maandag 13 maart 2017

Hitchcock



HITCHCOCK (20112, Sacha Gervasi)

A screen adaptation of Steven Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho (1990). The movie covers a brief but crucial part in the famous director’s life and career in which he made a daring career movie and saved his mariage with his partner and creative partner Alma Reville.

In 1959 Alfred Hitchcock was one of the world’s most famous movie directors, but some of latest projects had generated mixed comments. Most people saw Hitchcock as a director of elegant and sophisticated spy thrillers and when he declared that his next movie would be an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a horror novel based on the life of real-life murderer Ed Gein, the people around him were shocked. Even his wife and live-long creative partner Alma had doubts about it. But Hitch simply wouldn’t give up the idea of making a horror movie about a voyeuristic serial killer with Oedipal obsessions. Eventually he would put virtually everything he had in jeopardy in order to make the movie: his reputation, his possessions and even his marriage.

As said the movie is based on Steven Rebello’s book, but unlike the book, the movie shifts the focus away from the making of Psycho and concentrates more on Hitchcock’s personal life. Initially the script was more concerned with Hitch’s obsessions, notably his sexual frustrations in relation to the blonde actresses in his movies, but director Gervasi feared that the movie would stir the same controversy as the Tv-movie The Girl, based on Tippi Hedren’s autobiografy, in which Hitchcock was described as a sexual preditor. Therefore Hitch’s relationship with his wife and creative partner Alma Reville was brought more central to the plot. Helen Mirren turns in an excellent performance - as always - as Alma, but also leads the movie away from the person and the things most viewers will be interested in: the famous director and the creative process of making the movie called Psycho.

As a result Hitchock, the movie, is a bit of a half-baked affair. We see Hitch on and off the set, spying on his actresses, having discussions with producers, censors, reporters (and with an imaginary Ed Gein!), but we get no real insight in his persona and learn more about the director’s boulemia than about his sexual frustrations, more about his marriage than about his art. In the end Hitch & Alma would’ve been a more appropriate title. Johansson and Biel are endearing as, respectively, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, and they have a tickling conversation about the director in a dressing room, but the scene is cut short as soon as our curiosity is provoked. Like so many things in this movie.

And what about Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the master of suspense? The prostetics by makeup-artist Howard Berger are impressive and Hopkins is struggling very hard, but he’s better at imitating Hitchcock’s movements than his trademark slow speech. Anthony never becomes Alfred. His Hitch remains Hop.

Note:

* See: https://www.fastcocreate.com/1682054/see-how-anthony-hopkins-was-transformed-into-alfred-hitchcock (Scroll down to see a 1 minute clip of the transformation)


A Dandy in Aspic - When Leonardo was gone ...



A DANDY IN ASPIC
When Leonardo was gone ...

Dir: Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey - Cast: Laurence Harvey (Eberlin), Tom Courtenay (Gatiss), Mia Farrow (Caroline), Harry Andrews (Frazer), Peter Cook (Prentiss), Lionel Stander (Sobakovitch), Per Oscarsson (Pavel), Barbara Murray (Miss Vogler)

This was Anthony Mann's final directional job; he died of a heart attack during production and the movie was finished by the film's star, Laurence Harvey. It was based on a novel with the same title by Derek Marlowe, who also scripted, but later fell out with Harvey (*1).

It's a Cold War thriller, offering a grim and bleak image of intelligence work, closer to John Le Carré than to James Bond. The premise is somewhat daring, as the movie's protagonist is a Russian counter-intelligence agent who has ensconced himself within British intelligence under the name of Eberlin. He has lost interest in the job and therefore wants to go back to his home country, but The Russians won't allow him to quit and he is sent by his British employer to Berlin in order to eliminate a double agent who has murdered several British spies. Of course the man he's supposed to kill, is his own alter ego ...

The movie was not born under a lucky star. Derek Marlowe had been very unhappy with Laurence Harvey in the first place and he felt Harvey had done an awful job taking over from Mann:

" (...) The director, Anthony Mann, died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and [his work] was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin.  He directed his own mis-talent, changed [the movie] and the script – which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up her portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.” (*2)

Critics never showed much sympathy for what they considered as a Harvey movie rather than a Mann movie and over the years they have been panning it relentlessly. In the meantime paparazzi had more attention for Mia Farrow (who has a small role as Harvey's love interest) and her behavior on and off the set. Her marriage with Frank Sinatra was soon to be on the rocks and rumors were spread that she was having an affair with Harvey.

