Klute

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Film Title

Klute

Director

Alan J. Pakula

Starring

  • Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels
  • Donald Sutherland as John Klute
  • Charles Cioffi as Peter Cable
  • Roy Scheider as Frank

An atmospheric thriller built on prowling paranoia through the direction of Alan J. Pakula, Klute also succeeds at being an unconventional urban drama with two fascinating characters, embodied spectacularly by Donald Sutherland and an Oscar-winning Jane Fonda.

Tom Gruneman; a family man mysteriously goes missing for no apparent reason. After the police have searched and turned up nothing, friend and private eye John Klute steps in and takes the investigation. He is a small town detective with not much experience in big cities, but he still dutifully takes on this case. klute-posterThe only clue as to what might have happened to Gruneman comes courtesy of an obscene letter he sent to a New York call girl. The girl in question is Bree Daniels, who seems to be not bothered about her lifestyle, but inwardly wants to break out from being a hooker and become an actress. In the area she lives in though, this dream is pretty slim which accounts for why she would need to turn tricks. The dependable and committed Klute travels to New York to see what he can uncover with regards to his friend’s disappearance. For a while, he watches Bree before making his presence known and questioning her of what she may know. Naturally defensive, Bree still manages to tell him about a client a few years back who brutally beat her up, but she can’t remember his name. Add to this the fact that she’s been getting cold calls frequently and Klute suspicions are raised. As he investigates and attempts to decipher what may have happened to Gruneman, he starts developing feelings for Bree, who has trouble reciprocating because of how distrustful and complex she is. Yet when a nearby prostitute is murdered and Bree begins to feel isolated, it appears that the crazed psycho may well have her in his sights. Bree is forced to trust Klute, which is something usually out of her remit as the steadfast Klute closes in on the stalker.

Alan J Pakula’s probing direction is a perfect match for the unconventional film that while ostensibly a thriller, reveals a personal drama in a place of seeming hopelessness. He is most adept at constructing paranoia in the viewer, achieved by placing the camera behind an assortment of obscuring surfaces. Surveillance is almost ever-present in Klute; which brings out a voyeuristic deconstruction of a seedy underbelly that the characters here occupy. kluteThe way that the camera stalks and tails Bree is both compelling and alarming, as it places us in the position of the crazed former client stalking the slowly more desperate Bree. While the spine tingling thriller aspects are plentiful and impressively drawn, the real crux and unique point of Klute comes in the characters and the attention it makes for them. The exploration of John and Bree are impeccably rendered and allow them to be characters that fascinate as well as challenge us. This is mostly seen in Bree, who is the focal point and key to the story. What is most enthralling about Bree is that she isn’t really like either of type of prostitute that is often seen in film; neither the hooker with the heart of gold or an emotionless broad. Instead, she occupies the middle ground and that , coupled with her complex relationship with Klute, is the lifeblood of this movie. John is also intriguing for how he manages to stay above corruption with his smarts and common sense, while still attempting to connect with Bree and solve the case. donald-sutherland-and-jane-fonda-kluteSpecial mention must go to the cinematography from the masterful Gordon Willis. He already stands as one of my favourite cinematographers and Klute displays his sublime gift for crafting darkness and shadowy intent. Combined with the piercing and perceptive direction of Pakula, the visual elements place is right in the middle of the strange and ever so unnerving story. Even when there is a spot of brightness in the film, something usually shocking or dark is occurring to offset any relief. A tremulous and minimal score that often echoes with eerie intent is employed to supply sufficient atmospheric impact, which it does it droves.

Klute may be the title of the film, but the main story belongs to Bree and how stunningly Jane Fonda essays the role. She garnered a well-deserved Oscar for playing the brittle prostitute and it’s not hard to see why. jane-fonda-kluteThe character is one of so many angles and contradictions; tough and hard-edged yet achingly vulnerable, openly sexual and yet never really knowing the pleasure of love and seemingly fulfilled but crushed by failed opportunities. For any actress this role would be a high wire act that could have gone wrong, but Jane Fonda’s simply astonishing depth and ability to exhibit all of these traits is really something to behold. I can’t wax lyrical enough about how exceptional her work is here, she just never misses a beat and inhabits the role with a whole bunch of committed emotions, sometimes within a matter of seconds. Donald Sutherland’s wisely understated and stolid playing of the titular private eye is an exemplary counterbalance to Fonda, as he is the one who is doing the digging and managing to somehow remain from getting his hands dirty. In supporting parts, Charles Cioffi as the man Klute reports back to and Roy Scheider as a vicious pimp, do commendable work.

Filled with a piercing and voyeuristic insight into a place of urban and moral decay and exuding some nail-biting suspense, Klute makes a big impact and striking effect as we are invited into this world and behold the fantastic work from the two main actors, particularly a knockout Jane Fonda.

An Update

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I wanted to do this post to let everyone know how I’m getting on. At the minute, I am still packing for the house move and that will be in a few weeks. There are things at the new place that still need sorting and I’m still helping my parents as it is only right. So I hope everyone can bear with me for the next few weeks. If I’m not on my blog as much, these are the reasons. Thank you everyone for being so supportive.

