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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.
The Meg (2018)
Child friendly horror...
You have to take in to context the post release statements by director Jon Turteltaub and lead actor Jason Statham. The Meg is not the film they either read on the page or filmed as a course of grisly schlock entertainment. This was meant to be a proper schlocker, a bloodletting monster of the deep on the loose picture, sadly the suits at the helm didn't see that as a viable money making exercise and had this cut to be a "12" friendly bums on theatre seats cash grabber. Shame on them.
What we get is a run of the mill creature feature that although once viewed does not leave a lasting impression (was anyone really hoping for that anyway?), but is kind of fun in that time filling sort of way. It runs through the modern day creature feature playbook 101. So off we go with the hero having a troubled backstory, a money made funder out of his depth, ladies with life quandaries, a man who can't swim working in the middle of the ocean! and on we go. Throw in some quite awfully scripted dialogue and it's cheese sarnie time.
Statham is nearly always a good watch - in the muscle bound action hero kind of way - though you see the cracks between what the film was meant to be and what it ended up as. For you see that The Stath comes off as taking it all too seriously, which in this released cut is ridiculous. He's surrounded by no mark actors, though no short supply of beauty (Bingbing Li socko gorgeous/Ruby Rose hard sexy) and the narrative feeds us all the pointers of exactly where this will end up. There's a couple of nifty fun homages to Jaws, some decent suspense scenes, and the cinematography (Tom Stern) is pin sharp and pleasurable.
Best bet to enjoy this is to know it's a "12" rated friendly piece, to understand it has ultimately ended up as a same old same old monster movie. It's a million miles away from the class of Jaws, and lacks the tongue in cheek knowing of Deep Blue Sea, but it fills a gap in that undemanding time wasting way. 5/10
Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Look, you're dealing with your wife. You can forget the Constitution.
Send Me No Flowers is directed by Norman Jewison and collectively written by Julius J. Epstein, Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore. It stars Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Clint Walker, Edward Andrews, Paul Lynde and Patricia Barry. Music is by Frank De Vol and cinematography by Danial Fapp.
A hypochondriac believes he is dying and makes plans for his wife, which creates many misunderstandings for themselves and everyone around them...
The pairing of Hudson and Day was an utter joy, producing romantic comedy escapism from the upper echelons of such genre stations. Send Me No Flowers is the last of their collaborations, so how wonderful to find it to be a grand way to bow out.
In parts it's thunderously mirthful, even joyously tasteless in the process, in others it's mature and smart about the subjects to hand. Cast are on fire across the board, but this is undoubtedly Hudson's show all the way. He puts a gracefulness into what is a tricky role, while his sly comedic timing - both visually and vocally - is top dollar.
This is a guaranteed bad mood lifter, a pic to blow away the black clouds for a while. The actors are great company to be in, the writing cunning with humorous intent. From some nifty animation at pic's start to introduce Hudson's character's hypochondria, to the sight of the hulking Clint Walker getting out of the world's smallest car! this never lets up on the passion to entertain us. 8/10
Deep Valley (1947)
Ain't no valley low enough - Ain't no river wide enough.
Deep Valley is directed by Jean Negulesco and adapted to screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery and Salka Viertel from the novel written by Dan Totheroh. It stars Ida Lupino, Dane Clark and Wayne Morris. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ted McCord.
Libby Saul (Lupino) lives in a run down farm house with her unfeeling and estranged parents. Having developed a stammer due to her stmyied life, her only solace comes from walking in the woods with her dog. Then one day she happens upon a convict work party and takes interest in one of them, Barry Burnette (Clark).
He's free too...
Off the bat you have to be warned that this is very slow going for the first two thirds - almost painfully so. So with the story hardly being compelling in the first instance, or credible of course, it's on shaky ground and becomes tough to recommend with confidence. However, there's plenty to enjoy as it plods along and the final third is well worth waiting for.
The whole look of the piece is an atmospheric delight, McCord bringing some monochrome magic. The inside of the cottage is oppressive, director and cinematographer neatly marrying the visuals up to how Libby feels. Other scenes are pure visual treats, such as out in the barn as the sunlight shines through gaps in the wood to reveal a ghostly mist, or subtle shots like river ripples reflected onto Libby's face, there's enough tech skills on show to keep you interested. Add in yet another superb performance from Lupino and you should want to stay all the way here.
Narratively it comes down to finding love under trying circumstance, and that of the big decisions we face in life. Libby is faced with a choice, the bad boy or safe boy conundrum rearing its potent head. It all builds to a finale of substance that tantalises the heart and head in equal measure. No great film by any stretch of the imagination, the tech credits better than the actual play itself, but it warrants respect and worth a viewing for sure. 6/10
In a rut and it's six feet deep.
Pitfall is directed by Andre De Toth and adapted to screenplay by Karl Kamb and William Bowers from the novel written by Jay Dratler. It stars Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt and Raymond Burr. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by Harry Wild.
Married insurance adjuster John Forbes (Powell) falls for femme fatale model Mona Stevens (Scott) while her boyfriend (Byron Barr) is in jail. And with Private Investigator J.B. MacDonald (Burr) fiercely attracted to Mona the consequences for everyone could well be critical.
The reluctant fatales!
Not for the fist time I wandered into a film directed by Andre De Toth and came out feeling invigorated by the under valued director. Pitfall falls under the film noir banner but actually subverts what we know as film noir conventions. Mona Stevens is a femme fatale of sorts, but not maliciously so, the key fatale role falls to John Forbes, who is bored with his comfortable life and becomes our homme fatale. But again, this is not malicious or scheming, though since this is noirville it has knock on effects of dire consequence.
What makes a dream? - The mind is a camera.
