As Halloween is approaching and horror/thriller movies are a favourite genre, here’s what you’ll see reviewed around here. The films will be either horror, thriller or have a certain level of creepy atmosphere to them. It won’t all be horror, but that will feature heavily. I may not see all of them before Halloween but I’ll definitely watch them all and review them.
I was invited to take part in a blogathon to pay tribute to the great Shelley Winters by Gill and Erica . My first entry will be of the Grand Guignol thriller What’s the Matter with Helen? I’m doing this review early as I’m very busy and away on holiday next week.
A campy, enjoyable and creepy thriller that is not afraid to be over the top, What’s the Matter with Helen? finds the pairing of Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters. It’s not a perfect movie and hardly vintage, bu t it has its moments and the performances, particularly from Winters, are where it’s at.
Its the 1930’s and two boys commit a horrible murder. The boys are the sons of good friends Helen Hill( Shelley Winters) and Adelle Bruckner(Debbie Reynolds). After the boys are convicted, the two mothers are hounded ferociously and someone even starts stalking them. Terrified and wanting to start over, Adelle and Helen move to Hollywood and change both their looks and last names. This is all an attempt to escape their collective past and hopefully start afresh by opening a dance school for promising young girls wanting to be the next Shirley Temple. Adelle is the stronger of the two though she’s clearly on the make for money and success why she’s at it, while Helen is fragile and prone to aspects of paranoia. Having assumed different identities, things seem on the up for Adelle and Helen as no one knows them and life looks brighter. Adelle finds herself attracted to Lincoln Palmer( Dennis Weaver), the wealthy father of one of her students. He sweeps her off her feet and Adelle is soon seeing herself in line to success and money. Things are harder on Helen who really struggles with letting go of the past and finds herself growing ever more disturbed by life, specifically the relationship with Lincoln that Adelle finds herself in. She believes that someone is still stalking her and Adelle and begins to emotionally evaporate. Trying to cling to her religion helps stifle some of it but soon things spin wildly out of control for everyone surrounding and including Helen.
Curtis Harrington is in the director’s chair and does a serviceable job combining thriller with old school melodrama. It’s not award winning direction, but it has a sense of place and feeling which stand it in good stead and once he hits the creepy areas, he shines. What’s the Matter with Helen? is trying to emulate the enormous success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte and it has atmosphere going for it . While it never quite reaches the levels of the previous films mentioned( sometimes the narrative throws too much too quickly at us, not knowing when to stop and the pacing is left a bit wonky), What’s the Matter with Helen? still has its virtues. This starts with atmosphere which is a strong suit of this film and something that undoubtedly leaves you more than a little tense. It really hits the best moments near the 45 minute mark and from then on, everything begins to escalate and build towards a startling finish. The setting of the 30’s is rendered with a good amount of detail that shows it as a glamorous yet often sinister place, backed up by the darkness in the story that befalls both leading ladies. The settings reflect this with darkness pervading many of them but the sheen of starry gold of bright lights remains. We even get old newsreels to begin the film which is a nice touch that thrusts us into the story. Props to the visual department and set designs for bringing the 30’s to life as a backdrop to something much darker. The tone features the off the wall and melodrama of films like it in the past and that’s what makes it watchable. The fact it can be seriously creepy then campy is pretty nifty, even if not intentional. And things are really turned up to the max as the film progresses, with over the top antics and strange happenings taking full stage and unashamedly so. It won’t be to all tastes, but these kinds of movies usually are ones people either love or don’t. The score is wonderfully eerie at not being overly intrusive but when called for, ringing through with a sense of terror and irony.
Its the acting that is one of the strong suits in the uneven but watchable narrative. Shelley Winters is the clear standout with a performance that builds little by little towards cracking. You can gather that Helen is unstable but it’s the portrayal from the professional that is Miss Winters that truly gives it its magic. Her dour, melancholy demeanour is adept at charting the mental disintegration of a haunted woman and with a raised voice here and a questionable antic there, Winters knows how to invoke both sympathy and chills. Debbie Reynolds is no slouch either as the dramatic, self-obsessed Adelle, who truly dreams of making it big. We are so used to seeing Reynolds as a sweet faced and innocent lady that it’s a kick to see her portray someone who isn’t exactly the nicest of people. Plus she gets to show off her considerable singing and dancing skills which can’t be denied. Dennis Weaver is appropriately smooth and suave as the businessman wooing Adelle, but not realising its beginning to drive a wedge between the two old friends. Micheál Mac Liammóir is wonderfully imposing as an elocution teacher who always seems to turn up at the wrong time and creep everyone out.
