Monday, 29 July 2013

Trouble Every Day (2000)

Trouble Every Day (France 2000 - 101 min.). Directed by Claire Denis, written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau.

"The ability to love. The inability to love... The hunger to love"

Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and his new wife June (Tricia Vessey) are travelling to Paris on what appears to be their honeymoon.
Meanwhile Leo (Alex Descas) is desperately searching for his wife Core (Beatrice Dalle) - when he finds her he incarcerates her in one room of the heavily fortified family home.
Elsewhere Christelle (Florence Loiret) goes about the everyday mundanity of her life as a chambermaid at the hotel where Gallo and Vessey will shortly be staying.
The story (such as it is) revolves around the way in which these five character's lives come to intertwine and revolve around each other and the ultimately destructive effect that this has on each of their lives.
While the story is slight and faintly preposterous (there's some pseudo-scientific explanation for everything at the mid-point that left me more baffled than before) the reasons to watch and enjoy this film are in the skilled direction, the haunting sense of impending disaster and the visually impressive photography of Agnes Godard.
The film moves at an extremely leisurely pace between it's set pieces, but this creates a more effective shock when the flash points and moments of extreme violence occur.
Denis created a mood piece around a slight and preposterous central concept - filled with shadows, nightscapes and the juxtaposition of the drab and the extraordinary.
A film that's going to disappoint the horror film attracted by the hyper-gory DVD sleeve or it's reputation and which was never going to find a mainstream audience of any kind; it's success is as a piece of pure film making in which each and every scene is carefully constructed and shot in order to contribute to the overall tone of the piece.
A word of praise too for the band Tindersticks whose custom-written soundtrack music and songs adds perfectly to the mood of the film.

Freeview (UK) film of the day : monday 29th of July

Cache/ Hidden (2005 113min.) [Film4 1.40am &+1]

Mystery thriller starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. Successful Parisian couple Anne and Georges Laurent begin to receive secretly shot videotapes of their home and private life, accompanied by macabre drawings. As the tapes become more personal in nature, they begin to reveal a secret from Georges's past.

Michael Haneke's gripping, multi-layered arthouse thriller is an intricate, complex and delicate film with an endlessly debatable ending.

Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche are both as good as you'd expect in the lead roles as the chic couple whose facade of sophisticated modernism is slowly stripped away as events fold in upon them.

A truly remarkable, utterly wonderful film.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Freeview (UK) film of the day : sunday 28th of July

Animal Kingdom (2009 108min.) [Film4 11.45pm &+1]

Australian crime drama starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Mike from Neighbours and James Frecheville. After his mother dies of an overdose, young Joshua Cody takes up his grandmother's offer of a home. But he must also gain the acceptance of his three career-criminal uncles, who are under investigation by the local police.

Australian writer/director David Michôd's feature debut is a terrific piece of film making with a gritty but realistic central story that spins off in any number of directions and includes at least three "oh no!" moments of genuine shock.

Packed with great performances, but special mention for Jacki Weaver who received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the mater familias to this trio of hard-bitten, brutal but fading would-be gangsters.

It's a remarkable film that is highly recommened to everyone, but especially to those who found Chopper (to which this film has a stylistic resemblance) to be a gripping and taut piece of cinema back in 2000.

A really, really well made crime drama

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Half Naked Truth (1932)

The Half Naked Truth (US 1932 - 76min.) Directed by Gregory La Cava,  written by Corey Ford and La Cava (& the uncredited Bartlett Cormack)

Comedy starring Lee Tracy and Lupe Velez. A fast-talking carnival barker attempts to turn a fiery hooch dancer into a Broadway star.

This pre-Hays Code comedy has a lot of fun poking fun at the showbiz. world of the early thirties, it's ways, traditions and idiocy.
It's also, in many ways,  a working blueprint for the screwball comedy films that would soon become big box-office with big stars and big name directors.

