Tag Archives: Cinema

SIX OF THE BEST #14 – BILLY WILDER

SIX OF THE BEST #14 – BILLY WILDER

Samuel “Billy” Wilder is arguably one of the finest screenwriters that ever put fingers to typewriter; and certainly one of the best writer-directors of all time. Indeed, until Woody Allen surpassed him he was nominated for best screenwriter at the Academy Awards TWELVE times! Overall, he would win six Oscars plus a special Academy Award.

Wilder was born in 1906 in Austria Hungary; in an area which is now part of Poland. Having moved to Berlin in his twenties, Wilder served an apprenticeship as a writer on a newspaper. However, he soon got work as a screenwriter in the German film industry and a star was born. The rise of the Nazis caused Wilder to move again, to Paris and then latterly to Hollywood. There he would have an incredible career in movie-making spanning over thirty years, writing, producing and directing over thirty-odd films, many of the classics of cinema.

So, in keeping with the remit of this occasional series I have decided to pick out six of Wilder’s best films and explain why they are just brilliant. To be honest I could probably pick out twenty of the best where Wilder is concerned, but will stick to six!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


Double Indemnity (1944)

For any screenwriters out there Wilder’s work is often a technical and intricate joy. Character, dialogue, plot and twists are all combined to create an incredibly deep texture within the work. Double Indemnity was adapted from James M. Cain’s devious noir novella and found Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck plotting to kill her husband for the insurance money. Wilder worked on the screenplay with Raymond Chandler and while the two didn’t hit it off their collaboration produced one of the classic film noirs of the period. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and confirmed the star status of both Stanwyck and MacMurray. As MacMurray’s desperate voiceover reveals the events of the story we are pulled into a web on deceit and murder which show human nature as greedy, vicious and unforgiving.


The Lost Weekend (1945)

It is worth noting that Wilder’s success would perhaps not been as successful if not for his partnership with producer and writer Charles Brackett. They worked on many successful films together and The Lost Weekend was one such triumph. Based on Charles Jackson’ novel about an alcoholic writer teetering on the edge of self-destruction, Ray Milland’s character found himself awash in an existential and drunken haze. Wilder’s work as a screenwriter is again brilliant as he takes a very unsympathetic character and makes him both human and empathetic. This is down to both Milland’s fine performance and Wilder’s key direction; both would win Academy Awards. Overall, it’s a tragic struggle which reflects those individuals who constantly battle against the booze. Many see alcohol as a friend but it can quickly turn into an enemy without warning or notice.


Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Working from an original story Wilder and Brackett turned the eyes and ears inward toward the Hollywood machine; asking the question: what happens to the Hollywood legends after their star has crashed and burned. The answer was the character of Norma Desmond, a silent movie star craving a comeback and refusing to accept her career is over. Gloria Swanson is absolutely terrifying as the ageing screen goddess, as she spits out famous lines such as: “I am big; it’s the pictures that got small!” Meanwhile, William Holden is also superb as the cynical writer beaten down by his own world weariness within the Hollywood system. The classic opening scene of his limp dead body lying face down in a swimming pool as he recounts how he came to be there is one of the most iconic images in all cinema.


Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

I probably could have gone for a number of Wilder’s movies including: Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954) or The Fortune Cookie (1966), which was the first film to place Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon on screen together; however, I’m a sucker for a good Agatha Christie story. Witness for the Prosecution features two stunning acting turns from Marlene Dietrich as the wife of the murder suspect, and Charles Laughton as the barrister charged with defending him. In his final film Tyrone Power plays the accused Leonard Vole, who is on trial for murdering a wealthy widow. Laughton’s eccentric barrister defends him but he has help on the way from an unexpected source. Wilder directs his cast with wit and suspense, making the most of Agatha Christie’s dynamite plot which has two grand and unexpected twists at the end.


Some Like It Hot (1959)

Arguably the best film comedy ever and also one of the best films of all time, Some Like It Hot, on paper, shouldn’t really work. Two male musicians dress up as women to go on the run from the mob is as silly an idea as you could get. However, with Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond’s intricate script, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon so good in the leads, plus an effervescent Marilyn Monroe at the height of her star power you get all-round cinematic gold. Combining gangster, comedy, musical and romance elements the film fizzes with style, humour and song, as the complex plot involves hilarious identity and gender switches. At one point Curtis’ Joe has split himself into three parts. Ultimately, Wilder and his collaborators have created almost a perfect movie featuring one of the finest end lines in cinema history.


