Tab Hunter Confidential (Jeffrey Schwarz, 2015) 6/10
Clean-cut documentary on the life of closeted and clean-cut Hollywood actor, Tab Hunter, who was made into a star during the 1950s by agent Henry Willson. A new name was created - as Willson did earlier for Rock Hudson - and his career took off with a huge female fan following. At Warner Brothers he appeared in many hit films and also become a huge recording artist. Offscreen he dated the likes of close friends Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds which was strictly fodder of the studio publicity department although he was actually involved in a serious relationship with up and coming actor Anthony Perkins. The film details his family background, his career lows and a later resurgence after appearing in two films by John Waters which found unexpected success. His bestselling autobiography brought into the open his sexuality and this film followed in conjunction where he finally talks openly on screen about his life after decades of keeping silent when he avoided probing questions by the press. Like his screen persona this film also comes across very likeable but a tad too vanilla scented.
Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones, 2015) 9/10
A film buff's wet dream as this documentary gives a visual form to the ground breaking book written by up-and-coming New Wave director, François Truffaut, which covered a week long interview conducted with suspense master Alfred Hitchcock. The two directors spoke in length, using an interpreter, and dissected each of his 50 films. Scenes from Hitchcock's films here are interspersed by contemporary directors - Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas, Wes Anderson, James Gray, David Fincher and Peter Bogdanovich among others - talking about the director's style and influence on their own careers. The old director is heard on the soundtrack talking to Truffaut providing sharp commentaries on his actors, the plots of his films, camera movements and storyboarding. The fascinating book proved highly influential and presented Hitchcock in a whole new light and appreciation as a genius. The film is a superb companion piece as it adds visually to what was so remarkably analyzed by Truffaut in his detailed interviews with the Master of suspense. A must-see for cinephiles.
The Spy Who Dumped Me (Susanna Fogel, 2018) 7/10
Derivative and over long chase film with many silly but laugh-out-loud moments. Two girls (Mila Kunis & Kate McKinnon) find themselves on the run across Europe and being chased by spies and assassins. There is a spectacular scene of mayhem set in a posh Austrian restaurant as the girls are attacked by a room full of killers who end up shooting and stabbing each other instead - most amusing to watch a man drown in a pot of cheese fondue. The obligatory car chase sequence is shot in an inventive way. McKinnon (yet another "Saturday Night Live" comedic graduate) gets all the funny lines while Kunis is equally great (and sexy) as her straight "man". The erratic screenplay goes all over the place with many jokes falling flat while an equal lot bring on laughs along with very brief funny cameos by Paul Reiser and Jane Curtin. Amusing film with two endearing lead performances.
Hours (Eric Heisserer, 2013) 5/10
During the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans a man has to battle the elements to save the life of his newborn daughter while trapped inside the hospital. Released a few months after Paul Walker's death the film is very different to his usual fare. It's just him on screen all alone as in the wake of his wife's sudden death during childbirth he has to keep his baby alive inside a ventilator. Using an endangered baby as a narrative device to tug at the heartstrings is vexing but Walker gives a solid performance throughout.
Disturbia (D.J. Caruso, 2007) 6/10
Fun suspenser is a teen retread of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" with a dash of Aesop's "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". Caruso has fun with the screenplay although spends the first hour involved with typical horny teenage shenanigans. The second half has some great squirmy moments which unfortunately takes on a slasher route. A teenager (Shia LaBeouf) is put under house arrest by the court after he socks the Spanish teacher in school. Still guilty over the death of his dad in a car crash - a spectacularly horrific pre-credits sequence - he and his overactive hormones are too much for his mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) to handle - where did Moss disappear after the "Matrix" trilogy? Confined to the house he spies on and befriends the cute blonde next door. They both find their creepy neighbour (David Morse) suspicious and suspect him of being a serial killer. The film's stale premise - it must have seemed fresh to today's young viewers who wouldn't know Hitchcock if he stood in front of them and waved a knife - is made palatable thanks to an appealing performance by LaBeouf and an appropriately sinister turn by Morse. Too bad about the slow buildup and the familiar slasher finalé (with shades of "The Silence of the Lambs") which was probably added to bring in the "Scream" crowd at the boxoffice.
