The House on Pine Street

The House on Pine Street.

Directed by Aaron and Austin Keeling (more known for their short movies) An interesting idea which ultimately lets itself down by giving us too much and tool little at the same time, creating a movie which is a mixed bag of everything.  A young couple recovpinestreetering from issues which reveal themselves as the movie goes on, move in to a house in a sleepy Kansas sub-urban town.  Here immediately the film falls for its biggest weakness, cliché; as the couple is introduced to us arriving at the home, the host/estate agent is the type of mono-syllabic character Which makes Lurch (Adams Family 1964) seem carefree and reckless, as it turns out he was a red-herring, appearing nowhere else for the film.

We find out that Jennifer (Emily Goss) is 7 months pregnant and has agreed to move back to her home town with her partner while he takes a temporary job locally. Straight away the scene is being set as we see the house deliberately set to look suitably old and scary. Which is fine except, one room is perfect and nicely restored, while the hallway etc. has bubbling peeling paint.   Nothing much happens at first, then little things start to happen, but only as long as we the watcher sees them. As the house continues to make its presence felt, the stresses build up for Jennifer.  Stresses which are not helped by her over-bearing mother. It turns out her mother arranged the house and job, despite the two of them barely being on speaking terms.  As Jennifer is drawn deeper in to the horror of the house, the others (including some local friends of her mother) are more and more inclined to believe it is Jennifer, and not the house which is the issue.  It also does not help, that as her hate of the house and her surroundings grows, her husband (Taylor Bottles), is settling in to town and has accepted a full-time position.

This could have been an excellent movie, but there was nothing new in the offering, if the writers had decided not to actually show the entity, it might have been a better movie, as it would have kept the mental terror whole.  The tension between Jennifer and her mother (Cathy Barnett) is perhaps a little too much given the already occupied story-line. Somewhat cluttered in its presentation, leaving the viewer to try and catch-up a number of times, it could have tried to do its own thing.

The film builds to its ultimate end, not a million miles from expected and so not reaching too high an achievement. The Taking of Deboragh Logan (Adam Robitel, 2014) was a much better piece of work. Over all a familiar take of a familiar story, which could have been much more interesting.

Overall a “Middle of the road” 2.5/5 (I could not stretch to 3)

Youth (2015)

 

Some directors take a life-time to get established, however Paulo Sorrentino (Thyouth-2015_e Great Beauty 2013), has done this in less than half a dozen films. Those not used to Sorrentino’s works might take a little while to get into this movie, but when you do, it will reward you.   The movie is set around an elderly Maestro, played by Michael Caine (Get Carter, 1971) who while trying to enjoy a holiday in an upmarket Spa-hotel in the Alps with his daughter and best friend (Mick Boyle, played by Harvey Keitel (Thelma & Louise, 1991)), who is trying to write his final masterpiece screenplay). Despite the tranquil setting (with camera-work to match) there is an underlying tension, the Maestro’s daughter is unhappy with the treatment of her mother by her father, who he last visited 20 years ago (was it her grave he visited?).

Much of the film is made up of the Maestro and Boyle working through their issues, usually together, while not allowing the tranquillity of the surroundings to be interrupted.  Their time at the hotel is enlivened (relatively speaking) by a young actor, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) also staying in the hotel as he prepares for his next role, keeping mostly to himself, and not imposing himself on any of the guests.

Behind all this, pressure is being put on the Maestro to perform his most famous piece of music as part of a celebration of the Queen’s birthday, the request is personal from the Royal family and not just some producer trying to fill an event programme. Boyle meanwhile is working with his writing staff on what could be his last great screenplay. Added to this is the fact that the Maestro’s daughter is married to Boyle’s son, however they are splitting up due to his infidelities, both fathers show their displeasure with the young man.

As the movie progresses with the heroes working through the issues, the viewer is drawn in by the musicality of the presentation, the visual aspects are stunning and the acting perfectly levelled for the work in question. I could go into detail on the plot and ruin the movie, suffice it to say, this is a movie to sit-back watch and enjoy. Sorrentino’s own The Great Beauty (2013) or Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) would be similar to this one.

Don’t be fooled by the slow/serene start, this movie grips you from the start and walks you along the Alpine storyline right to the end. Each of the leading cast gives the type of performance we’ve come to expect from each of them. Well worth experiencing.

