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Doc says I'm better now, I'm free to roam in society again :-)
Me? Middle aged British punker who is heavily in love with anything punk related circa 1976 - 1982. Film fanatic who indulges in any genre of film but specialises in film-noir, westerns, war and big - bold - historical epics.
I like writing reviews, even having some published in British newspapers and I have received nice emails from people associated with films that I have reviewed. While my mantra here is quite simply lets be here to learn and share.
The Director Titans
Alfred Hitchcock Robert Aldrich Anthony Mann Sam Peckinpah Jacques Tourneur
The Director Gods
John Ford Budd Boetticher Robert Siodmak Billy Wilder Joseph Losey
The Director Royalty
Edward Dmytryk Nicholas Ray Fritz Lang John Sturges John Carpenter
The Director Gurus
Preston Sturges Frank Capra Howard Hawks Marcel Varnel Carol Reed
Modern Director Legends In Waiting
David Fincher Michael Mann
Stay Cool Peeps, See You On The Boards.
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
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)
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
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.
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
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 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
Compelling as a murder mystery, outstanding as a character study.
Having first caught series 3 on its debut run, thus viewing before series 1 & 2, I was both excited at finding out the origins of Detective Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), and nervous by hoping that the first two series justified there being a third? How great to find that the interwoven series 1 & 2 are quite simply a rich tapestry of grade 1 acting with writing to match. What could have easily been a run of the mill murder investigation, where producers and writers cram in shocks for shocks sake, turns out to be an intricate character study by way of all the challenges sent us all in life. Add in the small town setting, and all that close and personal apple cart up-tilts that affect a tight community, and it's hot-pot a go go.
Be horrified, be gladdened, be tearful and submit to the depth of the human condition on show here. Rejoice in actors who put the Great in Great Britain, to be in the company of Tennant, Colman and Jodie Whittaker is to be a part of believable emotions that drag you right into the troubled heart of Broadchurch. Tip your hat to creator Chris Chibnall with thanks for not playing it safe and keeping the mystery strong. Yes the red herrings mount up, but in this small town everyone is a suspect, more so as dark pasts will out, illicit misdoings come prominent, unspoken passions arise and religion is under the microscope. This is a hot bed of a murder mystery series, it's true that series 3 is not quite as strong as it shifts to a new case, but itself holding its head way above water (British press by then were well involved and writing a list of suspects!), yet as a whole this is essential TV drama and proves that ITV can compete with the BBC when it comes to high octane television shows of substance. 10/10
Jack Reacher (2012)
You think I'm a hero? I am not a hero. And if you're smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose.
It got off on the wrong foot, fans of the Lee Child novels were up in arms about the casting of Tom Cruise in the title role. He didn't fit the profile it was said, scorn was poured on the film, quite often by people who hadn't even seen it! So how refreshing to find that since I personally have no affinity to the Child books, and having never read anything by the author, I found a wonderfully old fashioned thriller.
Reacher the character is a damn fine creation, an ex military bad ass who doesn't get found unless he wants to get found. He gets involved with jobs that need solving, utilising his special skills to close out the mysteries. Here he pitches up along side defence attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) when an ex army sniper apparently at random kills five people and then mentions Reacher's name during interrogation. Cue twists and turns, rocks upturned for covert clues and a shady road to be trawled to get to the crux of the matter.
Cruise as Reacher is superb, where under the astute directing and writing of Christopher McQuarrie we are left in no doubt this is a cool no nonsense hard man, loved by the ladies and feared by not just the crims, but also the law authorities. None of which is overkilled, it's subtle in execution, McQuarrie doesn't need to turn his film into a blitzkrieg of CGI blunderbuss multiplex pandering. Action is smartly staged, the violence brutal without being course, while the story is delightful in how it gleefully wrong foots the viewers in plot dynamics and sly humour.
The deal is closed out via the sterling supporting turns to Cruise, with Pike, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney adding considerably to this splendid Cruise and McQuarrie broth. In spite of divisive reviews and reports, Jack Reacher in filmic form has risen above that to become a success. Hooray! 7.5/10
Along Came Jones (1945)
Like I told your friend, never turn your back on anything... especially a girl!
