Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Other Films Seen in 2019 (36)

Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire (1972, France, Yves Robert) January 11, 2019

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942, US, Michael Curtiz) January 11, 2019

Destry Rides Again (1939, US, George Marshall) February 1, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019, US, Dean DeBlois) March 10, 2019

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, US, Peyton Reed) March 30, 2019

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007, US, Robin Swicord) April 5, 2019

Crazy Rich Asians (2018, US, Jon M. Chu) May 17, 2019

Wonder Woman (2017, US, Patty Jenkins) May 31, 2019

Braqueurs (2015, France, Julien Leclercq) June 11, 2019

Always Be My Maybe (2019, US, Nahnatchka Khan) June 19, 2019

Snowpiercer (2013, South Korea, Bong Joon-ho) June 21, 2019

Arrival (2016, US, Denis Villeneuve) June 23, 2019

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, US, Bryan Singer) July 1, 2019

My Cousin Rachel (2017, UK/US, Roger Michell) July 29, 2019

Runaway Jury (2003, US, Gary Fleder) July 29, 2019

Step (2017, US, Amanda Lipitz) July 30, 2019

Booksmart (2019, US, Olivia Wilde) August 2, 2019

Widows (2018, US, Steve McQueen) August 3, 2019

X-Men: First Class (2011, US, Matthew Vaughn) August 11, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, US, Quentin Tarantino) August 15, 2019

The Mule (2018, US, Clint Eastwood) September 9, 2019

Paris is Burning (1990, US, Jennie Livingston) September 23, 2019

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, US, Desiree Akhavan) September 25, 2019

La Beauté du diable (1952, France/Italy, René Clair) September 26, 2019

Smallfoot (2018, US, Karey Kirkpatrick) October 11, 2019

Downton Abbey (2019, UK, Michael Engler) October 13, 2019

Mississippi Grind (2015, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) November 9, 2019

The Killer is Loose (1956, US, Budd Boetticher) December 5, 2019

Klaus (2019, Spain, Sergio Pablos) December 8, 2019

Love in a Fallen City (1984, Hong Kong, Ann Hui) December 17, 2019

Knives Out (2019, US, Rian Johnson) December 22, 2019

Parasite (2019, South Korean, Bong Joon-ho) December 23, 2019

The Irishman (2019, US, Martin Scorsese) December 23, 2019

Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936, US, H. Bruce Humberstone) December 24, 2019

The Old Man and the Gun (2018, US, David Lowery) December 25, 2019

Frozen II (2019, US, Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck) December 30, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Sleeping Tiger

1954, UK, directed by Joseph Losey (under the pseudonym Victor Hanbury)

As so often, a viewing choice inspired by David Cairns, this is an enjoyably ripe melodrama, over-stuffed with plot and challenges to logic, but Dirk Bogarde does good sleaze, Losey directs with great energy, and the climax has a nice bit of visual poetry to it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Man Who Cheated Himself

1950, US, directed by Felix E. Feist

A pretty classic, B-level noir, in which Lee J. Cobb's cop is bewitched and betrayed by a femme fatale, again a classically misogynistic trope of the genre. Cinematically, it's worth a look, with some striking shot choices, especially as the film reaches its climax, while there's surely a nod to Hitchcock's Suspicion in the prominent appearances of several glasses of milk. There's also a nice mix of San Francisco location work and back projection shots.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Tanzania Transit

2018, Netherlands/Tanzania, directed by Jeroen van Velzen

I came across this when searching for the film Transit; it's a documentary filmed aboard long-distance trains in Tanzania, and the filmmakers manage to get exceptionally intimate access to the key players, ranging from a woman who's the definition of a survivor to a preacher/scammer preying on those a little further down the pecking order than himself. It's very engagingly filmed, with camerawork that gives a sense of an expansive rather than enclose world on board. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Pretender

1947, US, directed by W. Lee Wilder

Stronger on plot than on execution, with a nice, bitterly sardonic sting in the tail. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Red House

1947, US, directed by Delmer Daves

A sweaty, tense thriller, that picks away at the apparently benign exteriors of location and character to reveal the darkness beneath -- just as the quiet small town setting becomes less innocent, Edward G. Robinson's character starts to drift off the rails, and it's all set up for quite the fervid psycho-sexual climax. It's an interesting counterpoint to the more common urban settings of post-war noir, too. 

