Saturday, December 27, 2014

Changing Lanes (2002) 2.5 of 4

This isn't my type of film, that is it's an unapologetic, button-pushing melodrama.  Still, I give it a marginal recommendation because it does what it sets out to do.
Ben Affleck is a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, Samuel L. Jackson is an AA member trying to get visitation rights to his kids even as their mother threatens to move them to Oregon.  When these two harried men get into an accident on the highway, it has profound repercussions for both, and as they find themselves linked and battling, both are forced to look in the mirror.

Unlike Lakeview Terrace, race is a fairly minor element here, except for one scene in which Jackson's Doyle Gipson goes off on some Madison Avenue types who've been glibly discussing Tiger Woods.  I respect the way the film sets up a dramatic situation and follows through, without getting distracted or flinching at the character flaws of these two men.  And this is very much a story about men and their challenges.
The film acknowledges American racism, but it doesn't use it as the excuse for Doyle's grave flaws as a father.  At the same time, it has some compassion for the problems of a monied, handsome, white lawyer.  Yes, Gavin Banek has had lots of advantages in life, but at the same time the film makes clear the people closest to him have him by the short ones.

** spoilers ahead **

Changing Lanes doesn't flinch, that is, until the ending, which I found unbelievable.  Maybe Gavin would confront his father-in-law with his misdeeds and demand change, but not in front of the latter's wife and daughter.  Stephen Delano (Sydney Pollack) has been portrayed as a hard-nosed, unsentimental man who does what it takes to get rich and stay that way.  Why would he suddenly let his son-in-law dominate him?  The ending just doesn't work as written, and it's unworthy of a film whose main strength is allowing its characters to suffer the blows of modern life. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains spoilers **

Disclosure: I've been a trekkie for about 40 years.

The thing that strikes me about this second film is that it's a lot less militaristic than the first (2008) film, causing me to wonder, is J.J. Abrams going soft?  This is his re-mix of the sabre-rattling 1982 hit Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but the real villain here isn't Khan, it's Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus, a rogue warmonger.  (Marcus is a variation on the part Weller played in Star Trek: Enterprise "Terra Prime.")

Perhaps we could say that if Abrams is the new Spielberg, Tarantino is the new Scorsese.  Both of the younger directors do lots of sampling/homage, both of them are ironic and self-referential.  Abrams is more mainstream, and inherently more conservative, but with this film he and his writers (his usual stable) seem to be resonating with the world's growing skepticism re: the war on terrorism.

Politics aside, this is an entertaining film with the expected action, spectacle, and humor.  I actually need to see it again: I watched it on amazon and wasn't able to appreciate the effects, which I suspect are thrilling given the right presentation.
I'll make two complaints, both of them from my "fanboy" perspective.  First, this film shows Kirk pushing Starfleet away from a military and toward a more exploratory role.  Even in an alternate timeline this makes little sense, since Starfleet was never purely military, and it was usually Spock or McCoy who argued the pacifist side, not Kirk and Scott as in this film.
My second gripe is more substantial.  Abrams wanted the hot actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and he wanted to do his version of Star Trek II.  Understood.  Still, why is this pale-skinned, British-accented man named "Khan"?
In the original episode "Space Seed," Khan is described as "probably a Sikh, from the Northern India area -- they make the fiercest warriors."  Fine, even today there are lots of South Asians immigrants to the U.K., and Khan is a genetically engineered superman, but nevertheless this struck a false note with me.  Someone needs to remind Abrams that not everything he touches turns to gold.

Speaking of Mr. Cumberbatch, his casting makes sense, since he and Martin Freeman are essentially playing an alternate-universe Spock and McCoy on the modern-day Sherlock.  Cumberbatch is a fine actor, but he doesn't match the manly menace of Ricardo Montalban in both "Space Seed" and Star Trek II.
What younger viewers may not realize is that Montalban had become something of a joke before the 1982 film, due to his trivial series Fantasy Island and a series of car commercials in which he repeatedly touted "rich Corinthian leather," which became a mocking catchphrase.
This makes it all the more remarkable that the actor, then 62, excelled in his return as Khan, quieting any titters with talent, force of will, and impressive pectorals.  And he had to hold his own against William Shatner, and say what you will about him as an actor, Shatner was a veteran scene-stealer.

It was never going to happen, but in retrospect, Montalban deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in Star Trek II.  Ever since, that franchise-saving film has been the model of what a Star Trek film should be, and it has only one element that no other Trek film has: Montalban.  His may be a scenery-chewing performance, but it's a great scenery-chewing performance.      

Monday, December 22, 2014

U.S. Marshals (1998) 2 of 4

Like most people, I thought The Fugitive was a great piece of commercial filmmaking, the kind that used to get called a "crackerjack thrill-ride."  And like most people, I paid much less attention to the sequel U.S. Marshals, although the film pulled a middling $57 million at the U.S. box office.

I remember questioning the wisdom of a sequel focusing on the secondary, standoffish character played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Still, through the years I'd hear good buzz on this film -- good score, better-than-you'd-think, etc. -- so I finally watched it.  My experience backed up what I've said thus far, bad and good.
This is very much from the age when movies were meant to be seen in movie theatres: it's a big, widescreen show, shot on locations in Chicago, New York, and along the Ohio River, the latter being an evocative location considering we're following a white lawman chasing a dark-skinned black man (Wesley Snipes).  It has that fine score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it also has a memorable opening involving Tommy Lee Jones in a chicken suit.

** moderate spoilers ahead **

The problem is that Jones's character, as drawn in the original film, is a human bloodhound: His job is to find and deliver people, not to investigate (thus his famous reply when Harrison Ford denies killing his wife: "I don't care!").  And so in U.S. Marshals, though we sense from the beginning that the Snipes character is being framed, there's a flabby midsection in which, despite lots of good story points, the plot stagnates (some of it's even set in a swamp).
It's too bad, because there's much here to like, but the film never overcomes this structural flaw.  It doesn't help that the resolution seems anticlimactic, blaming everything on minor characters we're not invested in anyway.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Invisible Eye (2010) 3 of 4

Beautiful Teachers, Sexual Misconduct, Part 2

There's something fascinating about a beautiful woman who can't get laid.  It seems absurd: she could throw a rock and find someone.  Then again, life always seems so much easier when it's happening to someone else.
The Invisible Eye  is a Spanish-language film set in 1980s Argentina, at a large boy's school, a drab and regimented place that is nevertheless simmering with human energy.  It's more of an art-house film than A Teacher (previous post), although both of them foreground human psychology over plot.

