Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)

***½
USA

Siblings Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey purchase a Cornish seaside mansion, despite its unusually low asking price, its attic that sends pets squealing to the neighbours, and its adjacency to a very steep cliff that formed the site of a suspicious death 17 years earlier. Sure enough, they find themselves caught up in a very polite but very watchable ghost story, with the exquisitely wooden Gail Russell as the maiden in peril and a lady called Cornelia Otis Skinner playing a graduate of the Gail Sondergaard School of Sapphism and Psychiatry. The spooky effects are that much more effective for bursting out amid all the light-hearted banter and irreproachable civility.

Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, 1995)

***

Hong Kong


Leon Lai plays an introspective hitman who wears shades and fires oceans of bullets at faceless, immaculately-tailored hoods in slow motion. Michele Reis is his nubile agent. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a mute because if he spoke he wouldn't be quirky or cutesy enough. They all have flawless skin.
Wong Kar-wai's feel for alluring imagery and stylish cutting is still palpable, but it's a comfort to know that he moved on to much more nutritious fare.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

****½
Spain/Switzerland

The corpulent, witty, tragi-comic Falstaff is very nearly Shakespeare's richest creation. Orson Welles recognised this when he morphed the two plays where the character pops up with bits of their prequel and sequel and some of Hollinshed's history lessons for context. It's one of the many potential Welles masterpieces hampered by dodgy production values, but Shakespeare has never felt more alive on-screen before or since. The movie is funny; it's bawdy; it's exciting; it's touching. And the battle at Shrewsbury would fit in comfortably among the greatest hits of Eisenstein and Kurosawa.

Grey Gardens (David and Albert Maysles, 1975)

****
USA

The Maysles were playing right into the Commies' hands with this portrait of the Edith Bouvier Beales - Jackie Kennedy's maladjusted aunt and cousin. You want to watch Western values and capitalism festering and decomposing? Behold. Try and look away.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)

***½
USA

In a style unfashionable in Hollywood since the 1970s but experiencing a resurgence of late, this thriller mixes strands of character study, political intrigue and questioning of corporate ethics with equal - and commendable - tenacity. It's flawed on a couple of levels - George Clooney's lead performance, although solid and photogenic, doesn't hint at layers that warrant the many pensive, protracted silent close-ups; and the flashback as a framing device is not only redundant but takes away from the tension build-up in the third act. But the majority duels and conversations are absorbing, and director Tony Gilroy finds the perfect note to wrap things up on.

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Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, 2006)

***
USA

When they begin their documentary on children raised in Evangelical Christian environments (with political implications), Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are trying very hard to clutch onto an observational, non-judgmental perspective. It's only once the kids are packed off to Jesus Camp in North Dakota, instilled with a potent sense of shame, guilt and self-hate, and then subjected to further appalling practices that the sombre music descends and their anger seeps through the verité aesthetic. Compared to the rage of any viewer with a conscience though, theirs is kept relatively in check. Even if they don't necessarily tell you anything new about the world, they at least demonstrate good judgment in taking on a humanist rather than a sensationalist approach.

Five Graves to Cairo (Billy WIlder, 1943)

****½
USA

A taut mix of action, intrigue, humour and espionage, where a British corporal takes shelter in an isolated North African hotel and is forced to pose as an Alsatian double agent when the Nazis take over. The various accents and adopted nationalities are taxing on your disbelief - what with all-American Franchot Tone playing a Brit playing a German (who can't speak German), and Anne Baxter impersonating a charred maid from Marseilles. But the plot takes on a new twist every five minutes, the one-liners whiz by and the staging is expert. Billy Wilder directs - for only the third time - off a script he'd written with Charles Brackett, and his plot handling and sense of economy already bear the mark of a master. As a bonus, he even slips in some feeling towards the end.