Score 4/5

 

 

The Seventh Cross (1944)

The Seventh Cross is probably one of the more under-rated movies out there. It is at once haunting and challenging. The challenging nature is not the quality of the production but the subject matter. Released in 1944, this film deals with the subject of the Nazi concentration camps, the victims of those camps and society’s reaction to the camps, the people in them and the ruling regime. You are immediately reminded of the writings of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), also we see reflections Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic “M” with the use of the public in hunting down the suspect.

Directed by Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, 1966) and based on the book by Anna Segher, the film is based in 1936. In the one production we see the how the Nazi infrastructure had already subsumed German culture within a few short years, those who dared to stand were removed, all others either turned a blind eye or betrayed those most at risk, rather than subject themselves to the regime. Although released in 1944 and viewed from the early 21st century where we can understand the evil to the Jewish people and all those others who suffered. In the early 1940’s this would not have been so appreciated, a fact that strengthens even more-so the power of the movie.

The film is narrated by Ray Collins (Touch of Evil, 1958), who plays the part of one of the recent escapees. Zinnermann uses this device to introduce our seven heroes and give us the background of their lives, including the events which brought them to this point. The film opens with the aftermath of their escape. The seven crosses are for each of the escapees, each will be crucified by the camp commandant.

One by one they are hunted down, caught and tortured. Against this George Heisler (Spencer Tracey Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) must continue to run to freedom. As he makes his way to his old home, he sees how Germany has changed, how the people have changed. Helped by a little girl, betrayed by a bar keeper, contacts gone. Alone and without help he finds himself in Meinz and tries for help from a former girlfriend, Leni (Kaaren Verne, All through the Night, 1941) who although having promised to wait for him, is now married and refuses to help. Again alone he witnesses one of his fellow prisoners being dramatically arrested. Knowing one of his contacts Heisler goes there for help, which he receives. Despite this things do not improve and he soon learns he has been betrayed by an old neighbour, he is running again. Not knowing where to turn, he calls to an old friend, Paul Roeder (Hume Cronyn, Cocoon, 1985) but turns away before the door, only to meet the friend approach. Welcomed in to Paul’s home he meets his wife Liesel (Jessica Tandy, fried Green Tomatoes, 1991) Paul initially does not realise Heisler is on the run, but when he learns the truth, he still helps. This is a turning point.

From here help is found, willingly given in some cases and reluctantly in others, one old friend, Sauer (George Macready (Peyton Place, 1964) only helps after being forced to do so by his wife, played by Katherine Locke, People Will Talk, 1951). Heisler through the help of other old friends and underground movement members eventually gets a passport and the way to The Netherlands looks clear…

It is interesting to note that when this was made, the US was at war with Nazi Germany. We see not just the usual war movie but the conflict from the perspective of the civilian population, those that supported, feared, detested the regime.

Local Hero (1983)

Some movies can have a long review just to explain them, others can be written in a few short sentences, this is one of the latter. This is not because of it being bad, but rather the opposite. It is a straight forward, well written and calmly directed piece which drags you in from the start and keeps you entertained until the end. Having watched it once, you will find yourself happy to repeat the experience as it pops-up from time to time.
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, 1981) the cast is made up of some very understated stars. Peter Riegert (We Bought A Zoo, 2011) stars as the hard pressed executive sent to Scotland by Burt Lancaster’s (The Leopard, 1963) character Felix Harper. Harper the company’s CEO (Knox Oil & Gas) sends Riegert’s character (Known as “Mac”) partially because Harper thinks “Mac” has Scottish ancestry. This opening also shows how Harper can be truly narrow minded, focused on a result and dragging everybody else along, regardless of how they feel about it.
Harper has plans for an oil refinery and the townland of Ferness in Scotland is the perfect place, only problem is, he does not own it. Mac’s job will be to go to Ferness and convince the locals to sell-up. Adding an extra angle to the story Harper gives Mac an additional instruction to watch the clear night sky in Virgo and let him know back. Mac having a life in Texas tries to organise for all this to be done over the phone, but Harper insists on him being in Scotland.
Upon arriving he meets with Knox’s local man; Oldsen (Peter Capaldi, Dr. Who, 2014) and of course to add interest there is the local marine biologist, Marina (Jenny Seagrove, Judge John Deed, 2001)
Not being the biggest town in the world, Mac stays in the local bar/hotel which is owned by Gordon Urguhart (Denis Lawson, The Machine, 2013). As with many of these films being exposed to the locals and their way of life causes Mac to start to have reservations about the refinery project and the impact it will have on the local population. Of course things are never quite as they seem. Gordon not only runs the hotel but he works with some of the various fishermen who visit the port to actually manage their investments, none more so than with Victor, (Christopher Rozycki, Truly Madly Deeply, 1991) the Soviet trawler man who is a regular visitor to the town. Using parallels to Whisky Galore (1949) we see that life is hard enough for the locals and to be honest, they would be more than happy to sell up, but being who they are, they are putting on a long face and trying for as much more money as possible.
Mac and team soldier on with all the usual love and commercial complexities as the movie progresses, but then there is a twist, it turns out buying-up the town is one thing but when it comes to the beach and foreshore, there is a complication. The owner. He happens to be an old beachcomber by the name of Ben, (Fulton Mackay, Porridge, 1974) who actually lives on the beach in a self-made shack. Caught up in this and what looks like increasing issues with the locals it is starting to look like the purchase may not take place. In to all this Harper arrives and through a series of pleasant misunderstandings and his ability to effectively ignore what is being said to him, he actually manages to progress things. The dialogue with Ben, Mac and Harper is fantastic with some great one-liners. Sides are set, Ben does not want to sell, Harper wants the land and Mac is caught in the middle. Negotiations look like going nowhere. Faced with this Ben and Harper start to talk on the beach and well kindred spirits reveal themselves and a solution is found.
Movies like The Grand Seduction (2013) clearly owe a lot to Local Hero. Such is the quality of this film that it is one of those which is used as a bench-mark against others are measured. This is a case-study in how to write a story, direct the image and not over complicate or distort the output to a level which ruins and causes a lesser offering. This is simply a well-crafted story with a great ensemble cast.
8/10

