Brute Force (1947)


Jules Dassin directs Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn and Charles Bickford in this prison movie, considered the most violent film produced on its release.

Although tame and cliched by modern standards this made a good double bill with Scum. Lancaster is muscular and convincing, Cronyn excels against type as a softly spoken sadist guard. The prison sets and sequences of violence have an expressionist oppressiveness to them. The orchestration of the prisoners to distract the guards and compel a stool pigeon into a mechanical crusher with blow torches plays out like a wordless ballet. And the final big break is all action, all fatalist grit. A good solid genre progenitor.


My Top 10 Burt Lancaster Movies 

1. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

2. Field of Dreams (1990)

3.  The Professionals (1964)

4. The Killers (1946)


5. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

6. From Here to Eternity (1953)

7. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

8. Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

9. Brute Force (1947)

10. Local Hero (1983)



84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, Anne Bancroft, 1986, (c) Columbia

David Jones directs Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench in this lovely little dramatisation of the correspondence between a gregarious New York writer and the prim London bookshop worker she employs for her hardback needs. 

A delicate wonder of a movie, charting the subtle social changes of the 20th century with pleasing nostalgia and filled with an overwhelming love of books, performance, and words, spoken and unspoken. Bancroft is superb as the unguarded and generous Helene Hanff, her recitation of the real life request letters to the staid bookstore employees being likeable, goading and conspiratorially seductive. This is a real glass of full fat milk and plate of dark chocolate digestives of an experience – sweet and warming, comfort and pleasure. Deja vu, washed over me. I know I read the book it is based on in my twenties but this felt visually too familiar. I must have watched it as a child, and forgotten I had done so. The bookshop on Charing Cross Road is now a McDonalds. One I used to walk past on a daily basis.




The People Under the Stairs (1991)


Wes Craven directs Brandon Adams, Everett McGill and Wendy Robie in this horror comedy about slum landlords who kidnap the local kids and trap the rejects in the basement. 

A dense and dark romp, almost spoofing the like of The Goonies or It (kids versus baddies), while flirting with an on-point social message. The capitalists who run down black areas with liquor stores and exorbitant rents are the monsters, the child abusers who the police can overlook as a nice, white couple are the real criminals. Now it does brush against some pretty controversial subject matter, and I’m not entirely sure merely raising big issues is the same as exploring them, Wes. But what all this real world meat adds to the often cartoonish chase flick, is a miasma of compelling risk to the proceedings. Horrific honky couple chase a plucky, streetsmart kid around their booby trapped house… in a standard Hollywood flick I reckon the kid is going to make it. But once you bung in all the incest, the cannibalism, the racism, the abused teen girl in the attic, the attack dog, the brutalised troglodytes in the basement, the fact our hero’s own home isn’t any less threatening an environment… suddenly you aren’t so sure the resourceful Fool is going to be able to keep dodging the shotgun wielding, hollering killer in a gimp suit long enough to reach any kinda “happy” ending. Tonally, it is a very silly film – full of salty dialogue and game, pantomime villainy from Twin Peaks’ McGill and Robie. Craven is adept at keeping the cat and mouse pursuits moving at a breakneck pace without becoming too repetitive and he adds a nice subtext of fairytale myth on top of all his other themes. The gold coins, the tarot card prologue, the princess in the turret to be rescued, the misunderstood beasts under the stairs… Why, it could all be a Disney film!? 😉



My Top 10 Wes Craven Movies

1. Scream (1996)

2.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

3. The People Under The Stairs (1991)

4. Scream 2 (1997)

5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

6. The Last House on the Left (1972)


7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

8. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

9. Scream 4 (2011)

10. Red Eye (2005)

The Commuter (2018)


Jaume Collet-Serra directs Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga and Jonathan Banks in this high concept thriller where a former detective must find a mystery passenger on his train home under the edict of a shadowy conspiracy.

The 39 Stops. Whenever Neeson has to employ his ageing, shovel-like hand to wallop a goon or grab hold of a whirring piece of undercarriage, this Friday night flick is perfectly satisfactory. Whenever it tries to be a glossy Hitchcock it is bafflingly awkward, and bafflingly awkward takes up two thirds of the run time. Lacking the lunatic logic of Non-Stop, where things escalated exquisitely but always with an in the moment cause and effect, this is genuinely difficult to make any heads or tails of. I’m sure if you sat down with a piece of paper you could join up all the twists, justify all the silly… but, put bluntly, there has to be a million simpler, containable, less attention bringing ways to find and kill a secret witness.


The Wailing (2016)


Na Hong-jin directs Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min and Chun Woo-hee in this Korean chiller about a uniform cop who begins to suspect his town is being possessed by something malevolent. 

