell me you can't make speeches; you could talk a coyote out of a chicken.
There Was a Crooked Man... is directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and written by David Newman and Robert Benton. It stars Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, John Randolph and Michael Blodgett. Music is by Charles Strouse and cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr.

Plot has Douglas as Paris Pitman Jr., an unscrupulous thief who after stealing and hiding in a rattlesnake's nest half a million dollars, gets caught and sent to an Arizona prison for ten years. Once there his plan is simple, to befriend as many cons as he can so they can help him escape. Dangling the carrot of sharing his stash with those who help him, Pitman's plan may be usurped by the arrival of new Warden Woodward Lopeman (Fonda)?

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's only venture into the Western sphere is an odd picture in many ways, but not in a bad way, sort of! Coming as it did at the start of the 1970s when the Western was for what was to be some time, on its last legs, the pic blends comedy with cynicism and violence with choice characterisations. Taking bold decisions in not making this a straight run of the mill genre piece, it's unsurprising to find that Warner Brothers got itchy feet and cut a whopping forty minutes from the original cut of the film, footage that to this day has never seen the light of day. This is a crying shame for although it doesn't make the film a mess in any shape or form, it does stop it from being the more edgy piece it was meant to be,

With a super cast list fronted by a strong dynamic between Douglas and Fonda, story thrives by pretty much having nobody being straight as an arrow. In fact one of the strengths in the narrative is in setting us up for some surprises, we are never quite sure how this is going to pan out. As the violence, crafty scheming and general crookedness that exists within the prison simmers along, it's set up a treat for the pay off at story's culmination, something which has proven to be divisive (for me it's a doozy). At times it feels like we are in a knockabout comedy, yet this is merely a trick in the tale, the makers are in it for sucker punch merit, craftily flipping the finger whilst embracing moral decay.

Hard to recommend with great confidence for it is an acquired taste, but it's fascinating as a snapshot of when the Western was gasping for breath, and rewards are there for those willing to buy into its devilish oddities. 7.5/10

Attack the Block
(2011)

It's raining Gollums!
Attack the Block is written and directed by Joe Cornish. It stars Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Jumayn Hunter, Luke Treadaway and Nick Frost. Music is by Basement Jaxx and Steven Price and cinematography by Tom Townend.

When a South London tower block comes under attack from aliens, a young gang of lads and the nurse they just mugged have to band together to fight back.

In Britain we was wondering just when Joe Cornish was going to turn his hand to directing a feature film, here for his debut he tackled a sci-fiction action comedy with a wry bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure - it was worth the wait.

With one Edgar Wright hovering about in the producers lounge and Nick Frost on hand as a reassuringly adult comedic presence, it could be argued that Attack the Block has joined the Wright/Pegg production line. Yet when you break it down this does in fact homage a myriad of siege invasion films, but still it becomes very much its own animal.

Cornish dangerously structures his film by introducing us to a young gang of kids who think nothing of mugging a single defenceless woman - with a knife. With the group spouting their turf speak (some none British views may struggle initially with the dialogue), they are not a bunch of youngsters one can easily get on side with. In fact to dislike them in an instant is wholly justifiable and understandable, so much so that once the aliens arrive it's a human reaction to root for them to rid us of these troublesome youths. So yes, dangerous by Cornish, yet astute as it happens.

As the pic progresses and we spend time with the gang, we start to understand their way of life, their part in a tough society. It's during this key phase that Cornish brings in another structure, that of the victim and the perpetrators having to band together to fight an enemy, surely he isn't going to make heroes out of this gang of youthful miscreants? So once this scene is set, and the aliens start to unleash toothsome hell on this part of South London, it's battle royale time. The blood and jokes seamlessly flow together, the score booms and other characters are introduced, some either for a lighter angle - others to annoy us and maybe be set up for alien gnasher fodder?

The aliens themselves are a splendid creation, a new addition to an overstocked market. One of the youngsters calls them gorilla wolf things, that's about right, they be jet black with spiky hair and bio luminescent jaws and claws, they move on all fours. And then it's the last part of Cornish's clever structure plan, for as we are given a reason why the aliens are after this particular group, so does characters transformations offer a prudent point. There is hope unbound, not just for people in movie, but for societies fractured by the way of the life afforded them. While the lesson here of people taking responsibility for their actions, to right their wrongs, is written loud and proud.

