Despite a better than average B-Movie cast, "Down Three Dark Streets" is a fairly formulaic crime movie with FBI man Broderick Crawford investigating the murder of his partner, Kenneth Tobey. He doesn't have a prime suspect but there's a link to the three cases Tobey was working on, each with a well-known actress, (Ruth Roman, Martha Hyer, Marisa Pavan), at the centre. It's one of those documentary-like investigative pictures in which a sonorous narrator informs us of what's happening. As the bottom half of a double-bill it's perfectly watchable and both Roman and Hyer are actually quite good. There's also some good location shooting in and around Los Angeles but it's not memorable and Arnold Laven's direction is uninspired.
One of Joan Crawford's lesser-known vehicles but this cross between a 'woman's picture' and a film noir has been unjustly neglected. Vincent Sherman made "The Damned Don't Cry" in 1950, five years after Joan's Oscar-winning turn as "Mildred Pierce" and there are very slight similarities between the two films. Sherman may not have been a Michael Curtiz but he was one of the more reliable directors of melodramas in Hollywood even when dealing with an over-aged Crawford.
She starts the picture as a slightly frumpy housewife but after walking out on hubbie Richard Egan she finds those over-aged Crawford looks are enough to launch her into a not very salubrious society where men like David Brain and Steve Cochran are competing for her over-aged charms. Her character is as hard as nails which suited Joan down to the ground and in her brassy way she's actually very good here and the film, while minor, is still thoroughly enjoyable. Worth rediscovering.
"Apocalypse Now" meets "Alien". "Predator" is now considered a sci-fi classic and is even mentioned in the same breath as the original "Thing from Another World" and it had, in director John McTiernan, a man who knew how to handle action on the screen. The plot could be written on a pinhead as Arnie leads his crack team of commandos into enemy territory on a rescue mission only to encounter another Stan Winston designed alien instead. It's gruesome and exciting in equal measure and it spawned several sequels but this is the one to go for it you like your thrills down and dirty as only McTiernan and Schwarzenegger can give them to you. Good, nasty fun is guaranteed.
What is it with horror films these days or should I say, what is with Ari Aster horror films that they must clock in at around two and a half hours. I still remember the time when you could get a perfectly decent fright-fest at about eighty minutes or less but then perhaps Aster has loftier things in mind than just scaring the pants off us. His first feature, "Hereditary", had a host of real frighteners coupled with a much deeper tale of grief and how we cope with it and it worked very nicely in both camps thanks largely to a terrific performance from Toni Collette as a grief-stricken mother whose demons are very personal indeed.
His new film. "Midsommar" runs for two hours and twenty-seven minutes and in its tale of cults and potential sacrifices it looks like it might go down the same road as its predecessor in both frightening us and making us think, particularly after a beautifully built-up opening involving murder and suicide. However, once Aster whisks us, and his four protagonists, off to Sweden at the invitation of a Swedish friend, we find ourselves in the middle of "The Wicker Man" and some very dodgy 'midsommar' festivities. Actually the slow build-up here also works very nicely. Aster takes his time, (well, he does have almost two and a half hours to play around with), and it's clear to anyone who has seen "The Wicker Man" or any other horror film, come to think of it, that when something seems too good to be true, it usually is and that all this chanting and mumbo-jumbo can only end badly, which, of course, it does a long time after the movies started.
If I sound flippant it's because I really had high hopes for "Midsommar" after the vastly superior "Hereditary". Nothing happens in this picture you can't predict a mile off, (even the killer closing shot is fairly obvious when you think of it). Of course, things might have been different had Aster a leading man who could have convinced us he was disorientated, frightened or even interested in what was going on. Instead, we get Jack Reynor, whose performance is surely a shoo-in for next year's Razzie. Reynor started his career with a reasonably interesting performance in "What Richard Did" as an Irish schoolboy who accidentally kills a classmate but it's been all down hill from there, culminating in this misplaced, wooden performance.
