Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ant-Man


2015, US, directed by Peyton Reed

After the large-scale destruction of the various other Marvel movies we consumed recently, Ant-Man was refreshingly smaller in scale -- and while the film shows some development executive fingerprints it still retains at least some of the less conformist approach taken by its original script team. Whatever their origins, there are also several highly enjoyable set-pieces, notably those that play with onscreen/offscreen narration, as well as a sense that there is at least a superficial level of character development.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron


2015, US, directed by Joss Whedon

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


2014, US, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

Monday, December 26, 2016

Captain America: Civil War


2016, US, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lost in La Mancha


2002, UK/USA, directed by Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe

One of those films where you wonder at the sheer volume of self-incriminating material committed to tape/film at the time -- the filmmaking process here has a kind of dual aspect, with the actual film accompanied by a filmed reflection on that film as it evolves or, in this case, fails to evolve. The sense of an unraveling dream is quite unnerving, though it's never entirely clear exactly how the plug gets pulled -- it just all somehow falls apart, just as it all somehow seemed to come together at the beginning with a variety of financiers and other players. Gilliam, for his part, is remarkably sanguine most of the time -- deeply committed to his vision, and infectiously enthused by the few moments they do manage to commit to celluloid, but perhaps naive that the whole thing could have worked at all.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Inside Out


2016, US, directed by Pete Docter (co-directed by Ronnie del Carmen)

Sing Street


2016, Ireland, directed by John Carney

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ghostbusters


2016, US, directed by Paul Feig

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Le Chien jaune


1932, France, directed by Jean Tarride

Tarride's Maigret appearing the same year as Renoir's adaptation of La Nuit du carrefour, and the year before Duvivier's very fine La Tête d'un homme, and while it's not at the level of either of those it's certainly an interesting screen version of one of the most atmospheric and characteristic of all Maigret books -- the character himself had appeared only the previous year, though given Simenon's prolific rate of production Maigret had rapidly become a ubiquitous figure in popular culture. The novel and film are set in Concarneau, in the rainy, desolate off-season, and the film makes excellent use of some limited location filming to add authenticity -- just as Chabrol did a half-century later for a non-Maigret Simenon adaptation. The film is a generally faithful adaptation of the source novel, and as much an examination of the local bourgeoisie as it is a murder mystery. Abel Tarride, the director's father, plays Maigret, though there's little of great note in his portrayal; Robert Le Vigan plays one of the local notables and, as so often, lingers much longer in the memory.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


2016, US, directed by Jake Szymanski

Just awful: even being trapped on a plane for seven hours was a poor excuse for a viewing choice like this.

Trouble with the Curve


2012, US, directed by Robert Lorenz

A counterpoint to Moneyball, valorizing the scout above the number, though its unsubtle in the extreme in both storytelling and characterization, and doesn't do much with a solid cast -- though the actors are professional enough to deliver right down the middle.

Big


1988, US, directed by Penny Marshall

As charming as it was on release, with Hanks' sweet, wonderfully physical performance the absolute center of the film. Also very much of its era, with eye-popping shoulder pads and New York a haven of crime -- though some things, notably the depiction of grasping business types, never go out of style.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Nice Guys


2016, US, directed by Shane Black

Very much enjoyed this, for the performances by the principals and also for the sense that Shane Black finally managed to get down on film what he'd been trying to capture since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Crowe and Gosling make for a remarkably well-matched pair, and Gosling's comic timing is very fine at times.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dark Passage


1947, US, directed by Delmer Daves

The only Bogart-Bacall I hadn't seen, though it's less notable for that pairing for my money, lacking most of the crackle of their other appearances together. It's a good deal more interesting for the noir elements, and the sense of a deepening nightmare as the bodies pile up. Overall, though, I found it less satisfying than its parts: several sequences to be treasured, and a number of wonderful character turns, but somehow the final product lacked that ineffable magic. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Big Combo


1955, US, directed by Joseph H. Lewis

I haven't seen much of Joseph H. Lewis's output beyond Gun Crazy, but this was terrific -- gritty, and again perhaps a touch ahead of its time in terms of the depiction of morally compromised characters, though it's also very much a product of the noir era, and those characters feel very familiar from popular literature of the period. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Hitch-Hiker