As our two central adulterers go about their confused passion filled way, the characters it affects become prominent in the story's ultimate resolutions. MacDonald is a brute (Burr in his element), and an unrealistically stupid lech into the bargain but his constant menace throws us a classic noir characterisation. Out there in prison is Mona's boyfriend, who is being made aware of his loved one's indiscretion and counting down the hours till his release. While back at the Forbes home is John's adoring wife (Wyatt enjoying a feisty role) and son (Jimmy Hunt), the innocents who we wonder will suffer from the actions of others?
Dialogue is often sharp, witty and rapid-fire, you instantly know that Bowers (Criss Cross/Split Second) had pen in hand and it was red hot. There's some nice photography on show, with Wild (Cornered/They Won't Believe Me) treating us to shadows and light tactics. However, I lament that there wasn't someone like Krasker or Musuraca on photographic duties, for this cries out for some chiaroscuro wonders. Elsewhere It's sad to report that Byron Barr as the outraged convict is simply not menacing enough, one has to hanker for a McGraw, Brand or Brodie in the role.
As for the finale? Well the makers have their cake and eat it. Having baited the Hays Code with crafty glee, pic leaves things open ended - baiting us the viewers in the process, and it works. Smartly performed by the principal players, waspishly written by Bowers and astutely steered by De Toth, this may not be in hidden gem territory, but it definitely has to be recommended to lovers of the noir form. 7.5/10
There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated...
Alien is directed by Ridley Scott and written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon. It stars Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Derek Vanlint.
The space merchant vessel Nostromo receives an unknown transmission as a distress call and land on the moon where the call had come from. Bad idea... Back on release it was one of the most talked about movies of 1979, backed by a terrifically tantalising trailer - which itself was backed by one of the greatest tag-lines of them all, the weight of expectation of a genre blending classic was colossal. This was only after all director Ridley Scott's second feature length film, could a sophomore pic really be all that? History as we now know has proven that to be the case.
On plot synopsis it's standard format, where the haunted house and a killer on the loose has been replaced by a space ship in space. Yet once the pic plays its alien hand, and it becomes a battle of survival in one location, it dawns on you there is really no escape. No running into the garden and down the street, no hiding in the attic hoping the killer saunters off home, this is find and destroy or be destroyed yourself - with the future of mankind depending on the humans to succeed.
Some still go into a viewing of Alien nowadays and decry it for being too much of a slow burn, yet this is one of the pic's biggest assets. Time in space is slow anyway, and lonely one would guess, so Scott wisely lets the characters be introduced, lets us understand just enough about their psychological make up before things go belly up (literally as it happens). When the pot finally boils over it's terrifying, the bar well and truly raised for horror/sci-fi hybrid conventions.
With art design by H.R. Giger and Goldsmith producing eerie musical rumbles, the whole piece has a disquiet about it, notably with distressing sexual connotations and symbolism that haunts the mind as the body horror unfolds. The quiet passages are nerve shredders, Alien across the board is a visceral experience, especially for those who have ever watched it on a big screen in a darkened theatre.
It made a star of Weaver, who unbeknown to those on first viewing is the main character, another masterstroke by Scott, with Ripley the character in Weaver's hands shunting women's character's in big budget films forward by some considerable margin. All the cast are on great form, there's no showy stars in here, a collection of hard working British and American actors feeding off their director for super returns.
Now 40 years old, Alien shows no sign of losing its classic status, and rightly so. A seminal class act that still holds all the qualities it had back in 1979. In space no one can hear you scream - indeed! 10/10
From now on, I'm going to make a life of my own. And, being a woman, I won't have to use guns.
Ramrod is directed by Andre DeToth and collectively written by Luke Short, Jack Moffitt, C. Graham Baker and Cecile Kramer. It stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Donald Crisp, Preston Foster, Arlene Whelan and Charles Ruggles. Music is by Adloph Deutsch and cinematography by Russell Harlan.
Sick of self proclaimed bully boss of the valley Frank Ivey (Foster) getting his way, hard driven Connie Dickason (Lake) sets up the Circle 66 Ranch. Hiring Dave Nash (McRea) as her ranch foreman (ramrod), Connie uses tricks and feminine wiles to win the personal battles to hand - which may well spell bad news for everyone...
Ramrod was the first Western directed by De Toth, and it's quite an impressive genre start. Splendidly capturing the film noir zeitgeist that was occurring at this time, pic looks terrific, De Toth and Harlan bring perfect monochrome moodiness for narrative compliance. The story pulses with psychological beats, the characters ranging from damaged addicts, the lovelorn and the lost, the power crazy and the cowardly, and right there at the core of it all is a femme fatale who is very much all woman but manipulative, bitter and destructive to the bone!
Story has a number of splinters lifting it out of the ordinary, the twists and turns not ridiculous, the sly machinations of principals are devilishly enjoyable for the like minded noir of heart. The plotting is clinically smart by not being ordinary, De Toth toying with the traditional tropes of the good versus bad Western staples. It's fair to say that Ramrod will reward more on further viewings, where it has the power to have the viewer dissecting the Freudian angles on show.
Cast are well suited to their respective roles. Lake rightly deglamourizes for Connie, and yet she carries a steely sexiness that has you understanding how men fall under her spell. McRea underplays it perfectly, he got the dupe role down pat, whilst DeFore steals the men acting honours as Bill Schell, who is Dave's mate, a jumping bean loose cannon dealing death with a nod and a wink. Support cast all come out in credit to seal the deal, for Ramrod is a must see for those who like Western and film noir hybrids. 8/10
Unconquerable, because, they are strong and free!
Unconquered is directed by Cecil B. DeMille and collectively written by Charles Bennett, Frederic M. Frank and Jesse Lasky, Jr. It is based on the novel written by Neil H. Swanson. It stars Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, Howard Da Silva, Boris Karloff, Cecil Kelleway, Ward Bond and Katherine DeMille. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by Ray Rennahan.
