Krull (1983)

I came to find a king and I find a boy instead. On the planet of Krull, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and a fellowship of  motley companions – a bunch of bandits, brigands and criminals led by Torquil (Alun Armstrong) – embark on a journey to save his bride, Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) who is destined to become Queen. She has been kidnapped by an army of alien invaders led by the Beast, endangering the union of their respective kingdoms. Before he can rescue his betrothed from the citadel, he must locate a mystical weapon known as the Glaive which alone can slay the Beast … Good fighters make bad husbands. The Hero’s Journey as I live and breathe with a proper mission, terrific sidekicks and some actual monstrosity. Startling production design, beautiful pastoral vistas and a truly dastardly villain combine with nutty humour to create a pleasing fairy tale fantasy quest, all heroics and horrible sacrifice. David Battley is very amusing as Ergo, who consistently messes up his gift for turning people into animals by turning into them himself. Liam Neeson has a great supporting role as axe-wielding Kegan, one of the brigands, with ‘seven or eight’ wives one of whom he woos with the immortal line, Now look, petal. Faithful is my middle name! Anthony (who was dubbed to sound mature) spends much of the story in a scary tunnel dealing with the Beast’s doubles while that very pretty boy Marshall is off having his adventures with the guys, as you do. There’s lots of derring-do, loyal acts and effects galore in this Dungeons and Dragons homage. One of the bandits, who include Robbie Coltrane and Todd Carty, is played by Bronco McLoughlin, the legendary Irish stuntman who died last year. The stunning score is by James Horner. Charming as anything, this was written by Stanford Sherman and directed by Peter Yates. Power is fleeting. Love is eternal

Year of the Dragon (1985)

Only one Stanley White. Following the murders of Mafia and Triad leaders in NYC, Polish Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) takes it upon himself to bring down the Chinese organised crime gangs. He’s breaking the long held treaty to permit the Chinese to take care of things in Chinatown. This puts him in conflict with Tony Tai (John Lone) the ruthless leader of the organisation.  It pulls his life apart with his already crumbling childless marriage to nurse Connie (Caroline Kava) collapsing altogether when Stanley falls for the charms of ambitious journalist Tracy Tzu (Ariane). Now Tony has a major shipment coming in from Thailand and Stanley engages in wire tapping for information .. This is America and it’s two hundred years old and you need to change your clocks. This sprawling portrait of the gangs of New York was much misunderstood upon its release but it lays its cards on the table upfront: it’s all in the name (changed) because NYC’s most decorated cop is an unapologetic racist Nam vet and sexist to boot. He’s launching his own tong war. Naturally Rourke plays him as a total charmer and it works:  he has the aura of death about him, his hair is as white as his adopted name and everyone around him seems to get crushed.  As written by Oliver Stone and director Michael Cimino this adaptation of Robert Daley’s novel is remarkably discreet in some areas – and lurid in others. The major love scene between Stanley and Tracy is cleverly done as they tell each other how much they hate each other and then … Her big ‘angry’ scene when he’s moved his team into her preposterously huge loft is amusing because her acting is so poor, all stiff arms like an Irish dancer. Part of the film’s issue representationally is the obvious inexpressivity of the Chinese actors, a physical trait there’s no escaping. They make up for it by killing people. Their treatment historically in the US and their unequal immigrant experience is posited against Stanley’s veteran’s hangups, something that’s used against him.  He wants to sleep with a journalist while both he and Tony decry the media’s role in the portrayal of violence and the way ethnicity is covered. Therefore there is a balance established with Tony – that’s clever storytelling. Lone is super handsome, a great suave villain to play opposite.  The lean way in which the marital story is exposed is a good hook for Stanley’s humanity and it’s the dramatic crutch that assists the outcome. The intra-Asian racism is well dramatised and horrendously violent. Class is an issue that becomes an overriding theme. The whole thing looks incredible – shot by Alex Thomson on a set (by Wolf Kroeger and Victoria Paul) in North Carolina for NYC (except for the views from Tracy’s apartment at the top of the Clocktower Building giving a beguiling view of the city’s skyline).  There’s a fascinating and intricate score by David Mansfield with echoes of phrases from The Deer Hunter. That this is a disguised western is clarified in those final scenes on the railway track. And in this wonderful mesh of genre and tradition there is an honourable way out for one man. What a way to end. Amazingly the role of White (originally called Arthur Powers – but there’s a Stanley White credited as Police Consultant!) was intended for Clint Eastwood. Both he and Paul Newman turned it down. Just as well. Only one Mickey Rourke. He’s a good cop but he won’t stop

