Film Review – BREAKOUT (1975)

BREAKOUT (1975, USA) **
Action, Adventure, Drama
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / Persky-Bright-Vista; d. Tom Gries; w. Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman, Elliott Baker (suggested by a book by Warren Hinckle & William Turner and Eliot Asinof); pr. Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler; ph. Lucien Ballard (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Bud S. Isaacs; ad. Alfred Sweeney; rel. 7 March 1975 (West Germany), 1 May 1975 (UK), 22 May 1975 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 96m.
cast: Charles Bronson (Nick Colton), Robert Duvall (Jay Wagner), Jill Ireland (Ann Wagner), John Huston (Harris Wagner), Randy Quaid (Hawkins), Sheree North (Myrna), Jorge Moreno (Sosa), Emilio Fernández (J.V.), Paul Mantee (Cable), Alan Vint (Harve), Alejandro Rey (Sanchez), William B. White (2nd Officer), Roy Jenson (Spencer), Sidney Clute (Henderson), Chalo González (Border Guard), Antonio Tarruella (1st Prison Guard), Don Norgano Frill (2nd Prison Guard).
Vehicle for Bronson in which he plays a bush pilot hired by Ireland for fifty thousand dollars to go to Mexico to free her husband (Duvall), an innocent prisoner. Saddled with a weak script, Gries fails to find a consistent tone as the film veers uneasily between action drama and comedy. This is not helped by using Bronson in a character more suited to the likes of Burt Reynolds. The story is confusing, and the characters’ motives are never fully explored or explained leaving the audience with little to invest in them. The performances are mixed – Duvall has little to do, and his talent is wasted. There are better performances from Quaid and North, who manage to capture the tonal balance best. Huston has a couple of brief scenes as Duvall’s grandfather determined to keep him behind bars. Technical accomplishments are varied, the editing is often clunky, but there are some genuinely hairy stunts performed. Dan Frazer appears uncredited as a US Customs agent. Apparently the film was inspired by the real 1971 helicopter rescue and breakout of Joel David Kaplan from a Mexican prison.

Film Review – NOMADLAND (2020)

NOMADLAND (2020, USA/Germany) ****
Drama
dist. Searchlight Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (USA), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cor Cordium Productions / Hear-Say Productions / Highwayman Films; d. Chloé Zhao; w. Chloé Zhao (based on the book by Jessica Bruder); pr. Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao; ph. Joshua James Richards (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4444 (3.2K) (source format). 2.39:1, 1.90:1 (IMAX version)); m. Ludovico Einaudi; ed. Chloé Zhao; pd. Joshua James Richards; ad. Elizabeth Godar, Tom Obed; rel. 11 September 2020 (USA), 16 October 2020 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 107m.
cast: Frances McDormand (Fern), Gay DeForest (Gay), Patricia Grier (Patty), Linda May (Linda), Angela Reyes (Angela), Carl R. Hughes (Carl), Douglas G. Soul (Doug), Ryan Aquino (Ryan), Teresa Buchanan (Teresa), Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder (Karie), Brandy Wilber (Brandy), Makenzie Etcheverry (Makenzie), Bob Wells (Bob), Annette Webb (Annette), Rachel Bannon (Rachel), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Sherita Deni Coker (Deni), Merle Redwing (Merle), Forrest Bault (Forrest), Suanne Carlson (Suanne), Donnie Miller (Donnie), Roxanne Bay (Roxy), Matt Sfaelos (Noodle), Ronald O. Zimmerman (Ron), Derek Endres (Derek), Paige Dean (Paige), Paul Winer (Paul), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Matthew Stinson (Nurse Matt), Terry Phillip (Terry), Bradford Lee Riza (Brad), Tay Strathairn (James), Cat Clifford (Cat), James R. Taylor Jr. (James), Jeremy Greenman (Jeremy), Ken Greenman (Ken), Melissa Smith (Dolly), Warren Keith (George), Jeff Andrews (Jeff), Paul Cunningham (Paul), Emily Jade Foley (Emily), Mike Sells (Mike), Peter Spears (Peter), Cheryl Davis (Cheri).
In this well-judged drama McDormand plays a woman in her sixties, who after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. The story is a slow-moving mosaic that manages to embody the frustrations of middle-America as recession hits and the victims are left without support or hope. Zhao’s film captures the beauty of the landscape and contrasts it against the harshness of economic decline and corporate mechanics as ghost towns spring up from the rugged landscape. McDormand gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance as the embodiment of the unsustainable ideals of modern America. The result is an ironic reversion to the pioneer mentality that formed the USA in the first place. The slow-pace and introspection will not be for everyone – and certainly may alienate the modern generation – but for those with longer memories and experiences it proves to be a rewarding and chastening experience.
AA: Best Motion Picture of the Year; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Achievement in Directing (Chloé Zhao)
AAN: Best Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Cinematography (Joshua James Richards)

