Sunday, 30 November 2014

Noir November: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential is, to me, a perfect film. Sometimes I just want to start off with a statement that clarifies all the nonsense I'll be about to write. In this case, I'd like to beg your forgiveness in advance for a shameless torrent of effusive praise. I really can't think of anything bad to say about this, a movie that I class as a modern classic and easily the best neo-noir of the past twenty years.

Dense and rich, this is a film that benefits from superior source material (by James Ellroy). It's adapted into gripping cinema by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson, with the latter also taking on the directorial duties. It's not exactly hard to follow, as hard as that may be to believe, but it's a film that assumes that viewers will give it their full attention. It certainly deserves it.

Now, let me try to cover the plot and main characters without taking up too much space here. Guy Pearce plays Ed Exley, a young policeman who is ambitious, but also unwilling to use any eans necessary when it comes to catching the baddies. Russell Crowe is Bud White, a brutal policeman who doesn't mind bending/breaking the rules. The two men don't get along. When a local crime boss is jailed, Los Angeles suddenly looks like a very appealing pitch to a number of criminals who want to move in and set themselves up. This keeps the police department, led by Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), very busy. But when a shooting occurs that results in the death of a fellow officer, and when the end result starts to throw up some minor details that hint at a much bigger problem, Exley and White realise that they may need to work together to get to the bottom of things.

There are other characters who play quite an important part in the proceedings described above, with the main ones worth mentioning being a newspaper reporter (Sid Hudgens, played by Danny DeVito), a beautiful woman named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a cop who advises on a top TV show and loves the celebrity life as much as his job (Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey), and a man who makes a living through not entirely legal means (Pierce Patchett, played by David Strathairn).

Okay, I probably took up too much space, but I'm still happy with that summary. L.A. Confidential is a film brimming over with detail and character nuance in every scene. Although it runs at just over two hours in length, there isn't a scene that feels superfluous to requirements. Some viewers may not appreciate everything on the first viewing, but return to it and you'll notice new touches of brilliance. Little touches that will ensure you return to it again and again.

The script is pretty perfect, as far as I'm concerned, with the use of narration by reporter Sid Hudgens a great way to both set up the context of events, and also skim through one or two montage moments. The direction is smooth and precise. There's a coolness in the setting and characters, but there's also a beating heart within every main character, something that becomes more apparent as the movie progresses and events allow them to show their true nature and intent.

Pearce and Crowe may have slight wobbles here and there when it comes to the accents, but they overcome that minor hiccup by delivering performances that I'd tentatively call star-making (despite both having already done some great work before this). Cromwell, Spacey,DeVito and Strathairn are also excellent, and Basinger gives one of her best performances (one that resulted in her winning an Academy Award). Ron Rifkin, Matt McCoy, Graham Beckel, Simon Baker, and everyone else onscreen for more than a few seconds, all do equally great work. In fact, even people onscreen for a few seconds seem fine. Admittedly, they don't have much time to screw things up, so that's probably just a given in most movie productions. My point is that everyone feels perfect in every role they're given.

The soundtrack from Jerry Goldsmith moves nicely in between some classic tracks from the era, the clothes and makeup are all as gorgeous as they should be, and there are plenty of enjoyable twists and turns that never feel forced while the whole tale unfolds.

Not just one to watch, this is one to own, cherish and rewatch on many occasions.


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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Noir November: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Director Renny Harlin had quite a run of movies in which he could do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. I include Cutthroat Island in that selection (a decent action flick undeserving of its legacy as "the film that sank Carolco" - well, Showgirls also had a part to play there). Shane Black is a writer who has consistently entertained me over the years (from the greatness of Lethal Weapon up the not-as-great-but-still-good-ness of Iron Man 3). And Geena Davis? Well, I've been a big fan of her ever since I fell in love with her in Tootsie, small role though it was. I'm telling you all of this as a way to explain part of the reason why I love The Long Kiss Goodnight so much, which is directed by Harlin, written by Black, and stars Davis.

Davis is Samantha Caine, a housewife who only has memory of her last eight years on this planet. Anything before that is a blank. She has a private detective (Mitch, played by Samuel L. Jackson) on the case, but has resigned herself to the fact that she may never know about any of her old life. Unfortunately for her, it soon becomes clear that her old life is looking to majorly bite her on the ass. Events start to occur that jolt Samantha back to her old self, a woman who used to work as a skilled assassin for the government. As you might suspect, she made some enemies with her past career choice, and some of them are keen to get their revenge.

Davis is a convincing action heroine, and has a lot of fun transitioning from the sweet and innocent Samantha Caine to the foul-mouthed, deadly Charly Baltimore of her past. Jackson does great work as her co-star, with the two sparking off each other nicely in between, and even during, the action moments. The two might not quite make it to the level of previous action movie team-ups, but they're great nonetheless. Craig Bierko is an entertaining villain, irredeemably nasty and always slightly over the top, while Brian Cox and David Morse both play characters who could be good or bad, making Samantha's encounters with them all the more interesting. Yvonne Zima does fine as the young daughter, who may end up in a bit of trouble thanks to her mother, and Tom Amandes is the supportive partner.

There's a decent soundtrack, an unsurprising use of snow and Christmas decorations throughout (it's a Shane Black thing), enjoyable and ridiculous action moments, and plenty of great one-liners (also a Shane Black thing, of course). I can't say that Davis has had a bad film career, but her capability in this always makes me regret that she didn't ever get a chance to truly shine in many other female badass characters. Harlin directs with his usual competence, but the film turns to gold thanks to the great dialogue and the convincing turn from Davis. I love it.


Friday, 28 November 2014

Noir November: Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

A noir set in a world full of magic, this TV movie allows viewers to enjoy a memorable adventure in the life of detective H. Philip Lovecraft (see what they did there?), a man tasked with recovering a stolen book that just happens to be the Necronomicon.

Fred Ward plays Lovecraft, and does well in the role. He's always ready with a dry, witty comeback and he can take whatever's thrown at him. Which is sometimes magical, despite his own rule of never using any. He's hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) to find that big book, which leads him to a run-in with his ex-partner (Clancy Brown) and the lovely Connie Stone (Julianne Moore). Before you can say "The Maltese Cthulhu" it all starts to get twisty and dangerous.

Joseph Dougherty's script may not constantly reference the author that lends his name to the main character, but there are plenty of little touches that certainly give the man a tip of the hat. There's also a big finale that could have been ripped from any number of Lovecraft tales, which allows for some great tension and fun for fans.

Director Martin Campbell treats the standard detective story seriously enough, yet manages to keep things light and enjoyable with the numerous details that come together to create the world that the main characters inhabit. This is a world of lively gargoyles, drinks being poured by servers who can levitate items, people being marked for death by dangerous runes, and much more. While not exactly action-packed from start to finish, the film is paced nicely and contains at least three of four decent set-pieces.