Smart and fresh performances across the board, led by the wonderful Whittaker and a star making turn from Boyega, close out the deal. Attack the Block is a genre spilcer of a picture that brings something new to the table it sits at. Trust Bruv! 8/10

Suffragette
(2015)

Deeds, not words.
It's a telling point in history, that of the Suffragettes, the militant women's organisations in the early 20th century who, under the banner "Votes for Women", fought for the right to vote in public elections. So case in point that any filmic treatments are greatly anticipated - and wanted of course, so here we have Sarah Gavron's film that is written by Abi Morgan and starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw and in cameo Meryl Streep.

Right off the bat it should be noted on two crucial points, one is that this is merely a story strand involving a group of Suffragette women, this is not all encompassing, something which is emphasised by the fact that Suffragette leader Emeline Pankhurst is only cameoed here by Streep. Secondly it has to be said that this is a condensed narrative for story telling emotional gain in favour of the Suffragettes, their more serious activities for attention are very much played down. So with that in mind anyone interested in the subject are urged to seek out literary sources for story as facts.

Filthy Panks!

The gripping story here dramatizes events that builds to the death of Emily Davison at the 1913 Derby. We are privy to the harsh realities of the life of women in this era (period detail superb), the employment pay structures, the treatment at the hands of the authorities, and the home lives that could result in losing ones child on account of poverty. It's potent stuff and ensures that we at least understand the need for change and fully support the women in their ultimate goal, the arguments put forward viable and just.

Thankfully the makers are not on a one way mission to portray all men as monsters, there's a nice balance between good and bad. The implications of the women's long road to reckoning is given thought, the social distortion possibility hanging in the air alongside economic murkiness. So although the narrative often gets heavy handed in striving for dramatic impact, the point is well and truly made and begs all to delve further into a cause that ultimately needed winning.

Small in scale as regards the Suffrage Movement as a whole, but important as an historical pointer and acted with professional assuredness by the cast, this achieves its goals regardless of condensement gripes. 7/10

The Place Beyond the Pines
(2012)

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.
The Place Beyond the Pines is directed by Derek Cianfrance and Cianfrance co-writes the screenplay with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. It stars Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Emory Cohen, Dane Dehaan, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn and Rose Byrne. Music is by Mike Patton and cinematography by Sean Bobbitt.

A motorcycle stunt rider finds he has a son he never knew about and turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for both the child and his one time lover. This puts him on collision course with an ambitious rookie cop that has serious life changing consequences for both of them...

The Place Beyond the Pines (superb title) is a three parter of a character study that examines the critical decisions we make in life whilst putting different characters along a road of reckoning. The atmosphere of palpable human foibles is quickly established by Cianfrance, the introduction of stunt rider Luke Ganton (Gosling mesmerising) the kick start for what will be a multiple character piece even though the narrative core is purely about Ganton and cop Avery (Cooper) and their impact on each other and those connected to each.

Such is a key element of events in the story, it's difficult to say too much because this picture demands that spoilers are not dished out willy nilly. Going in blind without knowledge of the story trajectory is a must to garner maximum rewards. What can be said is that for the final third the pic does lose momentum, there's a big shift of emphasis (though critically connected to all that has gone on previously). It's not a film killer, though, for this remains a damn fine film, one that is packed with utterly gripping sequences, but the ambitiousness shown by Cianfrance is almost the undoing of a fascinatingly engrossing experience.

The consequences of choices are profoundly explored here, the multigenerational axis riveting in execution by director and writers alike. It also looks terrific, evocative cinematography from Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave) is in turn boosted by Patton's tonally compliant musical score. Ultimately, to enjoy fully you will have to accept implausible contrivances and that the psychological digging never really achieves all that it should. A bit of better thought for the last third and some trimming of the run time would have helped greatly, but this is still quality film making and recommended to grown up film fans for sure. 8/10

The Detective
(1968)

Joe Leland - A decent cop on a murky landscape.
The Detective is directed by Gordon Douglas and adapted to screenplay by Abby Mann from the novel written by Roderick Thorp. It stars Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Ralph Meeker, Jack Klugman, Horace MacMahon, Lloyd Bochner and Jacqueline Bissset. A Panavision/Deluxe Color production with photography by Joseph Biroc and music by Jerry Goldsmith.

