Film Review – THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975, UK/USA) ****
Action, Adventure
dist. Allied Artists Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures Corporation / Devon / Persky-Bright; d. John Huston; w. John Huston, Gladys Hill (based on the story by Rudyard Kipling); pr. John Foreman; ph. Oswald Morris (Technicolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Maurice Jarre; ed. Russell Lloyd; pd. Alexandre Trauner; ad. Tony Inglis; rel. 27 November 1975 (Iran), 16 December 1975 (USA), 18 December 1975 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 129m.
cast: Sean Connery (Daniel Dravot), Michael Caine (Peachy Carnehan), Christopher Plummer (Rudyard Kipling), Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish), Larbi Doghmi (Ootah), Jack May (District Commissioner), Karroom Ben Bouih (Kafu Selim), Mohammad Shamsi (Babu), Albert Moses (Ghulam), Paul Antrim (Mulvaney), Graham Acres (Officer), The Blue Dancers of Goulamine (Dancers), Shakira Caine (Roxanne).
Two British soldiers in India decide to resign from the Army and set themselves up as deities in Kafiristan–a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander. This critically acclaimed morality piece was a commercial failure at the box office despite the star power and strong chemistry between Connery and Caine. It is only in the passing years that its stature has grown. The two leads are excellent, as is Plummer as the author, then a journalist, Rudyard Kipling. The film’s technical attributes are top-notch from production and costume design to its photography and location. The moral tale is laced with humour and adventure before its downbeat finale issues its warning message. The tone may shift jarringly from time to time, but this remains an impressive production expertly directed by a past master.
AAN: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material (John Huston, Gladys Hill); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexandre Trauner, Tony Inglis, Peter James); Best Costume Design (Edith Head); Best Film Editing (Russell Lloyd).

Film Review – ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948, USA) ***
Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal International Pictures (UI); d. Charles Barton; w. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant; pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Van Enger (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Frank Gross; ad. Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; rel. 15 June 1948 (USA), August 1949 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 83m.
cast: Bud Abbott (Chick), Lou Costello (Wilbur), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot / The Wolfman), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Glenn Strange (Monster), Lenore Aubert (Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Charles Bradstreet (Dr. Stevens).
Abbott and Costello play two hapless freight handlers who find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Enjoyment of this horror comedy will depend on your tolerance of the antics of the comedy duo who lack the sophistication, inventiveness and dignity of Laurel & Hardy, but became immensely popular nonetheless. One or two amusing moments do surface, and it is great to see Lugosi, Chaney and co. in action again. Lugosi is particularly effective returning to his signature role of Count Dracula. Watch out for the final gag, which is the best of the production. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry. On screen title: BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. UK Title: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.

Film Review – HOG WILD (1930)

HOG WILD (1930, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Jury Metro-Goldwyn (UK); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker (dialogue) (based on a story by Stan Laurel and Leo McCarey (uncredited)); pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. George Stevens (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. md. Marvin Hatley; ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 31 May 1930 (USA), 25 August 1930 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 19m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Dorothy Granger (Tillie – The Hardys’ Maid / Girl Lifting Her Skirt by Puddle (uncredited)), Fay Holderness (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)), Charles McMurphy (Streetcar Conductor (uncredited)).
Vintage Laurel & Hardy short in which Mrs. Hardy insists that Oliver mount the radio aerial on the roof before he goes off gallivanting with his friend Stanley. Inventive slapstick sight gags abound, not least the hilarious closing gag involving L&H’s car becoming sandwiched between trams. Original UK title: AERIAL ANTICS.

Film Review – SERENITY (2005)

SERENITY (2005, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Barry Mendel Productions; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; pr. Barry Mendel; ph. Jack N. Green (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9 : 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. David Newman; ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Daniel T. Dorrance; rel. 22 August 2005 (UK), 22 September 2005 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 119m.
cast: Nathan Fillion (Mal), Gina Torres (Zoë), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (Dr. Mathias), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (Mingo), Rafael Feldman (Fanty), Nectar Rose (Lenore), Tamara Taylor (Teacher), Glenn Howerton (Lilac Young Tough), Hunter Ansley Wryn (Young River).
A group of rebels led by war veteran Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship, Serenity, outside the reach of the Alliance, a sinister regime that controls most of the universe. After the crew takes in Simon (Maher) and his psychic sister, River (Glau), whom he has just rescued from Alliance forces, they find themselves being pursued by the Operative (Ejiofor), an Alliance agent who will stop at nothing to find them. The events of the film take place six months after the last episode of the Firefly (2002) TV series, which was cancelled prematurely by the network despite its loyal fan base. Here, Whedon attempts to tie-up some of the loose threads that resulted from the series being dropped. Whilst the movie may require its audience to be familiar with the series, there is still much to enjoy for newcomers. The action is ramped up and there is the witty character interaction that endeared the TV show to its audience leaving sufficient of the series’ spirit on show to make this a success. All the regulars return and there are shocks and surprises along the way. Whedon’s direction is fast-paced and the cast hit the ground running. It’s a shame the movie did not earn sufficient box office to warrant extending the franchise.