Lee Tracy stars as the carny who parlays himself into the position of a Broadway showbiz agent and publicist. Although his name recognition these days is near zero he was a very talented and skilled actor who created a career for himself as a  fast-talking, wisecracking, scruple-free unconventional leading man.
He brings all of that skill to this role, appears in every scene and carries the weight of the extremely wordy script with seeming ease.

His co-star is Lupe Velez (the Mexican Spitfire according to the studio's idiotic publicity) who is now remembered as the wife of Johnny Weissmuller and for her spectacular self-destruction and suicide as described in detail in Kenneth Anger's book Hollywood Babylon.

Which is a shame because, as she demonstrates here, she was a spirited and energetic comedy musical performer who gives her all to the song and dance numbers and manages to (just about) keep up with Tracy in the dialogue-heavy exchanges between the two.

There's other stuff of interest for the 21st Century viewer here : there's an extended opening act set in an authentic looking 1930's travelling carnival, which is fascinating in detail and in it's depiction of a long lost world of sawdust and sideshows. When the action shifts to New York there's some terrific location footage of the city - packed with people, motor cars and advertising hoardings - again a record of a time and place that's now lost to us.

Director Gregory La Cava demonstrates his skill with the camera that he would later bring to the classic farce My Man Godfrey (1936)  and the Katherine Hepburn/Ginger Rogers backstage comedy  Stage Door (1937). There's very little of the wide-shot, theatre style framing that so many films of the era suffer from : La Cava's happy to mix in close-ups, two-shots and clever angles to tell the story.
There's a superbly shot in the opening scene of a high board diver at the carnival that many of todays directors (with lightweight cameras & auto-focus) would struggle to replicate or better.

The supporting cast includes the human bullfrog Eugene Pallette as Tracy's best friend and Frank Morgan as the Broadway producer of limited imagination who is obsessed with setting 'moods' and has no idea of material. There's also a  noteworthy performance by the superb Franklin Pangborn as a prissy, oily hotel manager.

It's a funny, well made and strongly acted film with a smart script and some great performances; it's also a big hint at the direction that studio comedies might have taken had the moral clampdown and fear of change hadn't forced them into the constraints of the code.
Worth investigating.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Sisters (1973)

Sisters (US 1973 - 92min.)  Directed by Brian De Palma, written by De Palma and Louisa Rose

"What the Devil hath joined together let no man cut asunder."

An ambitious journalist thinks she has got hold of a career-making story when she witnesses a murder at her neighbour's house - but as she tries to find evidence of the crime, she discovers events are not as straightforward as she thought. Starring Margot Kidder, Lisle Wilson and Jennifer Salt.

It's impossible to discuss this film without making reference to Hitchcock, so let's get that out of the way first.
Sisters was De Palma's first feature length work and his love and worship of Hitchcock is evident in almost every frame - there's echoes and references back to (at least) Vertigo, Rear Window and Notorious, there's a under-hypnosis section with more than a hint of Spellbound about it, the closing shot puts us in mind of The Birds and the entire structure of the story owes a large debt to Psycho.

Now, to my way of thinking this doesn't matter too much - plenty of directors (rightly) admire Hitchcock's way with a thriller and many have littered their films with homages, references and downright rip-offs from his work, De Palma is at least honest in acknowledging the fact. He would continue to reference back in almost all of his work throughout the seventies and eighties, but nowhere is the debt and devotion more on view than in this film.

As to the film itself : it's charmingly askew with all sorts of elements chucked together with the aim of hoping they stick together. There's a sinister doctor straight out of any number of sixties TV melodramas, Charles Durning plays a PI who tags along on Jennifer Salt's investigation and who seems to exist largely as comic relief, there's a gory murder, there's sex (inter-racial sex at that), a cake that is both a clue and a plot device (and echoes the central device of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes), hypnotism/bad trip, 'found' footage, a TV game show spoof and a double twist ending.

It's a lot to pack into ninety minutes of running time and some elements feel under-developed, but De Palma's skill is evident from the way that he just about manages to keep all of the plates spinning.