The Opposite of Sex

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Film Title

The Opposite of Sex

Director

Don Roos

Starring

  • Christina Ricci as Dedee Truitt
  • Martin Donovan as Bill Truitt
  • Lisa Kudrow as Lucia DeLury
  • Ivan Sergei as Matt
  • Johnny Galecki as Jason
  • Lyle Lovett as Sheriff Carl

A jet-black comedy that is frequently shocking and covers themes that could be incendiary with caustic aplomb, The Opposite of Sex makes for an unconventional and oddball story, populated by strange yet winning characters and a sarcastic turn from Christina Ricci.

Dedee Truitt is a bitchy, trailer trash 16-year-old girl who runs away from her Louisiana home after burying her stepfather. She high tails it to Indiana where she arrives on the doorstep of her sensitive gay half-brother Bill, who is still mourning the loss of his partner to AIDS. He is currently in a relationship with the hunky but dumb Matt, though he still hasn’t faced the loss of his former flame properly. the-opposite-of-sex-posterDedee, who is secretly pregnant, slowly sets in motion a cunning plan to gain money from Bill, knowing that he has $10,000 in his safe deposit box. Seducing Matt and then pretending that the baby is his, she skips town with him along with the money and the ashes of Tom, in an urn that could fetch a tidy sum. Bill doesn’t know what to do about the situation, but Tom’s sister Lucia, who is highly strung and obviously has feelings for Bill, encourages him to find both of them. Things also heat up when Matt’s former boyfriend and Bill’s former student Jason threatens him with accusations that he made inappropriate advances towards him. As a missing person’s report has been filed by the spiteful Jason, local sheriff Carl, who has the hots for Lucia, has to become involved as Bill and Lucia search for Dedee and Matt. Dedee continues to manipulate everyone for her own gain as a cross-country madcap venture takes place, leading to many realizations and people confronting what they are holding back. Add to this chase murder, ransom, extortion and blackmail and its eventful days for all the people Dedee comes across and wreaks havoc on.

Don Roos made his directing debut with The Opposite of Sex, as well as penning the screenplay. And he does an extremely engaging and biting job at bringing these unusual characters and events to spirited and also darkly comic life. And yet while the film has a dark, rude and sarcastic heart, it surprisingly allows for oddly touching and moving moments to be gleaned. dedee-and-mattThis comes with a definite irony as while Dedee ruins everyone’s lives, she inadvertently helps them come to terms with various issues and personal demons. The Opposite of Sex is ballsy material that takes aim at homophobia and bible-bashing zealots with rapier wit that it is clearly unapologetic for. And while some of the things the movie deals with won’t be to all tastes, it really knows the buttons to press and gets jaw-dropping gasps from you, whether you like it or not. A lot of this comes down to the acidic script, that churns out great one liners at a regular rate. The best example is the use of narration from Dedee, whose view on things is spiked with savage commentary and smart alec remarks. She’s the kind of narrator that is fun to listen too as she is no angel and her mordant assessment of events has to be heard to be believed. I mean, just listen to how she knows that the audience isn’t going to root for her or a withering offer her opinion on the people she ruins. This is a self-aware heroine who doesn’t give a damn, which suits the film down to the ground. Even when she isn’t on screen and it is just her voice, you can’t help but be intrigued and frequently flabbergasted by her thoughts. The pace is pretty quick and filled with sparks, only sometimes having the odd lull that can be forgiven owing to how incisive and scathing it all is. A strangely bouncy score belies the gleefully sardonic and vicious wit of the piece.

Front and centre of it all is Christina Ricci, who is acerbically vicious and seductive in equal measure as the sly Dedee. dedee-truittRicci embodies the bitchy and sarcastic attitude to an extremely high degree, making you both shocked and strangely attracted to her, even though she’s vindictive. Though there are hints that Dedee may have some form of a heart, the spiky and cutting aspects of the part are what is so appealing, a strength to which Ricci plays to in devilishly vindictive mode. Blasé and snappy as Dedee is, Christina Ricci makes you unusually root for and be fascinated by this trashy jailbait vixen with a mind as sharp as an axe and a tongue like a viper. This is one of the best performances of Christina Ricci, which is no surprise considering how much she puts into the part and other roles too. The other players are also given lively and kooky characters to flesh out this darkly humorous experience. Martin Donovan is perfectly subdued as the mild-mannered Bill, who is too nice for his own good but slowly seeing that he can’t just sit back as all of this chaos ensues. Donovan gets probably the most relatable part in The Opposite of Sex, which he plays to the hilt and never rings false. lisa-kudrow-the-opposite-of-sexReally having a blast is Lisa Kudrow as the opinionated and self-righteous Lucia, who finds the idea of sex repulsive but quietly yearns for companionship. She is amusingly passive-aggressive, high and mighty and ever so slightly sour, but Kudrow wisely ensures that she isn’t without sympathy. Ivan Sergei makes the most of his role of the not too intelligent Matt, who gets completely wrapped around the poisonous fingers of Dedee without quite realising it. Johnny Galecki has a ball as the mendacious accuser, while a homespun Lyle Lovett is just right as the sheriff drawn into this outrageous web.

Unapologetically snarky and definitely not adhering to political correctness, The Opposite of Sex couldn’t give a damn about that and comes off as a biting dark comedy that provides biting humour and curious insight into relationships and the complexity of them. Bolstered by a wickedly biting performance from Christina Ricci, this is a film that is best summed up by the tagline ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be offended’.

