Saturday, 4 December 2021

Shudder Saturday: The Strings (2020)

When a poster tells you that a film is from the producer of The Blackcoat's Daughter and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House then you should probably take note of that. It's not like seeing a poster for some big horror release that has a poster emblazoned with the words "from the cousin of the neighbour who once stood beside the director of It Follows in a queue for Starbucks". You should know from the off that The Strings is a slow, atmospheric, piece of work that will ask viewers to have a certain amount of patience.

And a lot of people will get to the end of this, if they reach the end, and think that their patience wasn't rewarded. There's nothing I can say to change that. In fact, there's nothing I can say to really sell people on this film. It's a strange one, a film with very little going for it (in some ways). But what it DOES have going for it, well, it plays to those strengths in a way that completely won me over.

Teagan Johnston plays Catherine, a young musician who travels to an isolated cottage to gather her thoughts and work on some new music. Her style is unique, requiring her to often remain alone and exploring her own mindset as she sets out to create new tunes. But it soon becomes apparent that she may not be as alone as she thinks she is. Or is she?

Directed by Ryan Glover, his second feature in the big chair, this is a film that certainly isn't lacking in atmosphere. Even when nothing is happening, you get the sense that something is about to creep you out. The screenplay, co-written by Glover and Krista Dzialoszynski, is minimal. So minimal, in fact, that it feels very much like it could have been largely improvised. I'll use that to give extra credit to the performances, however, and it's the cast that help Glover deliver something memorable and impressive.

There is more than one person cast in this movie, but you'd be forgiven for forgetting about anyone else while Johnston proves such a captivating screen presence. She gives a performance that is natural, in line with whatever energy is required for the scenes, and able to hold your attention even when it seems that there's nothing really happening. Johnston also provides a number of musical pieces that help to complement with visuals. It's an enjoyably unique and strange soundscape, although I should also mention that there's also a contribution to the film score by Adrian Ellis.

When The Strings started I thought I would end up having to tolerate it. I expected a low-key indie horror with no overt scares and nothing to firmly hold my interest for the duration. Thankfully, I got something that I felt was both rewarding and genuinely creepy at times (and there's at least one great jump scare). A lot of that is to do with the performance, in terms of both acting and music, by Johnston, but Glover deserves credit for turning any potential limitations into positives.

Recommended to anyone who doesn't mind a film that focuses on atmosphere and a strange feeling of "other" rather than easier scares and more straightforward plotting.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 3 December 2021

Help For The Holidays (2012)

Eva LaRue and Dan Gauthier play Sara and Scott VanCamp, a married couple who have two children, Ally (Izabela Vidovic) and Will (Mason Cook). They also run a Christmas shop, and their busiest time of year is, inevitably, on the run up to Christmas. What they don't have is any actual Christmas spirit. They've become too focused on the business, with their hectic schedule stopping them from spending as much time with the children as they might like. Thankfully, the kids have good old Uncle Dave (John Brotherton) to make life a bit more fun sometimes. And they're about to get a new helper in the house in the shape of Christine (Summer Glau), an elf sent there by Santa (Steve Larkin).

Written by Abbey Cleland Lopez (her first script) and Bob Sáenz, Help For The Holidays is a film that seems to hit all of the marks required for this type of thing, yet feels strangely lacking. It's like biting into a chocolate that is meant to have a flavoured centre and finding it hollow. All of the parts are there - the adults needing to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas, a twinkly-eyed Santa who has faith in things working out well in the end, some elf magic, kids making big eyes, etc - but there's no feeling of any progress being made until you get to a final sequence that feels unearned and rushed.

Director Bradford May has done a few of these movies, unsurprisingly, but his filmography shows that he did very different fare both before and after this. Perhaps he wasn't as knowledgeable as others who have worked their magic in this particular, tinsel-adorned, arena, or maybe he just incorrectly relied on the script and performances to carry things along pleasantly enough.

Let's start with Summer Glau, an actress I have enjoyed in a number of other roles. She certainly has the look of a potential elf here, helped by some pointy ears that can be magicked away when she is masquerading as a normal human, but her performance is pitched at just the wrong level of naivete and over-exuberance. Brotherton does much better at striking the right tone, although it's easier for him to stay in "fun uncle" mode for most of his scenes. LaRue and Gauthier try their best, but they are hampered by a script that has them doing very little until things change, for no good reason, in time for the end credits. Vidovic and Cook are pretty decent child actors, both delivering the right level of moodiness and wide-eyed innocence, depending on what the scene needs. Last, but not least, Larkin is quite a disappointing Santa. He isn’t a bad actor with the role, he just doesn’t have that perfect look.

Although it lacks a number of the perfect ingredients to make for just the right Christmassy confection, Help For The Holidays at least has a nice sprinkling of magic throughout many scenes and benefits from a central performance that, while overdone, is at least delivered with plenty of enthusiasm.

4/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Our Christmas Love Song (2019)

Alicia Witt has made a good living over the past decade or so by appearing in a LOT of TV movies, mainly ones set during the Christmas period. There may be some stars who have headlined more titles, although I haven't done any actual counting to make sure, but she definitely feels like someone who sits quite high up on the tree.

Here she plays Melody, a successful country music star who is stunned when an old friend accuses her of plagiarism once her latest hit starts to be played on the radio. Melody knows that she wrote the song when she was a teenager, but finding evidence of that means finding the original music. Which means, yep, returning home for the holidays. That inevitably leads to her repeatedly bumping into an old flame, Chase (Brendan Hines). The plot develops in an obvious and predictable way, the memory/spirit of a dead parent casts a large shadow over proceedings, and there's a pleasant song or two sprinkled throughout the soundtrack.

As is so often the case with these comforting Christmas movies, director Gary Yates and writer Julie Sherman Wolfe (expanding on a story by Nancy Grace and Josh Sabarra) have an extensive list of other Christmas movies in their credits already. They know the formula, they know how to put every piece in place, from the overly earnest nature of almost every character to the ever-present layer of sentimentality, and they know what viewers want from this kind of thing. We want snow, we want people drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies, and we can even stomach main characters who act in a way that is almost too good to be true. 

It's not the best turn I have seen from Witt, but she can't really go wrong in this type of role. As likeable and easygoing a presence as she is, she doesn't convince as much in the role of country singer made good. It's not enough to unbalance the whole movie though, mainly because she's still Alicia Witt. Hines is a decent enough male lead, carrying a tiny spark of actual personality that allows him to edge ahead of so many other bland options I've seen in these types of movies. There's also a fun little turn from Andrea del Campo, playing Jillian, the sister of Melody, Ava Darrach-Gagnon is equally enjoyable as Dot, the sister of Chase, and Anna Anderson-Epp is given the role of over-enthusiastic and grinning child, Lucy (Melody's niece). Karen Kruper is Connie and Curtis Moore is Burt, Connie's manager, the people who approach Melody with their accusation of plagiarism.

There are very few of these movies that I would rush to rewatch. As I've said many times before, they're created to be pleasant "background noise" while you decorate the tree, wrap presents, and do whatever else you need to do on the run up to Christmas Day. I did like this one though, perhaps because I am predisposed to like any TV movie with Witt in a lead role. The central concept was a good way to have the main character revisit some key moments from her past, even if the whole thing could have been wrapped up within minutes.