R100

A lot was made of the potential content of Fifty Shades of Grey ( I saw it and refuse to write a critique of the tripe), this movie, being Japanese does not concern itself with western tastes and just gets on with the film. Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori, Ichi The Killer, 2001) is a husband and father struggling under the pressures of life. His wife is in a coma with no prospect of waking, he deals with this while bringing up their young son (Haruki Nishimoto), with the help from his own father-in-law (Gin Meada, Midsummer’s Equation, 2013). To release some of his own pressures he joins a Bondage club. This club is not like any other. On entering he is met by a lone man (Suzuki Matsuo, Otakus in Love, 2004) behind a desk (in a very seedy looking building interior) who introduces Takafumi to the club and its rules; all contact is outside, none in the actual club, at mutually agreed times. Membership is only for 1 year, contact is non-sexual. Through a series of flashbacks we see the various girls from the club (various Queens specialising in S&M/Bondage disciplines. He is forced to eat squashed sushi in a bar when one queen makes him eat it, another attacks him in the street, at a fountain etc. As the time goes on, the visits get darker and his home/family become involved. This is beyond the limit for him. He goes to the police to complain where he meets a very jaundiced police officer played by Hitoshi Matsumote who also directed the film (Saya-zamurai, 2010) who basically tells him that at this stage no laws have been broken. Things go down hill from there. Not long after a Queen visits him at home, ties him up and begins sensory torture on him. At this juncture the film take a very disturbing turn, Takefumi’s son witnesses events and in the next scene we see the boy tied up in rope, suspended from a ceiling and gagged with the bondage gag. Thing go south with the accidental death of another Queen (Queen Saliva..) With the help of a mysterious government agent who shows up (Atsuro Watabe, The Flowers of War, 2011) and helps with his son. Knowing that his son is safe he goes to his father-in-law’s home believing he is in danger form the group behind the Bondage Club. He is. Indeed things have gone so badly wrong as far as the club is concerned that their CEO flies in to deal with things. Before I describe the closing scenes, it is only right to say that this movie is so far “off-the-wall” that the director engineers breaks within the movie, we are not told what these are first and are left to wonder, it quickly becomes obvious by the second “break” that these are producers coming out of a screening of the movie and are in shock, they cannot understand some of the more strange aspects of the movie – This is an interesting vehicle as it shows the director is still in touch with the viewing public and this adds to the comedic nature of the film. The denouement is a battle scene at Takafumi’s father in law’s house (at this stage it should be pointed out that both his wife and father-in-law have been killed by a “Queen” who ate them (yes!). The CEO of “Bondage” (Lindsay Howard) having flown in an struck fear in to all involved now leads the attack on the house. The scene is at times a mix of “Monkey” (1978) special effects with an approach which (to my mind at least) is nothing short of an homage to the works of Akira Kurosawa, particularly reminding me of (Ran, 1985) . The culmination of this is a 1:1 fight (not shown) between Takafumi and the CEO, it turns out he might be more of a sadist than a masochist and as a result a new sadist is conceived in him – you can guess what that means. Allow yourself to accept the cultural differences and you will enjoy the film. An interesting aside which make the movie work on another level is that it is set in the 1980’s/90’s so no PCs, laptops, smart phones or neon all over the place. A challenging but quite good comedy which will not be for everybody. The title itself “R100” is a view on the Japanese movie rating system (R18 etc.) and indeed near the endone of the “producers” during a break explains to his boss that the fictional director (himself aged 100) sys you have to be 100 to understand the movie – which of course causes them to ask how many 100 year olds are there who would go see the movie . Entertaining, funny and very watchable, if you are able J

