Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Accountant


2016, US, directed by Gavin O'Connor


Monday, April 03, 2017

Eyes in the Night

1942, US, directed by Fred Zinnemann

An early Zinnemann, featuring a blind detective and his duo of assistants -- one canine, one wisecracking 1940s character actor -- solving a very of-its-time wartime murder caper with a dash of Nazi spy intrigue. Despite the unusual detective trio, there's little memorable on offer here -- this looks and feels like a straightforward programmer.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Inferno


2016, US, directed by Ron Howard

Seen on an airplane journey, and awful on every level.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tumultes


1932, France/Germany, directed by Robert Siodmak

The French-language version of Siodmak's Stürme der Leidenschaft, starring Charles Boyer rather than Emil Jannings. This is very early Siodmak, though it has some of the darkness and melancholy of the American films that brought him to greatest prominence in the 1940s, and it shows that he was already an assured hand with narrative. Visually, it's not overly distinctive, though several brief passages in the final third are more obviously Siodmakian. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jigsaw


1962, UK, directed by Val Guest

Like Hell is a City, another Val Guest picture, this time a more straightforward procedural, with Jack Warner playing the lead detective (he’s already well advanced in years here – it must have been hard to sell him as an active detective in 1976, at the tail end of Dixon of Dock Green). While the narrative is more straightforward than the earlier film, the action is no less engaging, with a methodical exploration and elimination of leads, and an intriguing depiction of the back-streets of Brighton and surrounds – not quite the seamy side, but also something just a little short of respectability. It’s also very much in the Law & Order mode of police stories, resolutely focused on the professional rather than the personal lives of the cops (they mention offscreen lives but that’s about it). 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Logan


2017, US, directed by James Mangold

Sunday, March 19, 2017

It Always Rains On Sunday


1947, UK, directed by Robert Hamer

An atypically downbeat Ealing film, set over the course of the titular day with some brief flashbacks, and centered on a manhunt/criminal back on his home turf. The picture of British domesticity is very carefully and precisely undercut, with the crowded London streets seen to harbor a good deal more than they seem, while the East End’s market-sellers and Jewish businessmen (both legitimate and somewhat less legitimate) get an extended onscreen airing. Unlike in Hell is a City, which I watched immediately before this, there is a certain air of doomed romance, and while some commentators link that atmosphere to pre-war French films, I thought it equated at least as closely with some of the cynicism and sourness of immediate post-war French film.  

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Hell is a City


1960, UK, directed by Val Guest

An excellent, unusual British crime film set in Manchester and centered on a manhunt/man-to-man battle of wits between a criminal back on his home turf and an experienced, hard-bitten detective (Stanley Baker), marred only by a score that is rather intrusive at times. There’s nothing romantic about the criminals here, and indeed there’s a brutality in the depiction of the central crime and its aftermath that I don’t usually associate with the time period. In addition to a wonderful gallery of mostly northern character actors, there are some very fine bits of location business: pubs, backstreets, and moors and, in one extended sequence, wasteland used for a game of coin-tossing of the kind we see some years later in Wake in Fright – oddly enough another film featuring Donald Pleasance. The picture was made with the cooperation of the Manchester police, notable mainly because Baker’s character is less than entirely positive, particularly with respect to his home life. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Grand Central Murder


1942, US, directed by S. Sylvan Simon

A very efficient programmer that functions in some ways like an extended Agatha Christie unmasking: after some brisk early business, all of the suspects and several cops are gathered together to unravel a knotty mystery, with the lead detective in competition/collaboration with a wiseguy private dick/possible suspect (Van Heflin). There’s a breezy blend of tones -- murder, family dynamics, running jokes, banter -- that works very well, and the budget stretches to a good deal of location shooting that makes for an atmospheric and unusual backdrop. The camera movement is also quite creative in the cramped room where most of the action takes place, the camera roaming from one person to another as conversations evolve. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

13th


2016, US, directed by Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay’s documentary about, primarily, the ways in which black Americans have been systematically criminalized by the political/social system, with emphasis on the ways in which this has been used to subsequently disenfranchise vast swathes of the black population. It's a very effective assemblage of interviews, archival footage and, especially, statistical data, often depicted in imaginative and striking fashion, and underlines the ways in which the legacy of slavery is still very much with the United States when it comes to the daily lives and (restricted) political participation of the country's people of colour. The various talking heads are generally informative, and occasionally surprising, none more so than Newt Gingrich bluntly discussing the failures of policies past. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro


2016, US, directed by Raoul Peck

I had seen several of Raoul Peck’s earlier films, most notably his diptych focused on Patrice Lumumba, but his prior pictures, however interesting, didn't fully prepare me for the richness of this film, a remarkable work of both documentation and reconstruction that uses James Baldwin’s own notes for an unfinished project as its backbone, interspersed with carefully-selected footage of Baldwin himself. Entirely appropriately, the film is often deeply concerned with the ways in which filmed images were and are perceived by both blacks and whites, a theme to which Baldwin returned with some regularity in his writing (both fiction and non-fiction). If one or two moments are perhaps a little on the nose – images of the events in Ferguson, for instance – that may also say a good deal about how little has changed in the decades since Baldwin was writing, which lends his words a hauntingly prophetic air. As well as hearing Baldwin’s words quoted at length (his texts are spoken by Samuel L. Jackson), there is extensive archival footage of him in full flow, most notably from an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, in which Baldwin eviscerates a Yale professor, and there’s equally electrifying film of an appearance at an Oxford debate. The very idea that a late-night show might engage in discussion of that caliber is, of course, an impossibility in 2017. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Madagascar


