Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012: The Movies I Loved (pt2)

The final five movies in my ten favourites of 2012 are, like those in part 1, presented alphabetically. To recap, so far we've had Amour, Berberian Sound Studio, The Cabin in the Woods, Excision and Holy Motors.

Martha, Marcy May, Marlene (Sean Durkin, USA)


Sean Durkin's feature length debut is an insidious and haunting tale of emotional damage, an abusive cult and familial angst. Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes both give exceptional performances in a movie with a deftly ambiguous climax.

Michael (Markus Schleinzer, Aus) 


While a lot of people went cock-a-hoop for The Hunt, in which an innocent man is unfairly demonised, Schleinzer's humanising of a paedophile in Michael is a bolder, more unsettling and confrontational narrative. Michael Fuith won't have many more complex roles to play in his career than the titular child abuser.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Tur, Bos/Her) 


Ceylan's reputation as one of the world's leading directors is further enhanced by this immaculately constructed, slow burning police procedural. Criticisms that the movie features no central female characters miss the point that it is because of women that the men in the movie behave as they do - for good or ill. 

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, UK)


Wheatley's outrageous black comedy piles on the gags and gag inducing violence in equal measure. Co-writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe's creations, Chris and Tina, cut an increasingly bloody swathe through the English countryside as their warped relationship descends into barbaric chaos.

War Witch (Kim Nguyen, Can)


The horrific experiences of a child soldier, tinged with a dash of magic realism, may not appeal to everyone but War Witch is a movie that demands to be seen. Rachel Mwanza, in her first role, makes an indelible mark as Komona, recounting the things she has seen and done to her unborn child. Deserves a widespread release.

Also deserving of a mention are: Nostalgia for the Light, Moonrise Kingdom, Some Guy Who Kills People, The Raid, Cosmopolis, Wild Bill, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Detention and Jeff Who Lives at Home.

That's all folks, here's to 2013 bringing us many more cherished cinematic memories.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

2012 : The Movies I Loved (pt1)

So, when in Rome...here's ten movies that really made their mark on me in 2012. They're presented alphabetically rather than in a 10-1 countdown fashion. You may agree with some and turn your nose up at others, but that's all part of the fun right?

Amour (Michael Haneke, Aus/Fra/Ger)


For me, Amour is Haneke's most conventional, and moving, movie to date. Less oblique and stylised than the likes of The Seventh Continent, Code: Unknown or Hidden, Haneke's Palme d'or winner packs a bleak but humane punch.

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK)


Strickland's visually and, primarily, aurally striking movie is a heavily stylised case of life imitating art in increasingly unsettling ways. Toby Jones is pitch perfect as the genteel sound engineer slowly unraveling while working on an Italian horror flick. 

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, USA)


An absolute blast from start to finish. I love movies that play with genre conventions and this one, written by Joss Whedon, did it to the nth degree. It's a throwaway slice of pure horror fun that also clearly loves and breathes life into the genre it deconstructs.

Excision (Richard Bates Jr, USA)


I didn't see this one coming at all; a razor sharp, whip smart 'comedy' horror that is as disturbing as it is outrageous. AnnaLynne McCord excels as unstable teenager Pauline in a cult cast featuring Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell and John Waters.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, Fra/Ger)


Denis Lavant's extraordinary performance(s) lie at the heart of Carax's joyously outre musings on life, death and cinema. Contains my favourite scene of the year - a multi-accordion musical interlude as wonderfully choreographed as it is amusingly inconsequential.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Cine-City 2012: round up pt2


The final week of Cine-City 2012 was a mixed affair for me, scoring as many misses as it did hits.  Barnaby Southcombe's debut effort, I,Anna, an adaptation of Elsa Lewin's noir infused New York set novel, was high on atmosphere if not on plausibility. Transferring the action to a wonderfully shot London, full of alienating concrete environments and oppressive weather, I,Anna fails to make satisfying use of a great cast that includes Southcombe's mother, Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne and Eddie Marsan. It's twists and reveals feel too contrived, though Southcombe does a stylish job of constructing the world the narrative plays out in. More impressive was Adam Leon's Bronx set teen drama Gimme the Loot, a fine snapshot of life for two young graffiti artists in modern day New York. My full review can be read here



Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, which tells of an affair between President Roosevelt and a distant cousin, has received a critical panning, and it's easy to see why. Gossamer thin, badly structured and sickly sweet, Michell's movie is only of note for its fine ensemble cast featuring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West and the Olivias Colman and Williams. The horror anthology makes an, updated, return to our screens with V/H/S, which weaves five short stories through a tale of an abortive attempt to steal a mysterious VHS tape. Shot largely first person, V/H/S is a frustrating experience, with only a couple of the films within the film really hitting the spot. Full review here.


