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Children of Men (2006)
dystopian tale tends perhaps to resonate more now than upon its original release with mention of a flu pandemic
I knew nothing about this before watching but was immediately swept up in the maelstrom of activity and evidence of worldwide destruction and mayhem, Clive Owen is fine in the lead and displays some of the baby care skills that would be utilised even more in the following year's, 'Shoot 'em Up' and Julianne Moore before her surprisingly early departure. There is some wonderfully innovative and effective cinematography, with long takes in difficult situations, that really draw the viewer into the action. For the most part everywhere is shades of grey with debris and rubbish piled high and barely a building that is not at least partly destroyed. There is terrorist and so called terrorist activity everywhere as a sense of doom permeates the whole vista. Ironically one point of partial seclusion and safety is the massive immigration camps and another the house in the woods, occupied by strawberry flavour pot smoking, long grey-haired throwback ex-hippy played wonderfully by Michael Caine. The whole is fast moving and worrying but at the same time exciting and there is really no let up from start to finish. Loosely based upon the idea contained within a P D James novel, this dystopian tale tends perhaps to resonate more now than upon its original release with mention of a flu pandemic and whilst the central notion of the loss of fertility in women has thankfully not been (as far as we know!) any part of the present contagion, matters are worrying enough for this to have considerable impact.
Il miele del diavolo (1986)
a rather neat piece of exploitation cinema
Not one of Lucio Fulci's finest films but then neither is it one of his worst. Bit difficult to summarise or categorise but essentially a rather neat piece of exploitation cinema, leaning very much towards the sexploitation end of the spectrum. Corinne Clery does well here but she is in her late 30s and leaves most of the more blatant and more nudity orientated scenes to Blanca Marsillach. There are some extraordinary sex scenes too, including a wild and near explicit sex act with a saxophone, masturbation with some red nail varnish and a crazy motorbike sequence where Blanca is encouraged to pleasure the youthful rider from her place on the pinion. Later sequences where the reliable Brett Hasley is the bound victim of said young lady (who spends most of the film without clothes) and there are further weird and wonderful sequences including near drowning and near hanging as the dog goes crazy and young Blanca perhaps even crazier. Not a film for everyone but enough here for Fulci fans and more with the maestro giving himself a cameo in a rather attractive episode in Venice.
The Invitation (2015)
An absolute sensation
An absolute sensation. I was gripped from the start and captivated throughout, intrigued and somewhat mesmerised as I struggled, like the main protagonist, to ascertain whether things really were as potentially terrible as it seemed they might be. And just when it would appear that he and I might be overreacting..... This is a most assured achievement with writers and director locked together and a tight cast in one house on a small budget, completely focused on what is going on and at the same time making sure the viewer is made to constantly adjust and readjust their sense of reality. I thought of the horrors of Charles Manson and oddly Who'se Afraid of Virginia Woolf as I gradually began to grasp the full horror being played out here. A masterful and essential watch.
It Follows (2014)
maybe I'm just not part of that intended audience
Having very much enjoyed the director's later Under the Silver Lake, I was looking forward to this popular success.Unfortunately I had real problems with it. initially I had difficulty catching the dialogue and wondered if I might put the subtitles on and although I eventually managed to tune in to the rather rushed and part whispered and accented exchanges I found I was still rather lost. For all the excellence and horror of the original incident and all the advise to 'pass it on', I got no inkling as to how the poor girl was supposed to do this. I was reminded of Night of the Demon and wondered if there was a piece of paper or something involved. By the time I realise it is sex, I really feeling left out. I now recall there was a hurried exchange between two girls early on where one asks the other if she had done 'it', so maybe I should have been more alert. Or perhaps this is assumed, that within some American religious areas there is an assumed wrongness. Like the old slasher film rule, have sex and die. Really, these days? Or some heavy handed STD warning? Either way having managed to catch up I was perturbed to find that it didn't after all work as simply as that. There was someone called Max and his mother, I saw happen but nobody ever mentions it. In the end I gave up in despair or ever finding any logic or believable narrative. I don't mind puzzling and surreal narratives that leave me bewildered but here there is so much emphasis upon a certain logic in the proceedings that I would have liked to understand it. Sure it looks good with excellent cinematography but there is an onus on the film maker to engage the audience, but then maybe I'm just not part of that intended audience.