Someone to Watch Over Me

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Film Title

Someone to Watch Over Me

Director

Ridley Scott

Starring

  • Tom Berenger as Mike Keegan
  • Mimi Rogers as Claire Gregory
  • Lorraine Bracco as Ellie Keegan
  • Jerry Orbach as Lt. Garber
  • Andreas Katsulas as Joey Venza

It isn’t the best movie from Ridley Scott, but Someone to Watch Over Me is shamelessly overlooked and underrated for its atmosphere and visual style. A romantic thriller that looks at differences in lifestyle and appearance, the thriller aspect lacks but the rest of the piece, namely the acting and direction, make it a watchable and at times intriguing movie.

Mike Keegan is a recently promoted police detective who lives with his wife Ellie and young son Tommy in Queens. His marriage is stable and he is largely good at his job, so everything is going quite swimmingly. someone-to-watch-over-me-posterThen he gets the call to come in after a murder is committed. A criminal by the name of Joey Venza killed a businessman who he thought squeezed him out of a deal before their partnership severed and it was witnessed by the beautiful Upper East Side socialite, Claire Gregory. Mike is assigned to protect Claire and provide round the clock support as she is clearly in danger. If any evidence is brought forward, Venza will most likely be charged. Claire’s testimony is what this cast stands on and Venza makes it his priority to silence her. At first, Mike and Claire aren’t exactly friendly; his tough demeanor is at odds with her aloofness and the obvious difference in backgrounds is pretty noticeable. Yet, as he continues to watch over her, he develops romantic inclinations for her that are reciprocated. He gets a glimpse into the high life of extravagance and she lets her icy guard down. This poses obvious problems for Mike as he does really love his wife Ellie deeply, yet is unable to deny the attraction he has for Claire. At the same time, Claire is menaced by Venza, who threatens to kill her if she talks anymore about what she saw him do. Add to this situation the fact that Ellie is growing very wary of Mike’s devotion to the case, and things look like they will be very complex for everyone here.

The film is directed with exceptional finesse by Ridley Scott, whose stamp of luscious and enviable imagery and depth of cinematic quality is in good supply. someone-to-watch-over-me-castThere is a real elegance to Scott’s direction that juxtaposes the glamour of the Upper East Side with the working class Queens to striking effect, while giving that sheen of sophistication you can always count on in something directed by Ridley Scott. He knows how to visually bring out the themes at hand, here it is someone from the outside looking in along with society and lifestyles, that are rendered with impressive results. Now while Someone to Watch Over Me is billed as a romantic thriller, the elements of thriller can sometimes be a bit lacking. That isn’t to say there isn’t any tension or suspense because there is, but the main focus is more the unlikely romance between Mike and Claire than just action. The film functions better as a study of two people who are almost opposite in every respect unusually finding a mutual attraction in possibly dangerous circumstances. That’s where the real force of the film lies, despite it being straightforward and displaying parts that are a bit implausible. mimi-rogers-and-tom-berengerIf you concentrate more on the romance aspects and the look at people, Someone to Watch Over Me is frequently quite riveting and engaging. The main thing that marks the movie down in my estimation, despite it being still very watchable, is that is lacks the special something that Ridley Scott movies usually have. Despite this hiccup, the smoky atmosphere leaves a lot to be thankful for, helped in no small part due to the lovely jazz music that features heavily. The growing attraction between Claire and Mike is kept to a classy level which actually makes it more interesting because of the subtlety, you didn’t need overly sexual scenes to convey their sparks.

Tom Berenger fares well as the tough guy who unexpectedly finds himself straying from the marriage bed by someone who is completely out of his league. Berenger finds the right understated note to play Mike, that allows him to be cynical and hard-boiled on the job and more sensitive when the occasion calls. The beautiful Mimi Rogers has the class and poise for Claire, while underscoring that for all the glamour she has, houses a void of loneliness that is suggested through Rogers’ subtle face. She has become accustomed to this life of privilege and enjoys it, but with everything going on, she finds companionship of an unusual sort with Mike that allows her to open up. Her quiet and fearful demeanor are played extremely well by Rogers in a way that is understated and demure. But the best performance in Someone to Watch Over Me comes from Lorraine Bracco. ellie-someone-to-watch-over-meAs the dutiful but outspoken wife of Mike, she nails the suspicion and attitude of the woman, who knows that something is definitely not right and wants answers. Bracco has an unpretentious and open delivery which coalesces with the heart of Ellie to form a well-tuned piece of work, from what could have been a throwaway part of a wallflower. Jerry Orbach is fun to watch in a supporting role of grizzled police lieutenant who appoints the job of watching Claire to Mike, while Andreas Katsulas has a face made for a villain that is used very effectively as the criminal trying to eliminate any chance of a life sentence.

So while the story is quite simplistic and some of the thrills could have had a bit more punch, Someone to Watch Over Me should be more well-known and appreciated for the stylish way that Ridley Scott shoots it and brings it to life.

