Tag Archives: drama

Night of the Hunter 5/5

Night of the Hunter

Superbly crafted movie directed by Charles Laughton, and it’s a damn shame it was its only directorial effort. It looks great, with some very stylised scenes borrowing from German expressionism, and reminds me a lot of another film that similarly borrows, The Bride of Frankenstein (Laughton was actually married to the Bride, Elsa Lanchester!)

It’s beautiful, constantly suprising, has one of the most imposing and scary performance ever put to film by Mitchum, and whilst he imposes, he meets his match in the upright, kind-hearted Ms Cooper.

The scene where they sing as she sits guard with a shotgun is one of cinema’s greatest. And the children floating downriver through a fairytale depression America isn’t far behind.

We Need to Talk about Kevin 4/5

We Need to about talk about Kevin

What would it be like to have to raise a kid who is a psychopath? To live among people who vilified you for the actions of your child? To blame yourself, and be in fear that people will confront you with your fears every minute of the day?

It’s a very difficult subject, and front and centre to this movie. Very well acted, directed and written, it has a central coldness in tone that is probably unavoidable, but isn’t helped by the nonlinear nature of the presentation. I felt more at ease with this difficult subject when the narrative stayed linear, but even then it was disconcerting.

A fine movie, one that would make a good double bill with Stoker, but by no means an easy watch.

Filth 4/5


Wow, a real tour-de-force with McAvoy as a complete asshole, who we get to see as a tortured, lonely man in this Scottish comedy version of Bad Lieutenant. This film is funny, repulsive, tragic in turns, and it did feel like a Trainspotting-lite in the first 20 minutes, but then quickly shed that feel and became its own thing.

I’m not entirely sure it’s a great movie, though it had many, many memorable scenes, and I’m sure I’ll remember it for years to come, but it’s a very, very good movie.

Oh and a spectacular and glorious cameo from David Soul too.

Pygmalion 4.5/5


Terrific movie based on the play by George Bernard Shaw (and later adapted into the musical My Fair Lady), with funny, sad, angry scenes all mixed up together, and a great performance by Wendy Hiller as the brave, put-upon Eliza. I can’t decide if she’s uncannily beautiful or odd-looking…

Leslie Howard also puts in a 100% exhilarating performance as the brash, bullying Henry Higgins, and the bit players are also pretty good, especially the guy playing Eliza’s father. He’s hilariously low-class in all respects.

Hitchcock 2.5/5


Whilst we get great performances from Hopkins, Mirren and Johansen, the story is like a final stage heroin junkie – thin, unfocussed and more than a little frustrating at times. Whole sections seemed to be injected into the main narrative on the slimmest of pretexts, like Hitch interacting with Ed Gein, or scenes like Alma getting cross and going for a swim in the swimming pool – what was that about?

I liked parts well enough, but it really didn’t go anywhere or tell you anything. I did have more fun spotting the homages to Hitchcock movies though. The Birds was an obvious one, but the most interesting to me was Marnie, which is Hitchcock’s underrated movie imo.

The other Hitchock biopic of this year, ‘The Girl’, was considerably tighter and made a point. Watch that one in preference to this.

Shock Corridor 4/5

Shock Corridor

Crazy, fun exploitation flick about a reporter faking insanity to investigate a murder in an asylum, but then finding faking madness and being mad are kind of a bit too close to each other for comfort.

It also actually says things about America at the time it was made, including comments on racism, facing responsibility for one’s actions (or not), and how being different can condemn you.

So sleazy in parts, and cheaply profound in others.

Best line comes when the hero finds himself in a women’s ward: “NYMPHOS!”

The Place Beyond the Pines 3.5/5

The Place Beyond the Pines

A rather overambitious movie that actually chops its 3 acts into 3 related, continuous but distinct stories, looking at fatherhood, and how absence and presence of a father (both literally, and absent by not paying attention) can affect the son, in a cycle. It’s a look at the whole ‘the children pay for the sins of the father’ type thing, I guess, but more subtle than that.

I liked it, but I think the first act works the best for me, and I’d’ve liked to have seen that through to a more satisfying conclusion, and the veering off into a new story threw me, but it actually worked well once you adjusted.

