Archive for the ‘PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR DRAMA’ Category

Pressure Point

27 Feb

Pressure Point – directed by Hubert Cornfield. Drama. 91 minutes Black And White 1963.
The Story: A black prison psychiatrist takes under his care a crazed white-supremacist convict.
Sidney Poitier in his most characteristic role, The Patient One. His Patient is played by Bobby Darren.

Darren is a devoted extremist, member of The Nazi Bund, and declarer to Poitier that, when the round-up for the cattle cars comes, Poitier will be easy to recognize. The characterization is easy to meet, because Darren internalizes the role to such a degree that he never steps out of it while playing it, by making the character evil, thus to say: “See, I’m really not like this.”

Poitier keeps the ball rolling by picking up his cues and by holding back his rage until the final scene, where he lets Darren have it full bore. It’s the customary structure of Poitier films, the soft-spoken man, sufficiently put-upon, becomes the hard-spoken man in the last reel.

All the big actors in Hollywood had turned down the role of the bigot, but Darren campaigned for it. He is excellent; he got a Golden Globe nomination for it.

Stanley Kramer had a lot of people on the payroll after the big success of Judgement At Nuremberg and he had to put them to work. He directed only the framing scenes including Peter Falk, scenes which weaken the power of the story.

All of Stanley Kramer’s pictures are dated, and were so at the time, because they were all delivered with a violin obbligato of 19030s sentimental idealism. That means that they deliver the pain of democracy’s failures at the same time that they congratulate themselves for nostalgia for the same failure.

It has always been startling that actors could get their mouths around his lines. For this perfumed idealism is lodged in the writing. It is writing to side with the pre-ordained underdog, writing slanted in such a way that we are given no choice.

But Poitier is always good to see and never wastes our time by a single line.


Donnie Darko

27 Apr

Donny Darko – directed By Richard Kelly. SpookyDrama. 133 minutes Color 2001.


The Story: A teenage boy sleepwalks his way into a unlived life.


The Gyllenhaal kids are in this one, she the easy one, he the difficult one. Which is not to say he is the bad guy and she is the good girl, she nice, he nasty. No, they do not exist in these realms at all. One day fifteen years or so from now, when they are pushing fifty, they may play the brother and sister in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, but until that time we shall simply have to wait. Nice and nasty doesn’t apply to them. Her face is raised to the world, his face is hang-dog. There’s mystery enough in that.

If she delights to have fun, and he is reluctant to have fun, well then, there lurks in him a smile withheld for a more honest and more understanding gathering. Drew Barrymore as his English teacher offers it. So does Katharine Ross as his therapist. But the only one giving him the quality of attention his frown demands is his girlfriend, nicely played by Jena Malone.

The film is one of those messes written by the man who directed it. Will people never learn? Do not direct what you have written, because you will invariably direct everyone but the writer. But another reason prevails for its being a mess.

The director is by nature conventional and to try to be unconventional makes a movie about time-travel – not realizing, time-travel is a thing conventional directors conventionally try.

So what is a conventional persona supposed to do?

What they had better do is don’t try to be unconventional, but to adhere rather to the gift of conventionality they have been given, and, if they are no brighter than this director, what that means is to honor the strength of a strong story line, and seek out a strong story line to honor. That would set the matter of conventionality and unconventionality aside with an iron hand.

As it is, we have a foolish film about an oddball adolescent, played when Jake Gyllenhaal was 20 and just the right age. Gyllenhaal’s personal recalcitrance carries the picture. The picture does not carry the picture. It simply presents weirdness pretending to significance.

Inside this is cocooned an interested personality biding his time for a role more generous to his gifts, as, say, in Nightcrawlers.

He is well supported by Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all women you will note. Females rush to protect Jake Gyllenhaal. Men steer clear of him, you will note. It is the abiding subtext of many a Gyllenhaal film, most pronounce in his most renowned one, Brokeback Mountain.



