Archive for the ‘drama’ Tag

Wait Until Dark (1967) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

wait poster

A trio of con men try to trick a blind woman into giving them a doll stuffed with heroin. The simplicity of the plot allows writers Frederick Knott, Robert Carrington, and Jane-Howard Carrington to embellish their characters which makes for an entertaining and thrilling film. Audrey Hepburn stars as the woman in peril who has a lot more on the ball than the bad guys think. The three bad guys, Richard Crenna, a wonderfully evil Alan Arkin, and Jack Weston play different parts in an elaborate scheme to get their drugs from the beleaguered Hepburn. Wait Until Dark looks more like a play than a film. Knott wrote it for the stage. Because of that, you get a real sense that Hepburn has to outsmart the trio. She has no way out and therefore no choice.

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I’ve never been a Hepburn fan, but she plays her part beautifully. It could easily have played with a lot of flailing and “Why me?”, but it wasn’t and for that reason it really works. Alan Arkin does the most with his part as the demented Roat. He’s a sociopath who delights in torture and a truly scary guy. After seeing this film, I’m even more impressed by Arkin’s acting talent. Within three years he made The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Wait Until Dark, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The man has range. Directed by Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia With Love) Wait Until Dark had tight direction, a Henry Mancini score, a talented cast, and a wonderful script. It also looked great in the theatre. Don’t miss this one.

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Roat introduces us to

mummy-shame

October 20, 2014

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Army of Shadows (1969)   5 comments

poster army

Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a prisoner of the Vichy French travels, in manacles, to a French POW camp. Stoic and confident, Gerbier says little and observes much. It’s clear from his demeanor and his treatment by the camp’s commandant that he’s more than a simple smuggler. After an audacious escape from Gestapo custody, Gerbier meets up with his comrades in the French Underground and we begin to understand his importance. We meet the members of Gerbier’s underground cell after his escape as they gather to assassinate the turncoat who ratted him out.

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It’s a tense series of scenes in which a group of civilized men are forced by war to perform uncivilized acts. These acts and the missions they accomplish daily have formed the group into a de facto family, with Gerbier at its head. The men, along with Mathilde (Simone Signoret) work well together. They carry out their orders efficiently and without question. They’re accustomed to taking risks. Clandestine meetings, signals to their comrades, and smuggling supplies are the norm. A scene in which Mathilde smuggles a radio in her bag under some fruit reminded me of something Bob Crane would do in Hogan’s Heroes. That doesn’t mean the scenes were dull or ordinary. Insightful direction by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge, Bob Le Flambeur) keeps the pace brisk, but he knows when to linger on a scene or on a character’s face. We even get to see the characters relax a bit.

simone wave

When Gerbier goes to London via submarine with the leader of their organization to get funds and supplies, he tours the city with his friend. They even see a film. After a screening of Gone with the Wind, Luc (Paul Meurisse) says, “The war will be over for the French when they can see this wonderful movie.” It’s a small moment, but one I watched a few times because it said so much.
With its narration and onscreen date and location stamps, Army of Shadows feels like a documentary. Under the guise of a procedural, a story takes shape. The story Melville presents is one of suspense, bravery, sacrifice, and love. The Resistance members risk everything to save their country from evil. They respect and even love each other and go to great lengths to protect one another. That sounds heavy and ponderous, but it’s not. Melville lets us know enough about the characters to care about them so when they face danger, we feel it. Army of Shadows is an account of one group of resistance fighters and how they interact. It’s a patriotic WWII film. It’s an action movie with some real weight. Joseph Kessel wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with Melville. The story has enough twists to make it interesting and the acting is superb. I had never seen Lino Ventura before this film. He was a perfect choice. His quiet authority gave him the look of a natural leader. Simone Signoret is always wonderful and I wish Jean-Pierre Cassel had a bigger part. Eric DeMarsan’s music fit. The jangly piano he added to a few scenes gave the music a crazy quality I liked. This film kept me on the edge of my seat. After seeing Army of Shadows, I look forward to seeing Melville’s other films.

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I wrote this for Tyson Carter’s wonderful film blog http://headinavice.com/ and his Recommended By blogathon. Really fun idea, Tyson! Jay from http://www.007hertzrumble.com/ , a cool blog mostly, but not entirely devoted to James Bond musings and music, recommended Army of Shadows and the rest of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films to me and I’m glad he did. Thanks, Jay! Great stuff!
Tyson is also on twitter @Tysoncarter as is Jay @007hertzrumble and me @echidnabot

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Victim (1961)   5 comments

opening

Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.

grilling

Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.

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Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”

thought

Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.

I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot

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The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)   Leave a comment

king of marvin gardens

David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) writes fiction loosely based on his life and reads it on his late night Philadelphia radio show. He lives with his elderly grandfather and goes through the motions of living. After an emergency call from his brother, Jason (Bruce Dern), David travels to Atlantic City and gets sucked into Jason’s world of lowlifes and get rich quick schemes.