The Apartment (1960)

While Some Like It Hot veered toward comedic farce, The Apartment is a somewhat more mature and darker-themed comedy. Once again starring Jack Lemmon, he portrays C.C. Baxter, a downtrodden office worker whose apartment is used by executives for their extra-marital dalliances. While these liaisons see him gain promotion he begins to doubt his actions and his conscience gets the better of him. The guilt is especially heightened when he begins to fall for Shirley MacLaine’s elevator operator, Fran. Fighting back against the corporate bosses does him no favours but it does bring him closer to Fran. Both a satire against odious men and their sexist practices, plus a touching romance, Jack Lemmon illuminates the screen all hang-dog expressions and nagging angst. MacLaine too shines in a sympathetic role as a woman treated like a perpetual door-mat. The film won five Oscars and once again proved the genius of Billy Wilder.

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SCREENWASH – OCTOBER 2018 – FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

SCREENWASH OCTOBER FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

I watched a load of films in October due to the London Film Festival mainly. I also wrote a lot of reviews too and realise that, with not enough hours in the day, or desire to read the ramblings of a narcissistic cineaste most people may not have had the time to read them all.

So, I have consolidated all my October reviews into one post and made it a quick and easy reference point for films currently out or coming out in the future. Here are quotes from the reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)

“Director Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well. While I would have preferred the tone to be darker we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale, and that is worth the admission fee alone.”

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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A STAR IS BORN (2018)

A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience. The story is familiar but the performances, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional journey; making a fine example of classic Hollywood storytelling at its best.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

“Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. . . mainly style over substance, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists that provide an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.”

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

“… feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of No Country for Old Men (2007). However, the Coen’s films improve with each viewing as you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance occurring between the lines.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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BORDER (2018)

“. . . is very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but respect and love.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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DOGMAN (2018)

“Overall, this film made me feel really sad. This is a haunting character study of the outsider; a man who is literally like a dog. He is faithful, loyal and eager to please but ultimately let down by the human cruelty of those who exploit him.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE FAVOURITE (2018)

“Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Weisz and Stone are also quite brilliant in a devilishly quirky Machiavellian and lustful tale.”

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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FIRST MAN (2018)

“. . . is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. It is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible and contains a moving human story at the heart.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE NUN (2018)

“. . . has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation.”

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

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PETERLOO (2018)

“Peterloo is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive. . .”

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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THE PREDATOR (2018)

“. . . is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes.  It moves at such an alarming pace you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense.”

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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VENOM (2018)

“What works is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. . .  it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off baddies. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his parasite make it worth a watch!”

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO #1 & CINEMA REVIEW

A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO AND FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Produced by: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor

Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Based on: A Star Is Born by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

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When a star is born others will die. Some will fade. Some will collapse. Some will burn bright like the sun before vanishing. That is the cycle of life and the narrative of this standard film classic. Yet, if you’re going to cover an old traditional then you’ve got to be confident you’re going to do it justice. It could be considered an easy track to lay down by replicating a story done three times before, however, if you get it wrong and play a bum note then you’ve ruined the song. Safe to say that writer, director and star Bradley Cooper has thrown his heart and soul into this story and with on-screen partner Lady Gaga, and an incredible production team, they’ve collectively knocked it out of the park. For this review I’d like to play a bit of Oscar bingo and consider the merits of the film along with the players award chances.

BEST FILM CHANCES: 8 out of 10

This is a film about dreams: living, broken and dying dreams. It’s a beautifully timeless tale of two people who fall in love but their trajectories veer in opposite directions. Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine: a successful rock star still selling out stadiums and seemingly with everything positive on the outside. Inside though he’s crumbling; he suffers from tinnitus, alcoholism and the inner demons of a broken family past that drugs, booze, music and his long-suffering brother, portrayed by the excellent Sam Elliott, cannot block out. When a chance meeting with a bar singer occurs, sparks fly with Ally, as she suddenly brings a burst of light and hope into his life. While she is insecure off-stage she nails it on-stage; not surprising as she is portrayed by pop mega-star Lady Gaga. The two fall in love but the path of romance, while powerful on and off stage for a while, ultimately struggles with both his addiction and Ally’s subsequent pop success. Given the familiarity of the story the ‘Best Film’ chances could be slightly hampered in regard to originality. But overall it has the feel of both an epic and powerful love story combined with some tragically intimate moments that will make it one of the front runners when the nominations come out.