Carrie

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Film Title

Carrie

Director

Brian De Palma

Starring

  • Sissy Spacek as Carrie White
  • Piper Laurie as Margaret White
  • Amy Irving as Sue Snell
  • Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen
  • Betty Buckley as Miss Collins
  • William Katt as Tommy Ross
  • John Travolta as Billy Nolan

Based on the novel by Stephen King, Carrie is a heartbreaking and frightening take of bullying and the limits that someone is pushed to. With Brian De Palma behind the camera and Sissy Spacek supremely moving as the titular protagonist, Carrie becomes a compelling exercise in horror rooted mostly in the real world, but with supernatural touches complimenting it.

Carrie White is a painfully shy outcast in high school, who is mercilessly bullied by her fellow peers. carrie-movie-posterShe has an equally unhappy home life where her mother Margaret is a crazed religious zealot who thinks anything remotely sexual is a sin, regularly beats Carrie and forces her to pray for her alleged sins. Carrie is once again tormented when she experiences menstruation for the first time in the showers and as a result of her upbringing that hasn’t explained it, she is targeted by a number of girls headed by the sadistic Chris Hargensen. Miss Collins breaks up the horror of the situation and attempts to comfort Carrie. She punishes the girls for their horrible treatment of Carrie, resulting in Chris being banned from prom due to her lack of sympathy and refusal to admit she’s done anything wrong. margaret-whiteAt the same time, the timid Carrie starts exhibiting signs of telekinesis that flair up when she is angry and she struggles to understand. One of the girls involved in the torment,  Sue Snell, starts to feel very guilty about her part in it and wanting to be nice, she asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the approaching prom. She sees it as a way to help Carrie and also as an apology for her behaviour of which she feels immense remorse for. Carrie is apprehensive when Tommy asks her as she thinks it is a prank, but after talking and getting advice from the kind Miss Collins, she accepts. Meanwhile, the horrid Chris ropes her boyfriend into engineering some sort of revenge on Carrie. Carrie’s mother is adamant that her daughter will no go to the prom, but Carrie finally stands up for herself and attends. But after a vicious prank set up by Chris and her boyfriend humiliates Carrie just as she feels accepted, she completely breaks and makes those who have bullied her very sorry in a most fatal and gruesome way with the use of her powers.

Brian De Palma directs this film a stylish and surprisingly empathetic touch to showcase the way that Carrie wants to be accepted and is repeatedly bullied for it. Sensitive and compassionate are not often words associated with De Palma, but his approach to the material really hits home in how it presents the horrors of bullying and being seen as different by ignorant others. And while a film that is in the horror genre, the biggest unsettling parts are the depictions of cruelty and nastiness that Carrie endures. When she finally lashes out and unleashes her powers, you can see why this is happening. She has been put to the razors edge and is now acting out retribution of the most fatal kind. Carrie is no monster, merely a misunderstood girl with a gift that finally snaps when torment gets to much, and I think everyone whose ever been mistreated or bullied can at least relate to that feeling of being so downtrodden and yet wanting to get back at those who frighten them. Which brings me onto my next point of interest. Now no review of this film would be complete without a shout out to the justly celebrated prom sequence when Carrie is pushed over the edge with no way back. carrie-prom-sceneUtilizing an assortment of techniques( eerie yet tense slow motion, the maximizing of particular sounds and striking split-screen) the results of the scene are simply haunting in how chilling and precise everything is, as Carrie turns the prom into a bloodbath. I could wax lyrical about this forever but the review can’t be a full on essay. All that’s left to say is De Palma is the masterful composer behind the detailed and shocking scene that leaves a big imprint on the mind, and won’t be forgotten for a long time after the movie finishes. Carrie adeptly straddles the tropes of a perceptive high school drama with horror that grows to a jaw-dropping finale, confirming it as a horror film that deals with real life social issues compassionately. The pace of it is just right, building up to the climatic snapping of Carrie’s mind with assurance and some cleverly ironic foreshadowing. And the score is purely amazing in every aspect of the word. Pino Donaggio works wonders as he covers all the emotional ground of Carrie, while bringing in by little nuances, the suspense and shocks that will eventually ignite. You couldn’t have asked for a better score for this film than the lyrical and haunting one it sports.

Sissy Spacek represents the tormented soul of the film with a natural and sympathetic performance. There are times when she is so authentic that it doesn’t seem like she is acting at all, so sincere and expressive in her interpretation of Carrie’s anguish and victimized mind. sissy-spacek-carrieThere is simply no one who could have been so convincing in the part and use their eyes to both moving and unnerving effect, particularly noticeable in the prom sequence when Carrie’s powers come into full force. Piper Laurie is wildly and suitably over the top as Carrie’s crazy mother, who puts fear into her heart and also the audience’s. She really goes for the unrestrained and frightening approach that is superbly played like a pro, which of course Piper Laurie is. This is the mother of your nightmares, and has to rank as one of the most unhinged to hit the cinema screen. In her movie debut, Amy Irving strikes the right notes of guilt-ridden shame and atonement for her actions in a quiet but evocative way. Nancy Allen stars as queen of nasty and vicious Chris, and you can’t fault her performance because you genuinely loathe this character. Betty Buckley is a supportive presence as the kind Miss Collins, while William Kitt displays a sensitivity as Sue’s boyfriend who is persuaded to ingratiate Carrie to the prom. And of course, there is a very young John Travolta, who successfully plays the none too bright boyfriend of Chris who is pulled in to help her exact her shocking prank on the title character.

