Kiss of Death (1947)

Henry Hathaway directs Victor Mature, Coleen Gray and Richard Widmark in this noir where an imprisoned heist man turns informant when his wife sticks her head in the oven and his angelic kids are sent to the orphanage.

Victor Mature is a big clunky screen presence, he looks like a hand drawn caricature of Dean Martin or Robert Mitchum. He’s terrorised by Richard Widmark’s giggling killer. The Joker in all but face paint; he pushes old ladies down flights of stairs and blathers nonsense to anyone who listens. Coleen Gray is beautiful as the shimmering ray of hope who swoops in to turn Mature good when his wife offs herself. Domestic opportunists never looked so pretty and wholesome.

7

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Diva (1981)

Jean-Jacques Beineix directs Frédéric Andréi, Wilhelminia Wiggins Fernandez and Richard Bohringer in this French neo-noir where a postman bootlegs an opera singer who never records her performances and finds himself inadvertently caught in a criminal cover-up.

The official start of Cinema Du Look, the French mini-wave of cinema where cool visuals superseded storytelling and realism. It can feel more than a little vapid at times… the plot takes a while to coalesce, then the middle act is littered with sequences that have little bearing on the protagonist’s dilemma. Yet it does all come together, just before I lost patience with this revisit. The loose, haphazard multiple strand storytelling owes something to Louis Malle’s superior Elevator To The Gallows, the gripping comic book flavoured stand-off finale predates The Coen Brother’s similar Blood Simple by a few years. There’s a few brilliant high speed, marathon chases through Paris and a quirky romance. It is all very Parisian, very 1981. Not quite as good as I remember but worth seeking out.

8

47 Ronin (2013)

Carl Rinsch directs Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi in this fantasy adventure where a dishonoured group of samurai band together to fight the evil Lord who plotted their master’s downfall.

One of the biggest financial disasters in recent Hollywood history, I remember this being a perfectly ‘alright’ watch at the multiplex. Sure, there is a massive $175 million overspend here, a first time director and fudgey issues of cultural appropriation… but all that money is up there on-screen! We have a gorgeous looking slice of blockbuster with wondrous location work, lush costume design and good creature FX. So the dialogue often looks like it has been shot from the least acceptable angle, so they’ve crowbarred in a white star into the plot… there’s always something beautiful to marvel at. If you want honky-free samurai vengeance action then Takashi Miike’s contemporary 13 Assassins or Blade of the Immortal do this all so much better but even they don’t have Rinko Kikuchi’s vamping it up as a sex witch making a mockery of the PG-13 rating. Turn your brain off and this is some pretty sweet eye candy. There’s enough positive to balance out the negatives… a very zen experience.

6

The Farewell (2019)

Lulu Wang directs Awkwafina, Tzi Ma and Zhao Shuzhen in this drama where an American granddaughter returns to China to visit her dying beloved grandmother, having to maintain the new family secret – Nai Nai is unaware she is fatally ill.

A calm production, lightly humorous, excellent food porn and more preachy than dramatic. I know I’m in the minority for not liking this one more but it seemed to set itself up nicely and then just get stuck in a rut… the plot doesn’t really develop any further than from the pitch and that dragged for me. There’s some nice ensemble work here and moments of slightly stretched magical realism but in the main I thought the focus was off. Awkwafina’s perpetual outsider is quite a whiny, self-centred character and pretty much anyone else already present would have made a more compelling protagonist. The poor nephew and his Japanese bride having to fake a wedding to cover-up the international reunion… are they in love? Where’s her family? Are they going to stay together? Surely there’s a far stronger rom-com there based around the same “lie”. Instead they are sidelined to near silent background extras, while a self-branded ‘millennial’ mopes about for another dozen scenes of stroppy sullenness.

4

Laws of Desire (1987)

Pedro Almodóvar directs Eusebio Poncela, Antonio Banderas & Carmen Maura in this thriller where an obsessed fan ingratiates himself into a sex film director’s life.

A really pleasurable Almodóvar as about half an hour in you tumble you are watching a relaxed, queer equivalent of a yuppie-in-peril potboiler. Unlike, say Fatal Attraction, this is crammed full of Versace shirts, dubbed porn and completely superfluous trans character sister plots… Yet it works really well in a languid, quirky way – invigorated by an early turn by an insidious but seductive Banderas.

7

Movie of the Week: Inside Man (2006)

Spike Lee directs Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster in this Manhattan heist movie.

