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1. West Side Story
2. The Apartment
3. Midnight Cowboy
4. La dolce vita
5. Asphalt Jungle, The
6. Eclisse, L'
7. Mulholland Dr.
8. The Last Picture Show
9. Born to Kill
10. Kiss Me Deadly
14. The thin Red Line
15. Nightmare Alley
16. Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The
17. L' Avventura
18. Servant, The
19. Billy Liar
20. Winchester '73
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Something is Better Than Nothing
A remarkably intelligent, adult film. Penelope Gilliat's screenplay is sharply observant of the workings of human behavior and perceptions about the self and each other. The overall theme is one that many can relate to--how do we deal with wanting more in a given situation, particularly in a romantic relationship? We watch three characters go through a week, interacting with each other. The needs, spoken and unspoken of two of them, Alex (Glenda Jackson) and Daniel (Peter Finch) are a central concern. These fantastic actors convey so much in their dialog readings, also in their facial expression and body language. Only actors of this caliber could really pull off much of this screenplay, which can be extremely subtle at times. As strong as the dialog is, the visual side of the film is just as important. Director John Schlesinger relies on the actors to make their scenes work, while he and his crew create a brilliant mosaic of intersecting lives. It's all remarkably "adult" not for its frank look at sexuality and sexual orientation, but in the occasionally indirect way it tells its story and in the way it assumes an audience who has lived long enough to understand things that characters are going through. A man and woman share a male lover who will never be completely there for either of them. We watch the man, a doctor, get on with his life at all times. He's disappointed when Bob (Murray Head) isn't available, but he accepts it as part of the bargain. Daniel feels a connection to his Jewish heritage and has a meaningful career. Alex, on the other hand, cannot deal with Bob's unreliability. She's a divorcée who leaves a job she hates and expresses demands that only push the younger lover further away. In a key scene, Alex's mother (Peggy Ashcroft) tell her there is no 'whole thing', you've got to make the best of it. For his part, Bob is not a scoundrel. He's simply incapable of giving himself fully to another person. So, in the end Daniel will be fine and Alex will likely remain miserable, and that's just how life goes for so many like either of them. Several scenes reflect a kind of mirror image of the relationships, and those scenes bring home the idea that it's never really easy for anyone. One married couple has a house full of children. They don't have much time to think about their own relationship. At the same time, they, unlike Alex and Bob, are capable of compassion for others and have a somewhat more realistic approach to life. If any of this sounds too somber, it should be noted that the film is often very funny, perfectly balancing its serious side. There is a lot more to say about this brilliant film that only seems to get better as it approaches its fiftieth year. Highly recommended for any perceptive viewer.
Casque d'or (1952)
A Becker Masterpiece
While watching CASQUE D'OR it's tempting to try to figure out what makes it so watchable and compelling. It's been called Jacques Becker's best film, but I had assumed it could not equal LE TROU or TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, both approaching cinema Nirvana in their own ways. Yet, different as it is in content, CASQUE does achieve the same high level of drama, atmosphere and general artistry.
The focal point of CASQUE is Marie, played with a perfect balance of insouciance and emotional depth by the great Simone Signoret. But it must be said that the rest of the cast meet her more than halfway. As Marie's lover, Manda, Serge Reggiani is ideally cast. In contrast to many stories depicting strong sexual attraction, it is Manda who is the object of the woman's lust. Reggiani may not seem the obvious choice for the part. He's not tall and has unconventional good looks. But he does have a kind of smouldering sexuality, something he shares with Marie, as we see when the plot develops. Reggiani even has two scenes in which he is clearly naked (discreetly, but still very frank for the time). It's an interesting choice, underscoring the openly sexual element in their relationship. That passion, and Marie's strong desire for Manda, energize the film in a way that goes beyond so many others that deal with similar themes. Besides Reggiani, we must recognize Claude Dauphin, who brilliantly plays Leca, the crime boss who lusts after Marie, always met with frustration.