Agnes Moorehead, in a mainly one scene performance, is sensational as an evangelist who Helen follows to the letter of the law. I love her scene as she gives it all forgiveness and being generous, when she’s really just avaricious.
A finely acted that isn’t going to pass as high art but is an enjoyably creepy and gleefully dramatic slice of psycho biddy thriller with Debbie Reynolds and the wonderful Shelley Winters going all out.
2010's, Bryan Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Drama, Elizabeth Debicki, Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Steve McQueen, Thriller, Viola Davis, Widows
- Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings
- Michelle Rodriguez as Linda
- Elizabeth Debicki as Alice
- Cynthia Erivo as Belle
- Bryan Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning
- Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning
- Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan
- Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan
- Jacki Weaver as Agnieska
- Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings
- Carrie Coon as Amanda
A reinterpretation of a Lynda La Plante novel that was also a television series in the 80’s, Widows, as directed by Steve McQueen is an enthralling and character driven slow burn of a heist thriller and drama with superb acting.
In Chicago, a heist that was organised by Harry Rawlings goes horribly wrong and results in his and the other members of the criminal group being killed. Following this, Harry’s widow Veronica is threatened by mob boss Jamal Manning , who Harry stole from and who wants money back to finance his campaign to run for alderman. He warns her to get $2 million to pay him back soon or suffer the consequence, which will most likely come in the form of his terrifying brother Jatemme . His rival for his desired position is Jack Mulligan, a slimy, spoilt politician who wants to step out of his father’s shadow who also will figure in a certain capacity of the story. After acquiring Harry’s notebook of plans for another heist, Veronica contacts the widows of the other dead men. Linda, who owns a dress shop is in a similar predicament as her husband sold her business without much thought for her and Alice is a battered young woman who is strapped for cash and harangued by a harridan of a mother. One widow isn’t interested in it, so Veronica enlists the help of the fierce Belle, who it just so happens to be Linda’s babysitter. She plans to relocate and could do with a chunk of money to help with this. The plans of the heist starts to form with the group, but various things throw up stumbling blocks and set in motion what could be deadly for the ladies if they don’t succeed.
Steve McQueen is already an established director who is on fire here, bringing his knack for looking at dramatic subject matter and blending it with some really tight tension. We get a plot that seems straightforward, but is actually very twisty and frequently takes you by surprise. We also get commentary on many themes such as racism, hypocrisy , sexism and crime, but thankfully they are given good rendering and not heavy-handed. McQueen clearly has something to say and his cinematic talents lend themselves well to his vision. One great example is Mulligan moving from an impoverished area to his plush house which is a minute away. The fact that the windows of his car are blacked out show how little he and sometimes others understand social divide. This is a heist thriller with a difference as the main characters are not professionals in the art of stealing and the heist itself is not the most important part of the film. Undoubtedly, it forms a ticking time bomb for the characters but it’s watching how these people react to the seemingly impossible task ahead that provides Widows with its biggest impact. We get to know these women and their lives and what ultimately brings them together. They don’t want to be friends or even know each other that well, but all are drawn into a certain sisterhood of unfortunate circumstance that leaves them with no choice but to resort to planning a heist. These are women who are realistic and not simply superheroes, a film like this is too good to go down that route to making it a matter of fluffy caper. There are real stakes here and ones dripping with double-crossing danger. Some may take issue with the gradual build up, but I thought it added more dimension to the film as we viewed growth within characters and their actions. McQueen should be commended for how he keeps all the stories and arcs spinning in tune and given time to breathe. It could have fell apart as there is sometimes a lot going on in Widows, but Steve McQueen and the screenplay from him and Gillian Flynn keep us firmly rooted and invested in the ways they link. The editing, which cuts back and forth in time at various intervals and can be choppy one minute and contemplative the next is something to admire. And set against a building and rumbling score from Hans Zimmer, Widows particularly soars.
A string in Widow’s ever impressive is the ensemble cast, which is simply to die for. Viola Davis heads proceedings with an intimidating and grim seriousness, that also allows for humanity and sadness emerging. Davis rocks the role of a woman who has lost everything and becomes an unlikely but indomitable presence in something she never thought she’d have to do. It’s when she doesn’t say anything that she truly comes alive; her face a canvas of subtle and nuanced emotion. It’s a very fine performance by an always impressive actress who it appears is incapable of disappointing. Michelle Rodriguez is a little softer here than the usual tough chick she plays and it works surprisingly well. I just wish she’d get more roles that blend her toughness with that something else like the one displayed here. Elizabeth Debicki is another standout as the often needy and almost childlike Alice, who it appears is incapable of having a relationship with anyone who won’t abuse or mistreat her. Debicki plays her like a broken down China doll, only later on she starts to harden herself and increasingly mature. Cynthia Erivo rounds out the main ladies with an abrasive attitude and no-nonsense visage that is palpable and strong from the moment we see her.
