Jan 4, 2010

The Week in Movies 1

28/12/2009 - 3/01/2010

DIR: Claude Chabrol

One of Chabrol’s justly celebrated Helene cycle of films, which usually deal with a fractious marriage, which often takes in both infidelity and murder and always star his then wife Stephane Audran as Helene. Here Audran is married to a drug addict who, in the opening scene, assaults both her and their young son. Understandably she leaves him, but her rich in laws take their son’s side and hire a private detective (Jean-Pierre Cassel) to discredit Helene, and ensure that she loses custody of her son.

For most of its two hour running time this is a tense thriller, powered by excellent performances from Cassell, Michel Bouquet as the father in law and the outstanding Audran, who is more sympathetic here than usual. In the film’s third act Chabrol mounts an outstanding series of sequences as the detective attempts to create evidence against Helene, but unfortunately, with ten minutes to go, the film runs a little off the rails with a twist and effects that, while they must have seemed trendy in 1970, now feel very dated. It’s a shame, because most of La Rupture packs a real punch. However, this is a minor sag in what is a largely excellent, and visually rather inventive, film from Chabrol.

DIR: Gaylene Preston
This independent New Zealand film starts promisingly, with a creepy Sam Neill kidnapping and attempting to romance Rachael Blake, but what could have been a tense little thriller loses traction quickly thanks to some risible plot developments. Gaylene Preston is attempting to say something about obsession, and even about Stockholm syndrome, but with a short timeline, a screenplay that never gives its characters much real depth and a middling performance from Blake she’s fighting a losing battle. It’s a nice idea, but chalk this one up as a missed opportunity, despite nice work from Sam Neill.

DIR: David Dobkin

I can’t figure out what this film wanted to be. Is it a comedy? Certainly it’s not funny. Is it a drama? Well, it’s not very engaging. Is it serial killer movie? It’s got nothing to say about crime or criminals. Clay Pigeons sees Joaquin Phoenix suspected of being a serial killer, while he knows that it’s actually his new ‘buddy’ Vince Vaughn. He’s being pursued by an FBI agent played by, of all people, Jeneane Garolalo, whose undoubted comic talents go totally unutilised. Everyone seems to be in a different film; Vaughn is playing broad, for laughs that just aren’t there, Garofalo looks utterly lost without any comedy to play, and Phoenix mumbles his entire part at the floor, so you can’t hear what movie he’s in.

Dobkin, who has since directed Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus (nice career, Dave), shows no visual flair, and at one point there’s a continuity flaw so glaring I can’t believe that nobody fired the editor. It’s a formless, purposeless, mess of a movie.

DIR: Claude Chabrol

Chabrol’s 2003 film is a rather typical tale of upper middle class corruption and murder. It concerns the secrets, both present and long buried, of the Charpin-Vasseur family, secrets threatened to be revealed when as Anne Charpi-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye) runs, against the wishes of her husband, for re-election to local office.

The Flower of Evil is a pretty simple, but very tidy thriller. Chabrol is an old master, and he handles both camera and actors with an assured and practiced hand. Baye is excellent as the relatively inexperienced but sharp politician while Benoit Magimel (a frequent collaborator in Chabrol’s later period) and Mélanie Doutey give strong performances as the pseudo incestuous step siblings trying to hide their relationship from their respective parents. A relatively minor Chabrol then, but typically well made and entertaining all the same.

DIR: Jacques Rivette

This is the third film I've seen about Joan of Arc, and another magnificent piece of work that can easily stand alongside both Dreyer and Bresson's films. Rivette's treatment is epic in both scope (covering the last two years of Jeanne's life, rather than zooming in, as the other filmmakers did, on her trial and execution) and in length (five and a half hours, across two very arbitrarily divided parts titled The Battles and The Prisons). In truth Sandrine Bonnaire, in her mid twenties at the time, is a little old to play the 17 - 19 year old Jeanne but that ceases to matter because her performance, which holds centre stage for the entire running time, is remarkable. She portrays Jeanne as a young woman of quiet, yet extraordinary, strength, resolve and faith. You believe that the men she ends up leading would indeed follow this young girl.