The bulk of the story is set on Staten Island and De Palma makes good use of this under-used part of New York to provide a realistic backdrop to the fantastic elements of the story; at one point we visit Manhattan and there's some thrilling guerrilla footage shot among streets and signs that have now disappeared beneath the re-developers bulldozer.

The film was also the breakthrough role for it's lead actor. Margot Kidder is (for some reason which isn't clear from the film) asked to deliver her lines with a French-Canadian accent ; although she does this perfectly well some poor sound recording means that at times you do have a struggle trying to make out exactly what it is that she's saying.
Kidder's (sort of) 'dual' role gives her plenty to work with and she makes the absolute best of the opportunity - she's by turn kittenish and playful, puts in a good drunk turn, threatening, scheming, devious, the victim and the predator.

I've always felt that she was badly served by Hollywood - after some terrific work in low visibility films such as this and Black Christmas (1974)  she was pitched slap-bang into the middle of the mainstream by Superman (1978) after which the studios seemed to be a bit flummoxed as to what to do with her.
Thirty years old when she played Lois Lane she was difficult for Hollywood to fit into one of their neatly stacked pre-arranged moulds : too old to play juvenile leads, too attractive to be a character actor, too smart to lose in the background/ best friend/ plot mover role usually prefaced by "and featuring" in the opening credits.
Two years after Superman II (1980) she was already back int he world of TV movies which she must have thought she had left behind forever after fame came knocking. From there it was a short walk to voice work for films, TV and video games and TV bit-work; until a recent revival now that she is of a physical age to play elder statesman roles, something which she, of course, has done with great skill.
Terrible waste of talent for twenty years though.

Sisters is an entertaining watch, there's plenty going on both on-screen and within the text. It's obvious that De Palma would go on to have a career within the mainstream from the neat way in which he arranges the elements of the story and the visual flair and (borrowed) style on show.
Just a shame about Margot Kidder's career really.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1969)

Il Rosso Seno Della Follia / Hatchet For The Honeymoon (Italy 1969 84 min.) 
Directed by Mario Bava, written by Santiago Moncada

A fashion designer tormented by his sexual failings vents his frustrations by murdering the models for his range of wedding dresses. When he goes on to kill his own wife, she returns to plague him as a ghost. Mario Bava's horror, starring Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti and Jesus Puente.

Dario Argento may be the accepted master of Italian horror film making but Mario Bava is the genre's supreme stylist. This compact film is littered with startling and beautifully composed shots.

The story begins as the sort of psychological thriller so beloved by makers of the giallo sub-genre in Italy through the late sixties and in to the mid seventies. However, around the half-way mark it warps into something entirely different, part-ghost story part paranoid thriller and there's a massive (literal) kink at one point as Forsyth's John Harrington dresses in a bridal gown and slaps on make-up prior to murdering his domineering wife (Laura Betti).

Along the way there's plenty of visual treats for the viewer. Look, for example at this superbly composed and lit still from the first act of the film :

It's part of an extended scene between Forsyth and an intended victim that revolves around the couple waltzing around a store room full of brides dresses that is shot using a near weightless camera to zoom in and around the couple, it's beautifully timed in such a way that, although we know what's coming, the suspense is built up and up until you feel that the moment of release can't be held off any longer. And then it is. A real tour de force and one of several that lift the film above the competent into the magical.

Or how about the scene where Harrington answers the door to the police moments after committing his most recent act of homicide? His still warm victim is bleeding to death on the staircase above the baronial style hallway where the men are talking. Blood drops form along the dangling fingers of the near-corpse and threaten to fall into the hall below, alerting the visiting coppers to the foul deed which has just taken place. Brilliantly handled with a real sense of tension and impending doom.

There's also a very clever use of a running motif of breakfast on the terrace of Harrington's mansion-style home. Twice we see them sitting down to a very formal meal with perfect table settings, a maid dancing attendance upon them as they plough through course after course of high-end food. Throughout Harrington reads his newspaper and attempts to totally ignore his nagging spouse.