Frontiersman Chris Holden (Cooper) becomes embroiled in the machinations of Martin Garth (Ds Silva), who for his own ends is helping the Native American Pontiac uprising. All this while trying to keep slave girl Abby Hale (Goddard) out of harms way...
And 6 pence!
So it comes to pass that this really is no historical document - shock! Based around Pontiac's Rebellion, circa 1763 after the French and Indian War, it's a fanciful narrative that's a right old mixed bag. On one hand it's the story of an all American hero and a fish out of water British woman traversing through perilous situations whilst simultaneously ignoring the attraction that exists between them. On the other hand it's proud in propaganda flag waving, with heroic verve in full effect, but is gleefully executed with customary panache by DeMille.
The Gilded Beaver!
It's a little too long at nearly two and a half hours, for there are exposition passages that don't really serve the adventurous heart at core of story, yet the collective gathering of numerous characters does excite, DeMille excelling in that department. Action sequences are splendid, the fights with the Native Americans, repelling a siege of the fort as fiery death falls from the sky and bullets and blades do what they were designed for - sort of. Chase sequences, the best of which on the river rapids with incredulous tumble and all, and of course much shifty shenanigans and stoic glint in the eye machismo.
The Compass Bluff!
There's the blend of fun scenes with the sadly elegiac, where a compass comes to the rescue of Holden and Hale for fun value, and the realisation of death being just yards away from homely comforts is sombrely played. There's even some sexy spice in the mix, especially when the ravishing Goddard takes a barrel bath! Who cares about her non existing British accent?!
Some of the attitudes within the narrative are suspect, towards race, nationality and womanhood, and the over talky sections tip it off the tracks at times, but it's still ripper entertainment. It be colourful and vibrant, sexy and sharp, and boisterously proud into the bargain - enough good here in fact to forgive it the misdemeanors of the era. 7/10
The Unfaithful (1947)
The Unfaithful is directed by Vincent Sherman and written by Dave Goodis and James Gunn. It's based around the 1929 play, The Letter, by W. Somerset Maugham. It stars Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Jerome Cowan, Steven Geray and John Hoyt. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ernest Haller.
When a Los Angeles socialite kills a man while home alone one night it appears to be a simple case of self defence....
Maugham's play written source of 1929 had already been adapted in 1931 and 1940, the latter the most grandiose version with Bette Davis starring and William Wyler directing. So wisely, Vincent Sherman and his team rework the principle to a modern day city, with modern day social awareness and a whole different macguffin. It's a tricky blend of murder mystery and domestic melodrama dressed up in occasional film noir garb, and yet for although it's hardly riveting viewing - with a hopelessly safe finale, there's rich characterisations and enough honest intention on the page to keep you on side.
In the first instance pic is concerned with the mystery element, the big question of if Chris Hunter (Sheridan) did in fact kill in self defence. The crime itself is superbly staged by Sherman (All Through the Night) and Haller (Mildred Pierce). A house at night lit by lamplight, a woman entering her front door is submerged by an approaching shadow, a scuffle moves into the house and we the viewers witness the rest via jostling silhouettes. It's a nifty show of a visual flourish that sadly has you wishing there was a more consistent commitment to the mise en scène throughout rest of the piece.
Then the story throws a spanner in the works, excitingly so, for all is not as it seems. Adultery, blackmail, deceit, murder? Can it be true? But again, one has to be disappointed that these themes - ripe for noir dalliances - are not covered with dark tints. Because instead the pic chooses to go for domestic disharmony, even becoming a message movie - where as honourable as that is in the context of the era it was made, it loses all of its dramatic worth. This is the nearly very good under seen crime/noir picture...
For all that, there's good craft here, with performances to match, notably a wonderfully waspish Arden. And in going the way they did for the finale, it would be churlish to decry it its hopeful hopefulness. So as Steiner weaves his musical swirls, and Haller brightens the gloom, hope does indeed spring eternal. 6.5/10
Trail Street (1947)
Every citizen is a peace officer when the peace is violated. This is a free country by statute.
Trail Street is directed by Ray Enright and adapted to screenplay by Norman Houston and Gene Lewis from the novel of the same name written by William Corcoran. It stars Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George Hayes, Madge Meredith and Steve Brodie. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by J. Roy Hunt.
Bat Masterson (Scott) is called to the town of Liberal in Kansas to act as Marshal because a range war has erupted.
It's the trail riders versus the farmers with Bat Masterson in the middle, perfect for Randy Scott then. Trail Street is a very honest Oater, sturdy of formula and played for genre compliant rewards. Clearly of no historical worth, mind, it's however a further reminder about one of the "names" that stand through the test of time from the Old West.The land war as a central plot device is always fascinating, for the two sides of the argument angle keeps things on the high heat. In the mix here comes corruption, romantic sub-plots (with 2 ladies of different social standings) and of course law and order as a force of nature.
Ultimately it's good fun entertainment, the cast themselves seemingly enjoying their respective parts and working for this director. Hayes brings the froth, Brodie the slimy menace, and the girls are not just token fodder. Scott isn't in it as much as we would like, but once arriving in town he dominates with genre gracefulness in what was soon to become his total career pathway. While Ryan is wonderfully fresh faced and lights up his scenes with distinction.
Enright has a good feel for character development, and when the pic begins to sag he pulls it back on track with a nifty action sequence. Rounding out the tech credits we have Hunt's (Crossfire) photography, which is spiffing and marries up smartly with the visual themes that Enright favours, while Sawtell keeps it safe and standard for aural pleasure. The ending is worth waiting for, with guns a toting and stunt men a falling from a high, and a very dark act is carried out to set us up for a boffo finale.
This is hardly a must see or must have in your Westerns collection, but it's above average and has an unassuming feel that's most pleasing for the genre faithful. 7/10
The innocent shall know the glory of heaven!