Proving that the old adage 'like father, like son' carries some weight, Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral reminds the viewer of his father's more overly body-horror themed movies. Celebrity culture and the worship of it are queasily addressed in Cronenberg Jr's tale of big business, black marketeering and existential crises. Not without its flaws, Antiviral also hints that David's offspring may need to branch further away from referencing his father's oeuvre in future, though Antiviral is well worth catching up with. The closing night movie was Pablo Larrain's No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and completing the director's trilogy of films focusing on Chile during Pinochet's regime.  More conventional, in terms of story-line and symbolism, than Tony Manero and Post Mortem, No feels like the movie that could bring Larrain the mainstream international success this fine director deserves. It's my least favourite of the trilogy but is still an engrossing, rewarding movie. Roll on Cine-City 2013.



Monday, 3 December 2012

Cine-City 2012: Eye For Film review


My final review from Cine-City 2012 for Eye For Film is of the hotly tipped V/H/S. It doesn't live up to the hype, but has its moments. Click here to read about its pros and cons.



Cine-City 2012: Eye For Film review


Bronx set drama Gimme the Loot comes under the spotlight for my latest review for Eye For Film from Cine-City 2012. Click on the link here to read about a smart, fresh and touching tale of twenty four hours in the life of two young graffiti artists.



Saturday, 1 December 2012

Cine-City 2012: Eye For Film review


Click on the link here to read my review of American indie movie, Now, Forager, which was one of the festival's numerous debut movie screenings. For all of my Cine-City 2012 reviews and and coverage, and to read collected reviews of other movies screened during the festival, for Eye For Film, click here.



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cine-City 2012 round up pt1.



Well, after eleven of the eighteen days of this year's Brighton Cine-City Film Festival I've seen an interesting, diverse selection of movies. Opening night movie Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh's follow up to the hugely enjoyable In Bruges, seemed to hit the spot for the sell out audience but only worked in fits and starts for me. A great cast - including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson - can't disguise the fact that this is derivative fare recalling Tarantino and Two Days in the Valley among others. Far more successful was local boy Ben Wheatley's Sightseers, a riotous black comedy doused with plenty of bloody violence. You can read my review here. Jake Schreier's debut, Robot & Frank, was a delightful, subtle and thoroughly satisfying tract on friendship and familial ties tinged with sci-fi and crime genre elements and Kim Nguyen's War Witch is one of the year's standout releases. An uncompromising child soldier drama infused with a dash of magic realism, War Witch is a strong contender for my personal film of the year. Read my review here.


Thomas Vinterberg's highly rated The Hunt, featuring a strong lead performance from the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen, is an inadvertently timely tale of the damage done to one man after he is wrongly accused of child abuse. Though The Hunt is solidly constructed I felt it was a little obvious, it's themes of persecution felt overly familiar and their exploration a touch trite at times. After making such a memorable splash with Festen in 1998, Vinterberg hasn't again made anything as strong, and while The Hunt is far better than the execrable Dear Wendy for example, it's not in the same league of his Dogme classic. Another of the festival's selection of debut movies came from Scott Graham with Shell, a bleak and unsettling story revolving around the titular character, her father and their existence living in a windswept highlands garage. Symbolism and metaphor run through a narrative touching on incestuous feelings, familial responsibility and isolation. Slow, brooding and stark, Shell won't be for everyone but it's an impressive calling card for both Graham and Chloe Pirrie in the leading role.