Film Review – THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946)

THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. George Marshall; w. Raymond Chandler; pr. John Houseman ; ph. Lionel Lindon (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Arthur P. Schmidt; ad. Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler; rel. 16 April 1946 (USA), 1 June 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 96m.
cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard Da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright (‘Dad’ Newell), Frank Faylen (Man Recommending a Motel), Walter Sande (Heath).
Ladd stars as a returning vet from WWII with Beaumont and brain-injured Bendix. When Ladd tries to reunite with his wife, Dowling, he discovers her promiscuity and walks out. When Dowling ends up murdered, Ladd is the chief suspect and runs into Lake whilst trying to evade capture and clear his name. A largely effective film noir that has more than its share of melodrama and a resolution that feels overly manufactured. Chandler’s script is a little over-reliant on cliched dialogue and often lacks his verbal spark, whilst the ending was changed against his wishes. There are, though, many wonderful individual scenes and Lake’s confident performance coupled with Ladd’s toughness elevates the material.
AAN: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Raymond Chandler)

Film Review – THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2016)

LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, THE (2016, UK) **
Horror, Thriller
dist. Lionsgate (UK); pr co. New Sparta Films / Number 9 Films; d. Juan Carlos Medina; w. Jane Goldman (based on the novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by Peter Ackroyd); pr. Elizabeth Karlsen, Joanna Laurie, Stephen Woolley; ph. Simon Dennis (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Todd-AO 35 (anamorphic) (source format). 2.35:1); m. Johan Söderqvist; ed. Justin Krish; pd. Grant Montgomery; ad. Nick Wilkinson; rel. 10 September 2016 (Canada), 1 September 2017 (UK), 8 September 2017 (USA – internet); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 109m.
cast: Bill Nighy (John Kildare), Olivia Cooke (Lizzie Cree), Douglas Booth (Dan Leno), Daniel Mays (George Flood), Sam Reid (John Cree), Eddie Marsan (Uncle), María Valverde (Aveline Ortega), Adam Brown (Mr. Gerrard), Morgan Watkins (George Gissing), Damien Thomas (Solomon Weil), Peter Sullivan (Inspector Roberts), Amelia Crouch (Young Lizzie), Mark Tandy (Judge), Siobhán Cullen (Sister Mary), Clive Brunt (Charlie), Louisa-May Parker (Mrs. Gerrard), Nicholas Woodeson (Toby Dosett), Paul Ritter (Augustus Rowley), David Bamber (Mr. Greatorex), Levi Heaton (Sarah Martin).
In Victorian London, a Scotland Yard inspector (Nighy) hunts down the sadistic killer behind a series of gory, Jack the Ripper-Like murders. The story tries to be clever in its use of a non-linear structure, which doesn’t work, and comes across as simultaneously convoluted and obvious. As a result, there is little tension built from Goldman’s smug adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel. Medina adds some interesting directorial flourishes in an attempt to enliven the material and there is plenty of period atmosphere created by Montgomery’s production design and Dennis’ gloomy photography. However, the production fails to fully explore the themes it highlights – notably Nighy’s character’s sexuality, which is often referenced but never delved into further. The performances are okay, but the production’s fluctuating tone is also an issue and there are no standouts amongst the cast. The result will likely disappoint genre fans of both horror and mystery with the production’s desire to impress, through its non-traditional approach to the material, taking precedence over telling a coherent and well-structured story.