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Wives Under Suspicion

1938, US, directed by James Whale

A rather precipitous fall from the standards that Whale set earlier in the decade, this is an efficient enough vehicle for Warren William, who is good value -- as ever -- in a role as a prosecutor who senses some overlap between his current case and his own wife's behavior. However, there's nothing of the distinctiveness of Whale's Universal horrors, even in the visuals. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Tomka and His Friends

1977, Albania, directed by Xhanfise Keko (aka Tomka dhe shokët e tij)

An Albanian film that I became aware of through Mark Cousins' A Story of Children and Film, on one level a standard coming-of-age film, but of course also a film about oppression and survival on multiple levels, set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Albania, 
with charming, naturalistic performances from the kids, and a sometimes infectious insistence on living and thriving in adversity; there's also a terrific tracking shot to start the film. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Le Samouraï

1967, France, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

A rewatch, to see the restored version, which looks glorious from the wonderful first shot to the last. Pretty much the concentration of both Melville and Delon, even if not necessarily my favourite film by/with either.

Friday, July 05, 2019

La Poison

1951, France, directed by Sacha Guitry

One of the most extraordinarily misogynistic films I've seen, as well as being very much of the postwar tradition of bitter, black, self-lacerating social examination in French film (the two may be linked, of course; several of those key French noirs are hardly kind to their central female characters, who are at times depicted as taking advantage of the men in their lives -- men rarely seem to have to take responsibility for themselves). 

Ginette Vincendeau's Criterion piece that accompanies the DVD of the film is extremely useful in providing the context for Guitry's tone, without ever defending the writer/director. 

Of note in the background: a rare non-comic role for Louis de Funès.

Monday, June 24, 2019


1966, Sweden, directed by Ingmar Bergman

One of the Bergmans that really retains its power, a genuinely disconcerting film that must have been an especially strong jolt on its release, and which is both strange, not-quite-like-anything-else, and acutely perceptive of its particular psychological pathology. The sense of an enclosed world got under my skin in the same way as when I first saw the film as an undergrad -- there's a sense that both characters and audiences can't escape. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Brute Force

1947, US, directed by Jules Dassin

A film that lives up to its title, depicting the constant, claustrophobic drumbeat of violence, both psychological and physical, in prison. The characters are never unaware of the restrictions under which they operate, whether it's the bars on their cells, or the (often arbitrary) rules with which they must comply. Dassin's framing, as in the picture above, is often very strong, quickly delineating the free and unfree zones. The film isn't as strong in its social analysis sections, inventing a somewhat unconvincing context in which several characters debate the meaning and utility of prison; it's much stronger down in the bowels with the men, and the tick-tock sense of a bomb about to explode. Burt Lancaster, in one of his earliest roles, is already every inch the star, commanding the screen. The decision to cast Hume Cronyn as the sadistic warder is a stroke of genius, though he's alarmingly into it at times.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Million Pound Note

1954, UK, directed by Ronald Neame

Something of an Ealing knockoff, this is a generally charming fable about the chaotic consequences of a bet/social experiment as to how a penniless American will handle the titular banknote (Trading Places followed a similar template, albeit with more 1980s grit and volume). The fun mostly comes from the reactions of other people to Gregory Peck's dilemma -- one sequence in a restaurant is especially good -- and the supporting cast is, predictably, very strong, with many familiar faces of the period given some work.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Les Invisibles

2018, France, directed by Louis-Julien Petit

A picture that walks its walk, not only depicting the reaction of a group of women to the closure of their shelter, but actually casting women from homeless backgrounds in many of the key roles. While it certainly hits beats from the Full Monty school, sometimes pretty insistently, some of the spikier edges feel as though they've come from genuine collaboration between cast and director, and those fragments give the film its most significant charge.