This is definitely not the last film with a lead role for Witt that I will be seeing this year.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Prime Time: A Family For The Holidays AKA Engaging Father Christmas (2017)

The second of three movies, to date, featuring the character of Miranda Chester, A Family For The Holidays (aka Engaging Father Christmas, which makes more sense when sandwiched between Finding Father Christmas and Marrying Father Christmas) is your typical comfort viewing for this time of year. Which means that it is so simple and lightweight that you can easily watch it, as I did, without being aware of the movie preceding it. Oh, the completist in me will eventually watch the other movies in this seasonal trilogy, but things are covered here by a character in the first main scene uttering a sentence that summarises Finding Father Christmas

So let's dive in. Miranda (Erin Krakow) is heading back to the small town of Carlton Heath to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, Ian (Niall Matter), and spend some time with her new-found family. It was only last year that Miranda started to enjoy Christmas, you see, when she found out all about her real father, first visited Carlton Heath, and fell in love with Ian. On the way to Carlton Heath, Miranda bumps into an ex-boyfriend, Josh (Andrew Francis). She tells him about the deceased father, now deceased, that she found out about since last time they spoke. Unbeknownst to any of the main characters, Steve Decker (Ben Wilkinson) is also heading to Carlton Heath. He's a reporter who hopes to make an impact with an exclusive story.

Director David Winning has a decent body of work under his belt, most of them being TV movies, and he handles the material here well enough. The script, by David Golden, who wrote all three movies in the trilogy (based on books by Robin Jones Gunn), is the work of someone equally at ease with giving viewers what they expect from these movies. There's a small mystery element, for the first half of the movie anyway, and a decent amount of tension causing the leading lady to stress out as things look increasingly gloomy on the way to a last-minute turnaround that viewers will all know is coming from the very first scenes.

Krakow is just fine in the lead role, and she's paired up with a typically safe and sweet male in the shape of Matter, who remains convincingly lovely and understanding throughout. Francis is let off the hook, and is enjoyable enough, playing someone who could have easily been the big villain of the piece, and Wilkinson pops up often enough to remind you that he's up to something. Wendie Malick is a bit of a highlight, playing the wife of the deceased father figure. Her character is simply okay, but I have to admit that I was just pleased whenever she came onscreen, recognising her from many other roles she has had in her lengthy and varied career.

While this may be slightly lower-tier than many other Christmas TV movies I have watched over the years (and anyone who knows me will know that I watch a LOT of them), I am still going to eventually check out the films on either side of it. So it wasn't that bad. It was just average, as so many of these things are.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Noir-vember: Miller's Crossing (1990)

There are many contenders for the title of "best Coen brothers film ever", depending on your own personal taste and what day of the week it is. But I'd worry about someone who didn't at least consider Miller's Crossing up there in the uppermost tier.

Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, the right hand man to a crime boss named Leo (Albert Finney). Tom does a lot of Leo's dirty work, but he always knows the reason for doing things. That starts to change when Leo upsets Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito). He's not willing to hand over a snivelling little low-life named Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro), possibly because he's in lover with Bernie's sister, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). The extra complication in this mess? Tom also seems very attracted to Verna. Trouble is definitely brewing, and it may lead to Tom and Leo parting ways forever. It might even lead to the death of Tom.

A film famously paused by a bout of writer's block that led to the Coens writing Barton Fink, this is a neo-noir gangster movie that celebrates classic tropes while also filling every sequence with gloriously cinematic moments, from the memorable image of a black hat being blown by the wind through a woody area to a gunfight that uses the kind of overkill viewers will recognise from the WB classics of the '30s and '40s. The plot will also be familiar to anyone who has read some of the main works from Dashiell Hammett, or even seen some of the movies based on his work (particularly The Glass Key). And, despite the break required (or maybe because of it), this sits up there with one of the very best scripts written by the Coen brothers, expertly blending the traditional with the ear-caressingly cool. It's the best dialogue that Byrne has ever been given to deliver, and he certainly makes the most of it.

Although there are others worthy of consideration, I'd put this as the best film role that Byrne has ever had. Never unsure of himself, even when about to be handed a beating, and effortlessly cool, he even manages to look like someone punching in the face is a result he was aiming for. Finney is also excellent, absolutely convincing as a boss who no longer often needs to throw his weight around as he has others who can carry out his orders. Polito is equally convincing, a rival crime boss attempting to keep the peace, but also willing to push back harder if he is being made to look weak. As for Turturro, this may be his greatest single performance. He and Byrne are given a gift by the Coens, and they make the most of it. Harden is an enjoyable potential spanner in the works, sensual and self-preserving, and there are some intimidating henchmen portrayed well by J. E. Freeman and the inimitable Mike Starr. There's also an enjoyable small role for Steve Buscemi, although it's worth noting that every single supporting actor here feels perfectly picked for whatever role they're given, from anonymous shooters to local cops.

There's a great score by Carter Burwell accompanying the lush visuals (from Barry Sonnenfeld, who solidified his DP credentials with the Coen brothers before building his own directorial career), wonderful production design throughout, great costumes, and on and on goes the list of positives. The more I think about it, the less I can find to fault here. It is, for me, absolute perfection, and easily jostles alongside The Hudsucker Proxy as the very best feature that the Coen brothers have delivered thus far.

10/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form. "If you want me to keep my mouth shut, it's gonna cost you some dough. I figure a thousand bucks is reasonable, so I want two" - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Monday, 29 November 2021

Mubi Monday: Shortbus (2006)

After making one hell of an impact with his directorial debut, Hedwig And The Angry Inch (a gloriously twisted and audacious musical), John Cameron Mitchell decided to push things much further with his second feature, Shortbus. If you're not sure whether or not this film is for you then the first 5-10 minutes should help you make up your mind. It includes some domination, someone urinating while sitting in a bath, a couple engaging in a variety of sexual positions, and a young man attempting to self-fellatio. Things get much more graphic throughout the rest of the runtime.

Sook-Yin Lee plays a relationship counselor, Sofia, who has some relationship problems of her own. She has never been able to achieve orgasm, despite trying very hard with her partner, Rob (Raphael Barker). She ends up trying to help Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson), with the latter unable to relax enough to let his partner have penetrative sex with him, but that doesn't go too well, then leading to all of the characters spending time together in the hedonistic and liberating environment known as Shortbus. There is all manner of ways to explore your sexuality there, and Sofia also thinks she could make some more progress when she starts talking to a dominatrix (Severin, played by Lindsay Beamish). All of these characters are people that viewers already saw during the opening scenes, but there are more people to be added into the mix as various plot strands play out, intertwine, and continue to wind their way back to the dark and sweaty body-melding environment known as Shortbus.

Very graphic throughout, and Mitchell has stated that he sees no reason to use sex onscreen as he would use any other tool from his box of tricks, Shortbus will certainly cause the prudish to have palpatations for every minute that they try to endure. A lot of the sex scenes explore homosexuality and various kinks, from the s/d dynamic to self-pleasure, from voyeurism to group sex, and ,while it may seem overdone and gratuitous, the identity of the film is made up of these various acts. It's a collage of intertwined limbs and sexual organs, focusing on characters who are driven to distraction by their own sexual problems.