While it is the ladies of the ensemble who take the lion’s share of screen time, the men also show they are no slouches. Particularly of note is rising star Daniel Kaluuya who bristles with an unnerving swagger and alarming intensity. He puts you on edge throughout Widows and it’s a big credit to him that you feel that way. Bryan Tyree Henry also has an intimidating nature, but one that is tempered with shrewd smarts. Colin Farrell is really fleshed out as a conflicted politician who almost expects everything simply because of standing but also a desire to escape the way his father thinks. It’s a fine balancing act and one that is played well opposite the always watchable Robert Duvall. Liam Neeson, mostly seen in flashback, is like a spectre on proceedings as he is the one who instigated everything and has his fingers over all. Also here is Jacki Weaver, who plays in a short but memorable time the vile and suffocating mother of Alice, whose idea of trying to help is by attempting to coerce her into prostitution. Carrie Coon may be given the least amount of screen time but from what we see, her presence figures unexpectedly into things.
With a focus on characters and depth, Widows earns high points and is simply put, a very well made film with heart and tension. Steve McQueen crafts this engaging and twisty thriller drama that must be seen.
- Blake Lively as Nancy Adams
An energetic, nail-biting horror thriller, The Shallows is entertaining in many ways. Originality is checked at the door and we are vibes a fun and at times terrifying fight for survival between woman and beast. This is the first entry into my Month of Horror.
Nancy Adams is a medical student who has traveled to Mexico in the wake of her mother’s death. She goes to a beach she knows her mum loved in order to honour her memory and avoid dealing with her father, who it seems is distant from her. She takes to the surf and is relaxing in the sun. After encountering a dying whale, a monstrous Great White Shark attacks her. Nancy’s leg is injured, but she manages to clamber up onto some rocks. Being a medical student, she treats her wound the best she can as terror sets in. Being miles from land and knowing that the tide will soon wash her away and her safety, she has to embrace an inner toughness and fight back in order to live in the face of the shark. The question is, just how long can Nancy survive as the tide turns and the shark comes looming?
Building on a simple prestige of the lone female being menaced by something horrible, Jaume Collet-Serra ratchets up the tension from the start. He drip feeds smidgeons of foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen among the glorious cinematography. The Shallows deserves kudos for its visual appeal, especially in the lighting and scenery. The lush surf is rendered gorgeously as a paradise before the predator comes calling for food. Plus, the technique of showing us the time and connecting Nancy with others, in this case a videophone, leads to some wonderfully nifty shots. Added to this are frequent close-ups on her face that display her resilience and terror in the face of horror. Now The Shallows isn’t a perfect movie, some areas lag, but it isn’t trying to be the best movie out there. What it wants to do is scare and excite, which it does with ruthless efficiency. It’s a B-movie with a little bit of that something extra. And it has touches of humour in the form of a Seagull that gravitates to Nancy and earns the nickname, ‘Steven Seagull’. The score is excellent at slowly carving out scares and the perilous journey that Nancy attempts to go on in order to survive the shark that is menacing her.
One of the best things in The Shallows is Blake Lively. Getting to grips with the physicality of the part, she also displays courage, heart and fierce steel as she does battle with the shark. Lively is a beauty and often her acting gets overlooked, but she shows here that she’s definitely more than a pretty face. In the hands of someone else, the part could have been just eye candy, but that’s not the case with Lively. It’s a commendable piece of work because the film largely rests on her athletic shoulders. Luckily, she is up to the task of it.
A tense and thrilling survival horror with a fine lead performance and terror at almost every corner, The Shallows is a movie that truly entertains and scares in equal measure.
The delightful Maddy asked me to take part in a Second Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon and I just couldn’t refuse. I had to review Shadow of a Doubt, which is one of my favourite Hitchcock movies.
- Teresa Wright as Charlie Newton
- Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie Oakley
- Henry Travers as Joseph Newton
- Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton
- Hume Cronyn as Herb
A cracking thriller pulling apart the image of picket fence America, Shadow of a Doubt has director Alfred Hitchcock on scintillating form. Working in a smaller scale, it’s a movie that features many interesting themes and wonderful performances.
