Michael Curtiz directs Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid in this gold standard slice of studio era filmmaking.
Bogie and especially Claude Raines are both utterly wonderful here. You could watch an entire mini-series of just them respectfully bullshitting each other. Everyone talks in double speak but the scripted lies and hidden truths are so poetically phrased it is like witnessing a tongue-twister seduce a lullaby. Bergman is inarguably gorgeous and for a film about cynical people in an exploitative situation it is all heart and romance… she’s just the only one pure enough and therefore not scared to wear hers’ on her sleeve. Classic moment after classic moments cascade into each other. Perpetual perfection. They don’t make them like this anymore… they only made them like this once! “Here’s looking at you, kid!”
Raja Nawathe directs Manoj Kumar, Nanda and Helen in this Bollywood murder mystery where the passengers of a charter flight are abandoned on a desert island with their dark secrets and a hidden killer.
I was often very bored by this but the upbeat musical numbers have a camp pizazz that made up for the continually lazy storytelling.
William Friedkin directs Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino and Karen Allen in the serial killer mystery where a New York City cop goes deep undercover at various Gay rough sex pick-up spots, gradually questioning his own identity.
Al Pacino poses as a Tom Of Finland hunk. A running joke on the Rewatchables podcast, Cruising is a kinda notorious but little seen cult classic. A bête noire even during production – activists picketed the location shoot with disruptive results, gay business owners withdrew their venues from filming and the press gave it a continual kicking. But it does appear the loudest voices weren’t exactly representative of the entire community. A thousand locals of “the scene” took part as extras – and, boy oh boy, are the populous underground club sequences convincing and electric. When anyone walks down into a basement or past a bouncer things go heated and heaving almost instantaneously. You can feel the mixed sweat, breathe in the poppers and get caught up in the sleazy thrust. Even by today’s standards Cruising is a pretty full-on, wholly unique cinematic experience. And modern commentators have suggested it was particularly the mainstream gay community who didn’t like being represented by the more extreme S&M / leather fringes of the nightlife recreated ever so luridly here… but that doesn’t mean these fringes didn’t exist and weren’t difficult to find. Friedkin revels in any imagery or act that would shock or disturb suburban straights without ever crossing a line and showing his box office draw partaking in more than a risky flirtation with it all. The director is drawn to the extremes but in a strange way because of this unflinching obsession the film almost now feels like an affectionate message in a bottle from a lost era. Watching the bears and the twinks of the Carter administration dance and fuck the night away in the meat packing district with tribal wild abandon has lost much of its initial freak show exploitation vibe. Now you just catch a glimpse of a happier, more carefree lifestyle and a generation that AIDS and political prurience sadly killed off pretty soon after. The real strength of Cruising is while you are being taken as a tourist into some pretty exotic territory, Friedkin documents it more convincingly than the awkward half hearted dashes into to the same clubs in Bohemian Rhapsody, or even the superior Pose. Four decades of acceptance and boundary breaking later and representation of homosexual lust rings more awkward and false now than in this horny overlooked genre flick. As a cop thriller, Cruising is a little too loose to be considered on a par with The French Connection but it does manage to pull off a similar coup to Basic Instinct by the end. As a withdrawn, shell shocked Pacino puts the case to rest, we aren’t very sure he has caught the real killer or if there ever was just one lone wolf among all these hedonists. Everyone remains a suspect. Awesome punk soundtrack too.
John McNaughton directs Rae Dawn Chong, Tom Towles and Antonio Fargas in this sci-fi horror where an alien is condemned to Earth as punishment but must regularly steal and wear new heads to stop himself from mutating.
Made in-between Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Mag Dog & Glory this sleazy Cannon production has lots of gore and strangeness. Imagine Men In Black but with an 18 certificate. Like every VHS gem, it seems more fascinated in bums and punks than the cops and final girl. The plot prescribes that the cast is inherently interchangeable, our titular parasite swaps personas every twenty minutes or so. Nobody can claim to be the protagonist in a production this busy and distracted. Though a young Mädchen Amick does turn up for an early walk-on part as a shotgun-toting garage band groupie and you kinda wish she was the lead. Nasty and silly, not a classic but satisfyingly typical of its own strange little sub-genre.
Niki Caro directs Kevin Costner, Maria Bello and Carlos Chalabi in this sports drama where a white coach moves to predominantly poor, Mexican neighbourhood and starts a cross-country running team.
The White Saviour narrative you all hate but based on a true(ish) story… so suck it! Costner couldn’t be more honky in this… his character is called Mr White, he only drinks Coca-Cola and he is baffled by the concept of tacos. Was 1987 really that culturally segregated? Anyway… the joke is often on him as he integrates slowly but eventually willingly into his new community. All the sports team cliches are trotted out but here they are delivered with such a pure heart and unashamed confidence that you can’t help but be entertained. A throwback to the Eighties era of family films… one where Costner’s now quaint brand of star power shines through. I know tales where people get along, work together and acknowledge and respect each other’s differences are seen as relics these days but this effortlessly hits a now overlooked sweet spot.
Céline Sciamma directs Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla and Lindsay Karamoh in this French teen drama about an estate girl who joins a gang when her options and prospects narrow.