Becker creates a palpable turn-of-the-century atmosphere, using real Paris locations and an authentic look for the actors' costumes. His directorial touch seems so assured, there is not a single scene that feel superfluous, or does not add to the meaning of what we're seeing. And Robert Lefebvre's cinematography has a beautiful, silvery clarity. It's no surprise that CASQUE D'OR was a hit with audiences (though not initially in France!). A true movie "classic" as watchable today as it ever was.
La donna del lago (1965)
Oppressive, atmospheric mystery
Atmospheric, slow moving mystery set in a beautiful and somber Italian location. American actor Peter Baldwin is cast as a man drawn back to the town where he had known people connected to a hotel on a magnificent lake. What became of the young woman he remembers who disappeared? In the past he had witnessed her with one of the hotel men--or did he? Everyone in the film seems to have a secret and it can be a bit frustrating if you're not compelled to figure it out, or to wait for the revelation. There is a heavy quality to this film, dreamlike at times, and the b&w cinematography establishes an oppressive feeling. Also in the cast Virna Lisi, Philippe Leroy and the great Valentina Cortese. Worth a look for handsome Baldwin, a decent actor whose career moved to Italy in the 1960s, and as a nearly forgotten Italian production from that decade.
L'aîné des Ferchaux (1963)
Melville never made a bad film: here's proof
Alternately called in English, "Magnet of Doom" or "An Honorable Young Man"--neither title doing justice to the French "L'Aîné des Ferchaux" (The Eldest of the Ferchaux Brothers), a phrase uttered in the film by Charles Vanel. Well, none of those titles is very good, but the film is pretty decent. Often seen as a detour in Jean-Pierre Melville's output, it does conform to a few of the director's themes. As a matter of fact, it could be seen as prefiguring the LE DEUXIÈME SOUFFLE (1966) in a number of ways. Vanel plays a corrupt financial partner who has to flee France ASAP--he's about to be arrested in connection with deaths of three men and is also in deep financial trouble. He hires a failed welterweight boxer--Jean-Paul Belmondo-- as a "secretary" to accompany him to the United States, where a safe deposit in his name will take care of his money problems. With a big wad of cash, the pair start off from NYC, heading south, ending up in New Orleans. Vanel is in charge all the time for the first half, but after Belmondo stops the car to pick up a female hitch hiker, he takes over, relegating Vanel to the back seat. Vanel's weaknesses become more evident as the situation becomes more and more hopeless: he's aging fast, has no real social support and his cash won't last forever. The film uses US back-roads and highways effectively and the New Orleans sequences have a noirish sense of decadence and doom. As the relationship between the two men devolves quickly into contentiousness, it's pretty seedy and unpleasant, but Melville's energetic direction--never a dull scene--should keep anyone interested. Both Vanel and the ever-watchable Belmondo are in good form and keep it all very convincing. Not one of Melville's masterworks, but a must-see for his fans.
The Sign of the Ram (1948)
Dark Melodrama on the Cornwall Coast
"The Sign of the Ram" (1948) is a good example of the odd hybrids that Hollywood was turning out in the late-noir period. The film is not truly a film noir: it has the visual style of dark, shadowy interiors, characters with hidden motives, but the plot belongs more to the realm of domestic melodrama. So this film could be grouped with "Mildred Pierce" and others for its mixture of noirish production values and melodrama.
Another odd and distinguishing thing about "The Sign of the Ram" is the conflict between its setting, Cornwall, England, and its cast. With the exception of Dame May Whitty--as an entertaining, truly mean-minded busybody--there is not an English accent in earshot. People speak lines like "I was born in London" with a consummate American accent. This, along with a pervasive use of painted exteriors gives the film a strong feeling of taking place in some never never land that only resembles the world we know (see "Ivy" (1947) for more of the same).Every 2 minutes or so, the editor has inserted shots of waves violently crashing against the rocky Cornwall coast, on the edge of which is situated the beautiful, gloomy, Amberson-type mansion where the entire film takes place, with a couple of sidetrips to a dank seaside mineshaft. Yes, it's gothic, modern gothic, and we don't mind that either.
