Classic Courtroom Dramas: Witness for the Prosecution, & Anatomy of A Murder

I am continuing the celebration of classic films this month with this double film review post. American legal dramas of the 1950s were in a league of their own, and, apart from the two films I will discuss below, there were also such films as Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men [1957], Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny [1954] & Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [1956].

Witness for the Prosecution [1957]

This is a mystery legal drama directed by Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend (1946), The Apartment (1960)) and based on Agatha Christie’s theatrical play.

Charles Laughton plays eminent British barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts whose declining health prevents him from participating in major criminal trials, but who, nevertheless, reluctantly agrees to take on a very strange murder case. Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering his female acquaintance who, quite unexpectedly, left him a large inheritance. But, did Vole actually murder her or was her tragic death the result of a burglary gone wrong? Vole’s enigmatic German wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, and the murdered woman’s housekeeper give evidence in court as Sir Wilfrid, acting for the defence, soon finds that his hands are more than full as a result of all the confusing details emerging in this case. Although initially rather “slow-burn”, this film finally has so many “mind-blowing” twists it can still put to shame many modern productions. Moreover, its use of humour, brilliant acting and intriguing flashbacks all mean that the story is as engrossing as its characters are mesmerising to watch.

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“Death of a Cyclist” Review

Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) (1955) 

Death of a Cyclist is a Spanish-language film that was the winner of the FIPRESCI Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (Main Street (1956)), this social realist film tells of a couple of secret, privileged lovers residing in Madrid who are involved in a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist. Afraid that their illicit affair will be known to everybody, María José de Castro (Lucia Bosè) and Juan Fernandez Soler (Alberto Closas) failed to stop and help a cyclist who they accidentally hit in their sports car. What follows is a dangerous game of trying to guess who knows what and who can use that information against whom. Parallel to this, Juan Soler, a university instructor, goes through some kind of an existential crisis which leads to surprising results. Death of a Cyclist is one intriguing thriller with Hitchcockian elements. There is plenty in the film on the topic of class divide and the faults of the upper class. Although frustrating at times with a questionable ending, Death of a Cyclist also benefits from nuanced directing which brings out the best in this story about crime and attempts at redemption.

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“Midsommar” Review

Midsommar Poster.jpg Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster takes horror to a completely new level in his latest film Midsommar. Inspired by The Wicker Man and horror folklore, this film tells of Dani (Florence Pugh) who reluctantly decided to accept an invitation and go with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a festival that celebrates a midsummer in Hårga, Sweden (originally, the Midsummer Festival was a pagan holiday to commemorate the arrival of summer). On location, we, through the unsuspecting group of friends, slowly become immersed in the odd ways of life in this rural village in Sweden, slowly discovering its strange residents and their disturbing rituals. Welcoming and friendly villagers are only too happy to show their visitors around, as well as introduce them to their traditional midsummer celebration, but will our group of friends, as well as we, the audience, stomach what the villagers prepared for them and presented on their silver plate? In this gripping, “hallucinatory” film, we soon discover that, for the emotionally-vulnerable Dani, the stage has already been set for a showdown of her life.  Continue reading ““Midsommar” Review”

“Everybody Knows” Mini-Review

todos lo saben poster Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben) (2018)   

This mystery-thriller comes from the acclaimed director Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman (2016)), and stars such big-time actors as Penelope Cruz (Volver (2006)), Javier Bardem (Mother! (2017)) and Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)). It seems therefore like this film can do no wrong, but, unfortunately, much does not go well in this latest by Farhadi. In this story, Laura (Cruz) travels from Argentina to Spain with her two children to attend her sister’s wedding. She arrives to a quiet Spanish village of her childhood and is happy to strengthen relationship with her large extended family. However, when Laura’s teenage daughter gets kidnapped, familial secrets come dangerously close to being revealed, and the pool of suspects thins to point to some family members. In Everybody Knows, the lead actors’ performances cannot be faulted, and the film has this one-of-a-kind ambiance of traditional rural Spain. The director also admirably tries to explore some curious familial situations. However, the problem with this film is that it does not become a clever mystery-thriller with tension surrounding the kidnapping and some twists to come. Instead, overlong Everybody Knows is all about tedious melodramatic scenes, with the feeling left that the script could have been considered for some local TV series. Even more unfortunately, what “everybody knows” in the story or the big reveal could easily be guessed in the first half of this well-meaning “mystery” movie.  Continue reading ““Everybody Knows” Mini-Review”

“The Third Murder” Review

The Third Murder Poster The Third Murder (2018)

People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers” (Shigemori Akihisa in “The Third Murder”).

