Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Night of the Hunter
Once Upon a Time in The West
Les Vacances de M. Hulot
Saikaku ichidai onna/Life of O Haru
Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi/Spirited Away
Touch of Evil
Alone in Berlin (2016)
Cards dealt from the middle of the deck.
Watched this last night and while Thompson and Gleason were excellent as the depressed couple at the centre of events, and the film was well mounted, I still felt it lacked some necessary tension. Think what a Hitchcock would have made of the suspense in placing 200-odd anti-Nazi cards in the midst of Hitler's regime, with detectives watching out and knowing what being caught would have meant! One would also have liked a little more friction and debate between the husband and wife, more justification for the eventual plan. Instead of real drama we had necessary and moving human dignity shown by the participants, even under dire circumstances; but we realise that dignity can take the viewer a certain way but then it needs something more. Also, while a satisfying demonstration of what effect even just a little gesture can have over a period of time (even though we inevitable wonder: who did retain the missing 18 cards? What did they think and do thereafter?) the ending, while no doubt providing a closing flourish, felt a-historical. Was such an extravagant gesture an accurate representation of events? Or did the makers feel the need to give the efforts and sacrifices of their heroes something of a tangible effect to live by? But even with such caveats and questions, this is a solid and enjoyable piece of work, and one which is worth a watch.
Terra Formars (2016)
Movie Madness and Entertaining Entomology
OK, here's the shocking truth: this film, which ought to have the English language title of 'Cockroach Planet', is pretty bad. In it, Miike abandons any of the art-house pretensions about which people find to argue and discuss in some of his other work, in place of lurid and batty SF fantasy. At the start it rips off 'Blade Runner' - almost shot-for- shot in a couple of places. The characters are shallow. The central idea is ludicrous. The plot is underdeveloped. The flashbacks do nothing to advance things, and can be confusing and, once, amusingly bathetic. The CGI can be substandard. The director slips in a gratuitous Yakuza moment, and thinks it cool. There is also a token terrorist announced as a job description, and a villain who is, patently, a fashion victim. The cockroaches, who move super-fast at one moment and can fly their legions, usually stand round and stare at their victims quizzically, waiting for them to gear up before attacking slowly. The evil insects are cute, rather than menacing, and when they grin, look like they wear dentures. There are what appear to be the pyramids of Giza on Mars; I don't know why, even when explained on screen - but that's OK I guess, as we never get close. And of course the science is ridiculous.
So I watched this colourful, surreal, and jaw-dropping extravaganza marrying insects and cinematic insanity ... and was thoroughly entertained. In short, don't expect more for your money than you get from all of the above which, as you now know, is plenty: just rush to see it like I did, and be pleased. At least there is no boring John Carter and they are not talking about botany again.
In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Ti West, goes west
Writer, producer and director Ti West makes his first western (though not his first film) with this one, which for many seems to have slipped under the radar. Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a revenger with a past, whose most pressing motivation appears to have been at least partly inspired by JOHN WICK while the film also makes affectionate nod to Italian models. Other members of the cast include John Travolta, playing a Marshall with a false leg.
Straight from the pre-titles opening scene, Western fans can relax back in their saddles and say to themselves 'this is how it is done!' as Ti West finds just the right balance between homage, tension, and saying something fresh. Hawke's anti-hero is a complex creation while Travolta's idiosyncratic character works well in a film which, never the less, does occasionally veer too abruptly in tone between the light-hearted and the violent. As a western maker, a director like Tarantino could take a lesson in something which he seems to have forgotten of the merits of stripped-down B movie making, buoyed up by some interesting dialogue, from this. Critics have rightly pointed out that there are one or two weaker performers further down the cast list, but this is not a major distraction and ultimately the result gets a strong recommendation from me. Great score, too.
So far, the American Larry Blamire has completed five features, achieving in my opinion an admirable and likable body of work, beginning with the well-received Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra (2001). Of the four I have managed to see, each has the distinctive style of its writer-director-actor: genial and humane humour, consistently amusing parody of older genres, allied with use of an increasingly familiar stock company - all of whom seem to be enjoying themselves as much as director and audience.