Most interesting in the cast is Susan Peters as the tormenting and tormented Leah. Condemned to a wheelchair after a freak accident, Leah--the beautiful, talented Peters resembled a combination of Marsha Hunt and Carolyn Jones--must sit by and watch her older husband's grown children (from his previous marriage) find love and fulfillment outside the house, nicknamed "Bastion", where Leah rules with a very velvet glove. The early scenes lead the viewer to think Leah is just an alright sort--taking a kindly interest in everyone and behaving quite charmingly herself (apparently Peters really did play piano quite nicely, it does not look "faked").
Then one day, her afternoon tea crony, Dame May Whitty, plants one seed of suspicion too many with her idle gossip. Soon Leah is taking far too much control of the future plans of her young step children. One nicely nasty little confrontation occurs after another, as Leah wreaks havoc in "Bastion". She also has the useful legs of Knox's youngest daughter--unnaturally devoted to Leah--to aid in her machinations.
The sometimes hysterical musical score is by Hans Salter, who contributed memorably to some of the the Universal Horrors of the 1940s, but those are only a few of the WHOPPING 384 films for which Salter presumably did musical duties
Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949)
Enjoyable Minor Noir
Enjoyable minor film noir with a good cast, tough dialog, and interesting locations. Dan Duryea and Tony Curtis (in a non-speaking role) would appear the same year in CRISS CROSS, while John McEntire and Barry Kelley would be in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE the following year. Also in the cast Shelley Winters and Howard Duff.
This is a frequently used plot of a government agent or policeman secretly infiltrating a criminal organization and it works very well with Duff and especially Duryea, playing the leads. Winters is a sympathetic call-girl and McEntire is great as a duplicitous character. The day-for-night locations in Mexico (or a stand-in for it) are dramatically shot with overhanging clouds and trees that seem to glow in the shadows. William Castle directs and he's at his best. Not a major noir by any means, but a fine film that deserves to be restored.
True Detective (2014)
Season 3 even weaker than Season 2
Most of us didn't like Season 2, but at least it was unconventional storytelling and often weird enough to deep us interested. In Season 3 we have excellent acting from Ali, Dorff and McNairy in particular, but the season is a routine mystery dragged out over eight episodes with a feature-length finale. The tempo of the whole season is typically very slow and contemplative, with many scenes of long pauses between lines of dialog, often going nowhere to further the drama. This could have been a good 2 or 3-episode series.
The Lady Refuses (1931)
A little better than some are saying
We can't really expect low-budget pre-code melodramas to be 'great films'. They're automatically of historical interest because of the themes they dare to explore and which were banished from the screen in 1934. If you have decent actors, and interesting enough plot and some "daring" dialog many of these films can be enjoyable, if ultimately disposable. THE LADY REFUSES is a dead serious entry and thanks to Gilbert Emery and star Betty Compson it works in its own terms. Compson does well as a "woman of the street" who happens upon a sympathetic, lonely, older rich man who takes her under his wing. She's smart and perceptive about his situation: a beloved son has no time for his father. When Emery enlists attractive Compson to help lure the son away from a "bad woman", things get complicated. It doesn't all go as you'd expect. Among the better of the lesser-known pre-code movies now back in circulation, it's no masterpiece but Emery and Compson raise it a bit above the average.
The Woman Between (1931)
A weak entry in recent home video issues of rarely seen pre-code titles. The soap-opera plot is not unusual, but it's poorly handled by the direction and by the lackluster cast. In spite of Lily Damita's starring credit, she's not very good--perhaps it was the language issue, or maybe she just wasn't into the silly plot, or maybe she couldn't really act, at least based on this film. In any case, she can't carry the film, nor can the other actors. THE WOMAN BETWEEN has appeared in a set with much better movies. You can probably skip this it.