As the repressed teacher Miss Cornejo, Julieta Zylberberg carries the film, especially since we never find out what experiences may have caused this young beauty to excel at her career and yet be unable to bend in social situations (of course, it can't help that she sleeps in the same bed as her mother).  Zylberberg uses body language to create a hung-up woman, someone who rarely commits to being where she is, who she is.  Some part of her is faraway.

** spoilers ahead **

The lack of explanations only enhances our sense of compassion; we root for her to figure it out.  Miss Cornejo is not asexual, in fact she dares bizarre behavior for kicks: she hides out in the boy's room, ostensibly to catch smokers, and eventually masturbates while squatting in a stall.
Her sexual frustration is so palpable that several people in her life comment.  The school principal, who seems a good man, ultimately rapes her in the boy's room.  She punishes him.
And so this character study ends with a provocative ethical situation; I was impressed by this film's willingness to portray an assault that has two sides to it: it is a rape, but at the same time most viewers will sympathize with both victim and perpetrator, given the bizarre circumstances.

** end spoilers ** 

The film also draws parallels between the personal story and Argentina's political troubles, with both of these tensions breaking at the same time.  I don't know much about Argentina, but this aspect is not central to the film.  It works fine as psychological drama.     

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Teacher (2013) 3 of 4

Beautiful Teachers, Sexual Misconduct, Part 1

A Teacher is one of those low-budget, sexy-looking movies that make for a good impulse-buy on a bored and/or lonely night.
The film is set in Texas, where it follows an attractive female teacher and her affair with one of her students, a handsome football player.  I'm not a fan of the hi-def video look, but like anything else it has its uses, and this type of intimate drama is one of them, the kind of voyeuristic film that lets you be a fly-on-the-wall for some character-based drama and misbehavior.  We might say that such films correct the flaw of reality TV by supplying actors and a script.

** spoilers in remainder of review **

There are some moderately sexy moments, but this is mainly a drama and a character study.  We know from the beginning that this can't end well, but the film compensates for the foregone quality by starting with the affair already ongoing and ending just when the relationship does, when a call from the principal leaves the protagonist in wracking sobs.
A Teacher works best as a calling card for actress Lindsay Burdge -- a very effective one, judging from the half-dozen films she has in the pipeline.  As drama, it's effective, as social exploration, very conventional.  The affair is the teacher's fault, but it's also something that happens to her as opposed to the young man she's preyed on.  He's a swaggering kid, and we're sure that he'll be just fine, but as for his ex-, we see her as more victim than criminal.    

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Perfect Getaway (2009) 3 of 4

** this review contains spoilers **

This is a pretty good movie, but it's the kind of movie that's hard to enjoy these days, not because of the movie itself but because of our (I'll be nice) "information society."  When it was released, I saw a review -- I want to say on TV -- and the reviewer said that the film isn't horror but "more of a thriller with a really big twist."
As Key and Peele have pointed out, saying a movie has a "big twist" is itself a spoiler.  It ruins the movie: even if you can't guess the twist, you sit there waiting and wondering.  In this case, I'm movie-savvy enough to know that "big twist" must mean that Steve Zahn's character is himself the killer.  I've seen a lot of movies, including High Tension -- what else could it be?
The Perfect Getaway is so spoiler-prone that it's hard to see how most of its target audience could ever see the film without first having it spoiled for them.  At least it provided a working Hawaiian vacation for all concerned, which may have been more important for the actors and for writer-director David Twohy.  Come to think of it, this would've been a good reason to be more skeptical when the creators of Lost told us we'd get answers that didn't involve aliens or purgatory.
With that said, A Perfect Getaway held my attention, which is a lot, considering.  It has good acting, and the script is pretty good with some Scream-type meta-moments, without spreading it too thick.  Timothy Olyphant does most of the heavy-lifting here, setting a tone of black humor as an ex-Special Forces guy who acts as the "red snapper," as he puts it.
On a more serious note, and a sign of our anxious times, the film doesn't just establish that Zahn's character's a mad-dog killer, it establishes that Olyphant's combat vet/adrenaline junkie isn't one.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cop Land (1997, director's cut) 3 of 4

"Being white isn't a bullet-proof vest."
   - Ray Liotta, Cop Land

Sadly, the above line is more resonant given the wave of police shootings of black males in the U.S.  This film's plot is triggered by the cover-up of a police shooting of black men.  Although Cop Land is not specifically about racism, it's interesting that part of the problem here is cops who have little more faith in the system than do African-Americans, and so they immediately decide to foil any investigation.  

** moderate spoilers ahead **

Cop Land is set mostly in a small town in northern New Jersey that's become a haven for New York City police officers, most of them with Irish or Italian surnames.  (The end credits note that NYC cops are now required to live in-state, presumably to avoid just this type of situation).  The town is inhospitable to people of color, but that's arguably the least of the crimes engineered by the town's power-broker, veteran cop Ray Donlan, played by Harvey Keitel.

Keitel's eventual opponent is Sylvester Stallone as the town's nominal sheriff, Freddy Heflin, kept off the big-city force by partial deafness, the result of his saving a drowning man as a teen.  Robert DeNiro, in his nerdy mode of The King of Comedy and The Good Shepherd, plays the Internal Affairs cop who rouses Freddy's law-enforcing instincts.  As Stallone sets about rattling the skeletons, he loses friends but regains self-respect.

** end spoiler section **

The remarkable cast also includes Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Michael Rappaport, Annabella Sciorra, and Cathy Moriarty. This is one of those movies you sit there watching and wonder how this wasn't a hit with multiple award nominations.  The content may have made people nervous, but sadly, the problem might have simply been the industry's now-notorious loss of interest in mid-budget films, which demand deft marketing for a relatively modest payday.  The top-drawer cast got the film made, but they couldn't force the suits to market the film.
Cop Land was released in August, which indicates it was dumped: this is not a summer action movie, but a classically filmed, socially aware crime drama, in fact you must pay close attention to follow the plot.  Some people find the ending too abrupt, and I admit the film isn't the all-time classic of the vaguely similar (but more mythic) The Place Beyond the Pines, itself a box-office casualty.  Still, Cop Land is a fine, involving film with a strong sense of place and a smart and clearly well-researched script, made with impressive craft in all areas.  Forget Grudge Match, if you want to see Stallone and Deniro together here's your film.
Cop Land was written and directed by James Mangold, known for directing Identity, Girl, Interrupted, and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma.  Mangold grew up in the New York area and attended Columbia University, and the quality of his resume leaves me intrigued by his other writing-directing efforts, Heavy and Kate and Leopold.  