Not terrible then but for me this seemed confused and unfocused
Some youngsters may get something out of this, certainly more than I. Somewhat alienated by the overlong 'dance' sequence at the start and the introduction of a most unattractive looking women who struck me as psychotic from the start did not bode well. As things became a little clearer regarding the 'lost' child, so concerns for all around the mother grew. Mixed with the horrors of the limitless damage a ruthless, manipulative and vengeful, crazy woman might wreak we have pyrotechnics. At once spectacular and diverting they also added to the feeling that all was terribly wrong. Unfortunately as the troubled Ema insinuated herself within the lives of those she wished to influence story development is paused for sex scenes. I understand that no film from Chile may be considered complete without such scenes and here they were well done but sat most uncomfortably within the story supposedly around the fate of a young boy. Not terrible then but for me this seemed confused and unfocused.
Murder by Contract (1958)
Wonderful, surprisingly sparse but constantly compelling and tense, existential noir
Wonderful, surprisingly sparse but constantly compelling and tense, existential noir. No wonder Martin Scorsese speaks well of this, the seeds of Taxi Driver are clearly visible in the manner and behaviour of the main character, the minimal dialogue and the obsessive nature of the project. Not a wasted frame this is exciting throughout with a marvellous performance from newcomer Vince Edwards and able support from everyone. Stunningly confident and economical direction in this low budget gem shot, apparently, in only 7 days. So many wonderful sequences all strung together without padding. There is the fantastic barber shop scene, which should be on all film students watch list, the whole surreal business regarding the bow and arrow as well as the amazingly effective call girl episode towards the end. All this tense action plus a marvellous sense of humour and marvellous dialogue throughout. Immaculate film that is an essential watch.
Tight Spot (1955)
Really exciting, involving and thrilling stuff.
Another great surprise from my Columbia noir box set. Based upon a stage play and more or less set entirely within a couple of rooms, this nevertheless sizzles with super dialogue and tense situations. Helped enormously, of course, with Edward G Robinson being the chief cop involved but it is a superlative performance from Brian Keith that tops even this in one of his earlier films. Fine nuanced acting from Keith who works well with Robinson but even better with Ginger Rogers. She may be a little over the top now and again but then she is in a 'tight spot' and does really well here in conveying the pros and cons of standing as a witness in a major gang trial. She has her own problems she has to juggle with too and we really feel for her as she prances about giving as good as she gets but retaining an element of vulnerability. Really exciting, involving and thrilling stuff.
Affair in Trinidad (1952)
much better than many have written and far better than its IMDb rating (currently 6.6) would sugges
Couple of surprises here as this jumped from my Columbia Noir box and onto the screen. One it is not really a noir, but secondly it is much better than many have written and far better than its IMDb rating (currently 6.6) would suggest. Constantly intriguing and fast moving melodramatic thriller with the ever reliable Glenn Ford on top form and Rita Hayworth doing as best she can to emulate her Gilda performance and not doing at all bad. She does two numbers with great routines and puts in a really solid acting performance throughout with all the twists and turns and shifting alliances. Must also mention marvellous performance from Juanita Moore as the all knowing maid who is an important link between the two main stars. Excellent.
The Mob (1951)
Crawford's assured performance at the heart of this fast moving film
Great, tough little film based around corruption in the docks and with more location shooting there than would would have a couple of years later with On The Waterfront. Broderick Crawford, already a veteran heavy by this time, had just come off the brilliant Born Yesterday and was really on fire. This is a wonderful performance and although credit must go to William Bowers for the crisp and snappy dialogue it is Crawford's assured performance at the heart of this fast moving film. Ernest Borgnine makes an early appearance in a modest part and an uncredited Charles Bronson is one of the longshoremen at the dock. Great watch with some real surprises and splendid mix of set and location shooting.