20 Mar

Whiplash – written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Drama. 106 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: At a New York jazz conservatory, a young drummer is brutalized by his teacher.


Whiplash is an essay on teaching. J.K. Simmons is to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for it – although it is not a supporting role. It is a leading role as by nature of the material it has to be.

However, setting that aside as a failed fait accomplis, the story succeeds in presenting a tyrannical bastard whose uses his position as teacher to run riot over those in his care. The story fails on another ground, however, which is to make plain that the teacher he plays is insane, wrong, and lying. And that there there is no advantage whatsoever to endure or outlast his tutelage.

J.K. Simmons plays the teacher who bullies and slaps his pupils. They are all males and he revels in homophobic put-downs of them. He calls them faggots and cocksuckers never calls them anything else. “Okay, ladies,” is his greeting when walking in the rehearsal room door. He is capricious in his treatment of them and widely contemptuous. His encouragement of them is to shame them.

We have had enough of this sort of teacher in our lives. The lie they tell us is that they are behaving vilely toward us for our own ultimate betterment, that we may exceed ourselves in high art. They are reducing us to tears and fear and zero self-esteem, they say, so we may surpass ourselves and become names to be reckoned with. It is a complete lie. What they are doing is seeking dominion, and that is all they are seeking.

We have had enough of such teachers. We have enough of such teachers as Madame Sousatzka. We have had enough of the tyrannical behavior of Sanford Meisner, the overbearing queening of Stella Adler, and the brutality of Kim Stanley when she taught in New Mexico. Their purpose was not to liberate their students to the full potential of their talent but to reduce them to an audience merely – an audience which they as actors no longer or never did command.

It is exactly the same as the motive of Adolf Hitler, whom as we know had no strategy whatsoever for what he was doing in Europe, save to dominate it. We see it in his speeches and his acts. And they succeeded. To what good end? None.

Likewise, in Whiplash the virtuoso performance that we see is not that of the drummer who is badgered and nearly killed by the demand for subservience. The virtuoso performance is that of the actor playing the teacher. His domination dominates the show and creates it.

And it must be understood that such a performance can only take place when the actor is given the chance by the script to reduce another human being to ashes. As with Hitler, so with Professor Fletcher. So with Bette Davis in her heyday at Warners. Not only in seizing dominion over the set, but in her actual life, and not only there, but in her big virtuoso fliteing scenes when she tells some male character off in a movie – scenes written especially for her – and thrilling to behold. Thrilling to imagine that we ourselves might tell someone off just like that. Wow.

Better not.

Egomania run rampant. Humans playing God.

Not a good idea.

Not good for whom?

In Whiplash we are not asked to examine the question what effect this might have on the person doing it. The life and art of Bette Davis disappear for the last forty years of her life. What about that? No. What we are asked to behold is the effect on the student. This the film makes clear for a while, but finally does not make clear.

Does the student ultimately benefit by his teacher’s brutality? Or not.

The young man is cast and played admirably by Miles Teller.

His lesson, from all this though, is what?

Does he triumph at the end because he has been browbeaten? We don’t know. All we know is that he takes over the orchestra itself by starting up and setting the beat for a Carnegie Hall number as Professor Fletcher is announcing it to the audience. But what is the action here?

Is the drummer proving the teaching method to have been fortifying to him?

Or is the drummer acting separately, independently, and apart from it?

All we see is the action by the drummer, which is to seize dominion from the conductor, Fletcher. That’s all we see.

So is he doing to Fletcher what Fletcher was doing to him? Is he beating Fletcher up in public?

Of course, the drummer seizes power over the moment, the band, the conductor on anger. And he plays the drums on anger.

For only anger can do this. Only anger can fuel a display of dominance. Only anger can Hitlerize over the pupils of a Sanford Meisner or a Terrence Fletcher or a nation.

The pretense on display before us, which is that Fletcher then recognizes the drummer’s sovereignty and partners up with it, is bushwah. Dominators do not twin. They are solo acts. As the drummer is a solo act.

