Thursday, 30 December 2010


Year: 1968
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner, based on the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish
Starring: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, James Hagan, Robert Duvall
Running Time: 113 minutes
Genre: Crime, thriller, police, action

Summary: Tough San Francisco police lieutenant Frank Bullitt (McQueen) is requested by ambitious politician Walter Chalmers (Vaughn) to safeguard a witness over a weekend so that he can give a deposition to a Senate sub-committee about Organized Crime. However, the witness (Felice Orlandi) has stolen $2,000,000 from the Mob in Chicago and the gangsters are hot on his trail and will stop at nothing to get him.

Opinions: This film has become something of a classic now, with it's smooth jazzy theme music by Lalo Schifrin (surely a favourite of cocktail parties the world over), ice-cool central performance by Steve McQueen and now legendary car chase sequence it's almost a template of late sixties cool. The storyline is fairly predictable and contains few surprises. There are also several times where the pace lags severely, and the movie as a whole has not aged partcularly well, but there is much to enjoy. First of all the car chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco which is one of the most famous and influential car chases in the history of movies and is still stunning today. Then there are the performances, most notably Steve McQueen in one of his most iconic roles as the tough, cool and charismatic Bullitt. However, Robert Vaughn, best known as the suave secret agent Napoleon Solo in the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), is impressive as the ambitious, slippery politician who involves Bullitt in his machinations.
While not the instant classic it's sometimes seen as, this is a good crime thriller with plenty of memorable action scenes, and not just the car chase, and features one of the most iconic actors of the 20th Century, Steve McQueen, in one of his best roles.

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Blood of a Poet

Year: 1930
Director: Jean Cocteau
Screenplay: Jean Cocteau
Starring: Elizabeth 'Lee' Miller, Pauline Carton, Odette Talazacuez, Feral Benga, Enrique Rivero, Jean Desbordes
Running Time: 55 minutes
Genre: Surreal, experimental, fantasy

Summary: An artist (Rivero) paints a picture of a face and is startled when the painting's mouth starts moving, and frantically erases it. He is shocked when the mouth appears on the palm of his hand and begins moving. On the advice of a talking statue (Miller), the artist enters a mirror and finds himself in the "Hotel of Dramatic Lunacies" where he is forced to crawl along a gravity-defying, dreamlike corridor and peer through the keyholes of the doors that he passes at various bizarre tableaux.

Opinions: This was the debut film from French poet, artist, writer and film-maker Jean Cocteau and forms the first part of a trilogy loosely based on the Greek legend of Orpheus which continued with Orphee (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1960). This is very much an experimental film and has very little in the way of a plot, instead it's a succession of various strange and surreal images and scenes which are sometimes striking, but how you feel about it will definitely depend on whether or not you can get onto Cocteau's wavelength. Although if you are interested in surrealist art and cinema, then you will probably want to check this out. It is not an enjoyable movie, but it is a powerful one and quite fascinating. It's pretty much as close as cinema could ever get to filming a dream. Due to rumours about an anti-Christian message in the film, and the furore over the Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali film L'Age d'Or the movie was hugely controversial in France and it's release was delayed for over a year.
This is strange, powerful, sometimes boring and frequently intriguing.

A typically strange image from The Blood of a Poet

Sunday, 26 December 2010


Written by: Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly
Year of Publication: 2008
Number of Pages: 376 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, coming of age, drama,

Summary: Megan McKeenan is a young woman who drifts from place to place across North America, searching for herself and for a place in the world. The book consists of twelve inter-connected stories each set in a different location in North America with Megan as the linking character. The stories are slice of life vignettes concerning themes of home, belonging, family, memory, friendship and loneliness.

Opinion: Local was originally published as a twelve part limited series comic book between 2005 and 2008. Originally it was intended to be a series of one off stories each taking place in a different North American location and each linked by the recurring character of Megan who would appear in each story, sometimes as the lead character and sometimes as a background character. As the series progressed though, it began to focus increasingly on Megan's story. The book is powerful and emotional, sometimes funny, often shocking and frequently heartbreaking. It's intelligently written, with Megan coming across as a genuinely believable and engaging character, even when she is not particularly likeable. As is only fitting, given the concept of the book, it has a very strong sense of place, with each location becoming almost another character in the story. The detailed artwork complements the stories perfectly. Even if you don't like comics, this is strongly recommended.