Along Came Jones is directed by Stuart Heisler and adapted to screenplay by Nunnally Johnson from the Alan Le May novel The Useless Cowboy. It stars Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, Dan Duryea and William Demarest. Music is by Arthur Lange and cinematography by Milton R. Krasner.
Mild mannered Melody Jones (Cooper) and his friend George Fury (Demarest) wander into the town of Payneville. Because of the saddle on his horse having the initials M J, Jones is mistaken for being wanted outlaw Monte Jarrad (Duryea), something which brings him into conflict with the townsfolk - and Jarrad himself!
Monte Jarrad. Tall and skinny, mean tempered and extra fast with a gun - travels with half-wit uncle called Uncle Roscoe something.
Cooper for the first time enters the realm of producer and delivers a sly spoof of the Western genre that served him so well. Cooper as Jones is happy to laugh at himself, portraying him as an amiable buffoon. Initially it's not easy to accept such a laconic and mighty presence as being such a character, but Cooper quickly draws you in. Cooper is aided by professional turns from Young, Duryea and Demarest, who in turn get a sprightly script of fun dialogue to work from - which in a film of much chatter is crucial to make it work.
Elsewhere, what action scenes are forthcoming are moderately staged and Krasner's black and white photography is gorgeous in print form, but the locales and set designs just sort of sit there waiting to be elevated. The budget restriction in place is annoying, where we should have sweep and out of studio airiness, we instead have cheap tricks and crude back projection, this cast deserves better production value. Plotting is also thin and formulaic, the screenplay and Heisler's direction playing safe and not doing justice to the satirical beats trying to be heard.
It's fun and charming enough to be worth time spent on viewing, and Cooper and co are good company, but it should have been better and had better care afforded it from a technical standpoint. 6/10
Lady in the Lake (1946)
If I should die before I live!
Lady in the Lake is directed by Robert Montgomery and adapted to the screen by Steve Fisher from the novel The Lady in the Lake written by Raymond Chandler. It stars Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows. Music is by David Snell and cinematography by Paul Vogel.
It's the Christmas Holidays and private detective and part time writer Phillip Marlowe (Montgomery) strolls into Kingsby Publications to submit his latest novel. Although he didn't know it at the time, his reason for being there is for different matters, and soon he is involved in missing persons and dead bodies...
Famous for being the film that used a first person gimmick (the camera is Marlowe for most of the picture), Lady in the Lake has a very divisive reputation for a number of reasons. Be it the gimmick or the portrayal of Marlowe (a much loved character to Chandler and film noir fans) by Montgomery, you will find for every person who likes the film greatly, the next person hates it. So with that you have to roll the dice and take your chance.
I have an allergy against getting mixed up with tricky females who want to knock off the boss's wife and marry him for themselves.
If able to leave aside Chandler's novel (and the writer's agitation about the film in general) , and to not let the camera as the active protagonist trick take you out of the story, then there's a good picture here. As is the Chandler way, there's a pot boiler at work as Marlowe tries to solve the cases at hand. He gets punched and slapped about, drops sarcasm quips a plenty, flirts roughly with Adrienne Fromsett (Totter) and jousts with the police as a course of nature. The mystery element is delightfully strong, suspicious behaviours and dubious motives are prominent, all of which reach a satisfying conclusion at pics end.
When it comes to women, does anybody really want the facts?
Montgomery's take on Marlowe isn't for everyone, and coming as it did just a year after Bogart had laid down a considerable marker in The Big Sleep, he was up against it. He actually does well in my book, stentorian like in delivery, wonderfully brusque of manner, and a filthy laugh to boot! His interactions with the yummy Totter and battle of wills with the cops are what make the picture worthwhile.
Perhaps you'd better go home and play with your fingerprint collection.
Unfortunately, with the gimmick in such loaded prominence, it does get a bit weary come the mid-point. The film also lacks some biting noir visuals, the story and its plotting screams out for dark shadow play and chilly chiaroscuro, but no joy in that department here. So some various irks for sure. It starts off with Christmas carols for the opening credits, and finishes on an un-noirish note, but everything in between - gimmick be damned - makes this an intriguing and entertaining Marlowe noir piece. 7/10
Class of 1984 (1982)
I am the future!