A dazzling horror and cautionary tale of how you should think about the treatment of others, Carrie is rightfully iconic and cuts deep on a lot of levels.

The Changeling

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Film Title

The Changeling

Director

Peter Medak

Starring

  • George C. Scott as John Russell
  • Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman
  • Melvyn Douglas as Senator Joseph Carmichael

A very spooky and understated haunted house horror, The Changeling boasts a genuine suspense and mystery to it, which stand it in extremely good stead. It’s a shining example of the less is more approach that favours atmosphere and twists instead of bloody carnage.

John Russell is a music composer who is one day being helped by his wife and daughter as their car has broken down in the snows of Upstate New York. Yet tragedy strikes when they are both killed in a freak collision between a snow plow and a van. the-changeling-posterBroken by this, John gets out-of-town and takes a job teaching music to university students. Grief-stricken by his loss, he tries to find somewhere to live in the hope that it will help him get to grips with life alone. Thanks to friends, he discovers a large unoccupied house that he believes will give him peace and time to reflect as well as heal. But while coming to terms with the tragic loss of his wife and daughter, John finds himself plagued by strange things in the house. A loud, repetitive banging sound occurs at the same time for a number of days at the exact same time. This particular incident leads a suspicious John to a secret room, that has been hidden away behind large planks of wood and locked. Most creepy of all is the image he catches of what appears to be a young boy drowning in the bath. At first, John isn’t sure about what to make of these unexplained events as he has no way of piecing anything he finds in the room together( which include an old-fashioned children’s wheelchair and a music box that eerily has the same tune he has been composing) with the strange phenomena of the vision he saw. the-changeling-houseYet they continue to occur and John is tried by what he experiences, and he can’t rely deny what is happening right before his very eyes. Bewildered and shocked by these things that he finds to be trying to get his attention in one way or another, he dives into the past of the house with the friendly support of Claire Norman, who helped sell him the house and is a member of a historically related society. Stumbling blocks in the form of missing records and misdirection only add more to the mystery and the obstacles it poses. A séance is conducted that helps reveal something about the presence and the tragic clues as to why it haunts the house. The events have a large impact on John, who slowly discovers a will inside him to bring out the truth before it is too late. It’s a matter of proving the existence of the spirit to anyone that it will impact that is going to be the problem. John takes it upon himself to uncover what lies at the bottom of the haunting and the repercussions it continues to have, with a forceful approach that stirs up trouble for those in relation to the horror of the past.

The Changeling is a film that is driven by an eeriness and a simplicity that enables the spooky goings on to gradual reveal themselves through a measured but never lagging pace. The method of getting jolts of terror from sound and doubt are effortlessly employed , but never in a way that gets overly styled or distracting. While some unusual angles are employed, the direction from Peter Medak is wisely kept to an understated a and marvellously constructed level. the-changeling-movieFor me, the attention to the story and how the ghostly haunting linked where the real hooks and the work from compliments them stunningly. The Changeling is just as much a mystery as it is a ghostly horror, a significant attribute that Medak wields with flair and just the right amount of content( the séance scene is a highlight of unnerving tension and revelations) to keep it ticking over. I found the matters surrounding the haunting very entertaining and spine-chilling as it gave another sheen to the film that went places I was not anticipating it to visit. It really pulls you right into the enigma of the house and what transpired there, with a suitably gloomy visual palette to highlight both the spooky aspects and the mourning heart of John going through his own pain. the-changeling-bouncing-ballTake for example the scene of John finding his daughter’s bouncing ball which he knew he got rid of, only to have it repeatedly fall down the stairs towards him on a loop. It’s a simple yet haunting indication of John’s link with the presence as it reaches out to him and how he can’t ignore what he has seen. The lugubrious and spine tingling score( complete with ghostly cries and slithering strings) aids the personal journey John goes on in battling his own grief, while bringing justice to someone from the other side who isn’t at peace.

On the acting front and definitely strong is George C. Scott in a nuanced turn. He plays the man attempting to hold his grief inside and deal with it in some way impressively, as well as showcasing the growing feeling of unease in regards to the house. george-c-scott-the-changelingScott is a professional who makes the role look effortless and the building feeling of determination that his character attains in trying to uncover the reasons for the haunting are pretty amazing, as well as wholly believable. Trish Van Devere( who was actually married to Scott in real life) is nicely curious and helpful as the concerned Claire, the two working well together in a natural way that isn’t surprising considering their off set relationship. Rounding out the main cast is Melvyn Douglas a powerful Senator who somehow fits into the scheme of things regarding the past of the house. Douglas wonderfully makes the most of the part by displaying a worry and slowly unraveling fragility.

A smartly old school horror that knows the best way to chill the blood is by making things creepy and gradual, The Changeling is for me an underrated horror gem that deserves a hell of a lorn of credit for what it teases out.

Closer

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Film Title

Closer

Director

Mike Nichols

Starring

  • Julia Roberts as Anna
  • Jude Law as Dan
  • Natalie Portman as Alice
  • Clive Owen as Larry

Based on a play, Closer, as directed by Mike Nichols, brutally tears apart the cruelty and manipulative nature of people when it comes to relationships. It’s not cosy watching, but a bruising and frank exposure of betrayal and hurt, aided by the fine direction and four performances at the centre of it all.