Permanent Green Light (2018)
French Mumblecore, with meaning
It almost looks and sounds like a parody of disaffected youth films, but there may be something deeper going on in PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT. An obsession with explosions leads Roman (Benjamin Sulpice) to create a pinata for a friend who doesn't want to beat and make it explode. Roman himself wants to 'explode' but does he want to die? Unlike a couple of his other acquaintances, he's not necessarily suicidal. Perhaps his in existential crisis, wanting to exist objectively, as a 'thing' rather than a person. Knowing his best friend is in love with him has little effect, nor does the suicide of a girl who seemed to share his outlook on life. These are young people on the verge of adulthood, who have no idea what to think or do about their lives. In that way it's genuinely effective.
The young actors are all very committed to their roles, especially Sulpice who seems a remarkable talent. Set in a sterile suburb somewhere in France and with long silences between the dialog scenes, it may try the patience of some viewers. Watching this film is a lot like reading Dennis Cooper, who wrote and co-directed.
711 Ocean Drive (1950)
Climbing the Crime Ladder
Well-done Noir thriller with a great character arc. Edmond O'Brien stars as Mal Granger, an ordinary telephone worker who talks his way into working for an off-track betting operation, greatly increasing their revenue and quickly rising to the top level of its ranks. While Mal seems like a pretty nice guy at the start, his darker, ambitious side comes to the fore when competition for money and women are involved. Something of a cautionary tale, the movie presents an interesting development for the main character and O'Brien plays it well. Barry Kelley is great as the tough-talking small syndicate boss and Otto Kruger seems to enjoy his role as the bigger boss whose company engulfs Kelley's after the latter's death. TV regular Don Porter is also very good, married to the woman (Joanne Dru) who falls for Mal and soon regrets her life choices in general. Beautiful Dorothy Patrick has the thankless role of nice girl rejected by Mal on his way to the top. Also really good is Sammy White, memorable as "Chippie" a poor sap for Mal's machinations. LA locations, circa 1949-50 are great to see, and Boulder (Hoover) Dam provides a super backdrop for the film's climax. Well directed by Joseph M. Newman. One of the top Columbia Noirs.
The Nightmare of the Human Dilemma
WETHERBY is a deep look into a basic human question: do we really know others, and, by extension, do we really know ourselves? Vanessa Redgrave (brilliant here, in one of her great performances) plays a middle-aged woman whose fiancé had been killed (murdered, in fact) during his military tour in Asia. The woman is left scarred by the event (we are not told how much she knows about the fiancé's fate) and lives alone, occasionally entertaining friends for dinner, and teaching at a local college. She teaches literature, a discipline that demands interpretation and looking into characters.
One night, a strange young man worms his way into one of her dinner parties, and attempts to seduce her, as a kindred spirit of his own isolation. Some time later, he returns when she's alone, and, in front of her, shoots himself in the head. The suicide drives the woman more deeply into her isolation and it seems also to affect a police detective assigned to the case. When his girlfriend leaves him to return to her husband, he feels a strong sense of identity loss, as though he had defined himself only in terms of his relationship to the girlfriend. These characters, and an intense young woman who had known the suicidal man, are the only ones we get to know (if that's even possible) in this enigmatic film. What are we to make of it? These characters are deeply affected by the actions of others, but they don't seem to have a solid sense of themselves. Perhaps the circumstances of the plot have brought out this painful realization, and they realize they are trapped. We see the detective contemplate his police identity card, then leave his home, one among identical houses in a sterile community. In the end, the woman (Redgrave) chats inconsequentially with a male friend, as they sit in a crowded bar, among strangers. The camera pulls back and we see an image of people trapped in an ultimately meaningless existence. And what of the political discussion that opens the film? It's been said that director-screenwriter David Hare was making observations about the current political situation in the UK, but the film doesn't appear to pursue this idea to any great extent.
It's all very well-acted, and filmed with a grainy, harshly lit look. The only complaint might be about the music: it's overly romantic--doesn't seem to fit the drama--and it's often much too loud.
