Sunday, 14 September 2014

Review - Fear in the Night (1947 - Dir. Maxwell Shane)

I was expecting all of the films listed in 'Nightworld' to contain some kind of monster or other, for example the umbrella creature in Not of This Earth. But no, this one only relates to the book by its title. No stupid low-budget monsters. Shame.

Vince Grayson (DeForest Kelly in his first film role) is a banker who has a rather nasty nightmare in which he kills a fellow in an octagonal mirrored room. Soon after he begins to suspect that it wasn't really a dream and maybe he actually killed the man. (He even says, "I'm a banker, not a murderer," at one point. Well, okay, that's a lie. He doesn't.) His brother-in-law Cliff (Paul Kelly) is a cop and decides to look into his case.

Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich called "Nightmare", Fear in the Night is a film noir thriller with the obligatory narration and moody shadowy atmosphere. The plot was probably quite original at the time but now it all seems pretty obvious what's happening from early on in the proceedings. Even so, I couldn't help but be gripped when the two blokes and their lady friends took shelter from a storm in a house, only for it to turn out to be the one from Vince's dream. There was a certain sense of inevitability about it all and I hoped that the rest of the film would be set in the nightmare house. It isn't though and a fair bit of atmosphere is lost from that point on. Especially when we learn the secret of the nightmare.

Again in 1947 the secret was only too plausible and scary. Yet now, it's common knowledge that the reason for his sleep walking murder spree just doesn't happen. It's a bit like a film's finale requiring the audience to believe that the world is flat. It wouldn't work in these enlightened times. So to enjoy the latter stages, a certain amount of "going with it" needs to be done.

Dr McCoy is great. One of the classic TV characters ever. Yet here DeForest Kelly looks a little wet behind the ear. His acting isn't entirely convincing and his narration seems forced rather than being a natural flow of thoughts emanating from his head. Fortunately the narration stops fairly early on and the more experienced Paul Kelly takes a more prominent role as the gruff no-nonsense cop.

On a positive note there are some quality screen cracking animations, similar in style to the one at the finale of City of the Living Dead. If that's not a selling point, I don't know what is.

Not the greatest of films then, seen in today's light but it is entirely suitable for a late Friday night. Switch off your brain for a while and it's not too bad.

If you like this you could also try:
Hollow Triumph, Somewhere in the Night.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Review - A Scanner Darkly (2006 - Dir. Richard Linklater)

Having never read Philip K. Dick’s novel, I came to A Scanner Darkly somewhat cold. It’s visually stunning, with a semi-animated style that feels like you’re watching a graphic novel that has come to life. The colours are rich, the effects are impressive and the acting shines through the stylised video filters. In short it should be a great film, but this science fiction adaptation left me feeling strangely empty and unfulfilled.

There’s some big hitters on the acting team; Keanu, Woody and Robert all put in suitably quirky, edgy shifts. And Rory Cochrane’s mentally tortured character steals the show at times with a sweaty, itchy performance perfectly in keeping with the story. His insect plagued introduction is the best scene in the whole film. Lovely Winona is her usual exemplary self and so much more natural and assured than that critically acclaimed show off Natalie Portman (Winona better than Portman!? No way! - evlkeith). Even in animated form, she’s a sensual, detailed and engaging character.

So what goes wrong in this tale of near future clandestine observation and designer drug culture? In some ways it’s a triumph for style over substance. The film looks and feels so great that the story seems a tad plodding and predictable by comparison. Basically, we’ve heard it all before; totalitarian states abusing our personal liberties and freedoms and it’s done so much better in both 1984 and A Brave New World.

As a graphic novel it would work perfectly; that slow release story unfolding before your eyes. As a filmic version of a graphic novel it all happens just too fast and the plot seems weak as a result. It’s a great and unusual experience and those more familiar with the novel may have taken more from proceedings than my limited grasp of the ‘Scanner World’, however it feels like a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In so many ways a classic film, but just like Substance D it ultimately leads you nowhere.

If you like this you could also try:
Renaissance, Cypher.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Review - The Girl on the Train (2009 - Dir. André Téchiné)

Back to the FA Cup of Actors again and here we are with the odds on favourite Émilie Dequenne. She faces Barbara Crampton in this match so surely she's got it all sewn up already. Let's see...

The Girl on the Train is similar to films like The Child and The Son in that it sets up a situation and then sees how people would behave in that given situation. This is a film of two halves even to the point of being broken down into two chapters. The first part shows what has been happening in the life of Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) as she finds a new boyfriend (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and moves in with him as part of a caretaking duo. But there's something a bit suspicious about him. Maybe she should have worked this out when he plays a particularly nasty practical joke on her - I'd have been out of the door like a shot - but she sticks with the shifty little guy. Suffice to say things go wrong and Jeanne pretends to have been part of an anti-semitic attack on a train.

The second chapter deals with the consequences. At one point a young lad asks Jeanne why she did what she did. She doesn't know. I can't say I do either. I don't think that it would have been my course of action if I'd been in her position (if I was seeking attention I would buy a wide-brimmed pink felt hat, a fur coat, cigars and a chihuahua and then prance about, to a suitable disco soundtrack, through the back streets of Grimsby, that'd get a fair bit of attention) yet her choice to be a total liar does tie together lots of things that have been happening in her life. It's a shame that the boyfriend thread of the story seems to get lost though.

You then get to see people being people and dealing with the predicament they're in. It's interesting in its own way but is never convincingly gripping. There is a fair amount of following Jeanne around, she's normally rollerblading so the camera looks back at her as she skates along, but it's not quite as much fun as following a woodwork teacher around for ages and ages. And ages (The Son). 

I've got quite a binary character, 0 or 1, on or off, right or wrong, but this film actually managed to throw up some interesting grey areas: Is the boyfriend really that dodgy? Is it better to keep quiet about it all being a lie? And is Jeanne really to blame for the way that the incident is sensationalised? If you watch it, you can make up your own mind.

So what we have here is a well-acted (it's got Émilie Dequenne in it, what were you expecting?) slice of understated French drama set against a backdrop of anti-semetic attacks. I still find it quite hard to buy into Jeanne's actions, but seeing as though it's based on a real-life incident, people can obviously be driven to do these things. I found it entertaining enough and thought-provoking at times but it's not one of my favourites, although due to the quality nature of the film-making on show, I'm sure that there will be people out there who like this a lot more than I do. Maybe you are one of those people?

If you like this you could also try:
The Child, The Son, Rosetta.