The movie itself is not perfect, and we can only guess how much better it would've been had Mann finished it, but it still deserves some attention. Harvey may not have been a good director but I thought his low-key performance of the man pursuing his own shadow was quite convincing. Tom Courtenay is also very good as his British colleague, an almost psychotic character (as dedicated to the job as Harvey is indifferent) who is sent to Berlin to keep an eye on things. There are too many uninspired scenes and the twist ending seems to defy any logic (even that of a spy thriller), but the image of a disillusioned, desperate man trying to escape from a line of work he no longer believes in, is intriguing. The sparse action moments are brief but quite intense and the final moment on the airport hits bull's eye.

As said the dour, gloomy atmosphere is closer to Le Carré than to 007, but the movie features a Moneypenny type of secretary (played by Barbara Murray) who is madly in love with Eberlin. I suppose she was one of the things Mona Lisa came up with when Leonardo was gone ...

Notes:

* (1) I haven't read the novel by Derek Marlowe; maybe the title is explained in the book, the movie doesn't provide any clue as to what it's supposed to mean.



donderdag 6 oktober 2016

Le Pacha



Le Pacha

1968 - Dir: Georges Lautner - Cast: Jean Gabin (Commissaire Joss, Le Pacha), André Pousse (Quinquin), Robert Dalman (Inspecteur Gouvion), Dany Carrel (Nathalie), Jean Gaven (Marc), Maurice Garrel (Brunet)


I continued my journey through French cinema history with this police-gangster movie starring a 64-year old Jean Gabin as a police officer who discovers that his colleague and best friend, who has committed suicide (or was murdered) was a 'dirty cop'; in order to clean the person's name, Gabin becomes more than a bit dirty himself.

The film opens with an ingenious robbery, ending in slaughter, with the criminal mastermind killing all of his partners in crime. It's a well-conceived, protracted sequence, clearly influenced by the works of Jean-Pierre Melville, but unfortunately the rest of the film is not on the same level. The premise of the police commissioner who wants to settle (and cover up) a few things in the last months before his retirement, is interesting, but the movie never lives up to its full potential. The plot involves links between nightclub owners, racketeers, dancers and corrupt police men and we get a couple of seemingly interminable scenes set in 'hip' Parisian nightclubs. Things picks up again near the end, with a fairly good finale set in an empty warehouse.

There are a few good jokes on dialogue level - basically wise-cracks in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett - but Gabin is mumbling his lines, and the abundant use of argot (French slang) makes some of the dialogue virtually unintelligible. Le Pacha remains watchable - all in all it's a decent police thriller - but considering the talent involved, it's a disappointment.


Note: Serge Gainsbourg has a cameo in a sound studio; he also sings the theme song: Requiem pour un con (Requiem for a sonnavabitch)





zaterdag 20 augustus 2016

Que la Bête meure




Que la Bête Meure is the middle part of Claude Chabrol’s Bourgeois Trilogy (the other two parts are La Femme Infidèle/The Unfaithful Wife and Le Boucher/The Butcher). Chabrol is often compared to Hitchcock, and like many other of his movies, Que la Bête Meure is labeled as a thriller, but it's not a suspense yarn - at least not in the strict sense of the term - but rather a study in loneliness and suppressed emotions; it's also a profound essay about iniquity, guilt and existential angst.

When on holiday in Brittany, Charles Thénier’s nine-year-old son is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Charles is a widower and his son was all he had in life. He therefore swears to track down the man who was behind the wheel and kill him in cold blood. He even swears to kill him slowly, so the beast will suffer and understand he’s dying.

The police investigation and his own quest remain unsuccessful, but then, purely by accident, Charles discovers that one of the people in the car was a woman, a local celebrity, an actress called Hélène Lanson. Charles soon finds out that it was not Hélène who drove the car, but her brother-in-law, Paul. He also discovers that Hélène suffered a nervous breakdown after the accident and that her career was ruined because of her mental illness. Like his own son, Hélène was a victim of the beast. The two lonely people fall in love, but they never talk to each other about their worst fears and obsessions.

Que la bête meure starts as a vengeance tale but Chabrol comes up with a series of subtle shifts in tone and perspective, that make use view things from a slightly different angle. Little by little we get to know this beast, step by step we get more familiar with his relatives, his wife and son, who also fear and hate him, but we also become aware of Charles's situation: his life was over after the death of his son, but Hélène, who sincerely loves him, has thrown him a new lifeline, a reason to live, even a new family, and if he will fulfill his mission, he will destroy all things dear to him.

In the English speaking world, the original title was translated as This Man Must Die, betraying Chabrol’s intentions and misinterpreting the title completely. Chabrol’s universe is not is not one of black and white, of good versus bad, and this is not a simple revenge movie. The title was taken from the Bibliblical book of Ecclesiasts (3:19) (*1)

« Car le sort des fils de l'homme et celui de la bête sont pour eux un même sort ; comme meurt l'un, ainsi meurt l'autre. »

(For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.)