As his girlfriend, Florence Pugh, (she of "Lady Macbeth" fame), does what she can with a one-dimensional role. Indeed, this is not an actor's picture with no-one, including the usually reliable Will Poulter, making much of an impression. It has its moments to be sure, with Aster even managing to inject some grisly humour into the proceedings and perhaps there is a good eighty minute horror movie struggling to get out but by adding an extra hour he kills it. Perhaps the moral of the film is just avoid Sweden in the summer because if the cults don't get you, the tics will.
"The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" wasn't Philip Kaufman's first film but it was the one that put him on the map. It was a revisionist western clearly influenced by "The Wild Bunch" and "Bonnie and Clyde" and dealt with the events that lead to the capture of Cole Younger when the bank raid of the title went disastrously wrong and it starred Cliff Robertson as Younger and Robert Duvall as Jesse James, (he escaped and lived to fight another day). Naturally, realism and violence were the order of the day. Here was a western about outlaws that broke the rules; here was a western with a baseball game in the middle, introduced as America's national sport, though Cole Younger counters that remark by reminding the speaker that shooting was, and always will be, America's national sport.
Kaufman, of course, treats everything, not just 'realistically', but with a good deal of irreverence and a steak of black comedy with the raid itself brilliantly handled. The film certainly marked Kaufman out as one of the brightest of the new kids on the block and he followed it with a handful of brilliantly deverse films that included "The Incredible Lightness of Being" and "The Right Stuff" but he never really had the career one might have expected of him and ended up making only twelve feature films in total.
I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later Billy Wilder would tackle Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's play "The Front Page" but did he have to make it this tasteless or this homophobic, (David Wayne is back playing 'the sissy' again)? It marked yet another pairing of Jack Lemmon, (Hildy Johnson), and Walter Matthau, (Walter Burns), but their frantic mugging suggests their hearts weren't in it or maybe it's just that, by 1974, the material had gone stale. (To be fair, I always thought the play among the most overrated in all of American theatre).
Others in the starry cast included Susan Sarandon, Carol Burnett, (appalling as Mollie Malloy), Charles Durning, Vincent Gardenia and Austin Pendleton, (excellent as Earl Williams), and it's a classy enough looking production but its popularity, (even under the guise of "His Girl Friday"), has always eluded me. Its mixture of farce and potential tragedy isn't just tasteless but ill-judged since it was never that funny to begin with. Today some critics try to make out a case for the film, (it was panned at the time of its release), but they're wasting their time; this is a turkey and no mistake.
You could describe the "Holiday" of the title as the holiday from hell as gangster's girl, Sascha, (Victoria Carmine Sonne), finds herself in perpetual fear of violence, (sexual and otherwise), from her brutal drug-dealing boyfriend in the gorgeous surroundings of the Turkish Riviera. Since the film was directed by a woman, (newcomer Isabella Eklof), I suppose you could argue it's some sort of feminist take on sexual violence; if made by a man it would be exploitative but being made by a woman it's 'honest'.
Of course, that doesn't make it any less unpleasant and since it's singularly lacking in any real 'plot', it can't really be described as a thriller. On the other hand, Sonne is excellent as the beautiful and unfortunate Sascha and Lai Yde exudes just the right degree of menace as the drugs baron. What story there is basically revolves around Sascha's growing attachment to a guy she meets and whose presence only adds to her problems. What's lacking is any real tension; the people on screen aren't just dislikeable but dull and in the end, all the film has going for it is the scenery.
More workmanlike than truly inspired, "In the Line of Fire" is, nevertheless, a good if fairly obvious thriller about a presidential assassin. He's played by John Malkovich and he's targeting, not just the President, but one of his bodyguards who also happened to be one of the bodyguards on duty the day Kennedy was assassinated. He's Clint Eastwood and this might have been a better movie had Eastwood directed it instead of just acting in it. The actual director was Wolfgang Petersen and he doesn't do anything here that's distinctive; everything he does is in service of the script. What gives the film its edge is Malkovich whose sly, scene-stealing performance earned him an Oscar nomination. Others in the cast, (Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, John Mahoney, Gary Cole), are largely wasted.
