Killing Me Softly (2002)

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She loves him . . . but does she really know who he is?
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US, UK / 100 minutes / color / MGM, Montecito, Noelle Dir: Chen Kaige Pr: Lynda Myles, Joe Medjuck, Michael Chinich Scr: Kara Lindstrom Story: Killing Me Softly (1999) by Nicci French Cine: Michael Coulter Cast: Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone, Ulrich Thomsen, Ian Hart, Jason Hughes, Kika Markham, Amy Robbins, Yasmin Bannerman, Rebecca Palmer, Ronan Vibert, Olivia Poulet.

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A psychological thriller that, while it’s far from a masterpiece, I’d maintain is rather better than it’s usually given credit for.

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Alice (Graham) is an American who’s been in London these past two years working as a designer of CD-ROMs and websites for corporate clients. For six months now she’s lived with her boyfriend, Jake (Hughes), in a relationship that’s become affectionate and comfortable, albeit no longer fiery.

killing-me-softly-1-jake-is-a-comfortable-companion

Jake (Jason Hughes) is a comfortable companion.

One day on the way to work she accidentally touches fingers with a mysterious stranger, mountaineer Adam Tallis (Fiennes), at a pedestrian stop sign, and there’s an instant attraction. Soon they’re in a taxi to the apartment where he’s living—in fact his sister’s—and, once they get there, they promptly Continue reading

Trap for Cinderella (2013)

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Amnesia, identity confusion, a tortuous plot . . .
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UK / 100 minutes / color / UK Film Council, Prescience, Forthcoming, JonesCompany, Aegis, Altus, Ealing Metro, Lipsync, Odd Lot, BFI Dir & Scr: Iain Softley Pr: Robert Jones, Dixie Linder, Iain Softley Story: Piège pour Cendrillon (1963; vt Trap for Cinderella) by Sébastien Japrisot Cine: Alex Barber Cast: Tuppence Middleton, Alexandra Roach, Kerry Fox, Frances de la Tour, Emilia Fox, Aneurin Barnard, Stanley Weber, Alex Jennings, Maisie Lloyd, Ciara Southwood, Nathalie Paris, Erich Redman, Elizabeth Healey, Pierre Boulanger, Tim Wallers.

Trap for Cinderella - 0 opener

After an explosive fire in a lavish villa in the south of France, the badly smashed-up survivor is flown to an exclusive clinic in Switzerland where Dr. Müller (Redman) performs extensive reconstructive surgery. Slowly the patient heals, although some faint scars may remain forever and she suffers near-total amnesia, no more than occasional disconnected glimpses of her past remaining. The clinic’s psychologist, Dr. Sylvie Wells (Emilia Fox), teaches the young woman who she is: 20-year-old orphan Michèle “Micky” Bean (Middleton) and presumptive heir, come her 21st birthday, to the fortune of her late aunt, hugely successful fashionista Elinor Raffermi (de la Tour).

Trap for Cinderella - 1 Micky meets Julia for 1st time after surgery

Micky (Tuppence Middleton, right) meets Julia (Kerry Fox) for the first time after the extensive reconstructive surgery.

Eventually Elinor’s PA, Julia (Kerry Fox), arrives to collect Micky and take her home to London, where she shields the recuperating patient from contact with her earlier life. Micky, however, rebels, escaping from Julia to make contact with her aunt’s lawyer, James Chance (Jennings), and hooking up again with Chance’s assistant, Jake (Barnard), whom she recognizes from photos as her once-boyfriend. Although he admits that “Last time I saw you you said you never wanted to see me again—I’m glad you changed your mind” (“changed your mind,” geddit?), they have a nostalgic Continue reading

I Start Counting (1969)

UK / 105 minutes / color / Triumvirate, UA Dir & Pr: David Greene Scr: Richard Harris Story: I Start Counting (1966) by Audrey Erskine Lindop Cine: Alex Thomson Cast: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Clare Sutcliffe, Simon Ward, Gregory Phillips, Madge Ryan, Billy Russell, Lana Morris, Fay Compton, Charles Lloyd Pack, Michael Feast, Lewis Fiander, Lally Bowers, Gordon Richardson.

I Start Counting - 0 opener

In an unnamed suburb of an unnamed large city—it feels much like a London suburb—orphan Wynne Kinch (Agutter), who declares herself to be not so much 14 as nearly 15, lives in a tower block with her adoptive family. She’s suffering a severe adolescent crush—which of course she believes to be the love of her life—on her much older adoptive brother George (Marshall), reckoning that the difference in their ages (he’s 32) won’t matter so much in a few years’ time. He’s one half of the small contracting business Kinch & Wells, Joiners & Decorators, although we’re never introduced to Wells.