If Beale Street Could Talk

2018, US, directed by Barry Jenkins

Not, perhaps, as luminously successful as Jenkins' previous Moonlight, but this is still very strong, grounded in very engaging performances and complemented by gorgeous photography, with an exceptionally rich palette of colours, and a warmth of feeling toward its characters (James Baldwin's characters) that's very affecting, though perhaps more beautiful than real. As much as we want to root for the pair, at times it feels as though the film's hardest edges lie in the background, in the lives, and traumas, of the other characters.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

2018, US, directed by Marielle Heller

Wonderfully absorbing, with two terrific performances: Melissa McCarthy gets to show more of her range, without having to bottle up her energy, and Richard E. Grant hasn't been as good for years. Heller has a great feel for the period and milieu of the film, or more accurately the multiple milieus, from grimy day-drinking bars to down-at-heel walk-ups to glimpses of the other side at swanky parties or warm academic havens. She also has a tenderness toward her characters, as weak and self-deluding as they can sometimes be, that's deeply affecting -- and gives lovely scenes to many of the supporting players.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


1988, Australia, directed by Steve Jodrell

A very strong 1980s film that sadly feels equally relevant today. It's grounded in a sharp analysis of toxic masculinity, grounded in a specific rural Australian reality but not in any way restricted to that environment, and features an excellent central performance by Deborra-Lee Furness, as an unapologetic, self-confident lawyer taking a solo trip through the outback. Her character draws on Western tropes, literally riding into the dusty small town and introducing a new vocabulary of justice. The film neither shies away from nor revels in its depiction of violence, and the conclusion comes as a genuine gut-punch.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Le Jeu

2018, France, directed by Fred Cavayé

Although very competently made (or rather re-made), and visually slick, the picture has little meaningful to say about the consequences of our modern technological obsession -- centered on a game wherein the characters allow the contents of their phones to be shared, the picture is all plot mechanics, no commentary.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Bad Blood

1981, New Zealand/United Kingdom, directed by Mike Newell

A fairly straightforward retelling of the mass murder perpetrated by Stanley Graham in 1941, a series of crimes that was the culmination of a lengthy standoff with police over the surrender of weapons in wartime. There's a broader resonance in the New Zealand context of the man asserting himself in relation to the authorities, as well as the relationship with the bush, both a source of refuge and a threat (already explored in films like Sleeping Dogs and, later, in more sophisticated pictures like Utu). While the film is centered on Jack Thompson's character, Carol Burns, as Graham's wife, matches him beat for beat as his mental state collapses. The sense of a tight-knit, yet poisonous, community is very well drawn, and was surely influenced also by the aftermath of the Crewe murders, which would have been in the news throughout the 1970s (and which formed the basis for the film Beyond Reasonable Doubt).

Saturday, April 27, 2019

La Fiancée du pirate

1969, France, directed by Nelly Kaplan

I thought that Yves Boisset's Dupont Lajoie was pretty acid in its analysis of French society, but Nelly Kaplan's first feature film is at least as bleak, and certainly more thorough in its merciless dissection of the mores of its small-town setting. At times, Kaplan's wide-ranging condemnation recalls Simenon, though Kaplan is far more interested in society's view of women than Simenon ever was. The film constantly surprises in its tone, veering from the cynical to the carnivalesque, with Bernadette Lafont providing a central performance of exceptional energy and frankness that still feels fresh today, even if the character's turning-of-the-tables might take a different form in 2019.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Police Story 2

1988, Hong Kong, directed by Jackie Chan

A letdown -- the film opens with a summary of the exceptional stuntwork of the first film, but very little of what follows has the same rhythm and verve.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Dupont Lajoie

1975, France, directed by Yves Boisset

Boisset had a decent run of films in the 1970s, taking a fairly left-of-centre perspective, with this perhaps his most acid picture, a disturbing portrait of French society and its dealings with outsiders, specifically France's Arab population, though other, nearer neighbours' "true" Frenchness also comes under the microscope as la France profonde defends its interests. Jean Carmet is excellent, and quite disturbing, in an atypical role, while Isabelle Huppert lights things up in a fairly early screen appearance. 

