Max Ophüls directs Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan and Art Smith in this tragic romance based on a Stefan Zweig novella.
The visual poetry of this is often disarmingly stunning. Shame the principal characters are so bland. I usually enjoy a ride on Joan Fontaine but she is saddled with a part way too vanilla and simpering for this beautiful weepie to live up to its reputation.
Sidney Lumet directs James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick and Helen Mirren in this comedy drama where the horny young resident doctor in a ICU unit is pulled apart by the senior staff, his patients’ families and the lawyers who represent everyone… including him.
One of many sputtering attempts to “do” a Catch-22 in the American healthcare system, this works better as a farce than an expose. There’s a lot of greats behind the camera and in front but nobody does their finest work. Albert Brooks makes a decent stab as the potty older head of department who wrote the book back in the day and collects the bills now… he sparkles even under a ton of dodgy old man make-up. Why bother with this when ER box sets are on All4 and Bringing Out The Dead is so much more aggressively chaotic and bleak?
Robert Fuest directs Vincent Price, Virginia North and Joseph Cotten in this horror where a deformed killer and his assistant bump off a group of hospital workers in elaborate ways relating to the ten plagues of the Old Testament.
At its best when it is a dialogue free contraption… you can silently savour the garish sets and ornate death traps. Death by frog mask… and broccoli gravy. An obvious influence on Saw, it probably isn’t quite as good as Theatre of Blood and definitely isn’t a patch on Se7en. Yet maybe you want some ghoulish camp nasty in your life… this delivers better than most Hammer horrors and Amicus anthologies while playing in much the same ballpark.
Wong Kar-wai directs Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Rebecca Pan in this Hong Kong romance where two neighbours begin to suspect their spouses of having an affair.
The very definition of sensual cinema. Every tight floral dress and imperfect piece of stonework feels touchable. This is slow burn, tightly wound stuff powered by the restrained but palpable chemistry between two fantastic leads. Wong Kar-wai indulges his habit of never quite knowing when to end on a high, and while the flash forwards to the aftermath of the romance are welcome and teasing… they aren’t really in keeping with the minimalist yet intense nature of this two hander. A quibble that we see just a little more of the love affair than we really should.
Billy Wilder directs Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich in this Agatha Christie courtroom drama where a recuperating barrister, an oily husband and his unpredictable German wife engage in a battle of wits.
A wonderful filmed play embellished by Wilder’s satirically astute sense of impropriety. There’s three fantastic star performances here; Laughton’s wiley but mischievous blowhard, his real life wife Elsa Lancaster as his harried nurse (the perfect comedy foil) and Dietrich. She feels a little underused in the first two acts (and the film sags a little during the court case) but once the third act twists start unspooling at an overwhelming pace she takes centre stage. At previews, audience members received, and were asked to sign, cards that read, “I solemnly swear I will not reveal the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” Even the Royal Family who attended the U.K. premiere where sworn to secrecy in a nice bit of marketing hyperbole. The still genuinely clever big reveals are now 65 years old but I won’t tell either.
Kevin Smith directs Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in this religious satire road movie where two fallen angels threaten reality by trying to cross the threshold of a cathedral in New Jersey.
This felt like a pretty big deal the Christmas it came out. Released under the weight of controversy and possible censorship, Smith’s one true play to capitalise on the critical goodwill generated by Chasing Amy and become a serious filmmaker… plus it saw the Good Will Hunting stars reunited. And already being a big fan of what was becoming the View Askew universe, I lapped it up. Laughed my arse off, spotted the Easter eggs and chewed over the smarter ideas. Flaws and all, it still holds up strong. Smith trying to be a more visually astute moviemaker falls flat but you can at least see the effort to try and match the budget in his generally dull, talky compositions. It can feel very much like a foul mouthed theology lesson from scene to scene. Alan Rickman, Chris Rock and Salma Hayek all serve the same purpose… to dump reams of obscure Christian mythology at you. But who wouldn’t want to see any of those three actors thump out pages of dialogue? Hayek even does a very hot baby pink striptease that is worth the admission price alone. For the Smith faithful Jay and Silent Bob get plenty of good bits of business and Jason Lee is gifted with one of his better roles. There’s a lot to savour and unpack here. It is very much my jam. I doubt other generations will care about the cameos and dirty humour of it… but like all of Smith’s earlier, funnier ones… this feels tailor made for me.