The locations featured in Local are:
Portland, Oregon
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Richmond, Virginia
Missoula, Montana
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Brooklyn, New York
Tempe, Arizona
Wicker Park, Chicago
Norman, Oklahoma
Austin, Texas
Toronto, Ontario

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch

Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean
Year of Publication: 2006
Number of Pages: 96 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, fantasy, mystery

Summary: A man remembers when, as a young boy, he stayed with his grandparents in an English seaside town. His grandfather, who would later go mad, and his hunchback great-uncle own an unsuccessful amusements. While he is there he meets a mysterious Punch and Judy Show operator (or "professor") and begins to uncover the secrets of the "oldest and wisest play", as well as the dark secrets at the heart of his personal and family history.

Opinions: Acclaimed author Neil Gaiman is probably best known in the comics world for his ground-breaking series The Sandman (1989-1996) but he has done many limited series and one-off gaphic novels. This book is a disquieting and compex meditation on memory and childhood. Told almost entirely through the fragmented memories of the unnamed narrator the story deals with a child confronting the bizarre and often disturbing world of adults intermixed with the fantasy of the Punch and Judy shows, which were bizarre and frequently quite violent puppet shows for children which at one time were hugely popular. The story hints at a lot, but very little is actually revealed. Gaiman's text is superbly complemented by McKean's artwork, which blends detailed paintings, with text, photography, models and other objects. Reading this is a genuinely disturbing and powerful experience.

"Shoedog" by George Pelecanos

Year of Publication: 1994
Number of Pages: 200 pages
Genre: Crime, thriller, action, noir

Summary: Constantine is a drifter who has spent seventeen years travelling around going from one job to the next. He hitches a ride with an elderly man named Polk who is heading to Washington DC, Constantine's home town. Constantine reluctantly agrees to accompany Polk to DC after being promised money. However Polk is there to see a powerful gangster named Grimes and he and Constantine agree to join five other men in a dual liquor store hold-up that Grimes is planning. However, it turns out that each of the criminals involved in the planned robbery have their own agenda and Constantine finds himself caught in a web of violence and betrayal.

Opinions: This early book from acclaimed crime writer George Pelecanos is a tense and violent action thriller. It wears it's pulp credentials proudly on it's sleeve and comes across like one of the tough film noir crime thrillers from the 1940s and 1970s. The book is short and punchy and empty of any unessentials. Several typical Pelecanos themes feature in the book such as 1970s soul and funk music, old cars, and detailed descriptions of the workplace (the title character works in a shoe store from where he gets the nickname "Shoedog"). The plot constantly moves forward and is always entertaining. It's ideal for reading on a plane or train or a long dull afternoon. It's surprising it hasn't been filmed yet, actually, because it really is crying out for a movie adaptation.

Batman: Year One

Written by: Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, with Richmond Lewis and Todd Klein.
Year of Publication: 1987
Number of Pages: 143 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, action, superhero, adventure

Summary: Jim Gordon, a cop with a chequered past, moves to the crime ridden town of Gotham City with his pregnant wife Barbara to join the police department. However he soon finds out that the police department is completely corrupt, and that the corruption reaches to the highest levels of the city authorities. As one of the few honest cops on the force, Gordon soon finds himself a target of not only the criminals but also his fellow officers. Meanwhile, Gotham's wealhtiest resident, playboy Bruce Wayne, returns to the city after twelve years abroad. Shortly afterwards, Gordon finds himself investigating a powerful new vigilante on the scene. A mysterious costumed figure known as Batman.

Opinions: In the 1980s DC Comics decided to revamp many of their long-running superhero titles, by going back to basics and reinventing or expanding upon their origin stories. This book, which was originally published as a four part story in the Batman comic, details not only Bruce Wayne's first year as Batman, but also the future Comissioner Gordon's first year in the Gotham City Police. The book doesn't radically change the origin story of Batman, but it does expand on it, and provided a huge influence on the future development of the character. A year previously Frank Miller had written the acclaimed and controversial Batman: The Dark Knight Returns which returned the character to the dark, gritty, ambiguous character he had been in the beginning, and this book keeps the gritty feel of Dark Knight Returns. The story is fast moving and energatic and provides a refreshing take on a familiar tale, and the dynamic artwork complements it well. This is a must-read for Batman fans and especially for fans of the movies Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) bith of which, while not being direct adatations, borrowed many elements from Year One.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Fahrenheit 451

Year: 1966
Director: Francois Truffaut
Screenplay: Jean-Louis Ricard and Francois Truffaut, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury
Starring: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring
Running Time: 112 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, satire, drama

Summary: In the near future, reading is highly illegal and all books are banned, on the grounds that they "make people unhappy", and firemen are employed not to fight fires (all homes are fireproofed) but to find and burn illicit stashes of literature. The populace are kept docile by pills and endless bland, interactive television, as well as magazines containing dull pictures and no words. Montag (Werner) is a fireman who lives with his wife Linda (Christie), who wants nothing more than a second wall-mounted TV screen. One day, Montag meets a strange young woman named Clarisse (Christie again) who asks him whether he has actually read any of the books that he burns. Out of curiosity, Montag smuggles a novel home and begins to read, soon finding himself hooked on the joys of literature, and questioning all the ideals and convictions by which he has lived his life.