Que la bête meure is a quiet film, the atmosphere is brooding but tranquil and even Pierre Jansen's score - usually a counterpoint to Chabrol's reticent style, is a reserved one. But underneath the surface things are slowly heating up to boiling point and the suppressed emotions are reflected by Jean Rabier's camerawork and Jacques Gaillard editing techniques. Rabier uses unusual, even disorienting angles when filming the wild and harsh Breton landscape and Gaillard's occasionally uses intense cross-cutting to 'cut' the quiet atmosphere and emphasize imminent danger (in the first minutes scenes of the kid quietly walking away from the beach are alternated by the car - howling like a beast - on its way to town). In the end we only get the confirmation that the beast is dead, but we do not know who killed him; we have an idea, but cannot be absolutely sure, and his death offers no relief to any of the characters.


Note:

* (1) Chabrol's regular soundtrack composer, Pierre Jansen, interpolates a piece of Brahms' Vier Ernste Gesänge in his film score (Opus 121), sung by Kathleen Ferrier, the text expresses the same idea: "Denn es gehet dem Menschen wie dem Vieh" (The sort of man is the sort of the beast)

Director: Claude Chabrol - cast: Michel Duchaussoy (Charles), Jean Yanne (Paul), Caroline Cellier (Helene), Anouk Ferjac (Jeanne), Marc Di Napoli (Philippe Decourt)



vrijdag 20 mei 2016

Riddick



RIDDICK

2013 - Director: David Twohy - Cast: Vin Diesel (Riddick), Matthew Nable (Johns), Jordi Mollà (Santana), Katee Sackoff (Dahl), Dave Bautista (Diaz), Bokeem Woodbine (Moss), Raoul Trujillo (Lockspur), Conrad Pla (Vargas)

It doesn’t happen very often that a sequel is superior to the original. We all know the exceptions (The Godfather II, The Road Warrior, Return of Ringo, a few more). I would like to add Riddick to the list, the third installment in the Riddick saga, featuring Vin Diesel as the titular hero. It’s by no means a perfect movie (it’s derivative and too much of everything) but it’s a helluva ride through a hell that is No Fury.

Riddick emerges from what looks like a natural grave on a desolate planet; he’s approached by a vulture-like creature that seems to take him for a happy meal, but the next moment the roles are reversed when Riddick grabs the scavenger by the throat. Ugh. We never learn the name of the planet, are only told - by Riddick himself - that it’s not his home planet, Furya. It’s a barren world, populated by carnivorous creatures - hyena-like dogs, scorpion-like swamp monsters - that are all hungry. Riddick is still one of the most wanted men in the universe, so he lures two teams of bounty killers ('mercs') to the planet in the hope to steal one of their space ships. He starts stalking both groups, eliminating them one by one, but is eventually forced to cooperate with the remaining members (those not yet killed) in order to fight off a new load of beasts.

Riddick feels very much like three movies for the price of one; most critics thought the first half hour - Riddick fighting the hyena’s and scorpions - was the best, but I thought the second part - Riddick stalking the bounty hunters - was equally good. In this second part Riddick becomes a creature in the dark, invisible most of the time, but a constant threat to those who have come looking for him. It’s a daring approach, turning Riddick into a supporting actor in his own movie, but it works thanks to contrast between the two bounty hunters, the buoyant Santana and the stoic Johns, and the presence of Johns’s second-in-command, female warrior Dahl (always good to have a woman around in those male chauvenist action movies).

The weakest link is, obviously, the third and final act, Riddick joining forces with the remaining mercs (short for mercenaries). It picks up the central idea of the first movie, Pitch Black, but it feels more like Jurassic Riddick, with velociraptor-like creatures attacking the stronghold in which Riddick and the mercs have taken shelter. Moreover director/screenwriter Twohy fails to come up with a satisfying conclusion. The Director’s Cut is about 8 minutes longer than the theatrical version (and a bit more revealing about how and why Riddick crash-landed on this remote planet and what happened to other key characters of the series, such as Vaako), but it all remains a bit inconclusive.