This film by an acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After the Storm” (2016), “Shoplifters” (2018)) begins with a scene of a murder in progress. A man kills his boss in cold blood and burns his body. The man – Misumi (Kōji Yakusho) – has previously been in prison for around 30 years for other two similar crimes he had committed. A legal team prepare a case, but since Misumi has confessed, there is nothing much to debate or investigate, and the sentence of death penalty looms over his head. The case of Misumi seems to be an open and shut one, or does it? When a new lawyer Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes over the case, he slowly begins to realise that something does not make sense in Misumi’s confession, and the centrepiece of confusion is the motivation of the killer. It also does not help that Misumi starts to change his story of what happened with an astonishing ease and conviction. In Kore-eda’s legal drama, it is interesting to uncover both personal connections to the case and the foreign legal system’s intricacies, but the quiet beauty of the picture can still be found in the slow unveiling of the truth.

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“Burning” Review

Burning Poster Burning (2018)

You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).

In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).

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“Hereditary” Review

Hereditary Poster Hereditary (2018)  

**SPOILER ALERT** 

Ari Aster’s debut feature horror/drama film has caused quite a stir so far. With such quality horror films that have come out in recent months/years as “A Quiet Place” (2018), “Get Out” (2017) and “The Witch” (2015), to name just a few, it may be safe to say that the calibre revival of the genre is in full swing. It also seems like a long time has passed since we had to rely solely on James Wan (“Insidious” (2010), “The Conjuring” (2013)), horror sequels or classic movies for some kind of decent horror entertainment. “Hereditary” is an impressive and scary film, but not in the way most will assume. Its tricks, twists and general horror content may have been recycled from previous movies, and its inner intelligence and coherence will no longer awe discerning horror/thriller fans that have followed recent movies. Nevertheless, where “Hereditary” really impresses is in the setting-construction, in the unhurried building of the right, creepy atmosphere, in its attention to detail and characterisation, and, of course, it impresses with its top-notch acting, the kind that we probably have not seen in a horror film, maybe even since “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

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“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” Review

20841148_10155425815900482_4142552943347650013_nThe Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

This film proved to be the most divisive at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and there was a good reason for the audience and critics to feel so confused and uncertain. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a product of Yorgos Lanthimos, the director who is making his name as a master of original, unsettling and thought-provoking films; the director who is already an expert in crafting awe-inspiring settings which as much provoke as they disturb, and which the more mainstream audience could hardly even fathom. In “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, a well-to-do surgeon (Colin Farrell) strikes an unlikely friendship with a fatherless boy, without even realising the possible negative consequences of their ever-closer union. A seemingly mundane plot here slowly transpires into something unimaginable, and with the excellent support from Nicole Kidman, and with impressive Barry Keoghan and Raffey Cassidy, this film becomes an almost brilliant interplay of the unusual, the menacing and the astonishing, while being totally effective throughout.

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The Horrorathon: Les Diaboliques (1955)

1820Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting the Horrorathon, celebrating horror movies in the light of the forthcoming Halloween, and I have decided to contribute with a short review of one intelligent and highly influential film which some view to be one of the parents of the modern psychological horror/thriller genre:

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French-language film “Les Diaboliques” is the film which Alfred Hitchcock was dying to make, but never did (he ardently wanted to buy the rights to the book). The film is not a strictly horror movie, but, rather, a psychological thriller with suspense and horror elements combined. Here, two women, Christina and Nicole, the wife and the mistress of the oppressing director of a boarding school respectively, decide to kill their man and dispose of the body. Everything goes according to plan, but does it really? After the murder, the two women realise that the corpse of their victim is nowhere to be found and the mystery seems to deepen with each passing day.