Spike is a director famous for his racially charged dramas and visual experimentation. Over the 1980s and 1990s he pushed how films looked and felt, he translated anger, injustice and black culture into a form that felt as valid in the multiplex and rental stores as it did the arthouse cinemas. Although Clockers and 25th Hour had shades of noir in them, Inside Man was his first purebred genre film. A Hollywood crime movie – slick, glossy, starry, twisty, action-y. If you approached as just another mid budget release you’d be happy. Denzel! Jodie! Clive! All three don’t phone it in even if they are unstretched by the material. Sometimes it is nice to see what an auteur does if the pressure is off and he just wants to make a throwaway opening weekend number one movie. Spike Lee makes a Phone Booth or a The Negotiator or a 15 Minutes. And if you are a fan of SWAT teams securing the area, well laid plans, moderate conspiracies and tense stand-offs then Inside Man will fill your Friday night better than most studio products. But you can still see Spike the Icon in every scene, he somehow still infuses his mindset and vision into this, making a five finger exercise something more than just that. Refusing to be a paycheck player, refusing to just submit a piece of hacky entertainment. We have his trademark symbolic camera moves deployed to allow us deeper into the lead’s emotional states. We have his slightly more realistic view of a diverse New York. All cultures are represented and it doesn’t seem in anyway Season 10 of Friends forced. We have his worldview that cops and robbers, bankers and power players all have villainy and hate in them. And even in a mere popcorn pusher there’s no need to “dial back the color commentary”, no need to forgive the value system where the powerful man never sees justice. Inside Man is a great con job… our bad guys pull the wool over our eyes, the good guys morph as the plot needs to get us to a satisfying closure and our director hides his agit-prop in plain sight, improving a perfectly accessible thriller through sheer force of personality.

9

Ready Or Not (2019)

Matt Bittenelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett direct Samara Weaving, Adam Brody and Andie MacDowell in this black horror comedy where a new bride finds herself being hunted down on her wedding night by the wealthy family she has just married into.

A high concept treat that does exactly what it says on the tin. As the poster promises you get a blood spattered bride turning the tables on the fucked-up elite. Like the Happy Death Day movies it is a pitch I should really love but there’s something in the execution that holds me back from fully embracing it. The scares aren’t quite impactful enough, the satire proves a bit one-note. Some decent gore aside, I’d say the strongest flavour is our game female lead who transcends type (a Happy Death Day comparison again!). Samara Weaving is seductively foul mouthed and raggedy as her nightmare night progresses. Despite slight reservations I should say the adventure reaches a solid punchline too. You’ll gasp and giggle in the closing moments. Very good but not quite a new classic.

7

The Goldfinch (2019)

John Crowley directs Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman and Jefferey Wright in this adaptation of Donna Tartt’s ‘great American novel’ about a child survivor of a terrorist attack in an art gallery, who stole and kept a valuable painting with him through his adolescence.

Opening to terrible reviews I expected the very worst from The Goldfinch. Rich people with rich people problems… my most despised sub-genre. Yet for most of the runtime I was caught up in its soapy machinations, its wealth porn furnishings and its cold, intriguingly hard to pin down performances. The acting is caged and guarded like a Terrence Rattigan play or an Ishiguro adaptation. This allows the emotions to fleetingly erupt through with pleasing destructive force when those preppy shirts and $300 scarfs give way, and also the metaphors to remain neatly obtuse. The Goldfinch is a film that doesn’t massively hold your hand as it unspools its secrets, shifting through timelines and keeping certain character’s partially glimpsed mysteries beyond the end credits. That is brave storytelling in modern day cinema, Crowley has already proven with his superior Brooklyn he has a masterful control when birthing these prestige literary refurbishments. I liked the Dickensian scope and brave lack of blunt explanation. It made me want to read the novel…. but perhaps in a decade when the more obvious highlights and turns have faded a little from memory. Where the film stumbled for me, the uninitiated casual viewer, is in the ending. A crime narrative is forced in, seemingly for a bit of trailer friendly gunplay. Then left unresolved. A character we like and are invested in tells the lead what happened next to tie off all the loose ends over coffee in a monologue. That works fine as a device on the written page but this is the fucking movies. A talking head filling in the blanks is something we should have been shown, not overheard. We have befriended our new, temporary narrator enough in the second half that for the spotlight to change over to him in the final twenty minutes wouldn’t have been a difficult transition for the viewer. He has always been presented as a ‘man of action’ and a catalyst for change in the story. To end on such an inert way does rob the film of a pleasurable conclusion, even if it ironically rings true with the boy child we have watched grow up over two and half hours. The ultimate point of the tale is fear stops him from taking responsibility over his life… I think? Maybe it makes sense that he is relegated down to a secondhand spectator for his own epilogue. Even with this stumble at the finish line… The Goldfinch has plenty of melodrama and beauty to keep you entertained in an old fashioned, grand kinda way. You can imagine a Douglas Sirk or a Nicolas Ray having a field day with this over abundance of material in the fifties.

6

xXx (2002)

Rob Cohen directs Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Samuel L. Jackson in this extreme-sports-lunkhead-is-recruited-to-spy-in-Eastern-Europe actioner.

Pitched as “What would 007 be like if he guzzled Pepsi Max, listened to Limp Bizkit and had some gnarly tats around his nipples?” The answer is dull, cheap looking and leaves rising star Vin Diesel looking utterly gormless by the end set-piece. Die Another Day has aged better than this.

4

10 to Midnight (1983)

J.Lee Thompson directs Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher and Gene Davis in this serial killer thriller where Brosnon breaks the rules to try and stop a nude slasher.

Messy and sloppy. Only really comes to life in the stalk and stab sequences and these have been done better in purer horrors. The cop procedural stuff is particularly weak and diluted. Mindlesshunter.

3