1953, US, directed by Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino's terrifically sweaty, creative little thriller -- with the kind of tension of which Clouzot might have been proud, or indeed to which the French director owes a debt. The unusual setting in dusty Mexican backwaters adds a striking layer of authenticity, and the positive portrayal of Mexico and Mexican policemen is unusual, especially for the time period. The finale on the docks also provided a fine counterpoint to the car-bound earlier going.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Murder By Contract


1958, US, directed by Irving Lerner

A compelling picture with which I was completely unfamiliar to this point: an existential hit man makes a name for himself and then hesitates when his next, highly lucrative target turns out to be someone quite different to what he imagined -- though before that occurs, there's an extended, often comic, sequence that comes across as a kind of Waiting for Godot-in-LA. The photography, by Lucien Ballard, is terrific, and it feels like a film a good decade or more ahead of its time in terms of the approach to the material (while also functioning very effectively as a thriller). 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Seven Men From Now


1956, US, directed by Budd Boetticher

A well-crafted Western from Boetticher, like all those I've seen from the director -- generally lean, packing a great deal in, and raising some interesting moral questions. Randolph Scott is a good deal more interesting here than in most of his more generic fare, and the interplay between Scott and Lee Marvin is especially good. There's plenty of work for the bad guy supporting character crew too; they get to glower and growl more than usual. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery


1939, UK, directed by Thorold Dickinson

An interesting pre-war British entry, wherein the central murder is vaguely amusing, very much in keeping with the Golden Age novels of the period. The football backdrop, rare for the time, adds an element of intrigue, particularly since the actual footage came from Arsenal's last pre-war match. Leslie Banks is very good as both lead detective and comic relief, and as a procedural it's rather effective and, in that sense, a little before its time -- the details of forensic practice seem to be taken quite seriously, for instance, years and an ocean away from something like He Walked By Night

La Balance


1982, France, directed by Bob Swaim

A solid French policier, pretty good as a depiction of the gangster milieu of Belleville in the early 1980s but most notable for the strong performances by Nathalie Baye, Philippe Léotard, and Richard Berry, all of them playing compromised characters in one way or another (there's an interesting back story, too, in that Baye and Léotard had just ended a long relationship). However, I didn't find the direction to be inspired: Swaim films in pretty flat fashion at times, and his sense of rhythm that comes and goes, but the climactic gun battle is staged with a good deal of panache. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Wild Bunch


1969, US, directed by Sam Peckinpah

I finally had the opportunity to see this on the big screen, in glorious 70mm -- such that every exploding blood pouch gets the epic treatment. Although there are many memorable moments, Robert Ryan is mesmerizing as an unusually ambiguous hero, the kind of conflicted character whose checkered past would rapidly become more familiar in the 1970s. While the blood-soaked finale of this uncompromising film lodges deeply in the memory, I'd completely forgotten the fine interplay between William Holden/Warren Oates/Ernest Borgnine. It's both a resolutely male film and a rough-edged critique of American masculinity -- almost a farewell, too, to a much-beloved genre, which still turned out to have a little life in it. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Toy Story


1995, US, directed by John Lasseter

I hadn't seen this since its release, but it turned out to be a perfect Friday-night outing with the boys -- as charming and energetic as I remembered, and with the scary bits judged just right for the younger set. It's also brief -- I note that the running time creeps up with each of the subsequent installments.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

So Long At the Fair


1950, UK, directed by Terence Fisher and Anthony Darnborough

A film that might pair rather well with Gaslight, as a young woman visiting Paris in 1889 becomes embroiled in what seems like an utterly absurd situation where her brother and his entire hotel room appear to have disappeared. Dirk Bogarde's not at his best here, but the set-up is rather well-handled, and there's a real frisson of strangeness at times. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Shaun the Sheep


2015, UK, directed by Richard Starzak & Mark Burton

As good as anything Aardman as produced, with their usual spectacular attention to detail -- on every level, from the physical world to the numerous jokes (some of them intended more for accompanying adults). The Aardman films sometimes occupy a world slightly out of time, and the stylisation here often reflects that -- the urban backdrops, the vehicles -- but in terms of electronic communication it's absolutely up-to-the-minute, creating an enjoyable off-kilter sense of time.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

No Abras Nunca Esa Puerta


1952, Argentina, directed by Carlos Hugo Christensen

Based on Cornell Woolrich again, writing as William Irish, and this time adapted in Argentina -- a country previously unknown to me as a purveyor of noir pictures. The same director made another Woolrich adaptation around the same time and indeed the original intention was apparently to do a triptych but they expanded the third story leaving this film with just two entries, both very fine: the camerawork is spectacular at times, showing that noir put down deep roots elsewhere, too, and both stories have a strong twist in the tail. 