Peter Yates directs and Eric Roth writes the screenplay. It stars Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney and Joe Mantegna. Music is by Michael Kamen and cinematography by Billy Williams. Pot has Cher as a public defender tasked with defending a deaf and mute homeless man accused of murder.
It's a solid legal eagle thriller is this, it opens with a dramatic suicide and the discovery of a woman's dead body, and then runs through many of the staples of feature film courtroom shenanigans. There's some spice thrown in for good measure as the lawyer and a member of the jury get too close for comfort, while the central premise of a deaf and mute person being the accused makes for fascinating viewing - the makers obviously having a social awareness of the issue.
As the mystery to be solved question holds the attention, pic does descend into the realm of the far fetched with the behaviour of Cher and Quaid's characters. It's also not something of a shock once the big reveal arrives. Yet this has enough savvy performances, nice technical touches (William's cinematography sparkles at times) and a strong pot boiling premise, to make it well worth the time invested with it. 7/10
Repeat Performance (1947)
Run Through Snow Leaving No Footprint.
Repeat Performance is directed by Alfred Werker and adapted to screenplay by Walter Bullock from the novel written by William O'Farrell. It stars Louis Hayward, Joan Leslie, Tom Conway, Richard Basehart, Virginia Field and Natalie Schafer. Music is by George Antheil and cinematography by L. William O'Connell.
It's New Years Eve 1946 and Sheila Page is standing over the dead body of her husband - with gun in hand. Hurrying to a party to seek solace from friends, Sheila wishes she could turn back the clock and eradicate the problems that the year has thrown at her. Amazingly she gets the chance to do just that...
Destiny's a stubborn old girl Sheila.
It's the sort of story that would be at home in The Twilight Zone some years later, a fantastical premise involving time travel that still has the bitter requisite of fate standing firm to not be cheated. It seems that no matter what Sheila Page (Leslie) does, her year of misery, and that of the people closest to her, can not be averted. This set up makes for a number of involving scenes as we the viewers yearn for Sheila to achieve her goals. Pic slots into the noir realm since it drips with pessimism, while the central characters (failure of a husband, femme fatale, frustrated poet) have all hoped off the bus from noirville. It may get too soapy at times throughout the middle section, but there's no grandstanding drama to have you rolling your eyes.
Visually it has great moments, notably for the tremendously shadowy finale when story saunters to the conclusion of everything we have just witnessed. There's also a super section where Sheila is visiting a friend at a mental asylum, as she talks (the conversation richly dark) the reflection on the wall behind her is that of a barred window with rain cascading downwards, the metaphor for discord is palpable and a smart touch. Conversely these great visual moments have you wishing that more were within the whole picture, something Werker would achieve a year later with the excellent He Walked By Night (Basehart in the lead). George Antheil's (The Sniper/In A Lonely Place) musical compositions are most interesting, particularly during that finale as he bounces strings and woodwind from the action to that of the ticking New Years Eve clock. Cast are fine, Leslie pitches it right as the woman fighting fate head on, Hayward is a touch too animated but still scores as her boorish drunk of a husband, and Basehart in his film debut hints at better things ahead. There's no bad perfs on show, all contribute significantly.
Having not read the novel I did research it to see how this adaptation figured in comparison, somewhat disappointingly I found that the novel has significant differences, differences that would have surely made for a far more darker film noir experience. So with that in mind I understand why fans of the book aren't exactly enamoured with the filmic take. The makers clearly are caught out trying to make a pic to cover most bases, which is why we have a part film noir and part fantasy melodrama. By the by, though, Alfred Werker's movie takes a fascinating premise and holds the attention from the bleak opening to the superb monologue given by Basehart at film's closure. 7.5/10
His story's so unbelievable, I think it just might be true.
Identity is directed by James Mangold and written by Michael Cooney. It stars John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amada Peet, Clea DuVall, Rebecca De Mornay, Alfred Molina, John Hawkes, John C. McGinley, Jake Busey and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Music is by Alan Silvestri and cinematography by Phedon Papamichael Jr.
Inspired by Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, Identity pitches 10 characters trapped at a motel who begin getting killed off one by one...
If you are going to do yet another take on Christies superb literary source then at least bring some freshness, so how nice to find that Identity does in fact ironically have its own. Set up is suitably in keeping with murder mystery shenanigans, there's major flooding and our host of characters are bound to a shabby motel run by a shabby John Hawkes. On the edges of the frame we have another story where multiple killer Malcolm Rivers (the wonderful wobbly eyed P.T. Vince) is under interrogation to test for insanity to stave off his impending execution.
Mangold uses flashbacks to put the various characters at the motel, in how they came to be there. There's a creative ambitiousness about how Mangold constructs the pic that draws you in, which come the finale will either have you satiated or stupefied. The murder sequences are very well put together, with a couple being well ghoulish, and it's a very impressive cast of actors working their way through the formulaic but fascinatingly cheat free psychological murk.
It's not as smart as it thinks it is but this has enough of an absorbing pull, and no little intelligence, to lift it higher than many other Agatha 10 copies. 7/10
Desert Fury (1947)
Tempting Triangle Trifles!
Desert Fury is directed by Lewis Allen and adapted to screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides and Robert Rossen from the novel Desert Town written by Ramona Stewart. It stars Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak, Mary Astor, Burt Lancaster and Wendell Corey. Music is by Miklós Rózsa and cinematography by Edward Cronjager and Charles Lang.
My my, what do we have here then? Desert Fury is a sort of collage of film noir and melodramatic shenanigans played out in splendid Technicolor saturation and set in amongst spanking vistas. Plot in short form finds Scott as Paula Haller, a late teenager who has quit school and returned to Chuckawalla in Nevada. There her mother, Fritzi (Astor), runs the town casino and has powerful friends. Coinciding with Paula's arrival is that of Eddie Bendix (Hodiak), a one time Chuckawalla racketeer who left town under a cloud when his wife was killed in an accident. Town copper Tom Hanson (Lancaster) has the hots for Paula, so when Paula gets the hots for Bendix he is not best pleased - and neither is the mighty Fritzi nor Bendix's "live in chum" Johnny Ryan (Corey).