Young Guns of Texas (1962)

 

When two men fight it’s a duel. When somebody tries to stop them it becomes a war. After the Civil War cadet Tyler Duane (Gary Conway) is expelled from West Point military academy when his brother, a Union officer, is accused of stealing $30,000 of Army payroll. He sets out on his trail encountering trouble en route. He is befriended by Morgan Coe (James Mitchum) and preacher’s son Jeff Shelby (Jody McCrea). Morgan is in love with local beauty Lily Glendenning (Alana Ladd) but her father Jesse (Robert Lowery) opposes the marriage and wants to get his hands on the stolen money. Jeff’s father Sam (Chill Wills) initially refuses to perform the wedding ceremony but relents when the youngsters plan on going to the Mission to have a priest do it after Morgan has killed the ranch foreman. Glendenning forms a posse believing Lily has been kidnapped. Then the youngsters are attacked by Apaches and find out what happened to Tyler’s brother …  This country needs this money. Then we’ll see changes.  Of interest principally for its cast, the offspring of Hollywood royalty, this is neither good nor bad enough to enter the realm of cult. It’s a fairly standard low budget oater distinguished by the use Cinemascope photography albeit it’s to no evident visual effect. There are some nice moments with Barbara Mansell as Martha Jane Canary (the real name of Calamity Jane) who washes outdoors – Always meant to put a door on this bathroom! Otherwise, no surprises except to marvel at the physical similarities (and not a lot else) between the offspring and their famous and talented fathers. It was Ladd’s final screen appearance. The title song by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is performed by Kenny Miller.  Written by Henry Cross aka Harry Spalding and directed by Maury Dexter. Either you’re going to be an orphan or a widow?

The Running Man (1963)

You’re not in Croydon any more. Stella Black (Lee Remick) returns from the memorial service for Rex, her late husband, a pilot who died in a gliding accident. He (Laurence Harvey) is in fact alive and well and in hiding at a secluded seaside boarding house having defrauded his insurer Excelsior out of a huge sum of money for his premature death after they failed to pay out for an accident involving his airline business. Stella joins him in Malaga, Spain where he has changed his appearance and is living under the assumed name of Jim Jerome. Things start to go wrong when an insurance investigator Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates) appears to be following Stella as she drives her expensive car and enjoys the high life at a lovely hotel … He shouldn’t have married her. Adapted by John Mortimer from Shelley Smith’s novel The Ballad of the Running Man, this starts out as a sunny neo noir suspenser and turns into something quite different with a nice twist that dictates the outcome. Harvey and Remick are superb as the beautiful blonde married couple whose fate alters irrevocably and their relationship with it; while the issue of mistaken identity regarding Bates is wonderfully played out, subtly inverting the entire premise so that it rebounds with catastrophic consequences. Thanks to Robert Krasker’s cinematography (a very different experience to the kind of exploitation of locations in The Third Man) Spain looks stunning and the sinister nature of the story comes entirely from the construction and playing. Never was misunderstanding so well portrayed: everything here is lost in translation. Watch out for Fernando Rey as a policeman and Noel Purcell and Eddie Byrne have small roles in a production partly shot at Ardmore Studios in Ireland.  Directed by Carol Reed. They’ll have to put up the insurance premiums on anyone who wants to make love to you

The Passionate Stranger (1957)

