Capricorn One (Peter Hyams, 1978) 5/10
One of numerous paranoid conspiracy theory films from the 1970s. The plot here is based on the director/writer Peter Hyam's suspicion and observation about the Apollo 11 moon landing about which he said, "That was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera". Taking this as his cue he constructed his screenplay around a fake NASA Mars mission with three pilots (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson) coerced into faking their drop onto Mars in a giant hangar after an empty rocket takes off watched by millions on tv. The hoax, perpetuated by the project leader (Hal Holbrook), comes about because the government realises that the mission is doomed from the start so to save face in front of the world (and to continue getting funds for the space project) NASA decides to create the landing followed by saying the astronauts all perished when the rocket exploded upon re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The shit hits the fan when the three astronauts escape and make a run for it. Stranded in the desert the government ruthlessly tracks them down. Meanwhile a suspicious reporter (Elliott Gould), helped by a colleague (Karen Black), attempts to get to the truth. The plot is full of potholes and the initial sense of dread suddenly gives way to humour in the scenes involving Gould and his disbelieving boss (David Doyle). The film ends on a spectacular note with a dizzying chase sequence in the air as two government helicopters give chase to a small plane flown by a foul mouthed pilot (Telly Savalas) who has as his passengers the reporter and one rescued astronaut. In a brief role Brenda Vaccaro is memorable as the chief astronaut's wife. The film takes a tongue-in-cheek approach but falters because it does not maintain enough of a tangible threat. A treat though to see so many stars in one film even if most appear very briefly.
Smuggler's Island (Edward Ludwig, 1951) 2/10
Silly B-movie set in Macao has a lot of scenes with tacky back projection. A diver (Jeff Chandler) is hired by a mysterious woman (Evelyn Keyes) to hunt for sunken treasure which turns out to be a boxload of stolen gold. Her oily husband (Phillip Friend) turns up wanting a share in the loot, there is a climactic chase sequence to Hong Kong across the bay followed by exploding fireworks on the boat. Lifeless film with the actors merely going through the motions.
Mr. Soft Touch (Gordon Douglas & Henry Levin, 1949) 8/10
Underrated Christmas classic starts off in frantic noir mode but devolves into a charming Runyonesque fable with a soft heart. A returning war hero (Glenn Ford) and former nightclub owner is swindled by the mob. He manages to rob them and holes up with the money in a settlement house in San Francisco run by a prim social worker (Evelyn Keyes). He ends up igniting a simmering fire in the lady but not before he imparts a few life lessons to the orphans, provides a Christmas tree and a new piano and helps decorate their gymnasium. Fast paced film has a lot of heart with an added dose of romance, comedy and menace in the mix. Ford, one of the most underrated great stars from Hollywood's golden era, is superb and gets to show his versatility as his character shifts mood according to the nuances in the screenplay. The superb supporting cast - Beulah Bondi, Clara Blandick, John Ireland (as a sinister newspaper crusader), Percy Kilbride, Ted de Corsia - bring their familiar personas to the film enhancing this heartwarming story.
Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019) 6/10
The year's best screen moment has Jennifer Lopez writhing on the floor in an orgasmic frenzy fondling cash thrown at her by excited men in a bar. The scene appears to be an homage to Ann-Margret's sexy moment covered in baked beans and tomato sauce in Ken Russell's "Tommy". The film, based on a New York magazine article, has a group of former strippers and pole dancers banding together to drug and rob their Wall Street clients. A shout out to female empowerment as sexist men get shafted. Walking through this Scorsese-like exposé is Lopez in all her movie goddess glory. The camera loves her and she knows it. More than a performance its the effect she has on screen dressed in 6-inch stilletos under a fur coat or pole dancing wearing a thong as she bounces her ass towards leering spectators. She easily steals the show from all her co-stars all of whom are very good too. The main plot is bookended by an interview between a journalist (Julia Stiles) and a former stripper (Constance Wu) about her relationship with her former friend and mentor (Jennifer Lopez) who led the con and made them rich. They may be con artists but they treat it just like any job going about their lives - some as single mothers raising kids - and making a living. The story gets repetitive but Lopez makes it worth sitting through.
