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 Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960)

The Wackiest Ship in the Army.

This hulk is commissioned?  As what?! In 1943 at the height of World War 2 Lieutenant Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon) is conned into taking charge of a broken-down ship with a clueless crew whom he has to train up to learn the most basic elements of seagoing. The only member who knows how to work a ship with sails is eager young Ensign Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson) who cost Crandall a yacht race with a mistake before the war. Hanson and Crandall’s former sailing buddy Lieutenant Commander Vandewater (John Lund) wear down his resistance. Then he finds out they have a top secret mission and he has to sneak an Australian spy/coast watcher Patterson (Chips Rafferty) into enemy waters of the Pacific patrolled by the Japanese … This was a period of far-reaching decisions, desperate strategies, and incredibly daring counter-strokes – not the least of which involved two bright young naval officers. A colourful widescreen action adventure that achieves the transition from docks-bound comedy to island warfare so smoothly you won’t even notice. Lemmon is superb as the supposed schmuck who rises to the challenge of educating a bunch of crafty oddballs. Lund more or less reprises his role from A Foreign Affair 15 years earlier as the slick willy officer conniving with Nelson, who has one of his best roles here and even gets to sing while Lemmon jams on a piano. Rafferty adds serious flavour in the final scene sequence when they have to deal with some pesky Japanese soldiers, one of whom speaks English and finds common ground (then water) with Lemmon. Herb Margolis & William Raynor’s screen story was based on a story by Herbert Carlson about the real USS Echo which was requisitioned from New Zealand and the screenplay was by director Richard Murphy. A terrific comedy drama. What, aren’t you going to stay here and die for the ‘Rising Sun’?

Palm Beach (2019)

Palm Beach

It’s what they’ve dreamed of for themselves is not what they’ve turned out to be. Frank (Bryan Brown) is flying in his lifelong friends for his big birthday at his beautiful home overlooking the bay at Palm Beach, north of Sydney. Now retired from his tee-shirt business which made him very wealthy, he and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), feckless son Dan (Charlie Vickers) and medical student daughter Ella (Matilda Brown), are hosting the remaining members of The Pacific Sideburns, the band he managed in the Seventies who made the cover of Rolling Stone back in 1977 when they had their one big hit song. Now Leo (Sam Neill) is a journalist based in New Zealand, married to teacher Bridget (Jacqueline MacKenzie) and stepfather to her teenage daughter Caitlyn (Frances Berry). Billy (Richard E. Grant) is an ad man married to actress Eva (Heather Mitchell) who thinks at 60 she’s too young to be cast as Nicole Kidman’s mother. Holly (Claire van der Boom) is the daughter of their late lead singer Roxy and she arrives with her lover, an older man called Doug (Aaron Jeffery) in tow. Tensions erupt over money, career, cars and homes and then there’s a secret which has been niggling at someone’s conscience … The Pacific Sideburns go down as the voice of adult incontinence. Directed by that lovely actress Rachel Ward (who is of course married to leading man Brown), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joanna Murray-Smith, in her second theatrical outing behind the camera, this is a kind of Big Chill for a different generation and at a different stage of their lives. Fans of Australian cinema will be thrilled with the cast (which also includes blow-ins Grant and Scacchi), with Neill and Brown co-starring for the fifth time. This time out they’re in a production about rites of passage among friends (and frenemies) which isn’t afraid to be tough on its characters, none of whom is without baggage or post-60 year old issues. There are all kinds of relatable tensions over ageing, health and money with the added frisson of questionable DNA. The issue of whether Dan might be fathered by Leo becomes the main plank of the narrative particularly since Frank and Dan are permanently at daggers drawn. But Billy – who has made an ad for adult diapers in France using the band’s big hit – is envious of Frank’s money and taunts him about the chimneys on a neighbouring property blocking the view so often that Frank does something about it, leading to the film’s comic high point:  retirement is not for chickens, as his anti-depressants prove. Bonding over building a pizza oven is no picnic. It’s pretty hard to bond with the Gestapo, growls Sam Neill. The women have their own problems but try to get them out of their system with some therapeutic white wine-assisted yoga by the pool and tough conversations with their terminally self-obsessed men. The father-son relationship between Frank and Dan results in a terrible accident and it finally brings them all to their senses in a well managed conclusion to the comedy drama. This family affair also involves Brown and Ward’s real-life daughter as Frank’s daughter; while the film within a film is Ward’s 2001 short, The Big House. The songs are by the band The Teskey Brothers in a soundtrack peppered with great tunes. An extremely winning production with fantastic performances and smart writing, this is an amazing showcase for New South Wales in a location familiar to viewers of TV’s Home and Away. Very easy watching indeed. I’m on my way ASAP, especially if I can stay in that magnificent beach house. I call it uninvited clarity

