Monday, 3 November 2014

NOVEMBER 3, 2014

ARGENTO'S DRACULA (2012) Directed by Dario Argento  **

To be honest, it's not very good, but I don't think it is the total wipeout that some genre fans have claimed.  Argento's reputation has been in free fall for a while with me but this certainly isn't his worst film - I think MOTHER OF TEARS deserves that dubious honour. But it is Argento for the man who made DEEP RED (still my favourite) and SUSPIRIA to have turned in such a routine piece of work is obviously disappointing. Having said that, there are things I liked such as Dracula wiping out the town council, appearing from a swarm of flies and becoming a Praying Mantis (a silly scene but a nice idea). Stylistically it lacks the punch of the early Argento although the setting is quite believable. Performances are a little restrained with Rutger Hauer looking uninterested in his turn as Van Helsing. Thomas Krechtmann's Count Dracula seemed a bit ordinary but I did warm to it as the film progressed. A failure but an interesting one.

Friday, 26 September 2014

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) Directed by Roger Corman. ***

I've always had a strong affection for Roger Corman's early efforts and, for me, MACHINE GUN KELLY stands out as one of the best. I first saw it at the National Film Theatre many, many years ago and liked it then. It has a lot going for it. In the first place, unlike many of the other Corman's of the period, there is no element of humour in it - this one is serious business. It is very nicely shot and tightly edited - the opening wordless bank heist and getaway is a mini-masterclass in economy.  The cast is really excellent. Charles Bronson heads the list as the death-haunted Kelly and he is ably backed up by Susan Cabot as his Lady MacBeth moll. His gang consists of Morey Amsterdam, Jack Lambert, Richard Devon and Frank DeKova - all outstanding.  The film may not bear much resemblance to the career of the real George "Machine Gun" Kelly and it is hard to imagine why Corman let slip on Kelly's famous cry of "Don't shoot G-Men" but otherwise this is bargain basement film-making at its best.    

Thursday, 4 September 2014


I've been away on holiday and sadly have not seen much in the way of movies beyond the recent CAPTAIN PHILLIPS starring Tom Hanks which I recommend to anybody who hasn't seen it. I feel I must say something about Richard Attenborough who died while I was away. Since his tearful Oscar speech he has often been viewed as something of a figure of fun or the ultimate "luvvie" which somewhat overshadows his many achievements and his major contributions to British cinema both as an actor and director. For me, the acting was the most important and I have many favourite performances from his sinister Pinkie in BRIGHTON ROCK (above) through such films as SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, THE GREAT ESCAPE and his wonderful performance as an old school Sergeant Major in THE GUNS OF BATASI. There were a few duds along the way such as the misconceived remake of  MIRACLE OF 34th STREET (a film he reportedly loathed) but, to be fair, they were few and far between and often it was Attenborough's performance that one remembered long after the rest of the movie had, thankfully, been erased from your mind...I still love his bit in DR>DOLITTLE.  His films as a director were usually big star-studded extravaganzas from OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR, GANDHI (which many think was his crowning achievement) to CHAPLIN and A BRIDGE TO FAR and for the most part they were passionately felt projects...certainly they are all very watchable. RIP

Friday, 15 August 2014

AUGUST 15, 2014

BOBBY (2006) Directed by Emilio Estevez. ****

BOBBY is Bobby Kennedy and Emilio Estevez's film chronicles the day of his assassination. However the film chooses not to follow Kennedy (who is not dramatically portrayed in the film) but instead to concentrate on the other people who were shot on that day in the hotel kitchen and their reasons for being there. It must be stated that although these people existed the characters who represent them in the film are fictional substitutes - with the possible exception of the young Mexican kitchen hand. Some have complained that it is difficult to be interested in the details of these people's lives while such dramatic historical events are unfolding, but I think they miss the point of the film that Estevez set out to make. Whatever one's feelings about the Kennedys both JFK and Bobby represented to many American's the hopes, dreams and aspirations they had for a better, fairer and more just country. If the JFK Camelot dream was wiped away in Dallas, Bobby offered a second chance - and that is what this film is about - about the people's dreams. I found the film supremely moving in much the same way that Emilio's earlier directorial effort, THE WAY was. Both films are quietly subversive inasmuch as they get under your skin and make you think of things that lay beneath the surface - just as THE WAY was "not about religion" (to quote one of that film's characters) so BOBBY is not about politics, it is about much, much more.  The cast is quite phenomenal : William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins (who also produced), Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, Harry Belafone, Elijah Wood, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, Shia LaBeouf and many others.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