I did perk up when Genevieve Page enters
Its very sad watching this and realising that there is a man with real skill and understanding at work here but that time has passed on from the 40s, this is not how people behave or even as we conceive of them having behaved. Many Wilder fans love this and even stayed on side for unmitigated disasters like the later Fedora and maybe its because there are those that still believe in the myth of that English gentleman with all his endearing eccentricities. Sherlock Holmes was a difficult one for the director because that world is an imagined one that the English like to indulge in from time to time. There is humour inherent in the stories and does not need any gentle nudge from an insensitive director. Of course those explanations from Holmes are ridiculous - we don't laugh out loud or indeed direct any laughter at Dr Watson. So stunned (every time) is he by the complicated resolution tat our amusement at the daftness is at his expense. Wilder seems to think he can play with the fundamentals, sexuality, drug use, silly cases and their sillier resolution and that the audience will sit with a smile on their face and find it all gentlemanly good sport. Not me. This is overlong (even though it had something like an hour taken out!) and only for those keen to indulge in what to me seems a combination of Sherlock Holmes and the Famous Five. I should mention that I did perk up when Genevieve Page enters and did find her performance most helpful amid the atrocious over acting all around.
a most impressive ad involving tale
Perhaps not quite as ravishing or intense as the director's earlier or later works, this is nevertheless riveting enough. From a beautifully observed and measured opening with wondrous light patterns falling within the interior of a luxury apartment in Moscow we gradually learn of the daily movements of Elena and her less active but wealthy husband. We learn too of the husband's grown up daughter, living a 'hedonistic' life and Elena's extended family living within cramped social housing. For such a modest and leisurely paced film it is extraordinarily impressive how captivating it all is. Markedly different from the other films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, this is still a most impressive ad involving tale.
711 Ocean Drive (1950)
wonderful contemporary cars and buses plus street and crowd scenes and finally the denouement at the great Hoover Dam
This has a rather slow and dull beginning complete with government warnings and allusions to illegal gambling and racetrack activity. Things do improve, however, and if Edmond O'Brien is not my ideal leading man, he does well enough as an honest Joe gradually corrupted and brought into big time crime. Joanne Dru, similarly, is not the most convincing of femme fatals but she does well here, perhaps falling for our man so quickly that we think she is still only kidding and doing her boss's bidding. Indeed big boss Otto Kruger is probably the strongest performer here and helps gradually propel this picture to something more interesting. Lots of location shooting with wonderful contemporary cars and buses plus street and crowd scenes and finally the denouement at the great Hoover Dam. Up until shortly before filming known as the Boulder Dam, this straddles the border of Arizona and Nevada and is a fitting finale with its cavernous tunnels, walkways and stairways. Good but not great.
a walk in the park compared to the previous years Gilda
Its a modest film without sparkling dialogue or striking cinematography but with a decent enough story and pace to be entertaining enough. Indeed from the opening scenes with Glenn Ford struggling with a runaway truck to the very end this barely pauses for breath with something new at every corner. The alternative title, Paula, whilst not great is probably better than Framed for with this latter title I rather found myself anticipating the action. Janis Carter is better in some scenes than others but overall carries the role of the classic femme fatale well enough whilst Ford is immaculate, so suave and relaxed, indeed this is probably a walk in the park compared to the previous years Gilda.
Under the Silver Lake (2018)
just enjoy the moments
There is much here to enjoy in this likeable neo-noirish/dreamlike offering from David Robert Mitchell. It looks good throughout, has plenty of surprises, some surreal touches and generally a good feeling. At some point after halfway in begins to dawn on the viewer that it is going to be some achievement to resolve all the various and varied elements that have unfolded. Unfortunately (or just maybe fortunately) this does not seem the intention of Mitchell and even more bizarre and unresolved issues are brought up in the file stages. It is perhaps advisable then to not go into this expecting the 'detective' to solve the mystery of the missing girl or the dead dogs or the fantastic caves or the secret code, but to just enjoy the moments.
Knives Out (2019)
A very pleasant watch
A very pleasant watch with decent performances, good dialogue and a fantastic set. Indeed the house with its painted wood walls, books and nick-nacks everywhere and filled to overflowing with interesting items is a marvellous background for all that happens and we feel somewhat bereft when the action switches to the highway towards the end. Ana de Armas is brilliant and her performance not only holds the attention but holds the film together. Daniel Craig is ostensibly the main star but his performance as the eccentric private detective who will solves everything is not strong enough and this allows de Armas to dominate, which I'm sure was the director's intention. Chris Evans is surprisingly good as the errant sone while Jamie Lee Curtis leads the older members of the awful family. Fun but rather overlong denouement reduces the impact a little.