 

Hurry Sundown (1966)

Hurry Sundown

I’m home. I’m really home.  In 1946, bigoted, draft-dodging, gold-digging Henry Warren (Michael Caine) and his heiress, land-owning wife Julie Ann (Jane Fonda) are determined to sell their land in rural Georgia to owners of a northern canning plant but the deal rests on selling two adjoining plots as well, one owned by Henry’s cousin, returning veteran Rad McDowell (John Philip Law) and his wife Lou (Faye Dunaway, in her film debut); the other by black farmer Reeve Scott (Robert Hooks) whose prematurely aged and sick mother Rose (Beah Richards) had been Julie’s wet nurse. Neither farmer is interested in selling his land, and they form a dangerous and controversial black and white partnership to strengthen their legal claim to their land, which infuriates Henry. When Rose suddenly dies following a failed intervention by Julie, which she doesn’t admit occurred, Henry tries to persuade his wife to charge Reeve with illegal ownership of his property.  Local black teacher Vivian Thurlow (Diahann Carroll) searches the town’s records and uncovers proof that Reeve legally registered the deed to his land. Julie, upset with Henry’s treatment of their mentally challenged six year old son Colie (John Mark), decides to leave him and drops her suit against Reeve. With the help of Ku Klux Klansmen, Henry dynamites the levee above the farms, and tragedy ensues … Certain things are better left to experts. An overripe postwar melodrama that has Message Movie written all over its overacted over-obvious narrative, this was adapted by Thomas C. Ryan and Horton Foote from the 1965 novel by K.B. Gilden (husband and wife writing team Bert and Katya Gilden). Despite the lurid presentation in hotter than thou temperatures with the sun burning up the screen beautifully for cinematographers Loyal Griggs and Milton Krasner it seems undernourished, mainly because the characters are working through some Freudian issues about parenting and it’s told in broad strokes with some performances (like Burgess Meredith as Judge Purcell) bordering on caricature; the presence of Madeleine Sherwood (from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as his wife reminds us of that other (superior) Deep South saga of family, sex, mendacity, greed and perversity. Henry’s son is retarded and Rad’s eldest son Charles (Steve Sanders) betrays his father, loyal to his cousin instead – there are no good outcomes for men here. The full-on language and sex scenes, complemented by Caine playing the devil’s horn to get his wife in the mood, don’t entirely achieve the effect a more subtle approach might have yielded for a social issue film. It was shot amid huge hostility in Louisiana due to the race theme. (Locally-born critic Rex Reed appears uncredited as a farmer).  Dunaway had to sue director Otto Preminger a huge amount of money to get out of her five-film contract because the two were wholly out of tune with each other. Law does very well here however and he and Fonda would appear together a couple of years later in the notorious Barbarella for her husband Roger Vadim. Do you think the twentieth century will stand still just because you want to hang on to a few little acres?

Play Misty for Me (1971)

Play Misty for Me large

You ever find yourself being completely smothered by somebody? Popular late night radio show host Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) at jazz station KRML becomes restless in his relationship with artist girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills). Impulsively, he goes out and has a one night stand with Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) a woman he meets at a nightclub. Afterwards he finds out she was not an anonymous hookup, but an obsessive fan who has been calling in repeatedly to request he play the Errol Garner song Misty. Garver soon discovers extricating himself from Evelyn will be no easy feat as she insinuates herself into his life, showing up everywhere and becoming increasingly deranged. He seeks help from policeman Sgt McCallum (John Larch) only realising at the eleventh hour that Tobie may be in danger... Do you know your nostrils flare out into little wings when you’re mad? It’s kinda cute. Eastwood made his directing debut with trusted mentor Don Siegel by his side and playing Murphy the bartender at a local joint in the town where he lived, Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California, a locale made look even more beautiful by the skilled cinematography of usual Eastwood DoP Bruce Surtees. The screenplay was written by Jo Heims, a former model and dancer, while Dean Riesner (from Dirty Harry and Coogan’s Bluff) polished it;  with the idea for a girlfriend, Tobie, coming from editor Sonia Chernus. It’s a clever and lean premise, brilliantly executed in the economic style we have come to know as Eastwood’s particular stamp. He uses his local knowledge to establish a keen sense of place, with a variety of shots giving us a good idea of the geography of this stunning town, the gorgeous sunlight steadily accreting to create a form of terror all over Monterey County. The tension is marvellously sustained with expert use of the jazz soundtrack (and the local music festival) creating more suspense with Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face used for a romantic mood. (The song’s exposure turned it into a Number One hit.) Walter was Eastwood’s first choice for Evelyn following her appearance in The Group a half dozen years earlier, and we believe her to be so much of a threat that she can do absolutely anything to impose her will; while Mills acquits herself very well as the only stable character in this unwitting love triangle. She had played opposite Burt Reynolds in an episode of his show Dan August and he recommended her to Eastwood. He looked at rushes and hired her without even meeting her. Eastwood is excellent here, completely believable as a man of a certain age who is selfish and unaware and still thinks he can hit it big in the city yet has to bide his time reading poetry late at night to a devoted small town audience. A great first film.  I did it because I LOVE YOU!