Film Review – SUSPICION (1941)

SUSPICION (1941, USA) ****
Mystery, Thriller
dist. RKO Radio Pictures; pr co. RKO Radio Pictures; d. Alfred Hitchcock; w. Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville (based on the novel “Before the Fact” by Anthony Berkeley (as Francis Iles)); pr. Harry E. Edington; ph. Harry Stradling (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Franz Waxman; ed. William Hamilton; ad. Van Nest Polglase; rel. 9 November 1941 (USA), December 1941 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 99m.
cast: Cary Grant (Johnnie), Joan Fontaine (Lina), Cedric Hardwicke (General McLaidlaw), Nigel Bruce (Beaky), May Whitty (Mrs. McLaidlaw), Isabel Jeans (Mrs. Newsham), Heather Angel (Ethel [Maid]), Auriol Lee (Isobel Sedbusk), Reginald Sheffield (Reggie Wetherby), Leo G. Carroll (Captain Melbeck).
Grant plays the charming scoundrel Johnnie Aysgarth and woos the wealthy but plain Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine), who elopes with him despite the warnings of her disapproving father (Hardwicke). After their marriage, Johnnie’s risky financial ventures cause Lina to suspect he’s becoming involved in unscrupulous dealings. When his dear friend and business partner, Beaky (Bruce), dies under suspicious circumstances on a business trip, she fears her husband might kill her for her inheritance. Hitchcock deftly manages the light and dark tones of the story, as does Waxman’s score and Stradling’s photography. Grant is perfect for his role and convincing in portraying the ambiguity of the character. Fontaine’s performance may seem mannered today, but it was enough to win her a best actress Oscar. A good support cast is headed by the stern Hardwicke and the bumbling Bruce. Lee also scores as an Agatha Christie-styled mystery writer. The film builds in suspense toward its rushed climax, which the studio notoriously interfered in. Remade as a TV Movie in 1987.
AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Joan Fontaine)
AAN: Best Picture; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Franz Waxman)

Film Review – YESTERDAY (2019)

YESTERDAY (2019, UK) ***
Romance, Music, Fantasy
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Etalon Film / Working Title Films; d. Danny Boyle; w. Richard Curtis (based on a story by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth); pr. Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson; ph. Christopher Ross (Colour. D-Cinema (Digital Cinema Package DCP) (also Dolby Atmos version), DCP (CGS version) (also Dolby Atmos version), DCP (Dolby Vision + Atmos). CGS (CGS version),Digital Intermediate, Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, Redcode RAW (8K) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Daniel Pemberton; ed. Jon Harris; pd. Patrick Rolfe, Moin Uddin; ad. James Wakefield; rel. 4 May 2019 (USA), 20 June 2019 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 116m.
cast: Himesh Patel (Jack Malik), Lily James (Ellie Appleton), Joel Fry (Rocky), Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran), Kate McKinnon (Debra Hammer), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Jed Malik), Meera Syal (Sheila Malik), Harry Michell (Nick), Sophia Di Martino (Carol), Ellise Chappell (Lucy), Justin Edwards (Leo (Russian Stranger)), Sarah Lancashire (Liz (Liverpool Stranger)), Alexander Arnold (Gavin), Lamorne Morris (Head of Marketing), Vincent Franklin (Brian), Karl Theobald (Terry), Camilla Rutherford (Hilary), Michael Kiwanuka (Michael Kiwanuka), James Corden (James Corden), Robert Carlyle (John Lennon (uncredited)).
Patel gives a winning performance as a struggling musician who is involved in a road accident and wakes up to find no-one has heard of The Beatles. Seeing his opportunity, he uses their songs to bring him success but along the way reconciles his newfound stardom with the loss of his keenest supporter from prior to the accident (James). This is Richard Curtis by-the-numbers, but despite its predictability and lack of depth there is much to like. Patel’s self-effacing and unlikely musician is a character the audience can care about as is James as his childhood sweetheart. Sheeran is game in a large support role and McKinnon is the epitome of corporate greed. Where Curtis misses the mark as a writer is in his lack of willingness to explore the frankly manipulative premise to its fullest potential, making it feel like the gimmick it is to hang familiar romcom tropes from. Boyle directs anonymously and lets the characters breathe and the feelgood factor is high. The songs are ultimately what we remember the most and they are, of course, outstanding.

Film Review – THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)

THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979, USA) ****
Drama, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-EMI-Warner (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / IPC Films; d. James Bridges; w. Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges; pr. Michael Douglas; ph. James Crabe (Metrocolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); ed. David Rawlins; pd. George Jenkins; rel. 6 March 1979 (USA), 20 July 1979 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 122m.
cast: Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich), Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler), Richard Herd (Evan McCormack), Daniel Valdez (Hector Salas), Stan Bohrman (Pete Martin), James Karen (Mac Churchill), Michael Alaimo (Greg Minor), Donald Hotton (Dr. Lowell), Khalilah ‘Belinda’ Ali (Marge (as Khalilah Ali)), Paul Larson (D.B. Royce), Ron Lombard (Barney), Tom Eure (Tommy), Nick Pellegrino (Borden), Daniel Lewk (Donny), Allan Chinn (Holt).
Fonda plays a TV reporter who, with her cameraman (Douglas), finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. Lemmon is the plant’s senior technician who looks to spill the beans, whilst the corporates try to silence him. This absorbing cautionary tale of the dangers of nuclear power plants benefits from an excellent script that balances its message with character motivation. It is aided by three excellent central performances – notably Lemmon who wrestles with his conscience as he uncovers shortcuts taken in safety checks – and a superb support cast. Whilst the drama may veer toward melodramatic thrills in its final act, the film’s message has an impact that is undeniable.
AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Lemmon); Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Fonda); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George Jenkins, Arthur Jeph Parker)

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)