Fight Club (1999)
this level of nihilism is very hard to enjoy
I hadn't watched this for twenty years and whilst I found that it had lost none of its power, it had more humour than I remembered (or perhaps was unable to take in on a first viewing) but was perhaps a little long. Intense with incredible yellow stained darkness throughout and brilliant performances from Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. Edward Norton is more subdued but this is intended and although his part is central and the largest, he is supposed to better represent the viewer. Apart from the nightmare sets there is the amazingly effective choreography of the fight scenes. Often hard to watch, the combination of fear and horror with a degree of sublime ecstasy creates an undoubted frisson. This becomes increasingly worrying, however, the deeper we get into the apparent organisation of something too big to control. Writer Palahniuk s probably one of the most imaginative, but concerning, talents today and this is a near faultless interpretation of his work. Its just that this level of nihilism is very hard to enjoy.
Looks pretty enough but rather shallow and predictable.
I guess this film really wasn't intended for an ageing heterosexual male but I was vaguely intrigued at the prospect of exploration of the relationship between the painter and their model. As it happens director Celine Sciamma's interests are almost exclusively elsewhere. Even this might have been fine but though it becomes obvious where this is leading, it takes a very long time. Also, the gradual development of a relationship between the two young women is set against a rather drawn out abortion process being suffered by the maid and I can only assume this was there to emphasise what a grubby business a relationship with a man can be. Never mind that this whole portrait business is so that an Italian gentleman can get a sight of the ex convent girl before he commits. Looks pretty enough but rather shallow and predictable.
a terrible darkness here but the performances are as magical as the cinematography
Having recently watched and been most impressed with director, Andrey Zvyagintsev's first film The Return and having also liked his later films thought I would take a look at this, his second outing. It is a terrible tale but, oh so well told. From the opening shot of a solitary tree in a golden landscape to the very end this is wonderfully filmed with frame after frame a joy to behold. The story itself is another matter and the director's easy way with children means that even if the adults avoid saying very much, the children are less inhibited and provide a delightful backdrop. Although the innocence of the young children does contrast and further emphasise the horrors that the adults do, to each other, mostly mentally and off frame something pretty terrible too that we are not privy to. There is a terrible darkness here but the performances are as magical as the cinematography and the whole is a great pleasure to watch. The town and city sequences are, apparently, shot in France and Belgium whilst the unique countryside scenes are filmed in Moldova, which I discover is a small former soviet country between Ukraine and Romania. Brilliant film - the director talks of L'Aventura and this just could be considered a Russian Antonioni - even if it wasn't filmed there.
Caccia alla volpe (1966)
I'm sure I had a smile on my face almost all the time.
After recently watching Burt Lancaster with his canaries in Birdman of Alcatraz and kestrels in Ken Loache's Kes, a bit of light relief seemed in order with a fox in After the Fox. Except, of course, there is no actual fox, that's Peter Sellers. Not only light relief but relief to see Sellers on such form. Always, fascinating, usually great, Sellers could go a little over the top and leave not only himself behind but his audience too. Here, in multiple roles, he is brilliant. Fairly restrained at first and then letting it all out for his portrayal of the exuberant Italian film director. Neil Simon's script is good, not laugh out loud funny throughout but certainly amusing and I'm sure I had a smile on my face almost all the time. Great to see Britt Ekland, who does well and De Sica himself, who slips in front of the camera, at one point, and a glorious self effacing role from a very mature Victor Mature who is fantastic and even gets to join Britt in a cinema trip to watch himself. But it is Peter Sellers who really takes a hold of this and is most impressive and massively amusing throughout. The film is well shot in beautiful Italian locations with enthusiastic townspeople/extras and much colourful and sunny fun is had by all, particularly the fox.
a director should ensure that in order to achieve a sense of reality in the depiction of atrocities he does not commit further such atrocities.
