Akira Kurosawa directs Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai and Yôko Tsukasa in this samurai classic that was remade into A Fistful of Dollars.
Rain. Wind. Dust. Kurosawa’ shots are constantly moving in every direction. Then again so is Mifune’s twitchy, over confident physical performance. The villains are colourful – like a Mad Max gang. The action teased protractedly then satisfyingly violent in bursts. Masaru Sato’s score is surprisingly jazzy. The whole thing is a perfect blend of claustrophobia and the epic. My favourite moment is when one capable hired sword gets an inkling of the violence to come and just decides to escape over the back wall. The two men of action wave at each other, acknowledging and accepting each other priorities and motivations in a silent but perfectly pitched time-out. A classic of Japanese cinema.
Alan Taylor directs Alessandro Nivola, Michael Gandolfini and Ray Liotta in this crime drama that acts as a prequel to the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos.
Is it top shelf gangster cinema? No… it certainly can’t hold a candle to Goodfellas or A Bronx Tale or even Sleepers. The nostalgia is there but it is pretty formless. Is it a lovely piece of above average fan service for those of us who want to scrape the spaghetti sauce clean off the plate with the last chunk of bread? Yes. Every character gets their little glow-up recast moment… echoes to the future we remember… Easter eggs to the beats that made the show iconic. Vera Farmiga as Livia is an uncanny hoot. Michael Gandolfini filling his father’s massive shoes as a teen Tony looks the part and does a decent stab at an angry but sensitive smart kid who has seen too much already to be a citizen. Whoever John Magaro is, his Silvio deserves a chef’s kiss… exceeding mannered impersonation and reaching pitch perfect tribute. So the gang has been rebuilt… they are background dressing to other characters’ arcs here. Characters only hinted at or half mentioned in the original 86 episode run.
Nivola carries the movie, the true lead as the charismatic but doomed Dickie Moltisanti. Ray Liotta slots in neatly in a dual role that reaffirms his unimpeachable legacy in this sub-genre. Michela de Rossi gets all the best scenes as the Italian immigrant beauty who goes from voiceless trophy to reckless goomah. These are the players who demand focus, the ones the story naturally follows. Are they given enough room to breathe? Make their mark? Just about. But its a hodge lodge of wonderful individual scenes where the acting is fine, the technique worthy of a big budget HBO pilot and brimming with nicely subtle character beats. Nivola downing a bottle of vodka in an alleyway before another mafiaso returns home is left in the midground, uncommented upon. A beep baseball game feels like a moment of fantasy worthy of Chase’s wilder experiments, those dreamscape interludes that made the original show a classic of its form. Either we should be spending more time with young Tony though … or less? Why do all these future leads gobble up the attention. It feels like we are skipping over hopscotch squares, back and forth but never getting anywhere. Immaculately chalked out on the pavement but clearly not a cinematic journey in its own right.
SPOILER: There is a thread where Dickie kills impulsively, almost Shakespearean-ly, everyone he loves and therefore rejects Tony so as not to repeat the same horrendous tragedy a third time. It just needs an extra scene or two in the second act to gain traction… and instead we are meeting young Carmella or baby Artie Bucco. We require the black mirror to be unwaveringly held between Tony the boss and his idol from the Sixties. The man who killed his beloved cousin and ordered the hit on the beautiful Adriana reflected in the past. That sociopathic weakness and inevitability happens here in this movie without absorption. Dickie Moltisanti’s bursts of murderous personal rage have no time for entire seasons of denial and percolation and guilt and loss. How can this two hour movie ever hope to compete with 70 hours of near perfection when it wants its call sheet to be just as busy?
Joe Carnahan directs Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo and Alexis Louder in this action thriller where a hitman and a target purposefully get themselves arrested in a police station and a tough cop has to do everything to stop them and everyone else from killing each other.
Eddie in 48 Hrs! Bruce Willis in Die Hard! Damon and Affleck in Good Will Hunting! Isn’t it exciting when a new star emerges straight out the gates? Where is their career going to go after that blistering breakout central performance? Like Harrison Ford or Anne Hathaway, are they continually keep going to go on to bigger better things after catching the eye? Or like Jason Schwartzman or Michael Beihn are they going to recede into the background a little too far after their big introduction to the general public? Some pretty boys take decades to live up to and mature into their reputations (see Cruise, Pitt). I know this yet I can’t ever see Chalamet cross over into my “liked” column… And it does seem Marvel have suddenly run out of charismatic breakout Chrises who can do comedy and action with aplomb! Very few Denzels or Amy Adams out there now, names who whatever they turn their hand to becomes a must-see… irrespective of eventual quality. So where will Alexis Louder land after this hard as nails, cool as hell debut? A stepping stone following Cynthia Erivo or Taraji P Henson onto more prestigious things? Or like co-star Frank Grillo a mainstay of genre work, always welcome, adding value, but shamefully never a household name? She makes such an impression… holds her own among the macho stars… that you wanna know what she is doing next? Grillo is on usual fine form and this might be the best thing Butler has been in for years… since Rock’N’Rolla which already feels a lifetime ago. It is a fine hotel movie… exactly what you want to appear on the TV schedule of Spanish or Moroccan TV that night when you’ve exhausted yourself doing touristy things and want to order room service in your pants. The action is gory and smokey, the influences hip and vintage. Carnahan does this aggressive, smart alec, claustrophobic nasty really well. Making the verbal sparring as strong as the blam-blam. He rips off Rio Bravo, he rips off Assault on Precinct 13 and he rips off his own Smokin’ Aces. None of those movies were that precious or original to begin with. I’d rewatch this again in a heartbeat even though it merely just does what it does with minimal bells and whistles.
Sergio Martino directs Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg and Luigi Pistilli in this giallo where a warring couple keep having to hide the bodies a mysterious killer keeps leaving for them.
There’s a murder mystery but this is more kinky sex romp than slasher. Unforgivably racist and often equally sexist, I’m surprised this has retained any kind of reputation. Although Edwige Fenech arrives after half an hour of bad taste boredom, then beds everyone and looks stunningly glamorous while doing anything. She saves the movie.
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 Lanchester 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.