The third story, however, suffered from two problems. It really felt like an unresolved solution to what went before for the most part (but not wholly) was the first problem, and the actual personality/behaviour of one of the main characters felt quite hokey and just not earned or authentic to the story. We miss out some necessary dramatic glue, too, informing us about one of the father-son relationships, and how it got to be the way it was.

Having said all that, it was a very well made and acted movie, and I enjoyed it, and am glad I finally got around to watching it.

Life Story 4/5

Life Story

The discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick…

I haven’t seen this since the first (and only?) time it was aired on the BBC, and there were whole scenes I remember quite distinctly. It takes the great tack of presenting the race to work out the structure of DNA as a dynamic detective story, which clever people trying to work out the puzzle from the patchy evidence.

What really makes it so watchable is Jeff Goldblum in his prime, acting like a hyperkinetic, goggle-eyed predatory bird, marvelling over evidence, harassing people at the oddest times, and drilling towards the truth as James Watson.

This is marvellous, and I give it 1/2 a star extra just because it’s so little seen, and should be seen by more people.

Bad Day At Black Rock 3.5/5

Bad Day At Black Rock

Solid drama with a quite outstanding cast (noticeable as town toughnuts are Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine!). As I watched it, it seemed quite wordy, and I became convinced it was based on a stage play, though searching the intertubes doesn’t indicate that. Very short and punchy and with a whiff of John Steinbeck about it, as well as detective/noir.

– the good: superlative cast, acting and dialogue, nice story and resolution.
– the bad: While the direction was adequate, you really never felt a sense of tension around what should have been oppressive tension about the threat to Tracy’s character
– the odd: the quite old Tracy apparently standing up to the threat of the likes of Lee Marvin.

Wolf of Wall Street 4/5

Wolf of Wall Street

The 3 hours just flies by for the most part, and even though it is baggy in places, the scenes that play out remain pretty entertaining. Leo is doing great work here, as is Jonah Hill, and it’s kind of fun watching these scumbags enjoy themselves at the expense off of the faceless schmucks they rip off (that side of the story is something you never see here).

There are a lot of very solid scenes, and many sales pep talks, but my favourite scene my far is the one involving the ‘lemmons’. I was laughing, wincing, gasping, laughing again, as Scorcese uses his director tricks to put us in Leo’s perspective, and then show us what actually happened. Terrific film-making.

I also hear there may be a 4-hour cut coming out on blu sometime. Sign me up, I’ll be buying that.

The Bad Seed 4.5/5

The Bad Seed

This is a startling movie about psychopathy. The acting is stagey and melodramatic (it’s based on a Stage Play, with most, if not all, the original stage cast), and there’s a lot of monologues, but hell, does it work. Central is the little blonde girl, who psychopathy is clear – she’s charming but forcefully and oddly so, confident to a degree it feels unnatural for her age, and completely devoid of remorse. She feels trivial setups completely justify her murderous actions. Her glee is scary, but scarier still are the moments we detect a vacancy and absence of…something…behind those eyes.

And it’s not just her performance that electrifies the movie. The mother, torn by knowledge of her daughter’s evil actions, but still loving her daughter, gives a borderline hysterical performance that’s terrific, only surpassed by a grieving mother whose little son is dead…and she suspects it wasn’t an accident. Also, there’s a terrific Southern gardener who reminds you of William H. Macy, who is on to the little girl at the start, and threatens and teases her throughout…and it’s very unsettling how the little girl handles the (true) accusations with such clear confidence and offhandedness.

What I thought was the ending was extreme and shocking (I’m not going to spoil it, but you’ll know it when you see it), but there are further scenes that feel tacked on (kind of like the end of Psycho?), but that are in their own way, almost as weird as the preceding 2 hours, and in a way more dreamlike and pushing the story into archetype fairy tale.

Would make a great double bill with Night of the Hunter for a great night of fantastic black-and-white gothic-thriller-horror.

Saturday Night Fever 3.5/5

Saturday Night Fever

Travolta is absolutely terrific in this, giving the reasonably complex script his all by an excellent portrayal of a conflicted, trapped, working class young guy. He’s helped by the pounding soundtrack, especially the BeeGees tracks, which add several points of cool to his already deep-freeze cool presence. There’s some great scenes with him, and he’s like liquid gold on the dance floor.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it, except the scenes of his home-life. His friends are shallow and one-dimensional, with the only interesting one being a girl that is smitten with him, but who he doesn’t feel much of anything for. The main female lead, Stephanie, is poorly acted with a grating, unsympathetic manner, and you get a kind of overload of self-inflicted tragedy very near to the end, saved somewhat by the subtle, downbeat ending.