Paranoiac (1963) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains only mild spoilers **

As much as any studio, Britain's Hammer Studios was known for their production values.  Their impressive craft in all areas of film production made their ordinary movies watchable, and made the good ones classics.  Maybe this fated them to specialize in horror, where maintaining a mood is so important.  A horror film need not be frightening if it instills a sense of dread, a diverting unease.

Paranoiac must have been better in the theatre, anno 1963, because it's very much a mood piece, a date movie where the viewer waits to be grasped by (or grasp) their partner.  And reduced to synopsis, it seems trifling: troubled rich family reacts to the return of their prodigal brother, assumed a suicide at age 15, as they also wait to inherit large sums of money.  Is he really the brother?  And which of them is really insane?  etc.  This is one of those movies where someone's willing to kill everyone else, but who's the killer?  (No one seems to be a "paranoiac," but I guess that's not the point, is it?)

Even on the home screen, the film works better than it has right to, thanks in part to the moody black-and-white photography, of cliffside locations and lots of looming close-ups, including those of Oliver Reed in the type of balls-out performance that would evoke giggles if it were almost anyone else (William Shatner, or maybe Jack Nicholson in The Shining).  If you laugh at Reed it will be in fascination at what a convincingly haunted bastard he creates as he downs one glass after another of fake alcohol (presumably fake) and rages, a spoiled brat in the body of a pugilist, whenever life dares defy him.  We don't sympathize with him, but he is the protagonist of this tale set in a world of deception and exploitation, peopled mostly by psychological cripples.

Like Dementia 13, The Cabinet of Caligari, and TV's The Outer Limits, Paranoiac dates from that post-Psycho era when filmmakers realized that the gothic need not be set in the past.  It's not the best of Hammer's contemporary shockers -- that would be Scream of Fear, with Susan Strasberg, per both the consensus and my own judgment -- but it's not bad for a rainy night.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lakeview Terrace (2008) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains only mild spoilers **

I'll marginally recommend this film, but I have to feel that the subject matter deserves more than a serviceable and glossy thriller.  The film did well in theatres, where it doubtless sparked some conversations that were more potent than the film itself.
Samuel L. Jackson stars, proving again he's one of the few black stars with the balls to play a racist.  Or is he the only one who gets asked?  In any case, his Abel Turner has a burr up his ass about the new interracial couple on his UMC L.A. cul-de-sac.  If that's not bad enough for the characters played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington, their new hater-neighbor is LAPD.
Watching the first half of this movie I felt like it could have been written by a computer: "Suri, give me a rewrite of Unlawful Entry, making both the cop and the female lead African-American."  But then we learn some personal backstory that helps explain Abel's actions, and the film gains enough of a skeleton to carry it through to the violent and ironic ending.
This is one of many recent movies that feels Los Angeles is the perfect setting for the crumbling and cracking of America, with various perils as symbol or metaphor: car accidents (Grand Canyon, Crash), corruption (L.A. Confidential, Dark Blue), enemy attack (Right at your Door, Battle Los Angeles), paranoia (The End of Violence, the films of David Lynch), and here, wildfires.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Wake in Fright (1971) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains spoilers throughout **

I thought this would be a horror movie, but it's more of a melodrama.  The movie shows the Outback (the alternate title) has a negative affect on the men who live there.  Eking out their living thousands of miles from (their) civilization, the white men in this film resort to alcohol, gambling, cruelty, and violence.  It's a bit like Straw Dogs, but here the conflict is mostly internal.
I'll also compare it to The Colony: in that film, people descend to animal level from hunger and cold.  Here, it's heat and isolation that does it.
John Grant is a young schoolteacher, essentially an indentured servant until he works off his government debt for his education.  He thinks he's better than the working-class men who inhabit the Outback, but he learns he's much the same, under the right conditions.
He's on his way to Sydney for his 6-week vacation, but never gets there.  All it takes is a taste of an addictive gambling game to start him on a 6-week bender, before he limps back to the tiny community where he works.
Donald Pleasance plays an alcoholic doctor who claims to like living in the Outback because it's where he can live honestly, without pretense.  Unlike John, he seems to have retained his sexual functioning, with one of the few women we see.
The film is infamous for its scenes of kangaroos being slaughtered.  According to the extras, the filmmakers photographed one of the nightly kangaroo hunts, the meat destined for American pets.  The footage is disturbing, like the film.  
The film is striking to look at, as is almost any film photographed in the wilds of Australia.  Still, the tone is one of self-loathing: male self-loathing, Australian self-loathing, colonialist self-loathing.  It reminded me of other films that portray men as self-destructive wrecks, such as The Ice Storm, and perhaps Killer of Sheep, although that film is about an oppressed minority.
In its hopelessness and its barren views, Wake in Fright  also recalls such American films of the period as The Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Casino Royale (2006) 3 of 4

** no major Spoilers in this review**

The first film in the grittier, Daniel Craig-starring cycle of James Bond films.  Not being a Bond fan, I would've liked still more grit, but this film has the goods, and there's a surprising and impressive depth to the love story.  Without giving it all away for those who haven't seen it, the film shows how Bond's avoidance of commitment went from disposition to way of life.
Yes, it's the origin story: asked whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred, a testy Bond asks "Do I look like I give a damn?"  It's only toward the end that he introduces himself in the traditional fashion: "Bond.  James Bond."  And like most superheroes, this Bond is an orphan.
You have the essentials for a good Bond film: the flashy action set pieces; the brash, brassy score that evokes romantic, globe-trotting adventure (no time for the imperial guilt of a Jason Bourne film); and the colorful villains who speak with an accent and are undone by their own hubris in combination with the awesome skills of superspy Bond, a.k.a. 007.
Daniel Craig's Bond is a badass, a man determined to act as the perfect "blunt instrument" of his government.  He is the spy as machine, until he's temporarily distracted by the hypnotic, inimitable Eva Green.  You can believe this Bond in an extended foot chase, unlike Roger Moore, and he's just as believable trading punches and enduring torture as he is at the high-stakes poker game.  When his girl gives him the traditional compliment in this type of narrative -- that he's more man than anyone she's known -- it's not just a line.
We can also believe Bond falling for the sultry, velvety Green, who has the kind of eyes that are shaped less like almonds and more like -- legumes?  Papayas?  (We need a name for this.)  Her character has the kind of name that gets my brain working: Vesper Lynd.  Vespers means evening (service), so it evokes endings.  Vesper also evokes breathing (whisper, rasp, exasperate): she becomes life itself for Bond.  Lynd evokes heritage: line, lien, land.  However, Bond is also so in love, so wined and dined, that he's inclined to be blind to Lynd's flaws.
Casino Royale climaxes with an underwater sequence, so common in recent films.  Yes, submarine scenes are cinematic, but I believe there is profound cultural meaning in these matching sequences in dozens of films: Alien: ResurrectionThe Butterfly Effect, Dark WaterInception, The Grey,