Francois Ozon delivered a smart, sprightly satire on middle class lives wrapped up in a tricksy narrative deconstructing the nature of storytelling itself with In the House. Kristin Scott-Thomas once again reminds us that her French is as good as her mother tongue in a supporting role as the art gallery managing wife of a literature teacher tempted into dangerous territories by a  gifted, but pernicious, student. The slow food movement and a failing marriage come under the spotlight in Now, Forager, co-directed by Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund, who also wrote the screenplay and stars as one half of the married couple at the centre of the movie. This odd mix of relationship drama and ode to the joys of mushroom gathering certainly has an offbeat premise but truth be told it's an uninspiring experience, the increasingly estranged couple being neither particularly engaging or likable enough for it to make much of a lasting impression. My review of Now, Forager can be found here.


The final week of the festival also promises an eclectic range of themes and genres; British noir I,Anna, teen gang drama Gimme the Loot, bio-comedy Hyde Park on Hudson, horror compendium V/H/S, Side by Side (a documentary on the effects of digital technology on cinema), Cronenberg jr's Anti-Viral and Pablo Larrain's No will be the focus of part two of my Cine-City round up.











Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Cine-City 2012 - Eye For Film review


My second review from Cine-City for Eye For Film is of Kim Nguyen's harrowing child soldier drama War Witch. Click on the link here to read one of my only five star reviews from this year.



Sunday, 18 November 2012

Cine-City 2012 - Eye For Film review


My first review from this year's Brighton Cine-City Film Festival for Eye For Film is of Ben Wheatley's black comedy/thriller Sightseers. Click on the link here to see what I made of it.



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Watched no:33 - The Casebook of Eddie Brewer (Andrew Spencer)


It's fair to say that Birmingham doesn't immediately spring to mind as being a hotbed of creative film-making talent or for being a highly prized location for British films. It's also fair to say that trying to successfully blend humour, horror and human drama is a difficult balancing act. Credit goes to writer/director Andrew Spencer then for his second feature (after 1999's similarly themed Dark Eyes), set and filmed in and around England's second city, for pulling off the aforementioned tightrope act with considerable aplomb. A low budget chiller, The Casebook of Eddie Brewer is by turns a character study of the titular figure (a metaphorically haunted paranormal investigator), straight up supernatural shocker and a slyly comic look at the production of television documentaries. 

The central protagonist, played with convincing, engaging authenticity by Ian Brooker, is being trailed by a  crew making a TV show, similar in fashion to Living TV's now defunct Most Haunted. Polite, downbeat and defensive, Eddie roams around his Birmingham environs investigating cases of suspected paranormal activity. An incident in the basement of a tumbledown council office leads Eddie and the TV crew into potentially exciting territory, Eddie through the possibility of proving (or disproving) the existence of otherworldly forces and the TV crew through their opportunity to capture it on camera for the viewing public. 

Spencer's ostensibly simple premise becomes a highly engrossing tale of past tragedies, memory and belief shot through with moments of earthy comedy (mostly provided by sceptical locals), creepy images and  genuine pathos. One of the failings of many chillers is a lack of three dimensional characters, a problem that leads to a lack of engagement, a crucial, grounding aspect when the narrative contains elements of the supernatural. One of the strongest pluses The Casebook of Eddie Brewer has going for it is it's depth of characterisation. Eddie, his harassed interviewer, a snooty celebrity medium and various other supporting players are all fully formed, recognisable characters. Another major pro is the less than glamorous locations used; nondescript houses, run down council properties and grey, rain-soaked streets forming a glumly realistic backdrop to the narrative's fantastical streak.  

Spencer's intelligent use of images and audio, coupled with a story that unhurriedly unfolds, draws the viewer into both Eddie's life and the case under investigation in a fashion that makes its ambiguous ending unsettling rather than frustrating. Throw in some strategically placed make-em-jump moments and you have a movie that puts to shame many of the bigger budgeted, starrier chillers that have come our way in recent years.



Saturday, 10 November 2012

Brighton Cine-City Film Festival 2012


The tenth annual Brighton Cine-City Film Festival kicks off on Thursday 15th November with Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. Over 18 days and twelve venues a rich variety of features, documentaries, shorts, artist films, queer cinema and more will be on offer. You can read my preview of the festival for Eye For Film here. I'll be taking in close to twenty films during the festival, reviews of which will appear here on The Fourth Wall and over at Eye For Film with a post festival round up on the cards for The Guardian's film blog.