Hunter Killer (Donovan Marsh, 2018) 3/10
Dull rah-rah heroics with an incredibly stale whiff of Cold War thrillers from the distant past. A submarine captain (Gerard Butler) not only averts WWIII but manages - Navy SEALs help out independently - to save the life of the Russian President after a rogue Minister tries to pitch the United States and Russia against each other. We get all the usual submarine-movie clichés - a captain who takes matters into his own hands, tense undersea moments with depth charges blowing up, a cat and mouse chase between two submarines - along with a spectacularly easy rescue conducted by four soldiers who take on what seems like the entire Russian army. Star Gerard Butler continues his film career playing stone faced heroes who, against all odds, manage to save the day. But what on earth is Gary Oldman doing here - post winning an Oscar - playing such a thankless role which consists of a few blustery scenes? Skip this Tom Clancy wannabee.
Primal Fear (Gregory Hoblit, 1996) 8/10
One of many films that show off the screen charisma of Richard Gere. Forget the potholes in the plot and just sit back and enjoy this crackling star studded courtroom drama with a twist ending. A self-centered narcisstic lawyer (Richard Gere) decides to defend, pro bono, a stuttering altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of brutally murdering an Archbishop - the boy is found covered in the victim's blood. The lawyer's ex-lover and former colleague (Laura Linney) is the prosecuting attorney on the case. Well-paced thriller has an outstanding performance by Norton in his film debut (he was nominated for an Oscar), simmering sexual chemistry between Gere and Linney, superb cinematography by Michael Chapman and a great supporting cast - Andre Braugher, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand and Steven Bauer. This film's first half was later remade/copied by Bollywood as "Deewangee" with Ajay Devgn in an award winning role as the murder suspect, Akshaye Khanna as the defence lawyer and Urmila Matondkar around to provide the songs and dances. The second half of this remake incorporated the plots of both "Cape Fear" and "Sleeping With the Enemy".
Paid in Full (William Dieterle, 1950) 5/10
Sappy and melodramatic soap opera has a sensible and caring woman (Lizabeth Scott) make the ultimate sacrifice for her selfish and spoilt younger sister (Diana Lynn) and the man (Robert Cummings) they both love. Scott is a lovely presence as always here playing against type as the good girl while Lynn makes a switch as the nasty character. Cummings is his usual bland self while Eve Arden does her usual funny schtick.
Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018) 8/10
Looking at Freddie Mercury's overbite always gave me an itch under my upper lip and I got that same feeling watching the amazing Rami Malek's chameleon-like transformation as the singer in this sanitized screen biography. The screenplay merely hints at the singer's debauched drug and alcohol infused lifestyle which consisted of same sex orgies. But foremost the film is a celebration of the music of "Queen" from its inception, when Freddie Mercury joined as the lead singer, and their journey as a rock band is seen through their ups and downs with its major focus on the life of its prima donna star vocalist. The 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopia is used as a bookend with the band's rise to fame across the globe depicted in between. The film closes with an exact recreation of the band's electrifying 21 minute performance at Wembley stadium with Freddie taking the audience into the palm of his hand as he struts and pouts on stage singing "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Radio Ga Ga", Hammer to Fall", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions". This amazing sequence is an incredibly moving moment coming soon after the singer's confession to his band mates that he has contracted the AIDS virus which would result in his death in 1991 at the age of only 45. Rami Malek is outstanding and perfectly captures the singer's many moods - his confidence, wit, arrogance, hysterical flamboyance and ultimate loneliness. The actor deserves an Oscar nomination. Ignore the glossed up story and go and enjoy the catchy and seductive music.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (Sam Wood, 1943) 8/10
Hollywood has never been known for authenticity when it comes to casting ethnic characters and here the studio typically cast an assortment of nationalities - Armenian, Russian, Mexican, Ukranian, Greek, Hungarian and the film's most celebrated choice of a Swede - playing Spaniards in this epic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's book about the Spanish revolution. Both the leads were cast on the writer's insistence and they help make this one of the great romantic films. The screenplay omits any mention of General Franco against whom the partisans are fighting to overthrow the fascist government instead concentrating on the romantic aspect of this adventure film. An American idealist (Gary Cooper) joins hands with a group of partisans in the mountains and plans to blow up a strategically placed bridge with their help. The leader of the partisans (Akim Tamiroff) is a coward and trecherous but his fiery wife (Katina Paxinou) keeps the band (Arturo de Cordova, Joseph Calleia, Vladimir Sokoloff, Mikhail Rasumny) together with her strength of character and is in fact their de facto leader. Also in the camp is a young peasant (Ingrid Bergman) who has had a tragic past. The soldier instantly falls in love with her even though he is aware that their romance is doomed and there is little chance of him coming out alive at the end of his mission. Long talky film has a memorable finalé with the film's best scenes focusing on the tender romance between the two extremely good looking stars. Cooper is stoic but a little stiff but Bergman is absolutely radiant. She filmed this right after "Casablanca", famously cutting her hair into a short crop for the part. The film suffers due to back projection shots and obvious studio bound sets but it is filmed in stunning colour. A boxoffice smash the film was nominated for 9 Oscars including best picture and Victor Young's romantic score. Cooper, Bergman and Tamiroff were all nominated with Paxinou winning a richly deserved Oscar for her film debut.