Later in the film, after Harrington believes that he has removed his hated wife from his life forever. we see him once again at the breakfast table. The place settings lie in disarray, he has his feet up on the table and is happily guzzling down coffee and discarding the pages of his newspaper that he has read with relish and abandon, strewing them across the table and floor.

As a visual symbol of the physical and mental release he feels after freeing himself from the shackles of his loveless marriage it's very funny and is handled very skilfully by both director and actor.

Stephen Forsyth's Harrington can easily be seen as an ancestor of TV's Dexter, the seeming professional/ normal man with a hidden appetites explained by a childhood trauma and the 'killer in a dress' motif is a clear pre-echo of De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980).

Visually arresting with an interesting script - the only downside being that (as usual) the film was badly dubbed into English rather than subtitled.

Freeview (UK) film of the day : wednesday 23rd of July

Serpico (1973 124min.) [Film4 11.25pm &+1]

Police thriller starring Al Pacino, based on the real-life story of a young undercover cop. Despite the violence and cynicism that surround him, Frank Serpico retains his ideals, refusing the pay-offs which are common to his colleagues. Gradually, his attitudes and behaviour isolate him within the force, and he faces danger from both sides of the law.

There's a careful and nuanced performance by Pacino at the heart of this based-on-real-events drama which is deftly and expertly directed by Sidney Lumet, it makes the absolute maximum use of it's multiple New York location settings and some superbly realistic sets.

The central story is gripping and the (largely unkown) cast give some top-class support to Pacino as he rolls through the film with a convincing blend of swagger and deep-grained paraniod introspection.

An oustanding film, very much deserving of your time.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Dead Presidents (1995)

Dead Presidents (US 1995 - 114min.)   Directed and written by Albert and Allen Hughes.

"In this daring heist, the only color that counts is green "

Crime drama starring Larenz Tate, Keith David and Chris Tucker. Despite a happy upbringing and success at school, young Anthony Curtis feels a need for action, and enlists in the army. After two tours of duty in Vietnam, he returns home to find that the Bronx has little to offer a black former GI - except a life of crime.

A fast-moving and swirling attempt to document the experience of young black men growing up in the United States of the late sixties, the effects of the Vietnam War on those that served and the social and financial pressures that ultimately lead to a seemingly inevitable return to crime.

It's a massive subject to attempt to cover in just under two hours and the Hughes brothers sacrifice in-depth sociological probing of their characters development (or lack of it) in favour of a series of impressionistic sketches from the lives of the protagonists.

Anthony (the excellent Larenz Tate) journeys from high school graduate without much of a plan to US Marine in a superbly realised guerrilla jungle war and back to his original neighbourhood where he struggles to find steady work before becoming enmeshed in the bank heist that opens and closes the film.
Along the way he meets representatives of the generational change taking place around him - the old school numbers racketeer, the newly radicalised generation of revolutionary youth (a superb turn by N'Bushe Wright), the creeping effect of hard drug use and the controlling influence that the criminal lifestyle could have on those at the bottom of the social pyramid.

The Hughes Brothers had exploded on the film world with "Menace To Society" (1993) and that film coupled with "Dead Presidents" suggested that they would, along with John Singleton and Spike Lee, become documenters of the black American experience. Sadly their career appeared to stall : the disappointing "American Pimp" followed in 1999 before they turned their attention to more mainstream film making with the interesting comic book adaptation "From Hell" (2001) starring Johnny Depp and 2010's "The Book Of Eli"

What "Dead Presidents" shows is an ambition and an abundant natural talent - it's detractors lament it's lack of depth and character study; but in attempting to encapsulate a symbolic life over a fairly lengthy time span there's little running time left for anything other than an edited highlights package which attempts to show how Anthony turns from carefree teenager into desperate gun wielding bank robber.

