The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

My father was a very big man. And he wore a black moustache. When he grew older and it grew grey, he coloured it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara. English couple Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) are taking a return holiday in Venice in an attempt to repair their relationship. They are befriended by suave Robert (Christopher Walken), a British-Italian bar proprietor, unaware that he has been stalking and photographing them. When he brings them to his palazzo apartment and introduces them to his wife Caroline (Helen Mirren) they become enmeshed in a game of psychological and erotic roleplay and wind up experiencing a terrifying drama of decadence in which nothing and nobody is as they appear … I mean that you’d do absolutely anything for the other person, and you’d let them do absolutely anything to you. Anything. Adapted by Harold Pinter from the 1981 Ian McEwan novella, this picturesque exploration of perverse relationships practically wallows in morbidity. Teetering on the verge of horror and luridness at all times, this never tips into typical genre expectations, always erring on the side of suggestiveness, surprise and eerieness. Until a swift end is brought to proceedings. The irony replete in the story is all in the title and in creepy Walken who declares, They want to destroy everything that’s good between men and women. It’s expertly directed by Paul Schrader with densely beautiful cinematography by Dante Spinotti, permitting the full strangeness of the city to express the moistly malevolent mystery, sinister and lustrous, terrifying and thrilling, all at once, inhabited by just the right performers in wondrous sets by Gianni Quaranta. Some people don’t like the ending. As in life, etc. Although if you’ve read Thomas Mann or seen Don’t Look Now you’ll have a justifiably familiar feeling of foreboding. A sensual nightmare of innocents abroad. I knew that fantasy was passing into reality. Have you ever experienced that? It’s like stepping into a mirror

Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady On Fire

Aka Portrait de la jenue fille en feu. Will you be able to paint her? Painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is instructing a class of art students in Paris. They ask her about the origins of a painting and she reminisces: France, 1770. Marianne is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) a young woman who has just left the convent and is at home on a remote island off the coast of Brittany. She is a reluctant bride to be and her mother the countess (Valeria Golino) wants Marianne to paint her portrait in secret for an arranged marriage to a nobleman suitor in Milan whose visual approval is required. The last male artist failed in his mission and Marianne must study Héloïse without her knowing. Marianne accompanies her on her daily walk under the pretence of being her companion but observes her carefully and paints her secretly. Is that how you see me? When she reveals her identity and Héloïse dislikes the portrait Marianne destroys it, to the rage of the countess who goes away for a while as long as Marianne agrees to do another portrait, this time with her subject’s full co-operation. He doesn’t make the lover’s choice, but the poet’s. The women fall in love and Héloïse reads Orpheus and Eurydice by firelight to Marianne and Héloïse’s servant, Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) whose pregnancy the women help to end. As Marianne finishes the portrait and the countess is returning they must accept what happens next … Your presence is made up of fleeting moments that may lack truth. French writer/director Céline Sciamma’s historical romance is stately, elegant and well framed:  this is a picture of female solidarity and love, grounded in the most obvious of ideas – the female gaze in a patriarchal world – in a film about looking and perception. We are going to paint. This is about turning around and acknowledging and engaging with what you see – and making a choice. The performers look and watch and are passive aggressive as society dictates they must be with their taboo affair, illuminating each other’s lives in secret. How people see each other has rarely been so truthfully portrayed. A profound, at times magical, meditation on what it means to be a woman, this is beautifully and carefully staged, with nothing excessive or ornamental and driven by stunning performances. The digital cinematography by Claire Mathon is so exquisite there are candlelit scenes you will want to reach out and touch and hang on your wall. This show and tell is far from still life. If you look at me, who do I look at?

Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar

Welcome home. When her sister kills their parents in a murder-suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, psychology student Dani (Florence Pugh) tries to repair her relationship with cultural anthropology student Christian (Jack Reynor) who’s been trying to break up with her and is taking off to Sweden with classmate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren. He has invited Christian and their colleagues Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) for a traditional pagan festival held just once every 90 years. Dani decides to guilt trip Christian into asking her along. When they get there they are disoriented by the permanent daylight, drugged, separated from one another and gradually start to disappear, leaving just Dani to be made May Queen and Christian to perform a very special service… All of our oracles are deliberate products of inbreeding. Writer/director Ari (Hereditary) Aster was offered the opportunity to do a Swedish slasher film but chose to make this instead, a variation on The Wicker Man but with a gang of stupid students instead of one innocent policeman, succumbing to the lure of ancient rituals which are just a cover for sex, incest and murder. As in all horror movies, when people go missing nobody thinks of going for help or contacting the police. They hang around until they are murdered and disembowelled, their body parts reassembled with flowers stuck in their eye sockets. Pugh holds it together in yet another unflattering wardrobe (will someone please dress her properly in one of her films?!); while Reynor is the dumb selfish schmuck ignoring all rational ideas in favour of writing up a thesis. Undoubtedly stylish, this is pretentious and absurdly overlong at 140 minutes and an exploitation film in all but name if the nudists crowing over a copulating couple of ginger mingers are anything to go by. If this doesn’t put you off group activities, religion or Scandinavians, nothing will. I can see you possibly doing that