Film Review – TAKEN 3 (2014)

TAKEN 3 (2014, France/USA/Spain) **
Action, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Taken 3 / Twentieth Century Fox; d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (based on characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen); pr. Luc Besson; ph. Eric Kress (Colour. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format), Super 35 (source format) (some scenes). 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz; pd. Sébastien Inizan; ad. Christophe Couzon, Natacha Hatch, Dominique Moisan, Nanci Roberts; rel. 16 December 2014 (Germany), 7 January 2015 (USA), 8 January 2015 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 109m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Forest Whitaker (Franck Dotzler), Famke Janssen (Lenore St. John), Maggie Grace (Kim Mills), Dougray Scott (Stuart St. John), Sam Spruell (Oleg Malankov), Don Harvey (Garcia), Dylan Bruno (Smith), Leland Orser (Sam (Gilroy)), David Warshofsky (Bernie (Harris)), Jon Gries ((Mark) Casey), Jonny Weston (Jimy), Andrew Borba (Clarence), Judi Beecher (Claire), Andrew Howard (Maxim).
Liam Neeson returns for his third outing as ex-government operative Bryan Mills, who is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name. Like its immediate predecessor, this action vehicle is directed by Megaton, who again employs his staccato editing techniques to the action sequences robbing them of any sense of tension or rhythm. The plot formula is a poor man’s riff on THE FUGITIVE. Whilst Neeson is again watchable in the lead and Whitaker adds an element of intelligence as the pursuing detective, the plot implausibility and its increasingly cartoonish and nonsensical violence suck any heart or emotion from the narrative. The movie goes rapidly downhill toward its inevitably formulaic and over-the-top shootout finale. Extended version runs 115m.

Film Review – TAKEN 2 (2012)

TAKEN 2 (2012, France/USA/Turkey/UK) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Grive Productions; d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (based on characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen); pr. Luc Besson; ph. Romain Lacourbas (Colour. 35 mm (Fuji Eterna-CP 3514DI), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format) (some scenes), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format), . 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Camille Delamarre, Vincent Tabaillon; pd. Sébastien Inizan; ad. Christophe Couzon, Dominique Moisan, Nanci Roberts, Atilla Yilmaz; rel. 7 September 2012 (France), 4 October 2012 (UK), 5 October 2012 (USA); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 92m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), D.B. Sweeney (Bernie), Luke Grimes (Jamie), Rade Serbedzija (Murad Krasniqi), Kevork Malikyan (Inspector Durmaz), Alain Figlarz (Suko), Frank Alvarez (Car Wash Attendant), Murat Tuncelli (Custom Officer Albania), Ali Yildirim (Imam), Ergun Kuyucu (Mirko), Cengiz Bozkurt (Border Guard #1), Hakan Karahan (Reception Clerk), Saruhan Sari (Waiter), Naci Adigüzel (Cheikh), Aclan Bates (Cheikh’s Aide), Mehmet Polat (Hotel Driver).
In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his wife (Janssen) are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter (Grace). This follow-up to the popular 2008 hit is basically more of the same – only this time the whole family is involved. Neeson picks up where he left off in the first movie, but the script sadly offers little that is new or challenging, leaving us with a greatest hits re-run that remains entertaining despite its implausibility and by-the-numbers approach. Megaton’s kinetic editing, however, more often induces confusion and dizziness rather than create suspense and thrills. Extended version runs 98m. Followed by TAKEN 3 (2015).