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“The Discovery” Review

The Discovery PosterThe Discovery (2017)

The Discovery” is a film which had its first premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2017, but, arguably, it deserves more attention than it eventually got. Here, Will (Jason Segel) and Isla (Rooney Mara) meet in the strangest of times. It has been scientifically proven that the afterlife does exist, and this fact alone spiralled millions of suicides around the world, with people almost desperate to “get to the other side”. The scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) is behind the new discovery, and he has another trick up his sleeve: he thinks he can also show what the afterlife looks like before people take their lives. After all, who would not want to look at a holiday brochure before committing to their holiday destination? Although the film’s narrative slops and the chemistry between Segel and Mara is lukewarm, the film is atmospheric, raises some fascinating issues, and has a strong ending.

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“Get Out” Review

d179ab6d3d9c3105bf13d3963c311591Get Out (2017)

Get Out” is one of the best-reviewed films of this year. It is a debut film of director Jordan Peele, and has a dedicated, up-and-coming cast to match the film’s ambition. In this film, which is part psychological horror and part societal critique, Chris and Rose (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams), an interracial couple, go to visit Rose’s parents upstate. It would be the first time that Chris meets Rose’s parents and he is visibly nervous. Soon upon arriving, Chris is overcome by the atmosphere of unease all around, questioning whether he is really that welcomed in the neighbourhood. Despite elements of brilliance in setting the atmosphere, unfortunately, the film strays half-way through from its initially brilliantly-presented social horror into some mediocre overt-hostility premise, and ultimately leads to a predictable and unimaginative ending.

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The Medicine in the Movies Blogathon: Spellbound (1945)

oie_yqu5svckigzsCharlene at Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews is hosting this absolutely amazing blogathon – The Medicine in the Movies Blogathon, and this review of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945) is part of the race. There are many good movies out there which explore interesting, intricate aspects of medicine: from Wellman’s overblown, but entertaining “Night Nurse” (1931) to Soderbergh’s documentary-like, but fascinating “Contagion” (2011). Psychiatry in films has not been left too behind either. Many films here focused on a mental institution itself, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Girl, Interrupted” (1999), while others touched on various psychiatric issues through their “serial killer” plots, such as Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Mangold’s “Identity (2003). But, while these films often explored medical concepts and disorders indirectly, some movies really got to grips with the intricate details of psychiatry by focusing on the issues head on. “Spellbound” is one of them.  

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“Psycho” Review

pyscho-movie-posterPsycho (1960)

**SPOILER ALERT**

This will be my 100th film review and to celebrate the occasion I thought I would review one of my favourite of psychological horror films – Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Adapted from a novel by Robert Bloch, this film is a real classic of psychological horror genre, which practically revolutionised the way horror films were shot ever since its premiere. Relatively innovative in how it presents the characters, story and the ending at that time, Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is as suspenseful and frightening as it is entertaining, and is definitely a “must-see” for anyone who has even a slightest interest in the genre.

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The Great Villain Blogathon: Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects (1995)

Villains 2017Great stories often owe much to their great villains, and, to that effect, Silver Screenings, Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy have organised this great blogathon “The Great Villain Blogathon” to “celebrate” the villains and their villainy in films. On the face of it, there are many different villains out there. Some are unmistakably “bad”, such as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), while others may hide beneath the clock of benevolence and do their harm inconspicuously, such as Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975). While such antagonists are undeniably present and easy to locate in the film, there may also be others, whose presence is acutely felt by every character in the film, who instil fear and apprehension through their powerful and magnetic personalities, but, who, nevertheless, remain elusive and virtually unknown. One of such characters is Keyser Söze in Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” (1995).
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“Personal Shopper” Mini-Review

personalshopper_keyart1_fmhrPersonal Shopper (2016)

In “Personal Shopper”, a film of Olivier Assayas (“Paris, je t’aime” (2006)), Kristen Stewart plays a young woman Maureen who mourns the loss of her twin brother Lewis. Maureen visits the house where Lewis lived with his girlfriend, and believes that his ghost will try to communicate with her. In her daily job, Maureen is a personal shopper to a rich and famous star in Paris, a job she dislikes and only too keen to break the “rules” of her employment now and then. Soon her personal identity issues mix with her paranormal beliefs, producing restlessness and paranoia. Although admirable in its fresh approach, the film is also unfocused and dull. It tries at least three different points of focus: a ghost story; a murder mystery; and a high-society critique, all of which are underdeveloped and none of which work to a satisfactory conclusion.