Class of 1984 is directed by Mark Lester and Lester co-writes the screenplay with Tom Holland and John Saxton. It stars Perry King, Roddy McDowall, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Stefan Arngrim, Michael Fox, Roddy McDowall and Lisa Langlois. Music is by Lalo Schifrin and Alice Cooper and Cinematography by Albert J. Dunk.
New music teacher Andrew Norris (King) is shocked to find the pupils of Lincoln High rule the roost. Refusing to kowtow to Peter Stegman's (Patten) gang of thugs, he decides to fight back...
It's always tricky revisiting later in life films that have cemented themselves as cult favourites. Class of 1984 is one such cult favourite of many who eagerly digested it back in the early half of the 1980s, a time when censorship was rife and banning orders the order of the day. The word of mouth back then was that Lester's film pushed boundaries, a frightening vision of a future where education as we know it would be replaced by anarchy, the youths of the day running amok with violence, sexual aggression and copious amounts of drugs. was this an astute portent by Lester and his crew?...
Essentially this marks one of the turning points in the trashy filmic timeline of films dealing in educational establishments collapsing within via youth rebellion. Where the likes of Blackboard Jungle kicked things off with grim textures, Class of 1984 picks up the baton and urinates on it with a glint in its eye - for better or worse. As a whole the pic is given over to being ridiculous for the sake of shock value, yet it's strangely magnetic, managing to strike a nervous chord. Exploitation? No not really, that was just a marketing ploy that worked...
Viewing it these days it looks part of a tired formula, but that in no way should denigrate the importance of it, for it helped turn the tide in said formula. Ultimately it becomes a visceral revenge thriller, where some scenes are well constructed, others not so much, with the finale outrageously over the top. The acting from the younger cast members is mostly ok, though Patten is difficult to take serious as the gang leader. King is splendidly committed to the lead, garnering our support, while McDowall is the class act on show.
Lurid colours, eye splinter fashions and a rocky sound track round it out as a trashy "B" movie of much ebullience. One for the nostalgic amongst us for sure, but also for film historians interested in the sub-genre this sits in. 7/10
Sucker Money (1933)
Victims of the Beyond (AKA: Sucker Money) is directed by Melville Shyer and Dorothy Davenport (as Dorothy Reid) and written by Willis Kent. It stars Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington, Earl McCarthy, Ralph Lewis and Mae Busch.
For the era it was made this deserves credit for being a fore runner to a splinter of films dealing with spiritualism - notably as a fake exercise. Unfortunately for dramatic worth it has nothing of note to offer. Plot essentially has fake medium Swami Yomurda (Auer) using his nefarious means to swindle persons of wealth out of money. Enter an undercover reporter who is intrepid in trying to unmask the scammers and save the day. The End!
It's all a bit creaky, the direction, the acting and the production as a whole really doesn't have much going for it. The premise at the core is interesting enough to hold attention for the short one hour run time - even if the first fifteen minutes drag and hardly entice one to stay through the rest of the play. Plenty of séance scenes are decently played, and thus rewards those into such shenanigans, but it becomes tiresome and the writing simply isn't good enough to drive home some thriller possibilities. 4/10
Across the Hall (2009)
Art Deco Neo-Noir has more style than substance?
Across the Hall is directed by Alex Merkin and Merkin co-writes the screenplay with Jesse Mittelstadt and Julien Schwab. It is adapted from Merkin's short film of the same name that aired in 2005. It stars Mike Vogel, Brittany Murphy, Danny Pino, Natalie Smyka and Brad Greenquist. Music is by Bobby Tahouri and cinematography by Andrew Carranza.
The Riverview Hotel, and Terry (Pino) has rented the room opposite the room where he believes his fiancée June (Murphy) is cheating on him...
Alex Merkin clearly loves film noir and knows his noir onions, this is not in doubt due to the twisty story, characterisations and superb stylistics on offer here. And just in case anyone is in any doubt about this, the keen of noir eye will notice the film showing at the theatre next to the Riverview Hotel is Nightmare Alley, the brilliant Tyrone Power noir pic from 1947.
On the style front the production is top draw, Carranza's photography is both beautiful and ghostly, creating a brooding atmosphere befitting the plot machinations. The look is supplemented considerably by Tahouri's edgy pulse like musical score, while the Art Deco design of the Riverview is a splendid accompaniment to dark deeds unfolding.