Film Review – TAKEN (2008)

TAKEN (2008, France/USA/UK) ***
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. 20th Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Grive Productions; d. Pierre Morel; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; pr. Luc Besson; ph. Michel Abramowicz (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision Premier 2393), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (source format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Frédéric Thoraval; pd. Hugues Tissandier; ad. Gilles Boillot; rel. 16 February 2008 (France), 26 September 2008 (UK), 30 January 2009 (USA), ; BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 93m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), David Warshofsky (Bernie), Holly Valance (Sheerah), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), Gérard Watkins (St-Clair), Marc Amyot (Pharmacist), Arben Bajraktaraj (Marko), Radivoje Bukvic (Anton), Mathieu Busson (Undercover Agent), Michel Flash (Gio), Nicolas Giraud (Peter), Rubens Hyka (Leka), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Valentin Kalaj (Vinz).
Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former government operative trying to reconnect with his daughter, Kim (Grace), in this fast-paced action thriller. His worst fears become real when sex slavers abduct Kim and her friend shortly after they arrive in Paris for vacation. With just four days until Kim will be auctioned off, Bryan must call on every skill he learned in black ops to rescue her. The movie coasts on Neeson’s charisma and macho performance as well as the tightly edited action sequences. The pace is such that director Morel manages to gloss over the story’s plot holes and its many conveniences. The villains remain two-dimensional targets for Neeson’s killing machine and there is only lip-service paid to the strained relationship between Neeson and ex-wife Janssen. That said, what we have left is an undeniably enjoyable and bone-crunching entertainment. Followed by TAKEN 2 (2012).

Film Review – SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939, USA) ****
Sci-Fi, Horror, Drama
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Rowland V. Lee; w. Wyllis Cooper (suggested by the novel “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley); pr. Rowland V. Lee; ph. George Robinson (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Jack Otterson; rel. 13 January 1939 (USA), January 1939 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 99m.
cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson), Perry Ivins (Fritz), Lawrence Grant (Burgomaster), Lionel Belmore (Emil Lang), Michael Mark (Ewald Neumüller), Caroline Frances Cooke (Frau Neumüller), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Burgher), Lorimer Johnston (Burgher), Tom Ricketts (Burgher).
Rathbone is the son of original Frankenstein who returns to the ancestral castle long after the death of the monster (Karloff). There he meets the mad shepherd Ygor (Lugosi) who is hiding the comatose creature. To clear the family name, he revives the creature and tries to rehabilitate him. The third in the series was successful enough to re-ignite Universal’s interest in the genre. Whilst the plot may be familiar, there are still many iconic moments here that make this another high quality addition to the series. Lugosi is superb as the bitter and twisted (both mentally and physically) Ygor and Atwill enjoys himself as the police inspector with an artificial arm (lampooned hilariously in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)). Rathbone too rises to the occasion with an energetic performance. Karloff continues to add pathos and a physical presence to the role of the creature, but here he is given less to do. The expressionistic set design and shadowy photography are first class and Lee directs the material with a sure hand. The series would descend into routine hokum starting with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).