Is the drummer’s solo also toxic? Also a feat of egomania? An act of ruthless self-indulgence?

Is human anger always toxic?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends.

It is useful to set this rendition of teaching next to another presently before us, that of Kevin Costner in Mcfarland USA.

Yes, the coach there makes the boys exert themselves beyond their current level. Of course he does. That is what coaches do. And the coach he plays has been demoted to the outpost of Mcfarland because of an out-of-control anger.

But that is not what we see in the coach now. What we see in him now is steady application of long-distance running drill fueled by encouragement – not by demeaning the team, not by calling the boys faggots, not by reducing them to humiliation, tears, and fear. The actual dominion in that Chicano community is that of the mother serving Costner his food in no uncertain terms. The dominion is family. The moral of the story is that the race is won – in the Carnegie Hall of cross-country running – not by the best runner but the worst runner of all. And everyone benefits.

When pianist Sviatoslav Richter hitchhikes to Moscow at age 19, he has been playing the piano all his life but has never had a piano lesson in his life, but he goes there to play for Russia’s greatest teacher Heinrich Neuhaus. Richter auditions. Neuhaus whispers into the ear of the person next to him. “I believe he is a genius.” Richter stays in Moscow and, being without funds, camps out for a good while by sleeping in Neuhaus’s apartment under the piano. And Neuhaus kindly teaches him the few things Richter has yet to learn. He turns out to be the greatest classical pianist of the last half of the 20th Century.

That is a story about how a great teacher deals with talent. A hard home, under a piano, yes, but not a hostile home.

But the great fact about teachers of art, cruel or kind, is that they presently learn that not one student in a million has any talent at all. What students get out such schooling is an immersion in a sport or art which will enrich their lives forever – and better their lives too for the effort and the victory of the effort. And what the students will learn of craft may indeed aid them to become but to become no other than competent amateurs, devoted aficionados.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Not a thing. But to listen to J.K. Simmons as Fletcher talk about his great purpose in battering his students, to hear him compare himself to someone who by throwing a brass cymbal at a player turned that player into Charlie Parker is be asked to swallow a consummate arrogance as a consummate kindness. It is not a kindness. It is the reverse. And it has nothing to do with teaching. It is the reverse.

J.K. Simmons is the virtuoso artist here, not the young man who plays the drums. For Simmons is given the anger scenes to play, and, even when they are not anger scenes, anger is what the character desires to run and will contrive to run given any cue whatsoever. Rage is the touchiness of an absolutist agenda. Rage is the frustration of an inflexible expectation.

Almost all of this the script delivers to us and so does Simmons. All save the writing, playing, and direction of the final lie in the jazz dive toward the end, where Fletcher reveals his holy strategy to the drummer.

This is not played as the hollow hyperbole of an absolutist agenda that it is. It is played as the Greatest Ideal In All Teaching – just as all absolutist agendas are presented. Granted Simmons as an actor must believe Fletcher’s doxology is true, good, and necessary. But what the player and the script and the director have not given us is the empty inhumanity in Fletcher his behavior is meant to supply or disguise. Fletcher weeps at the death of a talented musician he once taught. What he tells his band is that the young man died in a car accident; what actually happened was the young musician committed suicide. Brought on by Fletcher’s hounding of him. What a phony!

We are offered a good many things by this film, however. And it is well worth seeing. Not because of the violence Simmons is able to body forth so well – after all he is a first class actor ripened up by Oz for such roles. Rather it is also well worth seeing for the handling of the material itself in its display before us, the pulse of big band jazz playing, the mis-en-scene of a music school, with its dank corridors and uninviting ambiance – enough of a counterpoint to encouragement without Fletcher’s tyranny present.

Miles Teller is a lovely actor as the drummer. And in his hands and those of the cinemaphotographer we get a full experience of the dynamics of drumming itself.

The movie also tells its larger story well and honestly. It won Academy Awards For Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. And, of course, Best Supporting Actor. You will not disagree.