I had trouble watching this once more, after all these years. I remembered enjoying it upon release but have never got around to watching it again. Watching it, I realised why. Firstly, it reminds me too much of my own wretched school and the wicked bullying and abuses by the teachers and headmaster and secondly it seems to relish the re-telling. There are too many scenes set in the toilets and the showers, too many kids grappling together on the ground or being hounded by their teachers. There are great scenes like the football based gym lesson where the teacher insists on having the ball all the time and, of course, most of the scenes with the young kid and the hawk are great. Some good views of the old town, its factories and local paper shop too. More worrying though is the attention given to the scene with the headmaster meting out his punishment with some glee. This is made far, far worse on the extras when it is revealed that the boys had been assured they would not in reality be caned but then were , 'for authenticity'. Furious, apparently, the boys then refused to go through any further takes but were eventually won over with extra payments. The ends, Mr Loach, do not justify the means and as for the killing of the bird and the trick upon the boy, 'to get me to cry', this was beyond the pale. There is such a thing as acting and a director should ensure that in order to achieve a sense of reality in the depiction of atrocities he does not commit further such atrocities.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
quality look and decent performances
Begins promisingly with quality look and decent performances all round, including an ageing and apparently heavy drinking Glenn Ford. The trouble here is that esteemed director J Lee Thompson doesn't have his heart in this and seemingly no interest in horror film or slasher movies in particular. There is nothing here to engage us with the characters or worry about what happens and certainly not to stay and ponder what is going on as things drift from the original set-up. This is at once far too serious and really silly and in the end neither the fan of slash and run gore fest, nor a more cerebral follower is likely to be satisfied by this glossy and most competent but ultimately pretentious outing.
On the Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando really being the centre of the film
I have never watched this before. I had somehow imagined it was much longer and more sprawling with untold incidents of union nastiness and ineffective court action. Well, there is all that but all rather neat and tidy with Marlon Brando really being the centre of the film. There is much atmosphere with some great dock scenes but essentially it is Brando both as tough guy younger brother to Rod Steiger and young lover to Eva Marie Saint. It is all a little dated in that the acting is so 'method' orientated and a little outmoded but the dialogue is great, nice and tight, and there really is nothing over-extended. Well worth a watch and particularly if a fan of Brando or Steiger.
Riveting domestic drama like no other
First film from Andrey Zvyagintsev and although I have recently seen, and been impressed with his latest two, this is clearly a remarkable achievement at the very start of his film career and a break from TV advertisements. Essentially a tale of two boys and man who may be their father who has appeared out of the blue and with the mother's agreement taken them off, ostensibly for a fishing trip. It is beautifully told, both in the manner of the emotional relationship, or not, between the three and the wonderful landscape cinematography. Apparently taking place on some island within a forest lake this is an alien world to me and with a mix of deserted beaches, endless waters, perfect summer skies and torrential rain, a unique experience. It is also a constant puzzle as to what is really going on, whether the boys are in real danger or whether 'hard love' in Russia really does include seeming sadistic behaviour. Riveting domestic drama like no other.
a good time is had by all, well not all but by us at least, for the most part
Okay. first of all, the characters playing the overhyped students are a little too old for the roles, but then that seems pretty much par for the course. Also these silly antics take up a surprisingly large amount of the film. Having said that the sequences are well done, the girls are good looking and it eases us into the nastier segments. And for those more grim, torturous and gory sequences it is off to Bratislava in Slovakia. Except it is not. It is to the Czech Republic and Prague where the action is filmed and maybe just some little joke on the Slovakians? No idea, anyway the action continues, fairly predictably, but still convincingly enough and a good time is had by all, well not all but by us at least, for the most part.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Based upon a true story with something of a slant
It is probably a little overlong and perhaps paints a little too friendly a portrait of the notorious Robert Stroud, the original 'bird man' but the performance by Burt Lancaster is most convincing. The birds, mainly canaries, play their part too with the most amazing portrayal that must have taken hours to arrange and orchestrate. Based upon a true story with something of a slant, due in part to the makers not being allowed access to prison records and relying instead upon the works and correspondence of Stroud. From initially rescuing a fallen bird outside his cell, it seems, he really did progress to learning enough to write authoritative works himself on the diseases of and caring for the little yellow birds.