Three special mentions : the superb soundtrack of period appropriate soul and funk and Danny Elfman's original theme and score; the visually arresting "ghost face" make up used by the characters during the heist and a couple of surprising cameos from big name Hollywood stars (watch especially the scene where Anthony hails a Bronx cab in the early seventies segment of the film).

A bold and distinctive film visually that might have benefited from a little script editing but overall a hugely satisfying watch.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

An apology

I do have to apologise for the break in service.
This has been caused by a combination of technical issues with the site and a lack of time to resolve them caused by outside events.

Working quite hard to get both resolved.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Milk (2008)

Milk (US 2008 - 128min.)   Directed by Gus van Sant, written by Dustin Lance Black.

"His life changed history. His courage changed lives."

Milk" is a biopic of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), a gay activist who became engaged with the political process and ultimately rose to the position of power in San Francisco before meeting an untimely death at the age of 48 in 1978.

The film follows only the last eight years of his life when, having relocated to the West Coast from New York, Milk opens a shop that becomes a hang-out, information exchange and talking shop for the local gay community. He becomes an organiser and social campaigner (not just for Gay Rights but as representative of all excluded people), runs for city office unsuccessfully several times before finally becoming elected as a City supervisor on the same day as his nemesis, the arch-conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin).
van Sant cleverly mixes archive footage of the United States at the time and of the real Harvey Milk with the scripted portions of the film, giving it a feel closer to a documentary than a drama ; he opens with newsreel of late fifties and early sixties police persecution of gay men (and women) - busting up their drinking places and herding them into paddy wagons in the style of a thirties Speakeasy bust.
It then roles into Penn as Milk living a closeted life in New York. Unhappy and unfulfilled a chance encounter provides the catalyst for a move to San Francisco where the action of the remainder of the film is played out.
Despite the obvious input that van Sant has to the look and feel it's Sean Penn's film from beginning to end - he is in practically every scene and makes Milk a believable real life figure.
As he transforms and evolves from wild-eyed idealist into mainstream political animal not only does the superficial aspect of his appearance (clothes, hair etc.) change so does Penn's physical portrayal - he becomes "bigger" as he emerges from his safety zone and into the larger world. His mannerisms and speech patterns change; the transformation is complete in the final section of the film where Milk has become the establishment figure and the role of fire-brand wielding tyro is passed to others.
A confident, poised and fully engaged Milk emerges from Penn's performance - striding up the steps of the Town Hall to address protesters in conciliatory terms rather than the language of defiance and opposition that he was using earlier.
It's a film with an obvious message but it's delivered in a non-hectoring style; placing the Gay Rights movement within the context of the ongoing civil rights campaign in the United States and delivering a piece of filmed social history that has it's faults (mainly caused by the need to reduce a story with massive scope to a highlights package) but is entertaining, humane, warm and uplifting.

Freeview (UK) film of the day : saturday 6th of July

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010 112min.) [C4 10.00pm&+1]
Freeview premiere

Action comedy from the director of Shaun of the Dead, starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Despite having a high-school girlfriend, wannabe rock star Scott Pilgrim can't help falling for the woman of his dreams, the enigmatic Ramona Flowers. But Ramona comes with baggage in the shape of seven ex-lovers that Scott must do battle with in order to win her heart.

Director Edgar Wright attempts to bring the style of the series of graphic novels on which the film is based to the screen; he uses a wide variety of visual styles, camera tricks and moves and attempts to create a hightened reality for his characters to live in.

He's not always succesful and some may find the film irritating for it's seeming inability to sit still for five minutes and there's a growing sense of deja vu as the hero attempts to complete his series of tasks - rather like boss levels in video games the action sometimes seems to be repeating itself but against a different backdrop.

At the heart of the film though there's charming performances by Cera and Winstead which contrast nicely with the turmoil surrounding them.

A flawed but interesting attempt to do something different with a comic book adaptation.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Freeview film of the day : thursday 4th of July

Kill List (2011 91min.) [Film4 11.05pm &+1]

Horror starring Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring. Ex-soldier-turned-contract killer Jay is talked into doing one last job by friend and fellow hitman Gal. But as the bodies pile up, it soon becomes apparent the pair have become involved in a situation beyond their control.