Blamire writes, directs and frequently acts in his own films, his careful scripts reveling in non-sequiturs and deliberate longueurs whilst eschewing coarse dialogue. The surreal Trail Of The Screaming Forehead stands the most apart from its fellows I have seen, being made in colour, perhaps more expressly silly, with increased special effects work and the inclusion of special guest players (Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy). Perhaps because of that, whilst still very amusing, it seems a little less characteristic and considered. However, this said, I have to report that after seeing it again lately I chuckled just as much as the first time - something which is entirely in line with those who revisit Blamire's films, which have a quiet quality all of their own and which never grow stale - which is ironic, as they constantly reference dated genres.
I think Blamire is an auteur to treasure, one who gives the art of parody back its name and quality - especially after the dismal, bigger-budgeted attempts of the likes of Jason Friedberg and the Wayans, directors who seem to have no affection for the films they imitate and always aim for the obvious. Their films are, arguably, hardly films at all - merely narrative clothes pegs on which to hang cheap laughs, slapdash and vulgar in equal measure, where Blamire is neither.
Speaking for myself, a sure-fire indication of a good parody is my willingness to revisit the work when the original joke has been seen and gone; this is true of most of Blamire's films, which grow more amusing and endearing upon re-acquaintance. And while the film types Blamire affectionately references have typically long since left our screen, I think his own work set around them remains fresh and original.
Lost Skeleton was the first I discovered and still has a special place in my affections; but there's not much between it and Dark And Stormy Night - the finest ensemble piece in Blamire's work. Only The Lost Skeleton Returns Again I think a slight disappointment - even though it too has its moments, if only because inevitably there's a sense of deja vu in any sequel of this sort while the narrative flow seems a little forced. (I hope to rent a copy of Johnny Slade's Greatest Hits (UK: Meet The Mobsters) soon, as that undoubtedly adds another dimension to Blamire's output albeit one far more commercial.) Although the liking, or not, of any film is always a matter of taste, I would recommend a discovery of Blamire's small but extremely likable oeuvre, filled with charming nonsense, endearing featured players, and quotable moments of dialogue, to anyone. In a world of CGI, bloated superstar egos and coarse humour passing as wit this all comes a pleasant discovery.
The Clones (1973)
Clone for the Road
What's the obvious connection between duplicating humans and controlling the weather? No, I can't quickly think of something either, although CLONES seems to think it can be made both obvious and convincing. It is as if the makers thought that cloning itself was not enough to sustain the necessary tension and interest, and so at a late stage come up with a new plot peril to sustain matters. It would perhaps have worked better if the film had dwelt on the insecurities and doubts which surround the duplication of the individual, or indeed made the cause of such events much more mysterious and enigmatic than they turn out to be, leaving things disturbing and unanswered. Instead what we have is a reasonably entertaining large middle section with a likable hero, allied with a couple of effective hunters surrounded by less impressive exposition. Any rate, this low budget film does best when it stays away from such artificial considerations of plot to play on the confusion and paranoia of confronting doppelgangers, such as we have encountered elsewhere in such films as THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF.
Despite some interesting stylisation of the opening credits, the opening minutes of CLONES are a little confusing and it is only when hero Dr Appleby leaves the laboratory, in chase of himself, do things look up a little. Due credit must be given to Michael Green for making of Appleby at least halfway sympathetic during the extended action-suspense sequences which makes up the central part of the film which, on reflection, even more impressive given the low budget of the makers.
Even with the caveats the score here is likely too low (I give proceedings at least a 5 or so) The final shoot out is well done and another reviewer is right: the last twist in the tale is unexpected.