Alice Adams (1935)
Not Hepburn's best, but good in other ways
One of Hepburn's more arch performances dominates this movie until the final chapter, when it takes an unexpected turn. It's not that Hepburn is bad, she's very good at eliciting sympathy for her misguided character. She just overdoes it, enough to make her irritating at times. Maybe that's part of the point. When she lays it on really thick during the dinner scene, it's easier to sympathize with Fred MacMurray, who seems to have reached his limit with her. Family strife intervenes, then Charley Grapewin arrives (as Mr. Lamb) so he and Fred Stone (Mr. Adams) can give a perfect demonstration of 1930s film acting at its finest. They play off each other with precision and emote with genuine conviction. It's the best part of a film that would otherwise be a poor-girl-gets-rich-boy romance. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington (The Magnificent Ambersons).
Taken for a ride
Wow. Bernard Blier, Simone Signoret, and Jane Marken are the trio at the center of a melodrama in high-gear from start to finish. Dora (Signoret) is married to Robert (Blier), an older man with some money (he owns a riding school in Paris). She's a gold-digger--attractive and selfish--but her mother (indelibly played by Marken) is a harridan of the first order, a monster who pushes her daughter to marry men with the means to keep them in a comfortable lifestyle. Dora's mother is also her confidant: the two women laugh at the husband behind his back, as they happily spend his money. Eventually Dora grows tired of pretending to love her husband and strays, counting on a wealthy suitor to take her away. The film is composed of grim interiors and flashbacks, as Robert and, mostly, the mother narrate the story in voice-over. Blier and Signoret were two of France's greatest actors and it pays off here. Marken so perfectly embodies the man-hating mother--vulgar and cackling--it's easy to hate her, along with her scheming daughter. Perhaps it's a cautionary tale. Yves Allégret's direction is brilliant, each scene revealing more about the characters both in word and deed. A dark, intense drama that deserves to be better known.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
A Tarnished Gem of a Film
Even if you despise these characters for what they're doing to get by in life, the writing and acting make them sympathetic as human beings. Watching Melissa McCarthy, as the real-life Lee Israel, make bad decisions has a fascination that's hard to describe. Maybe we're glad we're not doing the same things, and maybe we treat others better than she does. Israel is a perfect example of being one's own worst enemy. RIchard E. Grant is as good as McCarthy, playing an opportunistic, deluded alcoholic and drug addict who finds Israel at the right moment for the two to live out a corrupt version of "success". The nuances we get from these gifted players add more than even the words (and the words are very good). Marielle Heller, the director, works wonders with the actors, and she makes every scene count. Only a few song choices in the soundtrack seem out of place. Otherwise a real, tarnished gem of a film.
Il sorpasso (1962)
Not A Comedy: A Lesson about Life
IL SORPASSO is referred to by many comments as a comedy. There are a few amusing moments, but this is far from a comedy. The word "sorpasso" connotes overtaking, or passing, as in a vehicle passing another on the road. Bruno (Vittorio Gassman) is a man who lives--or thinks he lives--life to the fullest. He's headstrong, opportunistic, manipulating and selfish. He's also charming, and has the narcissistic ability to make other do what he wants. When he encounters Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) he sees someone who needs to be awakened to the carefree joys of life. It sounds good at first, as the men speed down highways and through small towns, passing every other car, hell-bent to go nowhere. No plans, something that Bruno impressed on Roberto: it's the way to live your life. Throughout, we hear Roberto's thoughts in voice-over--should he go along with this impulsive person, or insist on going back home to his quiet life as a law student? At a couple of points, Roberto does intend to leave on his own, but circumstances and Bruno's persuasive nature pull him back into the older man's sports car. It's all fun to watch, until they reach Castiglioncello, where Bruno "knows some people''. The people turn out to be his ex-wife and his daughter. The former wife (Luciana Angiolillo) knows Bruno all too well and sees through his raving and protestations. Daughter Lilli (Catherine Spaak) is still under her father's spell. His antics still entertain her and perhaps she has sought a responsible version of him in her much older suitor, whom she plans to marry. In this setting, Roberto finally sees Bruno for what he is--and he insists on returning to Rome. But as they begin the journey home, Roberto comes to a realization: he has just had the two best days of his life and he tells this to Bruno. The film is in high gear at this point. NO SPOILERS -- Both actors are brilliant, even with French Trintignant dubbed by an Italian voice actor, and they compliment each other perfectly. We see a lot of Italy: Rome, the countryside and the coast, as well as numerous ordinary citizens. A strong, often beautiful film.