Tony Manero is a great screen character, with great moves and presence, but unfortunately he dwarves almost everything except his home life and the soundtrack.

I definitely recommend this to see once at least, as it has useful and resonant things to say about working-class aspirations and escapes, and about growing out of your surroundings, but be prepared for a slog in the second half.

Movie Review: 25th Hour – excellently made drama about a failed life 8/10

25th Hour

25th Hour examines the last day of freedom of a man before being sent to jail for 7 years. The main character is Monty Brogan, a drug dealer in New York City. He is played by Ed Norton in a really powerful and moving lead performance. The film is directed by Spike Lee, a director I’ve admired and liked for some time, and who I felt had peaked with the wonderful ‘Malcolm X’ – until I saw this.

This movie is essentially a long goodbye, where Monty plays out all the issues he has with his real friends, his business associates, his city and its citizens, and his girl. This is a beatifully-played film, filled with such issues as longing, regret, and ‘what if’, and friendships/love that may or may not be over. It’s a film about goodbyes in that sense, but there’s much more here than meets the eye.

Each of his friends are an important element in showing us the real Monty, and not only him, but how he has reflected on them (in no small way). They feel guilt and remorse in not having stopped him becoming a dealer, for example. There’s no plot other than him saying his goodbyes, but that’s more than enough. The support actors are excellent, and more than match Norton’s intense and realistic performance. The support includes Rosario Dawson as his girlfriend Naturelle, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his thoughtful and reticent friend who is a teacher with the hots for one of his students (Anna Paquin), and Barry Pepper as a pushy stock-market guy who is deeply struck by how he’s let his friend Monty down. These people give brilliantly-acted, blistering scenes that elegantly and dramatically fill in their backstory, and tell you how they got to the here and now.

Also wonderful is the moving interplay of father and son, with Brian Cox playing Monty’s father. How he comes to terms with his son’s prison sentence, and how he tries to lead his son to not go to prison and run, is powerful and striking. It illustrates the nature of fatherhood perfectly (to me at least), of how you care for your child, but can’t engage him as fully and as emotionally as a mother can. But still, you do your best.

There have been assorted criticisms ranged at this movie, particularly suggestion how the 9-11 motif is jammed in, and how this creates jarring scenes and moods that spoil the flow of this movie, but I find it appropriate and fitting. This is a film about New York and New Yorkers too, so to ignore this aspect of New York and American life would be trite, and seem to me a little petty.

The fact that this is a film about a low-life drug dealer that engages your sympathy and makes you think and feel pretty deeply towards this guy, and think on it long after the movie has finished, confirm the quality of film-making here. It’s a film that will have you thinking, and talking about it afterwards, and wanting to get people who haven’t seen it to give it a go.

Also, be aware, it’s a love/hate letter about New York. Norton does a rant about what he hates about NY early on that will strike a chord with the ‘angry man’ inside us all.

I can’t think of any films even close to this in most ways – it is a one-off, done by Spike Lee. Nice work, Spike!

Rating: GOOD 8/10, suitable for older teens upwards.

Movie: The Elephant Man – Beautiful, mesmeric study about beauty and redemption 9/10

The Elephant Man

Dr. Fox: Have you ever mentioned his mental state?
Dr. Treves: Oh, he’s an imbecile, probably from birth. The man’s a complete idiot. I pray to God he’s an idiot.

The Elephant Man is a story about a severely deformed man who is discovered being paraded in freakshows in Victorian England, and his rescue and care by a doctor practicing in a London hospital. The Elephant Man, John Merrick, is treated brutally by his ‘owner’, and the doctor takes it on himself to remove the man from these circumstances. At first, the doctor is interested in the man’s afflictions but assumes him an imbecile, but comes to discover there is a gentle soul beneath the terrible afflictions and deformities. The brutality this man has suffered, and his own realisation he is more than this grotesque thing to be paraded or abused by others, coupled with the realisation by others of the humanity inside ‘The Elephant Man’ and their reaction to his deformities, and then to his personality and inner essence, form the basis of this extremely powerful and moving film. However, even though he is treated with kindness and respect, there are still people minded to exploit his appearance and treat him like a beast instead of a man…