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BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

While this is his is directorial debut, Bradley Cooper has infused the story with an energy, immediacy and intimacy akin to that of a veteran filmmaker. The on-stage scenes put you at the heart of the gigs, while his sterling performance and that of Lady Gaga’s absolutely soar. There is a core reliability of emotion in so many memorable scenes, from the humour of Ally’s father and his chauffeur circle of friends, to the happy times of Ally and Jackson in love, and the more tempestuous boozy periods. Cooper’s helming is consistent and it is clearly a labour of love as he successfully melds romance, tragedy and backstage musical in an impressively directed story.

BEST ACTRESS CHANCES: 9 out of 10

Lady Gaga is a ridiculous name but it’s hard to forget. While not a massive fan of her pop persona she has released a plethora of songs catchier that the bubonic plague. I had only seen her acting before in a couple of things, notably American Horror Story: Hotel, but due to the hysterical style of that gruesome anthology it’s difficult to tell if she had much range. However, as the working class Ally, she infuses the character with a bright-eyed innocence and fiery passion that wins you over immediately. Her and Cooper’s chemistry is tremendous and very believable and those eyes; they just made me melt at times. Oh, and of course THAT voice. What a voice and what amazing interpretations of so many great songs. Lady Gaga will go very close to the Best Actress Oscar in my mind.

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BEST ACTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

Cooper directs himself very well and his quietly impactful performance both on and off stage really got me in the heart. The pathos and emotion he conveys in charting the collapse of a man crumbling from the inside out is very powerful. Cooper reminded me of a younger Jeff Bridges and indeed, Sam Elliott with his performance encapsulating a talented and pained artist who is never happier than when on stage. Off stage the demons are still there haunting him emotionally and physically. Being harsh, one could say the familiarity of the character – a grizzled alcoholic musician battling addiction – could go against his Oscar chances, but Cooper’s performance remains one of nuance and empathy.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: 8 out of 10

There are a couple of serious contenders here with Andrew Dice Clay giving a sly comedic turn as Ally’s protective father. Moreover, there’s the battle-born gravitas of Sam Elliott as Jackson’s long suffering road manager and brother. The scene where he puts his drunken brother to bed in order to stops him choking on his own vomit, protecting yet also reviled by this broken man, impacts greatly. Elliott just nails his role and the film could have benefitted even more from his presence throughout. Nonetheless, he steals those scenes he does inhabit and will certainly get nominated.

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BEST SONG CHANCES: 10 out of 10

Shallow will win the Best Oscar no doubt. When introduced acapella by Lady Gaga you only get a suggestion of its’ power. However, when she launches into it on stage it is an absolutely memorable and stand-out musical moment. The music throughout is linked powerfully to the emotion of the characters from Jason Isbell’s composition Maybe It’s Time to the final heartfelt song, I’ll Never Love Again, sang beautifully by Lady Gaga. Even the sly satirical digs at the soulless pop that Ally sings are done with skill. The juxtaposition of their plasticity versus the realness of the rock music delivered by Ally and Jackson creates another layer of musical depth in a consistently brilliant soundtrack.

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OVERALL

A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience with every person involved in the production at the top of their game. The story is familiar but the performances, characterisation, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional and human journey. I’m not the greatest fan of musicals but this one had me hooked from start to finish and is a fine example of classic Hollywood genre storytelling at its best.