Closer begins with obituary writer Dan catching the eye of pretty, spiky haired American Alice on the streets of London. closer-movie-posterAfter exchanging glances, Alice is hit by a car but is not seriously injured. Following this, Dan and Alice become romantically involved with each other. Dan is an aspiring writer who speaks of the greatness and depth of love, while Alice is a stripper who doesn’t reveal a lot about herself though seems to be a largely naive young lady looking for something. Later, Dan has written his book( which he has based partly on what Alice has told him about her life) and has his picture taken by the distant photographer Anna, who he can’t help but feel attracted to. She resists his advances and he decides to get even. Frequenting a naughty dating site, he pretends to be Anna and talks with Larry, an alpha-male dermatologist. Dan sets the two up, yet after the initial awkwardness of what they discover was Dan’s doing, Anna and Larry begin to hit it off. It is here that events begin to snowball for everyone as crossed wires and brutal betrayals plague the group and start an unending run of misery for all. Throughout the film, the four people in this love square swap and wreak havoc on their lives as they toy with feelings and the very fabric of attraction.

The dexterous Mike Nichols is on great form with this relationship drama, delving into the darkness with a withering eye and complex touch. Nichols has successfully charted the destructive essence of flawed people in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and succeeds again with how he dives into a harsh and relentlessly honest confrontation of the urban relationships and the harsh betrayals the four pull on each other. He refuses to sweeten anything for the audience, which deserves applause for not being cowed or overly smooth. anna-and-danThe mess that Anna, Dan, Alice and Larry is all by their own actions and we never forget that. Even the moments of humour have barbed and caustic sting to them, mocking how these people may not even know what love is considering the way they hurt and inflict harm on each other. Now even those who don’t know that Closer is based on a play will be sure to guess as soon as the quartet open their mouths. There is something literate yet strangely intimate about the dialogue, which goes for the jugular with progressively raw and savage language. Closer sports some of the most adult and brazenly sexual dialogue you are ever likely to hear in a movie. And the fact that Closer feels very much like a play on film will either turn you off or on. Some of it does feel not very cinematic, though in part that is probably largely the point of it. For me, I found the structure and unusual intimacy compelling and uncompromising. Closer jumps forward in time without the easy use of giving us title cards, letting the script fill in some of what has transpired off-screen and leaving the rest up to you. I found myself quite riveted by this approach as it refused to give any respite and truthfully exhibits the easiness with which this group hops in and out of bed and affections with each other. Closer may deal with the themes of love and adultery, but it is far from a raunchy film. It goes under the microscope of attraction to pull out the ugliness in humans when it comes to the heart and sex. alice-and-larryEven a scene of Alice stripping and teasing Larry is turned far away from pornographic fantasy into a battle of wills, with Alice getting the upper hand and ironically exposing very little. The limited use of music, save for a few instances of opera or background melodies in club settings, makes it possible for the harsh and piercing core of the film to really surface and linger.

With this kind of film the acting has to be something to form a deep impression, thankfully the four actors of the piece are more than up to that task. Julia Roberts, who is known for being smiley and charming in movies, turns it right down to star as the aloof Anna. I liked how Roberts wasn’t afraid to play this type of character, whose completely spineless and ambivalent actions are just one of many instances of callous behaviour shared by everyone. Jude Law is good casting as the descriptive but smug Dan, who believes he knows everything yet is far from being a figure of model actions. Law has that ability to really show the ugliness and loathing of a character, that is finely tuned to the part of Dan. Natalie Portman is spectacular in one of her best roles. It’s her understanding of Alice’s many contradictions and mystery that makes the role so memorable. natalie-portman-closerSifting through the layers of the character, from innocent and vulnerable to cold and seductive, Portman doesn’t miss a beat. It’s truly a credit to her that we think we know Alice for a lot of the film and then we are surprised by the little suggestions that she may not be the most angelic member of this quartet, even though it largely seemed to be that way. It’s a daring and naughty part that calls for Portman to show some skin but not reveal a lot outwardly, a challenge that she rises to and delivers a hypnotic piece of work. Filling the last angle of this love square is a ferocious turn from Clive Owen. He essays Larry as a man who is very charming and frequently the dominant person, but little by little the brute force of him comes pouring out in an explosive way. His anguish and brutal mouth are palpably played by Owen and made all the more shocking due to the intensity of his delivery. All of the principal actors are at the top of their respective games, with Natalie Portman and Clive Owen really burning into the mind.

A cutting examination of modern relationships and the tangled parts that result in anguish, Closer retains a theatrical air that can get a bit heavy-handed, yet that should not detract from the sterling quartet of actors and the acute eye of Mike Nichols behind the camera. Definitely a film that won’t be for everyone, but for those who want an adult drama that doesn’t beat around the bush, Closer offers more than enough to satisfy.

Raising Cain

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Film Title

Raising Cain

Director

Brian De Palma

Starring

  • John Lithgow as Carter Nix/ Cain
  • Lolita Davidovich as Jenny
  • Steven Bauer as Jack
  • Frances Sterhangen as Dr Lynn Waldheim

A twisting and frequently outrageous psychological thriller from Brian De Palma, Raising Cain is thoroughly enthralling and full of stunning cinema technique, complete with a story that keeps getting you to question the certainty of it. I wouldn’t put it as the best thriller around because of some parts that go way too complicated and unnecessary, but overall the sheer outrageousness helps to make it a feverish delight.