Monday, 5 November 2012

LFF: Family Matters...(pt3)


A low key drama speaks volumes about the difficulties of life lived under Mafiosi's control  in The Interval, which is the focus of Family Matters part 3.


 

Italian documentary maker Leonardo di Costanzo makes his fictional feature début with the engrossing, understated crime drama, The Interval, a chamber piece focussing on two teenagers beholden to the crime families that dominate Naples. Where Matteo Garrone's critically acclaimed Gomorrah (2008) explored similar territory in sprawling, violent fashion, di Costanzo opts for a smaller scale, dialogue driven narrative that sucks the viewer in as the initially fractious relationship between the central protagonists softens into understanding and mutual respect.

The straightforward plot sees unprepossessing Salvatore (Alessio Gallo), an overweight teen who ekes out a living selling ice creams with his father, co-erced by local gang members into keeping watch over the sparky Veronica (Francesca Riso). Brought to an abandoned asylum, Veronica has fallen foul of her local crime family for an undisclosed indiscretion, with Salvatore charged with keeping her there until her punishment is decided. Initially wary and hostile respectively, Salvatore and Veronica circle each other in mutual distrust, both wishing to be elsewhere, both knowing that the decision isn't their's to make. Freedom and fate being out of their hands is key to di Costanzo's narrative, the viewer may be taken into a micro-world but the dominant macro-world that surrounds Salvatore and Veronica is never far from either their or our minds.

It's to di Costanzo's credit that what is a bare bones narrative, shorn of the violence and testosterone heavy machismo usually associated with Mafia movies, is so engrossing. The thawing of tensions between Salvatore and Veronica is handled deftly. As they come to realise they are both at the mercy of outside forces a convincing, fledgling relationship builds between the pair. While exploring the abandoned asylum and its grounds, the discovery of a small boat, the photo of a suicide victim and a bitch and her puppies by the pair allows di Constanzo to impart the story with metaphorical weight. Dreams of escape, the spectre of death and family ties (biological and environmental) are all explored subtly via the part childlike, part streetwise conversations Salvatore and Veronica engage in.

Quiet yet intense, closeted yet far reaching, The Interval is an intelligent, unforced representation of lives manipulated by tradition, crime and psycho-geography. The abandoned, decrepit asylum which plays host to the teenagers' meeting providing a stark metaphor for the city it stands in.










Friday, 26 October 2012

LFF: Family Matters...(pt2)



A grim tale of familial and psychological breakdown comes under the spotlight of part 2 of Family Matters...



Like storm clouds on the horizon, a sense of foreboding hangs heavy over Joachim Lafosse's 
family centred drama Our Children. This fatalistic air is instilled via a prologue sequence during which a hospitalized woman tells a nurse that 'they must be buried in Morocco'. Flicking back in time we see the aforementioned patient, Murielle (Emilie Dequenne), in the warm glow of a blossoming love affair with Tahar Rahim's Mounir. The adopted Algerian son of Belgian doctor Andre (played by Niels Arestrup, Rahim's co-star from Jacques Audiard's A Prophet), Mounir romances Murielle all the way down the aisle, into the house he shares with Andre and into a marriage that will eventually lead to the horrific events hinted at in the opening scene.

A downbeat vision of a seemingly happy marriage blessed with bright, healthy children slowly unravelling under the weight of familial, economic and cultural pressures, Our Children takes in post-colonial guilt, gender expectations, parental responsibility/neglect and emotional/physical abuse as Murielle's deteriorating mental health becomes the film's central focal point. While Dequenne's portrayal of Murielle is excellent, with Rahim and Arestrup providing A grade support, Our Children suffers from a lack of balance that ultimately takes the emotional sting out of the film's bleak climax. Where the incremental changes to Murielle's emotional and mental states are handled with detailed care, Mounir and Andre's increasingly agitated, cold and outright aggressive attitude towards her aren't given the same focus. Though told over a number of years, the change in Mounir, from affable and caring to distant and hard, comes about too suddenly. Similarly, Andre's shift from proud father-in-law and grandfather to oppressive tyrant is more of a lurch than a gradual drift, throwing the overall narrative out of whack. 