When a homosexual man is found mutilated and murdered, top New York detective Joe Leland (Sinatra) identifies who he believes is the perpetrator and coerces a confessional out of him. With the suspect tried, convicted and executed it appears case closed. Yet as Leland's moral compass gets bent out of shape, he finds his life, the company he keeps, and the case itself are revealing distortions of life changing proportions.

Roderick Thorp would become a known name in the 80s when his novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" was adapted to screen as Die Hard. "The Detective" in written form is not as good as that novel is, so it's not surprising that screen writer Abby Mann took some liberties to smooth out the novel and produce a more serious and focussed narrative. There's no getting away from the "dated" tag that is bandied about for this picture, the attitudes to homosexuality and the policing of the era ensures that is a case. However, if you can accept the time the film was made then it's an engrossing character study that simultaneously lifts up rocks to find corruption and brutality underneath.

Pic is boosted by a superb cast, where along with the big name headliners we find the likes of Robert Duval and Tom Atkins in support. But it is Sinatra holding court, he is nicely restrained, not making Leland a caricature who is given over to histrionics. Leland's cynicism and romantic turmoil is essayed superbly by Sinatra, so much so you easily buy into his conflict of interests. Remick also shines, some of her best work is here playing a frustratingly complex love interest. Both actors benefit from being under the watchful eye of a good old pro like Gordon Douglas.

The story holds strong as a mystery due to having another case for Leland to solve, where sure enough it links to the first case that opens up a can of worms across the board. The social climate being exposed here in New York is not pleasant, but always it's fascinating, as is the back and forth examination of Leland's personal life. It's arguably a film of awkward blends? part hardboiled policer, part tender character study of a man at odds with not only those around him, but also of a society changing rapidly. Yet it definitely works on both of those terms and therefore comes very much recommended. 7/10

Moon
(2009)

Gerty, we're not programmed. We're people, do you understand?
Directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell, Moon finds Rockwell as Sam Bell who is coming to the end of his three year contract on a lunar station working for Lunar Industries. His only companion is an intelligent computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). When Sam has an accident he awakens to find he is now not alone and all he thought and believed in is just not as it seems.

Forget any fears about a low budget and any plot similarity to 2001: A Space Odyssey, for this is a cracker jack of a science fiction picture. Film quickly fills us in on Sam Bell the man and his function up there on the lunar station. His relationship with GERTY the computer grabs our interest whilst the production design has a sort of medicinal sheen to it. Once Sam's solitude is established, the minimal contact with Earth explained, the pic then spins into another dimension, dragging both Sam and us viewers into the vortex.

To say more would be churlish, but this is adult science fiction, clever in existential whiles and scathing with observations on corporate shenanigans. Narratively it's evocative in its telling, even haunting and philosophical, where a brilliant Rockwell nails every inch of Bell's search for being, and crucially, the truth. It's all building towards a finale of some devilish substance, no cop outs or easy fed answers, just a pertinent question asked of the viewers. Moon comes highly recommended to sci-fi fans who are after a bit more than mere sparkly fluff and robotic chaos. 9/10

Dredd
(2012)

Incendiary!
Dredd is directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland. It stars Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey and Wood Harris. Music is by Paul Leonard-Morgan and cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle.

Review for 2D Version Only.

Sylvester Stallone'S 1995 attempt at bringing Judge Dredd to the big screen was met with a critical mauling, both professionally and by serious fans of the 2000AD comic books from whence the character came. On its own terms it's a fun popcorn piece, but one that totally missed the fascist grime of the source. Here however, under the guidance of Travis and Garland, Dredd gets the picture the fans and the character deserves.