Terrific British low budget thriller/horror film that casts back to the glory days of Hammer for its inspired air of creepy menace and moments of genuine shock.

Superly directed by Ben Wheatley, off the back of the equally striking Down Terrace, it's a mixture of gangster film, Mike Leigh style improvised domesticity and grand guignol horror.

A thoroughly engaging and satisfying film from beginning to end.

A Prophet (2009 148min.) [Film4 1.00am friday & +1]

A 19-year-old Arab petty crook is sentenced to six months behind bars, serving his time in a prison dominated by rival Corsican and Muslim gangs. When he agrees to commit murder for a Corsican leader, he wins the respect of his fellow inmates and starts putting plans in motion for forming his own crime syndicate. Drama, with Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup. In French, Arabic and Corsican.

Superb - easily one of the best ten films released anywhere in the world in 2009.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Thieves Like Us (1974)

Thieves Like Us (US 1974 - 117min.) 

 Directed by Robert Altman; written by Altman, Joan Tewkesbury and Calder Willingham.

"Robbing 36 banks was easy. Watch what happens when they hit the 37th. "

The story is derived from Edward Anderson's novel of the same name which was also the source of Nicolas Ray's noir classic "They Live By Night" (1948) - Altman, however, opts not to shoot the film in a neo-noir style but instead presents the story as a period drama; in much the same way as his earlier "McCabe And Mrs. Miller" (1971) was a 'western' only in terms of time and place of it's setting.

The story revolves around a trio of fugitives (Keith Carradine, Bert Remsen, and John Schuck) who rob banks in Mississippi while trying to stay out of the hands of the law; meanwhile, Carradine develops a crush on a gas station attendant (Shelly Duvall), Remsen falls for a blonde beauty school student (Ann Lathan), and Schuck shows increasingly violent tendencies.

Viewed as a period drama (like Arthur Penn's 1967 "Bonnie And Clyde") this is a beautifully constructed and photographed film - d.p. Jean Boffety gives it a warm and alive tone, a lived in look and the sense of hyper-realism is added to by the attention to the minutest detail in the set construction, costumes and props.
It's like a very violent Merchant Ivory production.

The same level of care is taken with the story. At it's heart there are two (possibly three) love stories and it's here that the focus of the film falls - only one of the bank robberies is shown in any detail, the death of one of the central characters happens off-screen.

Instead Altman immerses us in the human relationships : Carradine is a man in love who just happens to rob banks for a living. The mechanics of his work life are a commonplace to him, the driving force in his life is his desire to spend every waking moment with Duvall.

It's a beautifully told story that unfolds on screen, as with all Altman's best work he engages the viewer and makes you care enough about the characters that you really do want to know how things work out for each of them.

Perfectly cast and almost flawlessly delivered it's a real shame that "Thieves Like Us" has ended up in the 'neglected gem' file. Well worthy of your time and of critical re-evaluation.

Freeview (UK) film of the day ; wednesday 3rd of July

Down Terrace (2009 89min.) [Film4 10.50pm &+1]

Crime comedy drama starring Robert Hill and Robin Hill. Small-time criminals Bill and his son Karl deal drugs from the family home in Brighton, but when suspicions arise about an informant in their midst, things take a turn for the worse.

A low budget British film that's short, snappy and well balanced between the comedy and drama elements. It's a bit like a cross between a UK version of The Sopranos and The Royle Family as everday mundanity and sudden, brutal violence meet - all laced through with an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia.

This was writer-director Ben Wheatley's first full length film and he demonstrates the skill that made his subsequent Kill List (2011)and Sightseers (2012) such watchable films.

There's a strong cast of little known British character actors with an outstanding performance by Julia Deakin as the materfamilias of the criminal dynasty.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Children Of The Revolution (1996)

Children Of The Revolution (Australia 1996 101min.)  Directed and written by Peter Duncan

"What do you do when your father is no ordinary Joe?"

