Thursday, December 31, 2015

Take Me Home


2011, US, directed by Sam Jaeger

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Spotlight


2015, US, directed by Tom McCarthy

A film of strong local interest for us, as it tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation into sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Boston archdiocese. The film has an exceptional ensemble cast, and does an effective job of communicating a complicated story without indulging in too many narrative shortcuts. It reminded me in some senses of the original Law and Order, which so studiously avoided intrusions into the characters' private lives. That's pushed to the extreme here -- even where the film acknowledges a spouse's existence, she (usually she) barely appears, even in contexts where this might be natural). There's certainly nothing in director Tom McCarthy's back catalog that prepared me for a well-wrought picture like this (well-wrought, at least, on the levels of script, construction, and acting -- not much of great visual interest or experimentation). 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Otley


1968, UK, directed by Dick Clement


Tom Courtenay at the height of his magnetism, in a breezy London romp that kicks off with a terrific shot on the Portobello Road, and which manages to mesh, among other things, a dose of the absurdity of The Knack and the self-conscious silliness of the Bond films (and their many knock-offs). Still, there's also room for a bit of satirical bite, such as the scene where Courtenay's Otley blunders into a "whites out" protest that gives a sense that not everything in 1960's London was carefree. As much as Courtenay catches the eye, the supporting cast is also quite wonderful -- Leonard Rossiter, Romy Schneider, James Villiers, James Bolan, Phyllida Law...


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Violent Saturday


1955, US, directed by Richard Fleischer

An oddball mixture of crime and romance that comes off a little like a heist film shoehorned into a Douglas Sirk picture (the mining backdrop reminded me especially of the oil fields of Written on the Wind). Despite the mish-mash of genres, it's generally rather enjoyable, and certainly fast-moving -- and includes the arrestingly bizarre sight of Ernest Borgnine in an Amish beard.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Tangerine


2015, US, directed by Sean Casey

One of those rare times I watched a film with no prior knowledge whatsoever: the title was familiar from several "best of 2015" lists but I only discovered the content when I selected the film on Netflix. The film chronicles a picaresque day/night in the lives of two black transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, with the additional hook that the entire picture was shot using a series of iPhones (which, as it happened, did a fine job of capturing LA's unique urban light patterns). It's both funny and humane, sometimes both, though as one commentator noted it's still very much a middle-class straight white guy's version of lower-class black transgender life, however positive and celebratory. In that respect, it reminded me of Sembène's Faat Kiné, which is essentially, as I think the academic Ken Harrow once wrote, an older man's version of feminism -- where feminism is reduced to becoming one of the boys. Despite those reservations, there's a good deal to recommend Tangerine: there's a real sense of the vitality of this particular corner of the world, and
 a striking wealth of observational detail combined with some intriguing and unusual shot choices.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gift


2015, US/Australia/China, directed by Joel Edgerton

A very solid slice of neo-Hitchcock, with plenty of well-crafted misdirection -- the film cycles through a couple of possible genre options before settling on something quite distinctive. First-time director Edgerton makes interesting use of the space in the film's key location, turning something attractive and transparent into an arena of alarm, even in the daytime, although unlike in Hitchcock I had a hard time establishing exactly the physical contours of the space. There's another Hitchcockian echo in the casting -- finding a different shade in someone like Jason Bateman, in particular. 

45 Years


2015, UK, directed by Andrew Haigh

From the large canvas of Bridge of Spies to the small, with two excellent performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay -- especially Rampling, around whom the film revolves. The pacing and damp, chilly setting are perhaps a little too on the nose in terms of the relationship to the central story of a longstanding marriage under sudden duress, but the sense of unspoken tension is very strong, even alarming at times, and the final few minutes are, to my mind, exquisitely uncomfortable. 