Ward seems comfortable in his role, as if it's the kind of part he always wanted but somehow missed out on. Warner does his usual kind of thing, and it's what he does well. He's been around a while, and knows a thing or two about . . . . . . a thing or two. And Brown is a bit gruff and intimidating, which is what HE does well. The one drawback among the main leads is Julianne Moore, who just doesn't fit her role as well as anyone else. She seems strangely out of time, a bit too contemporary. I can't explain it any better than that. Perhaps it's the forced attempt to make her extra sexy at all times, which doesn't pay off at all during scenes that force her to pretend to be singing, or maybe it's just my eyesight. Alexandra Powers is suitably lovely, playing the virginal daughter of Warner's character, Raymond O'Connor is suitably unlovely as a henchman named Tugwell, and Arnetia Walker is a fun addition, playing a witch trying to look after our hero (even if he doesn't always pay his rent on time). Lee Tergesen has a couple of decent scenes, but his character is used for a surprise/twist that doesn't have any impact, thereby rendering it unsurprising.

While it never quite does enough to break out of the confines of the small screen, Cast A Deadly Spell does enough to make it well worth tracking down. The details throughout make it a relatively unique experience, ripe for (re)discovery. I could even say, perhaps in a whisper, that this could also be ripe for a remake.


The film is, at this time, available on YouTube. It deserves a disc release, but until now this video is one way to own it -

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Bonus Review: Enter The Dragon (1973)

There's a reason for this being a bonus review today, and Bruce Lee fans should know it.

It's strange to review and rate Enter The Dragon without simply opting to heap plenty of deserved praise upon it and highlight it as a perfect martial arts movie. But it's also necessary, because it's not actually a perfect martial arts movie. It remains among the best of the best, however, but a lot of that comes from the fact that it stars Bruce Lee in his most polished production, which allows you to forgive any pacing issues, and the usual assortment of wonderful sound effects accompanying every kick and punch.

There are details to the plot that I could list here, but it all boils down to one thing: a martial arts tournament. That's it. Bruce Lee is one of the participants. As are both the great John Saxon and the great Jim Kelly. It may be up to those three men to snoop around, find out exactly what else is going on behind the scenes (oh, the tournament takes place on an island), and just what they can find out about the man who runs the whole thing (Han, played by Shih Kien).

Lee remains, arguably, the best, most influential, martial artist of all time. Given his best role here, as a secret agent in all but name, he is as mesmerising and charismatic as ever. Saxon and Kelly aren't overshadowed, however, as they show that they're not exactly wanting in the charisma department either. Kelly is one cool cat, while Saxon is a charming sonofabitch (his character is a talented hustler, but a bad gambler). Bolo Yeung is, surprise surprise, a henchman for the main villain, and he's as menacing as he usually is. It's Kien who proves to be the weakest link, simply due to the fact that he never feels like a viable physical threat. Despite this being a male-oriented environment, Betty Chung, Ahna Capri and Angela Mao Ying do well enough in their roles.

Robert Clouse directs competently enough, and the script by Michael Allin, does a decent job of sketching the main characters, and providing viewers with relevant details, but it's not too much of a stretch to think that most people would have been on to a winner, if they had the same premise to work with, and Bruce Lee as the main star. Oh, and the funktastic score by Lalo Schifrin also helps.

That's not to say that what's on display here is lacking in any technical prowess. The memorable finale, a fight in a mirrored environment that has provided the imagery for many Bruce Lee posters (and, yes, I used to have one on my bedroom wall when I was a teenager), is still one of the best to appear in the subgenre. And it comes after an extended set-piece that allows Lee to show off a number of his skills, including his ability with nunchaku.

So I think it's fair to say that none of the main players were allowed to slouch off. But it's also fair to say that there was only one Bruce Lee, and this remains his finest hour. And that explains why, like the man himself, it overcomes a number of perfections to become pretty much perfect.


Noir November: Out Of Sight (1998)

George Clooney has a lot to thank Steven Soderbergh for. The two have had a successful working relationship for some years now, but Out Of Sight seems to be where it all began. Adapting the novel by Elmore Leonard, it really feels like this film had the benefit of great timing. Any closer to the releases of Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty and this could have been lost among the tidal wave of imitators that came along. Any later and it might have all felt irrelevant. At the very least, the full cast might not have been available, and this is a movie that gets some major brownie points thanks to the casting.

Clooney is Jack Foley, a bank robber who can do more with his brains and charm than many others could do with guns and violence. But it's not so easy being a career criminal when you're currently behind bars. When he finds out about a potential big score, one that won't wait around forever, he engineers a prison break. The bad news is that he breaks out of the prison just as U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) pulls up in her car. Jack then has to take her hostage, the two of them stuck in the boot of a car while his main accomplice (Buddy, played by Ving Rhames) drives them to a safe spot. The good news is that the two seem to immediately feel something between them. But will it be enough to make Sisco forget her duty as a Marshall?

Scott Frank takes the source material and transfers it all to the screen in a way that nicely balances out the humour and violence, while never once losing a single drop of cool. Soderbergh helps, obviously, with his filming style, shot choices (kudos to editor Anne V. Coates), and the brilliant decision to let David Holmes create an appropriate score, mixed with some classic choices (Dean Martin, The Isley Brothers, and Herbie Hancock all make an appearance - well, not an "appearance" but you know what I mean).

Clooney and Lopez are both fantastic, generating the kind of heat between them that seems to emanate off the screen in waves. Okay, so the former can make that happen with many a co-star, but let's not take anything away from a real highlight in the career of Lopez. She's sexy, strong (apart from her bad choice in men), and feels very much like an equal to her male co-star. Rhames is a constant delight as Buddy, a criminal who always has to confess his misdeeds to his sister, Don Cheadle is suitably menacing as the kind of criminal Foley and Buddy would never want to work with, and Steve Zahn is very funny as a hapless crook who thinks he can run with the big boys. There's also some great support from Dennis Farina (playing Sisco's father), Albert Brooks (the mark), Michael Keaton (revisiting the character he played in Jackie Brown), Luis Guzman, Isaiah Washington, Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Funky, funny, and pretty damn sexy too, Out Of Sight occupies a space nicely in between the two other Leonard adaptations mentioned here. It's neither as funny as Get Short, nor as rich in characterisation as Tarantino's film, but it mixes those two main ingredients together to create an end result that easily ranks alongside those movies.


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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Noir November: Brighton Rock (1947)

"Brighton today is a large, jolly, friendly seaside town in Sussex, exactly one hour's journey from London. But in the years between the two wars, behind the Regency terraces and crowded beaches, there was another Brighton of dark alleyways and festering slums. From here, the poison of crime and violence and gang warfare began to spread, until the challenge was taken up by the police. This is a story of that other Brighton - now happily no more."

I've never been to Brighton, so I can't say if it's all sunshine and sandcastles nowadays, but we can all be thankful that writer Graham Greene decided to make use of it for this tale, giving first readers and then cinema audiences a fantastic, cold-hearted villain in the shape of young Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough).