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Bigamist

1953, US, directed by Ida Lupino

An unusually frank film, for its time, with respect to social mores, focused on a salesman who is attempting to juggle two relationships, though the picture has to stretch credibility a little to accommodate this situation in a manner that keeps the central character sympathetic.While the film seems to start out as a justification for male misbehaviour, as the narrative unspools it becomes something a good deal more interesting, a discussion of how the standard boxes don't work for every situation, and where women, in particular, are likely to fall foul of social regulations that determine acceptable behaviour. The film is quite up front about this, engineering situations in which conversations about stifling convention are reasonably credible, while Lupino makes ample time for us to hear from the two women -- they're anything but subordinate to the story. It might make a good pairing with the slightly earlier That Brennan Girl.

Monday, April 01, 2019


1938, France, directed by Robert Siodmak

An assured film from Siodmak's French period, though with a somewhat unusual structure -- it almost feels like two different films, albeit both featuring the same protagonist, with the capacious frame a tale of domestic spite and poison and the inset a rousing sketch of colonial skulduggery in Shanghai (a pretty common backdrop at the time). Harry Baur is in fine form as the titular Mollenard, a merchant marine captain facing ruin and shame, a circumstance that brings every dark aspect of his relationship with his wife, played by Gabrielle Dorziat, to the fore. The film rigs the game somewhat, though, by making Dorziat's character so utterly unsympathetic -- the same rather unpleasant trick Renoir played in La Chienne -- that the audience is cast on the side of the criminal by default. Still, the downbeat ending manages to channel something of the spirit of Quai des brumes, made the same year, with the two films also sharing Eugen Schüfftan as director of photography.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hollow Triumph

1948, US, directed by Steve Sekely

A neat, small-scale B-noir, with Paul Henreid in good form in a classic Hollywood dual role that wouldn't stand up to a moment's scrutiny out in the real world, and yet it works, partly because the film is so committed to its inevitable, utterly downbeat conclusion. There's also some especially fine cinematography by John Alton, deep in an exceptionally productive and successful period of his career, with this film released around the same time as the equally striking T-Men and He Walked By Night.

Monday, March 18, 2019

So Dark the Night

1946, US, directed by Joseph S. Lewis

Lewis is one of those filmmakers who is so deliberate with his choices that it's almost impossible not to be aware that there's a director at work, making conscious choices over each aspect of the structure and storytelling. Nothing is careless or accidental, for instance in his exceptional use of framing -- here there are frames within frames, grids, or lamps and other objects that unexpectedly intrude in the foreground, forcing the eye to look around to focus on the actors, or ask just why the camera is placed there and what this conveys of the directorial eye. All this is at the service of a story that's frankly on the outer edges of B-movie credibility, in an odd, out-of-time version of rural France, and yet that barely matters as the plot advances and Lewis centers in more and more tightly on a disintegrating mind.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Wonders

2014, Italy, directed by Alice Rohrwacher (aka Le meraviglie)

On the surface level a coming-of-age tale, and often a very affecting and unusual one, but deeper down a dissection of family -- both the ones allocated and chosen -- and, in the particular rural context, of the role of uncompensated labour within the family structure. The routines, often back-breaking, of children's work are depicted with great care, perhaps drawn from Rohrwacher'w own background, with the dividing line between domestic chores and work toward supporting the family income at best tenuous, particularly under the domination of a forbidding patriarch. The young actors, particularly Maria Alexandra Lungu as the oldest of the children, are excellent, while the particular non-touristy settings (in Tuscany and Lazio) peel back another layer of Italian life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


1939, France, directed by Robert Siodmak

French-period Siodmak, and very brisk fun: seen shortly after Sirk's remake, as Lured/Personal Column, the debt owed by the later film is a good deal more obvious, with certain sequences essentially shot-for-shot reproductions, though the actors give each film a nice variation in flavor. 