Plot is simple, we are in a dystopian future in a place known as Mega-City One. The only law and order are the Judges who are able to act as judge, jury and executioner. One such feared judge is Judge Dredd (Urban) and when he and his partner in training, Anderson (Thirlby), answer a call to a triple homicide at the multi storey slum tenement known as Peach Trees, they are locked in by crime boss Ma-Ma (Headey) and forced to defend themselves against practically everyone who resides there.

This is stripped down to the essence of what makes Judge Dredd such a beloved character in comic book lore. There's no need for backstories, love interests or comedy side-kicks, this is bad ass characters from either side of the law going at it full throttle. The action is unrelenting and explosive in its construction, bloody and brutal into the bargain as well.

Dredd the character is rightly kept to a basic level, he's a hard dude in a suit and a helmet, with an arsenal of weapons upon his person and he delivers short sharp shock pieces of dialogue with gruff assertiveness. Anderson is a mutant of sorts, she can read minds, which superbly adds spice to this fight for survival narrative. Ma-Ma is a damaged villain, disgustingly menacing without histrionics, it's her calmness that's so terrifying.

At the core of the criminal activities fronted by Ma-Ma is a new drug called Slo-Mo, a drug that reduces the brain's perception to 1% of speed. This allows the makers to bring some dazzling effects into play whilst setting up some blood letting scenarios. The production design is top draw, where Mega-City One has a perfect totalitarianism sheen to it, which in turn is boosted by Dod Mantle's excellent colour lenses.

With Urban perfectly cast and his two lady co-stars also firing, Dredd is a thrilling action sci-fi movie. It doesn't push new boundaries and raise the bar per se, but it keeps the fires well and truly burning in the genre whilst simultaneously appeasing the fans wholesale. 8/10

Better Watch Out
(2016)

Yuletide log slips from the fire to ignite the Xmas horror movie sub-genre.
Lets have it right, the 1/10 reviews are from hardcore horror fans who just didn't get the horror experience they was looking for. That's understandable, it's one of the toughest genres to please given the broadness available, but what of those who go in blind who are just after a bit of chilly yuletide nastiness?

Director Chris Peckover and his co-writer Zack Khan have given not just the Xmas horror film genre a shot in the arm, but also put a clever spin on the home invasion formula - the latter of which a formula that grew stale a long time ago. Now I can't vouch for trailers etc, so if folk have been misled then it's tough turkey at yuletide, but going in fresh without expectation levels - to just rock up for a viewing purely because it's an Xmas horror pic, then the rewards are plenty.

The makers make a move early to lay down a marker that all is not as it seems, and from there the surprises continue to flow with disturbing glee. We could argue it's in bad taste in this day and age as the fear of youth grows ever more acute, maybe? But it's a nice rug pull and the momentum never lets up right to the devilish resolution. Job done for me. Implausible probabilities and ridiculous actions in a horror film? Surely not...

This is funny in a dark way, cheekily troubling in its choice of protagonists to propel the piece, and it's nicely performed by the youthful cast. It's no Black Christmas or any other of those blood soaked Crimble horrors, this has a glint in its eye and amen to that. 7/10

Gone Baby Gone
(2007)

Do you know people in the neighborhood who don't talk to the police?
Gone Baby Gone is directed by Ben Affleck and Affleck co-adapts the screenplay with Aaron Stockard from the novel of the same name written by Dennis Lehane. It stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, John Ashton and Amy Ryan. Music is by Harry Gregson Williams and cinematography by John Toll.

Private Investigators Patrick Kenzie (Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Monaghan) are hired to find missing child Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien). It appears to be a simple case of a kidnapping, but the deeper the investigators go the darker the truths become.

A potent drama, Gone Baby Gone offers up a mystery that is propelled by moral murkiness. Unsurprisingly given it's from a Lehane novel, the twists and deep characterisations dovetail seamlessly with the very real feel of a Boston neighbourhood, the sense of place and community superbly marshalled by Ben Affleck (in what was his debut as a director). The story is so strong it makes us the viewers part of the search for missing Amanda, which in turn forces us to answer the ethical quandaries thrust upon Patrick Kenzie.