The main story begins with a dead man. That man happens to be dead because of a bit of newspaper reporting by Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). The dead man was also the leader of a local crime gang, which subsequently forces Pinkie to take over the top spot. And it turns out that the reporter has to spend a day in Brighton, allowing Pinkie and his gang members to plot his demise. Things don't go as smoothly as planned, however, and in the days after the crime it becomes clear that Pinkie needs to deal with women who may be able to get him in trouble. One is Ida (Hermione Baddeley), an older woman who knows just how dangerous Brighton can be, and the other is Rose (Carol Marsh), a young, naive woman who inadvertently saw something that could lead the authorities to Pinkie. But wooing her might just keep her from saying anything important to anyone.

Director John Boulting does well by the material here (Greene adapted his work for the screen, helped by Terence Rattigan), ensuring that everything feels very British while also feeling as dangerous as anything that audiences may have previously only seen in American movies of the time. Brighton may be an unlikely setting for such skullduggery, but that doesn't ever cross your mind once the movie gets underway.

The casting helps immensely, with Attenborough giving a performance that ranks up there with the best in cinematic villainy. He's just so bloody cold and ruthless, making almost every scene that he's in chilling. Between this movie and 10 Rillington Place, it's amazing to me that he was able to overcome such great performances to also play avuncular characters such as John Hammond and Kris Kringle. He's ably supported by William Hartnell, Nigel Stock, Wylie Watson, and Harcourt Williams, among others, with Hartnell and Watson being two standouts for different reasons - the former is reasonable and very careful, the latter is prone to occasional, costly mistakes. Others also do well in smaller, but no less important roles. Charles Goldner, for example, is Colleoni, another crime boss who could cause some major problems for Pinkie, and Wheatley is constantly nervous as the journalist who looks to have very little time left. Baddeley is good as the brash, determined Ida, but Marsh steals the show as the sweet and innocent Rose. It's Rose who we get to care for, and empathise with, even as she makes some silly decisions under the delusion that love has come into her life.

Not as dark as it could have been, and with some moments that jar simply due to how quaint they seem now (a moment with a man talking to two women sitting in deckchairs feels quite out of place), Brighton Rock is nevertheless a great film, an interesting British noir, and fully deserving of the love it receives. It also features one of the best double-whammy, punch to the gut, endings of any film I can think of. Not just any film from this era. ANY film. Full stop.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Noir November: The Way Of The Gun (2000)

Written by Christopher McQuarrie, who also decided to make it his directorial debut, The Way Of The Gun is a non-stop assortment of fantastic moments. It is, in fact, a minor modern classic, all too often overlooked in favour of movies that are deemed to have a better pedigree. Considering this film has James Caan in one of his best roles, and a nice turn from Geoffrey Lewis, with two great lead performances from Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, I urge everyone to reconsider their opinion of it.

Phillipe and Del Toro play Mr. Parker and Mr. Longbaugh, respectively. They're not good men, as is made clear in perhaps one of the greatest opening scenes in the past 20 years. Drifting along, making money from selling various body fluids (another great scene shows them at a sperm bank), the two men overhear a conversation that starts them thinking about a big score. It turns out that a rich man (Scott Wilson) is about to be given a child by a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis). Until she delivers the baby, the mother is very valuable indeed. She's being guarded at all times (by Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt), but that won't stop them from pulling off an impressive heist. Or so they hope. Can they manage it, and can they then negotiate themselves a fine payday without too much further trouble?

Full of great humour, resonant dialogue, and a number of great twists and turns, The Way Of The Gun showcases just what a great talent McQuarrie is. He can create cool characters and situations, and he loves to work some grittiness into the material, but he also allows for a layer of warmth that adds to the appeal of almost everyone onscreen. These are movie characters, but they're still allowed to be human.

Despite strong competition, I consider the two central performances here to be career-best turns from both Phillipe and Del Toro. Both work brilliantly in their roles, whether separately or alongside one another, and part of the brilliance of the screenplay is the way in which McQuarrie places them out of their depth without ever making them stupid. Watch their tactics, and listen to every line of dialogue, and you'll soon realise how smart they are. Diggs and Katt are also not stupid. They just happen to find themselves outwitted by an audacious move. Mind you, it takes time to figure out if they're better or worse than the characters played by Phillipe and Del Toro. Lewis is pretty good, although she's required to be the most vulnerable of all the characters onscreen, obviously. Baby bump or no, she has moments in which she gets to show how determined she can be when it comes to protecting her child. But I'd have to say that the scene-stealer of the movie is the mighty James Caan, putting in a performance here that hints at what may have become of Frank, the character he played in Thief. I'd put this up there as one of his best turns, perhaps even second only to his work in the aforementioned film. His scenes with Del Toro give the movie a beating heart, while his scenes with Geoffrey (yes, father of Juliette) Lewis highlight the cynicism and weariness that inevitably take over anyone who continues to work in a world constantly being invaded by the young. Dylan Kussman is the other main player, and does just fine as the doctor hoping to keep his pregnant patient from harm.

There are many moments here that feel cinematically cool, but they rarely feel as if they're shoehorned in there JUST to be cool. Even those, fairly unnecessary, opening scenes serve to set up the characters and the world that they inhabit. And how can you hate anyone who comes up with the colourful phrase: "Shut that cunts mouth or I'll come over there and fuckstart her head!"? It's profane, yet equally hilarious for the way it immediately makes jaws drop.

Is everyone going to love this movie? No. But I firmly believe that they should. McQuarrie is a talented writer-director (I also highly recommend Jack Reacher if you've not yet seen it) and I look forward to what he's yet to show us. It may not equal this debut, but he's failed to disappoint me yet.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Noir November: Gun Crazy (1950)

It's fun, it's fast-paced, it rarely lets up on the excitement once it moves into a higher gear, but Gun Crazy is also no different from so many other movies that we've seen before it, or since.

Peggy Cummins and John Dall play the two lovebirds, Annie and Barton, who bond over a shared love of, and skill with, firearms. Building a relationship on such a combustible foundation would seem like a sign of some shaky times ahead and, sure enough, it's not long until Annie is convincing Barton that the life they really want is one that they should take, as opposed to working hard for. Leave the daily grind to the other chumps, that's her view. They can keep moving, committing robberies here and there to earn enough money until they plan that one big score that will set them up for the rest of their lives. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Written by MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo (using Millard Kaufman's name during the period that saw him blacklisted), this starts off as a fairly standard, genteel even, tale of boy meets girl. Okay, there's an opening sequence that shows a young Barton already obsessed, and skilled, with guns, but as soon as he reappears in adult form he seems to be a well-adjusted young man hoping to keep on the straight and narrow. It only takes a few main scenes, however, to move the film from sweetness to harder, "Bonnie & Clyde" territory. The main problem when that happens is that you know exactly where things have to go by the final reel. Also, the character played by Cummins is, by necessity, not all that likable.