Mark: 9 out of 11

 

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP including reviews of: The Nun (2018), The Predator (2018) and A Simple Favour (2018)

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP – OCTOBER 2018

It goes without saying that I watch a lot of films and have over the last few years reviewed quite a few too. The last three I saw at the cinema were a bit hit and miss yet overall serviceable examples of, despite their flaws, the Hollywood genre film. The genre film is the staple of the Hollywood production model and the word genre can be used to describe and organize films according to: type, style, form, characteristics and marketing possibilities. Moreover, certain movie stars and actors would become synonymous with movie types such as: John Wayne and the Western; Humphrey Bogart and the crime or noir drama; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the action film; plus directors such as Martin Scorsese making a cinematic mark with the gangster film. In the 1950s genre film theory was debated by academics such as Andre Bazin. From then on many a film degree essay was delivered and arguments ensued between auteur and genre theories. More importantly the Hollywood movie-making monster which rose from the 1920s onwards used genre conventions and tropes, along with the star system, to promote a formula of mass production within their cinematic releases.

Such genre production is still very much in place today. But, as audiences get seemingly both attention-deficient and more cinema-knowing the melding of genres is very much a postmodern trend for the now. While a perennial spy classic like James Bond still holds onto the genre conventions like: gadgets, action and over-the-top villains, films such as American Werewolf in London (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Shaun of the Dead (2004) successfully combined horror and comedy. Furthermore, of late Marvel instilled many of their superhero films with properties from the heist, thriller, comedy and horror genres in order differentiate and market their stories. Indeed, filmmaking has become so sophisticated some filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers cross a multitude of genres within their works. As so happens I watched three proper genre films at the cinema recently so would like to review them from both a critical and genre perspective. As usual I will give them marks out of eleven.

Film-Genres

THE NUN (2018)

As marketing departments attempt to find new ways to promote their products we have now entered the arena of the film “Universe”. This finds events, characters, places and in this case, demons, all linked within the same historical timeline and world. The Nun is part of The Conjuring “Universe”. The demonic monster Valak first appeared in the James Wan sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016); thus, within the horror genre The Nun is both a prequel and origins film. Set in 1950s Romania is concerns a haunted Catholic nunnery which is under threat from an unholy evil. Taissa Farmiga’s novice Nun and Demian Bechir’s grizzled Father Burke are dispatched to have a look about and of course are thrown into a face-off with something from the pits of hell.

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The main genre requirement of a horror film is to create fear and excitement in the audience and while The Conjuring films, directed by the brilliant James Wan did just that, this film is, aside from a couple of moments, not scary enough. It has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation. Having said that, while watching The Nun, I at times felt it was on the cusp of being a surrealist horror classic with much hallucinatory trickery of a “what’s real and what isn’t real” variety. However, by the end I decided that while the director is clearly a talented filmmaker the screenplay did not really serve the horror genre or story well as it was illogical at best and had no defining “rules of the world” substance. Ultimately, though the main draw for studios is that horror films are one of the cheapest genre films to make yet reap rewards from the cinema-paying public. Indeed, The Nun has so far grossed $330 million dollars from a $20 million outlay. Now, that is scary!!

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

THE PREDATOR (2018)

Talking of genre-crossing directors, the writer and director of The Predator (2018), Shane Black has had an interesting career trajectory. He was a supporting actor in the original classic Predator (1987) and would subsequently become a more successful screenwriter and wrote scripts for: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Last Action Hero (1993) and most memorably Lethal Weapon (1987).  Such movies put Black firmly in the Hollywood blockbuster territory so it was no surprise when Marvel employed him to write and direct Iron Man 3 (2013). Arguably his best films though were the buddy-buddy comedy-thrillers Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016) which benefited from great chemistry from their male leads. Coming full circle then to write and direct The Predator (2018), Black has delivered the best elements of his genre work but also the worst. He’s often a writer of excess, with a succession of ideas, gags, set-ups and punchlines which, if allied to a decent story, create a barrage of fine entertainment.

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From a genre perspective The Predator is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes.  It moves at such an alarming pace you barely have a chance to breathe. In a nutshell Boyd Holbrook’s crack soldier must save his son and the world from both nefarious Government agents and not just one Predator, but another incredibly kick-ass uber-Predator. Chuck in a dirty-half-dozen motley crew of “insane” soldiers, plus an autistic kid (Jacob Tremblay) who may or may not have the power to defeat the Predators, and you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense in places. For example, characters, vehicles and animals pop up in the narrative out of nowhere then disappear, which created a hell of a lot of confusion for me. Still, Black is a great writer of concepts and punchy dialogue so you’re never far away from something cool-looking, something blowing up or a funny gag or three. It’s just a shame the story was so confusing and plot delivered in such an illogical fashion.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)