With tech credits firmly in the plus column and the director un-showy and assured enough to keep the key third act from dragging the picture down, this proves to be very good film making. Pic only has minor faults to be bothered by. Monaghan is a fine actress but she is hard to take here in a street wise role, though with a nicely cast Casey Affleck dominating their scenes she gets away with it. The sharp of mind should pick up on what is driving the mystery forward, whilst the ambiguity at resolution point can go either way for respective viewers appreciation or otherwise. But this is all told a rewarding piece of adult cinema and recommended for sure. 8/10

The Frighteners
(1996)

When a man's jawbone drops off it's time to reassess the situation.
Peter Jackson's The Frighteners is an odd blend of outright comedy and supernatural thriller, if able to get onside with that then there's a whole lot to enjoy. Plot essential has Michael J. Fox as a psychic who really can see dead people, so much so in fact that he has befriended three ghosts and makes a living out of setting up hauntings and charging people to exorcise the spirits. However, things turn decidedly deadly when he encounters a grim reaper like spirit that is killing people and putting a number on their foreheads. It seems there is a serial killing spirit on the loose.

Frank Bannister (Fox) is grieving from the death of his wife and he has become a conman, this is an interesting characterisation for Fox to play and he does so with relish. Initially the pic is all about the comedy, with Bannister's interactions with the three ghosts devilishly funny. Ok, the effects work now look a bit crude, but there's a vibrancy on offer both visually and orally.

Come the second third the pic shifts into a serial killer investigation and the narrative gets dark. Oh there's still fun in the mix, but Jackson and his team are toying with the very real facet of a celebrity serial killer (ebulliently played by Jake Busey). Trini Alvarado (what happened to her?) is playing what ends up as Bannister's side-kick and love interest and the pair of them are thrust into a frantic final third of a life and death battle with Busey's psychotic spirit Johnny Bartlett. Bartlett in turn is aided by mentally ill Patricia Bradley (horror icon Dee Wallace Stone), while an outrageously over the top Jeffrey Combs is in the mix as a damaged FBI agent intent on destroying bannister and all he stands for.

When you strip it down it's a live action horror comedy cartoon, which when you look in context to Jackson's early work is not surprising. It's also not surprising that The Frighteners has become a cult movie of some standing. The bonkers plot, the close to the knuckle humour and choice narrative threads make it a fascinating viewing experience. 7.5/10

The Shape of Water
(2017)

Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me!
Guillermo del Toro directs and co-writes with Vanessa Taylor what would turn out to be the Best Picture Academy Award Winner for 2017. A much loved film that's not without dissention in certain quarters, it's a picture that warrants dissention but it should be noted that just because someone doesn't like it, that doesn't make it a bad film. I'm certainly in the camp that finds it over praised, even annoyingly disappointing, whilst appreciating many of the facets within its production.

Story in simple terms is a Beauty and the Beast like fable where Sally Hawkins' mute cleaning lady Elisa Esposito falls in love with a captured Amphibian Man. Amphibian Man is known by the government types as The Asset, and as the Cold War rises and 60s paranoia takes a hold, the American big wigs want to vivisect the special species to learn from it. Elisa, after courting "The Asset", enlists the help of close friends and plots to free the creature from its captivity in the underground medical bunker labyrinth place.

Now as simple as that sounds, there is more to it than that, del Toro and Taylor whilst enveloping the pic in a fantasy realm feel, ensure messages are thrust hard at the viewers. Be it the racial disharmony, the quest for different walks of life finding love with each other, the cry for humans to stop being bad and killing things because they don't understand them, torture is evil and etc etc. It's all right there in your face and we get it. So plot maybe simple but for sure there's a lot being said in the narrative.

Yet as great as it looks, and it's superbly acted by Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, it just to me loses its way come the mid-point, getting daft and even getting a little icky into the bargain. I have no problem with improbabilities and outrageous contrivances here, this is del Toro painting one of his fantastical worlds - only on Earth in the early 60s! But the pay off is poor, hinging on a twist that's not only ridiculous, but insulting as well because otherwise the pic would be very troubling indeed. No art deco eye orgasms or vibrant characterisations can compensate for a film that runs out of steam.

That said, I was glad to have watched it, there's even a possibility I could return to it in the future - this is very good film making. But it's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination and not for the first time in the Academy's long history, many are baffled by their choice of Best Picture winner. 6/10

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