Cousin cousine (Jean-Charles Tacchella, 1975) 6/10
Charming wisp of a film has the same dreamy quality as the classic "A Man and a Woman" by Claude Lelouche and also seems to have inspired Mike Newell's "Four Weddings and a Funeral" which came almost 20 years later. There are weddings and a funeral in this film too with love taking center stage. At a family wedding a man (Guy Marchand) and a woman (Marie-France Pisier) sneak off from the celebrations for a quickie in the flower beds. Meanwhile back at the wedding their spouses (Victor Lanoux & Marie-Christine Barrault) meet, dance, become friends and fall in love. The affair is conducted amidst the lives of their extended family members - uncles, cousins, siblings, children - whose chaotic lives we see during assorted celebrations and a funeral. Both Lanoux and Barrault are luminous as the lovers stuck with mismatched spouses but determined to make hay come rain or shine. A surprise boxoffice hit the film was nominated for 3 Oscars - best foreign film, screenplay and Barrault for best actress. The Hollywood remake ("Cousins") with Isabella Rossellini and Ted Danson was even better.
Profondo rosso / Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) 9/10
Argento's stylish thriller is far from the usual gialo schlock. Visually stunning film takes its cue from Antonioni's "Blow-Up" and the director's masterstroke here is in using the protagonist of that film to play the lead here. A British pianist (David Hemmings), working in Rome (although the film is mostly shot on the streets of Turin), witnesses the gruesome murder of a psychic and soon finds himself trying to stay one step ahead of the murderer as various people end up being killed. Helping him along the way is a wisecracking journalist (Daria Nicolodi). With Argento at the helm the victims die in terribly painful and inventive ways - burnt by scalding water, heads being bashed against corners of tables or fireplaces, necks slashed, heads chopped off. It is all played out in an operatic fashion with each murder punctuated by loud piercing music. Argento also uses sound in inventive ways to create dread as the camera moves sinuously through interiors of large buildings tracking characters who are either searching for someone or are being followed through shadows. Argento even throws in an homage to Edward Hopper in a scene where Hemmings walks past a bar exactly like the one in the artist's famous painting "Nighthawks". Riveting film has a hallucinatory quality with many unforgetable stark setpieces and surreal images. One of the all-time great horror films and a must-see.
The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019) 5/10
The film scores high points for its tableau of striking images shot in exquisite black and white by Jarin Blaschke. Scenes of crashing angry waves on a desolate windswept rocky island, wild seagulls flapping in the sky around a tall gothic lighthouse inside which a dull hysterical drama plays out between two men as they slowly descend into madness. This two-hander plays like an absurdist play. Two lighthouse keepers, a grumpy old geezer (Willem Dafoe) and a rookie (Robert Pattinson), get severe isolation blues when they find themselves trapped on an island due to a severe storm causing them to get drunk, hallucinate and finally attack each other. Both actors have a field day playing their parts at fever pitch as every cliché of the genre hurls across the screen with unbridled glee. Arty pretentious film quickly loses steam as the relentless shouting between both characters begins to grate on the nerves.
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) 6/10
Overrated Bond film was Daniel Craig's introduction as James Bond. He brings to the part great charm and the character's nasty streak, a trait which was straight from the novels of Ian Fleming and long missing in the films since the era of Sean Connery. This reboot turns Bond into a human being again and it is refreshing to see the plot totally dispense with high-tech gimmicks - the opening chase on foot is breathtaking and inventive. Unfortunately the plot is too convoluted and does not flow, the villain - Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) - too dour and Bond's chemistry with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is almost non existent. Gone is Bond's sexist attitude which plays to the modern sensibility of political correctness but dispensing with the Bond girl's curves is a sacrilege from which the film fails to recover. All the women in the film are beautiful but totally sexless. Luckily "M" keeps popping up to liven up the proceedings helped in great part by the tart-tongued playing of Dame Judi Dench. The screenplay retains the memorable torture scene from the novel where a naked Bond gets his testicles whacked by Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre but it was a major disappointment that they dispensed with the iconic Bond theme which really set the tone for the series.