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Mini-Reviews: “The Others” & “The Orphanage”

Although there are six years separating the movies and they have distinct plots, “The Others” and “The Orphanage” have things in common, such as a Spanish production and a near-perfect execution.

The Others PosterThe Others (2001)

The Others” is a ghost horror movie directed by Spanish Alejandro Amenábar. It became the first film in history to receive the prestigious Spanish Goya Award in the Best Picture category for a film where not a line was spoken in Spanish (IMDB).“The Others” tells of a single mother Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, together with her two small children, Anne and Nicolas, lives in a remote house in Jersey just after the WWII. The household has changed a number of servants, and welcomed the arrival of three new ones: Mrs Mills, a housekeeper, Edmund Tuttle, a gardener and Lydia, a mute girl servant. After the servants’ arrival, the mother and her children start to detect intruders in their home, who sometimes leave very surprising traces.

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016): Five Reasons for Harry Potter Fans to be Concerned

fantasticbeastsposterA new film based on a short booklet titled “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” by J.K. Rowling is scheduled to come out later this year, but is it a good idea to re-visit the Harry Potter world once again on screen?

Here are five reasons why it may not be:

I. Re-visiting: although Rowling is confirmed as a scriptwriter for the upcoming movie, who would really ensure that the Harry Potter world would not be “meddled with” or changed unnecessarily in the film? Even the author herself could not provide that assurance. Every re-visiting of the Harry Potter world has its consequences, and, due to the nature of the film, there will be many additions introduced to the Harry Potter world. For example, it has been confirmed that there will be additions to the wizarding world language and culture as it is presented in the U.S. The bottom line is that the Harry Potter books may not be read the same anymore, whether the change is welcoming or not.

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“Gone Girl” Mini-Review

poster-ggGone Girl (2014)

**SPOILER ALERT**

David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, starts off with a day of a couple’s fifth wedding anniversary when a husband, Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers the missing of his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). As the investigation gets underway, Nick begins to admit more surprising facts about his marriage/private life to the point where his self-incrimination becomes inevitable.

One of the most brilliant things about ‘Gone Girl’ is that it is a very entertaining and sarcastically funny movie, with Fincher’s direction being smooth and controlled throughout. Another amazing thing is Rosamund Pike’s brilliant, versatile performance, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Although Pike showed off her excellent portrayals of genuinely sweet and caring women in ‘An Education’ (2009) and ‘Pride & Prejudice’ (2005), here, the actress takes her acting skills to a completely new level. In ‘Gone Girl’, Pike jumps from portraying a sweet, devoted wife to displaying a cunning woman, whose mental and emotional conditions lead her to commit actions of unexpected cruelty.

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“Sleepy Hollow” Review

downloadSleepy Hollow (1999)

‘A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere’ (Washington Irving, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’). 

‘Sleepy Hollow’ is Tim Burton’s seventh major film based on a short story by Washington Irving ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. The film is about Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), a young police inspector who, equipped with his progressive scientific expertise, arrives to a small village, Sleepy Hollow, filled with superstition and paranoia. There, Ichabod encounters old wealthy family, Van Tassels, who, like the rest of the village, is in fear of the Headless Horseman, who terrifies and commits gruesome murders in the village. Upon arrival, Ichabod promises to restore peace in the village and to discover the identity of the murderer. However, Ichabod is up for surprises as in order to complete his task he has to start questioning not only his scientific beliefs, but also matters of the heart, as he slowly falls for Van Tassel’s charming daughter, Katrina (Christina Ricci).

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“The Secret in their Eyes” Review

el-secreto-de-sus-ojos-wins-oscar-academy-awards-2010El Secreto de sus Ojos (2009)

       ‘¿Te das cuenta, Benjamín? El tipo puede cambiar de todo: de cara, de casa, de familia, de novia, de religión, de Dios…pero hay una cosa que no puede cambiar, Benjamín… no puede cambiar…de pasión’. (Pablo Sandoval)

Praised by critics and audiences alike across the globe, ‘El Secreto de sus Ojos’ is a gripping mystery crime thriller that won an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category in 2010. This Argentina/Spain co-produced film ticks all the boxes when it comes to a great mystery crime thriller, and can even be regarded as coming as close to perfection as any (especially budget) film can get.

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