Opinions: The idea of Francois Truffaut, one of the leading lights of the New Wave movement in French cinema, filiming one of the works of science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury is an intriguing one, and Fahrenheit 451 is arguably Ray Bradbury's best novel and is definitely a modern classic. However this is not one of Truffaut's best films. Bradbury is not an easy author to adapt to another medium, his poetic turn of phrase while reading well on the page tends to sound unconvincing when spoken. Also this was Truffaut's first and only English language movie, and he claimed it was his "saddest and most difficult" film-making experience. This was mainly due to his antagonistic relationship with Austrian leading man Oskar Werner, with whom Truffaut had previously worked with on Jules and Jim (1962). Originally Terence Stamp was cast in the lead, but he dropped out because he thought that Julie Christie's dual roles would overshadow him. Werner wanted to play his part as more conventionally heroic, while Truffaut wanted a more hesitant performance. Truffaut thought that Werner's performance was "robotic" and wanted him to play it as if he was just discovering the books for the first time, sniffing at them and wondering what they were, but Werner commented that since it was a science-fiction film he should play it as a robot. Werner gives a very stiff performance and it's very obvious that he is uncomfortable with the English-language dialogue. By the end of shooting Truffaut and Werner were not speaking to each other, and Werner had his hair cut before shooting his final scenes in order to create a deliberate continuity error. Julie Christie does fairly well with her two roles, having long hair as the sedated Linda Montag and sporting a fetching pixie cut as Clarisse, who provides much of the film's heart. Cyril Cusack also does well as the slimy Fire Chief, Montag's boss.
The future world of the film was shot on location in Britain, which viewed today makes it look a very old-fashioned future. The production is very much a product of it's time, and does look and feel inescapably late sixites. The director of photography, incidentally, was Nicolas Roeg who went on to become a noted director in his own right. However the film has many evocative images and some elements work very well. For example the opening credits are spoken rather than appearing as on-screen text, helping to introduce a world without the written word.
Look out for copies of the novel Fahrenheit 451 as well as Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and an issue of Cahiers du Cinema, the influential magazine which Truffaut used to write for, among the burning books.
The adaptation is fairly faithful, although Truffaut was unhappy with what he felt was the stilted and unnatural English dialogue and preferred the French dubbed version. However most of the film's dialogue problems are more to do with the source material. It's no masterpiece but contaisn enough interesting stuff to make it worth checking out.
The title, incidentally, refers to the temperature at which apparently book paper catches fire and burns, although in reality it is 340 degrees Centigrade (842 degrees Fahrenheit).

Cyril Cusack and Oskar Werner in Fahrenheit 451

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Quai des Orfevres

Year: 1947
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jean Ferry, based on the novel Self-Defense by Stanislas-Andre Steeman
Starring: Louis Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier, Simone Renant
Running Time: 106 minutes
Genre: Crime, thriller, police procedural, film noir

Summary: Paris, December 1946: Jenny Lamour (Delair) is a flirtatious nightclub singer and is married to piano player Maurice Martineau (Blier), who is very jealous of her. Believing that she is having an affair with Brignon (Charles Dullin), a lecherous old producer who Jenny wants to help advance her career, Maurice threatens to kill him. Later, Maurice discovers that Jenny has arranged a secret rendezvous with Brignon and so he takes his gun and goes to confront them. However, when he arrives Jenny is not there and Brignon is dead. Cynical Inspector Antoine (Jouvet) is put in charge of the police investigation into Brignon's death and Maurice is his prime suspect.