A state-of-the-nation movie comprising of a series of seemingly unrelated stories set in a region of the South of France and often treated in documentary-style fashion. Everyone in "Sophia Antipolis" has their problems whether it's the young girls who want breast implants in the film's opening sequence or the vigilante-like gangs who think they are 'cleaning up' the area and it's a genuinely disturbing picture. It's a little like what Paul Haggis' "Crash" might have been had it been less interested in star power but unlike "Crash" the stories here are totally disparate, verging at times on the surreal.
The title refers, not to a person, but to a place; a large technology park on the French Riviera and it's what links the films many characters. Sophia is also the name of a young girl whose burnt body has been found in the park and the film is deeply critical of French society today. This Riviera is not a paradise in the sun but a place where immigrants find themselves being drawn into violence in the name of the law or into sects convinced the world is coming to an end. It is, in other words, a very nihilistic picture. It's only the second feature of its director, Virgil Vernier and it should ensure him a very bright future indeed.
Hand-held cameras, dialogue that sounds, on the one hand as if being improvised and on the other as if it's just bad writing and acting that doesn't look like 'acting'; these are the trademarks of the cinema of Josephine Decker, apparently one of the primary exponents of what has come to be known as 'mumblecore'. Decker is obviously a filmmaker who knows what a film should 'look' like and "Thou Wast Mild and Lovely" certainly looks terrific but typical of Decker it's got characters you might want to cross the street to avoid let alone spend time with in a cinema. In other words, she makes movies that are so personal, watching them feels like an intrusion.
This one is set on a farm inhabited only by a gruff farmer and his daughter in what looks very like an incestuous relationship, that is interrupted by a mostly silent young farmhand who comes to work for the summer. In a conventional movie, you might get some palpable tension out of these relationships but Decker doesn't do conventional. There is certainly a good deal of unconventional eroticism on display but no real drama, even if it does end badly. The mediocre performances don't help, giving the feeling of a very well made home-movie, a kind of porn movie made by an intellectual with no interest in porn and the end result is like a cross between "God's Little Acre" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Worth seeing, then, but I'm not sure if I would ever want to see it again.
As the star of Truffaut's "Les Quatre Cents Coups," Jean-Pierre Leaud was guaranteed his place in film history from the very beginning. However, unlike other child actors, he has gone on to have a long and lustrous career in cinema working with some of the best directors of the last fifty years. Now aged 75, he made "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" two years ago playing, and playing magnificently, an aging actor, (a variation of himself, I'm sure), making a comeback for a young auteur but finding instead that he's caught up in a very different kind of film being made by a group of young children around a decaying mansion.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was directed by the Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa and can be viewed as a tribute to Leaud, to cinema and to childhood. It's both ambitious in its scope and deceptively simple, a beautifully shot valentine to those things Suwa clearly loves. Death is always present but there is also a great deal of life here, too. This is a magical picture in so many ways and it really shouldn't be missed.
Given the novelettish material she had to work with Olivia de Havilland is remarkably good as 'Miss Norris', the middle-aged spinster who also happens to be mother to an illegitimate son, conceived during World War 1. He's played by the then newcomer John Lund, in his film debut, and he also plays his own father. This weepie was directed by Mitchell Leisen in 1946 and it was a huge hit. It's far from his best work but Leisen had a knack for taking sub-standard stories and giving them a depth they didn't deserve. He didn't quite achieve that here but there are times when this movie does have a ring of truth thanks mostly to de Havilland who won the Oscar for her performance.
Lund isn't at all bad either, showing a promise that was never really fulfilled while that fine British actor, Roland Culver, is also very good as an English Lord de Havilland meets during World War 11. The main problem is that it feels like a Victorian melodrama of the 'Dead, Dead and never called me Mother' variety. It is, in other words, very hard to take seriously as a wartime romance. Hard too, to believe it came from an original story by Charles Brackett and not from some door-stopper of a novel, (it crams a lot of plot into two hours). Still, as a weepie it does the business and many people are very fond of it.
'You sure picked the wrong night to find a cemetery', says, what I presumed to be our heroine to our hero, in the opening of "Orgy of the Dead" which was written by Ed Wood but 'directed', if that's the right word, by someone called A. C. Stephen, aka Stephen C. Apostolof. Yes, we are in all-time-worst-movie territory again but this time in color and with a hell of a lot of dancing, not to mention Criswell doing some narration.