Big Eyes

I bought this movie a while ago and not looking too closely when I put it on over the weekend I had it in mind that it was a Coen brothers film, rather, it is courtesy of Tim Burton; either way we sat down expecting something a little different. We had to sit back and think when was the last live-action (relatively mainstream and not involving too many dead people) movie Burton made, it has been a while and all compare to what I consider an under-appreciated classic; Big Fish (2003).

The story is based on the life of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, 2013) who leaving a destructive marriage sets off to the San Francisco bay area where she tries to get by with the help of friends such as DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter, Search Party, 2014) selling her existing paintings and sketching people without much success. Then one day while she and her daughter were selling her work at a flea-market they are met by the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz, Carnage 2011). Keane recognises a certain something in her works, while he essentially discards his own works of Parisian Street scenes. As their relationship develops he takes the opportunity to sell her work along-side his at a jazz club. By this stage they have married (rather quickly) As they are married, both sign their works “Keane” and pretty soon people start to take notice of the works, with the Big Eyes paintings selling at the expense of his.

Walter had always sold himself as an artist, who having had a career, gave it up and became an artist living in Paris, and so now his speciality is Parisian street scenes.

Rather than tell the world that they are his wife’s (“women’s work does not sell”) he passes them off as his own. When Margaret finds out about this she is not too happy but he convinces her to go along with it. As it happens Walter is a superb sales man and engineers the sales of her works (as his) . the works take off and to the world Amy does not paint, it is Walter. As the years progress and they become more successful, the pressure builds with Amy. What does not help is Walter’s engineering of sales and publicity opportunities ably assisted by his gossip-columnist friend Dick Nolan (Danny Huston, Masters of Sex, Dr. Douglas Greathouse, 2014) . Walter is a celebrity and uses his celebrity status to further advance the sales of their/his works. Amy eventually feeling the frustration starts to paint in a new style so that she can be seen in public as an artist, but these works are not as successful, partly because she is not as good a sales person.

As they progress with the big-eyes works, with the gallery and image licencing rights bringing in the money, the edges start to fray around Walter’s grand deception. He needs to bring out a coffee book, but for that he needs a back story. And so was born the fiction of the starving children in 1949 Berlin with their big sad eyes. His art is not without his detractors, none more so than John Canady (Terrance Stamp, Valkyrie, 2008) who has been a strident critic of the works form the start – they are not proper art in his view. This comes to a head when Walter promises a large work to the UN for their stand at the New York World’s Fair. This of course has to be painted by Margaret, much against her wishes. Just as his professional career is coming to a head so is his home life.

Canady, learning that the painting for the Un is about to be exhibited, gets a preview. Upon seeing the work he writes a critique of it which totally destroys it. The picture is later removed from view. Alongside this is Margaret’s growing unease at keeping her talent a secret from everybody, but then she makes a discovery – Walter has been faking even his own paintings for years, he has been buying landscapes from a particular artist in Paris for years, then painting his name over the original artist’s name, Margaret discovered a crate of the originals, that of course sparked the great reveal.

Having had enough, Margaret and daughter run away to Hawaii and begin to make a new life for themselves. Trying for a divorce Walter makes it clear that if she tried to divorce him on terms other than his own (he keeps the rights and she has to present him with 100 more paintings), he will reveal she was part of the fraud by letting him sell the paintings.

Finally having enough she sues Walter and his media supporters, arriving to court Walter is certain he is going to win, given his media company backing, however they quickly remove themselves once they are cleared of any defamation on their side. What follows is Walter’s attempt to use is show-boating to sway the court, the judge is having none of it and orders certain activities to determine who the real artist is…

A very engaging, funny and at time poignant movie, it is well worth watching and enjoying, and other reason why Tim Burton is in a class of his own. 8/10

Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.