Gone Girl

24 Oct

Gone Girl ­ – directed by David Fincher. Drama. 140 minutes Color 2014


The Story: The wife of a man disappears unaccountably, and the community is in arms.


This piece has the opening beauty of a Hitchcock picture: a wrong-man-accused is his most frequent theme. But Hitchcock knew such a theme could not be dragged out at this length, for we have to wait over two hours for this shaggy dog to stop wagging its tail.

Ben Affleck is the lug whose wife has disappeared, and, as usual, he is completely credible. The wife is played by Rosamund Pike and she is equally credible because she plays a part of a woman who likes no one and therefore one is not obliged to care whether she lives or dies. Perfect casting: January Jones country. Kim Dickens is particularly effective as the policewoman striving to sort the case out as is Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin sister and Lola Kirk as a low-life lady Pike meets on her way, and Tyler Perry as Affleck’s powerhouse lawyer.

The picture is effective in its opening two acts but falls asleep on itself as it generates nightmares to jack itself up. We are asked to enter into unnecessary, unsupportable complications, whereas all we care about, after a point, is Will the villain be trapped or not and how. Once the perfidy is arranged for us, we need no further perfidy to crown it. It is a film that does not realize that third acts always needs to get on with it.

The production is sumptuous, but the producers have made one stupid error, which is to hire the author of the novel to write the screenplay – for the reason the film exhausts itself is her jamming everything in the book into it. The interest of the neighbors and the press, for instance, would be better felt than seen. So would the episodes with Neil Patrick Harris. All we need is the scene in the hospital with her afterwards. How she did it is of no interest at this point. That she did it is everything, and all we need to know to put ourselves in the shoes of Affleck.

For film is not an imaginative medium. Which is to say, literature requires reading and reading requires one to fill in the lacunae with one’s imagination – how people look, sound, gesture, and how crowds are, one makes up for oneself as one reads.

In film the work of the imagination is done by everything being shown. Unless, even better, it is not shown. That is to say in film no imagination is required; so what is left unshown counts enormously to sustain interest, humor, and tension. Film narration, at least in suspense film, depends upon what is left out. And most films are suspense films.

Too bad here.

Vulgarity, as MGM long ago proved, consists in showing everything.

As to whether it is necessary for you to see this film I leave it out; yes, I leave it to your imagination.





01 Sep

Marnie – directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Psychological Drama. A young woman with a past meets up with a man who wants to free her from it. 130 minutes Color 1964.


Sean Connery is an actor who really belongs up there. Handsome, sexy, virile, strong, with a deep musical voice, great eyes, an interesting face and mouth, photogenic, at ease with himself, humorous, smart, responsive, charming, fun, physically flexible, convincing in his readings, and with a hairy chest, he is one of God’s gifts to film.

Tippi Hedren is someone who does not belong up there at all, and it is painful to watch her. She is frozen, the voice is tight and not well-placed, she is unpleasant of visage, she is no fun, has no humor, and what is worse, she has a pile of bleached blond hair on her head that distracts in every scene, much as the same hair does with Catharine Deneuve. “Which way will it be dressed now?” is the sole focus of interest with her. For she herself is completely lacking in interest, and is not an actress at all, poor thing.  Bamboozled by Hitchcock’s name, she let him make her a star, momentarily. When you see her speaking on the Bonus Features, she is a lovely woman, intelligent, well spoken, and interesting. But as an actress she is none of those things. Grace Kelly was scheduled to do it, and it would have benefitted from her breezy style and the fact that she actually was an actress, but Grace Kelly backed out.

At the point this picture is made, Hitchcock is involved in sleazy self-indulgence, combined with a falling-off of talent, combined with a failure to grow in his craft. The script is far too long, and it stalls in long conversations whose content were better taken silently. For Hitchcock sometimes is able to tell a story well, and sometimes brilliantly, as in the passage where Marnie opens a safe, while unbeknownst to her a cleaning woman approaches mopping from around the corner. But it is a passage of suspense in a film which, over-all, does not have any suspense and which is so badly told it is dumb.