The Todd Killings (1971)
Little known classic
Based on the real life crimes of 'The Pied Piper of Tucson' thrill-killer Charles Schmidt, Shear's second film offered a completely different, and far more salutary, view of the younger generations than his first (Wild in the Streets) - in fact, arguably rejecting any empathy with it at all. Starting in strikingly edited fashion with the hurried burial of a victim and ending with the police recovering the bodies of two others, The Todd Killings is a work whose negative view of a generation and its alienation is unrelenting, bleak and compelling. The "fictionalised dramatisation" stars Robert F Jones as 'Skipper' Todd, a charismatic 23 year-old slacker, drug dealer and would-be song writer living in the small Californian town of Darlington. Todd lives off an allowance from his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes, her last film) who runs an old people's home. Worshiped by a clique of younger females, Todd's own view of his dissipated lifestyle is characteristically cynical: "fornication isn't much (but) it's about all Darlington has to offer". It's only when he is attracted to the initially standoffish Roberta (Belinda Montgomery) that things get more complicated. At the same time Billy Roy (Richard Thomas) arrives back home in town, fresh out of reformatory, quickly rediscovers his love for an old school sweetheart and is taken under Skipper's doubtful wing.
Although from this summary it seems a film with two infatuations at its core, The Todd Killings is not a romantic piece. On the one hand we have Skipper, scheming and callous towards Roberta, while on the other there is Billy Roy, naive, confused and, ultimately, just as cruel towards his own girl. Neither relationships will end well. In this they are typical of the party and drug set around them, where the only real relationship is with hedonism. Others have noted the fractured and documentary style employed by the narrative, reflecting the lack of real focus in the young lives of Darlington. Only Roberta gets some real sympathy, but ironically its her will-she won't-she attitude towards Skipper and his actions which make up some of the film's less successful elements. When we first see her she seems a cut above the rest of her sex; her continued affection towards Skipper, even after the the most serious suspicions emerge and rape, considerably reduces her standing. Ultimately, even with her self-awareness and conscience, she is barely different from the others.
In the first half of the film Shear breaks up the presentation of Skipper's sometimes frantic, always shallow existence with more formal, considered shorter scenes, as the young man is interviewed in turn by police and military (he dodges the draft by pretending to be gay). At other times too, when faced by the establishment, Skipper acts the considerate, polite young man, and initially impresses Billy Roy's parents by his manner. At first he also seems to fool his former teacher, who's out trying to save local bored housewives from their own intellectual "death sentence" with reading groups of 'Moby-Dick'. At one point he recalls Skipper as one of his brightest former students, but now the young man is as dismissive of literature as of anything else. But we know that the slimy charmer is already a murderer, his secret buried out in the desert - just as his real character lays buried beneath a facade for his elders' benefit. Indeed, with one notable exception, Skipper's violence is hidden from the audience as well. It is Shear's achievement that he makes something shocking and memorable out of the coldness which remains, in an exploitation piece par excellence.
It's hard to think of another film with a heart quite as nihilist as The Todd Killings, a movie in which murders are committed just to see what it feels like, or because there's "nothing else to do", and in which a shiftless society of teenagers seem alienated from the magnitude of their actions. Other films have shown rebellious, shallow and disenchanted youth, but few are so thoroughgoing and so completely dark. For Skipper one of the most despicable emotions is pity, and his lack of empathy with others and is echoed back by his loose circle of friends whose only concern, even when the full horror of his crimes is revealed, is what to do when he's no longer around. (In fact the original shooting script was apparently called 'What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?'). Some have compared Shear's film to (I think less bleak) River's Edge (1986), while passing similarities can also be seen in another favourite, Mean Creek (2004). A further film based on Schmidt's real life crimes, Dead Beat (1984) is not in the same league.
By turn charming, dangerous and self-centered, Jones' charismatic portrayal as the murdering misogynist is unforgettable, while The Todd Killings further benefits from an excellent supporting cast which, besides Bel Geddes, also includes Gloria Graham and Edward Asner. With hindsight, Richard Thomas' casting shortly after this as TV's John-Boy Walton, where he was to co-star in a completely different moral universe, gives his appearance here particular resonance. A pathetic figure, he is easily led in a world where nothing matters and "there's the crap, and living like you want to live." All of this is aided by some excellent cinematography as well as an outstanding, sometimes frenetic musical score by Leonard Rosenmann. Earlier in his career the composer had worked on Rebel Without a Cause. One wonders what he felt creating music for another, if later generation, equally estranged,but with a much more dangerous alienation, in which personal angst is almost entirely absent.