American Animals (Bart Layton, 2018) 8/10
Inventive heist film in which Layton incorporates a documentary feel to the proceedings by showing the actual perpetrators in the present commenting as flasbacks depict the robbery. Two young students (Barry Keoghan & Evan Peters) come up with the idea of stealing two priceless rare books from their Kentucky University. They plan the robbery strictly through their knowledge of watching heist related movies. They involve two other students (Blake Jenner & Jake Abrahamson) in their plan and the foursome attempt the bizarre robbery disguised as old men. Tense film lays bare the romantic notion that heists can be fun like in the Oceans 11 franchise and similar Hollywood films - the quartet take on nicknames from Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" - but the film keeps coming to a stop each time the real characters pop up and speak into the camera. Well acted by the young actors (and Ann Dowd as the elderly librarian) the film's robbery sequence is superbly edited, scored and photographed and despite a strong whiff of deja vu in the entire set-up the film's denouement as things keep getting botched for the moronic robbers makes for a hilarious film.
The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix E. Feist, 1947) 8/10
Riveting, tightly paced B-noir is just over an hour long and has the great Lawrence Tierney playing a violent sociopath. During a robbery he kills a man and hitches a ride with an unsuspecting salesman. Along the way they pick up two women at a gas station and end up at a remote lakeside house where the drama plays out involving a drunk nightwatchman and a second murder as the police closes in after getting a tip by the gas station attendant. Tierney is mesmerizing as the cornered intimidating crook without any redeeming quality. The film's witty screenplay is also a major plus.
The Misfits (John Huston, 1961) 9/10
Elegiac Western was a prestige production boasting three huge stars, a superlative supporting cast, direction by John Huston and a screenplay by the great Arthur Miller who wrote the film for his wife. Strikingly photographed by Russell Metty and scored by Alex North the film unfortunately is remembered today more for it's troubled production - Monroe and Clift were both unwell due to their drug addiction and were often late on set, Huston spent most of the time gambling and losing money, Arthur Miller's marriage to Monroe broke down during production, Gable suffered a heart attack after filming gruelling scenes for the climax and died ten days after the film finished shooting and this was also Monroe's last film as she died less than two years later. It remains a tribute to the two leads both of whom deliver extremely sensitive performances. Three lonely "misfits" - an ageing cowboy (Clark Gable), his sidekick (Eli Wallach) and a damaged rodeo drifter (Montgomery Clift) - meet and each falls in love with a sexy and sensitive divorcée (Marilyn Monroe). Haunting poetic film is a metaphor about broken dreams and about the old West giving in to the new as the characters use each other for a crutch. The film's exciting climax has the men chasing and roping wild horses in the Nevada desert while the woman is horrified at the thought of the animals being killed and sold as dog food. A grizzled Gable (and his death) signaled the end of old Hollywood where he ruled as the "King". Both Clift and Monroe were tragic figures off screen struggling against their inner demons. All three are remarkable and give beautifully nuanced performances. An antidote to the grim leads is wisecracking Thelma Ritter as Monroe's acerbic companion who livens up the first half with her witty quips. Estelle Winwood is funny in a bizarre cameo while Kevin McCarthy has a brief bit as Monroe's ex-husband. Classic film not to be missed.