As a story we are served up standard fare, the insertion of twisters and linear jumps not really lifting it out of its predictable trajectory. Which is a shame, because performances are solid and Merkin obviously has love for noir as a film making style. The resolution is expected but handled well enough to pay off the patient, but as a whole Across the Hall just about rises above average, but really this is more down to style than substance. 6/10
I have no affinity to Baseball as a sport, I'm British you see. I tried to get in to it when British cable networks began showing it, but it never grabbed me. My only contribution to any conversation about the sport is that I support The Cleveland Indians because of the film Major League, a film that continues to make me laugh to this day.
I was intrigued by Moneyball, synopsis tantalisingly offering up a sports success story based on an improbable blend of maths (something I hate with a passion), guile and perceived misfits as a team. Sure enough, after viewing Moneyball it has landed joyously onto a personal favourites list.
Unsurprisingly, when digging into the actual facts of the Oakland Athletics 2002 season at the core of the story, I found truths stretched, some character portrayals toyed with, and omissions to round out a better story. But crucially, the key element here is the moulding of a team for what in Baseball parlance is financial peanuts. This makes their 20 game wining run as being an outstanding achievement.
The mathematical aspects of the story are easily explained via the interactions of General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his economics right hand man Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Baseball operations behind the scenes are given fascinating clarity via the tremendous screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin). And ultimately the blend of on field action, family relationships and team assembling flows beautifully as one.
In turn punch the air brilliant with heart tugging worth, and brainy into the bargain, Moneyball most certainly a film non Baseball fans can watch and maybe love for bringing something new to the sports movie table. 9/10
Splice is a tricky picture to evaluate, for its ideas are superb. One could argue that it brings a new petri dish full of meddling scientists facing the consequences of their actions, while conversely it justifiably feels like a Cronenberg knock-off.
Psychological discord is in abundance, with its slants on skew-whiff parenting giving the pic a dark fascination, and as unpleasant as the male fantasy angle is, it does hold a morbid interest factor.
Yet come the final third the makers let things run away from them, the bonkers dangers of tampering with science giving way to daft schlock, even managing to be distasteful in the process - while the finale is a weak attempt at a "TBC" cliff hanger.
Lead cast members are turning in good perfs. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as the meddling science couple hold court well, and Delphine Chaneac as the Chimera splicer of the piece really nails all the various emotional strands required for a tricky role.
Director Vincenzo Natali has shown with Cube and Cypher he has something to offer the horror/sci-fi splinters of film, but this is a mixed bag. A film of great ideas let down by overheating the plot for shock values, while the levity inserted into the play is misguided and damaging for dramatic worth. 6/10
Guest in the House (1944)
Little Saint Cecilia!
Guest in the House is directed by John Brahm and adapted to screen by Ketti Frings from the play written by Hagar Wilde, Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. It stars Anne Baxter, Ralph Bellamy, Aline MacMahon, Ruth Warrick and Scott McKay. Music is by Werner Janssen and cinematography by Lee Garmes.
The Proctor family take on more than they bargained for when Evelyn Heath (Baxter) comes to stay with them.
Given the quality of cast and with the strength of Brahm and Garmes on the camera side of things, this really should have been a top tier psychological thriller. Sadly, in spite of much to keep it above average, it ends up as a melodramatic pot boiler that never quite comes to the boil.
Essentially the pic is framed around Baxter's troubled Evelyn, who is up to no good, where mischief making is the order of the day. Her motives are sketchy and her neurotic kinks are never fully formed except to give us some closure at pic's denouement. Things aren't helped by the fact Evelyn is just not a character to either sympathise with, or to even feel unnerved by since her shenanigans are not gripping and even come off as a little daft.
The male leads are poorly written, chauvinistic leanings boorish in the grand scheme of "outing" Evelyn as the sexual aggressor. While some of the histrionics on show from Baxter are hard to buy into. On the plus side the pic looks great, with Garmes (Nightmare Alley) managing to create moody ambiance in what is a stage bound play, and although I found Janssens' music score to be too jaunty at times, there's no denying the quality of arrangement (Oscar Nominated).
You have to look to the supporting players for quality (MacMahon and Warrick), and admire some technical craft for comfort. But ultimately it's a missed opportunity for potency, whilst some of the contrivances and character portrayals date the story badly. 6/10