My reading, in line with my article in Senses of Cinema, is that the world is in transition away from white-male domination, but rebirth requires a death, so we get scenes that (attempt to) combine drowning with a baptism.  Underwater also represents the unconscious, the part of us that must change if the world is truly going to change.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Departed (2006) 3 of 4

**this review contains only mild spoilers**

The Departed wants to be in the league of Heat, another epic-length cops-and-robbers opera with huge stars making homoerotic love through violence.  Still, every movie has to be taken in context, and The Departed suffers from arriving late, seeming like a season of an HBO series that for some reason has been cut down to feature length.
I'll enjoy this film more if I watch it again, because I'll be ready for its monotonous pacing. A fast film can be monotonous, too, and this one is all exposition and plot points, with never a chance to exhale.  As it wound up with a number of twists, I was reminded of the tongue-in-cheek neo-noir Wild Things, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I doubt it's what the filmmakers had in mind.

It's set in South Boston, like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and the overrated Boondock Saints.  It's nice to see my distant cousins get a top-flight gangster movie, even if Scorsese is past his peak and groping to find the honor among thieves.  At this point, I think his heart is with more lovely fare like Hugo.
If cops are criminals and vice versa, as Jack Nicholson's character says "What's the difference?"
The Departed is a film of moments, for the top-notch cast of Nicholson, DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alex Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga.  Scorsese assembled them in Boston to trade punches, bullets, and lines like "20 years after a fucking Irishman couldn't get a job, we had the presidency, may he rest in peace" (Nicholson), "Marriage is an important part of getting ahead ... they figure at least someone can stand the son-of-a-bitch" (Baldwin), and "Fuck you, cocksucker" (everyone).

The moment that sticks with me is when police trainee Damon responds to a rugby loss to a team of fire trainees by suggesting they "go save a kitten, ya homo's."  This kind of line is designed for the collective laughter of a theatre.  Watching the film at home, I found the line vaguely sad, a gesture from cinema guys trying to show us there are some things that TV still can't do.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Law Abiding Citizen (2009) 2.5 of 4

**Spoiler section marked**

The reviews I've seen for Law Abiding Citizen focus on its implausible plot, and they're correct, but I think they miss the point.
This film is best described by noting two major deviations from what we might expect.  The first is the racial (ethnic) reversal, with a white man being the victim of the U.S. criminal justice system, and a black lawyer (Jamie Foxx) representing that imperfect system, a system based in the cutting of deals.  Although race is never mentioned (IIRC), the film can't help but reflect the unease of a transforming society.  And although he works for the NSA, Gerard Butler's character is basically a very gifted blue-collar tinkerer, and his first name, Clyde, has a Southern ring.

**moderate SPOILERS ahead**
The other twist is that this is a vigilante film that goes so far as to also be a sympathetic serial-killer movie, being even more brutal than The Brave One.  This shocked me, and I almost gave up on the film as simply a nasty piece of work.
The reason I recommend the film is that I realized it has something interesting to say amidst the far-fetched violence and vengeance.  By giving a frustrated crime victim the skills of an NSA contractor, the film asks: what if we judged domestic criminals by the same standards that we use for international terrorists?
**end SPOILERS**

Why do we treat murderers so differently, based on where and how and who they kill?  And as long as we do, should we be surprised when victims sometimes turn into perpetrators?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Dead Girl (2006) 2 of 4

**entire review contains SPOILERS**

The Dead Girl begins with Toni Collette discovering the corpse of the title, and should not be confused with Dead Girl, in which two teens discover a corpse in an underground room, let alone Gone Girl, Jennifer's Body, Warm Bodies,
The film was written and directed by Karen Moncrieff, who admits in the extras that most of the characters originated in separate screenplays, and perhaps this is why the film never really comes together.  Still, it's sincere and well-crafted, sharing characteristics with a lot of indie dramas: an impressive cast playing variously damaged characters, distressed locations in the S.W. United States, transience, poverty, family dysfunction, feminist themes, social commentary,
My rating begs the question of why I liked the last film, Chloe (with its similar plot), so much better than this one.  I think the main reason is that unlike Krista in The Dead Girl, we see Chloe in her innocence, before her dreams are shattered.  And while it's permissible for filmmakers to make a film without a traditional arc, when they do so they've set themselves a harder task.
The Dead Girl was inspired partly by a murder trial for which Moncrieff was a juror, and it skips around in both time and space to show the ripple affect of the murder of young runaway.  Collette is Arden, a timid homebody who's been damaged by the abuse of her now-elderly mother (Piper Laurie, who played a similar role in the original Carrie).  The old hag blames her daughter for finding the corpse and for the resulting media attention, but for Arden this is the last straw, and she summons the courage to let a grocery store clerk (Giovanni Ribisi) make love to her, and then to leave home for good.
Next up: Rose Byrne as Leah, college student and sister of a runaway.  This section may be the saddest, because unlike many of the characters Leah still has a chance at a great life.  She's jubilant at the news of the corpse's discovery because she believes it's her long-gone sister, and if so it would end her mother's relentless obsession with locating the sister.  It's not, so it's back to antidepressants for poor Leah.
Mary Beth Hurt plays the pathetic, co-dependent wife of a quiet man who tends to disappear without warning.  She thinks he's a cheat, but then she discovers a storage locker with mementos of missing girls.  She gets as far as the police station, then returns home and burns all the evidence rather than be left alone.
Marcia Gay Harden plays the actual mother of the murdered girl.  Reconstructing her daughter's final months, she finds Theresa (Kerry Washington), her daughter's former roommate and lover, a fellow drug-user and prostitute.  Harden is naive but kind, and she finds and literally buys her granddaughter and even offers a place to Theresa.
Skipping back in time, we finally meet Krista (Brittany Murphy) herself, a drug-addled mess with a tough-guy boyfriend (Josh Brolin), but capable of great courage and passion, risking her life to defends those she loves.  She's traveling to her daughter's birthday when her bike runs out of gas, and she accepts a ride from the presumed killer, bringing us full circle.
There's a short interview with Brittany Murphy on the disc, possibly sadder than anything in the movie.  Only while watching this did I realize just how big Murphy's eyes were.  She shows poise and radiates love and goodness as she sits like an angel wearing a tiny cross on a chain.  Knowing that she od'd, I have to wonder to what degree this "angel" was another part she was playing.  After all that success so young, I wonder if Brittany herself knew that it's ok to be broken, to ask for help, to start over.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chloe (1996) 4 out of 4