By focusing on one side of a failing marriage Lafosse fatally undermines what should have been a gut-wrenching dénouement, stripping it of the impact strived for. By rendering two thirds of the adult members of this family in superficial tones, thus making them the 'bad guys' to use a crude phrase, no emotional investment is forthcoming at precisely the time it is most required. This leaves Our Children a hollow exercise in miserablism when it could have been one in fostering deep empathy leading to crushing sadness. 


Saturday, 20 October 2012

LFF: Family Matters...(pt1)


Quite coincidentally, the three films I managed to catch at this year's BFI London Film Festival - 
Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, Joachim Lafosse's Our Children and Leonardo Di Constanzo's The Interval - between them take a microscope to contemporary 'family' life. Whether biological, surrogate or criminal, the families on show in these movies - all European, all leaning towards the arthouse end of the spectrum - offer some indication of the pressures felt across the generations, genders and social classes in the modern world. The ties that bind these disparate characters together more often the cause of anguish rather than comfort. Not without their flaws, some bigger than others, Rust and Bone, Our Children and The Interval overwhelmingly portray a pessimistic outlook on modern life, but there is some hope amidst the gloom.


After firmly establishing himself as one of France's, if not Europe's, leading directors, Jacques Audiard returns to our screens after a three year absence with the engrossing if, at times, credibility stretching drama, Rust and Bone. Expectations were high for Audiard's sixth feature following the awards winning The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet, and Audiard is clearly directing with confidence, enthusiasm and a finely honed auteur's eye in his latest venture. Starring Marion Cotillard (as hot a property in the film world as there currently is), and Matthais Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone throws its two central protagonists, Stephanie and Ali, into a turbulent, offbeat and touching relationship that encompasses issues of parental responsibility, disability and economic survival on the margins of society.

Ali,  a roughly hewn bull of a man, finds himself staying under his sister's roof, a sibling he shares a fraught relationship with, with the son he has previously barely taken an interest in now  in his less than adept care. Eking out a living in security and then as a bare knuckle boxer, Ali's chance encounter with the seductive but troubled Stephanie, when he escorts her home after an incident she's involved in at a nightclub, proves to be the beginning of an emotional, spiritual and romantic journey that sees as many crushing lows as it does ecstatic highs.

Audiard largely avoids sentimentality and worthiness, an achievement of note given that a major plot point revolves around a work accident, as bizarre as it is horrible, that leaves Stephanie a double leg amputee. Her job as a whale trainer, the cause of her catastrophic loss, brings nature - its forces and its taming - into symbolic play. There's an earthy feel about Rust and Bone; physicality, flesh and the body (it's power and the loss of it), keeping the narrative's flights of metaphorical fancy anchored to the ground they are periodically in danger of escaping. Two sides of a coin battered and tossed about by life's experiences, Ali and Stephanie undergo opposing changes during the course of the movie's two hour running time. Stephanie toughening up and Ali discovering a hitherto untapped strain of nurturing compassion, with both of them adapting to fluctuating fortunes with the spirit of survival they share as a common bond.

A bold and unique attempt to de-schmaltz what is in essence a familiar tale of love against the odds, and one that would fall apart in a lesser director's hands, Rust and Bone does stray into improbable territory towards its denouement, a climactic incident straining a little too hard to make its symbolic point. In the end, though, Audiard's vision of the coming together of an ad hoc family is likely to linger in the memory; its emotional pull as strong as the composition of its imagery.


To Be Continued...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Watched - no32: Basket Case Trilogy (Frank Henenlotter)



To mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Frank Henenlotter's cult horror Basket Case, Second Sight have put together a three disc DVD and Blu-ray package containing the original, parts two and three and numerous extra features for release on October 22nd. Released between 1982 and 1992, with part two coming out in 1990, the Basket Case trilogy sees the law of diminishing returns borne out, with the memorably ugly seediness and psychological horrors of the original giving way to the forgettable broad comedy of parts two and three.