The performances are a mixed bag, with some actors perhaps being picked more for their willingness to have unsimulated sex onscreen than their acting ability, but the women generally do a much better job than the men. Lee is a great lynchpin, and her quest for an orgasm will resonate with many female viewers who may have found themselves at least temporarily as frustrated as she becomes, and Beamish is the kind of dominatrix who does her job well, but can also allow herself to soften slightly when in the right company. 

An interesting step along from his feature debut, Mitchell definitely sets himself out as someone happy to explore all aspects of sexuality with a non-judging and unflinching approach. The material deserves that, and there still aren't enough people delivering these stories in this way, but I personally preferred the stylistic and tonal decisions made in Hedwig And The Angry Inch. There's no problem with that, and it just means that I wasn't the target audience here. But I wasn't necessarily the target audience for his debut feature either, yet that one managed to win me over within a very short space of time.

I appreciate what was done here, and the whole things has an easygoing vibe that you would feel if you yourself were wandering into Shortbus, but it ultimately didn't really do enough with the script and cast to make the journey feel as worthwhile as I hoped it would be.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Netflix And Chill: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

The feature directorial debut of Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone allows the actor to come out swinging. Hard. Having also worked on the screenplay with Aaron Stockard, adapting the Dennis Lehane novel, Affleck has a controlling and steady hand all over this. He may have helped himself by casting his younger brother, Casey Affleck, in the lead role, with the two apparently bringing out the best in one another.

The plot revolves around the disappearance of a 4-year-old girl, Amanda McCready. The police, headed up by Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), want a positive outcome, but the odds of that happening diminish with every passing day. Desperate relatives hire Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a street-smart private investigator who may be able to get information from people who wouldn't talk to the police. Kenzie works with his girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), and the two of them quickly seem to make a bit more progress than the police.

Almost as much a study of a place as it is a murky crime drama chock full of memorable characters, Gone Baby Gone sometimes comes perilously close to feeling like some kind of parody. Most of the cast have worked hard on their accents, but they're also people we don't normally hear speaking with that particular Boston drawl. The strength of the material helps them overcome that though, as well as their commitment to their roles (most notable in the strong atypical turn from Amy Ryan, playing the mother of the missing girl).

Although arguably not as cinematically ambitious as his next feature, The Town, this benefits from a script that mixes neo-noir cool with a load of unsavoury characters. The twists and turns are gripping, but none of them feel completely unbelievable. And the third act is one superb moment after another.

There isn't really anyone here I could single out as letting down the rest of the cast, with fairly flawless performances (wavering accents aside) across the board. Affleck is perfect for the lead role, always being underestimated due to his youthful appearance, but always sizing up every bad situation as quickly as possible to find the best way out of it. Monaghan does fine, playing a vital character who almost provides another entire facet to Affleck's character. As well as Ryan giving a great performance, sterling support is provided by the likes of Morgan Freeman (as good as ever), Titus Welliver (another one here with one of his very best film roles), and Ed Harris (on top form). Michael Kenneth Williams has a couple of decent little moments and Edi Gathegi makes a strong impression as a criminal who may or may not know the whereabouts of the missing child.

Grounded with a very real blanket level of pain and trauma, and positing one hell of a moral quandary in the third act, Gone Baby Gone is a mature and thought-provoking work that also manages to be consistently captivating.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Shudder Saturday: Prisoners Of The Ghostland (2021)

Nic Cage delivers some more Nic Cage craziness in Prisoners Of The Ghostland, but it somehow doesn't feel like the right kind of Nic Cage craziness. HE does just fine, but the film itself fails to lean in to the insanity with the commitment required. There's also a lot more to this than the stuff that is there on the surface level though. I'll get to my own interpretation of things shortly.

Cage plays a potential hero, named Hero, who has been thrown in jail after an armed robbery went horribly wrong (thanks to his gun-happy partner, played by Nick Cassavetes). The Governor (Bill Moseley) frees him because he wants to send him on a mission to save a young woman (Sofia Boutella) who has been taken to the dangerous area known as the Ghostland. Hero is placed in a suit that has explosives wired in strategic positions. He has so many days to find the woman and get her to say her name or explosives detonate. Then he has so much time to get her safely out of the Ghostland or explosives detonate. And if he mistreats the woman in any way, yep, explosives detonate. You might think that this device won't mean anything, considering our hero is actually called Hero, but be assured that explosives do detonate. 

I have now seen about four films from director Sion Sono, and I have loved three of them. Cold Fish, Tag, and Antiporno are all fantastic films, and all are very different from one another. The Virgin Psychics, on the other hand, is absolutely garbage, playing up to the tropes that you would list if creating something to epitomise the worst of Japanese cinema. Prisoners Of The Ghostland has lots of gorgeous visual style, something that Sono can deliver when he wants to (but credit to his DP here, Sôhei Tanikawa), and an interesting, murky, screenplay by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai (two writers with very little actual writing experience between them).

What is most interesting here is the way in which Prisoners Of The Ghostland defies viewer expectations. It's a mad concept, absolutely, but it may only be a way to explore Japanese history and culture. I may be very wrong here, and others can happily steer me in the right direction if so, but this feels on a comment on Westerners taking advantage of Japan, moving in after major damage has been done to lay claim to an area they can govern while being scared of so many other parts of the country. It also, even more so, feels like Hero is on a bit of a doomed journey. Despite his name, and self-belief, he cannot be the true saviour of the people, having done his bit to traumatise and damage the person he has been sent to rescue. Know what I mean? Maybe that will seem familiar to some.

Say what you like about Cage, and people are rarely shy about voicing their opinions, positive or negative, on the actor, he throws himself into most of his roles. This is no exception. His character isn't particularly nuanced here, played as almost an avatar for an entire nation/organisation, but his performance is in line with the material. Moseley is good fun in his role, although I wish he had some more screentime, and Cassavetes is enjoyably psycho (which explains his character being named Psycho). Boutella has one of her more thankless roles in the past few years, she's a good actress who has picked a variety of films over the past decade or so, but she does well enough. And I'll also have to mention Tak Sakaguchi, playing the Governor's bodyguard, Yasujiro, excellent and almost stealing every scene that he is in.

It's hard to put my finger on why this didn't work for me. On the one hand, the crazy parts that went totally crazy were fun. On the other hand, the more artistic moments were beautiful. You also get that unsubtle commentary running through it like a rich vein to keep mining for food for thought. It just never found a way to gel together, unfortunately, which meant I was watching every individual moment I liked separate from every other individual moment I liked, each one for a slightly different reason. And when things slow down to almost a crawl, which they do often, the film starts to feel like a slog.

It's certainly worth watching at least once, and I cannot bring myself to rate it as a BAD film, but I wish everyone involved had found a better way to bring everything together more cohesively.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 26 November 2021

Noir-vember: Rebecca (1940)

Although it doesn't really hold the notoriety nowadays that the other Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne Du Maurier "collaboration", The Birds, manages to retain, Rebecca is still a fantastic work, showing the director already comfortable in mixing dark subject matter with moments of levity and making the most of a talented cast.