**entire review contains mild SPOILERS**

Chloe was made for French TV, but it's as good as most theatrical films.  It's a cautionary tale about the beautiful, emotional title character (Marion Cotillard in her breakthrough role), a 15 year old whose youthful impulsiveness leads to tragedy.
Tired of mom controlling her, Chloe runs away to an unnamed city in France.  Lonely, she thinks about returning home but misses the last train, so she curls up on a train station bench.  This is where Jean-Michel finds her.  A handsome rogue in a leather jacket, Jean-Michel charms the young girl, offering her a place to stay and even waiting a few days before having sex with her.
Chloe is a bright girl and has decent self-esteem, but she's simply too young to understand the big, bad world.  She ends up used and abused, the plaything of a stream of men with the cash for entrance to a dingy flat.
In order to preserve the film's impact, I won't give the details about how Jean-Michel and his friends fool Chloe, however it is fascinating, and as specific as the procedure vampires use to turn their victims.  (Vampires are a metaphor for exploitation, anyway.)
The cast is superb.  Cotillard is an immediate star, commanding the screen with her beauty, charisma, and talent.  Anna Karina plays her friend Katia, a lonely woman who runs a nightclub.  Chloe doesn't want to end up like Katia, but that is exactly why she should listen to her.
I'm giving this film my highest score, not because it's one of the best films ever made, but because there's nothing I would change about it.  The filmmakers went a little heavy on the sepia tone (judging from the amazon print I saw), but they're giving the film a smooth glamour to drive home that this could happen to any girl, even the girls in the romantic, dreamy movies we've seen.  Lies and tragedy don't always come with neon signs, and sometimes a pimp might be a Gallic James Dean.
(On the other hand, it reminds me of a film that took the gritty, low-budget approach: What Alice Saw.  Also worth seeing: House of Pleasures.)
If I had a daughter, I'd give her this film to see.  It's an effective, involving drama with superb actors and production values, all of which makes it powerful as a cautionary tale.     

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Funny Games (2007) 3 of 4

** Entire review contains SPOILERS**

This is a home-invasion movie with a pedigree: it's Michael Haneke's own remake of his Austrian film of 1997.  Haneke is a world-renowned, confrontational director known for such films as The Piano Teacher, Cache, and The White Ribbon.
In this U.S. version, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play Ann and George, a well-off couple embarking on a lakeside holiday with their young son.  The vacation turns into a nightmare, when their home is invaded by two nihilistic, sadistic, white-gloved bastards calling themselves Peter and Paul.  As the two nominal villains destroy the lives of this family, the film indicts the audience for watching, even breaking the fourth wall at times.
This may sound sophomoric in description, but it's done with so much craft and conviction that it's tough to dismiss the film (if you're the type of person who'd sit down to watch in the first place).  I was most reminded of Natural Born Killers, but I think it's more effective: NBK game me a headache, while Funny Games makes its points because it's enjoyable.  And while there have now been a number of movies that examine why we watch horror and violence (Videodrome, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Scream), well -- we keep watching violent movies, don't we?

The sequence I'll spotlight is Ann's forced disrobing.  Naomi Watts is an attractive woman, and when the captors work the conversation around to her figure, I felt warm anticipation (in my defense, noone had been killed at this point).  I wondered how far this would go, how hot it would get.  Would she show her tits?  I hope they show her getting undressed.  I'm glad the kid has a bag over his head so we can concentrate on the sexy stuff for a while.
Well, it wasn't sexy.  We don't see her strip, and although she spends much of the film in bra and panties, I wasn't titillated, in fact it was pretty awful to see her victimized.  The filmmakers effectively pull the rug here: for example, the panties are boyish and functional,a kind no one would describe as "lingerie."  It's simply pathetic.
Before I get too self-congratulatory, I do recommend this film about two pricks who beat, maim, and slaughter an innocent family.
If nothing else, it's a conversation starter.  The killers repeatedly break the fourth wall, asking our opinion of the events, and there's even a scene when Ann gets the upper hand, only for one of the criminals to pick up the remote and rewind the entire scene so it can play out differently.

The scene on the boat is even more confusing, but I think the two are talking about themselves as if they are fictional characters.  Funny Games isn't as densely packed as Donnie Darko, but like that film it plays with fiction vs. reality.
As for the gloves, we're reminded of mimes or waiters, but a few days later I made an association more fitting, considering Haneke's an Americaphobe: Mickey Mouse.
To me, the meaning of the film is there in the first scene as the family drives into the mountains, playing trivia concerning classical music.  Suddenly the music changes to punk as the title pops onto the screen in big red letters: "FUNNY GAMES."  This is what you paid for!  You came for mayhem, not to see a nice family doing nice things.
I believe it's also asking why: Why do these people have beautiful lives while others are starving or being tortured or wanting for medical care in other parts of the world?  There's an element of random chance that they are in these circumstances and not those, and given that fact, chance can also put them suddenly into hell, and it does.  The boy killers mockingly claim childhood abuse to "explain" their actions, but it's more likely they've spent too much time pondering the unfairness of life and have jumped off an ethical cliff.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Moon (2009) 2 of 4

**Spoiler section marked**

I'm 50 years old, and for me the golden of s.f. movies was the 1980s.  This helps to explain why I'm not too excited by most of the newer s.f. movies, although Tom Cruise has been making some good ones, and I like many of the viral horror films, with their s.f. elements.
As for Moon, I can only class it with other recent, tersely-titled films with protagonists stuck somewhere near the Earth, forced to break out of their stupor if they're going to get back to and/or save the day: Wall-E, Gravity, Elysium, Oblivion,  These movies are OK if you don't mind the science fiction serving as frame for the old message about letting life be an adventure or you'll sink in a rut etc.

** SPOILER Section **

Moon is quieter than those films, with little action, instead leaning of the wan charm of  Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, a corporate caretaker of an otherwise-automated mining base (which looks a lot like Moonbase Alpha of Space: 1999).  The film is well-titled, because sad Sam spends most of the film mooning and moping around, yearning to get back to his wife and daughter on Earth.  What he learns as the plot unfolds is that it's later than he thinks: he's a clone, his wife is dead and the company has hundreds of other Sam clones in storage.  Sam's a spare part.
Ultimately, the only person Sam has to talk to is a newer version of himself. The newer Sam can't avoid the truth that he's a clone, which makes him more of a hard-ass.  This sets up an "odd couple" dynamic.  There's also GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), the station's robot, surprisingly helpful to Sam as he defends his rights.