Once again here is a filmmaker who, while predominantly working from a genre perspective has taken their comedic skills and light touch and infused it within other genres. Indeed, the very talented Paul Feig has marshalled some extremely funny films and TV shows in recent times including: The Office (U.S.), Arrested Development (2004), Nurse Jackie (2009), Bridesmaids (2011) and Spy (2015). His Ghostbusters (2016) update starring Melissa McCarthy was arguably not very successful from both a genre or reboot perspective, however, his latest film A Simple Favour (2018) is much, much better. It stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, as polar-opposite mums, whose paths criss-cross one fateful day when the latter asks the other to look after her son. Blake Lively absolutely nails her role as the stylish, beautiful and brutally honest PR executive. Her spiteful Emily Nelson is a career best performance and when her character vanishes, the effervescent Kendrick’s go-getting, busy-body-single-mom, Stephanie Smothers, decides to hunt for her “friend”.

What follows is more comedic but still suspenseful as the plot twists from one exciting turn to another. As the unlikely detective Kendrick hilariously enlists the help of her “Mums-Net” video-log subscribers in trying to track down Emily. As the story moves forward Emily’s husband (Henry Golding) and Stephanie herself become suspects until the final revelations dig up something totally unexpected. A Simple Favour is the most successful of the genre films I watched. Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well and while I would have preferred the tone to be darker, I accept that Feig is what I call a “day” director; in that all his scenes seem to happen during the day. Thus, in the hands of say, David Fincher, the original novel this is based on would have been a totally different beast. Having said that we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale and that is worth the admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

A DAY IN THE LIFE – SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

With a cursory Google search there’s a few of these articles around concerning films set in one day or a twenty-four hour period. But it’s something I wanted to explore from a narrative perspective in order to understand how it can help a screenwriter with their story. Indeed, as a writer a twenty-four hour period could be a seen as a limitation for one’s story but it can also create a hell of a lot of suspense, drama and comedy.

Of course, in some cases it can also increase the need for an audience to suspend disbelief with many events occurring in such a short space of time. For example, in the classic TV show 24, we kind of know that it’s totally unlikely that our hero Jack Bauer is going to suffer THAT many bad days but we still root for him to save the his family, the dog, his neighbours, and the world. Yet, the distillation of narrative incidents also raises the dramatic stakes, providing much fun and tension for the audience.

As well as creating entertainment the structural benefits of setting a film in one day can provide a “ticking clock” or race against time scenario. Moreover, fixing a time scale or limit conjures up a dramatic sense of containment for the characters. They are trapped within this day and must survive it and whatever fate throws at them. As time moves on during the day suspense is funnelled to a striking denouement as sun-up moves toward sunset. It’s a grudging acceptance of life’s incessant clock of fate as our existence flickers along to the inevitable end.

There are many films which have been set during a one day period and a lot of them are bona fide classics.  Here is SIX of what I consider the best or at least my favourites from a story perspective. I have not included one of the greatest comedies of all time Groundhog Day (1993) because, while that is set in the same day, it actually repeats its day in a Sisyphean and fantastical never-ending situation. Thus, the films here are all set in a fixed period so no temporal loops or time travel movies are included.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Spike Lee’s incendiary look at the day in the life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood finds a variety of characters coping with both rising temperatures and simmering racial tension. Lee’s brilliant script is fully of boldly written and brightly sketched characters presented via a succession of hilarious and dramatic vignettes. The formal excellence on show too from Lee is to be applauded as he uses devices from: music video and cinema to tell his rich stories. The day does not end well as the neighbourhood erupts into tragic violence with Lee proving himself adept at balancing humour, politics and tragedy in equal measure.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)

Sidney Lumet really was a terrific director. Moving from stage and television to film and his first cinema production was rather incredibly 12 Angry Men (1957). This film was ostensibly set in one location over one intensely dramatic period and he would revisit the day-structure for the equally intense bank-robbery-gone-wrong film Dog Day Afternoon in 1975. Lumet directs Al Pacino and John Cazale as ill-fated and inexperienced criminals who rob a New York bank and get deep in over their heads. Once again the set-in-a-day structure creates a bottle-neck effect, squeezing the drama to a suspenseful denouement. As these empathetic and hapless criminals find themselves surrounded by law enforcement Al Pacino’s performance as Sonny dominates, becoming more and more animated and emotional. Incredibly, this original heist movie was based on a bizarre, true story and was another compelling addition to Lumet’s fine directorial C.V.