Opinions: This film marked Heri-Georges Clouzot's return to film after four years absence, after he was banned from film-making as a result of his controversial 1943 film Le corbeau (which was accused of being anti-French propaganda) and his involvment with German-owned Continental Films. Clouzot had read the Belgian murder-mystery novel Self-Defense by Stanislas-Andre Steeman during the Occupation, but had forgotten most of it when the time came to write the script and found that the novel was out of print, so he wrote to Steeman to obtain a copy of the book, and proceeded to write the script based on co-writer Jean Ferry's memory of the story. By the time the book arrived, the script had been written and was very different to the book. On it's release in France, the film was a huge hit with both audiences and critics. It is a well-paced and involving thriller, with plenty of surprises. For the first half hour or so it plays as a kind of backstage comedy-drama and darkens several shades once the mystery elements take hold. The film really comes into it's own when the hapless Maurice finds himself drawn into a Kafkaesque nightmare as he becomes the prime suspect. The acting is great, especially from Louis Jouvet as the dryly-humourous Inspector with a grim view of human nature. It's also stylishly photographed in crisp black and white and depicts a world teeming with life and incident.
The title refers to the address of the police headquarters in Paris.
If you get the chance it is definitely worth checking out for fans crime stories and thrillers.

Simone Renant is under investigation from Louis Jouvet in Quai des Orfevres

House of Mystery: Room & Boredom

Written by: Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham, illustrated by Luca Rossi
Year of Publication: 2008
Number of Pages: 128 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, fantasy

Summary: Welcome to the House of Mystery, which stands at the crossroads between many realities. Anyone who can find it is welcome to stay and the first drink is always on the House. However, to pay for any further food or drink the customer has to tell a story, which is the only currency accepted in this realm. Sometimes when people find the House they cannot leave, unless they are selected by a mysterious coachman. The latest person to find the House is architecture student Bethany "Fig" Keeler, who has been seeing the House in her dreams for years. She escapes there after being chased by a mysterious ghostly pair and finds herself the latest one to be trapped there.

Opinion: House of Mystery is a horror anthology comic book series that was first published in 1951 until 1983 and has been sporadically revived since. In 2008, Vertigo Comics, an imprint of DC Comics which specialises in publishing comics aimed at more adult audiences, revived the House of Mystery as an ongoing series, the first five issues of which are reprinted in this graphic novel. Most of the book concerns itself with the central story of Bethany Keele trying to escape from the House, but it also features some of the stories told by the House's customers (each of which is illustrated by a different artist which gives them a unique look). The book is entertaining with some refreshing dark humour and some striking artwork. The graphic novel also contains a short prose story and some draft character designs.

Friday, 17 December 2010

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson

Year of Publication: 2006
Number of Pages: 569 pages
Genre: Crime, thriller,

Summary: When a young journalist comes to Millennium magazine with an expose about prostitution in which a number of very high-profile men will be named and shamed, celebrated crusading journalist and Millennium publisher Mikael Blomkvist jumps at the chance to help him. However the journalist and his student girlfriend (who is writing a thesis on prostitution) are found murdered in their home. The evidence points to enigmatic computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Given Salander's propensity for violence and apparent anti-social tendencies, she immediately becomes the target of a nationwide police search and media frenzy. Blomkvist, however, believes that she is innocent and is determined to track her down first. Salander is also being sought by some highly dangerous indiviuals who will stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Opinions: This book is the second part of the celebrated Millennium Trilogy from Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson (the trilogy began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) and concluded with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2007)), all of which were poublished after Larsson's death. The novel picks up about a year after the events of the first book and it carries on and explores many of the themes and plotlines of the previous book. However, while the first novel was pretty much a detective story this one widens it's scope into police procedural and conspiracy thriller. Many of Larsson's themes from the first book resurface, in particular male violence against women and institutional corruption. As with the first book there are times when Larsson's determination to deliver his message seems to get in the way of the story, but mostly it is a pacy thriller, despite it's length. Larsson was good at documenting the intricacies of an investigation whether by police or journalists without it seeming dull, and he could also deliver some great action scenes, although one of the book's villains, a giant who is immune to pain, could have stepped whole and breathing from a James Bond book.
The book was turned into a film in Sweden in 2009.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Year: 1994
Director: Neil Jordan
Screenplay: Anne Rice, based on her novel Interview with the Vampire
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea
Running Time: 122 minutes
Genre: Horror, drama, epic, supernatural

Summary: San Francisco, present day: Malloy (Slater) conducts an interview with Louis (Pitt), who claims to be a vampire. Louis narrates the story of his existence as one of the Undead, beginning in Louisiana, 1791, when, suicidal after the death of his wife in childbirth, Louis is attacked by a powerful vampire, Lestat (Cruise). Lestat teaches Louis how to survive and hunt for blood, while the conscience-stricken Louis turns to feeding on animals in order prevent having to take human life. Fearing that Louis will leave him, Lestat turns a young orphaned girl, Claudia (Dunst), into a vampire, believing that their new "daughter" will encourage him to stay. However, as time passes, resentments between the three grow stronger, with Claudia in particular growing to hate Lestat for trapping her eternally in the body of a child, while Louis becomes pre-occupied by the search for other vampires that might explain their condition.