Bridge of Spies


2015, US, directed by Steven Spielberg


Absolutely classical in construction, if not always its shot choices, and I mean that entirely as a compliment -- this is Spielberg entering grand-old-man territory, absolutely in control of his craft and making expert use of the possibilities afforded by the double narrative of the film (the first part focuses on the trial of a spy in the US, the second on the release of an American spy-plane pilot from the USSR). The doubling is echoed time and again in juxtapositions and contrasts -- everything down to the way that Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks sniffle through parts of the film, though also in larger ways, such as the implicit comparison between two different kinds of show trial. On the visual level, the colour palette is used to create yet more contrast -- the striking blues and wide open spaces of the American air force base against, say, the grey, hulking streets of East Berlin. It's not often that I celebrate the virtues of a big budget but you sure see the dollars up there on the screen, most notably in those intensely detailed Berlin cityscapes, although there's a real pleasure in the recreated Brooklyn of the opening, too.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Step By Step


1946, US, directed by Phil Rosen

Not a good film, but quite interesting to see again the kind of plotline that was deemed useful in the early post-war period -- unmasking Nazi spies operating on American soil. Lawrence Tierney must have been quite the beefcake at the time since the film did sterling work to keep him in his swimsuit for an extended period of time, though that's about the only contribution he makes, with his line delivery rarely rising above that you might expect in a cast read-through.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mistress America


2015, US, directed by Noah Baumbach

While Greta Gerwig is certainly fun, and there is the occasional, very unexpected, moment of visual wit (Baumbach does not strike me as a director who has a terrific sense of the camera's possibilities), for the most part the fine line between celebration and subversion seemed to me to be rather fluffed. On a minor note, I rather enjoyed, for most of the film, the attempts of one young fellow to defend himself from his jealous girlfriend -- a gag that reminded me of Lucien, the lovelorn teen in Un Eléphant, ça trompe énormément

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Black Angel


1946, US, directed by Roy William Neill

An inadvertent last film for Roy William Neill, and by the looks of it a shame that his career was cut short because this looks a great deal more interesting than the programmers he had been doing before that (even if some of them, especially the Sherlock Holmes pictures, are in their way quite dear to me). Dan Duryea is front and centre  in a race-against-time picture helping to reveal the truth so a man can be freed from death row, and Duryea's unusually sympathetic, at least by Dan Duryea standards. The picture borrows quite shamelessly from other fare of the period, and thus the flavour of mid-1940s Lang and Siodmak is never far away (particularly in some of the unreliable narration). Peter Lorre throws in an enjoyably oily turn, though the actor doesn't look in the fullest of health. 

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Dark Corner


1946, US, directed by Henry Hathaway

Like Douglas Sirk's Lured, this is an atypical role for Lucille Ball, at least by the standards of her later work, although it's a less "straight" part than the 1947 film since she's something of a spitfire secretary type, here, not averse to a spot of banter. Still, the setting is a fairly typical noir backdrop, with a reasonably complex plot to throw up the occasional red herring. I especially liked the highly efficient opening: the speed of the setup is terrific, as you're hooked within a minute or so by the promise of much intriguing backstory, while the supporting cast is full of gems in addition to Ball. The gradual reveal of Webb's character is also quite deliciously creepy. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes


1948, US, directed by John Farrow

Not a great film, but one that certainly makes solid use of its resources, most notably Edward G. Robinson -- and most specifically the great man's voice, something that Billy Wilder had already exploited to such notable effect in Double Indemnity. Speaking of that film, cinematographer John Seitz is behind the camera here, too, and that surely accounts for the film's look, as well some of the strikingly mobile shots, perhaps the most eye-catching a quite terrific crane shot during a stage performance by Robinson, who plays a mind-reader suddenly endowed with the actual gift he purports to possess. There's another lovely shot later on, the camera reversing away as Robinson packs his bags and prepares to abandon his life as everything crumbles around him -- the camera seems to echo the distancing in which the character is engaged.



Kiss of Death


1947, US, directed by Henry Hathaway

A gangland tale grounded with location shooting, a little awkward in its narrative construction, which has a stop-start quality, but often very atmospheric, though it's most memorable for an indelible debut by Richard Widmark, as a laughing, and obviously psychopathic, hoodlum -- the scene where he shoves a defenseless woman down a staircase remains shocking today and must surely have been deeply alarming to audiences of the time, even those already immersed in noir

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States