The decaying boardwalk and scuzzy locales of Atlantic City in the 1970s serve as a perfect backdrop for the desperate wheeling and dealing Jason, his lady friend, Sally (Ellen Burstyn), and her daughter Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson) have to do to get by. Jason works for local mobster, Scatman Crothers, but dreams of an empire of his own on a Hawaiian island. His charisma and charm have gotten him this far, but his bravado and lack of business acumen threaten to derail Jason’s plans. He’s also playing fast and loose with the two ladies in his life which almost never ends well.

As he did in Five Easy Pieces, director Bob Rafelson paints a sad picture of frustration, loneliness, and promise unfulfilled. Nicholson underplays his role as the smarter, sensible brother and Burstyn shows great range as the aging beauty queen who knows she’s past it, but tries to muddle through anyway. It’s Dern who transfixes though and you can’t take your eyes off him. He’s all energy and spontaneity and you want to believe in his dreams, realistic or not. For a film without a lot of action or even crackling dialogue, The King of Marvin Gardens held my interest if only to see what these odd characters would do and how these terrific actors would show it.

kingmarvin

Rope (1948)   Leave a comment



Alfred Hitchcock exchanges his usual cinematic style for a more playlike one as he puts his own spin on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killings in Rope. John Dall and Farley Granger star as Brandon and Phillip, sons of privilege, who decide that killing a classmate they deem inferior and getting away with it is proof of their intellectual superiority.


“We’re better than you.”

The film opens with the camera moving from a placid street scene and into the students’ palatial flat, closing in on Brandon and Phillip strangling their victim with the eponymous weapon. The two have a drink and discuss their evening plans. As Robert Mitchum says in Out of the Past, the pair are “a little cold around the heart”.


“Oh, you wanted a Windsor knot?”

They don’t stop with their ghastly crime. To further reinforce the belief in their Nietzschean Übermensch status, they hold a cocktail party on the day of the murder and invite the victim’s parents. They even serve dinner on a chest containing the body. Sweet.


The corpse makes it tasty.

Based on the real life Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924 in which two wealthy University of Chicago students kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks just to prove they could, Rope begins during the murder and follows Brandon and Phillip as they prepare for the party, bicker, and attempt to hide their crime. Filmed on a single set using long uninterrupted shots of up to ten minutes at a time, Rope breaks a few established rules of cinema to great effect. As the evening progresses, the killers’ facades of control erode and the apartment seems to shrink. That sense of claustrophobia grows as Brandon and Phillip feel cornered by their former teacher and idol Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart). At first Rupert appears to be cut from the same cloth as the killers, but as Rupert observes the pair, the audience sees his suspicion and anxiety. It’s fun to watch Rupert inveigle his way into the guests thoughts and the hosts insecurities.


“The something of something.”

Since we know what happened to Leopold and Loeb, we can guess as to the fate of Brandon and Phillip, but it’s still a good time and the dialogue, written by Hume Cronyn and an uncredited Ben Hecht, is witty and dark.


“To murder!”

I love Rope and despite or perhaps because of the film’s divergence from the director’s usual path, it’s my favorite Hitchcock.


Hitchcock always won at Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Mud (2013)   Leave a comment

mud poster

 Mud touches on true love, fatherhood, adolescence, friendship, and redemption.

Matthew McConaughey leads a stellar cast in this complex and compelling tale of a man who risks everything for love. Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker, and Jacob Lofland give wonderful performances but McConaughey, Ray McKinnon, and Tye Sheridan, in a break out role, really stand out. Lovely cinematography by Adam Stone shows both the beauty and desolation of the river and the stark reality of a small southern town. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 10 minutes, but feels shorter. The plot is unpredictable, the dialogue natural, and the acting nuanced. The one problem I have with Mud is Reese Witherspoon. I’m guessing she wanted to up her indie cred and the filmmaker wanted to use her name to garner funding for his project. Either way, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite Witherspoon’s presence, Mud works and serves as further proof that McConaughey can do more than play bongos. Mud was my favorite film of 2013.

mud

Lonely Boy (2013)   Leave a comment

lonely boy

Franky has problems. For much of this film, we’re not entirely sure what those are. It doesn’t matter. We’re fascinated by Franky and achingly curious to learn what makes him tick. In Lonely Boy, the audiences watches as he navigates his everyday, troubled life.

Alev Aydin gives a sweet, nuanced performance which could have easily degenerated to caricature. The story, interspersed with lovely character parts played by veterans Mackenzie Astin, Jack Plotnick, Lynn Whitfield, and sweet and intense roles by newcomers Natalie Distler and Greg Vrotsos takes us through Franky’s day. He makes dinner, goes to the grocery store, visits his long suffering sister, and meets a girl.

I detest spoilers so I won’t give any more of the story away here. I can say that Lonely Boy is an independent film with high production values and direction by Dale Fabrigar that takes its time. It looks great and suffers from none of the awkwardness of some small films. Aydin, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Franky with subtlety and wit. It’s quirky and intense. Everything you want in an independent film. Look for Richard Riehle (Office Space) and Melora Walters (Boogie Nights) in terrific character roles.

lonely boy still

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