Charlie Newton is a bored young girl living in the picturesque town of Santa Rosa, California. She feels she has nothing to do and that her life is dull. Her thoughts of this are quickly changed when news that her Uncle Charlie, who she was named after, is arriving in town. Her family is very happy about the incoming arrival of him as they adore him. What young Charlie doesn’t know is that her beloved Uncle is in fact the Merry Widow Murderer, who is fleeing Philadelphia. Everyone is in awe of Charlie and he lifts everyone’s spirits, particularly his niece. He is accepted right back into the bosom of the picture postcard town. But as much as young Charlie admires her uncle and fawns over him, various things start to worry her about her favourite relative. His behaviour occasionally becomes erratic and dark and two detectives, posing as journalists, also appear in town looking for the man they believe to be the killer. Soon Charlie becomes suspicious of the uncle she always adored and digs into his past. This of course puts her in danger as we aren’t sure whether Uncle Charlie will kill her because she knows too much.
Alfred Hitchcock displays his directing prowess in many ways and brings out the story with darkness and keen insight. Darkness pervades this movie and the eternal battle of good against evil is waged in circumstances that seemed comfortable but are disturbed by something sinister. Suspense builds as Young Charlie wrestles with what she feels about her Uncle Charlie and how he is far from the man she idolized. Doubt tears apart the picture perfect image of society with irony and dark humour. A cracking example is Charlie’s father and next door neighbour whose main interest is discussing mystery and murder. The delicious irony that a serial killer is under the father’s roof is excellent. Plus, I love all of the references to doubles and twins, particularly how the main characters share the same name but at are different ends of the morality spectrum. Shadow of a Doubt may not boast the big set pieces that some Hitchcock movies have, but it features a lot of his artistry and penchant for generating suspense. By being more small-scale, the story comes to the forefront and the characters are the centre. For me, it’s one of the directors finest movies as it explores deep darkness and has fine acting and writing. Hitchcock was always fascinated by the dark side of human nature and his direction and themes are aided by a screenplay that really compliments his vision. The best example is when Charlie and Uncle Charlie are in a bar and he begins to talk of the nastiness behind closed doors that so many people don’t see because of the veil of niceness. While bleak and extremely creepy, Uncle Charlie is definitely on to something that still rings true today. It’s a spine chilling scene that says so much about Uncle Charlie’s character and his view of life. Dimitri Tiomkin provides the score, that undercuts events with a beauty and idyll, while simultaneously revealing the shocking truth and evil within the character of Uncle Charlie.
Leading events is Teresa Wright, who has the right mixture of youthful enthusiasm and eventual maturity as she is faced with her worst nightmare. The sweetness Wright brings is just the amount needed so as not to become cloying, but watching her grow up fast is fascinating and melancholy at the same time. Wright is simply put marvellous as the young girl learning the hard way about the evils of life. Joseph Cotten is a revelation as Uncle Charlie; balancing charm and beguiling nature with a worryingly dark intensity. He does this sometimes in the blink of an eye, making the part one that is unpredictable. Cotten commits to the part, using his usual nice guy persona to deathly, smooth effect and colouring what’s there with something extremely sinister. It is Wright and Cotten who are the big stars here and deliver the goods splendidly. Henry Travers and Patricia Collinge are well suited to their roles as parents, doting on the family and raising their kids the best they can. Travers enjoys a fine rapport with a debuting Hume Cronyn, who steals his scenes as the murder obsessed neighbour.
A wonderfully unnerving and successful thriller from one of the best directors there has been, Shadow of a Doubt is a must see.
- Edward Fox as The Jackal
- Michael Lonsdale as Claude Lebel
- Cyril Cusack as Gunsmith
- Ronald Pickup as the Forger
- Derek Jacobi as Caron
- Delphine Seyrig as Colette
A superbly crafted and tense political thriller based on the renowned novel by Frederick Forsyth , The Day of the Jackal has fine precision and the ability to make you sit up and concentrate.
It is 1963. An underground group known as OAS in France is outraged by President Charles de Gaulle’s decision to award independence to Algeria. Various attempts are made on his life, yet none are fruitful or successful. After one such attempt, many members of the group are apprehended, arrested and the leader is executed via firing squad. In anger, the remaining members of OAS enlist the services of The Jackal. He is a mysterious assassin with no background but immense skill at his job. Around the time of hiring him to kill de Gaulle, the police learn after some interrogation of a OAS member of The Jackal and an assassination, but nothing further. The Jackal meticulously plans the assassination, getting what he needs from a number of people and often killing them when they cross him. Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel is brought in to head the investigation by the Interior Minister. He is to uncover when the assassination will take place and hopefully prevent it. Lebel is a fastidious man who doubts he is cut out for this enormous job at first, but shows his worth and sharp mind in searching for the assassin. And so begins a cat and mouse game as both head towards their goals, each with the idea for a different outcome.