The film stars John Hurt as John Merrick (you’d never recognise him) in an oscar-nominated performance, Anthony Hopkins is his saviour Dr Treves, and Anne Bancroft is an actress (Mrs Kendall) that pays him a visit and finds herself surprised at his humanity. They are all great here, but Hurt steals it; the gentle politeness of Merrick and Hurt’s projection of the man are powerful and clear, and lend the film a sense of both deep tragedy and a pure sense of uplift simultaneously – no mean feat. This is particularly intense when we get to know the character, and he then becomes subject to unnecessary and unthinking cruelties – which are even more disgusting because they are often deliberately carried out for not better reason than to entertain. In fact, some commentators note the near-cartoonish badness of the bad people here, and note that these are mere caricatures of men, and aren’t realistic. However, physical and mental cruelty for the purposes of entertainment seem to be perfectly acceptable (and indeed a measure of self-worth) for some people, so while it might seem unrealistic, it isn’t THAT far out of the range of human behaviours that people like Merrick might have encountered (unfortunately).

Dr Treves: I know exactly what you’ve done to him and he’s never going back to that.
Night Porter: He’s a freak. That’s how they live. We’re partners, he and I.
Dr Treves: *You’re* the monster! You, you’re the freak!

This movie was directed by David Lynch, more famous for surreal/weird movies such as Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and proved to be an excellent choice in directing this moving and powerful piece. Incidentally, The Elephant Man has clear links with Lynch’s previous film Eraserhead and the film that followed this one, Dune. It definitely invokes memories of Eraserhead with its stark black-and-white images, industrial noises, and short dream-like sequences, and links to Dune by its use of a female face among a starry sky as an end/start device. I guess when Lynch likes an idea, he likes to play it out more than once. His limited use of his usual style to relatively short sections means it has huge impact here, and also shows his film-making abilities aren’t based in being weird alone, and shows his obvious talent in a more traditional film.

Also of note is the fact it was produced by Mel Brooks, who must be applauded for his efforts with this movie. He apparently fought long and hard to first get Lynch accepted as director for it, and then again to allow Lynch to retain his final cut of this movie, in particular the opening and closing sequences, and much kudos to Mr Brooks for being involved in this most serious of films. (In his interviews about this movie, I remember Brooks saying how impressed he was with Lynch’s talent – presumably from watching Eraserhead – and the gentle nature of Lynch himself, who Brooks described as ‘like James Stewart from Mars’).

It is beautifully photographed in a very sharp black and white by Freddie Francis, and brings into vivid ife the ugliness AND beauty of Victorian England. It is a striking piece of cinematography, and seems both strikingly real and otherworldly at the same time.

The score and the use of sounds are also used remarkably well in this movie – noise/music is another of Lynch’s many filmic talents.
Dwarf: Luck, my friend, luck. Who needs it more than we?

It’s hard to find criticism of this movie, but there are criticisms to be made: the bad guys here are almost cartoonishly bad as written; however Freddie Jones as the Elephant Man’s ‘owner’ does bring a little more to it than the script gives, so he at least makes up for this issue. Secondly, there is much criticism that the script is an entire fabrication and is completely untrue, but frankly when did that ever matter for movies? Finally, it is referred to by some as manipulative. It is to some degree, but again, I never found that much of a problem in movies unless overbearing and when it overtakes the thinking part of the movie – this film keeps you intellectually engaged as well as emotionally engaged all the way to the end.

Mrs. Kendal: Why, Mr. Merrick, you’re not an elephant man at all.
John Merrick: Oh no?
Mrs. Kendal: Oh no… no… you’re a Romeo.

This film contains many lessons and messages about appearance, inner beauty, how a kindness given to others can benefit both them and you, and to me, the most important is said by Merrick himself, when he says his life is now full because he knows he is loved. To be loved is his salvation, it seems to me.

Take care with this remarkable, devastating film: It has the power to lift your spirits, but it will break your heart too.


REWATCHABILITY: Once every 2-3 years; it is a little too profound to rewatch too quickly after the last viewing, and will be a pure pleasure every time if you leave a decent break. Whilst I think it’s a PG, this is really only suitable for adults or mature teens.