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

The Sleeping Tiger

He’s wrong. People are born the way they are. When brash young thug Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde) attempts to rob psychiatrist Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox), the doctor surprisingly gains the upper hand. Instead of sending Frank to prison, Clive offers to have the criminal stay at his home, where he’ll attempt to reform the delinquent via in-depth analysis.  Esmond’s assistant Carol (Maxine Audley) is very wary of the guy. Settling into the doctor’s house, Clive meets Esmond’s wife, Glenda (Alexis Smith), who arrives back early from a holiday and initially dislikes her coarse guest who warns the housemaid Sally (Patricia McCarron) not to leave, instilling fear in the young woman. When Glenda begins to fall for Frank, intense conflict ensues and he returns to his old ways before introducing her to a different kind of life but the police Inspector (Hugh Griffith) returns to the property every time Clemmons is identified at the scene of a crime and Esmond proves too willing to provide an alibi…  He’s got courage. Under that bravado of his there’s something rather appealing. This erotically charged tale of crime, psychoanalysis and adulterous sex is the British debut of blacklisted director Joseph Losey who was forced to ‘borrow’ the name of Victor Hanbury for exhibition purposes. It’s twisted into a coil of jeopardy and perversion as Bogarde seems to bring out the worst in others – to his own chagrin as he realises halfway through when Smith’s psychopathology becomes clear during a chase with the police. There’s a look in his eyes, cast toward the passenger window, that expresses everything: what kind of married couple did he disturb?!  I wish I were a man, declares Smith through gritted teeth. Her past is another country too. The title isn’t just her lover’s own sorry backstory as a boy abandoned to a wicked stepmother, it also refers to what’s going on in Smith’s head as she responds to the interloper in their midst who seems to be gaming her husband – but the revelations of each character’s weakness is set against a crime thriller drama, with a Gothic staircase providing the scene for many confrontations and Bogarde’s bedroom and the horse riding enjoyed by the troubled pair giving this an electric and lurid charge. His and Smith’s feline barbs can only end in one way. The final images are superbly literal in a story where the doctor might actually know what he’s talking about. That’s young Billie Whitelaw in the office Bogarde holds up. Adapted from Maurice Moiseiwitsch’s novel by ‘Derek Frye’ a pseudonym that was created as cover for blacklisted screenwriters Harold Buchman and Carl Foreman. Made at Nettlefold Studios. Maybe you shouldn’t tamper with people

Live and Let Die (1973)

Live and Let Die

Whose funeral is this?/Yours. James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to New York to investigate the mysterious deaths of three British agents. The Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big plans to distribute two tons of heroin for free to put rival drug barons out of business and then become a monopoly supplier is also in New York, visiting the United Nations. Just after Bond arrives, his driver is shot dead by Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown) one of Mr. Big’s men, while taking Bond to meet Felix Leiter (David Hedison) of the CIA. Bond is nearly killed in the ensuing car crash. Mr. Big is revealed to be the alter ego of Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) a corrupt Caribbean dictator, who rules San Monique, a fictional island where opium poppies are secretly farmed. Bond encounters voodoo master Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder) and tarot card reader Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who soon becomes a romantic interest. Bond’s fight to put a stop to the drug baron’s scheme takes him to New Orleans … What are you? Some kinda doomsday machine boy? Well WE got a cage strong enough to hold an animal like you here! A jazz funeral in New Orleans. Voodoo. Tarot cards. A crocodile farm. A shark tank. An underground cave. An awesome car and boat chase across the bayou. A cast of black villains worthy of a blaxploitation classic. A villain who is less megalomaniacal than usual who would really like to be James Bond’s friend. A redneck sheriff (Clifton James) to beat all redneck sheriffs, as director Guy Hamilton bragged. A morning ritual cappuccino preparation instead of a martini, a little nod to Harry Palmer, perhaps. And this was Roger Moore’s debutante appearance as the suavest double Oh! of them all, entering the picture in the arms of a beautiful brunette spy in dereliction of her own duty. And his only weapon? A magnetic watch! Come on! It starts in Jamaica, home of Goldeneye, author Ian Fleming’s long-time residence, where he wrote a novel between January and March every year between 1952 and 1964 and it concludes on a train, in homage to Dr No. That’s before we even mention the incredible song composed by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by Wings. McCartney was so thrilled to do it he paid for the orchestra himself and hired George Martin to do the arrangement. It’s breathless escapism with action sequences moving seamlessly one unto the other, interrupted only by some hilariously silly lines uttered by the urbane agent. Effortlessly performed. Written by Tom Mankiewicz, who even remembered to include some of the original novel’s elements. It made its UK TV premiere in 1980 and remains the most viewed film on British TV . He always did have an inflated opinion of himself