Pic is absolutely pungent with psychosexual tension, where lead character's sexual orientation is purposely murky for devilish story strand dangles. Dialogue is often noirishly brisk, ripe with innuendo, all as dark secrets and past revelations boil over into glorious character histrionics. Though the powder keg of frustrated human beings is simple in plot structure here, these characters are rather fascinating, there's quite a bit going on beneath the catty and machismo veneers. Past mistakes and missed opportunities hang heavy, the search for more in life also. The reoccurring theme of the bridge that book ends the story is a structure that is either impossible to cross to freedom, or conversely a route back to the safe haven of Chuckawalla. Road to nowhere?
It's not a great movie exactly, it has evident flaws for sure. Hodiak is a touch unconvincing as a heavy mob like dude, a bit too by the numbers, which is a shame because he was often great in noir styled pics (see Somewhere in the Night for example). Now I don't have a problem with Scott, a poor woman's Lauren Bacall she may well be, but some of the scorn she receives is unfair. She's hard to accept as a late teenager here though, especially with her husky voice and delivery of ripe lines belying her supposed youthfulness. Lancaster was at the start of his film career and is utterly wasted, which when it comes alongside his work at this time in The Killers and Brute Force is even more unforgivable. But to offset the acting missteps there's Mary and Wendell...
Astor is on fire, playing a battle axe domineering mother with obvious sexual kinks and life hang-ups, she is both moving and edgily scary. Yet even she is trumped by Corey, in what is his film debut he brings Johnny Ryan to vivid life. Ryan is a ball of man love fire, with a clinical jealousy simmering away, you just know he has it in him to kill should the need arise. Lewis Allen rightly has a mixed reputation, and his bad trait of sinking into melodrama when not required is evident here, but he brings out frothy turns from his principal players. Two excellent cinematographers on show here, both Cronjager (I Wake Up Screaming) and Lang (The Big Heat) delight in using the Technicolor for snazzy sheen value, while the locales in their hands are a sight for sore eyes. Rózsa has done better compositions in his sleep, but his searing strings fit the tone of plotting superbly.
I loved this, in the way I love Johnny Guitar and Slightly Scarlet. Hardly a genius piece of work or a pic that everyone simply must see, but for those who like noir, Westerns or mellers with bends and kinks, then this you should enjoy. 7.5/10
It's an ultimate frame of mind movie.
It is what it is, it's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the hero of the tale who has to achieve the impossible when the world's tallest building catches fire. His family is trapped in said building inferno and there's bad guys running around creating trouble.
So sit down and get ready for fantastically high energy action scenes and hold your breath peril sequences. You have to be in the right frame of mind for this type of entertainment, to understand it's a blockbusting popcorn piece made to take you out of the real world, it does not have cranial splendours or social commentary.
It's great to have Neve Campbell back kicking butt, rising above just being a female token waiting to be saved by her heroic husband. And of course if you can't smile at the makers having Johnson being handicapped with an artificial leg - and still turning into Usain Bolt for various scenes - then this isn't the film for you.
Some way short of the classy verve of The Towering Inferno or the brutal brilliance of Die Hard, this does its job handsomely enough for the like minded souls after some escapist carnage. 6/10
The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
You're driftwood, floating underwater.
The Enchanted Cottage is directed by John Cromwell and adapted to the screen by Herman Mankiewicz and DeWItt Bodeen from the play of the same name by Arthur Wing Pinero. It stars Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young, Herbert Marshall and Mildred Natwick. Music is by Roy Webb and cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff.
Once a play it had been adapted to the silent screen previously in 1924, latterly it would also be adapted to radio plays and remade on the big screen in 2016. Pinero's literate leanings for message fantastical is ripe for transference to the visual form, and thus with a slight itch about moral standpoints, this filmic version is a pure heart warming delight.
Story finds McGuire as a homely house maid type and Young as a disfigured and disabled GI, who meet at the cottage where McGuire works and in spite of their perceived ugliness see only beauty in each other. Could the romantic spirit of the cottage really make them see what others do not?
Lets get over that itch to scratch first and foremost. Without doubt this is morally dubious when McGuire's character is believed to have a self-conscious handicap because she's dowdy? Really? Of course the daft irony is no matter how they dress her - clothes and hair - or how they light her (Tetzlaff does great work in this), McGuire is still beautiful. So you have to forgive this out dated piece of nonsense. That aside though...
The story sells itself, pure of heart in pitching two people on a course of love, all set to a dreamy back drop of the quaint cottage which appears to have a magical glow to it. As the romantic majesty of Webb's musical score floats elegantly over the tale, we are given a story that's fantastical to the point where it could have ended up as a Twilight Zone episode later on down the line - which is definitely meant as a high compliment.
This is escapist beauty, a pic for those who have ever loved, or in search of love, lost love and etc, but mainly for those who don't quite have the hope for human company to lift the spirits, those who feel for whatever reason they don't fit in society. This is wistful magic that's superbly performed by the four principal actors, each guided with skilled hands by Cromwell (The Prisoner of Zenda). Enchanting is in the title and that's exactly what this film is, so get in the right frame of mind and fall under its spell. 9/10
Nobody makes it. Nobody shows it. Nobody sees it. It's like it doesn't even exist.
Hardcore is written and directed by Paul Schrader and stars George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent and Leonard Gaines. Music is by Jack Nitzsche and cinematography by Michael Chapman.
Plot has Scott as a Michigan businessman whose daughter disappears after a church group trip to California. Venturing out to California in search of her, he hires a sleazy private investigator (Boyle) and quickly finds that his daughter has fallen into the seedy X-Rated world of pornography.