Carter Nix is a mild-mannered child psychologist who has taken time out of work to help raise his young daughter Amy with his wife Jenny, who works as a nurse. Lately though, Carter has become unnervingly attached to his daughter that becomes even more peculiar as the film progresses. Raising Cain PosterAt the start, Jenny can’t quite see this though there are hints dropped that become noticeable to her. What is unknown to Jenny is the fact that the seemingly benign Carter is somehow involved in a horrifying experiment, which is where his alter ego of Cain comes in. Cain arises whenever Carter can’t do something and it is frequently nasty. The aforementioned experiment is for their doctor father; they kill mothers and take their young children all in the hopes of helping him with his maniacal studies of personality. Yet it is largely Cain who does these unspeakable acts, even though it weighs more than a little heavy on Carter and bleeds into him. He has lately taken to being overly concerned and almost studying in his treatment of his young daughter, which is a major cause for concern. His behaviour and mood swings begin to alarm Jenny, who fears for her daughter without realising the whole truth of it all. Meanwhile, Jenny herself is having to deal with her own dilemmas. The biggest one is Jack; a former flame of hers who returns out of the blue and still has feelings for her. Jenny soon gives in to temptation and ignites their affair again. Carter’s alter ego of Cain really begins to take over once he witnesses his wife engaging in her affair, leading to shocking consequences and startling revelations that are not what they seem.

Brian De Palma is the stylish man behind the camera and his stamp is well and truly on Raising Cain, complete with the customary homages to Hitchcock. Flourishes of visual astuteness and exceeding panache can be viewed in almost every frame of Raising Cain. You can’t fault De Palma for his visionary way of shooting, its gorgeous even when filled with terror. The sweeping camera , including a simply sublime long tracking shot, that lasts for a number of minutes as the history of Carter’s family is brought into the light by the doctor on the case. The many dreamlike scenes of Raising Cain come equipped with an eerie but strangely beautiful chill, that wraps them and subsequent scenes in that otherworldly grip that plays into the deceptive plot. And while a lot of the film is over the top, it suits De Palma’s style with operatic touches and a significant amount of tongue in cheek to the approach. Instead of it getting to be a parody, there is serious tension and suspense supplied. jenny-raising-cainAdd to that layers of whether we are witnessing dreams or reality at various points, and you can’t help but be compelled by Raising Cain. Doubles, flashbacks( or are they?) and an all around creepiness make for a heady brew. The film isn’t a titanic piece of classic movie making though, as there are flaws. Firstly, although it doesn’t fully go into parody or lampooning, it can get pretty ridiculous with some of its moves I must say. At times, some of it slips out of control and it bites off more than it can chew with a couple of parts that slip into unintentionally funny, though the mastery of De Palma’s direction and vision is still very much on show among these weaknesses. A bit more logic may have been of use in Raising Cain as the pudding does get over egged a lot, but the largely over the top narrative and twisted turns paper over some of these cracks. From what I’ve seen out of his movies, Raising Cain is a bit underrated as I haven’t heard that many people talk about it. And while it’s not a work of genius in comparison to some of his other more noted works, it shows enough skill and cinematic technique to be held in higher regard, at least a little bit more than it is. There are many times when you think you’ve got a hold on things and then the whole thing switches and you’re left to reassess them, owing to the complex and fiendish machinations of the plot. This is where the strong points of the film lies as genuine feelings of unease emerge swiftly once certain truths or something resembling that are exposed. A simply luscious and sinister score begins with an almost childlike tone that morphs into moments of shattering crescendo, much like the character of Cain and his other personality.

John Lithgow relishes his roles as Carter and Cain. He skilfully displays the different natures of both with Carter being terrified yet obsessed and Cain being the violent and underhand side. john-lithgow-raising-cainLithgow manages to make it all very thrilling and unnerving to watch, as he occasionally blurs the lines between the two with considerable menace. He is the captivating centre of this movie and a lot of that is seen through his performance. Unfortunately, I found that Lolita Davidovich was more than a little wooden playing the terrorized wife. Now she did show some convincing moments of fear, but I couldn’t help but feel that she was too indecisive when acting in the part to truly make it work. She looked gorgeous though and her beauty is very becoming. Steven Bauer makes up for things as the handsome object of Jenny’s affections who inadvertently becomes the thing that allows Cain to fully surface with maniacal intent. The great Frances Sterhangen steals the scenes she appears in, where she embodies the shock and incisive knowledge of Carter/Cain through a past event, yet can’t quite piece all the parts of the baffling puzzle together into a whole. Sternhagen exudes an intrinsic authority and level of intelligence that feeds into the part exceptionally well.

So it is an overblown exercise which does induce head-scratching, but by and large Raising Cain still keeps your focus in a strange way, that De Palma plays to with pizzazz. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but still a movie that demands attention for its thrills and visionary content. And just to tel you all, I’m going to be finding my way through De Palma’s filmography in the next few months, so look out for more reviews.