Joan Fontaine plays a young woman who finds herself in the enviable position of becoming Mrs. de Winter, the wife of one 'Maxim' de Winter (Laurence Olivier). And that is when she starts to become more and more aware of Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter who passed away some time ago. Whether or not she can thrive under such a shadow becomes the focus of this movie for much of the middle act, with criticism coming from a houskeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), and Rebecca's cousin, Jack Favell (George Sanders). There's more to consider, however, including the exact circumstances of Rebecca's death.

Written for the screen by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, the former having a very varied filmography that includes both The Best Years Of Our Lives and The Bishop's Wife as highlights and the latter working with Hitchcock on about five of his features from this era, what you get here is something that often feels like a straightforward drama about a young woman trying to assert herself in a new world that her marriage has forced her to enter. Sure, you get the kind of temperamental husband and brooding nature that implies a trip into Jane Eyre territory, but the situations depicted remain much more grounded and identifiable for anyone who has found themselves the newcomer in any household/family situation. Things are turned around in the third act, and it's interesting to see that when the pressure really starts to mount is when Fontaine's character shows how strong she really is.

Both Fontaine and Olivier are very enjoyable in the lead roles, even if the latter speaks in that wonderfully crisp and clipped "proper English" that stops the dialogue feeling free-flowing and natural (a quality many British actors had during this time). The two feel like an unlikely, but strangely compatible, match. Anderson cuts an intimidating figure, although she always remains as civil as she needs to be when her employer is within earshot. Then you have Sanders. He doesn't appear until close to the halfway mark, but his presence is a breath of fresh air. I maintain that Sanders is arguably the greatest cinematic cad of all time and here's another performance that doesn't do a thing to dissuade me of that notion. 

While easy to see why this one remains a highly-regarded classic from yesteryear, it's also easy to see why it might fail to please some people. It squanders any potential to go full gothic, which is a great shame, it lacks any of the incredibly tense and macabre set-pieces that Hitchcock would become most famous for, and the resolution is just a bit too neat and easy, in a way that makes you forget the main characters were ever in any trouble.

Despite those aspects that could be viewed as failings, I still really enjoyed this. I'd even go so far as to say that is the best Hitchcock adaptation of a Du Maurier tale. It just holds up as a more completely satisfying feature film, and doesn't need the gimmick of feathered friends becoming feathered foes. Yep, I stand by what I just said. And one day I hope to visit Manderley again.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews


Thursday, 25 November 2021

Noir-vember: U Turn (1997)

Sean Penn stars here as Bobby Cooper, a drifter who ends up with car problems that leave him stranded in a desert town miles from normality. Bobby soon gets in between two people who seem to be in a relationship (played by Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte), but both actually want the other one dead. He may be able to turn his misfortune into a major payday, which would help with his plan to either pay a big debt he owes or run towards a new life. If he somehow has any money left after paying off the ever-growing list of charges that the local mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) keeps adding to his bill.

Adapting his own novel into screenplay form, writer John Ridley delivers a tale of unpleasantness, madness, and oppressive heat. Whether you like the film or not, director Oliver Stone takes the material and seems to relish the opportunity to spend a couple of hours trapping viewers with characters that we would otherwise be looking to get away from as quickly as possible.

I am not always a big fan of Penn onscreen, but he’s good here, playing someone so irredeemably bad that he doesn’t realise how much he belongs alongside the other characters who are also irredeemably bad. Lopez is a great femme fatale, and I hope she tries this kind of role at least one more time, and Nolte has a lot of fun in his sleazy role. Jon Voight has a small role that has him quite unrecognisable, Powers Boothe is a local Sheriff who may complicate things further, and there’s even one scene that makes good use of the wonderful Laurie Metcalf. There’s also a fun, though relatively inconsequential, plot strand that benefits from enjoyable turns from Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix.

You get the usual overdose of flourishes, editing tricks, and visceral nastiness that so often appears in an Oliver Stone movie, but the score from Ennio Morricone does a good job of helping to offset the unrelenting visual assault. The soundtrack, unfortunately, just feels pilfered from other, better, movies. There are definitely moments when this feels like Stone trying to emulate a film-maker he may view as having moved into his realm and stolen his crown (that cocky overthrower being Mr. Tarantino). 

There are a lot of fun moments here, especially anything involving Thornton, but there are times when it is a bit of a slog. It is a gallery of the grotesque, a carnival freakshow. That is fun when you first wander in and enjoy the novelty. It becomes tiresome when you realise you paid your money and are now stuck inside for an overlong presentation of hucksterism and nastiness.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Prime Time: Dead End (1937)

A film most notable for having the first appearance of the Dead End Kids (who would reach their peak, in my view, just one year later with their work in the classic Angels With Dirty Faces), Dead End is an enjoyable development of a play by Sidney Kingsley. Director William Wyler, and writer Lillian Hellman, manage to keep things tightly focused on the characters and the main issues being explored, class and the opportunities available to those in different parts of society, without it constantly feeling like something that could easily play out on a stage.

The plot allows plenty of time spent with the Dead End Kids, all of them trying to come up with schemes that will either amuse them or make them some money. The kids often congregate in one area, an area that allows the viewers to observe a cross-section of the people around them. Drina (Sylvia Sidney) is a lovely, but poor, young woman, and an older sister of one of the kids. Dave (Joel McCrea) is an architect currently doing some painting work while unable to remain employed in his preferred role. There are other characters around, including a spoilt young boy, his rich parents, and a police officer who might yet arrest one of the Dead End Kids. And there's 'Baby Face' Martin (Humphrey Bogart), a notorious gangster who is paying a return visit to the neighbourhood that he grew up in. Martin hopes to visit an old flame and his mother, but he may not get the welcome from either of them that he is looking for.

Your enjoyment of Dead End is going to rely on two things. First, how much do you like the screen presence of Humphrey Bogart. Second, how much do you like the screen presence of the Dead End Kids. I REALLY like Bogart. He's one of those actors who has been in many of the movies that you can see on any "classic films you must watch" list, which is all well and good, but the more variety of movies that you see him in, the better he gets. There's a reason for him becoming an icon. As for the Dead End Kids, I still like them enough to be able to enjoy a movie that gives them plenty of screentime. They're very broad caricatures, and there's not much to differentiate any one from any other (so it's best just to treat them as a collective at all times), but they're amusing enough. They also, in this instance, really exemplify the impact that maintains, and contributes to, the big gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Sidney and McCrea do good work here, managing to posit themselves as potential lead characters without overdoing things in an attempt to outshine Bogart or the kids. The script treats them well, they are the characters who are trying the hardest not to let their circumstances change them for the worse, but their situation runs parallel to the diversions caused by the kids and the potential threat posed by Bogart's character. It's worth mentioning Billy Halop as Tommy, one of the gang who gets himself in more trouble than the others. The fact that Tommy is the younger brother of Drina complicates things further, especially when the police start to pursue him more seriously, and Halop is enjoyably frantic and frustrated for most of the third act.

Despite some of the talent involved, this is still a film that is far from unmissable. The light tone, due to the focus on the Dead End Kids, holds it back somewhat. Even the important points being made are almost buried under the constant bickering and hijinks (although some of the hijinks are a bit too serious to be labelled as just hijinks). This is of interest to film fans who enjoy fare from the '30s and '40s, and I enjoyed it while it was on, but everyone else could easily give it a miss. You won't feel as if you're missing out on anything.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Noir-vember: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

A film I haven’t seen since I picked it up on VHS when it was first released, I was very keen to revisit The Man Who Wasn’t There, a film that arguably remains the most overlooked title in the filmography of the Coen brothers (certainly from the past couple of decades anyway).