Despite being stuck with a slightly loathsome character, Cummins does well in her portrayal of the scheming, cold-blooded Annie. Dall isn't quite as good, but he's stuck playing the sap for the majority of the movie. Anabel Shaw is very sweet in her few scenes, playing Barton's sister, and both Harry Lewis and Nedrick Young fill out the sparse supporting cast nicely, both playing friends of Barton who realise that they may have to get him arrested, once his exploits become nationwide news.

Director Joseph H. Lewis keeps everything rattling along enjoyably enough, but it's a film that seems to fall in between two stools. Fans of hard-boiled crime flicks may well find this one a bit lighter than they're used to, while anyone suckered in by the opening scenes may be disappointed when the movie veers away from romance to crime (although, to be fair, the title of the film is a pretty big clue).

I still think that it's a film worth your time. It just won't ever be a top priority while there are so many other, better noirs to work your way through.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Noir November: The Long Goodbye (1973)

Also known as THAT Philip Marlowe movie that starts off with an extended sequence that shows him trying to feed his cat, The Long Goodbye is to noir what Blow-Up is to traditional whodunnits. Director Robert Altman, working from a script by Leigh Brackett (which is based on the tale by Raymond Chandler), keeps a lot of familiar touches here, but he derives a lot of subversive fun by placing Marlowe as a man out of time. He's an anachronism who can still manage to get results, mainly because he's underestimated by everyone he comes into contact with,

Gould plays Marlowe, and that famous opening sequence leads straight into the first main plot point. It's the middle of the night, but a friend named Terry (Jim Bouton) turns up on Marlowe's doorstep, looking for a favour. He's in a bit of trouble and would like a lift to Tijuana. Marlowe obliges, because that's the kind of friend that he is, but that just leads him into trouble over the course of the next few days. It turns out that Terry is supposed to have murdered his wife, and he owed a lot of money to someone who doesn't take kindly to being taken advantage of. Meanwhile, the detective is also hired by a woman (Nina van Pallandt) who wants to find out exactly where her husband (Sterling Hayden) has got to. The two situations soon start to intertwine, and Marlowe starts to suspect that there are connections he has yet to figure out.

As much a product of the time as the many classic noirs that influence it, The Long Goodbye is a fine example of how to have your cake and eat it. Altman has his fingerprints all over the thing - the camera movement, the overlapping dialogue, the focus on characters taking precedence over the plot getting from A to B - but he also keeps everything that makes Marlowe who he always has been. Of course, a lot of credit should go to Brackett's screenplay, but there seems to have been a lot of improvisation on the set (particularly from Gould and Hayden) and leaving in what worked is as beneficial to the movie, of course, as cutting out whatever didn't.

Gould gives a fantastic performance as Marlowe, and I'd go as far as saying it may well be his career-best. Making the most of the chance given to him by Altman (his behaviour had led to him being slightly ostracised from major productions for a while), he makes the character his own, yet retains the essence of the character. Smart, laid-back, funny, cynical - he and the film are one and the same in their approach. Van Pallandt and Hayden both do brilliant work in their supporting roles, with the latter particularly memorable, thanks to his character being louder and slightly larger than life. Mark Rydell is the man who wants the money owed to him, and he's pretty good. Initially coming across as not particularly threatening, he has enough heavies to back him up anyway, but shows just how ruthless he can be with a shocking moment of violence that really hammers home the point about just how far he is willing to go to deal with any problem.

Despite the style of the movie seeming to push against the entire history of noir, The Long Goodbye earns its place among the classics. It's a GREAT Philip Marlowe film. It just happens to be a very different type of Philip Marlowe film.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bonus Review: The Den (2013)

Another horror movie based around the dangers of interacting with anonymous strangers online, The Den often feels comparable to the majorly flawed Megan Is Missing, but it does just enough to be a better movie. Essentially, this is a film more intent on creating thrills and scares than anything too believable. Taken in that way, it works well enough.

Melanie Papalia plays Elizabeth Benton, a young woman who is doing a study on the various habits of people who use webcams. This means that she spends a lot of her time on a website called "The Den" (which is chatroulette in all but name, from what I can gather). Unfortunately, this leads to her computer being hacked as she's targeted by someone with a sinister, and deadly, agenda.

Directed by Zachary Donohue, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lauren Thompson, The Den is twisted, sometimes-tense, entertainment. And there are numerous moments that definitely remind you of why you (me, everybody, everybody) should be cautious about who we talk to online, and how relatively unguarded we can leave our computers. How many of you have a laptop that stays on 24/7 nowadays, with the exception of restarts needed to install updates? And how many of those laptops have a webcam, a small portal into your world, for the wrong person with the right skills?

Papalia (who has a solid, if unspectacular, filmography to her credit) does a decent job in the main role, mostly reacting to what she sees online. It's not the most complex performance, that's not what's needed here, but she's believable enough, even as she starts to piece everything together and become afraid for her safety. David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Anna Margaret Hollyman, and Saidah Arrika Ekulona are all fine as the various "real" people that Papalia talks to both online and off. Matt Riedy is the police sergeant who tries to help, despite having very little to go on. It's also worth mentioning the fleeting, but memorable, cameo from Bill Oberst Jr. Fans will enjoy seeing him appear onscreen in a moment that's both creepy and hilarious at the same time.

Where The Den falls down is where so many of these movies fall down. It is, in case the previous paragraphs didn't make it clear, basically a "found footage" kinda movie. And there are many times when it all makes sense, especially when everything is shown through the main webcam. But it just doesn't feel right when people constantly make videocalls, for example, instead of just using audio.

The other main problem that the film has is the way everything falls apart in the second half. As the horror element becomes stronger, any sense of believability is soon thrown out the window. Believability doesn't ever have to be the main priority in a horror movie, of course, but it's never good when things occur that start to make viewers question how things are playing out.

Worth a watch, and plenty of people have enjoyed it more than I did, but it's also unsurprising, highly derivative, and lacking in logic.


Noir November: King Of The Ants (2003)

It may be a fairly low-budget, rough 'n' ready movie, but King Of The Ants has a considerable amount of talent involved, both behind and in front of the camera.

Based on a novel by Charlie Higson (still best known to many people for his great work on The Fast Show), it's all about a young man (Sean, played by Chris McKenna) who is always on the lookout for some paid work. He takes what odd jobs he can, with one putting him in contact with a man named Duke (George Wendt). Duke then arranges a meeting between Sean and a local businessman named Ray (Daniel Baldwin), which leads to him being hired for a different kind of job. He's to tail a man (Ron Livingston), a man who may have information that could get Ray in trouble. That's all well and good, until a drunken Ray then asks Sean to commit murder.

There's also the lovely Kari Wuhrer onscreen, as the wife of the man who may or may not end up murdered, and Sean finds her quite attractive. Because she is, but that's all I'll say about the plot for now. I don't want to give away any details or potential surprises.