2005, US, directed by Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell

The boys loved this, and while it’s certainly not painful I found it had little of the unforced charm of something like Zootopia, and certainly lacked the multi-layered, multi-generational aspect of the best recent animated films. In other words, a middle-of-the-road animated feature that underlines how challenging it is to really knock it out of the park.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Last Cab to Darwin


2015, Australia, directed by Jeremy Sims

Thoroughly enjoyable road movie, with a very fine, and largely unsentimental, central performance from Michael Caton. There’s a good deal to savour in the depiction and deconstruction of various aspects of Aussie masculinity, which presumably comes from the original stage play, though the film version is in addition quite stunning from a visual perspective. The picture is also notable as a fairly benign depiction of the country’s vast interior, at least from the white perspective – there's little of the threatening aspect that is explored in other Aussie films dating back to the 1970s, while it provides glimpses of Aboriginal life that are quite rare in films not explicitly geared at such themes (it surely owes some debt to Backroads in that respect). 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Confirm or Deny


1941, US, directed by Archie Mayo

Very enjoyable Don Ameche-starrer set in Blitz-era London, and while it's obviously a "preparedness" picture for an American audience it's also rather well done, with a decent sense of time and place and some very enjoyable character turns (Eric Blore, Arthur Shields -- whose Irish accent isn't hard to detect); the emotional climax is well-earned, with Ameche doing a fine job with an unusual kind of soliloquy. The budget goes to good use, too -- there are several highly convincing scenes dealing with the aftermath of various bombardments. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gas-oil


1955, France, directed by Gilles Grangier

A fine Gabin/Gilles Grangier collaboration, with some dialogue from the pen of Michel Audiard (Gabin gets a few pearls, very nicely delivered). Gabin is a truck driver -- as in the following year's much bleaker Des gens sans importance -- who inadvertently comes to the attention of some gangland figures, with Jeanne Moreau as his love interest. Gabin's role hearkens back to some of his most iconic working-man parts and it's not hard to see his character as an evolution of that of La Belle équipe, while the overall picture of the trucker's life is filled with enjoyable vignettes of working class/small town life in central France. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Train to Busan


2016, South Korea, directed by Yeon Sang-ho

Korean genre fare, occasionally quite inventive and witty, though ultimately not as distinctive as I had hoped even if it's a decent addition to the voluminous recent series of zombie entries. Still, it makes intelligent use of its effects budget in combination with some decent storytelling skills. Based purely on the content of the film, my sense is that Korean audiences might be more comfortable with syrupy tones, which seemed more amusing to a Western audience in the dramatic/action context – watching it with a US cinema audience the slightly nervous laughter tended to break up the overall effect. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ixcanul


2015, Guatemala, directed by Jayro Bustamante

A striking film from Guatemala that blends an often blunt, earthy realism with occasional hints of something more mystical. Set among a group of indigenous people scraping together a life on the side of a volcano, it reminded me at times of several African films in its blend of domestic detail and spirituality (except with a good deal more sexual frankness) -- parts of Idrissa Ouédraogo's early films, as well, of course, as those of Ousmane Sembène, though with a very different visual approach than the Senegalese director.

Friday, January 06, 2017

La Prochaine fois je viserai le coeur


2014, France, directed by Cédric Anger

Directed by former Cahiers critic Cédric Anger, the film deals with a bizarre and brutal true-life episode in the 1970s in which a series of murders/assaults was committed by a police officer whose role on the investigation team caused delays and misdirection in bringing events to a conclusion. Guillaume Canet plays the lead, and he's pretty good in an absolutely buttoned-down role, while the northeastern setting is very well-used, echoing, at times, Bruno Dumont’s earlier films. One of the French reviews I read suggested it had something of Zodiac about it, which whatever the film's other characteristics isn't true at all in plot terms -- although we follow the real-life chronology this isn't a procedural, rather a character study, albeit one that doesn't suggest much at all about the character's psychology, simply presenting him as a blank slate.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Prisoner of Zenda


1937, US, directed by John Cromwell

While Selznick’s high-end picture is a ripping yarn in the best tradition of the 1930s studios, I had forgotten the extent to which this is rather more of a drama/romance than a straight swashbuckler -- there are some wonderfully odious villains, and Ronald Colman, C. Aubrey Smith and David Niven all look like they had loads of fun on set, but the action – in stunt terms at least – is compressed into the final ten minutes or so, with a good deal of fairly complicated back and forth in the lead in. As tales set in invented Mitteleuropa locations go, I still prefer the more comically-inclined TheLady Vanishes, or even Night Train to Munich...

Index

List of all movies

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About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States