Billy Bob Thornton plays the main character, Ed Crane. He runs a barbershop with his brother, Frank (Michael Badalucco), and plods along in his marriage to Doris (Frances McDormand). A chance encounter with a customer (Jon Polito) who has a grand business plan leads to Ed setting out to blackmail Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). He knows that Dave and Doris have been having an affair, but this perceived opportunity for success could lead to disaster. And death.

Shot in beautiful black and white (courtesy of the great Roger Deakins), The Man Who Wasn’t There may not be as sharp as other Coen brothers movies, and it may run too closely to some of their best works, but it remains a fantastic slice of straightforward noir. The brothers don’t want to twist things too much here, they just want to tell a story well worth telling.

The cast are almost all perfect, with Thornton at his laconic best in the lead role. He has rarely been an actor who exaggerates his mannerisms or catches your eye with histrionics (the excellent Sling Blade aside), making him an ideal choice to carry a film with this title. McDormand is as good as ever, playing a flawed woman who clearly still has love there for her husband. Gandolfini and Polito both make a strong impression with more limited screentime and Tony Shalhoub has one of his best movie roles, playing an expensive lawyer who believes himself unable to lose a court case. There are also enjoyable turns from Badalucco, Richard Jenkins, and Scarlett Johansson, with the latter representing a fresh start, optimism, and purity in the mind of Thornton’s character.

It would be wrong to try and convince anyone that this is one of the very best movies from the Coen brothers. That isn’t true. But it would also be wrong to leave it languishing in the forgotten limbo it seems to have been cast into over the past twenty years. It may not be a masterpiece, and it isn’t out to feel fresh or full of surprises, but it is a lovingly crafted piece of drama, using a top-notch cast to draw you into a tale of love, death, and greed for a couple of hours.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Monday, 22 November 2021

Mubi Monday: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)

There will obviously be a lot of people who don’t want to see The Reluctant Fundamentalist, people who pre-judge it in a way that is sadly in line with the main point being made by the movie. They may be the best people to actually give it a viewing. Because there are lots of bad people in the world, and we seem to hear more and more about terrorists in our constant news cycles. The Reluctant Fundamentalist does not excuse those people, but it certainly shows how our actions and treatment of people can push others to an extreme position that they don’t want to be in.

Riz Ahmed plays Changez, a Pakistani man who has returned home to teach students after time spent forging a successful career in America. His role there was to assess companies, either making them more efficient and profitable or deciding that they need to get the chop. It was all well and good until one day he realised that there was more to any workplace than just the spreadsheets and the bottom line. Liev Schrieber is Bobby Lincoln, a journalist wanting an interview with Changez, but the interview is really about something else. American forces are trying to rescue a high-profile hostage. They believe that Changez has information on his whereabouts. Because surely someone who has gone through what he has gone through has to take a stance against America . . . right?

Ahmed is more well-known nowadays than he was back when this film was released, in 2012, but he has always been a fantastic actor and this gives him one of many superb roles he has bagged throughout his career thus far. Schrieber has an easier time, generally just asking the right questions, but he is as good as ever in his role (and I always tend to like seeing him in anything). Kiefer Sutherland does his best work in years, playing a boss who sees the potential in Ahmed’s character, and he is very nice and helpful until he starts to meet resistance. Blunt, efficient, and not without charm, it feels like a role tailor-made for Sutherland. There are many others filling out the cast roster, not least of which is the legendary Om Puri, but the other main character to mention here is a selfish and inconsiderate artist played by Kate Hudson. Developing a relationship with our lead, this part of the film looks at yet another way in which someone foreign can be used and hurt by an “entitled Westerner”.

Director Mira Nair, working from a screenplay that adapts the novel by Mohsin Hamid, doesn’t shy away from showing any, and all, sides of the ongoing divide, and conflict, that has caused so many people over the past few decades to judge others based solely on their looks and/or home country. This is a nuanced look at a major societal issue that rarely gets treated with nuance, and it is well worth remembering that more people try to keep themselves at a happy medium than at any extreme end of a spectrum. The script, worked on by a number of people bringing different strengths to the material, does a magnificent job of making certain moments ambiguous while also reminding viewers that there shouldn’t be ambiguity. The ambiguity stems from the narrative that viewers have been fed from whatever news they prefer to consume.

Not just a fine bit of dramatic work from all involved, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is important for the way it challenges, and defies, all preconceptions. It’s a comment on the way individuals allow groups to divide them, how that divide grows, and what the ultimate tragic end is, even for those innocents trying to act impartial. It also features a number of scenes that I am sure will be painful to watch for those who have lived those experiences.

9/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Netflix And Chill: Armored (2009)

The only feature script, to date, written by James V. Simpson, Armored is an enjoyable tense and entertaining little crime thriller that I believe still remains an underseen gem (although it got some decent notices when it was first released).

Columbus Short plays Ty Hackett, one of a number of people working for an armored-truck company. His co-workers include Mike (Matt Dillon), Baines (Laurence Fishburne), Quinn (Jean Reno), Palmer (Amaury Nolasco), and Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich). All of them seem decent enough, but they have a plan to make them all rich men. Stage a fake robbery and keep the money for themselves. Ty doesn’t want any part of it, but his growing financial problems and a promise that nobody will be hurt wins him over. So it’s all set. And then somebody gets hurt, which immediately pits Ty against all of his former colleagues. As an ex-soldier, he may be able to get the upper hand for a while, but the odds are stacked against him.

What you have here is a fun, tight, script, with a great concept at the heart of it, elevated by a superb ensemble cast full of people all given moments to shine. Short may be one of the lesser-known names here, but he's a very capable, and likeable, lead. Dillon has been a low-key absolute great for many years, and is especially good as the one who masterminds this plan. He's the one trying to keep his head while others are growing increasingly angry, or worried, and frustrated, and things are made even more tense by the way he can go back to being nice and calm, leaving viewers wondering how much of it is genuine and how much of it is just to get our hero in a position where he can be dealt with. Fishburne is not to be messed with, and has a lot of fun in his role, while Ulrich gets his best role in a long time. Reno and Nolasco may be a bit underused, but they're still a vital part of the group dynamic. There's also an enjoyable little turn from Fred Ward, Milo Ventimiglia plays a cop who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Andre Jamal Kinney is the younger brother of Short's character, a decent kid with some problems applying himself at school, and he's another factor motivating our lead to finally go along with the initial plan.

Director Nimród Antal does a fantastic job of making the most of the script, using very few locations without things ever feeling far too limited or low-budget. Everything looks great, the tight geography is clearly laid out, and each step of the journey is logical, with characters all dealing with the spiralling awfulness in expectedly different ways. One moment stands out for the wrong reasons (involving Nolasco's character), but even that doesn't feel outwith the realms of possibility.

