The Limehouse Golem (2016)

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Who knows what men are really capable of?  We all wear pantomime masks.  It’s 1880 and Victorian London is gripped with fear as a serial killer is on the loose leaving cryptic messages written in the blood of his victims who appear to have no connection with each other. As the body count mounts the mystery becomes increasingly outlandish and blame falls on the mythical creature of Jewish lore – the golem. With few leads and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy), a seasoned detective whose homosexual inclinations prevent his promotion and who suspects that he’s being set up to fail. Faced with a long list of suspects, Kildare must rely on help from a witness to stop the murders and bring the maniac to justice… Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful Victorian novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem gets a suitably OTT workout here but Jane Goldman’s adaptation misses a trick or three and doesn’t entirely sustain the plot (you’ll guess the killer very quickly). There’s a lot to like, particularly in the interplay between Nighy and Daniel Mays as Constable George Flood which is put to the forefront of this interpretation but the rivalry with Inspector Roberts (Peter Sullivan) is badly underwritten. A game cast including Douglas Booth as the legendary Leno, Eddie Marsan as Uncle, Sam Reid as failed playwright John Cree, Olivia Cooke as his wife and surprisingly literate former music hall performer Lizzie and even Paul Ritter bringing up the rear as a librarian, do a lot in a good-looking production. It’s not often Karl Marx and George Gissing are suspected of serial murders! And Nighy deepens his usual bonhomie with barely concealed emotion. However the misguided construction means that this never really comes over the way you’d expect given the powerful origins of the tale and ultimately it fails to reconcile the male and female stories in this multifaceted portrait of sex and violence.  Directed by Juan Carlos Medina.

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The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

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Personally I prefer a girlfriend not to have a husband. An Irish-American seaman Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) becomes involved in a complex murder plot when he is hired by renowned criminal lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloan) to work on a yacht after rescuing the man’s wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth) from a disturbing attack in Central Park NYC. He soon finds himself implicated in the murder, despite his innocence. The film is best remembered for the climactic hall of mirrors scene with a shoot out amidst shards of shattering glass…. Orson Welles’ adaptation (with uncredited help from William Castle, Charles Lederer and Fletcher Markle) of a novel by Sherwood King was so confusing that Columbia boss Harry Cohn offered a reward to anyone who could make head or tail of it. Somebody please tell me what it’s about! But the plot of this murder mystery pastiche is hardly the point:  it’s a gorgeously shot tongue in cheek meditation on the games men and women play. Sometimes they wind up in murder. The narration is crucial. The hall of mirrors scene is justly famous. Shot by Charles Lawton (and Rudolph Maté and Joseph Walker) with the yachting scenes done on Errol Flynn’s Zaca, this is the one where Hayworth’s fiery locks were shorn into a shockingly short blonde bob and Welles sports a cod Oirish accent presumably culled from his days at Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Mad, strange and blacker than black, this is all about shadows and deception and imagery and set-pieces. Stunningly edited by Viola Lawrence. I never make my mind up about anything until it’s over and done with.

Mansfield Park (1999)

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It could have all turned out differently I suppose. But it didn’t. Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) is born into a poor family with far too many children so she is sent away to live with wealthy uncle Sir Thomas (Harold Pinter), his wife Aunt Norris (Lindsay Duncan) and their four children, where she’ll be brought up for a proper introduction to society. She is treated unfavorably by her relatives, except for her cousin Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller), whom she grows fond of. However her life is thrown into disarray with the arrival of worldly Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) and her brother Henry (Alessandro Nivola). The path of true love never runs smoothly and then there are matters of money. Matches are made and Fanny rejects Henry which sends everyone into a spin and certain romantic fancies turn to actual sex … Well what a palaver – a Jane Austen adaptation that puts sex and politics and money front and centre in the most obvious way. Patricia (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing) Rozema’s adaptation plays with the form and breaks the fourth wall and even introduces some very out-there drawings which take Uncle Harold Pinter down a moral peg or three:  he’s made his money in slavery and his son Tom’s return from the West Indies with a terrible illness makes him produce some very realistic impressions of his father’s predilections and the depredations of the slave trade. Austen was the hottest screenwriter in the world in the 1990s (not that she knew a thing about it) and survives even this quite postmodern dip into adaptation by the Canadian filmmaker with some delightful performances, particularly by O’Connor who is given lines from Austen’s own private correspondence in her addresses to camera. But sex? In Austen? Tut tut! Charming, in its own perversely witty fashion.

Captain Ron (1992)

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Some day Marty will do something worth writing about. Chicago businessman Martin Harvey (Martin Short) is leading a humdrum life with his wife Katherine (Mary Kay Place), trampy teenage daughter Caroline (Meadow Sisto) and little boy Ben (Benjamin Salisbury) until he inherits a yacht formerly owned by Clark Gable from his late uncle, last seen in  the US in 1962. They head off to the island of St Pomme de Terre (Saint Potato) in the West Indies to do it up and sell it through yacht broker Paul Anka (!) and inadvertently hire an eye-patched pirate type – the titular Ron (Kurt Russell) –  to lead them through tranquil aquarmarine waters as they venture through the islands cleaning up what turns out to be a wreck. Marty doesn’t trust Ron one iota but learns to trust in himself as his kids and wife become their truly adventurous selves – Place in particular has a whale of a time. There are no pirates in the Caribbean, says Marty. Then they give guerillas a lift from island to island and have their boat stolen by pirates and take their raft to Cuba -where the yacht is docked… Critics slated this for obvious reasons – why on earth was brilliant comic Short cast in the role of straight man in this twist on the Yuppies in Peril strand so popular in the early 90s? There are compensations, principally in some of the setups and the cinematography. The midlife crisis narrative of course has a twist – that’s in the narration by Marty and in the ending, when Ron doesn’t have a glass eye in his new job:  pirate tales are all in the telling, after all. Colourful and amusing. Written by John Dwyer and directed by Thom Eberhardt.

