The first feature from Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Terminator; Genesis) is a striking, low budget comedy/thriller , with William Forsythe, Adam Trese and Vincent Gallo as three losers who, inspired by a late-night rerun of the film noir Armoured Car Robbery, decide to stage their own amateur version of the crime. Being New Jersey incompetents, their plan goes awry, but the manner in which their family and romantic interests complicate their professionalism is caught with more subtlety than might be expected. With a title from Brando’s speech in On the Waterfront, and a storyline that references Italo Calvino short stories, Palookaville fully deserves its status as an unseen cult film; full of warmth and wit, it’s a minor classic. Frances McDormand also appears.
Albert Finney was an unlikely choice to play diminutive Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s famous who-dunnit, but he makes a decent fist of the role in the heavily-padded style of Brando in The Godfather. Paul Dehn’s screenplay features the murder of Richard Widmark’s Ratchett played out over and over again, allowing each of the stars to been seen holding the knife. Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Rachel Roberts and Jacqueline Bisset are amongst the suspects, and the resolution is strongly delivered through a lengthy exposition by Poirot. Lumet handles his cast well, and Richard Rodney Bennett contributes a notable score; while the mystery isn’t hard to solve, the trappings on this murder mystery make it worth returning to; even Agatha Christie was happy with the result.
A nice piece of casting, by having the 21st century’s most lauded online wit, Stephen Fry, play arguably the most acerbic man in history, Brian Gibson’s BBC film pulls off something of a coup. Based on Richard Ellman’s book, Wilde focuses less of Wilde’s writing career than on the series of personal relationships that cause him considerable torment; as a husband and father, Oscar Wilde finds himself at the sharp end of societal judgement when he embarks on an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law). Orlando Bloom pops up as a rent boy, Tom Wilkinson turns up as the Marquess of Queensberry who prosecutes Wilde, and Martin Sheen and Ioan Gruffud add some British spit and polish. And at the centre, Fry gives a strong performance as Wilde, dealing with inner anguish and spitting out bon mots with considerable style.
A somewhat quirkier film than its reputation suggests, Norman Jewison’s 1987 vehicle for Cher is a classy slice of romance. She plays Loretta, a NYC book-keeper who is unlucky in love until she meets pizza-maker Ronny (Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately she’s already engaged to be married to Ronny’s brother Johnny (Danny Aiello), and she risks the disapproval of both her own and Ronny’s families. But true love, plus lashings of La Boheme on the soundtrack, eventually bring Loretta and Ronny together in style; Jewison gets uniformly strong performances from a diverse cast, and John Patrick Shanley’s script as plenty of authentic detail of NYC life, notably Loretta’s father endlessly listening to Vicky Carr’s It Must Be Him on record.
Proof positive that the heart of teen movies didn’t die with John Hughes, Pitch Perfect is a pitch perfect film for teenagers that wears its adherence to The Breakfast Club on its sleeve. Anna Kendrick is Beca, a talented teenager with father issues, who joins up with her school singing group The Bellas to take part in a competition, with boy group The Treblemakers in opposition. While the plotting, based on Mickey Rapkin’s book, is nothing new, the attitude of Jason Moore’s film is fresh and unselfconscious, catching the underlying excitement of live performance and keeping the mashed-up tunes coming thick and fast; the swimming pool riff-off is a non-stop wonder, and it’s inevitable that Pitch Perfect will generate enough fan-girls and boys to make it to the stage on day. 30 Rock veteran Kay Cannon contributes a smart script, and Kendrick is a sassy, likeable lead.
It would be fair to say that Woody Allen’s 1996 comedy is not quite indicative of the quality of the career that followed; the majority of What’s Up Tiger Lily? is footage from a Japanese spy film, overdubbed with a silly plot about a recipe for egg salad. If this mixture was indigestible enough, a few performances from resistible band The Lovin’ Spoonful are thrown in to pad out the running time, and yet the result is watchable and although the gags are patchy, there’s a few cracking moments. A running gag about the hero bursting into song, the villain’s car-sickness (‘I feel nauseous!”) and a lovely moment where the protagonist recognises his mother incognito in a harem of girls. These moments reflect the scattershot with of Allen’s early writing, and even if the whole enterprise is weak, it’s got more laughs than most proper films. Even Blue Jasmine would have been considerably weakened by regular stops to enjoy the musical stylings of The Lovin’ Spoonful.
An early tweet from the Avengers; Age of Ultron movie showed Robert Downey Jr in a hi-visibility vest; the huge awareness of movie stars inevitably leads to a constant re-appraisal of their growing or waning popularity. Johnny Depp is a case in point; the media feast on stories of his failures, with 2011’s espionage comedy The Tourist seen as a key moment in his decline. Certainly, The Tourist doesn’t seem to be about much in particular; based on the film Anthony Zimmer, and anonymously directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Tourist focuses on glossy Italian intrigue between American abroad Frank (Depp) and his romantic entanglement with Elise (Angelina Jolie). Who is who and what’s being done is the question; with writing talent as diverse as Julian Fellowes (Downtown Abbey) and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), The Tourist aims to keep the audience guessing. Perhaps the director’s pedigree from terse spy drama The Lives of Others led expectations in the wrong direction; The Tourist is a throwback to glossy, empty entertainments like Charade or To Catch a Thief, and Depp’s silent comedy techniques hold the attention is this neglected film that hits a simple target.
Adapted from a novel by Maryam Modell by John Mortimer and his wife Penelope, Otto Preminger’s 1965 black and white thriller is a tricky tale of child abduction. Bunny is the child of Ann and Steven Lake (Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea), and when she goes missing, investigating copper Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) comes to wonder if the girl ever existed. Throw in cameos from a diverse collection including Noel Coward and The Zombies) and the result is a melange of strange ingredients, which Preminger manages to weld together with some panache. The solution, very different from the one in the book, makes sense, and the journey to get there is consistently engrossing; if the slightly musty quality of the not particularly-swinging 60’s London can be ignored, Bunny Lake Is Missing is a terse little thriller with lively performances from actors who knew how to steal a scene.
Adapted from a novel called Morality Play by Barry Unsworth, Paul McGuigan;’s 2002 takes its central notion from Hamlet; after a murder, a staged reconstruction of the crime by actors is used to figure out who the killer is. Set in 14th century England, Paul Bettany stars as a priest who ducks his vows and goes on the run with a dubious troupe of actors, led by the eternally sinister Willem Dafoe. The Reckoning is a metaphysical murder mystery, a medieval movie with brains as well as an unusual setting and one which would make a good double-bill with The Name of the Rose. It’s directed with his customary flair by McGuigan. and featuring a remarkable supporting cast including Simon Pegg, Tom Hardy and Brian Cox.
Frank Coraci’s 1998 comedy looks back to the 80’s, but seems like a time-capsule of the late 90’s now. Was Adam Sandler ever so charming? Was Drew Barrymore ever so cute? Could rom-coms be so breezy and carefree, light on sex-jokes and with just a few relevant cultural references to pin the story on? Comparing The Wedding Singer with a leaden new generation project like 27 Dresses or Friends With Benefits suggests we didn’t know the good times until they were gone. Sandler plays Robbie, a wedding singer who falls for Julia (Barrymore), but they already have weddings planned to other people. Things are resolved throw a few funny songs from Sandler, great cameos from Steve Buscemi and Jon Lovitz, and a sunny disposition all round; comedy romance seems to have become somewhat sour since 1998, making The Wedding Singer something of a throw-back to a throwback.