Fred Zinnemann is the shining star of The Day of the Jackal; his understanding of pace and how to sustain a high level of unease is admirable and dexterous. The film may run for two and a half hours, but it sure doesn’t feel like it due to his handsome and taut handling of the material. Which isn’t to say that the film is rushed, instead its methodical and enthralling with how painstakingly it documents The Jackal’s planning of his job and Lebel’s analytical mind. You see it’s not about the main action of the piece; it’s all about the planning of it all. By cutting between the Jackal and Lebel, immediacy is created and used to spellbinding effect . You see how carefully and fastidiously both parties go about their business and objective. There’s real efficiency and uncertainty created in the viewers mind as Lebel closes in on the Jackal, but finds him most elusive at nearly every step. The editing is the second star of Jackal for how it combines the two characters in their fields of work and the inevitable confrontation between them. Add to that voice overs that carry over to other scenes and it’s a seamless way of telling a story This is a thriller that is about intellect and plotting rather than over the top violence and blood. Granted, there is violence but most of it is hinted at rather than show, giving it a more chilling quality. The murders committed by The Jackal are skilled and briefly brutal, much like the man doing them. He is a man who is coldly ruthless and immensely determined, which is a deadly combination. much like Jackal is a movie that demands your undivided attention as so much goes on. It’s largely compelling and there are only a few things that may have benefited from more explanation. But the vast majority of things are coolly and compulsively rendered for us to view and appreciate. Any little languors can be ignored because of how skilfully The Day of the Jackal tell it’s story and patiently but rewardingly pulls you in.
This movie features a wide cast, but there are those who really stand out. Heading things is Edward Fox as the eponymous killer. His boyish looks are employed with ruthless charm here, making him a charismatic but very dangerous fellow. This coupled with an icy stare and cool efficiency is perfect for the part. Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone bringing the menace and suaveness to the role that Fox does. Michael Lonsdale plays his part of detective with a sense of savvy and intellect. There’s a doubting quality there, but an immense dignity and steadfastness too. All of that compliments things greatly. In support there is Alan Badel as the hassled Interior Minister and look out for Cyril Cusack and Ronald Pickup as two men who aid The Jackal. Also a young Derek Jacobi makes an appearance as Lebel’s assistant and a tragic Delphine Seyrig as a woman romanced by the Jackal are worth praising.
A skillfully executed thriller with immense suspense and a keen eye for showing how the legwork of investigation can be, The Day of the Jackal is rightfully held in high regard.
A Quiet Place
- John Krasinski as Lee Abbott
- Emily Blunt as Evelyn Abbott
- Millicent Simmonds as Regan Abbott
- Noah Jupe as Marcus Abbott
A horror thriller that taps into many fears and is ruthlessly tense throughout, A Quiet Place is terrifying and at times quite moving in how it examines people surviving in near silence from director/star John Krasinski.
The year is 2020 and blind creatures have overtaken most of the world. Despite having no sight, they hunt via hearing which is exceptionally advanced. Any significant noise can attract these beings to potential prey. The Abbott family( mother Evelyn, father Lee and three children, Regan, Marcus and Beau )are surviving the best they can in times of darkness and crippling fear. They communicate using sign language, which they know anyway because Regan is deaf. It appears that they are some of the last remaining humans given how abandoned and desolate everywhere around them is. Though they have survived for a long time, a tragic incident robs them of one of their children. When we pick up with the family again, they are living in a farmhouse and Evelyn is pregnant. As heads of the family, while terrified of day-to-day life, they are determined to protect their family by remaining as quiet as humanly possible. They have forged an existence for themselves, with many areas of the house insulated and cameras to observe outside. Lee is the main provider for them, going out to forage for food and attempting to fix Regan’s hearing aid. Evelyn is preparing for the birth of a child while raising her other two children, plus mourning the loss of one. Anxiety hangs in the air as Evelyn’s due date is approaching and the prospect of a baby terrifies all as it spells potential horror for all if they can’t remain quiet. And ever since the loss of one child, uncertainty has grown within the right family unit. But in this time of panic, can the family survive for much longer without becoming victims of the creatures?