For one thing, Hitchcock asks us to be involved in a relationship entirely devoted to therapy, as Connery takes on the role of the shrink – and the psychotherapy offered is twaddle. No one is going to endure this boring woman’s cure! The filming is crude and overstated. Except for Connery, the actors are bad because badly directed. Diane Baker comes across as smug; Louise Latham has a badly written part. The styles are a hodgepodge, and nobody seems to belong in the picture together with anyone else. The picture is a half hour too long. As usual with Hitchcock, the sets are unconvincing.

Hitchcock at this point in his work thinks he knows how audiences think, how they respond, scene by scene and beat by beat, and his arrogance in refusing to question this so-called mastery dooms him. You may witness the doom if you like, for Sean Connery is certainly worth the ticket.

The Bonus Features feature people making insane claims as to the virtue of this picture. “If you do not like Marnie, you do not like Hitchcock. Indeed, if you do not love Marnie, you hate film,” which is to say that if you do not love beets you hate vegetables. Well, I like vegetables. I do not love Marnie, and I do not love Hitchcock and I do not hate film. So shoot me.



04 Apr

Streamers – directed by Robert Altman. Drama. Six soldiers search and weigh their sexuality. 113 minutes Color 1983


Robert Altman became known and remained successful for big cast movies such as M.A.S.H., Nashville, HealtH, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, Ready-To-Wear, and A Wedding. He is less well known for his filming of stage plays.

These are not records of stage productions, although sometimes they involve the original casts and usually involve small casts. They are renderings of the theatre pieces, but are as a rule shot on sets made and lit for filming. If you like Altman’s touch and are interested to witness the sort of performances actors rejoiced to be able to achieve in his pictures, then (apart from  Beyond Therapy, which he confessed not to relate to), these stage versions are entertainments well worth your attention: Secret Honor, A Prairie Home Companion, The Company are some of them.

Another is Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which was a big hit on the stage where he directed it and because Cher was in it and because it concerned itself with the last days of James Dean and maybe also because it dealt with cross-gender. The cast was brought over into the movie and it was an even bigger hit. Immediately after it was made, Altman filmed David Raab’s Streamers.

Various descriptions of this film refer to it as a Vietnam War piece, which is strange, since its subject from beginning to end is homosexuality. It takes place in a sparsely inhabited barracks where three rookies in the Air Force await their next assignment, which might be Vietnam. Around them cavort their sergeant and his comrade in arms on an epic bender.

The three men are young and their concern is their sexual relations to one another, but they are too young and too callow to do anything more than approach the subject and circle around it. Is that guy who is so fey actually a sexually active homosexual, or is he putting on a show? Is that other man, or is he not, willing for me to broach the topic of my feelings for him? What does it meant that I am so homophobic?

Playwright David Rabe has captured a perfect moment in the career of male sexual identity: the inchoate moment. All these young men seem to be virgins, unwittingly announcing their inexperience by the center fold pinups inside the doors of their lockers. None of them wish to be labeled as queer. They may wish to dabble. They all are curious. They are all afraid of being labeled, and they are also afraid of being curious.

The force-field of these tensions build to a point of ignition which is set off in all three acts by the intrusion of a black madman in their midst, someone crazed by his self-pity for his doom as unemployable and unlovable. The explosion ensuing is stunning.

The cast won the Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival. I give it a Golden Lion here.