I know I’m going to have to rescind my Letterboxd membership for saying this but I found this facile and meh. White middle class tourism through issues and emotions that don’t just need unsolicited justification and unwarranted celebration from the voices latching on. Marieme is a sweet faced but dull kid who becomes a bully and rejects a job. Sure, cleaning ain’t anyone’s chosen career, it certainly ain’t a middle class dream job in the arts or finance. But then she should’ve worked harder on her grades if she wanted to chase that distant carrot. Loads of kids from these backgrounds do, some even beat the odds of rigged game privilege and succeed. And that abandoning of the limited path offered to her is treated like an act of defiance that should be celebrated… and her only option as a failed citizen?! Yet unlike, say, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Fish Tank, there’s no sophistication or intelligence or emotional texture to this angry voice. There’s barely a voice. Marieme stays silent and stoic throughout and I suspect that’s due to a lack of confidence on Sciamma’s part. If her avatar was to make a definitive statement it might betray the lack of integrity inherent in the project. Words and declarations would reveal the inauthenticity and discomfort way too blatantly. And unlike say The Warriors or This Is England we don’t even share any illicit, exploitative thrill of the tribalism of gang life. We can’t have our cake, we can’t eat it. A black working class voice should have been given this budget and opportunity. Because it doesn’t ring true beyond a tabloid understanding of the issue and broadsheet handwringing about the problem. I grew up with kids like this of all colours, intelligence and ambitions. I can promise you you wouldn’t want to be on a metro carriage with them when they brandish their knives and act obnoxious. La Haine took a gamble and managed to paint its angry young faces as real, complex, relatable humans. This is only interested in lip service tragedy. Fairy tale gangsterism. Instagram politics, surface level proselytising. The Rihanna sequence and the scrubland fights are high points. Sciamma is good at making you feel the feels and her visual handwriting is always impeccable. Otherwise this is too basic to really be anything more than a feature length awayday for soft people who will never be in this trap but want to act oppressed and put-upon anyway.
Alfred Hitchcock directs Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and John Gavin in this horror thriller where a lonely lad who runs a deserted hotel has to contend with the corpses his mother keeps gifting him with.
I love Psycho. Love the urgent, bullying score by Bernard Herrmann. I love the illicit introduction where we sneak, like frustrated peeping toms into the lovers hotel room after a cheeky nooner. I love Perkins amazingly seductive protagonist – slightly camp, slightly unhinged yet loveable. I love his and Marion’s back room chat that flirts and skirts and teases with revealing the deadly truth of the trap they have found themselves in. Like blood circling a plug hole, it only has one destination. I love the shower sequence which feels like a time traveller has wandered into a old staid, black and white movie and shown you a fast paced, unrestrained vision of the future. I love the breathtaking pause when a car stops sinking in a swamp. The future is horrendous and lurid and disturbing! And I love that big reveal.
Everything about Psycho is wonderful, flawless… except Doctor Exposition from the school of yakety-yak at the close down. He can do one! I always start planning the rest of my day as he burbles through what we already know or suspected or feared. That one teeny tiny misstep aside and Psycho is amazing.
What caught my eye this time is how Hitch makes us feel complicit in both of his leads’ mania. For the first half of the film we are Marion Crane… we live her internal monologue, her paranoid POV. We ride her rollercoaster of sleazy workplace temptation, lapse of judgment, guilt, police harassment and eventual clarity. Hitch sympathetically makes us experience the weekend of an amateur embezzler, life on the run for a ordinary citizen… in the first person. Would we fare any better than Marion Crane? But then the shower turns on, we have a psychotic break… a schizophrenic shift. Suddenly we are Norman… a far less regular character… we have to dutifully dispose of bodies, evade snoops who are smarter than us and keep mother’s rotten secret… a secret that doesn’t bear acknowledging.
The iconic murder of Marion Crane isn’t just shocking for it implied violence. It is a pivotal moment where we swap criminal minds from the opportunistic and forgivable to the deviant and unpredictable. Hitch stabs us and slashes us and wraps us in a shower curtain, when we awake we have tagged out of being a normal person who has made one impulsive, foolish decision and we are now looking through the eyes of a mind we shouldn’t be able to fathom… but chillingly can. Psycho is a cruel work of empathy and identification. A masterpiece of terror as it makes us first victim, then accomplice to brutal, bloody murder.
Alfred Hitchcock directs Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery and Diana Baker in the psychosexual mystery where a frigid cat burglar gets cornered by a publishing tycoon who wants to get the bottom of all of her hang-ups.
Expertly crafted but incredibly iffy in its sexual politics. The “hero” is a rapist who traps his beloved like an exotic pet in a cage of blackmail. Hitch is so obsessed with finally being allowed to do whatever he wants to one of his gorgeous blonde dolls that he forgets to include any motor in the plot. The film’s sole purpose is to get into and control the immaculate ice queen’s knickers… whether by force, coercion or cod amateur Freudian therapy. It makes for an awkward, bleak and naively dated film. Yet it unlocks and emphasises Hitch’s concerns and peccadillos far more than his Vertigos and Frenzys… Marnie feels like an ornate and impressive skeleton key. Hedren should be praised as she somehow humanises her fetishistic titular part.
Victor Fleming directs Ingrid Bergman, José Ferrer and Francis L. Sullivan in this period drama following the virgin saint’s journey from warrior prophet to burned heretic.
A confession. I watched this over a series of nights in chunks before I fell asleep. And it is so stodgy and turgid that my eyes started to droop after only 10 minutes most evenings. It is not a complete write-off; there’s a pretty hack happy battle in the middle, the cinematography become very beautiful in the final moments. But this is now an inessential relic.