A tale of conjoined twins separated against their wishes, Basket Case sees Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his basket dwelling, deformed brother Belial (a Hebrew term originally meaning worthless), pitch up in the pre-gentrification New York of the early 80s intent on tracking down and killing the surgeons responsible for the operation that has left them physically and mentally scarred. Released in the pre-CGI era, this is a nostalgic trip down a memory lane filled with prosthetics, puppetry and stop-motion animation, before tangible cartoon violence was replaced by its much less effective animated equivalent. 

Lo-fi, grimy and tinged with a pathos that undercuts the black humour and violence, the strength of Henenlotter's original lies in it's blending of grotesques; the fantastical, twisted form of Belial with the actual collection of drunks, working girls, sleazy cops, thieves and addicts that reside in and around the bottom of the barrel hotel Duane and his brother check in to. This is a New York populated by the lost, lonely, mentally unbalanced and corrupt, and Henenlotter, either consciously or otherwise, evokes sympathy for his murderous central figures by placing them in the midst of such rotten, debauched company. Throw in a budding romance between Duane and a doctor's receptionist, an element that causes tension between the telepathically linked brothers, and you have the recipe for a bloody (and at times bloody funny), eyebrow raising take on familial angst, revenge and body horror. 



By the time of Basket Case 2 the budget was higher, the finished product glossier and the effect much less striking. Jettisoning the sleaze of the original, the first sequel sees Duane and his volatile brother seeking refuge from the cops and the media in the sanctuary of a private refuge for other physically challenged outcasts. This time romance blossoms for both of the brothers, Duane with the granddaughter of Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), the institute's grand dame, and Belial with Eve, similar in looks but opposite in temperament. The refuge's other guests are a wildly over the top collection of grotesques that are neither horrifying or amusing, and that's the great weakness of the movie. Henenlotter misfires by ramping up the physical grotesqueness on show to levels that are just plain silly.

Horror-comedies (or is it comedy-horrors?) the trilogy may be, but the darkness of the original was what made it such a cult favourite in my eyes, the sequels blow it by opting for slapstick farce over gruesome black comedy. Although featuring one of the most hilariously wrong sex scenes ever committed to celluloid, Basket Case 2 fails to hit the demented high of its superior predecessor.


By the time of Basket Case 3: The Progeny, the joke was wearing very thin. Actually far more graphic in terms of violence than either parts one or two, Henenlotter piles on high camp (there's even a musical number), a half-baked narrative revolving around Belial and Eve's multitudinous offspring and comedic skits that belie the sleaze and palpable psycho-drama of the trilogy's gutter-level origins. In the space of three movies, Duane and Belial become banal parodies of what were once interesting characters, as happened to Freddy Krueger and Jigsaw in the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Saw series' respectively. That it happened in so short a time points to the fact that though Henenlotter struck gold first time out, he subsequently forgot to sieve the shit out of the pan in his eagerness to capitalise on the deserved fondness afforded Duane and Belial's initial appearance.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Eye For Film review


Out today from Melbourne based Monster Pictures is the whopping five hour plus collection of zombie themed short movies Ultimate Zombie Feast. Unfortunately, it's almost uniformly dreadful. Check out my review for http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/ by clicking on the link below.



Monday, 24 September 2012

Eye For Film review


It was an absolute pleasure to review Alexander Dovzhenko's War Trilogy for http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/ over the last week. Click on the link below, have a read and make sure you track down a copy of the three disc set released today from Mr.Bongo Films.


For Your Consideration...One Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando, 1961)


The name Marlon Brando is not necessarily one synonymous with the Western genre and yet he made six of them throughout his illustrious career. Of these, One Eyed Jacks (1961), was the only film he directed. Fraught with problems pre and post-production, the budget reportedly grew from $1.8 to $6 million, its two month shooting time was extended to six months and the film’s finished edit had an original running time of five hours before a Paramount executive made the decision to heavily cut the duration for release. It may have had its issues behind the scenes, but on-screen it remains one of the best films ever produced.