Shock Corridor

23 Oct

Shock Corridor – written, produced, and directed by Sam Fuller. Drama. To land a hot story, a journalist has himself committed to an insane asylum, and faces the consequences.
Fuller had all the punch in the world as a director. He has a strong commitment to story; he knows how to set up and physically direct a scene; he knows how to stun an audience into attention. But the one thing he does not know, if this film be sole evidence, is to direct actors such that they hold back enough to let the audience in. Everyone hams it up all over the place. Everyone overdoes. Everyone plays everything for more than it is worth. Everyone wrings every scene dry. This misfortune is so true that, watching it, one cannot calm down enough from resisting it to notice when they are not doing it. So, with the actors doing everything for them, the audience is left with nothing to do, except perhaps to listen to the didactic – which fortunately always takes a form so brilliant that one cannot help but sit back and be astounded; for instance, a blazing political harangue in favor of the Klux Klux Klan is not only given by a black inmate, but given by the first black man to integrate the high schools in Alabama! The treatment of patients in asylums, their subjection to water and shock treatment, the want of therapy, the barbarity of the guards – yes we see it all. We also see the reporter’s girlfriend working as a cooch dancer to support him, and we actually see Constance Towers, with her beautiful figure, dance and sing the cooch, and not only does she actually sing it, she sings it live. And that is the virtue of Sam Fuller. He is able to make you be there. The dust-ups that occur are wild and look out of control; there is much incidental damage done. I guess he could get away with this, because he did not use stars, so it didn’t matter if his actors get messed up, and it really pays off in shock value. Yes, he can make you be there, but he can not make you be the characters you see there. On the countrary, you are held off by the overstated acting, and because therefore there is no way in, you find youself with no one to identify with. It is the cinemaphotographer, Stanley Cortez, who raises the piece up into the realm of art. For the film is well worth watching, and so are the Special Features, which include an interview by that fine lady Constance Towers, and include a documentary about Fuller, who is tiny, who is never without a cigar, and who is an exemplary rapscallion. He is a heavenly human being, brimming with mischief, life-love, zest, and the education which only rash experience can provide. Fuller is spoken of fondly and seriously by directors Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Robin Williams, and Quentin Tarantino from whom he deserved each kudos he got. He’s a lot of fun, gifted, and much loved.


Swimming To Cambodia

17 May

Swimming To Cambodia — directed by Jonathan Demme.  Docudrama. Spalding Grey performs his monologue about his experiences in Bangkok as a movie actor filming The Killing Fields. 82 minutes. Color. 1987.


There sits Spalding Grey in his usual plaid workshirt and jeans with a glass of water and a 5 & 10 spiral notebook and delivers his remarkable take on his life and mind. He is quite beautiful, and the director keeps close up on him, even though he is delivering it, supposedly, in the small space of New York’s Performing Garage. Actually the film is more than a record of a well-rehearsed performance piece, for it includes lighting effects and process shots not offered when one saw it in person. But that’s all right. Also all right are The Killing Fields clips themselves. It’s not a gag-driven monologue, although it is always humorous and sometimes even funny. It is, rather, a crazy education imparted professorially, for he maintains himself seated, dignified in all his indignity and indignation, behind the lecture barrier of the little table. We are being taught something. We all need this restraint placed upon someone who is after all tearing out his hair. For what is interesting is Grey’s fine madness. Which consists of what drives him nuts about himself and the world he inhabits, in this case the international political zoo of the 70s, when Nixon personally put America to a secret war against the Khmer Rouge in Northern Cambodia. Grey is involved in the massacre, and he is also involved in living, concurrent with it, the voluptuous life of a Hollywood production expense account, which also takes him to the wild and pristine beaches of the Indian Ocean, where he swims unto death. Why should we be interested in this? Because Grey is not a moron and is not pretending to a popular simplicity. He is a middle class, middle aged guy whose neuroses are such that they lead him, as neuroses often do, to the truth. He is a responsive actor and he is a telling mimic. And he is willing, for some reason, to experience, before our eyes, excruciation. One is aware, as he does this, that he does this every night, night after night, for an audience to which he would suggest his own resemblance. This is also part of his madness. For it includes our madness in going to see him, night after night, and as we watch we are aware of our own intrusive continued presence at this witty crucifixion. A college graduate. Yes. Literate. Yes. With good diction. Yes. And sane with insanity. If that troubles you, stay away. If it does not trouble you, then you can stand being troubled by his trouble. Just as you can stand being troubled by that of Garrison Keillor, who has the power to entertain you in just the same vein, you see.