Eyewitness (1970)

Eyewitness 1970

Aka Sudden Terror. Twelve year old daydreamer Ziggy (Mark Lester) is an accidental witness to a political killing on a Mediterranean island where martial law obtains, after which he is attacked himself by the perpetrator, policeman Paul Grazzini (Peter Vaughan) who is assisted by Victor Grazzini (Peter Bowles). He gets separated from his older sister, Pippa (Susan George), then they are helped by their grandfather, a retired Colonel, Papa (Lionel Jeffries) and a resourceful bystander with the moniker Tom Jones (Tony Bonner), taking refuge at the lighthouse where the family lives. Meanwhile police Inspector Galleria (Jeremy Kemp) goes on the trail of the killers but ends up where Ziggy is hiding and the boy goes on the run, fleeing for his life as the men close in and calling to his best friend Ann-Marie (Maxine Kalli) … Adapted by Ronald Harwood from the 1966 novel by Mark Hebden (aka John Harris) with some uncredited work by Bryan Forbes who was head of EMI at the time. John Hough directs a surprisingly violent and not completely coherent thriller on an island that remains unnamed (it was shot in Malta) that has strange moments of humour and unusual tonal shifts. Jeffries’ role is so odd that you imagine he’s going to kill his own grandchild. George’s relationship with Bonner is not entirely clear.  It’s a real shock when a child is shot in cold blood but never mind it’s not little Mark Lester. An oddity with a terrific soundtrack which was assembled by Jonathan Demme, a rock journo in London at the time.

The Golden Child (1986)

The Golden Child

Use the dagger to kill the child. When a Tibetan boy, the mystical Golden Child (J.L. Reate), is kidnapped by the evil Demon Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance) and his troupe of weird minions, humankind’s fate hangs in the balance. In Los Angeles, the priestess Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) seeks the Chosen One, who will save the boy from death. When Nang sees social worker Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) on television discussing job which focuses on finding missing children, she solicits his expertise, despite his scepticism over being the chosen one. Though Jarrell doesn’t believe in mysticism, his investigation leads him to some flabbergasting evidence on the trail of Numspa starting in Chinatown where Kala the Oracle (Shakti Chen) inform him of the importance of his quest, to the mountains of Tibet where Chandler can obtain the dagger to free The Golden Child  … These magnificent Americans – so much power and so little idea what to do with it. Never mind that this is one of the oddest movies in the careers of all concerned, it was one of the weirdest hits of the Eighties. It doesn’t quite do the deep-dive into mysticism and martial arts you expect and it steers just wide of too much threat, with Dance a terrific baddie. Murphy is charming as ever but has to do a lot of the heavy lifting in his scenes with Lewis.  Written by Dennis Feldman and directed by Michael Ritchie. If you took the short path and reached enlightenment before tomorrow who wouldn’t want you for a husband?

A Man About the House (1947)

A Man About the House 1947

It may be an advantage to have a man about the house. The unmarried British Isit sisters Agnes (Margaret Johnston) and Ellen (Dulcie Gray) unexpectedly inherit their uncle’s Italian villa and have to deal with his sinister major-domo Salvatore (Kieron Moore) who manages the villa and vineyard. Agnes is overwhelmed by him and they marry, so he ends up owning the estate that once belonged to his family, believing Agnes to be the sole inheritor. Ellen’s suspicions are aroused when Agnes’s health begins to deteriorate and she consults Agnes’s former fiancé, visiting English doctor Benjamin Dench (Guy Middleton) …  Spinsters aren’t safe with such a man. A fun Gothic melodrama with an early opportunity to see Gina Lollobrigida in English-language cinema the year she came third in the Miss Italia pageant. Moore had played Salvatore in the theatre production of Francis Brett Young’s 1942 novel (which is adapted here by J.B. Williams) and he relishes his badness here – his speechifying about the differences between dried up Italian women and young unmarried Englishwomen has to be heard to be believed. Watching the sisters’ emotional unfurling as the vines are harvested is well done, their suppressed instincts vividly described against the emotional Italians nicely gauged in montages and changes of hair and costume.  It’s supremely ironic that it’s the stiff upper lipped older sister played by (the frankly weird) Johnston who succumbs to the determinedly sexual lure of the sleazy butler with murder in mind. Directed by Leslie Arliss. It is our duty as Englishwomen to set an example and not succumb to their lax foreign ways