It's a very mixed bag, one minute it's over the top with unbelievable scenarios, the next it's potent, impressive and heart breaking. The battle between religious faith and the sins of the flesh is loud and broad, which does however give the pic its intellectual stimulation, something which one feels fights off the charges of this being exploitation trash.
There's also the noir angles to savour for the so inclined, the trawl through a seedy underworld inhabited by deviants and damaged waifs is riveting by way of the portrayals. Scott's character also has classic noir tendencies, he goes from homely religious business man to the point where he has to become one of the venal to find the answers he so desperately needs.
Behind the scenes thigs were not the best, with the usual artistic differences bubbling away, and this is never more evident then with the weak finale. It reeks of a compromise, a failure to really drive a stake through the hearts of the viewers. The promised horror never arrives, a true classic noir finale jettisoned in favour of candy coated heroics. Shame that, but this is still a fascinating and powerful pic. 7/10
Hell Up in Harlem (1973)
Serious side-burns is back!
After the success of Black Caesar earlier in the year, this sequel was rushed into production to hopefully cash in on the clamour for Blaxploitation shenanigans. Sadly it's a rush job that is all too evidently half baked.
Plot has Fred Wiliamson return as Tommy Gibbs (resurrected from the dead apparently!), who takes on corrupt D.A. Diangelo (Gerald Gordon) whilst dealing with matters of the heart. Directed by Larry Cohen, it's with Cohen's frank honest views on the film that critique should start. He would say that Hell Up In Harlem is a 90 minutes montage movie, and he is absolutely right.
This is jerkily episodic as it runs a course of people talking then cutting to boisterous action, then some talking and cut again to some more boisterous action, and on it goes for the complete run time. That the action is so gripping - and some choice dialogue zingers in the mix as well - keeps this from being an unwatchable mess. You also have to have respect for this type of guerrilla film making, it literally is filmed on the fly.
Regardless of the unbelievable aspects of it all, the oodles of bright red fake blood, and poorly executed stunt work, the rawness of the violence keeps things above average. In fact there's a bit of bad taste simmering away in the violent dynamics, with no legal consequences of lead character's actions, which of course is a blaxploitation trait.
It's messy, but it's entertaining mess within the genre it sits in. 6/10
Tango & Cash (1989)
If you really wanted to stare death in the eye, you shoulda gotten married.
Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell play polar opposite Los Angeles cops who are framed by an arch nemesis and forced to team up in order to clear their name.
Unashamedly macho and very much of its time, this is daft energetic fun that's full of octane inventive action and ever quotable one liners. Stallone is Tango, the smart dressed sophisticated policeman, Russel is Cash, the slobbish act first - ask questions later copper, both men very different but both excellent at their jobs.
Pic gets by mostly on the chemistry between Stallone and Russell, who put much zest into their respective characters bickering and bantering. Action is well put together by director Andrey Konchalovskiy, but unfortunately the final third of the piece starts to sag as our mismatched cops start to respect and befriend each other and the plot reaches the inevitable conclusion.
It doesn't help matters that Jack Palance's main villain is only a bit part player, or that his head henchman Requin (the usually ace Brion James) gives us a quite appalling British accent. Add in Teri Hatcher who is in it purely for dressage and as a cypher between the two boys, then it's a picture not without problems. Yet the script and star turns from the leading duo ensure this remains a favourite of many whom lapped it up back in the backend of the 1980s. 7/10
48 Hrs. (1982)
You switch from an armed robber to a pimp, you're all set.
A hard as nails cop reluctantly teams up with a wise-cracking criminal temporarily paroled to him, in order to track down an escaped convict cop killer.
The mismatched buddy buddy formula exploded onto the screen here in a ball of violence, profanity and pin sharp one liners. It also launched Eddie Murphy into 1980s stardom. Directed by Walter Hill and starring Nick Nolte alongside Murphy as part of an electrifying black and white double act, it's unrelenting in pace and bad attitude. It could have been so different though, with the likes of Stallone, Reynolds, Pryor and Hines attached at various times for lead parts, it now is written in folklore that Murphy got the break and grasped it with both hands (he was actually fired at one point mind!). Thankfully the problems behind the scenes were resolved to give us a classic of its type.
A big success for Paramount it paved the way for more choice same formula pictures in the decade, but few were able to be so coarse and daring with the racial divide explosions. Murphy is outstanding, quick as an A.K. 47 in vocal delivery and with visual comedic ticks in full effect, he plays off of the also excellent gruff rough and tough Nolte superbly. Unsurprisingly the plot trajectory is simple enough, but such is the writing and performances (James Remar, Sonny Landham and David Patrick Kelly in support) it's one hell of a live wire ride from start to finish.
In amongst the verbal and action carnage you find plenty of 80s pop culture, with a blunderbuss sound track and a score from James Horner that pings around the Los Angeles locales (he would rework it for Arnie starrer Commando in 1985). This points to a time where now it is perceived as being tactless and a relic, and yet it instils realism as it captures the zeitgeist of the era. So not one for the easily offended then, but for nostalgics and those interested in the expansion of the action comedy formula, then this is a must see that still delivers high octane entertainment. 8/10
I've killed everything that's walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.
Hostiles is directed by Scott Cooper and Cooper adapts the screenplay from the story written by Donald E. Stewart. It stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, John Benjamin Hickey, Jeremiah Wilks and Jesse Plemons. Music is by Max Richter and cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi.
In 1892, legendary Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) reluctantly has to escort his old Cheyenne adversary Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family through dangerous territories. The aim is to get them to the Cheyenne tribal homelands of Montana so Yellow Hawk can get his wish to die in peace.