V for Vendetta

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Film Title

V for Vendetta

Director

James McTeigue

Starring

  • Hugo Weaving as V
  • Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond
  • Stephen Rea as Eric Finch
  • Stephen Fry as Gordon Deitrich
  • John Hurt as Adam Sutler

A provocative and very arresting political/action thriller based on a comic, V for Vendetta is a confronting movie that tackles a lot of controversial topics and ideas with a sense of style and a brain that is sometimes lacking from films usually on this nature.

In a futuristic version of London, chaos has blighted everything along with an oppressive government.v-for-vendetta-poster Being not dutiful to the ruling power results in imprisonment and death. Activists, homosexuals, and people of different races are frequently targeted just for being different. A virus has claimed many lives in the United Kingdom and Europe. Most prominently is the government in power, run by Adam Sutler; who exercises cruel control over nearly every aspect of the population’s lives. Evey Hammond is a meek young woman who works in a broadcasting company( that churns out propaganda to the people to keep them in line) is caught one night out after enforced curfew. The secret police threaten her and attempt to attack her, but someone comes to her rescue. That someone is V, a masked vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask, who is skilled in swordplay and fighting. After saving Evey, he demonstrates his real purpose of spurning the population into revolution by blowing up the Old Bailey. The fascist like government doesn’t take very kindly to V’s actions, particularly when he later uses the broadcasting company that Evey works at to display his message of rising up. Every is caught in the middle of all of this and must decide where her loyalties lie. Meanwhile, Chief of Police Eric Finch investigates any leads he can into V, yet finds that his loyalty to the government may very well have been misplaced and manipulated over the years. V’s plans gather a quickening pace as he takes on the corrupt powers that be, with Evey becoming something of an unlikely ally and then ultimately a strong supporter of his cause.

The director, James McTeigue does an inspired and button-pushing job with his directions. He allows the political nature of V for Vendetta to take the centre stage and all the questions that go with it, while never sacrificing action in the process. The film is very much a thinking person’s film and while there are fight scenes and action, it never becomes repetitive because the essence of the story is kept intact. V for Vendetta presents an uncomfortable and shocking possibility of a future that is ruled with an iron fist and with extreme prejudice. vRacism, homophobia, the accountability of the powerful and the manipulative agendas of government all come under the spotlight and are never shied away from. This film raises many terrifying what if scenarios that tap into our fears of what the world could become, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility when you think about the countless changes that this world has endured. There is something even timely about the film as it deciphers how fear and panic can be spread and lead people to be threatened by those more powerful than them. Now there are those that will view V for Vendetta as a film that is propaganda or in some cases a dangerous film that advocates terrorism( which I have heard a number of people imply), but I wouldn’t say that the film goes really far with those things. Yes, the main character is someone who uses violence and devastation to make his point, but I think it is up to the individual person to form their own opinion on what the film is presenting and what message it puts across. That’s the way I view V for Vendetta, it can be read on a number of significant levels. Some won’t agree with what it has to say and others may take note, but in the end, isn’t a film supposed to get you thinking? Granted, it may bang the political drum a little too loudly at fleeting points, but the topics it brings up are definitely thought-provoking and stay with you for a long time afterwards. On the visual side, the colour scheme that largely features red, black and white is memorably hard-hitting yet oddly resplendent in execution; showing a world at its knees and the potential of change emerging with the presence of V from the shadows. And there is quite a lot of action going on in V for Vendetta, as the masked title character does brutal battle with other forces in strikingly shot fight scenes. A steady score rises in levels along with events, forming a somewhat rousing musical accompaniment to both V’s aims and Evey’s journey.

As the eponymous V and with only movement and voice to use, Hugo Weaving is masterful. His deep voice is utilized to maximum impact, investing the role of the masked V with an elegance and intelligence. He may be a character capable of lethal and fatal action, but there is something so immersive about him that you can’t help but watch. His graceful movements almost mirror those of a proficient dancer, as he glides with purpose and something deadly too. The part wouldn’t have been the same without someone of Hugo Weaving’s calibre in the role, he just completely embodies it. Natalie Portman is just as good in the role of Evey; whose encounters with V and the aftermath provide a lot of thrust of the narrative with Portman giving a range of feeling to the part that grows stronger and more pronounced as the film progresses. natalie-portman-v-for-vendettaIf you’re expecting the part of Evey to be someone who kicks ass and physically fights, you aren’t going to get that. And to think that misses the point that she is an ordinary woman thrust into difficult circumstances and forced to make a stand. Portman plays the journey of her subtly yet expressively, ensuring that there is a natural progression that is believable from scared girl to fearless woman ready to do something. Although her accent is a little shaky, that’s the only foible in the work from Natalie Portman( who memorably shaved her head for the part), who emerges with a strong performance of gathering gumption and depth. The excellent Stephen Rea is well-chosen for the role of the police chief, slowly peeling the layers of deceit back and going between being frightened of V and inspired by him. Solid support comes courtesy of Stephen Fry as a television host having to hide who he truly is and the late, great John Hurt as the imposing dictator with a whole lot of power.

A movie with a lot to say and the balls to go forth with it, V for Vendetta is a film that elicits discussion from many, due to the things it addresses and the ultimate message. For me, it is an engrossing film that while it has required action, puts the story first and packs a punch with its refusal to lessen the blow of what it covers.