Jacques Rivette knows his strengths as a filmmaker, and that they don't really include action, and so the battles themselves are mostly offscreen, detailled by testimony. This may frustrate some, but it makes clear what the film is trying to do, it's an exploration of Jeanne as a person, as a leader, it's not an action movie. What action there is well enough done though, and Sandrine Bonnaire, impressively, does almost all of her own stunt work. The other thing that Rivette misses out is the trial, cutting directly to the sentencing, with a caption that may as well read 'rent the Dreyer or the Bresson'.

Rivette and Bonnaire have here presented the most complete portrait of this extraordinary young woman, it may be slowly paced, and light on action, but the full five and a half hours of this film is a riveting experience and well worth your time for that exceptional central performance.

DIR: Julie Ng
This documentary on the making of Willard, by director Glen Morgan’s young assistant, is notable chiefly for its extraordinary access. The on set scenes are pretty typical, if extremely candid, BTS fare. It’s when the film is finished that this documentary becomes fascinating, as Ng candidly documents the process of cutting the film for a PG13 rating, the soul destroying test screenings and the reshoots to make an ending more palatable and commercial. It’s an impressive insight to a world we seldom see clearly.

DIR: Jens Hoffman

I’ve seen several documentaries about pornography (more in fact than I’ve seen porn films) ranging from the almost jaunty Pornstar: The Legend of Ron Jeremy to the unbelievably disturbing Hardcore (which REALLY needs to be released on DVD). Jens Hoffman’s long film falls somewhere in the middle. It’s failing is perhaps in trying to do too much. He touches on so many interesting stories (that of husband and wife pornstars Otto Bauer and Audrey Hollander, that of rising star Sasha Grey, the sad story of Katja Kassin, the inspiring Dr Sharon Mitchell) but he doesn’t take the time to fully explore them. Each story here could well be its own documentary (especially that of Sasha Grey, who is incredibly intelligent and simply oozes charisma) and jamming them all together doesn’t serve them brilliantly.

However, as a patchwork of the modern porn industry 9to5 is intriguing. At times it is a deeply sad film, but then there are people (like Belladonna and the aforementioned Grey) who seem to have their heads and hearts in the right place, and give you a little hope. At times (as when we see Sophie Dee doing what is apparently her first anal scene, and being roughly treated for her trouble) it is difficult to watch, and for a film with much hardcore sex in it it is certainly never arousing, but 9to5 is always interesting. In fact it’s so interesting that I wondered if it would have made a better TV series, where each story could really be given its due attention.

DIR: Paul Davis
At 97 minutes this a pretty exhaustive exploration of the making of An American Werewolf in London. Director Paul Davis touches on all the questions fans will want asked, and gets almost everyone associated with the film to talk candidly about it. The only real downside to Beware the Moon is the presence of a presenter, who is completely pointless, has nothing to add to proceedings and looks like he’d rather be shot with a silver bullet than present this film.

DIR: Claude Chabrol

Another strong thriller from Claude Chabrol. This one boasts an edgy performance from Jean Poiret as Inspector Lavardin, whose violent investigatory techniques lead him to conspiracy and murder surrounding property developers trying to force a disabled woman (Charol’s by now ex wife and frequent collaborator Stephane Audran) and her teenage son (Lucas Belvaux, who has gone on to become a director of some note himself) out of their home.

All the ingredients of a vintage Chabrol are present and correct, and the film features some strong sequences and nice performances, but Audran is inconsistent and the twist involving her character blindingly obvious, and that undermines the film somewhat. Still, Cop au Vin (and, by the way, et's just take a second to enjoy that pun) is mostly tasty and I’m anxious to follow Poiret’s interesting character and powerful performance to the sequel; Inspector Lavardin.

DIR: Brian Helgeland

I haven’t seen Brian Helgeland’s disowned directorial debut since it was in cinemas, and so I don’t remember it especially well, though I remember not liking it much at the time. This Director’s cut though is an interesting beast. It’s ten minutes shorter, at a brisk 90, than the theatrical cut and it has a nicely consistent dark, mean spirited tone to it.

Based on the same source material as Point Blank, Payback sees Porter (Mel Gibson) on a violent mission to claim the money that was stolen from him back from the mob. It’s a nasty tale, filled with violence, profanity and strong guest turns from fine character actors (David Paymer is great as a slimy low level mobster and Maria Bello, who has since matured into one of America’s most interesting and individual actresses, makes an impression as a hooker with a soft spot for Porter).

