Movie of the Week: In a Lonely Place (1950)

Nicholas Ray directs Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame and Martha Stewart in this noir romance where a troubled woman falls for the hot tempered, hard drinking screenwriter she has just provided an alibi for… but what if he did murder that girl?

Watched with Natalie at the Cameo on her birthday. Dark, brooding, poetic, sexy, witty, mysterious. This is a real fucking movie. Mood: a whisky glass stained with blood and lipstick. Get lost in its spell. Perfection.

10

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Hustlers (2019)

Lorene Scafaria directs Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Lili Reinhart in this true crime tale of NY lap dancers who drugged their white collar marks and maxed out their corporate cards for a better life.

A neon soaked, diamanté studded, juicy jiggling crowd pleaser. It owes a massive debt to Soderbergh; he is the only other director to put Jenny From The Block to such fantastic use, present strippers humanely while still getting all the visual bump ‘n’ grind right, and tell a con job in such a high wire fractured, yet deeply personal, way. No mere copycat though, Scafaria manages to spin the story away from being an alternative Wolf of Wiggling Wall Street, suddenly turning the honey trap power bitches into fake nail and big purse modern day version of A League of Their Own. In all honesty Hustlers feels like a lot of movies you’ve already seen… J-Lo and Wu’s initial interactions have all the form of a prison movie friendship… but these are movies you love, mashed up in such a way that only fleeting traces of the original influences are detectable. And Lili Reinhart’s adorably nervous good girl steals at least five scenes by dry retching… you don’t see that kinda body wit at the multiplex all that often.

8

Demons (1985)

Lamberto Bava directs Natasha Hovey, Urbano Baverini and Fiore Argento in this Argento produced horror about a Berlin cinema where the patrons start turning into things far, far worse than what is being projected up there on the big screen.

A cinema full of nerds, whores and punks slowly warp into killer freaks from hell. The finale involves a motorbike, a samurai sword and a helicopter… then things get apocalyptic. The church-like cinema is a glorious mind-boggling maze, the effects spurt and shift with a gloopy satisfaction. The girls simper and turn nasty hotly. After quite a lot of arty farty flicks, it was nice to watch a real beast of a movie on its mad, rabid rampage. A score to die for too.

8

Elles (2011)

Małgoska Szumowska directs Juliette Binoche, Joanna Kulig and Anaïs Demoustier in this drama about a middle aged journalist investigating college girls who become prostitutes in Paris.

A politically troubling film. On one hand it presents the pressures, risks and exploitation of young working class girls who sell their bodies. Very feminist in giving a voice to these silent, hidden, brave women. On the other hand you have some of the hottest actresses in European arthouse cinema baring all, doing degrading acts in seductive poses and it is all wonderfully lit. So Elles is one half polemic, the other half whacking material for the dirty mac brigade. I have no issue with either but it hardly sits well together. I guess what I really did like about Elles (apart from the obvious) is that it not only made clear it is Juliette Binoche’s class of person creating the conditions in which the young girls have to commodify their bodies but they want to remain ignorant it is precisely their type who are to blame. The journalist doesn’t fully grasp it is men like her rich husband who buy this type of girl for the night until the closing scenes, set the rents they can’t afford, arrange the bureaucracy that means there is no real safety net when these lower income workers find they cannot afford the middle class lifestyle of university. One woman talks of never forgetting the smell, Binoche’s posho assumes she means semen but she actually means her housing estate she left for educational advancement among the monied. Another describes the first meal her john makes her before pissing in her mouth, later Binoche unthinkingly prepares the same Waitrose-level cookery – too busy to see the parallel Szumowska is making. The film in its own way preempts my current feelings on identity politics. If everyone can make themselves a victim of an unjust society then suddenly the rich who are the biggest problem, the most exploitative, can let themselves off the hook because of some vague general gender / sexuality / race prejudice that other people suffer from and they co-opt. That’s not the main thrust of Elles, and there is some very arousing thrusting, but I liked the fact it was there in plain sight.

6

The Night of the Generals (1967)

Anatole Litvak directs Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif and Tom Courtney in this murder mystery war film, where a good German officer tries to figure out which of his superiors is slicing up prostitutes during the European theatre of war.

A massive afternoon devourer… the kinda film that could never live up to its six minute credit sequence. An easy dozen fantastic stars and character actors names framed by fetishising shots of Nazi uniforms and bombastic military marching band pomp. The Jack-The-Ripper in jackboots detective story gets sidelined for the plot of Operation Valkyrie in the last hour but either story allows for gloriously hammy grandstanding, spectacular action and attractive turns from O’Toole and a very self determined Joanna Pettet. It is no Doctor Zhivago but for a shameless David Lean wannabe epic it certainly gives dated old Lawrence of Arabia a run for its money. At least this knows it is nasty, distasteful, excessively budgeted hokum.

8

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981)

Just Jaeckin directs Sylvia Kristel, Nicholas Clay and Shane Briant in this Cannon Film Group’s adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s controversial and explicit upper class wife and manly servant love affair.

Derided on release and still of poor repute, this really ain’t half bad. Sure, Kristel and Clay give one note performances (often clunkingly dubbed) but their naked bodies look spectacular together. If you’ve turned up solely for the First Lady of Soft Porn she delivers everything you’d expect in terms of arty smut yet surprisingly her Mellor’s gets more flesh baring shots. It dashes through the plot and some of the deeper themes, there’s no real sophistication to this adaptation… but if you were studying the text for A-Levels you’d still get everything you’d need in terms of characters, narrative and philosophical ideas from this race across the story. York notes for the horny. Considering it is Cannon, studio heads Golan & Globus are infamous for their cheapo productions, it looks bloody marvellous. The rich period detail from lacy stockings to convincingly opulent location production values are gorgeous, albeit filmed in that hazy, Vaseline lensed “Letter to Playboy” way. Anton Furst who’d go on to do Production Design for Tim Burton’s Batman and Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves gets an early credit here. And while the leads are cast for their looks and lack of inhibitions, Shane Briant and Ann Mitchell gift us subtle, complex and often teasingly inscrutable bits of acting as the sidelined Lord Chatterley and his nurse respectively. I’ve watched this twice in my lifetime, enjoyed it both times and for a night of classy exploitation I’d argue it is quite the hidden gem.

7

What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1984)

Pedro Almodóvar directs Carmen Maura, Angel de Andres-Lopez and Chus Lampreave in this kitchen sink farce where a cleaning lady watches her family fall apart in a mundane world of sex and drugs.

I don’t think Almodóvar will ever direct a film I love but I am enjoying these early comedies much more than I expected. They go in random directions but the kink and strangeness never seems forced. While not laugh-out-loud funny I was certainly never bored. The bursts of sex and violence amongst the everyday worked really well.

6

Calibre (2018)

Matt Palmer directs Jack Lowden, Martin McCann and Tony Curran in this Scottish thriller where two city boys have to cover up a tragic death in a small hunting community, surrounded by those who have already marked them out as trouble.

Passable but the lack of any sympathetic or attractive lead characters means you never really care what happens next. Often what should be a hard, little throwaway thriller undermines itself by constantly issuing curveball “Get out of jail free” cards to the two prats scrabbling to escape. The intention is to replicate an earthy mixture of Shallow Grave, The Wicker Man and The Last Great Wilderness. Yet the encroaching strangeness and unavoidable doom of those superior Scottish films isn’t anywhere in the mix. It isn’t awful moment by moment, the production values are strong and Kate Bracken makes a nice impression as Iona, the town’s one humane character.

5

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003)

Jim Fields & Michael Gramaglia direct Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone and Tommy Ramone in this music documentary charting the rise and fall of the NY punk band that sold a billion t-shirts.

Scraps of footage and talking heads are smashed together into a life story that contradicts itself, gets lost in repetitions and doesn’t present the music particularly well. This really struggled to hold my attention.

4

Thief (1981)

Michael Mann directs James Caan, Tuesday Weld and James Belushi in this neo-noir where an independent safe cracker with a penchant for “ice” makes a deal with an organised crime devil.

Fluorescent light ravages the night sky. These are dark times, with no place to hide. A jagged cityscape where the utilitarian and the modern offer no comfort. An artificial world of glass, chrome and brick ready to explode. A Michael Mann world. James Caan’s titular Thief suits it. At one point he stabs spears of incandescent illumination into an “impenetrable” steel safe. He starts out master of his domain, smooth operator, beholden to no man, fingers in legitimate pies. Greed, love, want… three things gets him to break his code, get in with people who want to use him, control him, own him. The shady cops he can handle. The old boss who can give him everything he desires though, that man he underestimates. He wants a kid, a pragmatic normal life with Tuesday Weld (her beautiful black eyes have seen the same harshness and chaos this lifestyle brings), a clean life with no risk, his father figure to die free. The criminals aren’t true to their word. They deliver but the price is they want him forever. You can’t trust criminals. So Caan burns his world down. If he can’t be his own master, be in control, be free then he is going out with a scorched earth bang. Fuck them. This is primal genre work. Ugly and beautiful. Existential and lean. Full of meaningful dialogue and stoic, impactful set pieces. No excess. Just pure. Not basic. Pure.

8