One day, as he prepares to take her and her friend Corinne Eldridge (Sutcliffe) to school in the company van, George picks up a package and mentions that he’s just “going to drop this in with Mr. Chapman” . . . except that Wynne spots him instead stuffing it into someone’s dustbin. Earlier that morning, as she spied on him while he was shaving, she noticed scratches on his back. The conclusion seems to her obvious: he must be the serial killer who’s terrorizing the neighborhood, murdering young girls and dumping them on Dalstead Common. That evening Wynne digs out the package from the bin and discovers it’s a sweater she knitted for George, now with a big bloodstain on it.

I Start Counting - 1 The scratches on George's back

The scratches on George’s back.

Wynne’s passion for George is such that she really doesn’t care if he’s a serial killer; somehow their mutual love will solve that little problem, and she’ll be able to shield him from those who would wish to hunt him down and harm him. Rather than report her discovery of the sweater to the authorities—or even to her mum (Ryan) and granddad (Russell)—she smuggles it out to the family’s previous home, now abandoned and scheduled for demolition, and does her best to incinerate it in the furnace there. She gets the job just half done when she realizes the smoke pouring out of the cottage chimney could act as a beacon for the inquisitive . . .

I Start Counting - 2 Corinne & Wynne watch events through the back window of bus

Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe) and Wynne (Jenny Agutter) watch events at a crime scene through the back window of their bus.

That old family home is on the edge of Dalstead Common, and for those who don’t drive—like schoolgirls—can be reached from the nearest bus stop only by crossing the common. Nonetheless Wynne and Corinne come here from time to time to Continue reading

Committee, The (1968)

UK / 55 minutes / bw / Craytic, Planet Dir: Peter Sykes Pr: Max Steuer Scr: Max Steuer, Peter Sykes Cine: Ian Wilson Cast: Paul Jones, Tom Kempinski, Robert Lloyd, Pauline Munro, Jimmy Gardner, Arthur Brown.

Committee 1968 - 0 opener

After a Driver (Kempinski) pulls off the road to tinker with his car engine, the Hitchhiker (Jones) with whom he’s been traveling murders him by crunching the car’s hood down on his neck, decapitating him; the sole motive seems to be that the Driver was a monumental bore—he even, singing as he drove, managed to mangle a version of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get out of This Place.” You can’t get more boring than that.

All is not lost for the Driver, though; luckily the Hitchhiker is able to stitch the man’s head back on. The Driver’s a bit wobbly on his feet after the repair job, and seemingly somewhat miffed that the Hitchhiker doesn’t want to ride any further, but apart from that there appears to be little lasting damage.

Committee 1968 - 2 Sew a head back on Q Nae bother

Sewing a head back on? It’s no problem at all if you know how.

We cut, via a short sequence that’s reminiscent of the opening credits to a ’60s TV crime series, to something rather like Continue reading

Blood (2012)

UK / 92 minutes / color / Momentum, BBC, BFI, IM Global, Quickfire, Lipsync, Neal Street/Red Dir: Nick Murphy Pr: Pippa Harris, Nicola Shindler, Nick Laws Scr: Bill Gallagher Story: Conviction (2004; TV serial) by Bill Gallagher Cine: George Richmond Cast: Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Brian Cox, Mark Strong, Ben Crompton, Naomi Battrick, Zoë Tapper, Natasha Little, Sandra Voe, Jasper Britton, Adrian Edmondson, Danny McEvoy, Elizabeth Lowe, Patrick Hurd-Wood, Stuart McQuarrie, Claire Harris.

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In a northern English town (unnamed, but in fact West Kirby, Wirral) Lenny Fairburn (Cox) used to run the local police force, and with a fist of iron. Even though he retired long ago, his senile dementia still brings him occasionally into the “office” where he puzzles as to why his desk is now occupied by his replacement, Daniel Telphen (Britton), and brags about the old days when he and his fellows beat confessions out of suspects—or, better, took them out the local islands (Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre Island, all reachable by causeway at low tide) and so terrified them that “they’d confess to shagging their own mothers”.

Blood - 5 Lenny (Cox) struggling with his dementia

Lenny (Brian Cox), struggling with his dementia.