The Hitchhiker

07 Mar

The Hitchhiker — directed by Ida Lupino. Drama. Two men are abducted into the desert of Mexico by a deranged killer. 71 minutes Black and White 1953.


This is thrust, as so many others are, into the category of film noir, with which it has nothing to do. That’s just a sales strategy. But it is just as well, for, because of the interest of folk in noir, attention is then paid to a picture which otherwise is uncategorisable. Ida Lupino was a very gifted director; any film she set her hand to is worth seeing. In this case, one can imagine the influence of the long association she had with the great Raoul Walsh, who directed her in a number of films, and who became a like-minded friend and mentor. Like him, she moves the action along licketty-split; the pace never lets up; her sense of camera position is superb. Her sense of human frailty is superb. She even gives us one small scene in which two actors speak Spanish, and it is not translated. You have to lean forward into that scene, and wake up your silent film eyes, to interpret its value. The two kidnapped men are played by Frank Lovejoy and Edmund O’Brien, middle class guys with thickening waists and probably buddies from The War, eight years before. The sizzling live-wire at the center of the film, however, is William Talman, as the madman with the gun. He’ll scare the liver out of you. The Hitchhiker was famous in its day and has come down as a classic. What that means is that you are supposed to take a visit to the museum. But of course, with The Hitchhiker you’ll be thrilled by what you find there. In its day, it would have been programmed as a B-picture, the lower half of a double bill. It’s a pity they don’t make B-pictures any more. All we get is Important Films straining to be blockbusters, instead the B-film strove only to provide proficient entertainment, and sometimes, as in this case, surpassed that really admirable aim.



The Omen 666

24 Jan

The Omen 666  -– Directed by John Moore. Creepy Thriller. The Devil Wears Buster Browns when a bad seed starts growing and growing and coming toward you. 110 minutes Color 2006.


There is a difference between a role and a character. A role is The Mother, The Husband, The Child. But the writer must also make characters of them or all we have is cutouts. The character allows the actor to create humans out of and inside those roles. It’s done with words said by a character that make him alive, human, and particular. Dickens was a master at this. A character should be like no one else on earth. A character is also created by actions which also define him, by the term Part we mean the action the actor who plays the role takes. “I play the role of the boyfriend. It’s the part of the boyfriend who kills the ogre.”  In Omen 666 there there are roles but no characters, save two. They are not, however, created by the writers, but by the sheer eccentricity of the actors who play them, David Thewlis and Pete Postlethwaite, actors also of a rare  power — by which I mean freedom in their craft. Each brings such particularity to his work because of his voice and appearance, that they come alive, immediately. Julia Stiles as The Mother, however, has no such personality. She is a good actor, of course, but that’s all you’re left with. Not a human being but an actor. Liev Schreiber is another good actor, but the same is true of him. He has a fine figure, a beautiful and well-placed voice, and an interesting face which has no bad camera angles. But he has no lines. Nothing that he says rings true, not because he is unconvincing but because the lines are empty. He has no character to bring to life; he has nothing to work with, but himself, and he himself is not A Role, not An Ambassador, not The Father Of That Boy, not Someone in that situation, because the writers have not made that Someone into an individual. Give an actor as good as Liev Schreiber the merest clue, and he will make of it a memorable creation. Not here. It’s not his fault. The script is clueless. Millions have been spent on this production. You notice it because that’s all there is to notice. When Postlethwaite died, I turned it off.

