The Lady Vanishes (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 1938

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The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 comedy/thriller classic of the British Film Industry. It was Hitchcock’s breakout success and convinced David O. Selznick to offer him a seven feature deal in Hollywood. It was Michael Redgrave’s first movie part. Margaret Lockwood was already a leading lady, but this was her biggest film to date. It is also notable for being the first appearance of Charters and Caldicott a cricket obsessed comedy duo who were very famous throughout the 1940s.

The film was a huge hit, not only in the UK but also in the US, where it won the New York Times award for best film of 1938. The crime/suspense element of the film is very good with a very clever intricate story. The comedy is genuinely funny, the leading couple have great chemistry and their bickering is arch and witty. The supporting characters add to the entertainment, whether its the whimsical humour of Wayne and Radford as Charters and Caldicott, the slapstick of  Emile Boreo as the Hotel Manager, or even the awkward situational comedy of “Mr and Mrs” Todhunter.

This movie is almost 80 years old, so there are parts which seem unsophisticated from a modern perspective, but for me, this adds to its charm. I love the opening scene, where the avalanche has delayed the train. To our refined eye, it is patently a set up model, but although we know this, it works perfectly well and sets the stage to start the story.

It is one of the films that contains the traditional Hitchcock cameo, very near the end of the film, he appears on Victoria station. Although he was nominated at the Academy awards, as best director, five times, he never won any of them. So this movie was his only award for best director, he won the New York Times award in 1939. This film is a significant piece of British cinema history as well as being a very enjoyable watch.

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Victim (dir. Basil Dearden) 1961

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Victim is a classic movie in so many different ways. It is a great representative of the black and white, crime thriller, genre of the early 1960s. The storyline is good, it is well told and the suspense will keep you interested right until the finale.  It is a fantastic British movie, made in the Pinewood studios with high production values. It has all the hallmarks of British film making at the time. The dialogue is clipped and the characters are bristling with repressed emotion.

It has a wonderful setting with splendid views of London just before the start of the swinging ’60s. St Martin’s Lane and Cecil Court are still recognisable, with Oliver! playing at what is now the Noel Coward Theatre. There are also nice shots of Millbank, Soho and the Thames. The pub scenes were filmed in a real pub, The Salisbury, on the corner of St Martins Lane, which was a gay pub until the 1980s. The pub is still there today and still has the Victorian fixtures and fittings seen in the film.

 

Victim has a courageous and dashing performance by Dirk Bogarde who risked his matinee idol status by taking on such a controversial role. He was a male romantic lead, so playing a man with homosexual tendencies, constrained though they may have been, would have put this career in jeopardy. He is excellent in the role and apparently he added the line “I wanted him!” which almost had the film banned. Sylvia Syms puts in a good performance as his unfulfilled wife, wavering between hurt and compassion. The whole cast is excellent and there are recognisable faces throughout the film.

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This was a shocking film when it came out in 1961 and it almost did not get past either the British or American censors at the time. It was the first film to use the word homosexual and it was the first mainstream movie to allude to it in a non negative manner.  It was this, that made it a danger to public morals and gave it the X rating that it received when it was released. Homosexuality is not the direct subject matter, but a blackmail ring that was targeting the frequenters of a gay pub. This was a common occurrence at the time as homosexual relations were an offence that could land one in jail and would certainly ruin a career.

While this film, itself, did not advocate gay rights, its sympathetic portrayal of some gay characters allowed the conversation to begin and this will have helped to bring about the change in the law six years later. Victim often appears in lists of all time greatest films, and it was certainly a brave and groundbreaking piece of film making.  Whether you are interested in the history of cinema, or the history of gay rights then you should see this movie. It is being shown currently at the BFI on the south bank as part of the gross indecency season, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, but it very often included in retrospective seasons of gay film, British film, or classic crime thrillers.

Of course, most importantly of all, it is a very enjoyable film to watch!

Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy) 2007

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The story of a giant multi national company and the lawyers who sold their souls to defend them. Let’s get the bad out of the way first, the storyline seems a bit hackneyed now and there are a couple of minor plot holes where you have to work to suspend your disbelief. However, these points aside, this is a most enjoyable film. This movie is a thriller and although we aware right from the start which are the good guys and which are the baddies, we are never quite sure how it will all turn out.

The acting is spectacular. Tilda Swinton won, a well deserved, Oscar for her portrayal of a stressed out legal advisor. George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson were both nominated for theirs. The script is great; sharp, real, and occasionally bruising. The direction is clever and taut, even though it is just under two hours long, there is no let up in the action. It is hard to believe that this is Tony Gilroy’s first film, you wonder how he managed to get a studio to trust him with either the budget or stars. However the trust was justified,  he manages to keep the viewer on edge, even though you can sometimes guess where the plot is going. The ending is quick, clean and satisfying.

This film was on many best of year lists, it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including best film and best director.  Michael Clayton is a classic example of its genre, definitely worth watching.

Side Effects (dir. Steven Soderbergh) 2013

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Side effects is an interesting psychological thriller. The story is good; with a number of twists and turns along the way. The subject matter is pretty dark; involving the marketing and side effects of prescribed medication.

None of the major characters in the film are nice people, all of them are manipulative and duplicitous, so it is hard to feel empathy when bad things happen to them.
Having said that, Rooney Mara and Jude Law both put in compelling performances. Steven Soderbergh is a reliably good director, and the direction of this film suits the subject matter well. The setting is modern urban and you are made to feel the adversity and frustrations of their day-to-day life.

The dialogue is sharp and the story is clever, a Hitchcock style chiller, that enjoyed a revival in the 1980s, but is out of fashion now.  I dislike how calculating everybody turns out to be; every character is using everybody else with no regard to their welfare or needs. Perhaps this is a comment on the pharmacological industry, but it feels implied of the world in general and this is too dystopian an outlook to make easy viewing. The problem is, the acting and directing are good, so you can see their motivation and at times it is tempting to believe that it could be true.

In summary, this is a well made movie, that seems little too cold and analytical for its own good now; however, in the future, with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible,  that this might be one of those films that we look back on as capturing the mood of the world at that time. I hope not, but I want someone remind me to watch it again in 15 years time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

Tower Block (dir. James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson) 2012

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This is a no nonsense, horror/thriller movie. It is set on the top floor of a tower block that is about to be demolished. It is a British film and has an excellent British cast. It moves along exactly as you would expect, but the action is taut and interaction between characters manage to keep good tension going throughout he film.

Sheridan Smith, Russell Tovey, Ralph Brown and Jack O’Connell are all very good as the resourceful tower block inhabitants attempting to escape their situation, while quarrelling amongst themselves.  The set is excellent, the block is scuzzy, the area urban, the setting is as bleak as the position the tenants find themselves in.

The characters are flawed, but real, and there is not much pretense of politeness between them. The script is good and we grow to know, even if we don’t necessarily like, the protagonists. We want them succeed and applaud their increasingly desperate ingenuity.

This type of film generally follows a set narrative arc and the denouement is much as you would expect. There aren’t many surprises here, but it is a likeable film and very good at what it does.

Recommended.

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Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) 2015

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Green Room is marketed as a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It is actually a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It delivers.

There is lots of blood, lots of violence, lots of aggression. There are plenty of thrills, many tense moments. It has a good cast, some dark humour and a loud indie/punk soundtrack.

It has Anton Yelchin as Pat, a guitarist in a punk rock band who witnesses a death. It has Imogen Poots as Amber, who turns out to be very handy with a knife and not at all squeamish about using it. It has Patrick Stewart as Darcy, a white supremacist with a small army of thugs and attack dogs at his disposal. He is brilliantly menacing and when he says near the start of the film “Let’s be clear. It won’t end well” you truly believe him.

Slash horror movies are not usually the type of film that I choose to watch, but a good movie is a good movie and this is well written, well directed and well acted.

In short, it is an excellent example of its genre. If you like violent thriller, gory horror movies you will enjoy this.