Director and star John Krasinski crafts suspense and an uneasy atmosphere right from the beginning and keeps the nerves frazzled with efficiency. His direction is confident and skilled at scaring us and cranking up the tension as events continue. The pacing is just on the mark, building and building to a chilling and relentless last act that will have you gasping for breath with nervousness. I dare anyone to not feel panicked as the family are menaced by the scary creatures and they are separated. Sound and the ability to use it, which we can so often take for granted is crucial to this film as noises are both amplified and subdued. This gives the creepy effect of not being able to express things and the difficulties involved when we are robbed of this essential thing. Jolts of terror and As the family has to live in almost always silence, a lot of the story is told visually. We gain information from facial expressions, symbols and sign language, which gets us involved and has the attention from the start. The life these characters have crafted offers much in the way of intrigue, helping us realise just how precious sound and especially silence are in making sure you don’t become victims to the creatures that terrorise the characters. What surprises in A Quiet Place is that as well as being frightening, it has you emotionally invested too. If anything, the main theme is parental anxiety. It’s amplified here but nonetheless shines in presenting two parents doing whatever they can to shelter their brood from harm. Especially in the case of the mother being pregnant and the collective worry of what will happen when the child is born into this startling world. The creatures are fleetingly glimpsed at the start, but when revealed are truly alarming and well designed to be etched into the memory. Marco Beltrami is on score duty, ratcheting up the scares and overriding eeriness of the piece. And speaking of sound, the effects and design are sublime in dialing up creepiness and oodles of ambience. Every sound could possibly be the last for these characters so it’s imperative that noise is well used and the often deafening silence matters. Just like the characters, we become scared of sudden sound.
The relatively small cast all convince in this merciless horror film. John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who are a married couple in real life, excel as the protective and resourceful parents. Using body language and facial expression, they get across the terror and will power of this mother and father who are doing whatever they can to ensure the safety of their children. The fact that they are married in real life adds to the closeness of the two and how they complement one another. Krasinski’s survivalist and Blunt’s warm, nurturing matriarch are fully realised and performed admirably. The two children in the film, Noah and Millicent Simmonds exceptionally convey the uncertainty and horror that’s thrust upon their young shoulders. Millicent Simmonds is especially marvellous as the daughter who is dealing with feelings of guilt and loss . The fact that Simmonds is also deaf in real life brings a lot of authenticity to her performance as well as her expressive face.
A nerve jangling exercise in tension, A Quiet Place sustains the interest and induces terror with its story and atmosphere. This is strong stuff from John Krasinski and marks him as a director to watch.
The quite fabulous Gill is celebrating the career of Michael Caine with a blogathon about him. Naturally, I was more than happy to take part in doing this and I have chosen Half Moon Street to review.
Half Moon Street
- Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Lauren Slaughter
- Michael Caine as Lord Bulbeck
- Nadim Sawalha as Karim Hatami
- Keith Buckley as Hugo Van Arkady
It may be a mixed bag in various aspects, but the dramatic thriller that is Half Moon Street is very watchable and has its moments. It most benefits from the work of Weaver and Caine and what transpires between them more than anything else.
Dr. Lauren Slaughter is an American research fellow residing in London and working at the Arab-Anglo Institute. Slaughter has a PhD from Harvard and has spent a number of years doing field work in China. She is smart, driven and completely frustrated with her job at the moment. Partly, this is due to the ingrained attitudes of men being superior within many in the workplace. Though the job is something she is immensely skilled at, it doesn’t pay well enough and she is struggling with her low wages and is living in a bed sit, that leaves a lot to be desired. Lauren doesn’t know how she’s going to feel at all comfortable in both work and personal life. Her annoyance at events continues as something she wrote is plagiarised by a higher up colleague and she isn’t considered for a prestigious study in Kuwait. One day, she receives a video in the post. It details the Jasmine Agency; an escort agency for wealthy clients, many from the Middle East. Lauren decides to moonlight as an escort for money so she can live without worry and have some semblance of power. In the escorting work, she finds more control over men and independence than she does at her job at the Institute. Her attitude towards things is one of cool confidences, but one particular date makes an impact on her. She meets Lord Bulbeck, a diplomat who is involved with Middle Eastern affairs. The two hit it off and soon a genuine relationship that is more than just sex is developing for them. They are compatible in viewpoints and humour, plus both are somewhat outsiders in one way or another. But it was no accident that Lauren was set up with Lord Bulbeck. A hidden group is monitoring events between the couple and is using both as pawns in an effort to stop Bulbeck in his attempts to forge a peace deal between Arabs and Israelis. Both are not aware of what is bubbling underneath their budding romance.