Aka A Novel Affair. You see! You shut me out! Just like the others! Upper-middle-class housewife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) is a best-selling author of steamy bodice-rippers. As her beloved husband Roger (Ralph Richardson) convalesces from polio and is now presently wheelchair-bound, the couple’s new Sicilian chauffeur Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers Judith’s latest manuscript about a housewife unhappily married to a disabled man she despises and has a passionate affair with the family chauffeur. He jumps to conclusions that create increasingly awkward situations for them all as he attempts to imitate lines and scenes from her book which features a concert pianist with a jealous and disabled husband and a lusty Sicilian driver … There are stories all around you if you know where to look. There’s probably one right under your nose. From husband and wife producing and directing team Sydney and Muriel Box (who also co-wrote the screenplay) this fitfully amusing comedy has a fatal flaw – the film within a film which is made in colour and lasts more than half of the film overall is very heightened reality and played too straight:  the hilarious silent movie in Singin’ in the Rain should have been the model for this, or even the Gainsborough romances, instead it’s a bourgeois melo. Then in the return to monochrome ‘reality’ in the final third there is a slippage of tone when Carlo’s plan to imitate the book goes very wrong and a tragedy seems on the cards. It pulls back just in time but the narrative emphasis is at fault. Nonetheless it gives Patricia Dainton a delightful chance to change pace from sly Scottish-accented housemaid Emily to coquettish plotter Betty while Richardson is a grumpy old man and Leighton is a more extreme incarnation of her writer self. Megs Jenkins is a pub landlady in the film within a film. Made at Shepperton with exteriors at Chilworth in Surrey. I do not forget! I never leave you! Ever!

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Everything is flat and empty here. There’s nothing to do. In 1951 Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends inAnarene, North Texas. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who Sonny considers the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs. Over the Christmas holiday Sonny begins an affair with lonely Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) the depressed wife of high-school “Coach” Popper (Bill Thurman) who is secretly gay. At the Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette) a wealthy young man who seems a better romantic prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn’t interested in virgins and to come back after she’s had sex. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) bans the boys from his cafe, pool hall and cinema when they mistreat their retarded friend Billy (Sam Bottoms) taking him to a prostitute who beats him for making a mess. Sam dies while the boys are on a road trip to Mexico and leaves his property to different people, including Sonny. Jacy invites Duane for sex in a motel and eventually breaks up with him by phone, eventually losing her viriginity on a pool table to her mother’s lover Abilene (Clu Gulager). Sonny fights with Duane over Jacy  and Duane leaves town to work on the rigs out of town. Jacy sets her sight on Sonny and they elope to her parents’ fury. The war in Korea provides an escape route for Duane but there’s one last picture show on before the cinema closes down forever … Nothing’s ever the way it’s supposed to be at all. They say the third time’s the charm and so it was for neophyte director Peter Bogdanovich in this adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel about kids growing up in small town North Texas which he co-wrote with the author as well as wife Polly Platt, who was the production designer and collaborator with Bogdanovich on all his films. (Then he fell in love with his young leading lady Shepherd, but that’s another story). The film was shot in black and white following advice from Orson Welles, Bogdanovich’s house guest at the time (and the best book on Welles derives from this era of their wide-ranging conversations, This Is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum).  The cinematography rendered by Robert Surtees is simply exquisite, the attention to detail extraordinary but this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane. The universally pitch-perfect performances exist in this very specific texture as a kind of miracle, duly rewarding Johnson and Leachman at the Academy Awards. But Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s mom Lois has some of the best lines and delivers them with power. She and Shepherd have one amazing scene together. This is a coming of age movie but it’s also about ageing and loneliness and deception and disappointment and it’s the acknowledging of the sliding scale of desperation where the emotions hit gold. And there are juxtapositions which still manage to shock – like when Sonny looks out the window to see one horse mount another while a great romantic poem is being read in class. The realisation that Sam’s great love was Lois and vice versa. The callous way sexual manipulation is used as a casual transaction for the bored. There were controversies over scenes of sex and nudity which didn’t make it into the initial release but those parts were restored in 1992 by Bogdanovich so that the full potential of the story could be contextualised. A poignant Fordian masterpiece now firmly imprinted as an American classic.  You couldn’t believe how this country’s changed