 

 

The End of the Affair (1955)

The End of the Affair 1955

Trust is a variable quality. London during World War 2. Novelist Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson) meets Sarah Miles (Deborah Kerr) the wife of civil servant Henry Miles (Peter Cushing) at their sherry party. He is asking Henry for information to help with his next book. Maurice is intrigued by Sarah after he sees her kissing another man. They become lovers that night at his hotel. After his rooms are bombed when they are together there, she ends their relationship and he suffers from the delayed shock from the bombing and from her ending the affair. After their break-up and the end of the war, Bendrix encounters Henry, who invites him for a drink at his home, especially since Sarah is out.  Henry confides that he suspects Sarah is unfaithful and has looked into engaging a private investigator, but then decides against it. Sarah returns home before Bendrix leaves and is curt with him. Bendrix follows through with hiring a private detective agency on his own account. They come across information which suggests that Sarah is being unfaithful, which Bendrix shares with Henry in revenge. Bendrix then obtains Sarah’s diary via the private investigator Albert Parkis (John Mills) which reveals that Sarah is not having an affair and that she promised God to give Bendrix up if he was spared death in the bombing. Then they meet again … I’ve learned that you must pray like you make love – with everything you have. A deeply felt narrative revolving around love, sex and religious belief sounds like a melodramatic quagmire but Lenore Coffee’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1951 semi-autobiographical novel is a rich textured work with impressive performances by the entire cast. Kerr and Johnson might be perceived to be something of a mismatch but that’s the point of the story:  he is fated to forever misunderstand her and as he tries to navigate his way through her complex emotions and her deals with God, he responds with just one emotion – jealousy. His unruly misunderstanding in a world of good manners and looking the other way means he flails hopelessly while we are then persuaded of her beliefs via her diary, the contents of which dominate the film’s second half, leading him to regret his desire for revenge. Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other. The ensemble is well presented and their individual big moments are sketches of superb characterisation, Mills’ pride in his snooping a particular highlight. It’s extraordinarily well done, very touching and filled with moments of truth which never fail to hit home in a story that is cunningly managed and beautifully tempered with empathy. Kerr is simply great. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. The ‘not done’ things are done every day. I’ve done most of them myself

Air Force (1943)

Air Force

Don’t talk – shoot! On December 6, 1941 nine B-17 bomber sets off on a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii en route to the Philippines. The Mary Ann is commanded by pilot ‘Irish’ Quincannon (John Ridgely). Bombardier Tommy McMartin (Arthur Kennedy) has a sister living in Hawaii and his co-pilot Bill Williams (Gig Young) is sweet on her. Cynical rear-gunner Joe Winocki (John Garfield) is intent upon leaving the air corps. They arrive at Hickam Field on the morning of December 7, just as the Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor and other military facilities. As Roosevelt announces the US’ entry into the war, all of the men prepare to face the enemy, including Winocki whose bitter attitude changes quickly in the course of combat in the Pacific … What kind of lunatics do I have in this air corps anyhow? Don’t any of you know what’s impossible? With a screenplay by Dudley Nichols (and a deathbed scene written by an uncredited William Faulkner), this Howard Hawks film is an indelible picture of a cross-section of American society at the helm of a bomber, made at the height of WW2 and based around an actual incident when a flight of B-17s journeying to reinforce the defence of the Philippines flew into the attack on Pearl Harbour. The characters are based, more or less, on people Hawks met while consulting with Lt. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Force, in Washington DC and the production was made in conjunction with approval of the War Dept. Originally scheduled by producer Hal Wallis to be released on Pearl Harbour’s first anniversary, the shoot was repeatedly delayed and WW1 aviator Hawks’ insistence on altering dialogue led to him being temporarily replaced by Vincent Sherman who then remained as assistant when Hawks returned. Garfield’s outsider character is the barometer for everything that occurs as he becomes integrated into the group and he is paid tribute by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. There are historical inaccuracies but it packs an emotional punch in its vivid, electrifying violence and humour and Jeanine Basinger says it is “perhaps the purest combat film ever about the air service … It is like some hideous wagon train west, with problems of supplies and hostile forces constantly attacking the wagonload of heroes. It fits perfectly with the tradition of American films, and yet it is a unique and original film, not quite like any other.” Shot by James Wong Howe, Elmer Dyer and Charles A. Marshall, this is a bona fide classic. We’re gonna start a war, not a fight!