Saturday, February 09, 2019

A nos amours

1983, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

Perhaps the most unsettling film in the Pialat canon, in large part because of the director's extraordinary onscreen presence. The genuine rigours, both emotional and physical, through which the actors are put are very apparent here, with them forced to react to Pialat-as-actor's incredibly unpredictability and even violence, not least in the extraordinary dinner-party scene where his character returns to the family home after a period of exile and throws what seems like a new equilibirum utterly off-balance. Pialat is a terrific, though challenging, actor in his own right, and on the strength of this film it's not hard to see why others might not have wanted to direct him, though he seems to have enjoyed considerable loyalty from several actors who returned several times to his sets.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Mélodie en sous-sol

1963, France, directed by Henri Verneuil

A weaker entry in the Gabin canon, though never without interest, not least as the first of three films uniting Gabin with Alain Delon, cast very much as the youthful rebel. The opening, set in under-construction Sarcelles, is quite fascinating, with Gabin's character returning from prison to a transformed landscape; the oppressive effect of the new construction is reminiscent of the tone of Gabin's slightly later, and much more challenging, Le Chat, set against a similar background. While the locations in the opening going make a real impact, the subsequent blend of location and studio shooting is very rough-edged, with the studio sets so obviously artificial.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Touchez pas au grisbi

1953, France, directed by Jacques Becker

One of the true marvels of the French gangster genre, with its own codes and conventions, quite different to the American counterparts -- impossible to imagine the wonderful scene of two men sharing a late-night sandwich, never mind the subsequent scene when they brush their teeth, in an American movie of the period. As magnetic as Gabin was in the pre-war years, he's rarely been as magnificent as on this occasion -- every moment he's offscreen you sense his influence, even with the wonderful supporting cast (Dary, Ventura, Moreau, Frankeur and more).

Deux hommes dans la ville

1973, France/Italy, directed by José Giovanni

The final film featuring both Gabin and Delon, with the older star ceding much of the running time to his younger, though already established, counterpart; indeed, Gabin is offscreen for a great deal of the film, which focuses on Delon's character, recently released from prison and attempting to go straight (Gabin plays his parole officer). Gabin is in peak avuncular mode, the éminence grise who has seen it all, though even then he doesn't have Delon's special line in world-weariness. The film is blunt on the impact of prison and the challenges of rehabilitation, though director José Giovanni had his own complex, up-close relationship to the institution of incarceration -- he willingly collaborated with the German occupation, and was involved in various gangland activities, ending up in prison for more than eleven years before beginning his second act as a novelist and filmmaker while carefully occluding the less savoury details of his past. While the film is ultimately less profound than Giovanni would like us to believe, some of the details on the French legal system are piquant, while Gérard Depardieu and Bernard Giraudeau make notable early appearances.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sudden Fear

1952, US, directed by David Miller

A film that I'd wanted to see after reading Farran Smith Nehme's very engaging appreciation in Film Comment, this did not disappoint, a noir with a deep vein of high-pitch melodrama. Joan Crawford is excellent in one of the strongest roles of her later career, reacting to the most alarming of circumstances and setting in motion a plot of her own, while she gets particularly good support from Jack Palance, so angular here that he looks like an actor as drawn by Picasso at times.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

That Brennan Girl

1946, US, directed by Alfred Santell

Watched after Farran Nehme wrote about this as part of a retrospective of Republic Pictures films. As the article suggests, the film is quite fascinating in its use of formal devices, to show the passage of time or to push the viewer to greater investment in the action, among other things. It's also very much of its 1946 moment, with a husband lost to the war, and if the conclusion ultimately seems a little too neat it's hard to deny the titular girl her moment in the sun.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Monkey Business

1931, US, directed by Norman Z. McLeod

Kicking off 2019 with the Marx Brothers on the big screen; the kids were alternately nonplussed (Groucho's breakneck speechifying, the creakier reference points) and delighted (every musical and slapstick moment, and a smattering of the verbal wit). With popcorn and soda thrown in, I think they were a good deal more pro than con.


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