I’ve had a yearning to watch some older ‘classics’ of late and have been looking to The Criterion Collection to quench my thirst with a few titles that have caught my eye. This 1942 horror themed drama stars somewhat lesser known starlet Simone Simon as Irena, a woman who believes an ancient curse means that any physical intimacy with a man, means she’ll turn into a black panther and devour him. So naturally when she falls for a charming business man (Kent Smith) who convinces her to marry him … Irena fears her animal side will reveal itself.
A simple tale with an intriguing premise, this flirts back and forth between the notion that Irena may be some carnivorous creature within, or she’s just sexually repressed. It certainly has something to say about female sexuality, which is bold considering when it was made. It’s also shot with atmosphere to spare, and has three enjoyable performances that drew me in. The story focuses on what becomes a love triangle, and the jealousy that builds especially in the final act made for some effective moments (the swimming pool scene). It’s not a horror in a traditional sense, there’s very little violence or creature effects, and is generally subtle and suggestive. Also despite a short run time, it was quite slow going. Yet I still found myself entertained.
The Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection boasts a 2k restoration that’s detailed and pleasing with striking black & white photography, and an uncompressed mono soundtrack has clear dialogue and effective music cues that aid the often eerie mood. However the big bonus here is a lengthy documentary on famed producer Val Lewton which is narrated by Martin Scorsese and goes in-depth on the man’s career. Add to this a commentary from film historian Gregory Mark, interviews, a trailer and a booklet with an essay from film critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Quality treatment for a somewhat underrated classic. Worth checking out.
This true story tells the story of street cop Frank Serpico, a man who idealistically joins the Police department in New York, but as time transpired learns that many of the cops around him take money to ‘look the other way’. As it goes against everything he believes a cop is, Frank chooses to investigate the corruption from the inside which at the same time puts a target on his back.
This gritty drama boasts a versatile and compelling turn from Al Pacino in a role that put his name on the map following his break out turn in The Godfather. Directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon) with authenticity, using mostly no name actors to aid the realism, this was a little drawn out … yet I found the story gradually pulled me in and I became quite absorbed after a while. It’s certainly a fascinating and eye-opening tale that’s enhanced by Pacino and its 70s atmosphere.
However there are some weak support performances, with occasionally wooden line-delivery … and in these more politically correct times, having only black people portrayed as crooks is jarring – yet such things reflect the times the movie was made I suppose. The threat and danger Serpico was also meant to be experiencing didn’t come across that well either. Yet as another solid Pacino role and an absorbing true story – overall I still had a good time with this.
The Blu-ray on Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ label, boasts an impressive, restored image with intact grain that brings out no end of detail and depth. The movie is presented in both its original mono and a new 5.1 soundtrack, both of which are clear and effective. Extras consist of some behind the scenes featurettes, a photo gallery with a commentary by the director, a trailer and a nicely detailed booklet. I’d have appreciated a commentary, and the lack of any appearance from Al Pacino is disappointing. A mostly decent treatment for a well regarded movie that although not exactly a classic for me, this release makes it worth a look.
It would be easy to get cynical of another ‘Netflix original’ movie after three made it into my least favourite movies of 2020. However as the streaming service continues to attract major Hollywood talent, sooner or later a gem would surface. This George Clooney vehicle, which he also directs has him as Augustine, a lone scientist in a research facility in Antartica following a global catastrophe that has wiped out much of mankind. However after receiving a message from a space station travelling back to earth, Augustine races against time to warn the crew of the dangers of a planet they once called home.
This very heart-felt drama has a stand out turn from Clooney, an actor I’ve often enjoyed. His character, who is terminally ill, is complex and believable as a man who has put so much into his career, he’s forgotten how to live. The supporting cast of astronauts, lead by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) are also well rounded and convincing. The space bits bare more than a resemblance to Sandra Bullock hit Gravity, whilst the on earth segments feel more like a man-verses-nature survival story … and these two sides make for a compelling whole. Both settings can feel claustrophobic with imminent danger, that although the pace was slow at times I never stopped being fully invested.
For such a concept, a lack of grandeur can be forgiven considering this is more a character piece, although a little light shed on the virus or incident that’s gone down would have been welcome. I was also left wanting a little more detail regarding certain choices Augustine makes in his back story. However, with a genuine gut-punch of an emotional ending, I still came away from this impressed.
2020 was the first year in a while that we had no real big comic book movies, apart from Wonder Woman 1984 at the end and this decidedly low key release. Set in the same universe as the X-Men movies, this focuses on a group of troubled teens in a hospital who are coming to terms with their mutations as a female doctor studies them … including a Native American girl who arrives following an incident that wiped out her reservation.
Think ‘Girl, Interrupted’ meets ‘Heroes’ and you’ll get the vibe this one’s going for. A recognisable cast includes Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams as a girl with the ability to turn into a wolf, and The Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy as a bitchy Russian who can summon abilities from other dimensions. The banter and varying powers between the characters held my interest and there’s some good action, even if this is less a full-on comic book actioner and more a character piece.
However, hints at a shady organisation responsible for the hospital are unexplored, and the whole thing feels like part one of a bigger story. Plenty of potential here despite the fact that teen mutants is nothing new and has been explored in prior X-Men movies. Sadly a luke-warm critical and commercial reaction probably means this story won’t get continued. Worth a watch though.
The sport of Wrestling has ever really appealed. The most exposure I ever had to it was seeing Big Daddy lay the smack down on World of Sport when I was a kid. However it has to be said, the sports movie has often been surprisingly great, and this little gem is no exception. The true story of the rise to fame of female wrestler Paige, who from humble beginnings with her wrestling obsessed family in Norwich, gets plucked by a coach who sees something special in her and gives her a chance to try out for a place in the WWE.
Florence Pugh, who first caught my eye in the unsettling Midsommer is great here as is her support cast including Vince Vaughn and Nick Frost. I especially enjoyed the bond Paige has with her brother and how it gets tested through the course of the story, leading to some quite heart-wrenching moments. It’s also laugh out loud funny in places, helped by a sharp script from Stephen Merchant (who also directs).
As a rise-to-fame journey, yeah it’s cliched with a believing in one self ark and a coach / mentor who’s tough yet secretly a nice guy … but that’s not always bad if it’s handled as well as this. A highly entertaining, well acted and feel good experience I couldn’t wait to talk about. A must see.
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