Where we at these days with the grand old bastion of American cinema, the Western? The only real constant is that thankfully for lovers of the form there are new directors willing to tackle the genre and bring something to the newer generations. Here we have Scott Cooper, who right from the off hasn't hid the fact that Hostiles is his rallying call for a better world, or at least a better understanding of different cultures. What better way to cry out than to do it in a Western, using the Indian Wars as the backdrop. Perfect really.
Hostiles jumps right out of the blocks to grab you by the throat with soul shattering violence, with Cooper and his team initially facing charges of old by fronting up a one sided argument - but there is more. Quickly a switch ensures that both sides of this particular bloody coin have been tossed, scene set for what will follow. A meeting back at Fort Berringer where Captain Blocker receives the orders he simply doesn't want to obey is in hushed tones, yet the words being spoken are brutally loud and to the point. And on to the journey, damaged souls unbound who not only have to fear hostiles from outside their group, but the hostiles within it and within themselves.
As the story moves through the journey undertaken by our protagonists, the makers have not cut corners with the characterisations, the emotional development of the principals is one of the film's strengths (cast are superb, there's a real authenticity to their respective performances). Also worthy is the pacing, it is deliberately unhurried and allows the characters to breathe, it also gives the jolts of action more potency, whilst simultaneously we can absorb the stunning landscapes (New Mexico/Arizona) and rejoice at the pleasures of an outdoor Western. While how nice it is to have a musical score that doesn't blunderbuss the important sequences, rounding out what is a top technical production.
There's some irritants here, though, so it's not perfect, and this is before it is marked poorly by those not in sync with the messages of the piece. Ben Foster turns up as Philip Wills, a most edgy character that makes one wish there was far more of him in the pic, for as it is it ends up feeling a bit pointless since he only emphasises what we have learned about Blocker at the start. Then there's a key turn of events for the story's coup de grâce that leaves a frustrating taste in the mouth, not as a film killer or even close in fact, but it should have gone another way one feels. Especially given the two sides of the argument stance Cooper and co had began with.
Yet this is for Western fans a real treat, following in the footsteps of new era classics like Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, Hostiles may have a new age sensibility in its narrative thrust, but traditionally old age adultness propels it forward. 9/10
All for one and one for all!
As evidenced by those who have bothered to write a review for this pic, this is a combination filmic blending of Western TV shows Laredo and The Virginian. Directed by Earl Bellamy and scripted by Borden Chase, it stars Neville Brand, Dough McClure, James Drury, Peter Brown, William Smith, Phillip Carey, Rhonda Fleming, Ida Lupino and Fernando Lamas. Plot has Wyoming cowhand and gambler Trampas (McClure) sent by his employer to Mexico to collect a bull. But during a stopover in Laredo he unwillingly joins up with three Texas Rangers on a dangerous mission into Mexico.
Considering the cobbled nature of the beast, this surprisingly is rather fun, certainly a worthwhile time investment for Western fans who are looking for some lighter genre time filling fare. There's a strong cast assembled, and they all turn in fun and lively performances, while there's enough action, japery and yee-haw peril to ensure the pic never falls flat. It's hardly a must see piece, and in fact overstays its welcome at an hour and half in length, but this Western version of The Three Musketeers is no dead loss. 6/10
The Bravados (1958)
Jim Douglass is wading through the moral murk in pursuit of revenge!
The Bravados is directed by Henry King and adapted to screenplay by Phillip Yordan from the story written by Frank O'Rourke. It stars Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi, Henry Silva, Lee Van Cleef, Kathleen Gallant and Barry Coe. Music is scored by Lionel Newman and cinematography is by Leon Shamroy.
Jim Douglass (Peck) is pursuing the four outlaws who murdered his wife and finds them locked up in a Rio Arriba jail. When they escape jail and flee to Mexico, Douglass goes off once again in pursuit with revenge eating away at his very being.
Henry King and Gregory Peck made a number of films together, that they only made two Westerns is a constant sorrow to genre lovers. They made the quite superb The Gunfighter in 1950 and finally reconvened again in the genre for The Bravados eight years later. While as a point of notice The Bravados is not as great, it's still one damn fine and meaty picture that finds the two men on either side of the camera bringing the best out of each other.
This on the surface looked to be a standard revenge driven story that would serve the Western genre so well during the heyday, but there's a downbeat vibe to it all, which when cuffed together with ambiguous characters and an almighty revelation at story's finale, marks it out as a must see for like minded Oater souls. It even throws up moral quandaries and boldly points an accusing finger at religion under a violent cloud, this for sure sits stoutly among the Adult Westerns splinter that so enriched a genre that almost sank into a light entertainment mire.
As the astute King establishes main characters and paces to precision for taut intrigue, Shamroy revels in the Scope format and cloaks the pic with ethereal vividness, especially for the night time sequences. Then it's all about Peck, who brings a brooding menace here that wasn't seen very often, which as it happens is something that makes the finale all the more special given his character is forced into an emotional flip-flop of substance. We of course have a number of Western staples, the fights, despicable crimes, tracking through glorious landscapes et al, all of which are staged with thought and potency for entertainment purpose.
The four outlaws are given enough meat to chew on, Bill (Boyd) is all vile and loose cannon like, Alfonso (Cleef) is shifty and oily, Ed (Salmi) a weasel and Lujan (Silva) is the ace in the pack, with more to him than meets the eye and he turns in a smart underplayed perf. Unfortunately, as is universally noted by most who have seen this, Collins is not only poorly cast as the main female character (Latino love interest, really?), she's also under written and has no chemistry with Peck. It's actually more credit to Peck that his strong silent type thesping ensures the Collins misstep doesn't hurt the pic too much.
A must see for Western, King and Peck fans like. 8/10
Starter for 10 (2006)
Sometimes it's not about knowing the right answer.
Starter for 10 is directed by Tom Vaughan and adapted to screenplay by David Nicholls from his own novel of the same name. It stars James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Catherine Tate and Elaine Tan. Music is by Blake Neely and cinematography by Ashley Rowe.