The Boys from Fengkuei


1983, Taiwan, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Very much a film where we see Hou's style coming into being, in particular with respect to the measured pace and the careful framing -- especially in the urban sequences, where the use of doorways (and other openings) or balconies foreshadows his later use of space. However, he also manages to capture a good deal of the vibrancy -- both good and bad -- of urban life: the film is certainly not stately in its progression. The main distraction is a classical soundtrack that's without subtlety -- very obvious choices, though apparently this is a step up from the film's original pop backing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Hunt


2012, Denmark, directed by Thomas Vinterberg (aka Jagten)

I haven't seen a Vinterberg film since his 1998 breakthrough Festen, and this returns to some of the same territory, a close-knit group of middle-class Danes dealing with a trauma. This picture depicts the aftermath of an accusation of child abuse in a small community, and the sense of blind groupthink is quite impressive, while the choice of subject matter is always challenging (to the point, just occasionally, of distraction: I found myself wondering how they worked with the child actor to ensure she was shielded from the more unsavory elements). 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Headhunters


2011, Norway, directed by Morten Tyldum (aka Hodejegerne)

More Scandinavian genre fare, reasonably interesting for the first half, completely lacking in credibility thereafter, though again with an edge of tough-mindedness one might not find in modern American genre films of this kind. There's also a slightly absurd edge at times that had me wondering if it was supposed to a comedy, though I'm not convinced that this was intentional -- certainly Tyldum is no Bong Joon-ho.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Big Short


2015, US, directed by Adam McKay

A very decent effort to comment on an exceptionally complex financial situation, making fine use of a variety of fourth-wall-breaking devices while also functioning as a more conventional modern interlocking story. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Chase


1946, US, directed by Arthur Ripley

An oddball noir from Arthur Ripley, based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, which features some spectacular narrative sleight-of-hand even by the standards of the mid-1940s. Ripley's career as a director encompassed only three features, and it's a shame he didn't pursue his interests more as this is certainly distinctive in its feverish Florida/Cuba atmosphere, while it is also blessed with a very fine cast: Robert Cummings, Peter Lorre (oily in a weirdly catatonic way), Michèle Morgan, and Steve Cochran are all in good form. Most memorable, though, for the feverish atmosphere. It's well-worth watching the picture in conjunction with David Bordwell's pair of 2016 blog posts, which contain major spoilers (though 1946 audiences would in many cases have known what was up, as Bordwell so expertly demonstrates). 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad


2016, US, directed by David Ayer

Entirely silly, and at least fifteen minutes overlong, this was still pretty fun, especially on the big screen, where some of the set-pieces played rather well -- the helicopter gunship/Spirit in the Sky sequence wasn't quite Apocalypse Now, but it captured some of that film's bombast and repurposed it to comic effect.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Jason Bourne


2016, US, directed by Paul Greengrass

Much less involving than its predecessors -- where the filmmakers previously managed to preserve some vague sense of Bourne as human being, here his invulnerability shades into the absurd, and at times the destruction becomes as mindless as in any superhero flick, to no greater purpose.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

La più bella serata della mia vita


1972, Italy/France, directed by Ettore Scola

A genuinely strange film from Ettore Scola, an adaptation of a Friedrich Dürrenmatt novel in which Alberto Sordi stumbles into a mock trial conducted by a bunch of retired legal eagles in a sprawling castle. There's a sense of incipient madness almost all the time, an oddly hysterical atmosphere lurking just under the surface, both in the trial itself, which the "accused" and the members of the legal profession view very differently, and in Sordi's relationships with the castle staff, with miscommunication or non-communication the main feature. The main distraction, for me, was the post-dubbing of all the actors's voices, standard in Italy in the 1970s -- at times, the discrepancy between the studio-recorded dialogue and the setting, which would have had radically different acoustics, was jarring, and it's sad that there's no French-language audio in existence given that the legal minds are played by Charles Vanel, Claude Dauphin, Pierre Brasseur, and Michel Simon (in one of his final roles). 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Wave


2015, Norway, directed by Roar Uthaug (aka Bølgen)