Dédée d'Anvers (1948)
Essential French Noir
Wonderfully atmospheric and fatalistic drama. Set in the port of Antwerp (Anvers), this film creates a strong sense of place and, now, of time long gone by. Characters are vividly drawn and well played by a talented cast. Young Simone Signoret is easily seen as a big star of the near future. In support are Bernard Blier and Marcel Dalio. Director Yves Allégret moves things along beautifully, telling a story of down-and-out, often desperate people living in a foggy, dead-end place.
One scene does seems strange: a character is shown rushing down stairs, but only hands on the railing are seen, and in the following shots we see only hands and hear the voice, but never directly see the actor. In the next scene, the actor is again visible as before. Perhaps some production problem forced them to film the sequence this way. In any case, a forgotten gem of 1940s French cinema.
Un beau soleil intérieur (2017)
Wanting is Not Enough
The tension between wanting something from someone and the fact that it must be given freely and not asked for is at the heart of this film with its typically brilliant performance from Juliette Binoche. Does Isabelle (Binoche) really know what she wants? It seems to be long-lasting romantic love. She hasn't had a lot of luck in that area, despite being beautiful, charming and successful in her career as an artist. We first see her with an unappealing married man. After a lengthy discussion with him, she seems to give up and moves on to a handsome, much younger actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). He's also married and undecided about divorcing his wife. A typical dilemma, but for Isabelle it seems to be a pattern. These men are simply not available. Later, at a dance club, Isabelle meets someone who seems quite interested, even if he looks like an aging rock star (the kind who didn't get fat). We soon see the same conflict develop: Isabelle wants something the man cannot give, or not right away anyway. There follows a very brief flirtation with a friend of a friend and Isabelle ends up meeting with a counselor of some kind (Gérard Depardieu) who seems to tell her that her life has simply gone as it should...most enigmatically, that she will meet a man who understands and connects with her, but he too will not be "the one". The counselor says that Isabelle must become aware of her "beautiful inner sun" and be content with herself as she is.
In some ways this recent work of Claire Denis can remind a viewer of a film of Eric Rohmer, LE BEAU MARIAGE in particular. Endless discussion about what the protagonist wants. Simply wanting something from someone is not enough to make it happen. But the cinematic style of Claire Denis is miles away from Rohmer's. The editing alone puts UN BEAU SOLEIL INTÉRIEUR firmly in the art film category. Editing and narrative technique, mainly carried out through one-on-one conversation are sometimes elliptical and leave a viewer to decide what has happened. There is also an odd 'nature walk' with strangers who have a lot to say about seemingly nothing, causing Isabelle to go mad for a moment. Perhaps this is to show the extent of her frustration with life and with people in general. Denis chooses to end the film with the counselor scene: a long sequence composed mainly of close-ups of Depardieur while the final credits run, superimposed over the actors' faces.
An often funny film, very compelling thanks to Binoche's exasperating yet amiable characterization.
The Apartment (1960)
Just about perfect....
Is it possible for any film to be "perfect"? Especially a Hollywood film by a major director with major stars: can all the variables add up to something approaching perfection? Billy Wilder made several top-notch films, and some may argue that one or two of his others surpass this one, but for some of us, THE APARTMENT achieves a high level on a different order. In short, this film balances comedy and pathos so deftly that a viewer is barely aware of the feelings it evokes until it's over. The overall effect of the plot, characters, dialog, music and direction is so strong, that everything in it seems not only inevitable, but earned and appropriate.
At the simplest level, it could be said that the film's most important element is its characters. Few films have such vividly drawn, lived-in, seemingly real characters that most of us can relate to. C.C. Baxter is naive and ambitious, but somehow he's likeable, largely due to Jack Lemmon's performance (perfectly tuned as it is), but also to a convincing, grounded written characterization and setting. With Fran Kubelik, the same can be said: she's a fool, but we don't condemn her for it. Shirley MacLaine was never better than she is in this movie--witty, charming and nearly tragic--at all times convincing. We can't even truly despise Mr. Sheldrake, whose clueless treatment of women would place him at the bottom of the list, because Fred MacMurray was so brilliantly cast against type and therefore seems like a "real" very flawed human being, if not quite a "mensch". The rest of the film is populated by equally well-drawn characters (even very minor ones).