I’m quite a fan of Korean cinema but nearly all of what we receive shares similar, repeated flaws; tonal inconsistency, animal cruelty, casual racism and punishing length. The Wailing, a movie with plenty going for it, seems weighed down by these hallmarks more than most. It is an Exorcist evoking chiller that has sequences that feel more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead. The lead a bumbling, loving father seems based on Homer Simpson rather than Father Merrin, likeable and sympathetic but not exactly subtle. We all know comedy and horror can make happy bedfellows, a punchline and a jump scare share the same DNA, but here we zig-zag disconcertingly from farce to full on fear in a blink of an eye. There is an intense scene of animal sacrifice, one that with its cross cutting and prolonged duration evokes Apocalypse Now’s finale. I’m not sure if the creatures in it were actually slaughtered but considering what happens to dogs, octopuses and the like in other Korean movies I doubt anyone batted an eyelid on set. This always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The movie plays with the racist idea that the immigrant Japanese man is responsible for the demonic epidemic spreading throughout the locality, merely as he is the sole foreigner. In a western movie you’d take this as a prejudice being set up to be lampooned but the movie plays this hand with a poker face. Na Hong-jin’s blistering The Yellow Sea had a similar inscrutable casual racism to it. Culturally, it seems only western countries are precious about openly distrusting the other, but the strong reviews of this movie from our countries rarely focus on it… and you suspect the same writers would throw an old Hollywood movie with similar sentiments under the bus. Why is what is now unacceptable when from a different era, overlooked when from another country? And then there’s that length. There’s plenty of bravura sequences – some of the shocks beggar narrative belief but are uniquely disturbing. But then there’s that farcical set-up that could easily be 30 minutes shorter. By the time you get to the suitably drawn out finale, wherein double bluffs are exposed and an agonising choice must be made, you like the protagonist are left exhausted, exasperated, confused and inert. That’s the director’s intention, but it is a frustratingly slow conclusion when you already have had your patience thoroughly tested. If you can break it up over a couple of days, The Wailing is a decent watch… but there’s just too much of everything for one satisfying sitting.


The Vault (2017)


Dan Bush directs Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning and James Franco in this horror where bank robbers unleash malevolent supernatural forces from a haunted safe.

You cannot set ghosts on fire. Stop chucking petrol bombs at them. Aside from that important safety announcement… the characters are detestable, the twists obvious, the poltergeist element strangely ignored for huge swathes of the second half. Even the “shock” finale, suggesting the money itself is haunted rather than the basement, has no fun with what could be quite a fruitful revelation. Taryn Manning puts in the sole capable performance even if she is essentially only transplanting her Orange Is The New Black persona to a rather poor genre mash-up.


Gerald’s Game (2017)


Mike Flanagan directs Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood and Henry Thomas in this horror about a woman left handcuffed to her bed with no chance of escape. 

The plus points; Carla Gugino carries on being one of the most overlooked, overqualified genre actresses around and there are truly unsettling moments of gore and delirium. The downside; Flanagan indulges his source material’s weakness to deadening effect. King never knows how to end his thrill rides and Gerald’s Game has one of the worst dismounts ever, here faithfully recreated. Also the author’s obsession with exploring incest abuse in gloopy suspensers leaves an awful taste in the mouth. This time overpoweringly so.



Riding in Cars With Boys (2001)


Penny Marshall directs Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn and Brittany Murphy in this bittersweet true story of a teen mother facing rejection and disappointment throughout the sixties. 

A quite harsh drama sugarcoated with the comedy acting of overly-likeable performers. It makes for an imbalanced experience. You prefer it when the interactions are sitcommy and colourful, yet the film mines for weird unsettling energies that more ‘serious’ fare often miss when they goes this dark. When Zahn faces up to the fall out of his drug addiction or Barrymore is sidelined at her own wedding or the child is put in peril, it incites an uncomfortably emotive response from the viewer. It isn’t meant to be this hard… life sure, but not a Drew Barrymore movie. The end product is certainly uneven and often a little unsatisfying but has enough strong moments to pad out the quality. Brittany Murphy’s maid of honour speech, Zahn’s holding onto the baby tooth and a sing song car ride with Dad. Feelgood delights in a surprisingly, unsympathetic melodrama.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)


Michael Apted directs Georgie Henley, Ben Barnes and Will Poulter in this sea bound Narnia fantasy adventure. 

I have a soft spot for the Narnia series. My developing imagination being stoked by the gorgeous painted, slightly melancholy cover-art of the Eighties paperbacks. A talented man called Steve Lavis visualised C.S. Lewis’ fantastical otherworld by detailing sad lions and ominous ships next to curious teens in chunky knitwear and messy hair. That’s my basecamp for what a cinematic adaptation of the beloved series should be. And the cheap but threatening BBC series of old captured that vibe quite well. So these bland, weightless adaptations do little for me. They want to hit the same audience as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings but are unwilling to invest the same heft into the world building or deliver thrills of any overwhelming scale. Maybe Lewis’ playpen doesn’t naturally lend itself to the scope and action of Tolkien’s but it certainly matches it in inherent magic and wonder. Dawn Treader has little bursts of excitement, moves at a decent (almost impatient) pace and even has two attractive child performances. Poulter and Henley are both game. But there’s no passion to the direction, lending a feeling to the adventure that nobody loved recreating any particular episode churned out. A bit more personality and care in the perils and chivalry and this might have been more than passable.


The Foreigner (2017)


Martin Campbell directs Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan and Orla Brady in this revenge thriller where a grieving father (with a background in Special OPs) takes down the IRA.

When this is a Jackie Chan vehicle it works nicely. More subdued, in both stunts and tone, than you are used to from the Kung Fu clown, his share of the runtime mixes the gutting emotion of Arnie’s Aftermath with the geriatric thumping of the Taken series. Pierce’s half of the show is more muddled. He is fine as an oily Gerry Adams rip-off… in fact I’d controversially say, acting wise, it is his post-Bond highpoint. But the third act Shakespearean drama that unfolds around his own family, betrayals and reversals that have very little baring on glum Jackie’s vigilante attacks, over complicating an action flick with a very simple brief. As a Friday night thriller though this still has plenty of watchability.