AUGUST 2, 2014

WALK LIKE A DRAGON (1960) Directed by James Clavell. **

What a strange career James Clavell had. It is hard to believe that the director of this interesting little film was also responsible for TO SIR WITH LOVE - although both films show in interest in racial issues. WALK LIKE A DRAGON was the second film to feature the young James Shigeta (who died last week) following Sam Fuller's THE CRIMSON KIMONO which was made the previous year. Both films deal with inter-racial relationships. While KIMONO was probably the braver film for the time inasmuch as the Nissei detective (played by Shigeta) was allowed to get the caucasian girl over his white buddy, it is DRAGON that goes into the subject of prejudice in greater depth. Shigeta plays a young Chinese who goes to the American West in the 1870's and finds himself in a love triangle with a girl freed from slavery and her employer with whom she has fallen in love. Shigeta takes to the gun under the tutelage of a gunfighter (surprisingly played by singer Mel Torme) and the girl (the lovely Nobu McCarthy) has to choose between the two men to avoid bloodshed.  interesting to see Jack Lord, in his pre-HAWAII 5-0 days, as the third side of the triangle. The direction by Clavell is pretty pedestrian but the film deserves praise for its willingness to deal with a controversial subject in an intelligent way.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

JULY 31, 2007

My dear friend, Ian Dean, passed away in Southend Hospital last Friday at the far too young age of fifty-three. Ian was one of my film viewing companions. His passion was anything to do with musicals - a subject about which he knew almost everything there is to know whether it was film or stage. Ian was a larger than life character, an extrovert some days and introvert others - depending on which way the wind was blowing.
A cat lover, a devout Christian, flamboyant, camp, funny, a lover of Shakespeare and the classics. His favourite film of all-time was probably THE WIZARD OF OZ but some days he would swear it was Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS - the latter reflecting his love of silent films. We watched countless films together and although I introduced him to many of those films, Ian was his own man and he was never slow to speak up if he didn't like something - he hated anything set in Outer Space (although he liked earth bound sci-fi) and he absolutely refused to watch anything starring Kevin Costner. There were many films he still wanted to see, both old and new but more than anything he was looking forward to the forthcoming film adaption of Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS. I shall miss him more than I can say. R.I.P Ian.

Monday, 21 July 2014

JULY 21, 2014

LE TROU / The Hole (1960)  Directed by Jacques Becker. ****

Another cracking prison escape drama based on a true story, this time one that happened in 1949. Four long term inmates are about to put their escape plan into action when a new arrival is put in their cell. Is he a snitch or can he be trusted?  Eventually they decide to trust him and the film meticulously shows us the work the men have to do to put their plan into action. Becker (CASQUE D'OR and GRISBI) is content to hold on a man digging through rock for minutes on end and it certainly heightens the suspense because we, the audience, genuinely feel the effort involved (thankfully not physically!). There is obviously more to the story and I don't want to give anything away. Terrific performances by the entire cast (which includes Philipe LeRoy and Michael Constantine). Like A MAN ESCAPED, a classic prison drama.

Friday, 18 July 2014

JULY 18, 2014

UN CONDAMNE A MORT S'EST ESCHAPPE/ A  Man Escaped **** (1956) Directed by Robert Bresson.