Michael Gambon, Mia Farrow


The Resident

20 May

The Resident – Directed by Antii Jokinen. Thriller. A young female doctor rents an old apartment and finds it is haunted – and not by a ghost. 1 hour 31 minutes Color 2010

* * * * *

Hilary Swank is always cast as a proactive skinny female. A girl who decides to be a boy. A woman who wants to be a prizefighter. An uneducated waitress who decides to become a lawyer to save her brother from prison. Proactive is her inner position, what she brings to the table for us to eat. It’s always obvious, and she is always well cast and cast in interesting well-produced pictures. This is one of them. Because she is skinny she looks susceptible to being pushed around, though, so it’s not an easy ride for her. She is physically strong, muscular, and as convincing as a powerhouse as Barbara Stanwyck was and for the same reasons: she is physically fit. However, as an actress she tends to play up her “helplessness”, which is a mistake, but then so does Jodi Foster, whom she also resembles. Never play fear, Hilary, play determination; it’s more believable.  Especially since she has a face with which, s with Joan Crawford, it is impossible for her to register a subtlety. Here she plays a EMR surgeon, a perfect part for her, and I for one was so glad she knew human anatomy so that she could place her coup de grace accurately when the time came to bring it into play. She rents a dandy old Brooklyn apartment and is immediately uneasy because she feels she is being watched, and, badness knows, she is. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the watcher, the landlord who has a fix on her. You think he possibly really loves her until the point where he pleas for pity, never a safe move for a screenwriter. But we are well on in horror by that time.  The film is magisterially directed by Antii Jokinen and filmed by Guillermo Navarro. The whole picture is much the creation of its set designers, Guy Barnes, J. Dennis Washington, and Wendy Ozolos-Barnes who have made for us one of the most extraordinary series of arteries and secret panels, and peepholes one has ever seen in a N.Y. apartment building– and by its bent score by John Ottman. It is very well acted, and its cast even includes the beautiful Lee Pace (one of the two greatest actors in film today) who has a real-right-on moment with a sling; watch for it. I rented the film because of his being in it; his part is small, but it adds a ruthless and necessary fillip to the coup de grace when it comes.




Dark Water

31 Mar

Dark Water — Directed by Walter Salles — Psychological Horror. A young mother moves into a new apartment whose ceiling has a sinister leak. 105 minutes Color 2005

* * * *

After the revelation and reconciliation scene, the film falls apart. This is because of a failure in the main actor and a failure in the script. The failure in the script derives from the fact that dirty water cascading from above is not an apt metaphor for a woman going insane. Nor is insanity something you die of. The script suffers from multiple personality disorder, so we have Childhood Abandonment, Ghosts, Filthy Water Cascading Down Walls, A Mean To-Be-Ex Husband Trying To Gain Control Of A Child, and Is This Woman Going Under, and our loyalties and attention are betrayed and disappointed by the failure of these to align at the end or all along. Also Jennifer Connolly is miscast. She is miscast because she is so ordinary and not strong in it. You need an actress who is both strong in her nature and unusual in her affect, vocally and physically, to play a woman who is going to become vulnerable before our eyes, a young Bette Davis. Connolly is a good workman-like actor, but nothing more. She does not have in her nature or her technical capacity the talent and the range to play a woman going insane. Being able to play migraine-headache doesn’t make it. Her big scenes with the water are simply an ordinary woman’s response to a pipe that won’t stop leaking, and the actress falls into the habit of having the character feel sorry for herself. Granted the script fails to supply her with anything but a mere external, kinematical spectacle: a flood. There is no drama in a flood. There is excitement, but there is no drama. The flood does not bring us inside the character at all, even were the actress capable of realizing the transformation and the salvation of insanity. The rest of the film is superb. The brown non-special effects drowning of the walls, the apartment house set, and all the set decoration, are superb. The music and sound are superb. The direction is excellent. The editing is particularly fine. And the acting of the supporting players could not be bettered. John C. Reilly is brilliantly detailed and funny as the rental agent. Pete Postlethwaite is brilliant in ambiguity as the concierge. Ariel Gade could not be bettered as the young daughter. Tim Roth is tops as the busy lonely attorney. And the great Camryn Manheim steals every scene she is in. It’s worth seeing for all of this and not worth for all the rest of this.


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