If you haven't seen The Todd Killings, then it may be one of the best films you've hardly heard of. If you have, then you'll surely welcome any chance to see it again.
Something in the City (1950)
'Mr Pastry' the movie
For those old enough to remember the UK's 'Mr Pastry' TV series of the late 50's-early 60's, this film will come as a welcome surprise and a reminder of a once popular star of British family culture. Richard Hearne, star of that long-vanished show here plays Richard Ningle, a mild-mannered family man pretending to work in an office all day while in fact he is an 'art dealer' each day - out begging on the side of a busy London thoroughfare. Complications ensue when his daughter announces her engagement to a snooty couple's son, the father of whom promptly dispatches an investigative reporter to check out the status of Ningle.
None of this is of very much import: what matters here is the physical comedy and treasured screen presence of Hearne whose structured physical comedy (as opposed to the musical-hall slapstick variety more common elsewhere in British cinema) is a delight. Hearne's droopy, pale 'tache is arguably as much a signature of his persona as Harold Lloyd's glasses or Chaplin's cane, and at the moment when it appears in the film (to usher in Ningle's alter-ego 'Artie') this watcher, at least, enjoyed a small frisson which must have also been enjoyed more strongly by contemporary audiences.
A good deal of the running time of Something in The City is Taken up with physical comedy, as Ningle or 'Artie' escape from various pursuers, and for the most part this is successful. Indeed Hearne's natural grace and movement, his use of props and situations, avoidance of cheap laughs and his lack of bumbling through the various narrative mishaps occasionally reminded this viewer of Buster Keaton. There's plenty of comic support too, notably a very young Dora Bryan as an increasingly exasperated cafe waitress. The comedy is lightly done and ultimately the whole thing is something of a delightful fantasy.
Hearne disappeared from our screen too soon and his memory is faint now (The comic mantle he left was perhaps passed on to figures such as Harry Worth then Michael Crawford for new generations). We are lucky to have this film to see now as a reminder of once what was, and how good it was. The picture and sound is perfectly acceptable. Look out for a brief appearance by Stanley Baker as a young police constable at the end.
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)
Neither the Sea not the Sand nor much interest
A terrible film, in which the love of Susan Hampshire turns a man into a zombie. Taken from a novel by Gordon Honeycombe, a mistake was made in allowing the author to provide the screenplay as in the event it proves a lugubrious affair, aiming (and completely missing) any profound statement about love and death, replacing it with platitudes and hackneyed emotions. It's the sort of thing that was done with far more atmosphere, eroticism and the necessary morbidity by the Italian horror directors at around the same time like Bava. Those who live on the channel island of Jersey will no doubt enjoy the location work, but others will struggle to stay patient with a tale that includes in its small cast veteran actor Frank Finlay, who no doubt wished he was back on TV in Casanova. The print is fine with good colour photography in the seventies' style. There's some fleeting nudity, and even mild interest in seeing the normally fridge-like Hampshire attempting a couple of bed scenes but, by the end of a long 90 minutes, the viewer will probably end up as numb as her unfortunate lover.
Nevada Smith (1966)
A box office smash for it's time Nevada Smith is a long, episodic film directed by Henry Hathaway starring the charismatic Steve McQueen. Interestingly McQueen's character actually only uses the Nevada Smith moniker once (as a temporary alias in the movie), the rest of the time using his 'real' name of Max Sand. Sand is a half breed whose parents are killed by outlaws - the outstanding trio of Martin Landau, Karl Malden and Arthur Kennedy a group of class heavies that's worth the price of admission alone - and then who resolutely sets out to track the murderers down one by one, after taking on board some life instruction from gun trader Brian Keith. The moments with Keith reminded me of the great Spaghetti Day of Anger made a year later - another film in which an experienced older gunfighter teaches an innocent the way to get through travails: with gun skills and a bit of frontier philosophy. It's a fairly traditional plot, albeit given resonance by a quality cast and production value.