FALLING DOWN (1993)

Michael Douglas is, in my opinion, a very well rated movie star but also a very under-rated actor. He proved it again in Marvel’s Ant-Man films that he is an altogether reliable on-screen presence, while his staggering performance as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra (2013), garnered deserved praise. Similarly he is in career-best territory as “D-FENS” – named so after his number plate – whom begins his day in a sweltering, polluted traffic jam, before deciding enough is enough. What follows is a violent and explosive rampage both bleak and darkly comic that highlights the anger an individual can feel at being discarded by society. While “D-FENS” actions are appalling it’s clear he has had a mental breakdown and gone over the edge, in this damning and compelling indictment of capitalist society.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

John Hughes was arguably the definitive creator of what came to represent iconic 1980s Hollywood teen and comedy cinema. It may have pretty conservative dealing with, on the main, middle-class American characters and their lot; however, he always had affection for the geek, outsider and under-dog.  Yet, it is important to note that Ferris Bueller is not a geek or an underdog but rather a narcissistic, lying, brash, confident and handsome youth trying to rail against the school system. But in the hands of Matthew Broderick’s standout performance he is also very cool. Because as well as skipping school he is a risk-taker and cheeky and amazingly talks directly to the audience too. During his day off school he crams all manner of crazy things into the day while trying to outwit the school Principal because as he (Hughes) says: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”

HIGH NOON (1952)

Not only is this classic Western set in one day but it’s pretty much shot in real time. It makes the most of the ticking-time-clock scenario, anchored by Gary Cooper’s noble sheriff and fine direction from Fred Zinnemann. The story is very simple. Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is about to leave town with his wife, Amy (an early role for Grace Kelly), finds out a vicious gang of outlaws are coming to town out for revenge. Kane’s choice is to flee or stay and fight. Guess which one he chooses?  Ready to face the outlaws on his own he tries to enlist the help of the townsfolk of Hadleyville, but he is admonished at every request. The suspense and drama are palpable as the clock slides toward noon and the gunfight. The film received many awards and nominations and is a truly humane examination of duty and courage under fire. It could also be seen as an allegory for the McCarthy and Communist “witch-hunts” occurring in Hollywood at the time. However, one could easily see it as a conservative validation of law and order too and the individual fighting for justice against a common enemy.

TRAINING DAY (2001)

David Ayer’s career as a filmmaker has taken a few critical body-blows lately on big budget Hollywood productions; notably his over-blown mess of a franchise trifle that was Suicide Squad (2016); and the odd mix of fantasy and cop thriller that was Bright (2017). While Suicide Squad really did not make any sense it made loads of dough and Bright was actually pretty decent entertainment. Indeed, it actually had a similar structure to Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day. Ethan Hawke is the in-awe trainee to Denzel Washington’s fierce narcotics officer, who has taken his younger charge along to see if he has what it takes to join his team. What I love about this superior genre film is, aside from the brilliant plot and characterisation, is the day unfolds so dramatically with their two respective characters beginning as master and student only to find the respect between the two eroding and a violent power game ensuing.

THE LITTLE STRANGER (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE LITTLE STRANGER (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Produced by: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Ed Guiney

Written by: Lucinda Coxon

Based on the novel: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling

Music by: Stephen Rennicks

Cinematography: Ole Bratt Birkeland

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Lenny Abrahamson is one of my favourite directors. Every one of his films has featured memorable and very human characters in compelling situations. He is not a showy filmmaker with a bag of tricks like say Tarantino or Scorsese but rather the same emotional energy of the neo-realism and social realism genres. His authorial style and themes also evoke the work of: Vittorio DeSica, Alan Clarke, Karel Reisz, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. He has a subtle documentary style as his work represents the human condition in all its glorious failures. Most of all the characters in all his films, whatever their situation, are tremendously empathetic and Abrahamson’s power as a storyteller is to make us feel the pain, despair and joy they feel. He’s been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the incredible film Room (2015) and deserved to win it.