Who in their right mind actually paid money to see crap like this? The dead, perhaps? Oh wait, what's this? Tits? Now I get it; this was never meant to be a 'horror' film, (though it is a horror), but a 'nudie', of which there were many in the sixties. On that level, it's no worse than any other, (alright, maybe it is), but while there is a lot of lascivious dancing, (mostly just swaying about with nothing on), there's no actual sex. Any sexual activity usually took place in the darkness of the auditorium and while there's a Wolfman and a Mummy, actual zombies seem to be in short supply. Gob-smackingly awful.
Only about one in four of the gags actually work but here that hardly matters.
Okay, so the critics hated it and no way is it going to be the funniest film you'll see this year but this Netflix production is silly enough to produce enough belly-laughs to pass an evening. The "Murder Mystery" of the title occurs on board a yacht in the middle of the Meditteranean where Terence Stamp's billionaire is stabbed to death in a room full of people when the lights go out. Two of the people in the room are Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, an American couple on a very late honeymoon who were invited there by the billionaire's nephew, Luke Evans, whom they met on the plane.
These two are like a not very bright version of Nick and Nora Charles and this is much closer to something like "Murder By Death" than "Murder on the Orient Express"; in other words, only about one in four of the gags actually work but since the gags are coming thick and fast that hardly matters. It's ultimately saved by Sandler and Aniston who turn in performances worthy of 'Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In' if not 'Saturday Night Live' and among the supporting cast, there's a nice turn from that fine British actor Adeel Akhtar.
When De Sica finally got around to filming Eduardo De Filippo's great play "Filumena" he chose two of Italian cinema's finest actors to play the leads and even if the change of title to "Marriage Italian Style" was something of a sop to commercialism the end result was still hugely satisfying. Sophia Loren, (magnificent), is Filumena, the Neopolitan prostitute, and Marcello Mastroianni, (also superb), the rich patron who strings her along for years, always finding an excuse not to marry her.
It is, of course, a comment on Italian machismo and of the subservient role of women in Italian society so perhaps the comic possibilities of the plot might escape a non-Italian audience, (comedy was never De Sica's strong point). Still, Sophia was never more radiant than she is here, so what's not to love, (she was Oscar-nominated), and De Sica does manage to keep the potential for sentimentality at arm's length. Unfortunately, the film isn't as highly thought of as it once was and isn't much seen today.
This grim, realist western was produced and directed by Frank Perry in 1971 and recounted events that were already well-known to audiences about a certain 'Doc' Holliday, his friend Wyatt Earp and a particular gunfight at a particular corral but this one was down and dirty, (literally; Doc is scrubbing his woman, a certain Kate Elder, minutes into the movie), and telling it in a very different light. Of course, being the 'adult' version of the story doesn't mean it's any more 'truthful' than any of the others. In all these cases, I think it is best to stick to that old adage, 'Print the Legend'.
So how does "Doc" stand up against the others as cinema? The answer is actually pretty well. At his best, Perry was a fine director who was able to bring a keen intelligence to his material and in Stacy Keach, (Doc), Harris Yulin, (Earp), and Faye Dunaway, (Kate), he had three outstanding actors, while thanks to superb production design and the cinematography of Gerald Hirschfeld is also a terrific looking picture. However, it's let down somewhat by Pete Hamill's script which is so concerned with being 'different' that it actually ticks every cliche in the box. On the other hand, one of the films more interesting touches is to suggest that maybe Wyatt harbored feelings for Doc that were a little more than platonic. It may not be a 'great' western, then, but it's a fine piece of revisionism, so much so that its 'truthfulness' hardly matters at all.
You either take to this whimsy or you don't and I'm afraid I didn't, though I do remember seeing it as a child and finding it quite fanciful. "Portrait of Jennie" is a ghost story and a love story. The portrait's painter, (Joseph Cotten, not well cast), falls in love with a ghost whom he first meets as a little girl in Central Park. She's Jennifer Jones, excellent and very convincing, whether as a child or as a grown woman. Jones was Mrs. David O. Selznick at the time and this is an O. Selznick picture so he does indulge her somewhat.