Nevada Smith benefits greatly from Hathaway's leisurely outdoor directorial style, familiar from such personal favourites as The Sons of Katie Elder and North to Alaska as well as some excellent mise en scene cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard. Some critics such as Phil Hardy have sniffed a little at the film, and it's contemporary popularity, but I found it engrossing throughout, although admittedly it might have benefited from a little trimming. The mid-section, in which McQueen finds himself doing hard labour, then escaping, from a swamp-surrounded, brutalising prison camp reminded me of the (I think) weaker Papillion.
The real weakness to the film appears in the last section, when Sand/Smith is rescued from Malden's gang by a priest to be then reminded, by way of belated balance to Keith's earlier lessons, of the virtues of forgiveness and Christian forbearance. To a modern viewer this moral lesson seems a little laboured, and does little to make the final scene of the film psychologically convincing, ultimately leaving the principal character redeemed without purpose. Such considerations are striking given moments elsewhere, when the viewer can see the influence of the cynicism and violence of the genre which flowered elsewhere during the mid-sixties.
However if you haven't caught this yet I do recommend it, especially in the fine widescreen DVD edition now available. It's short on extras but the image and condition of the print is fine.
Night Passage (1957)
Night passage more than passingly good
Apparently no less a director than Anthony Mann left this project after the star, James Stewart, insisted on including accordion playing as part of his main character or perhaps of views he held about the script. The helm was instead taken eventually by James Neilson, most of whose career was spent in television. The film itself, together perhaps with Two Rode Together (1961), is seen as something of disappointment when seen alongside other great Stewart westerns of the 50's.
Stewart plays a disgraced railroad man, reduced to playing music for nickels and dimes to help ends meet, until he is called back into action by his old boss to help solve some robberies. Chief among the suspects are his younger brother, The Utica Kid (Audie Murphy) now embroiled with an outlaw gang led by the unbalanced Whitey (Dan Duryea). Despite the variable reputation of this film I thoroughly enjoyed it, not least because of the plotting by Borden Chase and the excellent and large supporting case which also included Jack Elam, Paul Fix, Dianne Foster and Jay C Flippen. There's a part too for a now slightly older Brandon de Wilde, most famous for his role as the hero-worshiping youngster in Shane. After watching Audie Murphy just previously in the disappointing, much lower budgeted late vehicle Apache Rifles (1964), suddenly with this film the range seemed aright again. Murphy does an excellent turn as the conflicted younger brother, holding his screen presence well against the as always excellent Stewart, who, by this time, works his central role effortlessly. In fact Murphy's characteristic, taciturn, screen persona actually does the other main co-star Duryea a disservice, by emphasising some scenery-chewing elsewhere by the actor no doubt intent on showing Whitey's instability.
Stewart gets to play his beloved accordion three or four times - although it must be admitted that, by the time it gets burnt in the climactic confrontation, one grows little tired of hearing his repertoire of, mostly, 'You Won't Get Far Without the Railroad'. Most obviously, the longish opening Mclintock-esque scene, one suspects, was inserted principally to showcase Stewart's playing, although his charm always carries such musical longeurs along. Away from the star's turn, the otherwise excellent composer Dimitri Tiomkin is hard put to incorporate the music meaningfully into the rest of the score. With the cheerful and interruptive accordion one looks in vain too for the wheezing ominousness which marks out, say, Harmonica's instrumental playing in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Stewart's accordion does, however, play a final a part later in filling out an element of Murphy's moral character in what, one must admit, is a very effective, subtle scene. But overall it's a minor, idiosyncratic, element in a film which is still excellent viewing, a production taking full advantage of a big budget and good sized cast, and one thoroughly recommended. An obvious question remains: why is it called 'Night Passage' when there is hardly any day-for-night work, and no significant travel made in the dark?