Set in 1985 England, working-class student Brian Jackson (McAvoy) navigates his first year at Bristol University - which lends him the opportunity to feature on his favourite ever TV Quiz Show - University Challenge.
I have never read the book so have no frame of reference there, thus the complaints from devotees of the written source are null and void to me. For I absolutely loved this film, a fresh and breezy coming of age comedy that's tinted with dramatic intelligence. How nice to have a pic of this genre ilk that's not built around trying to lose one's virginity, or standing up to bullies etc. For sure there's a whole load of angst on show, a bit of class distinction dichotomy, the perils of formative fumbling romances, and of course whimsy. Yet the framework of education, the thirst for knowledge and an understanding of the problems evident in the world at time of pic's setting, all make this a smarter than your average bear British rites of passage piece.
Cast are on splendid form to make the multidimensional characters work (each main character moves away from being mere caricatures). McAvoy is splendidly affable as Brian, who is still nursing the loss of his father years previously, and then has to watch as his mother (Tate) takes a lover - the local ice-cream man (John Henshaw). It's no easier at University, where he lusts after the blonde bomber (Eve) when in fact he obviously should cop on to the fact that the girl for him is bleeding heart socialist Rebecca Epstein (Hall) - but she isn't the quiz type! McAvoy has a good comedy way about him, gawkish but lovable and perfect when portraying Brian out of his depth in certain scenarios.
Of the others it's Cumberbatch who steals the show as Patrick Watts, an absolute toff, an upper class twit who has no comprehension of the working class system and the perils within that structure. He is burned by his miserable failure on University Challenge the previous year, his inadequacies and stubborness blinding him to the benefits that others around him can afford him. The facial expressions, the posh vocab speak and the need to be in charge are brought vividly to comic life by Cumberbatch. Eve smoulders as Alice, but deftly plays her vulnerabilities, Hall has her character down pat, while Cooper, Tate and James Corden leave favourable marks. As do Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan in unforgettable scenes as Alice's parents.
The whole play is covered over with an 80s soundtrack, mixing student favourites with punky pop tunes, while the period detail for Brian's home life prior to going to University (Southend-On-Sea) has been given great nostalgic thought. A lot of the humour is sure to be too British for none UK folk, more so those not familiar with what the mid 1980s were like in Britain, while it has to be acknowledged that where the story ends up holds no surprises. Yet this holds many pleasures for the right audience, so fingers on the button and see if you get this starter for 10.
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
I am the father of Africa.
Based on Giles Foden's novel of the same name, this filmic version of a period of Idi Amin's presidency of Uganda is a class act - that is if you can accept it as a loose reworking of events in Amin's life? Thus those who filed in for a bona fide history lesson subsequently either got angry or plain disappointed.
Propelled by Forest Whitaker's barnstorming Oscar winning perf as Amin, Last King of Scotland is riveting and fascinating from first reel to last. The political upheaval at this time in Uganda's history is presented in delicate strokes of dark depressing realisations, and also that of uneasy humour.
The portrayal of Amin is most complex, part man child, part greenhorn political suitor and one heartbeat away from despotic lunacy, with Whitaker nailing every single tick. It's key to note that the film does shed some light on Amin, so as a character study it soars and holds you enthral throughout.
Director Kevin Macdonald films in kinetic style, which is perfect for the material to hand, and he also deserves a pat on the back for ensuring the characters around Amin (circle of family/advisors etc) are a constant intrigue as per Amin's agenda machinations. James McAvoy gives sterling support as the key "fish out of water" doctor who Amin takes to his bosom, while Kerry Washington as Amin's wife number 3 also strikes the right emotive notes.
The finale falters somewhat, where it encompasses the Entebbe Hostage Crisis but fails to do that incident justice - instead using it as a cypher to have us rooting for McAvoy's made up character to get out of harm's way. But this is just a misstep that's not film defining. For this is a fine film, if it's not jolting you with harrowing scenes, or tickling your brain for education purpose, then it's demanding your attention for historical noting. Job done. 8.5/10
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
The World is yours, my darling, but the moment is mine!
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is directed by Victor Fleming and collectively adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson story by John Lee Mahin, Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein. It stars Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. Music is by Franz Waxman and cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg.
A remake of the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian/Fredric March version, this follows the same course of action that sees Tracy as the dual title characters. After having developed a potion that will ultimately bring out his evil half - it proves to not be good for anybody really!
It's the story itself, along with the awesome period setting of a foggy lamplighted Victorian England that stops this from sinking below average - though it does come close in the middle section. It's just an odd fit, from the daft casting of Tracy and Bergman in the key roles, to the Hollywood Hayes Office compliant smoothness of the material, it becomes almost impossible to take seriously. Then there is a run time of nearly two hours, most of which is to bump up Bergman's screen time, which while acknowledging her greatness as an actress, it's just wrong across the board for her here. While alongside her Turner is sadly under written and Tracy's take on Hyde lacks vim and vigour.
Since a certain Mr. Freud had become in vogue there's some interesting dream imagery and dissolves sequences, most of which are bursting with sexual subtext. These moments are superb, but they do not form the backbone of our troubled protagonists, it's a complete missed opportunity that renders the film as safe and glossy. This is an attempt at horror but without the horror, either visually, thematically or literary, a ripened banana skin of a pic with action missing in action. Yet it is not a desperately bad film, the film making craft on show is top dollar, notably when Ruttenberg is on duty, and it's a little sensual - though this is kind of tempered by the thought of domestic abuse as a constant threat in our real world.
The 41 version has fans, I'm just not one of them and readily prefer the monstrously potent 31 version. If you haven't seen it then it's definitely worth a look, but much of the criticism it has received over the years is in my book very much warranted. 5/10