Bob Swaim is a good director and his sense of style is on display in Half Moon Street can be viewed. But he often over complicates things by trying to say too much with the story and needlessly dragging out parts of it. On the negative side, the film itself takes too long to bring the thriller element out into the open. There is suspense that it manages when the danger hits, but the attempts at mystery feel flat and tacked on. If the thriller areas had been addressed earlier on and given more footing in Half Moon Street, it may have been a different story for the movie. Onto the positive notices and Half Moon Street does have a good few. The script, while requiring several leaps of faith, does have something to say about the workplace and why someone like Lauren Slaughter would turn to an escort job to keep afloat. The most impressive aspect is the relationship between Slaughter and Bulbeck; they have a great affinity with each other and you do buy into their attraction to the other. I liked watching two fine actors create this relationship with each other on screen and do it justice. The material is lifted thanks to the script but mostly the stars. An exotic flourish in the music score, that gets romantic as the characters become closer is exemplary in doing the job of crafting atmosphere in a movie like Half Moon Street.
Whatever faults Half Moon Street has, the performances by Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine are just right. Weaver has this cool and detached attitude, partnered with a quick wit and a bemused yet sly smile. She really plays the role of Lauren Slaughter very well, balancing the independence and sexiness of a woman getting some control in her life and scoffing at chauvinistic behaviour. Matching her is Michael Caine with a lot of charm and intelligence. There’s a real twinkle in the eyes here and his work as Lord Bulbeck reflects a man of great influence and down to Earth affinity. It helps that both Weaver and Caine share an immediate chemistry with each other as love blooms for the characters. You really believe them together as a couple and that’s really down to the actors and what they accomplish, even if the movie lets them down in many ways. In supporting parts there is Nadim Sawalha and Keith Buckley as possibly shifty men who surround Lauren in their own ways. Both don’t have much to work with however, with the lion’s share of things going to Caine and Weaver.
A movie that can be both tedious and extremely gripping depending on which way it’s going, Half Moon Street elicits fine work from the two main stars and has some atmosphere of which it can be proud of.
To kick off the female filmmakers series I am doing this February, we have The Hitch-Hiker. Be sure to tune into more female directed movies this month and see if any catch your interest.
- William Talman as Emmett Myers
- Frank Lovejoy as Gilbert Bowen
- Edmond O’Brien as Roy Collins
A taut and very tense noirish thriller from Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker, thanks to her sure hand keeps events ticking over with a real sense of suspense and possible terror. Taking basis from a real-life serial killer and his reign of terror, The Hitch-Hiker keeps you constantly invested and intrigued as events go on.
Friends Gilbert Bowen and Roy Collins are on their way to a fishing trip in Mexico with nothing in the way of eventfulness planned. Little do they realise that their planned fishing trip is about to take a possibly deadly detour. For they come across one Emmett Myers, who they think has just broken down and needs a ride. Offering him a lift, they soon discover he is a wanted criminal who has murdered a number of people who he has hitched a ride off. At gunpoint, Myers forces Gilbert and Roy to take him into Mexico and into the desert filled areas. He is attempting to evade the authorities and wishes to get to the town of Santa Rosalia in hopes of escape. Myers constantly toys with both men, tormenting them with his disregard and hatred for humanity. Both men try to think of ways to escape from the clutches of Myers, but it proves difficult. Chief among the struggle is the fact that Myers has one eye that never closes, making it incredibly hard for Roy and Gilbert to flee. Can both men manage to not be worn down and discover a way to survive what promises to be deadly if they don’t cooperate?
Ida Lupino, who was at the time of the film’s making one of the only female directors in the business, acquits herself well with this unnerving thriller by taking a simple premise and making it gritty and appropriately grim. She taps into the shared fear of strangers and what they could possibly hide or bring to you in unexpected circumstances. As well as this, we get the uneasiness of how events that take place in The Hitch-Hiker could very well happen in real life. Being stopped by someone you don’t know in a place you are unfamiliar with is a very real terror that I’m certain everyone has thought of in their lifetime, enabling The Hitch-Hiker to be all that more successful at the taut vision it is going for. And speaking of real life, The Hitch-Hiker takes influence from a case of murders committed by Billy Cook. He was the man behind a 22 day spree of murder before he was captured and sent to the gas chamber. Knowing that this has influenced the movie itself, we watch as Lupino fashions a claustrophobic noir that instead of featuring a big city, uses the vast deserts of Mexico for its setting. Taking place in the mountainous regions and for the most part in the car that is hijacked, we feel like we’re in just as much of a jam as Gilbert and Roy find themselves in. And even though noir was often seen as a masculine genre, Ida Lupino shows herself to be just as good as her male counterparts in directing. It’s truly great to see a pioneering lady in action behind the camera. And the pace of the film, which clocks in at just 71 minutes, is economical and straight to the point of things in terms of the suspense. The climax may lack that bit of oomph, but everything else is right on the money and very taut. On the visual front, the looming surroundings and the tightness of the car provide ample opportunities for style in the noir fashion. A suitably tense score highlights the uneasiness of both men as they are nearly broke down by Myers and his evil.