The Teckman Mystery (1954)

Why all the mystery about him? Novelist Philip Chance (John Justin) meets a beautiful woman named Helen (Margaret Leighton) on a flight from France to London just when it’s been announced he’s researching a biography on a pilot Martin Teckman (Michael Medwin) who died during the test flight of a new plane. He’s her brother. As Chance uncovers more about the test flight, people connected with the case begin to die: the engineer Garvin (George Coulouris) who used to work with Martin; and when Chance fails to fly to West Berlin for a high-paying magazine job calculated to divert his attentions,  he has a third meeting with the mysterious magazine publisher Reisz (Meier Tzelniker) but the man is dead on Chance’s arrival.  Scotland Yard inspectors (Roland Culver and Duncan Lamont) are on the case, uncovering Martin’s secret marriage to Ruth Wade (Jane Wenham) who might have persuaded him to join a conspiracy. Then the supposedly dead Martin makes contact with Chance … We don’t want anything political – no sir. From a story by Francis (Paul Temple) Durbridge and a screenplay he co-wrote with James Mathews, this is a nifty thriller cogitating on matters of family, loyalty and patriotism in the middle of the Cold War – not that our handsome but dim hero puts any of that together, always one step behind. Leighton is excellent as the potentially duplicitous femme fatale designer and Tzelniker has the juicy kind of role a bigger budget would have had Peter Lorre play. It all concludes at the Tower of London in a production which makes terrific use of its smog-free locations – practically all of which are shot in broad daylight. Justin was himself a test pilot during WW2 and appeared in The Sound Barrier! Directed by Wendy Toye. You’re asking me to kill you

 

 

 

Casino (1995)


There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that I do it. You understand? Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is a Jewish handicapper asked by the Chicago Mob to oversee the day-to-day casino and hotel operations at the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas in 1973. His childhood friend, mobster Nicky Santoro (Pesci), is a made man and makes life tricky for Ace. Ace falls for call girl and chip hustler Ginger McKenna (Stone) whom he eventually marries. They have a daughter Amy (Erika von Tagen) but Ginger gets into drugs and her behaviour becomes loud and difficult. Ace has problems getting a gaming licence despite keeping local politicos happy and the skimmed money is being skimmed by people he employs. All his relationship begin to break down and the FBI are closing in when Ginger runs away with her lover and pimp Lester Diamond (James Woods) taking Amy with them … When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believed, that’s the kind of love I had.  At first glance it doesn’t seem elegiac yet this Scorsese collaboration with co-writer Nicholas Pileggi (from his Casino:  Love and Honor in Las Vegas) five years after Goodfellas operates as a long goodbye to a way of life essentially foreign, about strangers in a strange land. It’s adapted from the lives of Frank Rosenthal, Anthony Spilotro and Geri McGee. The mob were never at ease in the desert landscape and the story problem doesn’t end there because all the relationships here are uneven and mismatched:  Jewish and Italian, Ace and Nicky, Ace and Ginger, the Mob and Vegas. It starts audaciously: with a bomb. Yet the victim is one of the narrators. The competing voiceovers by Ace and Nicky are stark illustrations of the power plays beyond the gaming tables. The storytelling, spanning a decade to 1983 (and ‘many years before’) is a familiar one of bribery, corruption, murder, gambling, crooked politicians, prostitution, children, golf, drugs and great clothes, And the production design by Dante Ferretti lit up by Robert Richardson’s beautiful cinematography offers a stark contrast to the coarseness of these terrible people. It’s long and talky and horrifically violent and startling in terms of juxtapositions and acting. At the centre of the extraordinary soundtrack in this epic of marriages gone wrong is the score for Godard’s Contempt (Le mepris) by Georges Delerue, pointing our response in the correct direction. We are left to contemplate the magnificent, complete performance by Sharon Stone, one of the best in modern cinema, the cause and effect in this epic and tragic tale of the misbegotten. In the end it is a pitiless exploration of humanity. A lot of holes in the desert, and a lot of problems are buried in those holes

