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Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision.… Read the rest

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Death On The Nile (2020)

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

**

Detective Hercule Poirot must investigate a rising body count on a wedding party Nile cruise – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

Attending a gig by blues musician Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) where her niece and savvy business manager Rosalie Otterbourne (Laetitia Wright) is also in attendance, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) runs into Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) who are passionately in love with each other and engage in some extremely suggestive dancing. She encourages her friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) to take the floor with Simon, whereupon they too engage in some extremely suggestive dancing.

Holidaying in Egypt, Poiret runs into old acquaintance Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his overbearing mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). Cut to a lavish hotel where Simon and Linnet announce to a party of attendant friends that they are to be married. Simon appears to have done very well for himself: he lacks money or prospects while Linnet is a fabulously rich heiress. The understandably alienated Jacqueline, however, keeps following them around on their travels. The couple asks Poirot if he could do something about this. He refuses on the grounds that no crime has been committed, but nevertheless speaks with Jacqueline and politely asks her to back off.… Read the rest

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Dune

Director – Denis Villeneuve – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 155m

*****

A powerful family is exiled to a desert planet populated with giant sandworms as part of an interplanetary conspiracy to end their dynasty – out to rent on Premium Video on Demand from Monday, December 6th

Frank Herbert’s sprawling novel Dune (1965) was read in the late 1960s and 1970s by any teenage boy with the slightest interest in science fiction and fantasy. It had (a little) space travel but more significantly it had alien worlds, notably the desert planet Arrakis on which 95% of the action takes place, and so ticked the SF box.

Then it had a whole ecology involving the planet’s occupants the Fremen, a drug known as ‘the Spice’, and giant sandworms, so it also ticked the fantasy box.

On top of this, it pitted dynasties – ‘Houses’ – against each other in a tale of interplanetary political intrigue.

The plot was unbelievably convoluted, spawning a lengthy series of sequels. I gave up around the fifth or sixth book. And yet, the first book possessed an almost mythic quality that my diminishing interest in the later volumes was unable to dispel.

The sheer quantity of plot was always going to be a challenge for a standalone movie.… Read the rest

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Nightmare Alley (2021)

Director – Guillermo del Toro – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 150m

****

A former carny gets deep into trouble using mind-reading trickery on a wealthy mark – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st. Also available on Digital Wednesday, March 16th and on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, March 21st

After burning a body in an isolated farmhouse, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) gets work with travelling carnival showman Clem (Willem Dafoe) via midget The Major (Mark Povinelli) and strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman). He soon ingratiates himself with mind reader Zeena (Toni Collette) who lets him into some of the secrets of her trade, but romantically he’s more interested in Molly (Rooney Mara) with whom, despite opposition from her unofficial guardian Bruno, he runs away intent on working a lucrative act on a wealthier audience to make larger amounts of money.

One night, during a residency at a hotel, Stanton and Molly’s show is interrupted by a woman (Cate Blanchett) trying to expose him as a fraud. Successfully navigating her heckling, he convinces Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill) that he is in contact with the Judge’s dead son. Going against Molly’s advice not to do “spook shows”, and offering to cut in the woman, psychoanalyst Dr.… Read the rest

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The Servant

Director – Joseph Losey – 1963 – UK – Cert. 12 – 115m

*****

A highly capable working class manservant slowly takes control of his foppish, upper class master’s life – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) enters the curiously unlocked Chelsea house of Tony (James Fox) to interview for the position of manservant. He finds the unkempt Tony asleep in a chair. He seems to fit Tony’s bill and gets the job. Tony got the house very cheap, although it’s in need of repair and decoration. Barrett has any number of useful suggestions, but Tony overrides one or two of them. A servant should know their place, after all.

At a club Tony tells his date Susan (Wendy Craig) that he’s involved in clearing jungle to build three cities. When he brings her back to the house, she finds her attempts at both romantic intimacy and imposing her ideas on his home consistently thwarted by Barrett’s intrusions.