** END Spoiler Section**

The names underline this is Sam's wake-up call: Bell runs the Sarang station.  Fine, but the whole thing seems undernourished to me, without much edge for a story about an existential crisis.  Also, I'm not buying this shuffling non-conformist in charge of a high-value moon station.  Reportedly, the character is partly inspired by the Bruce Dern's character in Silent Running (who's also referenced by a clip in the recent Mama, another tale of loneliness and exploitation), but that film is set farther into the future, so it's more believable that space technology might be left in the hands of a grumpy oddball.
But also: have you seen  Silent Running?  Like Elysium, it's a film that got applause for its message. (As movies, yech.)
As for Moon, it's not so bad, but from the positive reviews I expected more.  We're in an age of lowered expectations for science fiction movies, which probably makes sense with space exploration stalled, warfare grinding on as we try to sort the impact of the Internet and globalization: we have less patience for visions of different futures.  The best we can do is tales of working stiffs in spacesuits, trying to get home.

Friday, October 24, 2014

1408 (2007) 1.5 of 4

I tend to high opinions of movies based on Stephen King, when they get widely praised -- The Dead Zone, Misery, The Green Mile -- and sometimes even when they don't, as with The Shining, Cujo, Dolores Claiborne, and The Mist.  However, this one seemed a gimmicky spook-show to me, with little more inventiveness than the numeric title that suggests just another line in the King's inventory.

** spoilers below **

John Cusack plays a cynical writer who makes a decent living with his non-fiction books that review supposedly haunted places.  He's a hardcore skeptic, giving just enough credence to the paranormal to keep his readers coming back (at a poorly attended book signing, he concedes the "air is thick" at some of these sites).  Mike Enslin is a drinker who looks down on his own readers, but by now Cusack can play the sardonic, media-savvy character in his sleep.
It's maybe halfway through when we learn why Enslin is half an asshole: his kid died of cancer.  We also know that he had a difficult father, the basis of a poor-selling novel written and published in another lifetime ... but this father thread doesn't really pay off.

"1408" is a never-rented room at a once-prestigious Manhattan hotel, The Dolphin.  Enslin's publisher (Tony Shalhoub) applies legal pressure using a "little-known civil rights law" (shades of the housing collapse per Fox News) and Enslin ignores the advice of the hotel's elegant manager Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells him of the hundreds of deaths, natural and otherwise, in that room.  Once inside, the writer's cockiness is shattered by all manner of weird shit: visions, temperature swings, attacks by ghosts and corpses, apparent time travel, etc.  The room won't let him leave, and the clock radio keeps playing "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters.  Like Olin said, "it's an evil-fucking-room."

These haunts are worth a few scares and chills, being well-mounted with some good special effects, but I found myself not caring: I didn't like Enslin enough to root for him, nor dislike him enough to feel he deserves what's happening to him.  The filmmakers must've been ambivalent, too, because they made a shaggy-dog story that doesn't so much end as -- stop.  The film implies that dad can join daughter in a better place, but that's ambiguous.

Unless I missed something, we also never find out who sent Enslin the postcard warning him about Room 1408, so that's another loose hair, and so is the similarity of his surname to that of the S.L.J. character: Enslin, Olin.  What's in those names?  E-i-e-i-o?  Count me out.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003) 3 of 4

Sometimes we have to act before we realize something that we should have realized before, or before we get an idea.
Starting this blog makes me realize that I just don't have time to write full reviews of every movie I see, not and finish the other writing I want to do.  In some cases, a few notes are going to have to suffice.
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is an uncompromising crime film set in London.  I use that word "uncompromising" too much, but it's warranted here: this film may not hate its audience, but it's not going to do you any favors.
This movie took some getting used to.  The photography is nicely gritty, but I found the direction oddly functional and simple, almost TV-style.  Finally, I realized that it's a 70s-retro style, by an older director (Mike Hodges) who made his name in that decade. I suspect its partly autobiographical, with the wounded main character -- he's coming to grips with his younger brother's suicide -- something of a stand-in for the director, who's had a fascinating but checkered career.
The movie is written by Hodges's contemporary Trevor Preston, and I imagine them saying, we may be two old bastards, but we're the old bastards that can make this film.

** remainder contains moderate spoilers **

About half-hour in, there's a shocking scene and I stopped watching, finding the film seamy and unpleasant.  I intended to give up on the movie, but there's something sincere and honest about it, and I had to come back the next day and finish it.  I don't think it's a great film, but it's got a rawness about pain and grief that can't be easily dismissed. Just don't expect a fun time, or Tarantino touches.  This is more of a slap-in-the-face film, with fine acting and its own pacing.
It also doesn't bother with a lot of exposition, which made me realize how used I am to movies that hold my hand -- for example, we never find out Charlotte Rampling's relationship to Clive Owen.  I suspect she's his mother, but I may be wrong; the synopsis I saw called her his ex-girlfriend.  What do you think?
Some will crab about the ending: I think he lied about his intentions because he suspected her phone was tapped, and it was.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains spoilers **

For decades, I've heard of this movie as a (minor) classic.  Perhaps I should have suspected from the intriguing but rather precious title that the film would be very dry and British.  It's suspenseful, but it's just as invested in establishing social and psychological value, in not being seen as trading in the same exploitation as the main characters.  It flatters its audience -- it's the opposite of those films that implicate us for enjoying violence, crime, and cruelty.  Watching it, it struck me as being so careful and bloodless that it threatens to dry up and blow away.
It shares a lot of qualities with the crime and horror films of the early 1960s: beautiful black-and-white, the emphasis on sound (you can hear every rustle), the linking of rural life and abnormal psychology.  As such, it's the mild-mannered British relative to such films as Psycho, In Cold Blood, and The Haunting.  
It's about a middle-aged couple, both of them failures.  Myra's never gotten over the still-birth of her son, Arthur.  She's become a "medium," making money supposedly communicating with the dead.  Of course, this occupation buttresses her self-comforting belief that she's still in contact with her dead son, Arthur.
The film deserves credit for defying one of the strongest temptations to the filmmaker: it centers on a truly homely woman.  As played by actress Kim Stanley, Myra is a strong-willed woman who hasn't had much luck.  She admits that she married asthmatic milquetoast Billy (Richard Attenborough) because "You're weak, and you needed me."  She's had too much pain, and she'll do anything to avoid more.
They need money, so she's hatched a plot to get rich by kidnapping a little girl from a local school.  They will then arrange to offer her services as a medium to the parents of the girl.  It's fascinating that the plan is actually well-planned and well-executed, except for centering on a fantasy, the idea that the parents and police won't immediately suspect them of being the kidnappers.  They do, of course, and it's only a matter of time before the law closes in.  
So, it's a pretty good film, but I found it dated, more of a curio than a classic.  It will probably be liked best by people who avoid violent, disturbing, and horrifying films.  For anyone else, the film's portrayal of a suspenseful kidnapping while also exonerating its audience is quaint.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Hunter (2011) 2.5 of 4