It's the kind of film that you would have loved to find on your local video store shelves many years ago, one that you immediately love even while seeing why it wouldn't have had, or made any major impact with, a cinema release. Technically sound, with fine cinematography by Andrzej Sekula and a decent score by John Murphy also adding to the overall quality of the final product, the fact that it comes in at just under the 90-minute mark is also a major bonus. Antal knows the best way to handle the material, and he's done that with pretty much every title in his filmography (which is well worth checking out).

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Shudder Saturday: Thirst (1979)

A sci-fi horror movie that blends vampirism with the experience of being indoctrinated into a cult, Thirst is an interesting oddity that certainly tries to do something a bit different when it comes to the main archetype it deals with. While not entirely successful, especially throughout the first half, it's definitely one that I recommend fans of this subgenre check out.

Chantal Contouri plays Kate Davis, a young woman who is kidnapped by The Brotherhood. They believe her to be a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, which means she should be an important figure in their organisation. What The Brotherhood does is quite simple, they harvest blood from a number of victims held in an area that is part laboratory and part prison. Drinking the blood should, as far as they are concerned, help them stay youthful and strong. Kate wants no part of the horror that she sees around her, which means it is time to start breaking down her defences with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, a method objected to by Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings). As the movie plays out, Kate becomes more and more unsure of her own mind, and it seems like just a matter of time until she will start drinking blood herself. 

The feature debut from director Rod Hardy, and the only feature script written by John Pinkney, Thirst may be a film to be admired more for its ambition than the execution of the material, but that ambition keeps it a few steps ahead of so many other vampire movies you may enjoy from the '70s and '80s. Although the two may seem far apart, this would make a decent double-bill with the entertaining madness of Zardoz, especially considering the different aspects of potential eternal life being explored.

Contouri isn't a strong lead, but she's not terrible. Perhaps this is due to the script she is working with, considering the fact that she gets a bit stronger when things start to pick up in the second half. Hemmings is his usual enjoyable presence, and you also get a sense of menace provided by Henry Silva and Shirley Cameron, although the former simply exudes menace whether his character is written that way or not. Rod Mulliner is the other main player, a man named Derek who Kate is attached to, and he does perfectly fine work in his role. 

The biggest flaw that Thirst has is the fact that it actually doesn't ever go as far as it could. Whether due to budgetary constraints or a lack of vision, or both, this would have been a better film if it had packed in some more scenes that allowed The Brotherhood to look like a much bigger, and perhaps more dangerous, place. This is horror sci-fi that is a bit light on both (the horror is not horrific enough, despite the implications, and the sci-fi isn't extrapolated further), but it still manages to overcome the obvious flaws thanks to the strength of that intriguing third act.

I would tentatively recommend this, especially to anyone who knows the vampire movie subgenre can encompass films as varied as The Lost Boys, Martin, Lips Of Blood, and The Addiction. You might, as I did, end up appreciating this one more than casual "fang-bangers".

7/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 19 November 2021

Noir-vember: Criss Cross (1949)

Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson in this excellent, and simple, film (one of a few cracking noirs that Lancaster starred in during this period in his career). Thompson has just arrived back in his home city, and it doesn’t take him long to once again notice his lovely ex-wife, Anna (Yvonne De Carlo). Anna doesn’t mind reconnecting with Steve, but that doesn’t stop her from staying married to a gangster named Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Knowing what they need to start life afresh, Steve comes up with a plan to grab a big payday from his armoured-truck driving job. It’s a plan that wouldn’t be at all possible without having an inside man to help.

Based on the novel by Don Tracy, Criss Cross is a brisk and slick noir that makes up for the lack of memorable dialogue and twists with excellent shorthand used throughout and an ending that continues to hurtle along with a constant air of fatalism.

Writer Daniel Fuchs may not be a household name, but he has some great little movies in his filmography (at least check out this one and Panic In The Streets, which he helped to adapt, although the screenplay credit goes to Richard Murphy). Director Robert Siodmak has a similar selection of quality dotted throughout his career, making him a good pairing with Fuchs. He knows what is required when it comes to technique and style, not bothering with anything that detracts from the characters all either being all ready to fight or fornicate with each other.

Lancaster was great at being the unfortunate, handsome “lunk”, and this is another great role for him. It may not have the complexity of his best roles, but he was a superb presence in the film noirs that had him front and centre. De Carlo is, as necessary for this kind of thing, beautiful and potentially very dangerous. The writing could have done more to give her a personality complementing her looks, but it is still easy to believe that she could have quite an effect on any man who falls hard for her. Duryea had the easiest role, but he remains a suitably menacing presence for most of the runtime, even when he isn’t onscreen, and that proves how well he does with his performance.

A wide variety of film types can be found under the umbrella of film noir, and that allows for viewers to pick their poison depending on their mood at the time. This may not be as intricate or nuanced as some, and it may lack some truly standout moments, but it might also perfectly hit the spot when you want something simple, entertaining, and deceptively light up until the last few scenes. It’s one I would happily revisit any time.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Noir-vember: Max Payne (2008)

All the signs were there that I wasn't going to be a big fan of Max Payne. I wasn't even very aware of the videogame when it was popular (all I knew is that "bullet time" played a part). Directed by John Moore, who has a filmography not exactly stuffed with classics. Written by Beau Thorne, someone who doesn't seem to have written any other features. And starring Mark Wahlberg, an actor who really depends on a director and cast helping him to do his best.

Wahlberg is Payne, a cop who is more dangerous than he used to be thanks to the death, a few years ago, of his wife and child. Payne likes to go out at night and take care of criminals without the hassle of arresting them and going through any paperwork. His nocturnal activities put him in the company of people who are enjoying a fun new drug. Fun until it makes the user hallucinate some scenario that leads to their sudden death. It's a great product though, apparently, and Payne will come up against a variety of enemies as he sets out to destroy the supply chain. He might also come closer to finding out just why his wife and child were killed.

I really hoped that I would be able to list SOME positives here, considering how often I can find the simplest pleasures in films that are otherwise not really worth giving time to. Unfortunately, that's not the case. There's not one thing here that actually works. The script is a messy mass of clichés, which could have worked if the design, characters, and tone of the film had been managed better. Moore directs with the approach of someone who is actually stringing together videogame scenes without any need to worry about the plotting in between. Are there moments that look pretty cool? Yes. I'd say there were about four or five. You do get the slo-mo bullets, and you also get some demons that appear to the drug addicts who are about to quickly shuffle off this mortal coil. Those moments are the only ones I am willing to acknowledge as being remotely considered highlights.

Wahlberg is very . . . Wahlbergian in the lead role. He's tough. He scowls a lot. He's a tortured soul who wants to make the world a better place. It's a horrible performance from him, despite the fact that he's a potentially great fit for the role. The supporting cast has some better faces, but none of them get good enough material to work with. Olga Kurylenko is a welcome addition to any film, as I have said on many occasions, but she's not onscreen for long enough. Mila Kunis is similarly under-used, and her character is not one that plays to her strengths. Beau Bridges pops in and out of the proceedings until an inevitably strong presence in the finale, and I guess he tries his best, but there are better small turns from Donal Logue, Amaury Nolasco, and Ludacris.

It lacks any decent writing or characters, which isn't entirely unexpected when you go into a movie based on a videogame, but it also lacks enough moments that showcase some cool FX work, doesn't have any memorable set-pieces, and seems unable to move in any way from the plodding and sombre tone that you don’t really want from a lightweight videogame movie.