Film Review – BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

BLACK SUNDAY (1977, USA) ***½
Adventure, Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Paramount Pictures / Robert Evans Company; d. John Frankenheimer; w. Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross, Ivan Moffat (based on the novel by Thomas Harris); pr. Robert Evans; ph. John A. Alonzo (Movielab. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Tom Rolf; ad. Walter H. Tyler; rel. 22 March 1977 (USA), 12 August 1977 (UK); cert: 15; r/t. 143m.
cast: Robert Shaw (Kabakov), Bruce Dern (Lander), Marthe Keller (Dahlia), Fritz Weaver (Sam Corley), Steven Keats (Robert Moshevsky), Bekim Fehmiu (Mohammed Fasil), Michael V. Gazzo (Muzi), William Daniels (Pugh), Walter Gotell (Colonel Riat), Victor Campos (Nageeb), Joseph Robbie (Joseph Robbie), Robert J. Wussler (Robert Wussler), Pat Summerall (Pat Summerall), Tom Brookshier (Tom Brookshier), Walter Brooke (Fowler), James Jeter (Watchman), Clyde Kusatsu (Freighter Captain), Tom McFadden (Farley), Robert Patten (Vickers), Than Wyenn (Israeli Ambassador).
Intermittently tense but overlong thriller in which Palestinian terrorists look to transport and explode a bomb in a Goodyear blimp to the stadium staging the Superbowl. Frankenheimer allows the character motivations to come to the fore, which occasionally slows the pace in the deliberate build-up. This allows Shaw, Dern and Keller to flex their acting muscles, with Dern in particular memorable as US military veteran harshly treated by the government. Well-staged action sequences are sprinkled throughout but the climax stretches narrative logic by going for big set-pieces.

Film Review – THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943)

SONG OF BERNADETTE, THE (1943, USA) ****
Biography, Drama

dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox; d. Henry King; w. George Seaton (based on the novel by Franz Werfel); pr. William Perlberg; ph. Arthur C. Miller (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Alfred Newman; ed. Barbara McLean; ad. James Basevi, William S. Darling; set d. Thomas Little; cos. René Hubert; m/up. Guy Pearce; sd. Alfred Bruzlin, Roger Heman Sr. (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); vfx. Fred Sersen; rel. 21 December 1943 (USA); cert: U; r/t. 156m.

cast: Jennifer Jones (Bernadette), William Eythe (Antoine Nicolau), Charles Bickford (Father Peyramale), Vincent Price (Prosecutor Vital Dutour), Lee J. Cobb (Dr. Dozous), Gladys Cooper (Sister Marie Therese Vauzous), Anne Revere (Louise Soubirous), Roman Bohnen (François Soubirous), Mary Anderson (Jeanne Abadie), Patricia Morison (Empress Eugenie), Aubrey Mather (Mayor Lacade), Charles Dingle (Jacomet), Edith Barrett (Croisine Bouhouhorts), Sig Ruman (Louis Bouriette), Blanche Yurka (Aunt Bernarde Casterot), Ermadean Walters (Marie Soubirous), Marcel Dalio (Callet), Pedro de Cordoba (Dr. LeCramps), Jerome Cowan (Emperor Louis Napoleon III).

Based on the popular novel by Franz Werfel, this drama focuses on Bernadette Soubirous (Jones), a young French woman who experiences vivid visions of the Virgin Mary. While many dismiss her claims, certain people, including the priest Dominique Peyramale (Bickford), slowly begin to believe her. Eventually, Bernadette is deemed a saint, and becomes a nun at a convent, where she must deal with jealousy from others who resent her revered status. An earnest adaptation that nails its colours to the mast from its prologue. The deeply religious tale is played out at great length, perhaps overlength. The production, however, is very strong with King’s direction giving encouragement for an exceptional cast to deliver consistently excellent performances. Jones’ wide-eyed innocence perfectly embodies Bernadette’s voyage of discovery. Revere as her mother conveys the emotional turmoil of a woman torn between her familial struggles and the love of her daughter. Price is restrained and almost sympathetic as the cynical politician, whilst Bickford is sturdy as the priest who is initially sceptical of Bernadette’s claims. Technical attributes are also top-notch with Miller’s photography making the most of the production design and Newman’s score evocatively complementing the unfolding drama. Linda Darnell appears uncredited as the Virgin Mary.

AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Jones); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur C. Miller); Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (James Basevi, William S. Darling, Thomas Little)’; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Alfred Newman)
AAN: Best Picture; Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Charles Bickford); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Gladys Cooper); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Revere); Best Director (Henry King); Best Writing, Screenplay (George Seaton); Best Sound, Recording (Edmund H. Hansen (20th Century-Fox SSD)); Best Film Editing (Barbara McLean)