Helgeland’s stylish direction and his blacker than black script suggest that he should have been given a chance to release his original dark vision to cinemas. It’s no lost classic, there are things here (Lucy Liu as a dominatrix) that just come off as silly, and the plot is a little too linear, often feeling like Porter is a computer game character always advancing to the next (mob) boss, but this version of Payback is more rewarding than I expected.

DIR: Roy William Neill

Ever since I first read about him some 15 years ago I’ve wanted to see one of Rondo Hatton’s films. Hatton plays the villainous, deformed, Creeper in this effective Sherlock Holmes film, starring the great Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as an amusingly bumbling Watson. At just 65 minutes the story is briskly told, though there’s not much time for any real character depth. Rathbone and Bruce are both excellent though, and bounce off each other nicely, while Evelyn Ankers makes for a beautiful and capable villainess. Rondo Hatton, his face deformed by acromegaly, is a striking silent presence in his first featured role and the whole thing is lensed with a little noirish style by Roy William Neill.

It was also interesting, having just seen Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, to note that a scene in which Lestrade has trouble saying the word ‘catatonic’ is drawn, word for word, from this film.

DIR: Lee Demarbre

Smash Cut is dedicated ‘to the life and art of Herschell Gordon Lewis’. I know that this is close to blasphemy for a gorehound, but I’ve never seen any of Lewis’ films and, having seen the appalling Smash Cut, I’m no longer sure I want to. There’s a nice idea here; a director of cheap horror films (played by Krug himself, David Hess) accidentally kills a woman, and to hide the body he cuts it up and uses it in his movie, when the footage is praised he keeps killing so he has more ‘prosthetics’. Unfortunately the idea is executed with all the panache of a terrible student film. The effects, even those that are supposed to be real body parts, are patently fake and poorly executed. The performances (including one by Sasha Grey, who promised so much in The Girlfriend Experience) are monotone and tedious and the direction is unimaginative and technically poor.

It may be that the makers of Smash Cut have ended up with exactly the shitty, cheesy mess they set out to make, but intentional or not this IS a shitty, cheesy mess.

DIR: Gerald McMorrow

Gerald McMorrow’s feature debut is an ambitious one, it follows four seemingly disparate characters in two separate worlds, which it then has to draw together. On top of this Franklyn also features a great deal of (generally decent) digital effects and quite a few complex action scenes, on a budget about the tenth of that of the Blockbusters it often resembles.

There are things in Franklyn that clunk, some writing that’s a little schematic, a few moments that spoonfeed the audience, but these are certainly outweighed by the times at which the film’s achievement matches the breadth of its ambition. The scenes in the futuristic dystopia of Meanwhile City are extremely well realised, with strong production design (with shades, it has to be said, of Dark City) and some excellent action sequences. It also introduces us to Preest (a typically strong performance from the much underrated Ryan Phillippe) whose look is one of the film’s strongest images, his impassive mask with its black holes for eyes as memorable an image as Rorschach’s mask in Watchmen.

In present day London Bernard Hill gives a fine performance as man looking for his missing son, Eva Green is suitably ethereal in a dual role as a depressed conceptual artist (whose project is, it has to be said, the film’s most tedious aspect) and as a warm primary school teacher and Sam Riley builds on his work in Control with an understated performance as the recently jilted Milo. The interest in the film is discovering how these characters all tie together, and so I shan’t discuss it here, but McMorrow draws his strands together in a clever and rather unexpected way, marking himself out as a talent to watch.

DIR: Sidney Lanfield
The first of Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce playing the iconic cinematic versions of Holmes and Watson, is based on the most famous of Conan-Doyle’s stories, and it’s a fun and engaging version.

There’s some very big acting here, notably an hilarious performance by Barlowe Borland, whose own Scottish accent is so broad that it actually sounds like a stereotypical comedy scotsman and there are some decidedly wooden turns too, from Richard Greene and Wendy Barrie as the film’s young lovers. However, Rathbone is a great Holmes and Nigel Bruce’s befuddled Watson is very funny indeed. The scenes on the moors look studio bound, but like the rest of the film they are stylish, and establish an iconic look for Holmes (much of the popular image comes not from Conan Doyle but from these films).