3/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Prime Time: Cast A Dark Shadow (1955)

Dirk Bogarde is a ladykiller. That's not a spoiler. It's clear from the very first scenes of Cast A Dark Shadow. Bogarde plays Edward, a man who is married to the much wealthier, and much older, Monica (Mona Washbourne). He arranges for her to die in a way that looks like an accident, hoping to be the main recipient of her wealth. Things don't go entirely according to plan, but it doesn't leave Edward in a terrible situation. While still pretending to mourn the loss of his wife, he sets his sights on a new target, a widow named Freda (Margaret Lockwood). Freda has wealth, but she likes to ensure that their relationship is always managed 50/50, which leads to Edward potentially lining up his next victim, a woman named Charlotte (Kay Walsh).

Based on a play, "Murder Mistaken", by Janet Green, this is a wonderfully entertaining thriller that wrings humour out of the fact that our lead, a dastardly villain who just happens to have the charm and handsome looks of Bogarde, is driven into a greater state of desperation and impatience with every moment that sees him not being immediately rewarded for his misdeeds. It's not a film laced with obvious comedy, but it does seem to encourage viewers to relish Edward beginning to wriggle and thrash around as the worsening situation closes around him like a fishing net.

Directed by Lewis Gilbert, who has some great films tucked away later in his filmography (including a few Bond movies and Alfie, which features a character who could have easily taken a path to turn him into this character), this is a film that doesn’t take long to get going at all and then manages to maintain a brisk pace all the way to a fitting ending. The script by John Cresswell is twisted and witty, especially once Edward meets Freda, and this is a film that enjoys watching the main character deal with others around him, be they potential victims, a suspicious solicitor (played by Robert Flemyng), or even just a house servant (Kathleen Harrison) who needs coached and nudged in certain directions.

Bogarde shines in the main role, one that makes the most of his charm and allows him to convey an inner darkness, which he did successfully a number of times. Lockwood brings a different energy to the film, and she is a worthy “opponent” to Bogarde, with the two characters at times feeling very suitable for one another. Flemyng does well, and is allowed to be the one person suspicious of Bogarde’s character from the very start, and Walsh throws a spanner in the work in the third act, making you wonder what exactly the next move from our central character will be. Although she has the least amount of screentime, Washbourne does as well as everyone else, a sweet and oblivious victim who thinks she is set for a long period of happiness in her twilight years.

The ending, like so many from the yesteryear of cinema, is quite predictable, going by the code used to ensure that things always end with the needle of the moral compass pointing back to “true North”, but it is no less enjoyable for it.

Wonderful stuff, featuring a main character who you want to see get his comeuppance, but not until he has managed to dig himself into a much deeper hole as he grows more and more ill-tempered.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Noir-vember: The Big Clock (1948)

Based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing, and with a screenplay mainly credited to Jonathan Latimer, The Big Clock is a superb classic noir that also has a lightness of touch to give it a greater sense of fun than most of the other films it could sit alongside.

Ray Milland is George Stroud, the hero of the piece. He works for a crime magazine, and he's long overdue a holiday with his wife, Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan). Unfortunately, he also works for a very demanding and ungrateful boss (Earl Janoth, played by Charles Laughton). After another very bad day at the office, so to speak, George ends up on a drunken evening out with Pauline York (Rita Johnson). Pauline is an on-off girlfriend of Earl, and she thinks that she and George can team up to effectively spite him. That's not about to happen, however, as Pauline winds up dead, and George is tasked with trying to find the perpetrator for a scoop. He isn't told who the victim is, which leads to him unwittingly getting his team to look for a mystery prime suspect who starts to feel VERY familiar.

Although it has that aforementioned lightness of touch, don't go thinking that The Big Clock doesn't keep winding up the tension as events unfold. It is, to use the overused phrase, a coiled spring throughout most of the middle section. Things look bleak for George, despite the fact that he should be able to have the truth on his side. Director John Farrow makes great use of his cast, using them to lift the material (not that the script is terrible, not at all) with how well they all interact with one another, and he ensures that the plotting stays simple and clear throughout. Things may be a bit contrived in the first half of the movie, but it is so enjoyable that it doesn’t feel problematic.

Milland is a dependable lead, good at being the kind of everyman you want in this role. Johnson makes a strong impression with her few main scenes, allowed to have a lot more fun than O’Sullivan, who has to do little more than be the loyal and supportive wife throughout. Laughton is a great antagonist, working through a plan that is formulated by a conniving character also employed by him (played by George Macready), and you also get a performance from Elsa Lanchester that allows her to steal any scene she is in.

Although some may prefer their film noirs to have more darkness and grit, dismissing The Big Clock would be a big mistake. It’a a hugely entertaining thriller that only just misses out on being a minor classic. And I am now even more interested to check out one of the main remakes it had, No Way Out (1987).

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Monday, 15 November 2021

Mubi Monday: Les Bonne Femmes (1960)

With a title that translates to Good Time Girls, and a number of moments in the opening act that show typical happy-go-lucky "swinging '60s" shenanigans, French style, you could be forgiven for thinking that Les Bonne Femmes is nothing more than a bit of entertaining fluff. Nothing too heavy. There's a bit more to this though, a melancholy and darkness that grows on the way to the finale.

There are four women being shown here. Jane (Bernadette Lafont) seems to have quite an easy life, and no shortage of admirers. Ginette (Stéphane Audran) is becoming more and more fed up with her day job, and looks forward to the evenings when she can do what she loves, performing on stage. Rita (Lucille Saint-Simon) may be heading towards happiness with her fiancé, but it's quite obvious that he doesn't really value her personality, and he certainly views her as being much less intelligent. And then there's Jacqueline (Clotilde Joano), a woman being stalked before stalking was properly defined (I guess). Jacqueline comes to quite like the man who follows her around, but that doesn't seem like a way to find love and happiness.

An early film in the directorial career of Claude Chabrol, and written by Paul Gégauff, this feels like a strange mix of the progressive and the traditionally moralistic, perhaps due to the fact that Parisian women at that time would experience the same mix of attitudes in their everyday life. Hell, women still experience it nowadays. There's a sense of the camera being a detached, and impassive, observer while the people who surround the four female characters underestimate, dismiss, or covet them. 

Things seem to happen all at once or not at all, once again perfectly portraying the experiences of these women. Time can drag while they get through their work day, but it all starts to run out so fast when they're enjoying their free time. The action can get a bit frantic at times, but it's never incoherent.

Lafont, Joano, Audran, and Saint-Simon are all pretty great in their roles, with their similarities as easily defined as their differences. Saint-Simon is my personal favourite, but they all do well in presenting themselves as natural and believable women trying to simply find their ultimate happiness, in whatever form that might take. As for the other characters, most of them are men helping to show why they're probably not the prize for any of the women. All of the acting is fine, it's just depressing to see the many different ways in which these males fail to consider women as anything more than desirable accessories (something that also, sadly, happens too often nowadays).