Directed by the always-entertaining Stuart Gordon, King Of The Ants is dark, nasty stuff. Anyone who, like myself, only knew of Higson through his comedy work may well be shocked that he could weave a tale of such stomach-churning nastiness, but just be thankful that he did it. The final result, presented here in a style that veers between minimalist and slightly fantastical (in one or two nightmare sequences), is a memorable film that takes some common elements and makes them feel fresh again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . even if it does that by bruising them and coating them in blood and fecal matter.

The acting from all concerned is pretty solid, if not always great. McKenna is a likable presence in the lead role, even as his character makes some bad choices. Wendt and Baldwin are both intimidating in different ways, and have the likes of Vernon Wells and Lionel Mark Smith on their side. Wuhrer is quite lovely, which I've already mentioned, and does a decent enough job with her few scenes. And Timm Sharp is a welcome inclusion, playing Sean's friend, and one of the few characters onscreen not carrying around any big secrets.

While not exactly tense, in the traditional sense, this is a movie that certainly leaves you on edge throughout. I know that sounds paradoxical, but I simply mean that the movie often paints such a dark picture that being tense, hoping that characters can turn things around, seems futile. It may also turn your stomach, thanks to the mixture of violence and the sheer depth of despair and hopelessness that it explores. I'd argue that it's the darkest film in Stuart Gordon's filmography (although Edmond is a movie that has evaded me over the years), and that alone should make it worth a watch if you're a fan of the man.

Well worth seeking out. Just don't watch it if you're after something to put you in a good mood.


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And/or you could also buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Bonus Review: Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes is a smart, disturbing horror movie that cuts away a layer of plastic coating to show the flesh and bone of wannabe stars. That flesh and bone can be, more often than not, dead and broken, but it's still there. It still makes up part of a business constructed on hopes, chance, exploitation, entitlement, and vanity. Not ALL of it is that way, but most of it is.

Alex Essoe is the young woman who keeps trying to battle her way through her dayjob, while simultaneously looking for that big break into the movie business. She ends up auditioning for a breakthrough role with a couple of people who insist on pushing her way beyond her comfort zone. As the process moves further along, things get stranger and stranger. But it IS a great part.

Playing out like a cross between "Son Of Celluloid" (from the incomparable Books Of Blood, written by Clive Barker), Mulholland Dr. and any number of Cronenberg movies, Starry Eyes is a bold movie that won't be for everyone. Thankfully, those who like it should REALLY like it.

Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer share both the writing and directing duties, which allows them to give each other a pat on the back. There may be moments of surreal madness here and there, especially in the third act, but it's all held together by a sharp script, one that constantly delivers seemingly innocent lines of dialogue all coated in a thing film of venom.

But that script would be nothing without the capable talents of the main performers, who help to clarify the meaning of each sentence, and even each word, uttered. Their body language turns almost every compliment upside down, and makes every innocent question an exploratory probe for anything that can be exploited. Essoe is the centrepiece, of course, and gives the kind of brilliant, brave performance that the film deserves. Pat Healy and Noah Segan both do fine with supporting roles. Both actors probably rank as the most recognisable faces in the cast, and both are given one or two great scenes apiece. Maria Olsen and Marc Senter are suitably off-kilter as the people looking to cast a movie, and Louis Dezseran is slightly creepy and able to make your skin crawl even as he flashes his showbiz grin and attempts to convince Essoe's character that he can help her out if he knows that she's willing to go further than anyone else. Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Theresa, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, and Nick Simmons flesh out the cast, all portraying young hopefuls who want to break into the world of movies, but hopefully on their own terms.

Add the moody score by Jonathan Snipes, impressive work on every technical aspect (from cinematography to editing to lighting, etc.), and an ending that manages to leave you thinking about everything without also becoming frustrated, and you have something pretty special. In fact, it's my new favourite horror of the year, and I highly recommend it to all genre fans who are willing to try something a bit different from the norm.


Noir November: The Naked Kiss (1964)

Samuel Fuller seemed to make a career out of diving into experiences that others may have desperately tried to avoid, be it his time as a journalist, the action he saw during wartime, or just the topics that he chose to cover in his movies. From the potentially infectious nature of insanity (Shock Corridor) to the different types of damage caused by racism (White Dog), Fuller didn't peek at anything from any class-constructed hiding place. He ran straight up to them and looked, long and hard. His unflinching view has left us a selection of fantastic movies, even if they weren't all necessarily appreciated during his lifetime.

The Naked Kiss is a film that nestles in comfortably amongst the others just mentioned. It starts off in quite a strange, unsettling way and then takes the viewer on a journey that leads to somewhere much, much darker. Constance Towers plays Kelly, a woman trying to escape her past. She settles in a new town, having one last dalliance with the local police chief (Anthony Eisley) before deciding that she wants to treat herself a bit better than that. Instead of trying to make money from sales, with her main commodity being her body, she instead gains employment at a local hospital for sick children. Eventually finding love with the wealthy J. L. Grant (Michael Dante), it starts to look as if her past can well and truly be left behind. But she's not the only one with . . . . . . . . . . . . baggage, to put it mildly.

From the opening scenes that show her attacking a man who owes her money to moments in which she feels resigned to be ensnared in a web of judgments made by people around her, Towers is pretty great in the leading role. She could be better, a lot of moments require her to skirt too close to insanity, but I think the problems lie in the material, as opposed to the performance. Eisley and Dante are both very good, with the former casting a constant shadow over the first half of the movie as the one man who could upset the position of precarious safety/cosiness that Towers has managed to get earn. And solid support comes from Marie Devereux, Karen Conrad, Patsy Kelly, Virginia Grey, and others.

Fuller shows his usual tactfulness while hinting at some very disturbing content, yet The Naked Kiss falls down when compared to his other works in a couple of key ways. First of all, a few of the character turnarounds in the third act just don't feel right. I won't go in to detail (trying to keep things as spoiler-free as possible) but there's at least one character who does such a sudden about-face that you start to wonder if something happened that was left on the cutting-room floor. The actions ARE justifiable, but still unexpected. The other big criticism I have with the film is the moment in which everything stops to show a bunch of children singing a song. Oh, it's lovely, it's adorable, many children get a chance to look directly into the camera and sing a line or two. It's also really clumsy and unnecessary, despite the developments in the third act.

Other minor niggles conspire to stop this being one of Fuller's best. It still comes highly recommended, however, as does pretty much any movie that has his name attached to it. Worth your time. Just not the writer-director at his very best.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Noir November: Cool World (1992)

Mixing live action and animation to tell a tale featuring a detective, a femme fatale, a confused artist, and a whole heap of bad toons, Cool World is an interesting failure. But it will always be quickly forgotten in a cinematic landscape that also holds Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and rightly so.

The story focuses on a young man (Frank Harris, played by Brad Pitt) who ends up living in Cool World, despite the fact that he's a flesh and blood human now stuck in a world full of cartoons. Frank ends up taking on the role of guardian/protector. He becomes a detective, and his main concern is stopping other real people from coming over to Cool World, or vice versa. If a human and cartoon end up having sex, for example, then the results could be disastrous. But that doesn't stop Holli Would (Kim Basinger) from trying to make that happen, especially when she has the opportunity to bewitch the man who believes that Cool World is his creation (Gabriel Byrne).