I have to admit that I've never really fallen under the spell of Robert Bresson. I certainly don't dismiss his talent as many knowledgeable people take him very seriously (perhaps not as seriously as Bresson takes himself), including Louis Malle and Paul Schrader. I have enjoyed both LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE (from a Cocteau script) and PICKPOCKET, both of which are in my collection, but his later films have never held much of an attraction despite their high ratings. Having said that, I must say I loved A MAN ESCAPED and watched it twice within twenty-four hours.  The plot (based on a true story) tells of a resistance operative imprisoned by the nazis in Lyon in 1943 and the film meticulously depicts his efforts to escape - made even more urgent when he is condemned to death.  I found the whole film very suspenseful and the tension is in no way diminished buy knowing the outcome - it's not so much "will he do it" as "how will he do it."  Bresson's style is minimalist and any acts of violence take place off screen. Francois Letterier conveys a whole world of emotion with very little expression (watch his eyes) although he was not a professional actor, only making one more film, Alain Resnais' STAVISKY, although he went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter. On my first viewing I couldn't understand why he looked so familiar until I realised he bore a striking resemblance to a young Alan Alda. I'm sure that somewhere this film is called an existential classic. I wouldn't argue with that assessment but I'll settle for nail biting thriller.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


 "DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D resembles James Cameron in its audacity, its generosity and its commitment to change the spectator’s view of the world. Through his work and the emotion it inspires, he has awoken consciences, while at the same time transforming movie-making, taking it to a previously unknown dimension of pleasure.”

Bruno Barde, director of the American Film Festival in Deauville, France.

I'm still laughing, are you?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

JULY 9, 2014

THE GOOD THIEF (2002) Directed by Neil Jordan ****

An English/French/Irish remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR which is well worth seeking out. The setting changes from the Paris/Deauville setting of the original to Nice/Monte Carlo and the eponymous Bob is now an expatriate American gambler/junkie excellently played by Nick Nolte. The rest of the cast are European. Like all good heist films this one twists and turns until the sting in the tail. For me, a remake of Melville is almost sacrilegious but Jordan pulls it off beautifully and wisely never tries to ape the original. I'm already looking forward to seeing this one again.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

JULY 2, 2014

LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/Children of Paradise (1945) Directed by Marcel Carne. *****

It is probably one of the symptoms of being a movie buff that you get the urge to make lists. Our top 100, 50 or 10 favourites of all time, top films in individual genres, top directors etc. I do and I'm pretty sure you do as well. These lists often change as our taste matures and, of course, as we see more films. They can rarely, if ever, be definitive. It was Peter Bogdanovich who, when asked to list his favourite films of all time, pointed out that such a list would change from day to day, depending on his mood. He qualified the list that he gave by saying, "This is today's list, not yesterday's or tomorrow's."  I long ago gave up trying to list what I thought were the best films of all-time. How can anybody decide that?  But what is my favourite film of all-time?  For several years now I've usually said it was Ingmar Bergman's sombre WINTER LIGHT, although some days it became Michelangelo Antonioni's L'ECLISSE (an indecision I share with my friend Rickster) before shifting back again. There are, of course, other candidates from such directors as Vigo, Hitchcock, Renoir, Kurosawa and Carne amongst others.  Recently I cancelled my subscription to Love Film and have spent many evenings revisiting many of my favourites. I've decided (and it will no doubt change again) that my present favourite film is Marcel Carne's LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS. I must have seen the film four or five times over the years and never fail to be drawn into the world Carne and writer Jacques Prevert create. Great characters (several based on real people) are brought to life by great performances from the likes of Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur amongst others. But what really excites me is the ending because no matter how many times I see the film and, even though I know what is coming, I still feel shocked by it, still taken by surprise, as though this time it might end differently.