mostly synopsis:
This one bears some plot similarities to the Matt Damon film Promised Land (which I haven't seen).  Willem Dafoe plays a professional hunter who's hired by a big-money corporation to venture into the wilds of Tasmania, an island off southeast Australia, to find the last Tasmanian tiger -- not for environmental reasons, but for industrial profit -- the tiger is said to excrete a unique toxin which may have great value.  The tiger is said to be extinct, but Martin (Dafoe) finds the task even harder than it sounds: he's renting a room from a depressed mom with kids, their husband/father having disappeared in the woods.  The local loggers may have killed this man, and they threaten Martin, telling him "Greenies" aren't welcome.  Since his mission is secret, Martin makes no attempt to correct the misperception, and indeed he becomes sympathetic both to the Lucy and her kids and their neo-hippie friends.  Trying to avoid the loggers, Martin settles into a rhythm: two weeks in the forest, then a few days back at the house.  He helps Lucy get better, getting her off the pills brought by her supposed friend Jack (Sam Neill).  We'll learn that Jack is trying to play all sides.  Martin tries to avoid taking sides, but that becomes impossible.  He finds the husband's remains and belongings, and later is himself assaulted by another, younger hunter hired by the corporation to replace him.  At gunpoint, Martin agrees to lead the new man to the tiger den he's found, but guides him into a steel trap, then shoots him.  Martin returns to the settlement to find Lucy and her daughter have died in a fire, probably set by the man he's shot.  Martin decides there's only one way to end all this madness: he goes to the den, waits, and kills the last of the Tasmanian tigers.  Martin weeps over the dead creature, then calls his boss and tells him, "What you want is gone forever."  Martin then goes to find Lucy's son, presumably to adopt him.

mostly review:
Another downbeat film about endings and grief: we get a lot of these in the millenium.  A good film, mainly for its interesting plot and for the effective casting of Dafoe and location filming in Tasmania.  The drama is more questionable -- if we care, it's because of the situation: jobs and environment threatened, a loved one missing, the mysterious involvement of corporations, etc.  In some ways, the film is reminiscent of the TV serial Lost: the South Pacific setting, the mysteries, the answers found in a primeval cave with a spring (the site of the tiger's den).  Of course, this film pays off its story more than Lost.
There is one memorable moment of character drama, when Lucy awakes from her depressed slumber.  She hears Bruce Springsteen playing and sees that the power's back on in the house, wanders outside and assumes the man celebrating with her kids is her returning husband.  Of course, and as we know, it's really Martin.  A potentially devastating moment, but it's really a throwaway here, this movie has more global issues on its mind.
The music bears comment.  Martin prefers classical music, whereas the dead husband had speakers in the trees, planning to have idyllic concerts for all of the locals.  He had "too many ideas," says Lucy.  The only other thing we know about him was that he, too, was probably working for the corporation, looking for the tiger.  So the fact that Martin plays classical records indicates he is an older type of man, a classical man, and lacking the distraction of naive utopianism, and other modernisms.  He's the man to sort out this situation.  He's also a man of few words, who keeps his own counsel.  This is not a film that's impressed with people who voice their political views.  It is a film about actions, not words.
Some will find it too solemn, too poker-faced, but I thought it worked on its own terms, an eco-fable that doesn't trust liberals any more than conservatives.    

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Brave One (2007) 3 of 4

mostly synopsis:
Jodie Foster returns to her familiar persona, the victim taking back power. Erica Bain is a radio talker engaged to David (Naveen Andrews). The loving couple take an ill-advised walk in Central Park (entering by the Strangers Gate), are viciously attacked. David is killed, Erica is in a coma for weeks. Trying to carry on, Erica visits a gun shop, is told she can't buy a gun without a license and a waiting period. "I won't survive 30 days," she tells the owner. Outside the store, Erica is approached by a man who ends up selling her a black market handgun. Erica will get much use out of this handgun: first in a small food store, when she shoots a gunman who's shot the cashier, his opponent in a custody battle. Next is a subway shooting in which Erica virtually re-creates the Bernhard Goetz incident of , shooting two aggressive black men. Erica also rescues a young, kidnapped prostitute from the back seat of her captor's car: this one goes all wrong, the girl gets hit by the man's car. Erica finds most of this shockingly easy: several times, she says to noone in particular "why did you let me do it?" Each time she acts violently, she knows more intimately how acceptable violence can be in her society. Her boss (Mary Steenburgen) makes her take calls, in keeping with the more tabloid, but successful tone of her radio show. Erica is disgusted by most of the callers. Meanwhile, Erica is getting to know Det. Mercer (Terrence Howard), who's investigating her shootings. He doesn't know it's her, of course, but something intrigues him: he's a fan of her show, and he's fascinated that she's been able to "pull things together." Erica corrects him: you don't pull things together after a trauma like that. You just carry on, but you're a different person, you'll never be who you were. Mercer gets suspicious because a subway witness mentions a blonde woman. Also, there's the killing of businessman and gangster Morrow, the criminal Mercer most wanted to bring down. We know Erica did it, although she paid the price with an injured arm, and easily could have died, but instead she managed to back Morrow off the top of his own parking garage. Mercer puts a trace on the call he got from Erica that night -- she was on Roosevelt Island, the same as Morrow. Mercer tells Erica that he won't let anyone, even his best friend, commit crimes. As for the vigilante: "One more piece of evidence, and she goes down." Erica can't stop, though, in fact she passes up the chance to ID one of the thugs that killed her man: she'd rather take care of him herself. Using her recovered engagement ring, she tracks him down, killing two more men, but he gets the jump on her. Mercer finally catches up, holds the criminal at gunpoint, then switches guns with Erica so she can shoot him without paying a price. Erica hesitates, takes her vengeance. Mercer then forces her to shoot him (non-fatally), to support the story Mercer will tell. Erica leaves, struggling to find her way out of the maze-like housing project.