Sweaty, sleazy and nasty evil is exuded by William Talman as the eponymous killer. Talman just has something sinister about him right from the first moment we clap eyes on him. This pays dividends as his performance is extremely mercurial and sly; watching him attempt to break the friendship between is genuinely creepy viewing. Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien underplay things nicely, with a realistic terror and sense of hopelessness, tinged with the possibility for both to save the day if they can. Both actors are stalwart performers who you really believe as regular Joe’s caught in a most alarming and dark situation.
A grim, dark and well-paced movie, The Hitch-Hiker displays the talents of Ida Lupino as a director to be reckoned with.
To Catch a Thief
- Cary Grant as John Robie
- Grace Kelly as Frances Stevens
- Jessie Royce Landis as Jessie Stevens
- John Williams as Hughson
A witty, scintillating romantic thriller from the iconic Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief finds the master at his most playful and arch. This lush gem of a movie is super gorgeous to look at and soars to greatness thanks to the star pairing of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
John Robie is a retired jewel thief who lives in a villa just off the French Riviera. Once dubbed ‘The Cat’ and the best in the field of burglary, he has now turned his back on his old stomping ground. But he’s about to be dragged into it again thanks to a spate of high-profile thefts along the coast. All the cases involved the gorgeous and very expensive jewelry of the rich and well-known. Wanted by the police and with only a handful of old contacts trusting him, he attempts to evade capture and arrest for something he hasn’t done. Thanks to an insurance man Hughson, who has the knowledge of who owns the best gems, he comes into contact with the very beautiful Frances Stevens and her flouncy mother Jessie. Frances is a seemingly icy girl with boredom to contend with, but John discovers she lusts after something thrilling and even dangerous. Both begin a flirtation that ignites her curiosity over who he really is and what to do about it. Meanwhile, John sees the opportunity to bait the real thief with jewels belonging to the wealthy widow Jessie. But it’s not as easy to prove his innocence as thief is gearing up again and the dalliance with Frances is growing deeper.
To Catch a Thief has Alfred Hitchcock in relaxed and bubbly mode; teasing the audience in just who the real thief could be and whether John and France’s will become a couple. Hitchcock is having a whale of a time with the sexy interplay and mystery of the piece; utilising his bag of exceptional tricks to marvellously entertaining effect amid gorgeous scenery and attractive stars. His elegant hands are all over To Catch a Thief and it’s all the better for us that we have the master movie maker delivering the goods with customary high quality. Some may dismiss it as lightweight Hitchcock, but even if that is the case, it’s darn entertaining. I might not put it up there as one of Hitchcock’s classics, but any Hitchcock is better than most and that is something I stand by cinematically. A cracker of a script blends elements of caper, humour, seductiveness and thriller into a pretty and polished product that presents a lighter side to Hitch. And it’s amazing how much innuendo To Catch a Thief manages to pack into its frames. From Frances asking John whether he’d like a (chicken) breast or a leg to the memorable deduction that is inter cut with fireworks wildly exploding to signify passion, this movie is definitely not short on suggested naughtiness. This cheeky approach greatly benefits the movie and is impressive, especially considering how movies back when this was released where often at the mercy of the censors. Lush cinematography that deservedly garnered an Oscar and splendidly detailed costumes are a cherry on top of a finely made cake. And of course, the sweeping and romantic music is a big plus throughout To Catch a Thief’s running time.
Cary Grant, the King of suave, is on solid and fine ground as the former jewel thief trying to clear his name. His lightness of touch and twinkle in his eyes is just right for this movie and showcase him at his most charismatic. Complimenting Grant is the gorgeous Grace Kelly, who never looked more lovely or sensual as she did here. She spars nicely and seductively with Grant, by exhibiting a kittenish and sly demeanor that is very becoming as she plays with his feelings in a bid for thrills. And you can’t miss the sizzling chemistry shared between both stars that practically radiates whenever they’re in proximity of each other. It’s the kind of sexual tension you’d want to bottle up it’s that impressively shown. Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams both lend some fine support to proceedings too.
A gorgeous romance and thriller with oodles of style and sexy moments, To Catch a Thief presents Hitchcock at his most cheeky and in the mood to entertain. A breezy quality is very apparent, plus his numerous directorial stamps blending with sublime sights of the French Riviera.