Opinions: This film is one of the most visually lavish horror films ever made. A full-blown gothic film it revels in the sumptiousness and decay of 18th and 19th Century New Orleans and Paris. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series of books, which currently totals ten novels in the main sequence and two in the linked but sepearate New Tales of the Vampires series, have been bestsellers worldwide, and the novel Interview With the Vampire, first published in 1976, was the first in the series. The film mostly follows the book very closely, and manages to eep the novel's strong homoerotic undertones largely intact.
Initially Anne Rice was very vocal in her objection to Tom Cruise playing Lestat (claiming that he was "no more my vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler"). Her choice for the role was Julian Sands, but the studios wanted a bigger star for the role. After seeing the film, however, she was happy with Cruise's performance, and apparently wrote him a letter of apology. The original choice to play the interviewer, whose name is never mentioned on screen but who is referred to in the credits and in the books as Malloy, was River Phoenix who tragically died four weeks before filming began. Christian Slater, who replaced Phoenix, donated his fee for the film to Phoenix's favourite charities, and there is a dedication to Phoenix at the end of the film. Brad Pitt has the lead role of the tortured Louis and although he never manages to convey Louis constant inner torment, he is suitably melancholy throughout (apparently he hated making the film). The big revelation in the film is Kirsten Dunst, who was twelve years old when the film came out, as the vampire child Claudia. She gives a great performance with a difficult role of a character who, while physically a child has the mind and feelings of an adult.
The movie is slickly directed and has enormous style. The thing is that while it is beautiful to look at and has plenty of gory thrills it is rarely particularly scary. it also moves at a fairly sedate pace. However it is powerful and involving enough to keep the interest of viewers, and not just horror fans. It also has a strong seam of welcome humour.
The film, in keeping with the book, depicts the vampires as dangerous but also glamorous and seductive and not necessarily evil. The main conflict in the story is Louis reluctance to feed on and kill humans versus Lestat's whole-hearted embrace of the vampire state. The Vampire Chronicles really popularised the concept of the darkly romantic, ambiguous and tormented vampires which have become so familiar from Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series and Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries (which were the basis for the TV series True Blood).

Kirsten Dunst, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire

Friday, 10 December 2010

Disturbing Behavior

Year: 1998
Director: David Nutter
Screenplay: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Bruce Greenwood, William Sadler
Running Time: 80 minutes
Genre: Thriller, horror, science-fiction

Summary: Shortly after the death of his brother, teenager Steve Clark (Marsden) moves from Chicago to the pictureque coastal town of Cradle Bay with his parents and younger sister (Katherine Isabelle). Shortly after enrolling at the local High School, Steve befriends intelligent outsiders Gavin Strick (Stahl), U.V. (Chad E. Donella) and Rachel Wagner (Holmes). Steve also notices the elite group of attractive, preppy, high-achieving students known as the "Blue Ribbons". It turns out that the Blue Ribbon members have been brainwashed into losing their individuality and becoming model students, and a side-effect of their conditioning triggers homicidal rages should they become sexually aroused. Before long, the Blue Ribbons set their sights on removing Steve and friend's rebellious tendencies.

Opinions: This film is pretty much typical of late '90s teenage horror fare with it's attractive cast and wise-cracking script the film turns out almost as a blend of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the TV series Dawson's Creek (1998-2003) (of course the film stars Katie Holmes who was a regular on Dawson's Creek). It also bears a very strong similarity to the 1999 film The Faculty which also dealt with mind control and high school. The film's director, David Nutter, is probably best known for directing episodes of moody horror/science-fiction shows such as The X-Files and Millennium, and he incorporates some of those show's trademark gloomy visuals here.
The cast are efficient and engaging enough, if not particularly impressive, and events move at a quick pace and rarely get dull. Despite this however, the film still feels like a TV show episode expanded to feature length. It also has a number of minor but distracting little continuity errors throughout, stuff like someone will have a hand on someone else's shoulder but the shoulder that the hand is on will keep switching from shot to shot. Granted these aren't exactly show-stopping errors, but they are slightly distracting.
The movie makes for a fun enough distraction for an hour and a half though.
Several scenes were cut from the film, apparently against the director's wishes, including a love scene between James Marsden and Katie Holmes (which was present in the film's theatrical release) and an alternate ending.