Barrett secures a job for his “sister” Vera (Sarah Miles) as a maid. She is actually his lover. And she sets about seducing Tony. All of this will come to a head, with Tony throwing the pair of them out.… Read the rest

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The Reason I Jump

Director – Jerry Rothwell – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 82m

*****

The inner world of the autistic, explored through the writings and lives of autistic people and innovative cinematography and sound design – in cinemas from Friday, June 18th (Autistic Pride Day)

Originally this was a remarkable book in which autistic teenager Naoki Higashida communicated to the rest of the world in prose what it’s like to be autistic. It had already been widely read in Japan when author David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida, whose son is autistic, were so taken with it that they undertook an English translation. International acclaim followed. For Mitchell, the book provided the opportunity to understand his son’s interior world like nothing before it.

A film is a very different media from a book. That begs the question, if you wanted to make the book into a film, how would you go about it? Seasoned documentary filmmaker Jerry Rothwell (Deep Water, co-directed with Louise Osmond, 2006; How To Change The World, 2015) had some innovative ideas. One was to use Higashida’s writings as a through line for the film, augmenting it with the experiences of several other autistic people.… Read the rest

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Nomadland

Director – Chloé Zhao – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 107m

****1/2

A poor widow drives around the US in her van picking up casual work where she can get it, meeting and making friends with other vandwellers – on VoD, in cinemas from Monday, May 17th

There’s a restlessness about Nomadland. In most films, the characters live in fixed abodes – houses or flats. Perhaps parts of villages, towns or cities. Not so here.

“I’m not homeless”, explains Fern (Frances McDormand) at one point to a daughter of a friend she’s not seen for years and runs into in a hardware store, ” I’m houseless. There’s a difference.” Indeed there is. 

Following the rapid economic collapse of Empire, the town where she lived, explained in a throwaway introductory title at the start, and the death of her husband, Fern has taken off in an RV and now moves from place to place, getting paid work where she can find it, meeting people and, frankly, enjoying the freedom this mobile and rootless lifestyle affords her. 

The property was originally a non-fiction book by journalist Jessica Bruder who documented the lives of so-called vandwellers living on the road following the US economic depression of 2007-2009.… Read the rest

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Pinocchio

Director – Matteo Garrone – 2019 – Italy – Cert. PG – 125m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 14th, on BFI Player rental from Monday, December 14th

Impoverished woodcarver Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) decides to make the greatest puppet the world has ever seen, tour the world with it and make his fortune. A wood merchant lets him have a log because it seems to have a life of its own. Unaware of its animate properties, Geppetto begins carving his puppet, a life-sized representation of the son he’s never had.

After he starts talking to it as its “Babba”, he is surprised when the puppet (nine year old Frederico Ielapi) talks back. Geppetto names him Pinocchio. No sooner has he carved the feet than Pinocchio runs out of Geppetto’s workshop to discover the world. In many ways, that defines the character and the story to come. The innocent Pinocchio is forever in pursuit of his own gratification, prey to the perils of the world around him and initially devoid of any sense of morality, something he struggles to learn throughout the course of the story in his quest to become a real boy.

There have been numerous versions of Pinocchio in film, television and theatre since it first appeared as a written serial in an Italian newspaper in 1881.… Read the rest

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Books Features Live Action Movies

The Lord Of The Rings

The following article was written for Sussed magazine in 2001 before The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) had been screened to press.

Elsewhere on this site: a short review for What’s On In London and a longer review also discussing TLOTR trilogy for Third Way of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.

FANTASY OBSESSIVE: JACKSON DOES TOLKIEN

Jeremy Clarke explores The Lord Of The Rings and the upcoming film’s director Peter Jackson

Harry Potter might be the obvious franchise of the moment, but anyone who knows anything about the fantasy genre knows one book towers above the rest. The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien came out in three volumes: the first The Fellowship of The Ring was published in 1954. The Sunday Times review divided people into those who have read The Lord of The Rings and those who are going to.”

By the sixties, it had become obligatory reading. Most fantasy derives from it, including today’s bestsellers Terry Pratchett and J.K.Rowling. It details the archetypal struggle against good and evil, set in Tolkien’s incredibly detailed world of Middle-earth populated with all manner of original creatures – hobbits, humans, elves, ringwraiths and trolls.… Read the rest