Monday, 30 June 2014

JUNE 30. 2014

LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE/ Second Breath (1966) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. ****

LE SAMOURAI / The Samurai (1967) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. *****

My introduction to the world of Jean-Pierre Melville came at a lunchtime screening of SECOND BREATH in a private viewing theatre in Wardour Street circa 1967. The film had been bought by the company I worked for and to this day I am convinced they never understood what a gem they had. For my part I was hypnotised by the movie. A year or so later LE SAMOURAI somehow managed to get a general release and it just blew me away. A few nights ago I watched both films again and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish my admiration for either. Over the years I have managed to see the majority of Melville's movies from his first LE SILENCE DE LA MER, LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES and ARMY IN THE SHADOWS and, of course his other classic gangster dramas, BOB LE FLAMBEAU, LE CERCLE ROUGE and LE DOULOS. Only his final film, UN FLIC, disappointed me - but maybe I need to see it again. Melvilles gangsters exist in a world of violence which has its own rules of honour and loyalty although both are, for the most part, illusory and are paid lip service to in much the same way as his characters adopt the trenchcoats and fedoras of their Hollywood counterparts. Then there are the iconic actors - Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Yves Montand and Gian-Maria Volonte. Just-perfect Melville.

JUNE 30. 2014

Monte Hellman on film directing.  (CLICK TO SEE INTERVIEW)

Friday, 20 June 2014

JUNE 20, 2014

YEUX SANS VISAGE/ Eyes Without a Face (1959) directed by Georges Franju. *****

One of the great strengths of European cinema for me is that some of its best directors have been able to appreciate the poetic surrealism in pulp fiction. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is one of the supreme horror movies of the 1950/60's. Under Franju's direction, what is basically another mad doctor plot, is transformed into a powerful gothic nightmare full of images that burn themselves into the mind's eye. Who could possibly fail to be horrified by the unflinching operation scene - time and hundreds of inferior films may have lessened its impact for today's de-sensitised audiences but back in 1960 it was phenomenally effective and enough to get the film banned in England for several years. The scene where Edith Scob empathises with and comforts the dogs who share both her fate and imprisonment, Maurice Jarre's hauntingly jolly score, Alida Valli hunting victims among the students of Paris, the sinister CV2 and the unforgettable climatic image. I've already mentioned Scob and Valli so it is only fair to mention Pierre Brasseur as the coldly unemotional doctor. This is essential viewing. The story and themes of EYES WITHOUT A FACE have surfaced in a myriad of inferior films (Robert Hartford-Davis's awful CORRUPTION is one such) but only Pedro Almodovar, with THE SKIN I LIVE IN, suggesting that Franju's true spirit had been appreciated.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

JUNE 15, 2014

LE PREMIER CERCLE/ The Dead List/ The Ultimate Heist (2009) Directed by Laurent Tuel. "

Well this one is certainly on my dead list. This tale of Armenian-French gang boss (Jean Reno with nothing to do) and his failing relationship with his son moves at a snail-pace with very little happening to relieve the boredom. Add to this the fact that all the characters take turns in acting totally stupidly without the slightest logical reason. The ultimate Heist of the American release title takes up only a few minutes at the very anticlimactic climax.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

JUNE 14, 2014

L'EMPIRE DES LOUPS/ Empire of the Wolves (2005) Directed by Chris Nahon. **

Engaging but hardly memorable in the long term is the best way to describe this rather schizophrenic thriller. It can't really decide what it is so we get a bit of sci-fi, some horror, a serial killer, terrorist, cop film. At 90 minutes or there about one of the central characters (the reliable Jean Reno) seemingly dies by (quite spectacularly) being, symbolically, dragged down to hell in an underground cemetery in Paris. The film could have easily ended at that point but it suddenly shifts tone and location to Istanbul. About this time our hero is asked by the villain "Why did you come?"  He answers "To understand". Well, I felt a bit like that myself, especially when Reno suddenly reappears.  The bemused hero says "I saw you die in Paris" but receives no reply and we get no explanation. The first part of the film, set in a Paris that increasingly resembles some nightmare version of the city is the strongest and most interesting. The scenes in Turkey (with a surprise appearance by Vernon Dobtcheff) look as though they were made up on the spot and by the time one of the characters suddenly wants to do a human sacrifice to a strange idol it is quite a relief of hear Reno say "It's over". It's quite enjoyable if you don't take it seriously. The only other film I've seen by this director is BLOOD : THE LAST VAMPIRE and that wasn't particularly memorable either.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