Hue & Cry (1947)

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Harry Fowler is the kid who reads the adventures of Selwyn Pike in the pages of the Trump comic to his gang of Blood and Thunder Kids and becomes convinced that the strip is used as code by black marketeers. The police won’t believe him and he takes on the criminals himself, first visiting the sinister writer Alastair Sim and then working for grocer Nightingale (Jack Warner) who turns out to be central to the smuggling ring. After some false attempts to capture the criminals and stave off a department store robbery, and tying up Rhona (Valerie White) from the magazine, the scene is set for a standoff using Sim to engineer it in his story … Tremendous entertainment from writer TEB Clarke, with vivid performances from the kids running amok in the rubble-strewn bombed-out East End right after WW2. Ealing Comedy was really up and running in a film whose Expressionist leanings (courtesy of DoP Douglas Slocombe) remind one of Emil and the Detectives. Directed by Charles Crichton.

The Company Men (2010)

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To those voters who have forgotten the impact of the financial crash and the ongoing fallout from number-crunching instead of manufacturing in the Noughties, this isn’t a bad place to start. TV auteur John Wells’ story of one shipbuilding company which loses sight of its employees and serves the shareholders, downsizing the workforce to pay for a nice shiny new office HQ, serves as a portrait of contemporary masculinity and decency. Ben Affleck is a blue collar guy done good as the best salesman in the east, who can’t make the mortgage payments and keeps his head in the sand because he’s just another asshole with a resume, as his wife informs him. Tommy Lee Jones’ mistress Maria Bello is the company officer charged with naming the names, Craig T. Nelson is Jones’ college roommate who founded the company with him and winds up firing him and old soak and union guy Chris Cooper, who commits suicide because he has to choose between paying his daughter’s college tuition or keeping the house. Affleck’s brother in law, Kevin Costner, has a nice supporting role as the sceptical brother in law whose job offer he eventually takes to build drywall and Affleck observes the sacrifices Costner makes to keep his few employees in work. This is a middle class story of degradation which happens to be set in the US but is a universal story of the destruction of society by greedy entrepreneurs with government assistance. It’s a convincing howl of rage.

Bond of Fear (1956)

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Smart little British B movie starring Irish-born stalwart Dermot Walsh as the man taking Land Rover and caravan on holiday from Birmingham to the South of France but he never gets there because he and his wife and kids are hijacked by Dewar (Canadian John Colicos) who’s just murdered a policeman. The unlikely scenario of this middle class family hitting the road for Dover port and a crazed killer in the caravan holding them hostage is well measured with police checkpoints proving a test for Walsh as he has to lie while his son has a gun held to his head in the caravan. An indignant hitch hiker provides a particularly good scene and there’s plenty of tension when the little boy Michael (Anthony Pavey) tries to defend his dad. It all comes to a head at Dover – so they never make it to France after all. Shot mostly at Nettlefold Studios at Walton-on-Thames (another to add to my list of British outfits) and around the burbs of Southern England, this looks pretty smart (courtesy of Monty Berman and operator Desmond Davis, a future director) and has an interesting soundtrack (an uncredited Stanley Black.)  Walsh had made his mark on the Dublin stage following a few years studying law at University College Dublin. He was discovered by Rank and had good roles in films like Hungry Hill. After a brief return to the stage he spent most of the 50s doing movies like this and is best remembered for TV’s Richard the Lionheart. He wrote a play and produced several works in the theatre. He is the father of the actress Elisabeth Dermot Walsh. He died in 2002. Digby Wolfe’s story was adapted by horror director and writer John Gilling with additional scenes provided by Norman Hudis; and directed by Henry Cass, who made one of my favourite British movies, The Glass Mountain. Not chopped liver.

Stakeout (1987)

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On a day on which the death of another Eighties icon has been announced, this time the gifted George Michael, it seemed appropriate to roll out a movie rather typical of the era. It starts with a violent prison incident when crazed murderer Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery (Aidan Quinn) makes good his escape. Meanwhile, horndog cop buddies Chris (Richard Dreyfuss) and Bill (Emilio Estevez) get put on a stakeout of his ex Maria’s house for bad behaviour. Jim Kouf’s screenplay identifies the men pretty well as a bereft lovelorn middle ager and a besotted younger man, a relationship that offsets the violence that opens the story.and – inevitably – closes it. In between are office politics, slapstick, and a growing romance between Chris and the object of Stick’s affections, the beyond-beautiful Madeleine Stowe. A good mix of comedy, suspense, action and romance, well managed by director John Badham.

A Taste of Honey (1961)

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Or, how a plain teenaged Northern lass gets knocked up by a black sailor and she only has her gay friend for company. Young Shelagh Delaney adapted her own play for the screen with a co-writing credit going to director Tony Richardson, who had put it on the stage. This was part of the vanguard of the kitchen sink realism movement and you can feel the damp buildings and the misery seep off the screen. Richardson elicits brilliant performances: Rita Tushingham is extraordinary and charming as the sympathetic girl and Murray Melvin is startling as her gay BFF, while Dora Bryan is great as her trampy mother and Robert Stephens impresses as Mum’s younger fancy man. Everyone has to learn how to remake the idea of family. Dreary never looked so good (courtesy of Walter Lassally) and the sounds are from John Addison’s typically inventive score. A Woodfall film.