Norwegian genre fare, watched out of curiosity when it popped up on Netflix. In most ways the picture is very similar to its Hollywood counterparts (the terrible disaster is ultimately the backdrop for the reunification of one particular nuclear family), but with some interesting nuances: it's a disaster film that needs to turn its lack of budget for special effects (restricted to a few sequences) into a virtue, and it makes smart use of pace, music, editing to create tension, while it also boasts a female lead able to match the male in terms of pragmatism in the business of survival. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hell or High Water


2016, US, directed by David Mackenzie

Paired as a double-bill with Charley Varrick, this doesn't have quite the same grasp on character as the earlier film, but it's still a fine picture, with a grizzled Jeff Bridges performance that's a pretty clear re-working of Rooster Cogburn, terrific management of pace, a distinctive and well-used West Texas setting (the film was made in roughly the right geographical area), and some very fine camerawork by Giles Nuttgens.

Charley Varrick


1973, US, directed by Don Siegel

If Charley Varrick appeared today, I'd expect it on the small screen: Varrick is the kind of anti-hero/flawed hero that surely figures in the ancestries of characters like Walter White. As much as I enjoy the pleasures of the expansive series format, Don Siegel's film is a salutary reminder that one can pack a great deal into two hours without compromising on character detail or nuance. Indeed, the film does an especially fine job of shading in Varrick's many sides, part of its careful navigation of the fundamental problem of sympathy with/for the character given that he is, after all, an armed robber. Obviously, the choice of Walter Matthau helps greatly -- there's a kind of hang-dog affability trailing him at almost all times, providing an excuse for his actions almost as they occur, and the actor also finds beats of humour that leaven what could otherwise be a rather dour exercise in criminals turning on one another. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Der Verlorene


1951, West Germany, directed by Peter Lorre

An excoriating film about the German experience during the Second World War, all the more notable for coming just a few years after the end of the conflict, well in advance of a more systematic historical reckoning. Lorre's only film as director makes adept use of flashback structure to bring us back to the moral compromises of the Nazi era, with the shifts in time also effectively emphasizing the ways in which the past overshadows the present. The film is especially strong on the ways in which the Nazi regime made use of the trappings of the law to bend individuals toward its ends, though Lorre doesn't make excuses for the behaviour of his compelling yet amoral central character (who evokes one of Lorre's most famous roles from the German phase of his career, in Fritz Lang's 1931 M).

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Brighter Summer Day


1991, Taiwan, directed by Edward Yang

An extraordinarily ambitious film that aims to paint a picture of an entire generation of (urban) Taiwanese still adjusting to live after migration from the Chinese mainland, drawing liberally from Edward Yang's own youth in Taiwan -- the Chinese title for the film makes reference to a tragedy that is woven into the latter stages of the film, and which transfixed Yang and his peers at the time. A degree of historical knowledge, such as that provided by the booklet accompanying the Criterion edition of the film, greatly helps with understanding of Yang's goals, in particular the unusual, loose-limbed first hour or so during which the film gradually coalesces around one protagonist while nonetheless retaining a sense of the broader fresco.* Indeed, the film is novelistic in the best sense, weaving a variety of destinies together to exceptional effect.

The English language title emphasizes the fascination that overseas, and particularly American, culture held for young Taiwanese of the 1950s and 1960s, just as postwar Germans delved into the depths of American popular culture, as in the films of Wim Wenders (like Wenders, Yang suggests a deep degree of alienation in the postward populace, an absence of emotional engagement that underpins the film's bursts of violence). Yang is looking back at his own youth, but there's little trace of nostalgia -- even when the film is lit with a wonderful warmth, there's often a sharp contrast with the events or words onscreen, while Yang makes exceptional use of naturalistic lighting effects during one of the film's most bewildering and brutal sequences.

* I also found John Anderson's 2005 book Edward Yang, published by the University of Illinois Press, very informative. Yang's untimely death in 2007 means that Anderson's book stands as a comprehensive career survey.

Deported


1950, US, directed by Robert Siodmak

Not classic Siodmak by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed the skill on display in his Hollywood films of the late 1940s seems temporarily to have abandoned him: though relatively brief, the picture overstays its welcome, and both photography and editing are disappointingly below par. The only real interest comes from the location shooting; though Siodmak apparently preferred to stay in the studio, he always had a fine eye for a good real-life backdrop.