As said this is a derivative movie. There are shades from Predator, Aliens, Jurassic Park and - of course - the Mad Max saga (more and more Riddick is becoming the Milky Way warrior). Film buffs will also spot influences from classic movies as various as Howard Hawks Rio Bravo and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia; the opening scene - the hand grabbing the vulture’s neck - was taken from one of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan novels. But it doesn’t hurt the movie. Vin Diesel, who co-produced, seems to be at ease in this fancy world of matte paintings and fantasy creatures. His Riddick has become a character of flesh & blood, almost human, who domesticates one of the hyena-like predators and is really pissed-off when his companion is killed by one of the bounty killers. 






donderdag 5 mei 2016

Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio




PASSI DI DANZA SU UNA LAMA DI RASOIO (Death Carries a Cane)

1973 - Dir: Maurizio Pradeaux - Robert Hoffmann (Alberto Morosini), Nieves Navarro (Kitty), George Martin (Inspector Merughi), Anuska Borova (Lidia Arrighi/ Silvia Arrighi), Simón Andreu (Marco), Sal  Borgese (Asdrubale Magno), Luciano Rossi (Richard) - Music: Roberto Pregadio


Oh, Italian genre movies and their titles. The original Italian title, Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio, reads as Dance Steps on a Razor Blade. And what to think of the German title, Die Nacht der Rollenden Köpfe (that is: The Night of the Rolling Heads)? In comparison, the title of the international, English language version almost feels insipid : Death Carries a Cane. But note that Death once rode a horse in a spaghetti western. From horse to cane is big step for mankind, but a small step for Mr. Death.

A black-clad serial killer is terrorizing the city of Rome, slicing the throats of his victims with a razor blade. A young woman called Kitty accidently witnesses one of the murders through a telescope; she only catches a glimpse of the killer’s black gloves and black hat and is therefore not able to identify him. Police inspector Merughi has only one clue: the maniac is carrying a cane, so he must be a cripple ... Suspicions fasten on Kitty’s husband, Alberto, a professional photographer with a preference for the macabre. Alberto is limping because he recently sprained his ankle ... Did Alberto or didn’t he?

Passi etc. has an international (but predominantly Spanish) cast and most actors neither look nor behave Italian (and a pimped-up Martin looks more like a gangster than a police captain!), but the director and composer are Italian and with the Roman settings, black gloves and sharp blades the movie has all the visual and atmospheric characteristics of a genuine giallo. The mystery plot and the motivation of the killer might be a bit too typical, but these movies are more about style than about plot, and in sense of style, director Pradeaux does score a few points. The finale is particularly strong, with Navorro being trapped inside a glass house, the killer stalking her, the beams of his flashlight piercing the night like sharp knives.

The movie offers the ususual doses of nudity and blood, but some stock material was inserted to make the graphic killings look more convincing, but the effect is counterproductive; with their different color pattern and definition, the insertions give the slasher scenes an untidy, occasionally cheap look. Both Navarro and the virtually unknown Borova* - in dual role - are gorgeous, so I have no complaints about the nudity.


Note:

* According to IMDB this was her only movie appearance


maandag 4 april 2016

Sleeper



SLEEPER (1973)

Dir: Woody Allen - Cast: Woody Allen (Miles Monroe), Diane Keaton (Luna Schlosser), John Beck (Erno Windt), Mary Gregory (Dr. Melik), Don Keefer (Dr. Tryon), John McLiam (Dr. Aragon), Bartlett Robinson (Dr. Orva)

A nice combination of slapstick, social comment and Woody’s typical verbal sparrings (with reality, fantasy and Diane Keaton). Woody himself plays Miles Monroe, a clarinetist player and owner of a health food shop from 1973, who was put to a hibernation sleep after a small surgery went wrong; he wakes up 200 years later, when some overzealous scientists run a few tests with him. America has become a police state and because the scientists were members of the rebellion, Miles becomes a wanted creature, referred to as ‘the intruder’; the only way to escape: going undercover as Diane Keaton’s household robot!

Sleeper is more coherent than some of Woody’s other early efforts, which were shot in a tell-the-joke-and-run fashion. It’s the first of four movies he wrote with Marshall Brickman, the other three being Annie Hall, Manhattan and Manhatten Murder Mystery (that was written in the seventies but only brought to the screen two decades later). It's tempting to credit Brickman for the more coherent plot, but by this time Woody was also becoming a real film maker instead of a stand-up comedian making movies; the movie is well-crafted, and immensily helped by a great production design (the architecture of the future world is pure magic) and an energetic jazz score.

It holds up quite well after nearly forty years even if it it’s not always as funny and spirited as Woody (and his fans) might have thought back then. It’s a great idea, but it’s also one of those ideas that might have worked better on a shorter format: the comedy falls flat in the final twenty minutes or so. But if it works, it works marvelously. According to Woody himself, the comedy is a homage to two of his favorite comedians, Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. I’d say Chaplin (who’s hardly ever mentioned by Allen) was a source of inspiration as well.