mostly review: 
First and last, The Brave One is a deconstruction or demythification of most vigilante movies, including superhero movies.  Specifically, this is a revision of Batman.  There are a number of embedded reference to Batman: the name Bain (Bane); the dank, gothic New York locations, full of menace Erica had ignored before; the vigilante's uneasy alliance with police officers; Erica's t-shirt, with its abstract but bat-like print; Erica's habit of changing her appearance, her clothes, after each violence.  At one point, someone asks "Who the hell are you?" and you half-expect ... but no, she merely says, "I'm nobody," as the movie undercuts vigilante heroics.
I liked the way that Erica, though the title character and a rapidly-evolving badass, isn't necessarily so good at what she's doing: she gets nervous and makes mistakes, almost getting Chloe killed.
Before asking Erica to identify herself, Chloe asks "Is this still America?"  I thought this was one of the film's few missteps, too on the nose.  More subtle is the implication of the vigilante's name: "I am Erica Bain" easily bends to "I am America's bane," and even "I am the bane of America in error."  There's also a link, intentional or not, to the DiCaprio character in Inception, when the aging Erica waxes poetic (on her radio show) about how we'll need to construct "artificial cities to house our memories."
This is one of those films that aims to be both a mass-market genre piece and a smart subversion of the genre and its values.  It succeeds on both fronts, but with this type of film, I always feel a sense of loss, of compromises made (as opposed to say Taxi Driver, which doesn't give a f*** who sees it), but the compromises here are tolerable.  The compensations are vast: the huge star power of both Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard (mercifully, Howard doesn't attempt a New York accent; Tim Roth gave a game try in Arbitrage, but it was distracting), beautiful cinematography, and the professionally invisible direction of Neil Jordan.
The film's flaw came into focus while listening to extras, in which Foster says that Erica's actions are definitely wrong.  That may be, but I'm not sure I got that from the picture: I really had no problem with what Erica did.  This is not a young woman, she's just had her heart ripped out by goons who felt like being animals.  She feels her life is over, and she is afraid, so she buys a gun (illegally, but she might have gotten a legal one a month later).  I felt no grief over those she killed, they were all deadbeats and the world's better off without them.  If the film really wanted us to question vigilantism, she should have had at least one innocent victim, but I didn't notice any.
So yeah, maybe the film wants to have it both ways.  But at least it's made very plain that Erica is unbalanced and traumatized, and will be for any forseeable future.  Unlike Batman, she is not acting in a quasi-official capacity, except during the climax when Mercer collaborates with her, presumably to finish her trail of revenge.

Monday, October 6, 2014

And Soon the Darkness (1970) 3.5 of 4

mostly synopsis: 
Two English girls, brunette Jane (Pamela Franklin) and blonde Cathy, are bicycling through the French countryside. True to type, Jane wants to stick to the plan and is happy just seeing the countryside, while impulsive Cathy is bored and wants some excitement. These differences boil over into an argument, and the girls split up, with Cathy sunning herself by the roadside while Jane pedals on. Probably thinking of the tall, "dishy" Frenchman they noticed at a cafe, Cathy hangs up her underwear on the trees, as if drying them. Later, she takes them down, creeped out by the silence, feeling watched. Meanwhile, Jane cools down and circles back, but is unable to find her friend. She does find Paul, the Frenchman, and he helps her look. Paul ultimately claims to be law enforcement, based in Paris and on a working holiday. He's curious about the murder of a pretty girl in the vicinity several years back, unsolved. Jane had also heard about this murder from a local, middle-aged couple, the LaSalles. Mrs. Lasalle tried to warn Jane away, despite the language barrier. This film expertly ratchets up the suspense -- like Jane, we suspect there's a killer of women on the prowl, but who is it? Is it Paul, handsome but temperamental? Is it a local, like the grouchy Mr. LaSalle? Two other suspects present themselves: a man deaf since the war, and an oddball too, and finally the local constable who shows up to help. Jane becomes more and more sure it's Paul who's the killer. He acted strange when they encountered him, following them but not speaking. He's presented no evidence that he's with law enforcement. Jane barricades herself in the deaf man's rural house, and must remain very silent when Paul tries to get in. Paul then does get in, smashing a window, but Jane eludes him, even when she's shocked by the discovery of Cathy in the closet -- Cathy's corpse, that is. Finally, Paul spots Jane outside, chases her. Jane eludes him, then hides behind a tree; when Paul approaches, she smashes him with a rock repeatedly, and he collapses. Relieved, Jane runs to the constable, embraces him. He holds her, but then his hand wanders down, across her butt and into her back pocket: he's the killer! He starts to assault Jane, but Paul lurches into the frame and shoots the constable. Jane is safe, we assume. We see two more young women bicycle into the region, sure of a pleasant holiday ...

mostly review:
This is a very tight little thriller; some might call it a Hitchcock imitation, but it's a fine one. My only complaint is that the score is too much at times, too melodramatic for such a spare, merciless little film. The score indicates someone didn't quite have faith in the film. Still, this is a must see for horror and thriller buffs. For me, it succeeded brilliantly at keeping me in suspense and at using red herrings to put me in Jane's shoes: I did not know who the killer was. As with John Carpenter's Someone's Watching Me!, the protagonist is a woman surrounded by men, and she has no idea whom to trust. These films communicate something about what it's like to be female. And Soon the Darkness deserves to be better known; I'd class it with other cult films of the era: Carpenter's, Spielberg's Duel, and Richard Franklin's Road Games. As such, it's also a stepping-stone toward Mad Max and imitators.
It was directed by Robert Fuest and co-written by Brian Clemens, both of whom are known for the U.K. series The Avengers. Fuest also directed the Dr. Phibes movies, with Vincent Price; this film lacks the tongue-in-cheek quality you might expect. Clemens was in his prime, soon to have his own TV series, Thriller, and to write another cult film shot mostly outdoors, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. His writing partner on this film was Terry Nation, the driving force behind much of the best U.K. televised science fiction of the 1960s through the early 1980s.
 The Hitchcockian touches include close-ups of ordinary object (such as Cathy's portable radio); the wide, charged framing of shots of the country fields, reminiscent of North by Northwest; the games with identity, and Jane's confusion over whom to fear; and the mixture of sexuality and misogyny that motivates the killer. Made in 1970, by and for a younger generation, the film goes a bit further than most of Hitchcock: Cathy is frankly randy, and Jane throws up, although daintily off-screen.
The film was shot mostly on location, and it's beautiful to look at. Cute Pamela Franklin seems to have a cult following based largely on this performance. She's an early final girl. This film was far ahead of its time in wedding rural horror (fear of throwbacks or weirdos out in the sticks) to a sort of pre-slasher plot (although the killer seemingly doesn't use blades). If it had been remade in 1990 or 2000, that might have caused a stir, but the eventual 2010 remake, which I haven't seen, was probably behind the curve, following such fundamentally similar, if more graphic films as High Tension, Eden Lake, and many others.