Written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor, the script for Cool World is a hodge-podge of cliches, potentially intriguing ideas, and thin characters (aside from the three leads). Director Ralph Bakshi puts his fingerprints all over it, of course, with the style of animation, and the constant use of cartoon characters in very adult situations, and fans of his work will at least want to give this a viewing. It's just a shame that everything potentially good (even great) in the movie is often covered over by sub-par animation and a constant urge to make things silly. Not that ALL the animation is sub-par. There are some moments that are pretty good, really, but the quality just isn't consistent as it needs to be.

Pitt isn't exactly on top form, but he does okay. Likewise, Byrne. Both men perhaps spent most of their time making sure that they were looking at the right spot and interacting convincingly with characters that were to be drawn in later. Basinger, on the other hand, gives a great performance. In animated form, she's a real hottie, and in human form . . . . . . . she's Kim Basinger. It's a win win, and she effortlessly makes her character a memorable sexy seductress who convincingly winds men around her little finger.

Wild 'n' whacky in a way that will surely put off as many viewers as it pleases, Cool World feels very much like an experiment gone wrong. That may have something to do with the fact that it was seriously altered (read = watered down) once Basinger became attached and voiced concerns about the original tone. While not exactly kid-friendly, it would have been interesting to see this given a distinctly more adult feel. Whether that would have greatly improved it or not, we'll never know.


You know how you can show your appreciation for bloggers? If you share and share then every additional reader helps. Connect through Google or Blogger or any way you can, and rest easy in the knowledge that you've made little ol' me a very happy man.

And/or you could also buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Bonus Review: Wicked

Image (poorly) reproduced from the souvenir brochure photography by Matt Crockett

Based on the wonderful book by Gregory Maguire, Wicked is a story all about the life and times of the Wicked Witch Of The West, that famous movie villain. The book is full of great ideas, both thought-provoking and quite disturbing. The live musical show, on the other hand, takes the essence of the tale and manages to skip over many of the darker elements. There's a fair bit of comedy here. And, of course, some decent songs.

There's not much else to say about the main storyline. Elphaba (the green one) and Glinda (the good fairy) meet when young, don't get along, and then eventually become friends. The fun comes from seeing the pieces being put in place to turn them into the characters that most people already know. What will turn Elphaba truly wicked? How will Glinda become the Good Fairy if she's not even studying any spellcasting? When will Oz become home to winged monkeys? And will any bad weather bring along a Kansas farmhouse?

It's a fairytale, light-hearted and fun, for the most part, but also not without one or two moments that come very close to providing audience members with the stuff of nightmares (although, personally, I think it's still suitable for most kids - say 8+).

The production values here are all top notch, with the set design and costumes often eye-poppingly gorgeous. Eugene Lee, Susan Hilferty, Kenneth Posner, Elaine J. McCarthy and the rest of the team all collaborate to ensure that the snippets of Oz shown to the audience are unforgettable. Director Joe Mantello must feel privileged indeed, to be at the helm of such a great success (there was never any doubt amongst the audience I was a part of that the production wasn't going to receive a standing ovation at the end of the show). The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz may not be the most instantly memorable, but they worm their way into your brain thanks to great orchestration and a nice mix of verbal dexterity, at times, and emotional force. "No One Mourns The Wicked" is a solid start, and makes for a nice opener that can also be reprised later, but things really start to pick up when Elphaba belts out "The Wizard And I". The next song, "Dancing Through Life", is also a good one, but "Popular" then comes along, proving to be the most, well, popular of the lot. Other highlights include "I'm Not That Girl", "Defying Gravity", "Wonderful", "No Good Deed" and "For Good". In fact, the only song I didn't really like was "As Long As You're Mine" - just a bit TOO slow and sappy for me, although many others seemed to enjoy the slight romantic interlude.

And here is the bit I always worry about, when reviewing/blogging about live theatre. The cast. It can be difficult to tell who is who, especially in a production like this one (with a fair bit of extra make up on some of the main players), so I'll cross my fingers and hope that I praise the right people here. IF there were any changes to the show then please, please let me know. Ashleigh Gray and Emily Tierney are the ladies playing, respectively, Elphaba and Glinda, and both are fantastic. Powerful, amazing voices are supported by fun, physical performances. Tierney gets most of the best lines, but that's fair enough - her character has to work slightly harder to keep the audience on her side. Samuel Edwards is the main man, Fiyero, who catches the eye of Glinda. And also Elphaba. Edwards may not have a voice quite as powerful as his leading ladies, but he warms up nicely after an unsteady start, and quicky becomes another character you look forward to seeing onstage. Carina Gillespie is Nessarose (Elphaba's wheelchair-bound sister), Marilyn Cutts is Madame Morrible, and Steven Pinder is the (wonderful) Wizard himself. All do fine work, as does Richard Vincent, playing a beleaguered munchkin named Boq.

The music, the colours, the jokes, the themes explored. This is one helluva show. Even the transitions from one scene to the next are incredibly smooth, and I know this may seem like a very dull thing to point out, with different stage elements gliding in and out at different times without interrupting the flow or rhythm of the performances.

Go and see it whenever you get the chance.


Tickets are available here.

CD anyone? Americans only, and UK peeps can look here.

Image (yes, poorly again) reproduced from cover of Wicked souvenir brochure.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Noir November: The Big Sleep (1946)

Directed by Howard Hawks, and with a cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers and Elisha Cook Jr, The Big Sleep is a movie that I'm sure many could automatically rate as an outright classic. And it is one. Having said that, it's not perfect, with the main weakness seeming to stem from the source material (by Raymond Chandler). Perhaps I'm being slightly blasphemous, but there's never any real sense of danger here, or even anything that crops up in the second half of the film that causes you to care any more about how things will turn out. Of course, that's partly because everything is set up so brilliantly in the first half, with great characters given great dialogue.

Bogart is Philip Marlowe, that most famous of American private detectives. He starts to get himself into trouble, as usual, when hired by an elderly man (General Sternwood, played by Charles Waldron) to investigate a case of blackmail. The old man has two daughters, one a bit of a wild child (Vickers) and the other a real tough cookie (Bacall). Marlowe wants to ensure that neither one ends up being the focus of any unwanted attention, but he soon ends up with a corpse or two added to the mix, at least one missing person he wants to track down, and some heavies intent on stopping him from sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.

Hawks is a good director, as fans of classic cinema already know, but it's hard to appreciate his craft when the leads are stealing your attention throughout the movie. The script, by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, absolutely crackles during every exchange of dialogue. I can't think of one major scene that doesn't have some eminently quotable lines in there. It's just a shame that it can't remain as pitch perfect when it comes to the twists and turns of the plot, and the resolution. The climax, in particular, feels a bit rushed and, well, anti-climactic. Perhaps that's because the case itself doesn't have too much to interest the viewer, or perhaps it's inevitable after so many great scenes filling up the rest of the runtime.