JUNE 12, 2014

A FACE IN THE FOG (1936) Directed by Robert F. Hill. **

It is hard to believe that this film was made as late as 1936, it seems to belong to a period five or six years earlier when these borderline horror mystery films were churned out by Hollywood's poverty row production companies. Even allowing for the fact that the print viewed was pretty dire it is obvious that the technical aspects of this film were very poor indeed and far beneath the average quality of most films made the same year. The plot is the standard mad killer on the loose who is here called "The Fiend" but you might just as well substitute "The Bat", "The Cat" or "The Octopus". The Fiend himself is a suitably grotesque creation, a black clad, crippled hunchback who evoked for me Vincent Price's similarly attired killer in HOUSE OF WAX. The killer's identity will come as no surprise to anybody with half a brain cell. Al St.John (one of only two cast names I was familiar with) was incredibly irritating as compulsory  comedy relief. I've seen worse and this at least has some nice location footage and some nice old cars. Also viewed was MURDER AT  MIDNIGHT (1931) Directed by Frank Strayer * which is about as bad as this mystery genre gets.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

JUNE 5, 2014


JENNIFER (1954) Directed by Joel Newton. **

Low budget thriller which, in later years, would no doubt have ended up as a television movie-of-the- week.
There seem to be absolutely no other credits for either director Newton or writer Virginia Myles which rather adds to the mystery. The plot is standard cliche with an attractive woman taking the job of caretaker at a spooky mansion where her predecessor vanished mysteriously. Unexpected noises in the night, a local business man who seems to know more than he says and locals who utter dire warnings about strange goings on at the house. Cliche piled upon cliche. But, hell, it is an Ida Lupino film, which is a good reason to invest 70 mins in it. I prefer the lovely Ida in Film Noir mode but this was fun, if not entirely memorable. although the whole plot really comes to nothing it has a few very effective scenes (despite the over insistent "creepy" musical score) and a possible supernatural twist saved for the very last shot of the film. Ida's hubby, Howard Duff, is good in support and Ned Glass does a nice spot as the manager of the local grocery store. like me, you can catch the movie for free on You Tube.

Friday, 30 May 2014

MAY 30, 2014

LES LYONNAIS/Gang Story (2011) Directed by Olivier Marchal. ***

One of my favourite genres is the French gangster film, especially the classic films of Jacques Becker and Jean-Pierre Melville. The characters in Melville's films seem to live their lives as though they were in an American film noir while Marchal goes for a grittier realism. GANG STORY is based on a real life gang of gypsy criminals who operated out of Lyon (hence the original title) and concentrates on two life-long friends, Momon and Serge. Momon has become a sort of Godfather figure while Serge, more impulsive, has been on the run for thirteen years. When Serge is captured Momon finds himself torn between his more settled life and his loyalties to his old friend and is slowly drawn back into a world of violence. The film is convincing on all levels and I must say I liked it better than MESRINE although I wouldn't like to disrespect that film which is a classic in its own right.

MAY 30, 2013

CARNE TREMULA/ Live Flesh (1997)  Directed by Pedro Almodovar. ****

Almodovar was a bit of a mystery to me. I knew he was highly regarded and a couple of my friends count him among their very favourite directors, but somehow he kept slipping past my radar. That changed when I caught THE SKIN I LIVE IN on television (and immediately ordered a copy from Amazon) which seemed to me a sophisticated mixture of Georges Franju and an up-dated Bela Lugosi mad scientist movie. I also ordered a box set of some of the director's older films. I watched TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN which was well made, well acted, very erotic (Pedro does erotic very well) but didn't really work for me, despite seeing how it might work for others. The box set has sat on my shelf for months, until last night when, without too much enthusiasm I watched LIVE FLESH - and loved it!  The plot is complicated and to try and describe it would undoubtedly involve spoilers so I'm just going to settle for recommending it. The title, LIVE FLESH, refers not only to the eroticism of a few scenes but perhaps to the film's sheer physicality - sport, sex, violence, physical handicap. can't wait to get back to that box set.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

MAY 27, 2014


Christopher Lee   Vincent Price (today)
Peter Cushing (yesterday)

Friday, 23 May 2014

MAY 24, 2014

One of Australia's best actors, David Gulpilil has won the Best Actor award in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival for his role in CHARLIE'S COUNTRY.