Monday, July 18, 2016

You're Ugly Too


2015, Ireland, directed by Mark Noonan

Not a bad film -- the central pairing of Aidan Gillen and Lauren Kinsella is often effective, even affecting -- but one that's distractingly derivative, in a way that smacks of funding-body conservatism.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


2005, US, directed by Shane Black

Perhaps it was my mood, but this didn't work for me although I'd long wanted to catch up with it. There's nothing wrong with a good neo-noir, even one that thumbs its nose at genre conventions (see, for instance, Goodbye Paradise), but this comes across as entirely too self-satisfied, and I didn't warm to Robert Downey Jr's lead character.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Zootopia


2016, US, directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore

From this adult's perspective, Zootopia performs the key function of delivering good entertainment for kids while also providing more than a few components for the accompanying adult to enjoy -- perhaps never more so than in the scenes wherein the DMV employees are revealed to be... sloths. On my second viewing, I was much more aware of the various movie/TV homages/references -- it's hard to miss the extended, multi-part nod to The Godfather, but the nods to Breaking Bad, the slo-mo boxing of Raging Bull, and the numerous winks to other Disney properties all keep things lively for the older viewer.

Hail, Caesar!


2015, US, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Not vintage Coen Brothers -- it certainly doesn't reach the heights of their prior behind-the-Hollywood-scenes opus, Barton Fink -- but still highly entertaining, with vignettes to treasure (Jonah Hill's performance, and the glimpses into the technique of the movies, among others).

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Assassin


2015, Taiwan/China/Hong Kong, directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Coming immediately on the heels of Come Drink With Me, Hou's film was almost shocking in is use of aspect ratio: gone, at least in the early going, is the wonderful width of the Shawscope frame, in favour of the Academy frame, although this quickly creates a sense of intimacy that's key to the film's atmosphere (and which proves quite effective even used outdoors). The atmosphere and texture are key here; the narrative is tricky to grasp, especially on a first viewing, and I found the brief bursts of action relatively confusing, whereas the use of light and framing are often hypnotic, with a colour palette that sometimes recalls Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, perhaps because both directors were interested in the effects of natural light.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Come Drink With Me


1966, Hong Kong, directed by King Hu

The first of King Hu's wuxia films, in which he developed the template on which he'd expand (in every sense: Come Drink With Me is a good deal shorter than Hu's subsequent career highlights, especially the epic A Touch of Zen). Given that Hu had little enough experience behind the camera, never mind in this specific genre, it's a strikingly confident film, making exceptional use of both exterior and, especially, interior spaces: one sequence set in an inn is a masterpiece of staging, the frame alive with action at various depths (it's also an especially satisfying sequence as Golden Swallow, memorably played by Cheng Pei-pei, showcases her abilities).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Docteur Petiot


1990, France, directed by Christian de Chalonge

Michel Serrault is very good in the title role, his precise gestures and distinctive phrasing creating a deeply disconcerting portrait of (real-life) violence and madness that seem, in Chalonge's telling, entirely in the spirit of the times, that is, occupied Paris. Whether the locations are authentic to the story or not, they are used to excellent effect to create an atmosphere of desolation and desperation, with the sound design constantly keeping the ear off-balance.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ball of Fire


1941, US, directed by Howard Hawks

Wonderful big-screen outing, and despite my love for both Hawks and Stanwyck this was a first-time viewing for me. There's such a strong association these days between Hawks and the more manly genres that it often comes as a surprise to be reminded that he directed several of the great screwball comedies, although there's certainly some overlap in terms of the director's interests in the world of work and the various professional codes and behaviours that he contrasts to amusing effect when juxtaposing the academics and the gangsters. Occupying a role in between both groups, Barbara Stanwyck owns the film even when surrounded by a galaxy of fine character actors.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Une Nuit


2012, France, directed by Philippe Lefebvre (aka Paris By Night)

A solid French thriller set over the course of a single night, with a possibly corrupt cop doing the rounds of the nightclub circuit. The rhythm is intriguing, with moments of adrenaline interrupted by deliberate longueurs as the characters spend time in the car on the way from one place to the next; there's a real Melvillian echo to the central character, a single-minded individual with his own morality. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Face Behind the Mask


1941, US, directed by Robert Florey

Terrific crime melodrama, with Lorre in top form as a new arrival in the US dealt a terrible hand by fate after he is disfigured in a fire. While there narrative gets a touch overheated by the end, I was struck most forcefully by the depiction of the US as an immigrant's nightmare, very much in opposition to the usual narrative of opportunity and success. 

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Man Up


2015, UK/France, directed by Ben Palmer

Index

List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States