Political comedy drama starring Judy Davis, Sam Neill and Richard Roxburgh. Joan is a fanatical Australian communist whose devotion to the party is rewarded when she is invited to meet her hero, Josef Stalin. The two have a brief affair which produces "Little Joe", who, in his later life, demonstrates serious political ambitions of his own.

Another in the chain of small, charming, comedy drama films that emerged from Australia during the mid and late nineties. Very much mining the same vein as the likes of Muriel's Wedding (1994) , Diana & Me (1997) and The Dish (2000) .
Judy Davis plays a young woman living in 1940's Australia besotted with the idea of bringing Russian-style worker's revolution to her homeland. She's pursued romantically by Geoffrey Rush, who has no love of revolutionary politics but feigns an interest in the course of his wooing.
She's also of interest to Sam Neill as an Australian secret service agent with a secret or two of his own to keep.
After being invited to Russia to meet Stalin she returns to Australia and, nine months later, there's a rather surprising addition to her life.
It's a very slight and sound plot, more of a stage play than a cinematic experience, but the performances are all so adept that the shortcomings are easily covered over and the film moves along smartly to it's predictable but still well handled conclusion.
Davis and Neill are both excellent and there's sure handed work among the support cast from Rachel Griffiths as a pseudo S&M clad police officer and the always fine F.Murray Abraham as Joe Stalin.
The scenes within the Kremlin before and during Davis's visit are clever and funny by turn, the "disappearance" of several of Stalin's secretaries for unspecified crimes against the state is especially amusing.
Duncan cleverly cuts newsreel footage (both real and doctored) into his film and has a fluid style (although this sometimes runs away from him leaving shots hanging in mid-air) and it never quite lives up to it's satirical ambitions.
Despite this the film cracks along at a sprightly pace, has some moments of genuine comedy and farce and scores with a few of it's satirical points.
An enjoyable, if lightweight, film.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Scream Of Fear (1961) aka Taste Of Fear

Scream Of Fear (UK 1961 82min.)  Directed by Seth Holt, written by Jimmy Sangster.

"For maximum thrill . . . we earnestly urge you to see this motion picture from the start!"

Following a tragic accident in which she came close to drowning, a wheelchair-using woman decides to take a vacation in the French Riviera, but finds herself haunted by the corpse of her father. Psychological horror, starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd and Christopher Lee also star.

When you think of the UK's Hammer Studio you tend to associate it with their "monster movie" quickies, the Dracula and Frankenstein series for example. They were, however, equally adept at the more calculated psychological thriller and produced many fine examples of the genre throughout the sixties and in to the early seventies.

This, though, is their finest moment in the field. Released within a year of the first showing of Hitchcock's Psycho it's clearly learned the lesson that a top class horror film doesn't require buckets of gore and severed limbs to be effective.

Jimmy Sangster's script is a beautifully realised thing : in a pre-credits sequence we see police in an unnamed European country removing the body of a dead young woman from a lake. We then meet Susan Strasberg (career best performance) arriving at the south of France home of her step-mother (Ann Todd) and father, who has left suddenly for a business trip.

Feeling alone in the strange house she befriends Robert(Ronald Lewis), her father's driver, and shares oddly staged meals with her step-mother and a local doctor friend of her father (Christopher Lee, best Robert Blanc French accent at the ready).

A series of strange and unusual events and meetings then unfold and the story seems to be taking us down the path of "driving her insane to claim her inheritance" path which has long been a staple of this branch of the old dark house story.

It's then that Sangster's script really shifts up a gear and the final third of the film brilliantly opens up the story to reveal that absolutely nothing is as we assumed it was. It's one of those films that bear a repeated viewing shortly afterwards in order to watch the pieces of the story being manipulated and moved into place.

A word for Seth Holt's direction as well, which is precise and effective throughout and throws in two very, very good underwater sequences.