God’s Little Acre (1958 USA)

The characters in this film have hearts and dreams so unbelievably huge and ungodly, they appear other wordly. This all adds up to bigger than life, almost cartoonish characterizations that are very interesting, if not an outright laugh fest. They are all down home and funky, with a work ethic that stretches any bounds of reality. A crazed Southern patriarch spends all his time digging on his property for gold that he insists that his grandfather hid somewhere on their property and he gets his two dim sons to him on this never-ending quest. As a result, they really do no productive work–they just dig and dig. As for the women, they are all horny and trashy and spend most of their time writhing about like they are in heat. [Read more…]

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Thérèse Raquin (1980 BBC)

The picture quality on this DVD has the resolution of a fading VHS tape from 30 years ago, and if this truly is the best restoration that can be made of this 166-minute production, that must be counted as a minor but distinct tragedy…for actress Kate Nelligan is the Thérèse Raquin to end all Thérèse Raquins. Based on the Zola novel, this is the story of a vibrant but trapped young woman, stuck in a loveless marriage to a pampered weakling. Then one day, the husband brings home an old friend–Laurent– and the doors of her soul fly open. [Read more…]

Carnage (2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain)

Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award winning play “God of Carnage” was adapted by the playwright herself for Roman Polanski’s 2011 film version, renamed “Carnage.” Reza’s word feast is a juicy smörgåsbord for actors and a showcase for the film’s four stars. Despite the glow of bagging 6 Oscars and 17 nominations, the four actors were evidently chosen for talent and range, not luster; all are better known for their on-screen and on-stage work, than their tabloid antics. Carnage is a short 80 minutes. Its fast paced, often funny, well written, superbly acted – and that rarity in cinema – it leaves the bastards hungry for more. [Read more…]

Beatriz At Dinner (2017 USA)

Gathering characters around a table is always a good pretext for serving up something tasty for a hungry cinema audience. The moral spectrum here is far too nuanced to allow a single clear position. It’s a diagnosis without a prescription. For one thing, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) is no Donald Trump. He’s far smarter, knowledgeable, more gracious, disciplined, self-aware, more honest — in fact, the character here who is the most at peace with himself. The three wives are uniformly hard, brittle, constantly on guard to sustain their marital and social status. Of the three wealthy couples only Doug is secure enough within himself and confident in his dealings with the others. The men live on his approval, so the wives must too. [Read more…]

Endless Night (1972 Britain)

First I reviewed the novel, now the celluloid. The book was a clever literary trick for its time. It is the first person narration of a psychopathic killer who is trying to hide his real nature and intentions from the reader, while actually dropping a series of clues that things are not quite what they seem. It is this trick, rather the banal situation, which is the real reason for reading the book and it is obviously this trick that made Sidney Gilliat want to film it. The problem is that he could not find a way to replicate it on screen, because cinema only really works in the third person and people are generally uncomfortable with movies that tell lies. [Read more…]

Slayground (Richard Stark)

This is the fourteenth entry in Richard Stark’s (the writer’s real name Was Donald E Westlake) excellent series about Parker, the amoral criminal whose carefully-laid plans almost always come undone because of some unforeseen accident or because of an act of carelessness by one of the other crooks involved in the plan. In this case, it’s the getaway driver who screws everything up. This is not the driver that Parker would have preferred, but it’s the driver that Parker had to settle for. And it’s Parker who will now have to pay the price. [Read more…]

Monster’s Ball (2001 USA)

This is a typical male erotic fantasy, the hesitant white man dutifully tending to the jungle goddess because she’s damaged and begging to be repaired. What the film really wants to do is titillate its audience with the prospect of hot black- on- white sex. Whilst the entire film is shot with economy, using very little coverage, its famous sex scene is shot from every possible angle (and more if you buy the director’s cut). The director wants us to leer at Halle Berry’ chocolate flesh- the film treating the audience to delightful little snippets of Berry’s berries and pert little cheeks. End result: white audience gets a slice of jungle fever, whilst passing it off as grief coping. As for me, my White Guilt O Metre could only reach as high as 4 out of 10. [Read more…]

Happiness (1998 USA)

This sadistic 2 hour film has no plot, in the sense of a meaningful series of events. Things happen, but there is no “story.” The film functions only to document human ugliness and suffering in the most agonizing detail possible, depicting several people causing and experiencing suffering, and then eventually the credits roll. I’ve seen other films that had no story line, some of which were very good, so I don’t mean it as a criticism of Happiness. Its a fact. I’ve seen many films that depicted human suffering, the majority of my favourite films have done so to a greater or lesser degree. Art is largely about “the human condition”, and whatever else it might involve, that condition certainly has its share of suffering. [Read more…]

Carnal Knowledge (1971 USA)

Bobbie: “The reason I sleep all day is because I can’t stand my life!”

Jonathon: “What life?!”

Bobbie: “Sleeping all day!…I need a life.”

Jonathon: “Get a job!”

Bobbie: “I don’t want a job. I want you.”

Jonathon: “I’m taken, by me! Get out of the house, do something useful, Goddammit.” There are some real funny one liners if you can stay awake. Carnal Knowledge, directed by Mike Nichols, from a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, is a dud without a single likable or really interesting character. Nichols’ film is a series of cartoon panels with no sense of any life surrounding the characters. Nichols appears to have been influenced by the films of Bergman and Antonioni though he lacks their brilliance. His reach exceeded his grasp. The result is an attempt at what was hoped to be a genre that never materialized: American art cinema. [Read more…]

A Man For All Seasons (1966 Britain)

This piece of classic cinema is an erudite example of the old Biblical maxim: a man cannot serve two masters. Sir Thomas More, a multi-talented man of letters and law, went to the executioner’s block because he would not recognize a temporal king as head of his country’s church. Though a friend of Henry VIII, and his chancellor, he was more afraid of offending God than the king. A man who took his Catholic faith quite seriously. Robert Bolt’s play ran for 637 performances in the 1961-1963 season on Broadway and the only two who came over from the Broadway cast were Paul Scofield as More and Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell. [Read more…]

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