Tenet (2020)

We live in a twilight world. An unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington) gets kidnapped and tortured by gangsters following an opera siege in Ukraine and wakes up after he takes a fake suicide pill, is rebuilt and sent on a new mission – to find out who’s shipping inverted bullets from the future using Priya (Dimple Kapadia) as a front. He discovers through a forged Goya it’s Russian arms dealer Andrey Sator (Kenneth Branagh) whose art expert wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) is more or less his hostage, trying to keep in contact with their young son. Working with British agent Neil (Robert Pattinson) he organises an attack on the (tax- free) Freeport in Oslo Airport where art treasures are being held in an attempt to to root out the channels Sator is using and tries to avert the end of the world as Sator’s suicide mission takes hold … With a hi-vis jacket and a clipboard you can get in practically anywhere in the world. The ongoing paradox – one of many – in the latest offering from writer/director Christopher Nolan – is that in a world of special effects he does his filmmaking in camera and this has an admirably real feeling, with a lot of it shot in gloomy European cities that mostly look alike – grey, with brutalist tower blocks and dull skies. It’s the dystopic vision that J.G. Ballard satirised while predicting the future, a time when Alain Resnais was pioneering storytelling backwards and forwards through time yet the Sixties feeling is very now. The palindromic inventiveness lies in the story structure, the characterisation and the trust in the audience. Of course it helps  that this tale of a man with the power of apocalypse in his nasty Eastern European paws with the foreknowledge informing his every move is released to a Covid-19 world where people wear masks and dread the end of days, rather like here (when they’re not masked they’re bearded, which is pretty much the same thing). That it also takes the long tall Sally from TV’s espionage hit adaptation of John le Carre’s The Night Manager and puts her in a markedly similar role doesn’t go amiss. These realistic meta touches – with Branagh’s horrifying oligarch resident in London – grip the narrative to something close to recognisable quotidian newspaper headlines; while the parallel lines of future-past intersect in the ‘inverted’ nodes that splatter in all directions. It may be that after one hundred minutes when they decide to return to Oslo and they mean go back in time to Oslo that the plot becomes not just far fetched but out of reach to the ordinary pea brain, or someone who thinks in too linear a fashion, as soldier Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) chides The Protagonist. As ever, we must remember that future and past selves best not meet each other or else – annihilation. There are boys’ own fantasies writ large – joyriding an aeroplane and causing a horrifying amount of damage, an exhilarating catamaran race, an astonishing quasi-hijacking which can’t possibly go well with all that time travel inversion stuff, great military hardware for the penultimate sequence and the unpeeling of The Protagonist aka The American who starts out from a very bad place indeed and is literally reconstituted to do his worst.  The entire narrative is based on one diadic exchange:  What just happened here?/ It didn’t happen yet! It’s a different experience than Inception which was all about a built world inhabited by a featureless character – a video game, in any language. Yet we can see all the references from the Airport movies, through Terry Gilliam and The Thomas Crown Affair in this timeblender. Branagh is such an evil bad guy you expect him to tell Washington he expects him to die while twirling his comedy moustache. Pattinson might well be reprising his T.E. Lawrence  in those early sweaty linen suits. How you appear is all, as Michael Caine’s Sir Michael Crosby informs Washington – less Brooks Brothers, more Savile Row tailoring. They are men on a mission but not Men in Black. This all concludes in the abject maternal being resolved in pleasing fashion, a not unfamiliar trope in Nolan’s body of work; the opportunity to rewrite your life is presented here in key moments. There is one huge technical problem with the film that damages the plot clarity and that is the woeful sound mix, leaving much dialogue lost in the guttural music of Ludwig Goransson while revelling in the sheer kinetic drive of the action. It’s not too late in this digital age to whip up some new codes to tidy it up, is it? Maybe just ratchet up the EQs a tad. In the interim, relish the historical possibilities of film editing in this awesome mosaic of affect and attractions and heed the advice given in soothing voice early on, Don’t try to understand it – feel it. Welcome back, Cinema.

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