MAY 23, 2014

CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953) Directed by Arthur Hilton. *

The first astronauts on the moon discover a race of black clad women who plan to steal their rocket and conquer earth. Well, it's enjoyable trash time, folks! English born director Arthur Hilton was better known as a film editor and did stirling work in that capacity for Sam Fuller, Fritz Lang and Robert Siodmak (Hilton was nominated for an Oscar on Siodmak's THE KILLERS). While it is far from outstanding the film does bear comparison with titles like QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, although, of course it doesn't have either colour or Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Instead with have Marie Windsor who, given a good film noir role or horse to ride can leave Zsa Zsa standing any day. But poor Marie can't do much with this sub-standard effort. Her romantic interest in the movie is divided between veteran Victor Jory and the nominal star, Sonny Tufts. Jory plays it straight and gives the film a better performance that it has any right to expect while Tufts spends most of the film looking either unsure or embarrassed, the latter probably because he has to deliver the film's funniest line when he has to inform his fellow astronauts the "We've got something jammed up our rear end!".

MAY 23, 2014

LA VERITE/ The Truth (1960) Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. ***

Henri-Georges Clouzot is rightly remembered for his three great films, THE CROW, WAGES OF FEAR and THE FIENDS but this later work, while not in the same class, is of considerable interest. Brigitte Bardot, in a stronger dramatic performance than usual, plays a girl on trial for murdering her former lover. That she is guilty is not in question but the reason why is the truth that needs to be revealed. Clouzot carefully manipulates our perception of the characters as the story slowly unravels in flashback. It would be easy to name Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION and Alfred Hitchcock's PARADINE CASE as precursors but the film that constantly sprang to mind was a later film, Nicolas Roeg's BAD TIMING. Bardot is fine in the lead but the greatest pleasure, for me, were the performances of those two fine actors Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel (respectively the corpse and the detective from THE FIENDS) as the opposing councils. Recommended. A free download from You Tube.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's LA VERITE (Watch now)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

MAY 20, 2014

LAISSEZ-PASSER/ Safe Conduct (2002) Directed by Bernard Tavernier. *****

I often wonder if when watching films like GODS AND MONSTERS and SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE how much the degree of enjoyment is increased or decreased by knowledge of the careers of those depicted in the films (in those examples James Whale and F.W. Murnau.) Back in the 1960's I was lucky enough to see a 1943 French fantasy film LE MAIN DU DIABLE directed by Maurice Tourneur and starring Pierre Fresnay.  Bertrand Tavernier's SAFE CONDUCT uses as its background the peculiar circumstances surrounding the production of this film. Made by Continental, a German production company based in occupied Paris but making French language films. The star director at Continental was veteran Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques Tourneur) and it's top script writer, Jean Aurenche. Also at the studio was Henri-Georges Clouzot who at the time was making his classic LE CORBEAU. The story of SAFE CONDUCT is told through the eyes of Aurenche and Jean-Devaivre (then an assistant director but later a director). Tourneur is a supporting character as are various other luminaries of the French film industry at the time, notably Charles Spaak (who wrote LE GRANDE ILLUSION) and writer Pierre Nord. Others like Arletty and Harry Baur are mentioned in passing. Clouzot's presence is strong but he is never actually depicted. Tavernier fills out his story with details of life in Paris under the nazis occupation (food is a recurring motif) and Aurenche's involvement with the resistance which leads to an almost farcical sequence involving British intelligence (more successful than the rather stilted London scenes in Melville's ARMY IN THE SHADOWS). Much in the film is tragic but there is great humour as well and a genuine affection for the characters - Tavernier having known them personally. But the question remains : If I had not known at least the basics of the situation in the French film industry during the nazis occupation and able to pick up on names like Tourneur, Fresnay, Clouzot etc would my understanding of the story and the immense pleasure I got from it have been greatly diminished. Whatever the answer, for the dedicated cinephile with more than a casual interest in French cinema it is a real treat.  Tavernier is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite French directors and some have suggested that this film is his masterpiece.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