This quirky Revenge-Western, based upon Charles Neider’s The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, tells the story of partners-in-crime; bank robbers Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and Rio Kid (Brando). It is 1880 and they are running from the law in Sonora, Mexico when Dad double-crosses Kid after their latest heist, and leaves him to be captured. Kid spends five years in prison plotting his revenge before he can make his escape. When he does finally run into his old mentor, vengeance of the gun-toting variety is problematic, as Dad is now Sheriff and married with a step-daughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer), towards whom he displays an obvious attraction. Rio, noticing the stolen, lustful, glances, seeks retribution by seducing her. Although never the intention, he falls in love and must survive Dad’s wrath in doing so; a rage which involves a very public flogging and brutal trigger-finger breaking.


Malden and Brando collaborated on three projects, arguably some of Brando’s best: Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954), and Brando's Western. Here, some may say cast against type, Malden displays a repugnancy in his performance as well-spoken Dad, a man dripping in piety and sanctimony. He exudes the seductive and paralysing power of the father figure in the diegetic space; the surrogate patriarch to Rio Kid - a young man putting a hard face on his sensitivities in order to defeat the self-righteous and judgemental Longworth. This aspect of the script seemingly resonated with actor-director Brando, whose contentious and volatile relationship with his own father was reputed to be part of his motivation for making the film, thereby allowing the transposition of feelings or ‘emotional mechanics’ on screen in keeping with his erudition as a student of the Constantin Stanislavski Method. Brando’s performance combines the manipulative, impulsive traits of a child while oozing ambivalent sexuality. Rio is a relatively non-violent cowboy, polished and clean shaven, one who would rather exert his virility by seducing women than attending the saloon with his compadres. He is internally emotive and visibly tough; the explosive and volatile temper can dissolve as quickly into tears and sympathy or laughter.

Visually, the film employs a lot of fluid camera movement and some of the tracking and panning shots are simply beautiful, courtesy of Charles Lang Jnr’s cinematography, in a film which relies upon John Ford-esque framing and takes evident inspiration from Sam Peckinpah. One Eyed Jacks is replete with Brando’s over-indulgent mise-en-scène and meticulous eye-for-detail, Martin Scorsese lauds this Western as one of the greatest ever made and you know what, with a film of this calibre, who am I to argue?
Hel Jones

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

To Die For...The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh, 1939)


Boy, did those Twenties roar; or they certainly do in Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939), which is one of the most self-propulsive films I’ve ever come across. Here, in 106 minutes, we have the rise, fall and redemption of the gangster Eddie Bartlett, played by — who else? — James Cagney. But what this really is is the tale of an entire decade, from the closing gunshots of World War One to the despair of the Wall Street Crash. Somehow The Roaring Twenties manages to range across acres of social history, and all without feeling forced or ill-paced.

Of course, much of this is due to the raw skill of The Roaring Twenties’ cast and crew — except it’s something more than that too. For my money, this is the defining Cagney performance, even more so than those he gave in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and White Heat (1949). It is the film in which Raoul Walsh gets to deploy all the tricks and techniques he had learnt in a quarter-century of Hollywood filmmaking; resulting in some startling images, such as the skyscrapers of New York melting in the heat of a financial crash. And it even contains one of Humphrey Bogart’s scariest characters, more unhinged than Fred Dobbs and more disdainful than Sam Spade.

Given these choice ingredients — and, if you like, the topicality — it’s puzzling why The Roaring Twenties isn’t a better-known, more celebrated dish. But no matter, that just means it needs shouting about more fervently from the cinema rooftops. Yep, this movie deserves to be what Eddie Bartlett was formerly: a big shot.


P.S. I was very pleased to get The Roaring Twenties into the list of  ''50 essential films'' that I compiled with Matthew d'Ancona for The Spectator in 2009. Here, by way of a quick supplement to the above, is the short write up that I gave it at the time.

Few films convey the tidal force of history upon men and their fortunes as successfully, or as succinctly, as The Roaring Twenties. Right from the off, it’s clear that Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) is more a victim of circumstance than an agent of free choice. Returning to America from the trenches of Europe, he’s soon forced to become a bootlegger by the limited opportunities that await him. And his subsequent rise and fall follows the grim oscillation of the titular decade itself: a party followed by a crash. It’s this historic sweep, along with Cagney’s effervescent performance, ­which elevates The Roaring Twenties above every other entry in the 1930s gangster film cycle. And it makes Eddie Bartlett’s ultimate redemption all the more moving; as he finally escapes from the clutches of fate, and takes his life ­— and its ending —­ into his own hands.”