His latest film is a departure from the more steadfastly realistic dramas he has delivered to date. The Little Stranger is adapted from the critically acclaimed author Sarah Waters’ 2009 gothic novel. It’s a dense and subtle character drama with elements of the ghost story and crime story genres. However, the on the whole it’s a crime story without the police and a ghost story without a ghost, because all the dread, mystery and mischief happens very much between the lines of the screen and the viewer’s imagination. In many literary adaptations, what may work on the page doesn’t necessarily translate to the screen, but Abrahamson and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon have fashioned an intriguingly dark and chilling character drama which stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

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Leading the cast are the ever impressive Domhnall Gleeson as Dr Faraday, and the brilliant Ruth Wilson as Caroline Ayres. Gleeson is our sombre narrator who traverses his past as a poor, working class boy to his present, which is that of a reliable and stoic doctor. He reminisces about the desirous lure of Hundreds Hall, an 18th Century Estate owned by the Ayres family, who are now struggling to keep it going. Getting closer to the Ayres family he begins to fall in love with Caroline, however, their difference in class and a series of tragic events conspire to keep them apart. While the story moves slowly the narrative builds both character and drama subtly; and what it lacks in exposition it pulses with quiet power.

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Overall, this is probably a film not many people will see. It’s difficult to recommend as it falls between the gap of a proper genre film and art-house cinema. Moreover, I was surprised Abrahamson took on such a curious project, given he would probably have had his pick after the success of Room (2015). Nonetheless, he proves once again his directorial brilliance, utilizing Sarah Waters’ formidable text as the basis for a paranoiac examination of the collapse of an upper class household, amidst the cloaked device of a hypnotic “ghost” mystery.

Mark 8.5 out of 11

AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – moronic middle-class criminals waste everyone’s time!

AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed/Written by: Bart Layton

Produced by: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk and Betty Jean Gooch (all appear as themselves.)

Music by: Anne Nikitin

Cinematography: Ole Bratt Birkeland

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Ever watch a film which is brilliantly written, performed and directed but the characters are so annoying it actually makes you dislike the movie?  I’ll explain. To me to steal from people is a big negative. To use violence exacerbates the negativity too. Some crimes are committed out of economic and social necessity but these are still inexcusable to me. To be from a privileged background and still commit robbery makes you some kind of arsehole!  In fact, the characters on show here are four of the biggest morons I have experienced in a cinema for some time.

Personally I do not usually enjoy the so-called “true crime” genre in televisual or film documentary form. Paradoxically, I love crime films, thrillers and heist movies but as works of fiction. True crime documentaries or docu-dramas make my blood run cold as I hate the idea of these people getting air time; even if they are caught and made to pay for their deeds. The main “true crime” stuff I will watch are usually the miscarriage of justice shows, for example, Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) was particularly riveting but even then the horror of how the justice system and law enforcement behaved was beyond ridiculous.

American Animals.  Photo: Courtesy the Orchard

Set on the campus of Transylvania University in 2003, the story involves four college students who, aside from being bored and narcissistic, do not seemingly have much to complain about. They are: Evan Peters as Warren Lipka, Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard, Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk. Collectively they plan a heist to steal – not money or jewels or gold – rare books from the college library. Wow, what tough guys they were!! Interspersed between the planning of the heist is dramatically ironic commentary from the real-life characters as they give their version of events. This device, overall, creates an interesting narrative dynamism where regret for their crimes is to the fore. The real Rheinhard, a talented artist, and fantasist Lipka are arguably the most interesting as the latter appears to be a very unreliable narrator.

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So, while American Animals (2018) is a brilliantly constructed story with a very interesting mix of the actual people involved in the crime and fictional re-enactments, the sheer dumbness and moronic nature of said criminals really pissed me off! I guess I should disengage critically from the content enough and look at the cinematic work on show. Because, based on his work here Bart Layton is clearly a very talented filmmaker. Moreover, Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan absolutely nail their respective roles and mark themselves down as actors very much to look out for in the future. Ultimately, while the film works well as a morality tale, it completely fails as drama as I did not give a crap about the selfish protagonists and I could not wait to get away from their pathetic company.

Mark: 6 out of 11