Lenny’s two unalike sons, Joe (Bettany) and Chrissie (Graham), are still on the force, and show little nostalgia for the time when they were working under their dad.

When 12-year-old Angela Drinkle is found dead of multiple stab wounds in a local playground, tensions immediately run high at the police station; everyone, most especially Joe, recalls how, years ago, a rapist had to be released from custody because Joe botched some evidence, and that rapist promptly murdered a woman.

Blood - 1 the murder scene

The original crime scene.

Soon the cops have an ideal suspect for Angela’s murder Continue reading

Felicia’s Journey (1999)

UK, Canada / 116 minutes / color / Marquis, Alliance Atlantis, Screenventures XLIII, TMN, Artisan, Icon Dir & Scr: Atom Egoyan Pr: Bruce Davey Story: Felicia’s Journey (1994) by William Trevor Cine: Paul Sarossy Cast: Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Claire Benedict, Brid Brennan, Peter McDonald, Gerard McSorley, Arsinée Khanjian, Danny Turner, Maire Stafford, Julie Cox.

In a small Cork town, Felicia (Cassidy) falls in love with Johnny Lysaght (McDonald). After he leaves to go back to his job at a lawnmower factory in the English Midlands, she discovers she’s pregnant. Her widowed father (McSorley) is horrified—not just by the pregnancy but because rumors are rife in the town that Johnny is no lawnmower maker but has gone over to the enemy by joining the British Army. Felicia tries to get Johnny’s address from his mother, but Mrs. Lysaght (Brennan) refuses to divulge it, and burns the letters that Felicia gives her to mail to Johnny.

Felicia's Journey - 1 Felicia (Cassidy) at home in Cork

Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) at home in Cork.

So Felicia steals money from her aged great-grandmother (Stafford) and heads for England. Searching in and around Birmingham, she’s unable to find Johnny—or even a lawnmower factory. She is, however, befriended by unctuous elderly canning-factory catering manager Mr. (Joe) Hilditch (Hoskins).

It soon becomes obvious to us that Mr. Hilditch is Continue reading

Fear is the Key (1972)

UK / 100 minutes / color / Kastner–Ladd–Kanter, Anglo–EMI, KLK Dir: Michael Tuchner Pr: Alan Ladd Jr., Jay Kanter Scr: Robert Carrington Story: Fear is the Key (1961) by Alistair MacLean Cine: Alex Thomson Cast: Barry Newman, Suzy Kendall, John Vernon, Dolph Sweet, Ben Kingsley, Ray McAnally, Peter Marinker, Elliott Sullivan.

Many of the adaptations of MacLean’s popular novels were epic blockbusters with major stars among the cast: The Guns of Navarone (1961) dir J. Lee Thompson, with Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker and Anthony Quayle, for example, or Ice Station Zebra (1968) dir John Sturges, with Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown. At the opposite end of the scale lies this quite palpably lower-budget outing: although released as an A-movie it has B-movie written all over it. It can also, with its themes of revenge and godgaming and its convoluted plot, and despite having plenty of sequences of MacLeanesque high adventure and some quite Bondish moments, be considered as lying within the noir genre, and indeed as one of the precursors, alongside such near-contemporaries as KLUTE (1971), of the modern neonoir subgenre.

Fear is the Key - Barry Newman, with a young Ben Kingsley behind as the psycho Royale

Barry Newman as our avenging hero, Talbot. That youthful figure behind him is Ben Kingsley, here playing a psycho, Royale.

Three years ago, in a remote radio outpost, airline owner John Montague Talbot (Newman) was speaking with his wife when the plane in which she, his brother and his son were traveling was shot down by a bogus USAF fighter jet; aboard the downed plane was a fortune in gold and gems being brought out of Honduras.

Now Talbot seems to be a bum drifting through Louisiana. In a remote gas station/bar he picks a Continue reading

After Alice (1999)

vt Eye of the Killer

Germany, UK / 100 minutes / color with some bw / Promark, Videal, CPTC Dir: Paul Marcus Pr: Tina Stern, André Paquette, Tom Kinninmont Scr: Jeff Miller Cine: Brian Pearson Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Henry Czerny, Polly Walker, Gary Hudson, Ronn Sarosiak, Stephen Ouimette, Eve Crawford, Denis Akiyama, Lorén Petersen, Alexander Chapman, Colin Glazer.