Of course, you don't have to be Holmes or Watson to know from the outset that Jennie is a ghost and that she comes to a bad end up around Cape Cod. It might have been tolerable were it not for David Wayne as Cotten's best friend with an appalling Irish accent, (he acts as if he's auditioning for the role of the leprechaun in "Finian's Rainbow"), and this kind of Stage Oirishism is even worse than seeing ghosts in Central Park. There's an impressive storm sequence in colour, (or at least, in green) and the film did win an Oscar for its special effects. It was also quite successful in its day though now it just feels like a curiosity.
I don't doubt for a minute that Josephine Decker has talent but having recently watched two of the films she's directed I'm not quite sure if her talent is for making movies. "Madeline's Madeline" was certainly impressive but it still wasn't an easy film to sit through. It was more like the recording of a 'performance' than a proper film while her feature debut, "Butter on the Latch" is nothing more than a series of rambling conversations filmed in a documentary style that might once have been called 'cinema-veritie'.
There is a kind of a plot; it's like a thriller but one so cerebral all the thrills have been removed and since she never holds her camera steady for very long the film induces a kind of vertigo. What she is good at is getting totally naturalistic performances from her actresses, (she works mostly with women), but, after a while, with no real storyline, just watching them 'act' becomes simply boring. I have a feeling she might have a career in avant-garde theatre but for now, I am not quite convinced she's cut out for the cinema.
One of the great joys of British cinema, "Whisky Galore" heralded the emergence of a great new talent in its director, Alexander Mackendrick and it's still one of the highlights in the Ealing canon. It was based on Compton MacKenzie's comic novel about a Scottish island that has run dry of 'the water of life', aka whisky, who suddenly finds itself blessed when a ship whose sole cargo is whisky runs aground off the island.
MacKenzie actually based his story on a real incident and Mackendrick filmed it on the island of Barra so it certainly looks authentic. It's also got a killer cast of some of the finest character actors in the movies headed by Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson, Jean Cadell, (superb as Jackson's dragon of a mother), James Robertson Justice and 'Mr. Memory' himself, Wylie Watson. It was a huge hit, both here and in America where it was rechristened "Tight Little Island". Clearly influenced by Powell and Pressburger's "I Know Where I'm Going" and, in turn, a great influence on Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero". The recent remake isn't in the same class.
Yet another take, and a very different one, on the legend of Wyatt Earp, (and, of course, Doc Holliday), and that (in)famous gunfight at the OK Corral, but a very poor one, despite a huge and mostly talented cast, none of whom are at their best. It aims for the epic and it looks great, (William Fraker was the DoP), but the director, George P. Cosmatos wasn't able to tie it all together and it's poorly written by Kevin Jarre. You get the impression that someone, (the director, the writer, both?), thought they were making the greatest western of them all, the one that would put all other epic westerns in the shade, even down to casting Charlton Heston in a tiny role and getting Robert Mitchum to do the narration but this is a classic example of overwhelming ambition operating in a vacuum. Earp is Kurt Russell, who's barely adequate in the role and a pasty-faced Val Kilmer isn't even that as Doc Holliday. Luckily, this great galumphing disaster isn't much seen and pales in comparison with others in the genre.
Seldom has chewing the scenery been this much fun.
Another 'mad-woman-psycho-thriller' and a hugely enjoyable one. Usually, I find these kinds of films pretty reprehensible; I mean, for starters, they denigrate women but then how can you resist any film that features Isabelle Huppert going gaga over Chloe Grace Moretz. Huppert is Greta, a certifiable nutjob, given to leaving her handbag on the subway for impressionable young ladies to find and return them to her and Moretz is her latest catch.
I know I shouldn't call Greta a 'nutjob' and that I should find her sympathetic blah blah blah; after all, she is a sad, lonely and very sick woman in need of help but that's for another movie. This is schlock-horror from the same stable as "Straightjacket" and "Die, Die My Darling" where aging actresses in fright wigs were used to scare the living daylights out of us. Huppert may not be an aging actress in need of a career boost but she obviously knows a good, meaty role when she sees one and she's terrific. Moretz is also pretty good as the victim of Greta's misguided affection but this is Huppert's show. Seldom has chewing the scenery been this much fun.