Pete Hoskin 

Pete Hoskin is an associate editor of ConservativeHome and edited The Spectator's political blog, Coffee House, for four years. He has written, and continues to write, on politics and culture, for The Times, The Spectator, The Daily Beast, The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.







Monday, 17 September 2012

Eye For Film review


Marcel Carne's epic melodrama Les Enfants Du Paradis is the subject of my latest review for http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/. Click on the link below to see why I think it's one of the finest films ever made.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Jaws Blu-ray release



Monday saw the release on Blu-ray of a restored version of Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic, a movie partly responsible for the birth of the summer blockbuster.

The good people over at http://newempressmagazine.com/ put together a little video promo to celebrate the occasion. Have a watch, get the Blu-ray and relive the fear once again.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Big Picture - new issue



The new issue of The Big Picture magazine, which I have the pleasure of editing, is available to download for FREE from Magcloud. The September/October issue is centred around the theme of representations of television on the big screen. Films featured include Videodrome, Network, The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Truman Show among many others.

All the usual features, and some new ones, are present from regular and new contributors. Click on the link below, download and enjoy!


Eye For Film Review



Sometimes you watch a movie so other people don't have to, and Creature, featuring Sid Haig, is one of those movies. It's bad, oh so bad. Click on the link below to see why.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Frighten Brighton


A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending The Classic Horror Campaign's all day film festival, Frighten Brighton. Five classic horror movies from the 30s to the 70s were screened for the ridiculously cheap price of £15.00.  I've reviewed the event for The Guardian's Film Blog and you can read all about it by clicking on the link below.


Monday, 20 August 2012

World Film Locations


Five new titles in Intellect Books' World Film Locations series are on their way to bookshops around the globe today. As well as my latest edited edition - Melbourne, the other cities featured are Vienna, Reykjavik, Berlin and Beijing. Proving to be popular with film fans, academics and tourists, the World Film Locations series is going from strength to strength. You can order World Film Locations: Melbourne by clicking on the link below.



The Big Picture - Screengem


My latest Screengem for http://www.thebigpicturemagazine.com/ is Brandon's porn collection, as seen in Steve McQueen's Shame (2011). It only makes a brief appearance in the film, but it's a vital one. Click on the link below to read my take on it means in the context of the narrative.



Friday, 10 August 2012

Eye For Film review


The latest ultra-low budget release from The Asylum is Bloodstorm, aka Nazis at the Center of the Earth as it is known in the US. So, just how bad is it then? Well, click on the link below to find out. You may be mildly surprised.


Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Eye For Film review


J. Lee Thompson's pioneering social realist drama, Woman in a Dressing Gown, is the subject of my latest review for Eye For Film. Recently re-released into cinemas and about to make its début on DVD/Blu-ray, this tragi-comic slice of 50s British life is a must see.


Saturday, 28 July 2012

Eye For Film review


Every now and again a movie is so bad you just want it to end as soon as possible. In the case of Joe Chien's Zombie 108, that moment came about two minutes in. Here's my less than enthusiastic review for Eye For Film.





Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Guardian - Clip Joint


I've provided this week's Clip Joint for The Guardian's film blog. Every week a reader chooses five clips on a theme. I chose amusement parks, which are generally anything but in movies. Click on the link below, have a read and watch my choices.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Eye For Film Review


Swedish drama Kiss Me (Kyss Mig/With Every Hearbeat) is the focus of my latest review for Eye For Film. Click on the link below to see what I made of it.


Friday, 13 July 2012

Eye For Film review


If you think your school life was tough, then spending time with Spork may put it into some kind of context. An offbeat, spiky indie musical, Spork is a foul mouthed Glee for those that truly sit outside of the in crowd.. Click on the link below for my Eye For Film review.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Eye For Film review


Every now and again a horror movie comes along that does things a little differently, and Mike Flanagan's Absentia is one of those movies. Click on the link below to see why.