Bogart is brilliant for every second that he's onscreen, as he so often was with this type of role. Tough, verbally dextrous, smart, and cynical. Bacall matches him almost every step of the way, although her character does have weaker moments, as the plot demands. Everyone should know by now that the two have a chemistry together you can't manufacture so the real surprise comes from seeing how much fun occurs when Bogart shares scenes with Vickers (who is wonderful), the gorgeous Dorothy Malone (not in it for long, but long enough to make an impression), or Sonia Darrin. Waldron is very good in his relatively small role, Elisha Cook Jr. pops up for a few scenes, and John Ridgely makes for a decent antagonist (but is he a villain or a red herring?).

It's not a perfect film, not to me, but it comes close. Very close.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bonus Review: Bermuda Tentacles (2014)

It's a movie made for the SyFy Channel. It's made by The Asylum. Yes folks, roll up your sleeves. Things are about to get a bit bumpy. People who know me, or have read enough of my reviews, will know that I have a soft spot for these movies. I equate them to the cheap 'n' cheerful b-movies of yesteryear, with crappy CGI replacing dodgy practical effects. But even I'm willing to admit that the output from The Asylum is rarely actually good, in the traditional sense, and they sometimes churn out some real stinkers. In fact, most of their movies look as if they could have been developed from the fake trailers in Tropic Thunder.

No need to beat about the bush here. Bermuda Tentacles is one of their stinkers. The plot is so laughable that you may not believe it, but I'll cover the basics anyway. Air Force One gets into a bit of trouble over the sea, forcing the President Of The United States to eject in an emergency pod. A number of Navy vessels appear some time later, with orders to rescue the POTUS, and find themselves attacked by huge creatures that resemble overgrown flukeworms. It turns out that those creatures are actually connected to something much bigger, something that may have been causing so many disappearances over the waters of Bermuda for many years.

When watching any movie from The Asylum, it's always useful to remember a few key points. First of all, they have three different main sets they like to use. One is an all-purpose warehouse, which can double as a lab, military facility, prison, etc. The second is a ship/submarine/aeroplane - all vehicles which can be created with handy use of pipes, monitors, and machines that go ping. The third, and final, main set they use is an alien craft.
Second thing to bear in mind, they always try to get some big names to place in key roles. In Bermuda Tentacle we get Linda Hamilton as an Admiral, Jamie Kennedy as a Doctor (god help us all), and . . . . . . . . Mya as a Lieutenant. If you don't know who Mya is, she was the one who made you ask "who the hell is that?" in the all-star cover of Lady Marmalade that appeared up on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. None of those people are the real hero of the hour, however, as that honour goes to Trevor Donovan, playing the kind of tough military man who can defy orders if he thinks he has a better way to approach the situation.
Last, but not least, remember that most of the movie will be made up of the aforementioned crappy CGI, repeated use of any "money shots", and many scenes horribly padded out to ensure that they outstay their welcome within moments.

The acting on display here isn't great, with everyone stuck belting out cliches from the script (written by Geoff Meed). The direction from Nick Lyon is barely okay, and that's me being kind. The whole movie is just a bit of a mess, starting off at a quick pace and then having to tread water, no pun intended, for the next hour or so. If you can watch this movie and care about the outcome by the time the third act comes around then you're a better viewer than I am.


Noir November: The Game (1997)

It may cause some heated debate among fans of the franchise, but people remember that David Fincher directed the much-maligned Alien³. They also tend to remember the enjoyable camerawork that was used to set up the layout of the main building in Panic Room. The rest all have their loyal fans and are unlikely to be forgotten any time soon. But The Game, this is the one that people always seem to forget about. Which is a great shame, because it's a damn fine thriller with a strong strand of pitch-black humour running through the whole thing.

Michael Douglas is Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy businessman who doesn't seem to have any fun in life any more. It's his birthday, not that he's going to celebrate it in any big way, so he ends up at lunch with his brother (Conrad, played by Sean Penn). His brother has managed to get him a gift for the man who has everything. He has booked Nicholas a game with a company called CRS. What is the game? Well, it's different for each person. A live scenario is played out, and finding out the object of the game is often the object of the game. What starts out as fun and/or mildly irritating soon turns into something darker and much more dangerous, and Nicholas is soon convinced that he's caught up in the middle of something that's no longer just a game.

Put together with typical attention to detail by Fincher, The Game is based on a script by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris. Although the tone of the whole thing is quite dark, the emphasis is very much on a sense of fun. The whole film is as much a game for viewers as the central premise is for the main character. Figuring out just who is in on the plot, and who isn't, is part of the fun. Another part of the fun is seeing such a composed, slightly arrogant, character being brought low by a series of unfortunate events. Okay, it's maybe not the nicest thing in the world to laugh at someone having such a bad time of things, but it's hard not to enjoy it ever so slightly. So enjoy it. Think of it as the darker, twisted sibling of After Hours (and THERE'S a great double-bill to line up some time).

Douglas is fantastic as Van Orton, a man who slowly starts to unravel as things around him move from the ridiculous to potentially lethal. He's done this kind of role before, of course, but this really plays to his strengths. Penn has a lot of fun with his small, supporting turn. The other main character who comes to the fore is a waitress played by Deborah Kara Unger. I became a big fan of Unger when she starred in both Crash and this movie in the space of a year or two, and she comes into this film at just the right time, lifting things up another notch as the second act starts to show how expansive the game is.

There ARE problems. Anyone looking for logic and believability should look elsewhere, and the long runtime starts to take a toll as the third act starts to outstay its welcome. For the most part, however, this is a great example of a director having a lot of fun with his audience. Nothing is done in a way that seems too cheeky or arrogant. It's just light fare covered in dark wrapping.

I doubt that this will be the number one choice when you ask people "what's your favourite Fincher movie?" and that's fair enough. But I'd love to think that it's not going to be consistently forgotten every time someone discusses highlights from his filmography. Because, as far as I'm concerned, this is definitely one of them.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Bonus Review: Crawl Or Die (2014)

I mulled this one over, I mulled it over long and hard. This little movie has a lot of little flaws, and I'll be mentioning them in this review, but it also has a lot of heart. Heart might be the wrong word. It might be best to say that the movie, like the main character, just seems full of tenacity. It's got a quality that keeps powering it along, allowing it to drag itself upwards to become something worth your time.

Stripping down the plot to the basics, it's simplicity itself. A woman (Tank, played by Nicole Alonso) has to keep crawling through ever-tightening tunnels to stay ahead of a creature that's following her. The creature will kill her if it manages to get hold of her, so the situation is life or death. There's more to the movie than that - mainly, a mission that involves Tank and a few others transporting the last fertile woman alive through the same tunnels - but that's really the gist of it.