Katie Homes and Nick Stahl in Disturbing Behavior

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Serious Man

Year: 2009
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff
Genre: Black comedy, drama, period
Running Time: 106 minutes

Summary: Minnesota, 1967: Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) is a Jewish professor of physics. He lives with his wife, Judith (Lennik) who is having an affair with a widower (Melamed), his teenage son, Danny (Wolff) who owes $20 dollars for marijuana to an intimidating classmate at his Hebrew school, but the money is hidden in a transistor radio that has been confiscated by a teacher. Also in the house are Larry and Judith's teenage daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), who is always doing her hair, and Larry's brother Arthur (Kind) who fills notebooks with bizarre and extravagant mathematical theories which he believes tie together the laws of the universe and which he uses for illegal gambling. When Judith confronts Larry about her affair and demands a "get" (a religious divorce) and shortly afterwards he finds himself threatened by a student (David Kang) to whom he gave a failing grade, Larry finds himself at the centre of a string of misfortunes and disasters which challenge all his beliefs about the way the univere should work.

Opinion: The film opens with a bizarre prologue set in early 20th Century Poland in which a woman kills a rabbi that her husband has invited into their home, because she believes that the rabbi is a "dybbuk" (a kind of possessing spirit in Jewish folklore). The Coens have claimed that the prologue has no connection with the rest of the film other than to set the tone.
In their career, the Coen Brothers have garnered huge international acclaim for their stylish and often strange films, but this is probably the strangest one that they have made yet. The Coen brothers also grew up in an academic Jewish household in Minnesota and the film feels like a very personal project. The movie is visually impressive, with stylish and often surreal scenes and images. There is also the Coen's usual strain of dark humour which if anything is even crueller than usual here as the hapless Larry is stricken by a seemingly endless stream of misfortune. It is certainly an unconventional movie and, despite not being exactly entertaining, it is quite haunting and fascinating in it's own way. Although some viewers may find the strong element of misanthropy off-putting.
The film features strong performances from a relatively unknown cast allthough comedy fans may recognise Simon Helberg (who plays Howard Wolowitz on the hit television series The Big Bang Theory) as a junior rabbi.
It is a memorably unique movie, but it won't appeal to all tastes.

Michael Stuhlbarg is A Serious Man

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Color of Money

Year: 1986
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Richard Price, based on the novel by Walter Tevis
Starring: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro
Running Time: 119 minutes
Genre: Sports, drama

Summary: New York City. "Fast" Eddie Felson (Newman) was once a successful professional pool hustler (basically a player who pretends to be less skilled then they actually are for the purpose of luring a less skilled player into playing against them for money), but he now sells liquor, although he still misses the excitement of his former career, and sometimes puts up some of the stake money for other hustlers. One night he meets Vincent (Cruise), a volatile but very talented pool player, and Vincent's shrewd girlfriend Carmen (Mastrantonio). Eddie sees a chance both to make some money and also to recapture some of his glory days and takes Vincent under his wing, becoming his mentor as well as putting up some of the stake money for Vincent. However, Eddie's increasing frustration with Vincent's impetuousness and Carmen's scheming soon causes tension.

Opinions: This movie is a sequel to the classic 1959 movie The Hustler, which was also based on a Walter Tevis novel, with Paul Newman reprising his role as "Fast" Eddie Felson. However, the film only makes occasional very brief references to the events in the earlier movie. This movie marked Martin Scorsese's first foray into mainstream commercial film-making after a couple of financial flops, namely The King of Comedy (1983) and After Hours (1985). The commercial success of this film gave Scorsese the clout to make his long-cherished pet project The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
Despite being a very mainstream film, it still features many of Scorsese's trademark stylisic flourishes and is very much a Martin Scorsese movie. The movie features impressive performances notably Paul Newman who is effortlessly cool as "Fast" Eddie and Tom Cruise's energetic performance as the wild Vincent. There are also appearances by rock star Iggy Pop, Forest Whitaker and Charles Scorsese (Martin Scorsese's dad). Martin Scorsese provides a brief voice-over at the start of the film explaining the rules of nine-ball pool. It also features a snappy screenplay from novelist and screenwriter Richard Price and a typically cool and eclectic soundtrack.
While the film is not the classic that The Hustler it is still a good film in it's own right and a worthy sequel.

Pool hall blues: Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in The Color of Money