MAY 18, 2014

JIGKUMON/ Gate of Hell (1953) Directed by Teinosuke Kinogasa  *****

Stunningly beautiful colour photography marks this great Japanese film. It was supposedly, the first Japanese film to be commercially successful in America. A samurai falls in love with a married woman and despite her protests tries everything to persuade her to leave her husband and marry him. The tension mounts as the samurai's behaviour, fed by jealousy, becomes more and more erratic, leading to inevitable tragedy. I love Japanese cinema and found this film particularly engrossing. Excellent performance by actress Machiko Kyo who, the following year, would co-star with Marlon Brando in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON.While the title may suggest a traditional Japanese ghost story it actually refers to one of the city gates as well as having a more metaphorical meaning. Highly recommended.

MAY 18, 2014

ODD THOMAS (2013) Directed by Stephen Sommers. ***

It is nice to report that I really liked this film by Stephen Sommers. I liked his DEEP RISING and his two MUMMY films were pleasant enough (if not what the older fans probably wanted) but confidence in him took a nose dive with the truly awful VAN HELSING. His latest fantasy, based on a book by Dean Koontz isn't great but it has a lot going for it. There is an attractive young cast who unlike teens in other films play characters who are neither irritating nor stupid, there is Willem Dafoe in a sympathetic role, some good special effects and a witty script. Odd Thomas (that's his name) is a short order cook in a Californian desert town who can see dead people - and is actually believed by those who know him (a nice twist) who begins to realise that something very nasty is about to happen to his home town. Can he avert it?  It's very well done even if audiences with the slightest savvy will be one step ahead of Thomas most of the time. In the sentimental final scenes the films does actually contradict itself but even those moments are well done. It is all very entertaining although to carry the idea through to the indicated sequel would seem a step to far.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

MAY 17, 2014

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF (2012) Directed by Mike Figgis. **

A film within a film. A scriptwriter is creating a scenario which may or may not be about how he did or did not murder his wife fifteen years before. A French girl disappears after a party at his house and is found dead in a nearby canal. Her twin sister turns up for the funeral and becomes a house guest. The story never quite goes the way you expect it and the search for the murderer (who may be the writer or the sister) is discarded along the way (think L'AVVENTURA). I was ready to give up after twenty minutes as the construction of the movie seemed to me laborious and pretentious in the extreme. So why did I stick with it?  Well, I'm not a huge fan of Mike Figgis's films (except maybe for LIEBESTRAUM) but he is one of the true mavericks of what is left of the British film industry and without doubt a serious film-maker prepared to try innovative ideas. So I stayed with it and was sort of glad I did. I can't say I was entirely happy with the experience but no doubt it was intriguing and sometimes you've just got to trust the director - even if you don't quite see it.

Monday, 12 May 2014

MAY 12, 2014

LE DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE/ Picnic on the Grass (1959) Dir: Jean Renoir. ***

If the picture above conjures up the work of Jean Renoir's famous father there can be no doubt that this was intentional on the part of the director. The sixty-five year old Renoir chose to film this at his ancestral home, his father's studio and where he met his first wife. Renoir was quite literally going back to his roots. A famous biologist (Paul Meurisse) wishes to promote his theories about artificial insemination over passion and to this end a press conference is arranged at a beautiful picnic spot. Into this wanders an old goatherd and his goat. As the old man begins to play his flute a high wind arise as if by magic and disrupts the picnic. After the wind has subsided all of those present begin to discover their primal human passions. The Pan/Satyr imagery had appeared before in Renoir's work. I'll be honest and say this is not one of my favourite Renoir films although it seems much admired among his last handful of movies (only two more would follow) but I certainly would not discourage anybody from seeing it. It has great moments (I found the tree montage strangely moving for some reason) and I certainly enjoyed it more than ELENA AND THE MEN, but I still had the feeling that with very little effort the story could be remade as a Carry On film. I liked it more on the second viewing.