Another factor is the New York setting. Even though only a few shots were actually taken there, the film has a strong big-city feeling, keeping characters in perspective ("little" people living their own small lives, with all the ups and downs that entails). The cinematography by Joseph LaShelle finds a way to use the wide Panavision screen to tell this intimate story, never unduly calling attention to itself.
Adolph Deutsch's terrific score, with its "lonely guy" saxophone theme could not be better suited. And the main theme--a pre-existing song composed by Charles Williams--was a popular hit at the time.
As with most good or great films, the screenplay really is the main thing, and here Wilder and I.A.L Diamond have struck gold, balancing humor and serious drama perfectly. Along the way, the script is studded with so many quotable lines, it takes several viewings to appreciate them all.
In its way, THE APARTMENT has something to say about the human condition that's as strong as most other, more "serious" films have done or attempted to do. An American masterpiece, as good as it gets, movie-wise.
Tu ne tueras point (1961)
Unfairly obscure masterpiece
Laurent Terzieff is at the center of this powerful statement on conscientious objection, war and justice. Terzieff is brilliant as Jean-François Cordier, a young French citizen who, when called for compulsory military service in 1949, refuses to comply based on his objection to war and violence. Though given opportunities to avoid punishment (an offer of a desk job, or objection on religious grounds) he stands his ground, even refusing the court appearance of a priest on his behalf. Watching him so obstinately stick to his guns, as a pure objector is a gripping experience, thanks to Terzieff's acting and an excellent screenplay by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. In contrast to Cordier there is also Horst Frank, equally good as Adler, a German soldier who had been ordered to execute a French partisan in 1944. Adler's agonizing story is seen in a flashback that is as powerful as Cordier's statement, but not necessarily equal to it. This is where the film asks difficult questions: is a soldier guilty of a crime if he is carrying out orders, no matter how unjust, and remains distraught about the killing years later? And is Cordier less guilty of a crime because he has not killed anyone, but only objects to war and military service? The narrative of the film offers answers, but the viewer is left to decide for him or herself. Also featured in the film is Suzanne Flon, as Cordier's mother, who gives a performance of genuine depth.
A great film from director Claude Autant-Lara, it had a troubled history with its pacifist message. The French government would not support its production, due to current involvement in the Algerian War, so financial aid came from Yugoslavia. The film was never properly recognized by France, where it was poorly received by critics (probably for political reasons). It has remained obscure ever since and can sometimes be seen in an Italian-dubbed version
ER: Time of Death (2004)
ER, and television, at its best
There isn't much to add after seeing the other superlative reviews. This is one of the greatest episodes of one of the greatest series that has ever been. "Time of Death" revolves completely around "Charlie" (Ray Liotta), a man whose life unraveled only partly through his own fault. He in the ER with multiple problems, and near death. He has to make hard decisions about his own fate. The ER characters working on him are all ultimately sympathetic and even emotionally involved, more than they normally would be. Liotta is brilliant--a great performance and probably one of the best ever seen on major network TV. He goes from gruff and resistant to brokenhearted, and it's all completely believable. It's the kind of performance, and program, that seems real. Charlie's fantasies and memories are interwoven throughout--something we've seen before on this great show, but never with quite as much poetic power as we see here. Mr. Liotta certainly deserved any award he may have been considered for. Also a standout is Mekhi Pfiifer (Dr. Pratt) who also goes through an emotional arc in this episode and it's a moving thing to watch. The probably rare TV episode you don't forget, once you've seen it.