Cop Mickey Hayden (Sutherland) has been boozing ever since his wife deserted him to take up with his boss, Lt. John Hatter (Hudson). One night he’s in a convenience store picking up his next bottle when a punk seizes it and runs. Mickey chases the thief into a deserted building and sustains a cracked head in a fall. He very soon discovers the trauma has endowed him with the power of psychometry: when touching an object (even a corpse) he can often have visions of relevant events in that object’s past. The first time he experiences this is when called to investigate the seemingly random murder of the punk he’d earlier chased.

After Alice - The punk's murder revisited in a vision.

The punk’s murder revisited in a vision.

He’s approached in a bar by Harvey (Czerny), who has this same ability and can identify it in Mickey. At first Mickey violently rejects Harvey and Harvey’s claims, but slowly Continue reading

East, The (2013)

US, UK / 116 minutes / color with some bw / Scott Free, Dune, Fox Searchlight Dir: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling Pr: Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling, Ridley Scott Scr: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij Cine: Roman Vasyanov Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Macdonald, Hillary Baack, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, Julia Ormond, Billy Magnussen, Wilbur T. Fitzgerald, Jamey Sheridan.

Ex-FBI agent Jane Owen (Marling), now working for the security operation Hiller–Brood, which contracts to various corporations, goes undercover as Sarah Moss to penetrate an ecoterrorism group called The East, whose mission is, one corporation at a time, to bring home to CEOs and other powers that be the meaning of their crimes by inflicting upon them a measure of the same suffering that they’ve happily meted out to others. She finds The East to be a small group spearheaded by Benji (Skarsgård), Izzy (Page)—the nickname’s short for Isabella Duncan, although Izzy’s real name is Katie Cannon—and Doc (Kebbell), a physician who’s dying because of a contaminated antibiotic.

The East has promised that it will commit three “jams”—acts of retribution—over the next six months. Sarah/Jane is roped in for the first of these, and begins slowly to be won over to The East’s cause. That first jam involves infiltrating the party being thrown by pharmaceuticals company McCabe–Gray to celebrate the contract the firm has just received to supply the US military with its “miracle drug” Dinoxin. Attending as wait-staff or guests, The East’s members lace the champagne with Dinoxin and, sure enough, over the next few days and weeks the company’s bigwigs fall ill from ingesting the drug.

East, The - Richard Cannon (Sheridan) discovers the hard way about the water his company's polluting

Richard Cannon (Jamey Sheridan) discovers the hard way about the water his company has been polluting.

The second jam involves Izzy’s father Richard Cannon (Sheridan), an industrialist whose company, Hawkstone, has been insouciantly polluting water supplies, with nary a care for the consequent death toll. After The East has hurled him and a colleague into one of their own polluted ponds to discover how they like it, the group is Continue reading

I Thank a Fool (1962)

UK / 100 minutes / color / Eaton, MGM Dir: Robert Stevens Pr: Anatole de Grunwald Scr: Karl Tunberg Story: I Thank a Fool (1958) by Audrey Erskine Lindop Cine: Harry Waxman Cast: Susan Hayward, Peter Finch, Diane Cilento, Cyril Cusack, Kieron Moore, Athene Seyler, J.G. Devlin, Brenda de Banzie.

In Liverpool, largely thanks to the efforts of obnoxious prosecutor Stephen Dane (Finch), Canadian Dr. Christine Allison (Hayward) is found guilty of manslaughter for the mercy killing, by drug overdose, of her patient and adulterous lover, Benson (uncredited). Two years later she’s released from prison and, stripped of her medical credentials, does her best to find a job—any job. Even under her phony new name, Christine Garden, she can find no takers.

She’s in despair when suddenly she receives a mysterious phonecall offering her a job as a nurse. Obediently, she goes to the designated rendezvous where she’s met by dotty Miss Chandler (Seyler)—Aunt Heather—who erratically drives her out of town to meet her new employer . . . who proves to be Stephen Dane, the man who got her sent down.

Christine’s patient is Stephen’s wife Liane (Cilento), who’s been suffering mental difficulties—schizophrenia, Christine eventually concludes—ever since she was involved in a terrible car crash, in which her father died, near her Irish hometown of Caragh. Liane seems to be getting iller and iller, whatever Christine tries to do, and it’s evident that most of the people involved—Christine herself excepted but including the Danes’s studly Irish stableboy Roscoe (Moore), who’s possibly Liane’s lover—are often lying through their teeth about what’s going on.

I Thank a Fool - Liane hypnotized by a spinning sawbladeLiane (Diane Cilento) is hypnotized at sight of a spinning saw-blade.

For most of the movie we’re convinced that Continue reading