All in all this is a light, fast and efficient telling of a strong story, no classic perhaps, but a solid entertainment.

DIR: George Marshall

He’s not the best known of names, nor among the revered directors of Hollywood’s golden age, but George Marshall was clearly a skilled filmmaker. With a career that spanned nearly 60 years and almost 200 credits his resume is probably a mixed bag, but The Blue Dahlia is little short of a classic film noir.

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) comes home from the war to find that his wife (Doris Dowling) has become a drunk and is cheating on him, after an argument he leaves her. The next day Mrs Morrison is found murdered with her husband’s gun and Johnny finds himself on the run and getting mixed up in intrigue with his wife’s nightclub owning boyfriend (Howard Da Silva) and a gorgeous, mysterious blonde (Veronica Lake).

Marshall adheres to the classic noir style here, using deep blacks and brilliant whites, making use of inky shadows to create both atmosphere and the shape of his shots. It’s a beautiful looking film of the kind that simply doesn’t get made any more (I love neo-noir, but really, it’s a genre built for black and white). The script, by Raymond Chandler, is sharp as a knife, crackling with hardboiled dialogue and the cast deliver it beautifully. In a film full of strong performances, Doris Dowling stands out in the small part of Mrs Morrison, playing the role as if she were playing a spitting cobra, such venom is there in her every word. Veronica Lake was better known for her dazzling beauty than her acting (and here, in her mid twenties, she is lovelier than ever) but I liked her performance, if anything it’s a little more modern than the others, more natural, less affected.

If you’re even a little bit of a film noir fan then The Blue Dahlia ought to be at the top of your list of films to see, it’s a cracking thriller, stylishly made, with some strong acting, what more could you want?


  1. 9to5 sounds interesting.
    I really think someone should make an in-depth and hardcore porno documentary, exposing the industry for what it really is. I'll check this out to see how close it is to 'my vision', thanks for letting me know it exists Sam.

  2. Hey, that's what this idea is all about. Also, if you want to see the movie you are suggesting there then 9to5 is close (in that it does have hardcore material) but the Channel 4 documentary Hardcore (which I saw on its one and only broadcast, when you were about 9) punches harder, and is closer to waht you suggest. One of the rawest films I ever saw, that.

  3. La Rupture is one of the best movies ever made.
    if you don't get it, go watch avatar...

  4. again, if you don't get the last 10 min. of La Rupture (claude chabrol) go watch avatar, cause that's the kind of movie made for you...

  5. Anonymous: I did watch Avatar, and HATED every frame of it. Click on the 24FPS review archive to find the link.

  6. The hardest part while veiwing 9 to 5: Days In Porn was watching porn actress Audrey Hollander as she's completely condescended by and subserviant to her egotistical and trashy husband... I thought at first that maybe she was just less intellectual than I thought, but realized later that she may be on more drugs than they were showing. She looks and acts like a shell of a person and my heart really went out to her near the end, when she was feeling ill on set after using enemas for unatural things and her so called "husband" (who speaks for and controls her like a pimp) tells her to just "shake it off" and have a beer because she's due for another scene shortly. Then when she does this very hard core scene and is choked greatly by a very large man, she sits there with her eyes closed looking like she's about to die from receiving the worst beating ever! So, so sad... When the credits roll and they recap where everyone is a year later, all they have to say about Audrey is; "Audrey is better...". If that isn't the ultimate and purest form of abuse by one's self and the one they call "husband" caught on film, I don't know what is. I still feel it has a double meaning, where the creators also meant it to mean; "Audrey is better... than her controlling, masochistic husband" or even "Audrey is better... than all of this." I dare anyone who watches porn to watch this movie and read the true stories on www.shelleylubben.com and not feel complete remorse for the emotionally and physically abused women in this industry. I am personally shocked and disgusted.

    What I've learned (or already knew):
    - no amount of money is worth seriously hurting yourself or others...
    - real love means not asking for anything in return...
    - if something seems off or odd, it is...
    - we all have the power to control our own lives and obtain what we wish for...
    - treat others with respect and you'll get so much more back in return...

    P.S. - My heart goes out to all the women in this industry and especially you, Audrey. If you ever read this, it would do you well to really consider and digest the thoughts and lessons learned above.