Leos Carax directs Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg in this rock opera where a stand-up comedian’s relationship with his opera singer wife and his puppet daughter disintegrates.
Tried to go into this with as open a heart as possible but this kinda of pretentious, anus gazing just isn’t for me. It almost had me with the sung to camera “let’s start the show” prologue but any goodwill was ground out over the next two hours. Some of Sparks’ full songs stay in your head for days after. Cotillard’s doomed face is always welcome in any context. Though the movie does just seem to want to dress her up like a doll with a never ending wardrobe until the inevitable point where she is killed off. Then we are just stuck in misery with a monotone Driver and a creepy marionette. The lead character’s stand-up routines would never work in reality but someone liked the poetry around the idea that a comedian “kills” and “dies” on stage. So we have to endure them. Where are we by the end? Bored and restless. Really not for me but you might be seduced by the visual big swings it takes… but I’m betting you won’t.
James Wan directs Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson and George Young in this horror where a woman begins to have visions of brutal murders as they happen.
A real sweet and sour experience. The sweet is just how extreme it all is. There are shocks and brutality that feel like something from a few decades ago. If Saw was gory and The Conjuring was classy then this is Wan at his most unhinged and untethered. I’d love to see the studio notes some poor executive had to feedback on any cut of this. Joseph Bishara pumps up the giallo mood with a vigorous score, the whole thing has the colour scheme and erratic plotting of Argento or Fulci at their least coherent. The sour though is constantly irritating. Terrible, flat acting across the board, a sense of unreality that never bares fruit. A horrendous over reliance on CGI that smothers some really disturbed practical FX stuff. You know where Malignant is going from the very start yet it does surprise you quite often, the story beats it emphasises are so full fat and histrionic you want to overlook all that is… a bit shit… about it.
Liesl Tommy directs Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans in this bog standard Aretha Franklin biopic.
I had high hopes for this as Hudson is such unsurpassable casting in the central role. Yet it ploughs the musical life story sub-genre’s well dug furrows with a complete lack of imagination. Scenes after scene of quite traumatising tragedy is given little impact as it feels like a box ticking exercise rather than a storytelling challenge. Towards the end there is the unintentional vibe that Aretha actually needed a domineering violent man in her life to stop her going off the rails. That can’t be what they were hoping to convey, surely? The middle section where she finds her sound and develops her voice and autonomy allows Hudson to shine. The other stuff is very meh considering it takes in child abuse, wife beating and alcoholic breakdowns. Welcome support from Whitaker and Marc Maron keep Respect from being a complete disappointment. And, it almost goes without saying, the soundtrack is exceptional. Lacking the cheese of Bohemian Rhapsody or the rare qualities of Walk The Line this truly needed to make more definitive narrative choices to standout.
Joseph Ruben directs Elijah Wood, Macaulay Culkin and Wendy Crewson in this thriller where a grieving nephew stays with his extended family only to discover his cousin is a budding psycho.
Dull and ridiculous, a very difficult combination to pull off. Culkin is trying to play against brand and it just doesn’t work. The genesis of the project is far more fascinating than the end product. The first draft of the screenplay was written by great novelist Ian McEwan. Heathers’ Michael Lehmann was fired from the director’s chair very late into pre-production. There are a couple of shots and moments that do suggest a visual and psychological sophistication but they stand out like sore thumbs within the rest of the thin gruel result. Special mention must go to the late great Elmer Bernstein’s atrociously incongruous score. If you ever need proof that nobody had a handle on what they were making here then the jarringly upbeat and old fashioned soundtrack is the smoking gun.