Although it may feel a bit piecemeal to some viewers, Les Bonne Femmes is a fantastic piece of work, important for the time in which it was made and no less impressive nowadays. It may be over 60 years old, but it feels as if it could have been made in the last few years. That's good for film fans, although it's not quite so good for anyone who might be thinking we have progressed much, as a society seeking equal standards between the sexes, over the past half century or so.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Netflix And Chill: A Guest Is Coming (1947)

Directed by Arne Mattsson, a Swedish director that I seem to be unfamiliar with (and I don't want to write that in a way that implies I am otherwise teeming with knowledge about so many other movies, and talent, to have ever come from Sweden), A Guest Is Coming is a short, neat, and quite unspectacular, little mystery. What makes it more interesting is the noir style overlaying the material. This is a film that helps to keep the mystery dark and impenetrable by keeping most of its shots that way, with characters and grisly deeds often hidden in the shadows.

The plot is very simple. A number of people are gathered together in an old mansion, with a writer named George Essman (Sture Lagerwall) among them. Everyone is soon distressed when they find that one of their number is dead. It could have been an accident, but that looks unlikely. In fact, the evidence quickly points towards young Ragnar (Karl-Arne Holmsten). Siv (Anita Björk) hopes that it isn't him.

Written by Stieg Trenter, the script is arguably the weakest thing here. There are very few exchanges that feel fun or particularly witty, very few moments that feel as if they give characters more than one main trait to completely identify them, and even the final resolution falls flat. Considering the plotting, Mattsson cannot do too much to elevate the material, but he tries his best to keep everything looking nice and stylish.

Lagerwall is a decent amateur detective lead, smart and observant enough while onscreen, yet also able to fade into the background whenever the focus shifts to others. Holmsten and Björk are both fine, Gerd Hagman is enjoyable (playing a young woman named Christina), and everyone else does a good job of being a potential victim or prime suspect.

A Guest Is Coming is easy entertainment, but it never comes close to being anything more than that. It's a time-waster, a schedule-filler, even if it does have a different feel when compared to many of the British and American mystery thrillers from this era. If made in the modern era, it would be filmed with some gimmicky "noir" filter, which is all Mattsson seems to think it needs to help it stand out from more standard, and staid, tales of detection. And the thing is . . . Mattsson isn't entirely wrong. It's not always a good thing to receive a load of style over substance, but I'd rather watch that than a film without either of those things going for it.

It's a good thing that the look and feel of the film can help it become at least average. It's not so good that average is the best it can manage to be.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Shudder Saturday: Caveat (2020)

The idea of taking a job with some strange caveat attached to it is a common one in many movies, be they comedy, drama, or horror. It's most effective when used in horror though, in my opinion. People very much in need of money tend to ask less questions, whether or not they really want to. The room you're not to ever step inside, the item that is never to be touched, people who aren't to be spoken to, etc, etc.

Caveat is all about a man, Isaac (Jonathan French), who is offered some decent cash to simply stay in a house and keep an eye on a troubled young woman, Olga (Leila Sykes). The man hiring him, Moe (Ben Caplan), makes it all seem like easy money. Then Isaac finds out that the house sits alone on an isolated island, and he is asked to wear a restraining harness that will limit his movements in the house. This is to allay Olga's fears that someone will enter her room while she is sleeping. Obviously reluctant to put on the harness, Isaac is eventually persuaded to stay. It may be odd, but it should still be easy money. Then things start to get a bit spooky.

A superb feature debut from writer-director Damian Mc Carthy (who has also delivered a number of brilliant shorts, and I have enjoyed three of those: Hatch, He Dies At The End, and Hungry Hickory), Caveat is a psychological horror film that builds up a lot of traditional scares while unfolding a story that reveals a number of solid twists and turns. Shot in a way that shows the grimy environment as something akin to a warm world of sepia, and that cinematography is courtesy of Kieran Fitzgerald, it also highlights the importance of sound, with the music by Richard G. Mitchell complemented perfectly by every creak and rustle, and any other noise, that can put viewers on edge.

French does well in the main role, despite struggling to get over the main hurdle that the script has, convincingly taking on such a strange role. He's placed in a very vulnerable situation, but also benefits from the memory loss that his character has, making him an ambiguous figure as some main developments come to light. Sykes, who shares most of her screentime with French, is excellent. Her role could have easily been too unbalanced and twitchy, considering how her disturbed her character is supposed to be, but she gets to show that she's perhaps not actually as she has been described by others. She's traumatised. Caplan isn't onscreen as much, but he's very good in his role, just seeming ever so slightly untrustworthy from his first appearance (but without viewers knowing if there's any reason to view him that way, other than the strange job he is offering).

It may seem a bit of a stretch when things are clarified in the third act, there are one or two contrivances needed to maintain the tension as we head towards the end of the journey, but Mc Carthy sets everything up really well, and the talented cast are guided well by a script that works hard to keep everything plausible. More importantly, Caveat delivers some great scares, with the easier jump scares sprinkled throughout a film that proves constantly unnerving and tense.

This is highly recommended, and I cannot wait to see what Mc Carthy does next. Because he hasn't really put a foot wrong yet, from what I have seen of his work.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews


Friday, 12 November 2021

Noir-vember: The Lineup (1958)

A spin-off from a TV series that was itself based on a popular radio show, The Lineup is a solid little noir that takes a little while to find its feet, allowing viewers to see a little bit of actual police work, but finally settles in and buckles up for a speedy journey along some dangerous roads on the way to a superb, and inevitable, confrontation.

It all begins with a crash, one that results in death and the discovery of some smuggled heroin. The police eventually accept that a number of people entering America are unwitting drug mules, with the heroin often inside some souvenir. Viewers are then introduced to the decidedly dangerous Dancer (Eli Wallach) and Julian (Robert Keith). Driven around town by Sandy (Richard Jaeckel), these two men are going to be responsible for collecting drugs and delivering them to their next destination. Things don't go to plan, as is so often the case in any crime movie, and Dancer and Julian end up trying to make use of an unsuspecting mother and daughter (played respectively by Mary LaRoche and Cheryl Callaway).

Directed by Don Siegel, who is probably best known for his work with Clint Eastwood, this is an enjoyably unflinching slice of crooked unpleasantness. Written by Stirling Silliphant, a writer with a hell of a lot of entertaining hits in his filmography, everything works when viewers are eventually shown that Dancer and Julian are the main characters. Their actions allow us to see the criminal operation that has been described in dialogue between different authority figures, and they don’t have any edges softened as they start to interact with innocent people who don’t deserve to be drawn into their plans. It may not be as good as any one of the movies Siegel made during the last full decade of his career, but The Lineup definitely benefits from his ability to make slick entertainment featuring some tense set-pieces that give most of the screentime to people you wouldn’t ever want to meet in a dark alley.

Wallach and Keith are excellent, generally cool and business-like, but also able to act relatively normally when they are trying to put someone at ease in their company. LaRoche and Callaway are also very good, completely oblivious for a while to the danger they are in without seeming annoyingly stupid. Everyone else does what is asked of them, and Emile Meyer and Marshall Reed as the main cops trying to crack the case, but the film is at its best whenever Wallach and Keith are front and centre, which is fortunately for most of the runtime.

Get through those meandering early scenes, tolerate the supporting characters that you won’t really care for, and the film turns into something much better (about 15 minutes in, although I wasn’t clock-watching). It’s not one of the greats, lacking any real twists and turns on the way to the tense final sequence, but it’s certainly one I would recommend.

7/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews