James Wan directs Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Lili Taylor in this “based on a true story” horror rollercoaster.
Much like Speed is the purest action movie, this is THE pure horror movie. It might not be first, scariest, creepiest, hippest, arty-est, bombastic, smartest, funniest, goriest, well acted or well directed (that last one is up for debate) but it is the best example of its form that works as an entertainment first with no pretentious distracting bells and whistle. It spins every plate in the haunted house stage show, vaudeville terror with modern craft. There are horror movies I love more but very few which put you through the ringer so expertly and confidently. Every element from the FX, editing, sound mixing and acting is superiorly executed. The sheer assurance and unabashed sincerity of the construct devours you. Pummels you with orchestrated fear. Fourth watch now and I still dread the darkness the next few nights getting up for a wee in my sleep afterwards. James Wan is a gleefully malevolent trickster and his mastery of the big screen’s blackest spell is definitive. Roll on Number 3!
Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg direct Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson and David Ogden Stiers in this animated musical romance where Disney glosses up the historical relationship between a Native American princess and white invader John Smith.
I think the only way to sanely approach this is as a very attractive musical. The hypnotic pinks and blues pop as nature joins the symphony, likewise standout ballad “Colors of the Wind” is a magisterial hymn to unspoiled America. Once you start considering the actual history this is based around you are onto an unavoidable loss. The representation of the Powhatan people is possibly the most positive seen in a mainstream film but all this lovey dovey “follow your heart” stuff is clearly a preamble to their eventual genocide. Can you separate the reality from the fairy tale when it is named after a real life figure? At some point in the 85 minutes you have to consider the strikingly composed titular character who has your full engagement was a child used as a sexualised bargaining chip rather than a romantic figure of diplomacy. You can’t stop your brain taking you out of the wonder and wooing. And the ultimate message that if both sides just got along then none of this parasitic imperialism would ever take place is… well… offensively naive! But like I say, I’ve turned up for Disney not debate… you can’t deny the technical beauty and the sweep of the animation. It is a well crafted brazen show-off of a movie. Pocahontas would have been an easier fantasy to indulge in if they just rebranded it under a made-up name populated by composites inspired by, but not directly representing, the tragic historical figures.
A wonderfully over the top entertainment. Made in the wake of Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, this is easily the slickest, most cartoonish action movie to follow those more somber eulogies to the fading genre. Shame The Quick And The Dead didn’t capture the general public’s imagination more as it is a pacey and spectacular blast. Sam Raimi has never seen a comic book angle he didn’t want to recreate in live action. Dante Spinotti lenses Academy Award winner Patrizia von Brandenstein’s elaborate lived in production design with a glowing reverence, as if it were the second coming of sets. Alan Silvestri’s score apes all the greats from The Big Country to spaghetti westerns via his own Predator theme. And this is a wondrous movie for character actors getting showy roles; Lance Henriksen, Keith David and Tobin Bell are just some of the distinctive pistoleros seeded through the early knockout rounds. The leads all have a ball, in fact, I’ve never seen Leonardo DiCaprio betray quite so much joy in a role as he does here as the baby-faced Kid. Gene Hackman gets a couple of meaty monologues and always feels like a fully fledged threat to the white hats he faces down. Russell Crowe makes an excellent impression in his Hollywood debut – the man of the cloth who can’t help but be a man of action when he is being drawn on. This is first and foremost a vehicle for Sharon Stone, she does fine work as the well attired but mysterious no-name we mainly invest in. Rather than lazily write her as supernaturally more capable than the freakish villains and the blowhard men, this angel of vengeance often suggests a hint of fear and trauma beneath her outwardly gruff and steely composure. And when she does what she has to do in the big finale it feels earned rather than a fait accompli. Shazza gets some neat lines and arousing moments in the downtime, never getting lost in the flamboyant ensemble. As a western fan, I find this near perfect but I do concede some might see the overly affectionate polishing of all the old cliches and tropes a bit one note. For us Gen X tenderfoots, this is Red Dead Redemption heaven.
Jules Dassin directs Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov and Maximilian Schell in this Technicolor heist film set in Turkey.
25% exotic milf Melina Mercouri vamping it up. 25% gentle comedy fluff. 25% travelogue filler. 25% heist film. No portion is all that bad but if you’ve quite reasonably bought a ticket for an intensely executed robbery as in Rififi then Topkapi can demand a fair amount of patience. When the dangling museum set piece that was expertly homaged in De Palma’s Mission:Impossible does begin, it is more than worth the wait.
Márta Mészáros directs Kati Kovacs, Teri Horvath and Juhász Jácint in this Hungarian youth drama where an orphan reaches adulthood and visits the mother who abandoned her at their farm.
A pleasing message in the bottle from Eastern Europe’s recent past. Melancholy, hip, sensitive. A lonely young adult experiences rural life and glimpses the frozen-in-time world her mother must have lived in when she was her age. What is fascinating is Mészáros then shows us the single girl returning to her lonely life as a factory worker in Budapest and just how much is the same. Rip-off Beatles bands play bastardised pop hits about freedom, boys want girls for one thing only getting romantic once rejected, money controls even small interactions like swimming wild or meeting a stranger for lunch. This isn’t a spectacular film, not even particularly cohesive, but it has stayed with me over the last week. The well composed wide shots giving way ever so occasionally to impactful moving close-ups, the minimalist storytelling that hints at meaningful depths. An enigmatic ending. I might retry this soon if the effect proves lasting. Modest but emotionally mature.
Sidney Lumet directs Rebecca De Mornay, Don Johnson and Stephen Lang in this courtroom thriller where an ambitious attorney takes on the client from hell – a manipulative ladykiller with his eyes on her as his next doomed plaything.
Lumet slumming it, seemingly better than the Larry Cohen script he is working from…. And yet too stodgy to have any of the sleazy larks the high concept schlockmeister would have had with it if he just directed it himself. For an erotic thriller, there’s minimal sex. The most fruity aspect is underdeveloped – rich wives will seemingly do anything for Johnson’s gigilo once he ensnares them. How does that work? Is the dicking that good? Or do his insidious mind games turn them all into self destructive slaves? A better film would relish the prospect of exploring this subplot further… even have De Mornay come closer to becoming one of his near brainwashed Stepford Conquests. Yet after some malicious flirtation and half hearted evidence planting, we end up with a stunt finale that feels abrupt and inconclusive. De Mornay is miscast in the hero role… she is so much better as ice queen and life wrecker, seeing her on the other side of the equation feels wasteful. She visibly struggles. In one scene Johnson makes the world’s most aggressive sandwich, seemingly relishing the mayonnaise on his fingers more than the ladies he grapples with. Stephen Lang is stuck in the nagging boyfriend role, sporting a Seventies porn moustache and perm that must have some implied significance that has long since lost its power. Not even workable as throwaway airport novel pulp. Can’t believe I’ve somehow chosen to watch this twice in my movie watching life!
Henri-Georges Clouzot directs Brigitte Bardot, Sami Frey and Charles Vanel in this French courtroom drama in which a wayward girl’s sex life is put under the microscope after she kills her lover.
A mixture of French courtroom procedure and flashbacks through the accused’s life, this works best as a youth movie first and a crime movie second. I think most people approach La Vérité, owing to the title, as a Rashomon investigation into people’s perspectives on a murder. I think that kinda misses the point and does the narrative a disservice. We are never meant to doubt the sincerity of Bardot’s unfortunate Left Bank sex kitten or mistrust her testimony. The predicament is that she is being judged by a conservative, hypocritical, aged patriarchy unwilling to see the humanity in her story. They want to blame her; her youth, her femininity, her allure, her freedom, her rejection of social norms. Her guilt is she is living a way of life of they do not want to admit to… to allow into evidence. Tragic and doomed Dominique is modernity… for all it naivety, faults and insecurity. The conservative system has very little heart for her plight, but also can not be seen to validate the permissive changes that the Sixties will bring. The Truth is that French values are shifting, but the accused has broken the rules too early to be forgiven by the state. Bardot here is a more calamitous peer to Julie Christie’s Darling. The worst case scenario of what might happen to a young girl who doesn’t want to submit to outmoded expectations of her. Even as she falls from rebel without ambition to martyr, she retains her desirability. We are meant to lust after her, even as men use her and assault her emotions. Perhaps we are meant to conclude that how can someone so desirable and so vivacious be treated as disposable? While Dominique is equally capable of wanton behaviour Clouzot shifts our sympathies from her less and less in the second half. Her position is far more precarious than those she commits her small transgressions against. The film does have pacing issues, but some of the best scenes (an all-night spurned lover staking out a hotel springs to mind, Paris shutting down and coming back to life) work because of their indulgence.
Richard Franklin directs Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles and Meg Tilly in this mystery sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s motel murderer classic.
Norman Bates is out… but is he cured? A series of murders spring up around the motel and a sexy waitress enters his life. Franklin affectionately reworks all the original’s iconic shots, locations and thrills. Each homage is given a fresh, alternative spin. It really is a very reverent yet inventive revisit to cinema heaven. Perkins gives probably his career best performance as the mentally fragile, eager to restart his life nutter. You are completely on his side, even when it seems highly likely that old habits die hard. This could have been an absolute car crash, and was somewhat treated as such offhand by critics still wearing their widow’s weeds so soon after Hitch’s passing, but Psycho 2 has aged up quite marvellously. Sure, it was never going to match 1960’s Psycho but it is a trashy, histrionics and camp little whodunnit in its own right.
Mark Frost directs James Spader, Jason Robards and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer in this erotic courtroom drama where a front runner in a New Orleans political campaign begins unravelling various mysteries he is connected to.
From the other creator of Twin Peaks. This has some lurches into strangeness, kinky sex scenes and way too many subplots. Its at its best whenever violence unpredictably arrives and destroys the genial facade of a fairly rote potboiler. Probably needed another twenty minutes runtime so the impact of the crowded twists can live up to the notably lived-in steamy atmosphere. Has a nicely discordant score from Carter Burwell.
Lee Daniels directs Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes and Garrett Hedlund in this musical biopic of jazz singer Billie Holiday and the FBI’s destructive hounding of her after she sang Strange Fruit.
Andra Day’s blistering, brave and sensual lead performance means this always out swims its flaws. There’s a ropey framing device that is quickly all but abandoned and the production values often suffers a blatant cheapness in the post war period set dressing. Lee Daniels is an awkward filmmaker, yet I appreciate his distinctive luridness. There is a pleasing amount of nudity from Day and Rhodes and their sex scenes have undeniable heat. Yet he does stumble head first through the cliches of the modern music biopic, more than once in a few cases. Which is frustrating as there is a strong and tight tale from history here that would be a cinematic romantic thriller in its own right even before you factor in Holiday’s legendary and revolutionary status within the entertainment world. A mixed bag but I kinda forgave it for being half flat and half clunky as I certainly was never bored watching Day.