dir. Arthur Penn. Gene Hackman is private investigator Harry Moseby (amazing name), hired by Arlene Iverson to track down her wayward sixteen year old daughter, Delly (Melanie Griffith) who has skipped town. Part of the “neo-noir” category of crime films, influenced by earlier American films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) and THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). Vintage Gene Hackman, made the year after what might be his best film, Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION. There is a reference to Dashiell Hammett’s private detective Sam Spade (seen in THE MALTESE FALCON), but Harry Moseby is not a cynic, he’s a romantic, and much more human. There are a few moments that haven’t aged well, specifically Harry Moseby’s handsy greeting to his wife at the start of the film, and an unnecessary nude swimming scene with seventeen year old Melanie Griffith. The music is a great blend of old fashioned film noir jazz, and more modern 1970s thriller drum beats. Like many film noir movies, the plot is complicated, revealing itself slowly, but is ultimately very neat and satisfying. Some odd yet fun scenes, such as a shirtless Gene Hackman lying in bed, making fondue and reminiscing about his absentee father.
dir. Mike Nichols. Screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on her novel. Meryl Streep is Suzanne Vale, an actor getting over a drug problem, who is forced to move back in with famous performer mother (Shirley MacLaine) in order to secure her next acting role. A real delight. Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine are terrific together, they’re very funny, and can also be very tender and sweet. Gene Hackman has a wonderful supporting role as a film director, I love his scene with Meryl Streep in the audio looping studio. Carrie Fisher’s dialogue between the mother and daughter is brilliant, every conversation strikes a perfect balance of witty, and believable. MacLaine has a great musical moment during the surprise party, which is made even better by Streep’s shifting facial expressions as she watches on. Meryl Streep as an important song too, but her voice is not really strong enough for it to carry the moment. Possibly Meryl Streep’s first really funny performance?
dir. Spike Lee. Denzel Washington is Keith Frazier, a New York City detective, tasked as the officer in charge of a hostage situation in a large bank, negotiating with mastermind bank robber played by Clive Owen. One of my favourite heist films. I love the music in this film from frequent Spike Lee collaborator, composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard – he also made the stirring, epic soundtracks for 25TH HOUR (2002) and BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018). Denzel Washington and his partner Chiwetel Ejiofor are excellent as the two lead detectives. I love when a police procedural contrasts the cerebral detectives, with the gung-ho uniformed officers/SWAT teams. Fantastic to see a few alumni of TV series ‘The Wire’ , especially Peter Gerety (played Judge Daniel Phelan), and James Ransone (played Ziggy Sobotka). Jodie Foster is chilling and charismatic as the amoral corporate fixer, I’d love to see her in more corporate shark roles. Spike Lee said he was inspired by Sidney Lumet’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), and while it doesn’t reach the same emotional heights of that film, it’s an incredibly watchable thriller, with a delightful cast.
dir. Mike Hodges. Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is a bad boyfriend, and failed novelist who takes a job at a small casino to pay the rent. I remember this movie being much cooler than it seems today. We follow the story with Jack’s constant interior monologue as he compares his life with the novel he’s writing, mixing up his protagonist with himself, possibly disassociating to justify his poor decisions. I don’t think Clive Owen’s dead-eyed monotone delivery suited this role, he’s supposed to be charming, but is a bore, and he’s supposed to be a gifted writer, but spews cliches. His saving grace is that he is a competent croupier, although I suspect that the close up card handling was movie magic, and not Clive Owen’s hands at all. There is one spectacularly bad sex scene that reads as a violent sexual assault, except that it cuts to a moment of intimacy afterwards. Like in Mike Leigh’s NAKED (1993), apparently this was a universe where violent sexual assault serves as an aphrodisiac. Incidentally, NAKED was another film that wasted the talents of the wonderful Gina McKee. This is the movie that made Clive Owen famous, and for fans, made him a potential future James Bond. Although on this viewing, he seems much more suited to being a Bond villain, than 007, at least in the modern Bond era.
dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is the youngest son of the Corleone crime family. Previously having shunned his family’s criminal empire, Michael is drawn in when his father Vito (Marlon Brando) the head of the family is incapacitated. Film producer Robert Evans famously said of the making of this film, “I wanted to smell that spaghetti on the screen”, and it works like magic. A largely Italian cast, and the masterful eye of Coppola give this film a timeless authentic feeling. To my mind the best Godfather film, showing the tragedy of Michael’s journey from rebellious war veteran, to criminal mastermind. I love watching Clemenza teach Michael how to make a large Italian meal for the gang, I’ve made that recipe a couple of times, it’s not bad at all. Marlon Brando masterfully shifts between calculating businessman, and cheeky father figure, every hand gesture and sigh feels natural. My least favourite piece of Godfather trivia is that the studio gave Coppola feedback that the film was not violent enough, so he tweaked it, adding the scene where Carlo beats Connie – I hate that scene, and it’s unnecessary, I skip it when rewatching. There is something compulsively watchable about the way cinematographer Gordon Willis’s camera fixes on the perfect position, allowing characters to walk in and out of frame, like you’re part of the family, comfortable, but complicit.
dir. Cory Finley. Based on a New York mazing article, about the true story of embezzlement in the New York public school system. Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney both give excellent, believable performances as the school administrators who defraud the public school system. The film definitely has a TV movie feel to it, with the visual style, and simple presentation of the story, but the performances from Jackman and Janney make it an entertaining watch. The most interesting part of the film is watching the school board make their way through the decision to cover up the initial crime, and the mental gymnastics that they go through to justify it. I was hoping for something more daring from the director of the excellent THOROUGHBREDS (2017).
dir. Kitty Green. A day in the life drama of Jane (Julia Garner), a personal assistant to a misogynistic and abusive film company executive. Wonderful first feature narrative film from Melbourne born filmmaker and Victorian College of the Arts graduate Kitty Green. Julia Garner as Jane is worlds away from her famous role as the tough-as-nails crime figure in TV series ‘Ozark’, but she’s just as watchable and moving in this minimalist office drama. It’s a pretty devastating portrayal of an office culture that protects powerful men, at the expense of young women, and bullies anyone who dares to speak up, threatening their future prospects and livelihoods. The main theme is the how the Harvey Weinstein stand-in character defines Janes existence in the company, but it also does a great job of demonstrating how dehumanising a workplace can be when people are not looking out for one another. The wonderful Matthew Macfadyen (Tom in HBO’s Succession) has an excellent scene with Jane. There is almost no music, and very little dialogue, but the cumulative effect of the film is very impressive, giving an almost forensic view into a dysfunctional industry, and the human cost.
dir. Jonathan Demme. Kym (Anne Hathaway) gets out of rehab the day before her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) gets married. Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt are superb, creating a believable strained sisterly relationship. The atmosphere of the family gatherings is almost too real. It perfectly captures how it feels to be in the middle of a group of loving raucous, well meaning friends and family, when you’re really not in right frame of mind. Also captures the accidental cruelty of friends and family when everyone is under stress. The documentary style of the filming, makes it even more real, and often highly stressful. Hathaway is especially wonderful, with her face fluctuating between her winning smile, and flashes of sadness, as she tries to survive the festivities. The almost constant drone of violin music in the background is suffocating, but very effective. All of the performances in the family are strong, and give a very good example for a Best Ensemble Cast award in the major film industry awards.
dir. John Frankenheimer. Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) is a mysterious Irish agent who brings together a group of hired guns, including Sam (Robert De Niro) and Vincent (Jean Reno) to steal a special suitcase for unknown reasons. Justifiably famous for the intense car chases, and they are still very intense. These virtuosic car chases are mostly shown without music, with the camera switching perspectives between the POV of the car, and from the pedestrian viewpoint, giving an incredible sense of speed and danger. The plot I found very muddled this time watching. The film tries to make Sam a cold blooded professional like Alain Delon in LE SAMOURAÏ (1967), as the Japanese reference in the title suggests, but it really just creates a less interesting version of De Niro’s character three years earlier in HEAT. The Irish political plot is annoyingly incomplete, and the Irish accents are truly bad. It’s still fun to watch Robert De Niro walk around Paris in a turtleneck drinking wine, and speaking French.
dir. Frank Oz. Set in Montreal, Robert De Niro stars as a high-end thief, teaming up with newcomer Jack (Edward Norton), to take down a big score, organised by middle-man for valuable stolen goods, Max (Marlon Brando). I love a good heist film, and this is so much fun. I was predisposed to enjoy this film, it’s about a charismatic cat burglar who owns a jazz club, and is in a relationship with Angela Basset, and his name is Nick. The only movie where Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando act together, after both playing the same role of Vito Corleone in the Godfather films. Edward Norton is perfectly smug and condescending as the young thief. Robert De Niro and Angela Basset have great chemistry together, it’s very sweet to watch them interact. I love watching De Niro hanging around his jazz club, talking with the staff and drinking whiskey. Brando’s last film, and he’s charming as the dodgy operator, making De Niro laugh.