So, it's a 90-minute movie, or thereabouts. It's a creature feature. It has very few main characters. This means that, perhaps inevitably, there are moments when the movie outstays its welcome. Thankfully, although it may seem strange, those moments come in the first half of the movie. When we first meet the main characters it's hard to care for any of them, they're just too underdeveloped and the reality of their situation only starts to sink in when viewers spend more and more time accompanying them through the tunnels.

Writer-director Oklahoma Ward knows where he wants to take things, but those opening scenes don't bode well. Dialogue feels a bit clunky and irrelevant, and you may start to wonder how you're expected to spend the duration of the movie with those characters. Never fear, the tunnel itself is the main "character" given screentime, and as things get darker and more claustrophobic it soon becomes clear why those early scenes were needed. In fact, you may be yearning to revisit them when you start to struggle for breath in sympathy with the main characters.

Alonso does very well in the main role, mainly because she's brave enough to put herself in such an awkward position. I'm NOT majorly claustrophobic (although I'm not a huge fan of tight spaces) and I certainly can't imagine ever being able to put myself through what she obviously did for the sake of getting the movie made. Kudos to her, major kudos. I'll mention Torey Byrne, Tommy Ball, Will Crown, David Paul Baker and Tom Chamberlain, but they all just fill in for the times that don't focus on Alonso, the tunnel, and the creature.

Ah, the creature. That's a real mixed blessing here. First of all, let me say that the film also boasts some very impressive practical effects. I couldn't say what the budget was for this thing, but I'm guessing that it wasn't exactly mega-millions, and it's great to see that Ward knows how to stretch a dollar without filling up the screen with cheap CGI. It's just a shame that, from certain angles, the main creature looks a LOT like everyone's favourite xenomorph. The overall design has more of an insectoid quality, and that is shown at times, but the head and top half of the body will make you think of Alien as soon as you see it. There are worse movies to be compared to, but it's a bit of a distraction that could have been avoided.

Apparently, Ward has a trilogy planned. That explains away a few of the other minor criticisms I had planned to write about here, with some more backstory and character development lined up for future instalments. So I guess I'll just end by recommending this to genre fans. It's not a found footage film, thank goodness, and it's not another vampire/zombie/werewolf movie. It's trying to do something a little bit different. And, overall, I'd say it succeeds.


You know how you can show your appreciation for bloggers? If you share and share then every additional reader helps. Connect through Google or Blogger or any way you can, and rest easy in the knowledge that you've made little ol' me a very happy man.

And/or you could also buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Noir November: The Third Man (1949)

A tale of death, friendship and black-market trading, The Third Man is a classic mystery thriller that uses a decent script, a great cast, and an evocative location, and creates something that ends up being more than the sum of its parts.

Joseph Cotten plays Holly Martins, a pulp novelist who travels to post-war Vienna to visit his friend, Harry Lime. Unfortunately, when he arrives he finds out that his friend has recently died. And then he finds out that a bunch of people thought he was mixed up in some criminal activities. Not willing to stand around and see his friend's name dragged through the mud, Martins starts to investigate the death. He soon finds out that there may be more to it than just a tragic accident.

Written by Graham Greene, this is a smart film that unfolds at a leisurely pace. Director Carol Reed uses his cast to great effect, simply allowing them to have their conversations and relay information in ways that manage to somehow seem both unfussy and yet never dull. That's due to the fact that the central characters are all nicely fleshed out, with more than one having a secret or two up their sleeves, and also down to great dialogue that spends a lot of time teasing viewers with intriguing details and hints of something being amiss before some great reveals in the second half.

Cotten makes for a likable lead, whether he's arguing with officials (mainly the Major played by Trevor Howard) or finding himself draw to a woman (Alida Valli) who has feelings for Lime. Despite being the main obstacle as Cotten conducts his investigation, Howard still manages to avoid becoming some kind of obvious villain of the piece, helped in no small part by a supporting turn from Bernard Lee (as a Sergeant who enjoys reading Martins' books). Valli is lovely, and her character has a real core of sadness that becomes more and more apparent as things play out. And then, last but not least, we have the man himself. Mr. Orson Welles. He's fantastic, and gets to make the most of his relatively limited screentime with some truly wonderful lines of dialogue, including one great speech that he came up with himself.

There are two other main characters worth mentioning. One, the setting. Made to appear both beautiful and mysterious and home to oh-so-many shadows, Vienna is both a wonderful setting for the events, and also integral to the plot development. Two, the music by Anton Karas. If you don't think you're aware of it then think again, The Third Man Theme (AKA The Harry Lime Theme) has to be, arguably, the most famous tune ever played on a zither. Even those who have yet to see the movie have, probably, heard at least a snippet of the main theme.

A sedate, intelligent thriller for those more interested in characters and morality than chases and cliffhangers (although it delivers some standard thrills in the finale), The Third Man is a film that won't lose its reputation as a classic any time soon. The pacing could be better, with some sections feeling slightly drawn out and one main section feeling slightly rushed, but that's a very minor criticism when considering how much greatness you get to experience in one sitting. Those characters, that music, those shadows, those camera angles. Just wonderful stuff.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Noir November: The Killing (1956)

An early film in the career of one Mr. Stanley Kubrick, The Killing may be a relatively low-budget, low-key movie compared to some of his later works, but it's no less enjoyable for it. Based on a novel ("Clean Break") by Lionel White, this is a tense, unhurried look at a group of criminals planning a major heist.

The main players are: Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), the man with the plan, a corrupt cop named Randy Kennan (Ted De Corsia), a teller who works at the racecourse they're planning to rob (Elisha Cook Jr), a sharpshooter (Timothy Carey), and a couple of other guys who will help to distract people while the robbery occurs. Everything is planned out precisely, and onscreen details, as well as narration, help viewers to keep track of just how all of the pieces fall into place. But no plan is foolproof, is it?

Kubrick may be working on a smaller scale here, compared to his more famous works, but he shows the same attention to detail and clinical approach to the material that cinema fans would respond so well to. The script, with dialogue by Jim Thompson, nicely balances things out between the specifics of the job and the drama derived from the fluctuating dynamic of the group.

Performances are pretty great across the board, especially for a film that many would consider as nothing more than a b-movie (I guess). Hayden, Corsia, Carey and the others all do well, but I have to admit that Cook Jr. is someone I have always loved seeing onscreen, and his role here is a great one. Coleen Gray and Marie Windsor also do well, being the two main women in a film that focuses very much on the men. The fact that two make such a memorable impression, for very different reasons, is further testament to the script and their performances.

I'm not sure how audiences would have reacted to the content back in 1956, when this was first released, but it seems to have enough darker elements in there to make some people uncomfortable. There are some moments of violence, as expected from a film about an armed robbery, a healthy dollop of cynicism coating everything, and at least one outburst that uses a racial slur to shocking, though also brilliant, effect.

With it being so slight, however, it's hard to push this forward as an essential noir viewing. Yet it's easy to see how influential it has been, at least on certain people (Tarantino, I'm looking at you). It's also simply an excellent little movie that doesn't outstay its welcome. Give it a watch soon, if you've not seen it already.


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