Another vigilante revenge movie purporting to be, amongst other things, a kind of anti-capital punishment picture and all the nastier and more unpleasant for that. F. Gary Gray's "Law Abiding Citizen" is just another piece of torture porn but with bigger names in the cast. Gerard Butler is the man out to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter and Jamie Foxx, the District Attorney who let one of the killers walk free. Watching Foxx mug his way through this mediocre script it's hard to believe he once won an Oscar for Best Actor but what's really sad is this picture actually has quite an ingenious plot, but one that is very badly handled. Shot on location around Philadelphia it's a handsome enough looking picture even if you may want to avert your eyes from the screen from time to time. The final 'twist', when it comes, is just plain silly.
Sometimes movies work for a whole variety of reasons. It might simply be because there is a great director at the helm but then even great directors make bummers now and then. Sometimes the story is just so damned good it hardly matters who the director is and sometimes a movie works because one or more of the cast carries it. "Everybody Wins" works because it's got a fine director working at the top of his form, (Karl Reisz), a terrific original screenplay by the playwright Arthur Miller and probably career-best performances from leads Nick Nolte and Debra Winger.
Nolte is the celebrity investigator hired by a flaky 'do-gooder' to prove the innocence of a teenage boy she knows on a charge of murder. From the outset, you know this isn't going to be a conventional 'thriller'. You know instantly that Winger's character of the supposed 'do-gooder' is, shall we say, a little on the strange side; that her come-on to Nolte is so quick she may even be a nymphomaniac and that Nolte's investigation is going off in directions that conventional thrillers don't. You also know that Arthur Miller doesn't do 'conventional'.
Of course, the talent on the screen didn't translate into a commercial success. Even the critics, with the exception of Pauline Kael, who loved the film, were stand-offish. Here was a crime movie that no-one could understand or know what to make of but in its off-the-wall way it was trail-blazingly original and I still think it's one of the truly great American films of its decade. If you don't know it, seek it out and give yourself over to its sublime strangeness.
A career-best performance from the late Harry Dean Stanton.
The 91-year-old Harry Dean Stanton died shortly after making "Lucky". He may not have won the posthumous Oscar I was predicting for him but at least he went to his grave in the knowledge that he had gone out with a career-best performance. John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut doesn't pretend to be anything other than a picture of an old man living out his days independently in the present-day American West. It's beautifully made in the style of American movies of the seventies with their emphasis on character and landscape and as well as a terrific performance from Stanton, (he's never really off the screen), it's also beautifully written and acted by its remarkable supporting cast that includes director David Lynch and a still handsome 81-year-old James Darren. Of course, seeing the film now that Stanton's dead, and so soon after completing the film, is heartbreaking because it suddenly looks like autobiography, the last days, not just of Lucky but of one of the screen's great character actors. It would make a great double-bill with David Lynch's underrated masterpiece "The Straight Story" which also featured Stanton.
If you had to pick one single movie to sum up the 'style' of Gus Van Sant or let people know what Gus Van Sant is all about then "Paranoid Park" is as good an example as any. He made it as late as 2007 but in its mumblecore manner, it could have come from 10 or so years earlier. Although at its heart there is a single traumatic event, (the killing of a security guard), the film is less concerned with that and is more another observation of the dull and largely uneventful life of another of Van Sant's teenage boys, in this case Alex, (the inexpressive Gabe Nevins), who happened to be involved in the man's death but who continues to drift through his life with the same blank expression and lack of concern. It is, in other words, archetypal Van Sant, beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle and Rain Li and full of pretty boys being pretty vacant.
Isn't it time, I kept asking myself, for Van Sant to grow up. Since nothing very much happens in the picture, (Alex takes to sex the way he does to drinking a milkshake), I wondered what audience, if any, he had in mind. Still, the film was quite a critical success and won several awards so it's obvious that somebody up there likes him. It's by no means a bad film but did we need it? Does anyone, other than Van Sant and the jury at Cannes, really care? Or are we meant to look at this and despair for the state of the world and of American society in particular? If that's his intention then I think we need more than pretty pictures and cute looking kids.