Jusqu'au dernier (1957)
Decent minor film, worth a look
Fairly diverting minor French crime drama featuring young Jeanne Moreau and Paul Meurisse. The setting lends the film some interest, a seedy traveling circus. A convict just let out of prison heads there to hide out from his old crime partners who think he has their money. Various alliances form and some excitement is generated, but nothing about it is really memorable, unless you count the silent boy and his dog who witness a lot of the action on the circus grounds. It's easy to see why the films of Becker, Melville and a few others stand out in the same period. Meurisse in fact, did impressive work with Melville later on, while Moreau was on the verge of international stardom.
Unearthly Stranger (1963)
A very worthwhile, forgotten sci-fi gem
One of the better British sci-fi films of the period. Despite being somewhat talky, UNEARTHLY STRANGER is very well acted. The opening sequence--a terrified man running through night-time London streets-- looks the very essence of Film Noir, but we quickly realize his terror comes not from criminals, but from some unearthly source. John Neville, as a man married to a beautiful but very strange woman he had met only two weeks before, is adept at playing disbelief and eventual terror. His cohorts (Patrick Newell and Philip Stone) at work are well-written characters and well played by the actors. As the wife, Gabriella Licudi (not Italian, it's her stage name) conveys a strangeness somewhat unique in this type of film. Jean Marsh is memorable as Neville's secretary. The emphatic score by Edward Williams is fine, if intrusive at some points. Largely forgotten now, this film might make a good double-feature with VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.
All She Wanted was "Happiness"
Half satire, half comedy-drama, DARLING doesn't exactly resemble many other films. It's of its era, deeply set in a time when youth culture was about to explode, but adults were still in charge, discovering some new-found sexual freedoms.
At the center of his very well-cast film is Julie Christie in her star-making performance Diana, a young woman of little education, but possessed of personal charm and innate intelligence. Diana is "cursed" with physical beauty in a culture that values it above almost all else. Men find her irresistible and she takes advantage of that, but always in the back of her mind is something called "happiness" that she wonders if she will ever find. It's clear early on that an intellectual lover (Dirk Bogarde, as Robert, a journalist) isn't satisfying a need for some kind of diversion ("there's something about typing" she says). But a liaison with Miles (Laurence Harvey) a hedonistic, unemotional cad, makes her think twice about Robert. Still, she continues to skate on the surface of life, enjoying the privilege of being one of the 'beautiful people' until she finds her own limit. If Robert took her too far in the direction of intellect, Miles leads the way to empty decadence. Ironically, Miles also manages to have Diana named a media star: "The Happiness Girl". After filming some commercials in Italy, Diana escapes to Capri with Mal, a gay photographer. As "brother and sister" they delight in superficial enjoyment. But Italy's comparative serenity makes Diana think she's found what's been missing. Accepting a marriage proposal from very wealthy Prince Cesare, she finds herself living in luxury, but confined to a huge palazzo, mostly by herself. In crisis mode, she returns to London and Robert, but it's too late, he's had enough of her flightiness. So it's back to her life in a castle as a lonely Italian 'princess'.
Despite Christie's lauded performance, Diana is not very sympathetic until the very end. But maybe that's part of the meaning. She thinks she knows what she wants, like so many people do she goes for it, but there is "always another corner to turn" when she gets there. It's a good illustration of the modern predicament. Too much choice, too many surface distractions. In most ways, nothing about 20th-century life in the West has changed. A bitterly ironic film (from the very opening shot of Diana's fashion ad being pasted over a plea for starving children, to the frowzy singer of "Santa Lucia" at the end), fast-paced and creatively directed by John Schlesinger.
Dark River (2017)
Beautifully filmed, but....
The cinematographer Adriano Goldman is probably the real star of DARK RIVER. He has a great eye for the landscape of North Yorkshire, where the film is set, with one stunning shot after another. Otherwise, this is a familiar story of family strife around ownership of a sheep farm after the death of the patriarch. Mark Stanley is superb as the conflicted brother who has remained, tending the farm. Ruth Wilson, as the prodigal sister returned, is very good too, deep into her mopey, depressed character. There is a lot of drama, combined with disturbing flashbacks to explain Wilson's state of mind. But it doesn't add up to a satisfying experience, tied up a bit too neatly in the end.