Rear Window (1954) – Suspenseful Hitchcock Masterpiece

Rear Window (1954) – Suspenseful Hitchcock Masterpiece

Empire refers to this film as flawless and essential. I could not agree more. Rear Window is a film which I watched with my jaw on the floor throughout. Like after Cabaret, I sat stupefied as the credits roll, questioning the magnitude of what I have just witnessed. Rear Window tells the story of a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeffries (Stewart), who has nothing to do in his convalescence but spy on his neighbours. He becomes convinced that one of them, Thorwald (Burr) has murdered his bedridden wife and… well… gotten rid of her in a bed of flowers. Lisa, (Kelly) his girlfriend, and Thelma (Ritter) his maid assist him in their investigations.

James Stewart … L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies

Grace Kelly … Lisa Carol Fremont

Wendell Corey … Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle

Thelma Ritter … Stella

Raymond Burr … Lars Thorwald

Made in 1954, this propelled Alfred Hitchcock from everyday master of suspense to a position as titanic public figure, popular entertainer and true artist. He made great films before and after, but Rear Window showed he could take a gimmick premise and transform it into a movie at once accessible to a mass audience and deep enough to be worth dozens of reviewings and critical analyses. Empire

The concept of this film is so à propos for the past miserable year. A man locked away in his apartment, unable to do anything but spy on his neighbours. We have a derelict council building and hotel which charges by the hour (probably) opposite our rear window which does not make for especially tantalising viewing. Jeffries is lucky that he has such entertaining neighbours. From Miss Torso to the couple who sleep out on their balcony, the fascinating and tragic Miss Lonely on the ground floor and the struggling composer above and the wonderful lady who lowers her dog down on a winch, to do its business in the garden. See a picture of Jeff’s view below.

This film is a remarkable work of atmosphere and demonstrative of Hitchcock’s undeniable genius. The whole film is shot from the perspective of Jeffries with the exception of one scene where Hitchcock breaks away from his perspective logic. This is the scene where Lisa is looking up at the woman on the fire escape about two third in, who is scorning her neighbours. I shall not tell you what for but will say this scene is likely among the most suspenseful in the film. Follow this link for an excellent article on Hitchcock’s understanding of the language of cinema in Rear Window.

I’m not much on rear window ethics.

Lisa

Although it is filmed entirely from one room, the film is never once dull. The blinding star power of Grace Kelly is visible in her every movement. The strength of the script, written by John Michael Hayes based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder”, is astounding at every turn. The initially frustrated exchanges between Steward and Kelly are superb, followed by their joint enthusiasm for the case they are pursuing. Add in the cynical nurse Thelma and the even more disbelieving Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle (Corey), both reluctant to provide assistance, and you have yourself a winning film. The plot is dense and unfolds slowly in a manner reminiscent of 12 Angry Men. Each piece of evidence is adduced slowly to provide a full picture of the events transpired.

Overall this is powerful and perverse movie which tells of the lengths to which humans will go when locked away and intrigued. It is simultaneously about voyeurism, justice, and human nature. Rear Window is an enduring masterpiece which continues to have a strong effect on you long after you have watched it. This is a film which will stay with you forever.

Seven Samurai – Timeless Beautiful Action Film

Seven Samurai – Timeless Beautiful Action Film

In my quest to watch all of the greatest films ever made, I stumbled upon this 1954 stunning black and white, Japanese language action masterpiece. With a running time of 200 minutes, this is a truly epic film. Set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history (1467-1615), Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village which is besieged by bandits who seek to take the village’s crops. The plot begins with some swift background with some of the villagers overhearing scouts from the bandits saying aloud that they will return once the crops have ripened. From then, the villagers, knowing the clock is ticking, set about finding seven Ronin (masterless samurai) to protect their village from the bandits.

But only a true sensei of movie trivia can list all of the Seven Samurai — Takashi Shimura (Kambei), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), DaisukeKato (Shichiroji), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi) and Isao Kimura (Katsushiro). Empire

This film is a work of supreme beauty. It scores in the top percentile for me across every metric by which I measure good films. It is visually staggering throughout, even though it is set in a small village in rural Japan. The script is relatively sparse given the often laconic Ronin but hits hard when warranted, including the exquisite scene where Kikuchiyo scalds his fellow Ronin for being judgmental of the villagers. The characterisation of the samurai is done richly and beautifully, by the end you have a full picture of each of them and their respective feelings towards each other. The film really takes its time in establishing these relationships and succeeds.

Here, Kurosawa one-ups Hollywood. Before 1954, even the most epic American adventures featured a lone hero and a stooge posse, or at best two brawling buddies. But here Kurosawa invented the now-familiar device of a heroic leader assembling a team of specialists to meet a challenging task. At well over three hours, the movie has time to give each of the Samurai rich characterisation: Shichiroji is Kambei’s long-term right-hand man; Kyuzo is the icy master swordsman; Gorobei signs up because he admires Kambei’s heroism; Katsushiro is the youth who yearns to learn from the masters; Heihachi is the second-rate sword, welcomed because of his cheery disposition; and Kikuchiyo (a hyperactive, star-making role for Mifune) is the crazy amateur whose insane clown antics mark him as the wild card in this otherwise dignified, professional pack. Empire

Once recruited, the Samurai set about fortifying the village and teaching the villagers basic fighting tactics. The film culminates in one of the greatest battles in cinematic history with the 40 bandits storming the village over the course of several days.

One of my favourite elements of post war Japanese filmography is that they capture the mood of Japan after the war and impose this on situations before the war. The shame of allowing an invading force to have power over them, themes of robbed sovereignty and the honour of fighting oppression are vividly deisplayed throughout Seven Samurai. At the time of filming the repercussions of World War Two will still have been felt and having US soldiers posted around Japan must have twisted the knife daily for the Japanese. Not to mention the Americans wrote the Japanese Constitution after the war therefore engineered their legal infrastructure. All of this is visible within Seven Samurai, although it was set some 400 years previously.

Overall this is an undeniable masterpiece which reflects a national mood and triumphs in every metric for cinematographic gold. I cannot recommend it enough.

Schitt’s Creek Season Six – “Impulsive, Capricious and Melodramatic” Series 2020

Schitt’s Creek Season Six – “Impulsive, Capricious and Melodramatic” Series 2020

What you did was impulsive, capricious and melodramatic, but it was also wrong – Catherine O’Hara as Moira Rose

From Season 1 to Season 6, I find it difficult to encapsulate in words the immense love I have for this show. Comedy legends Dan and Eugene Levy have gifted the world with a golden collection of hilarious, heartfelt and lasting laughs. For the sake of brevity I shall only address the sixth season of the show in this post, and keep it as brief as possible to avoid spoilers. It goes without saying that Season 6 builds on the various happenings of Season 5 so there will be spoilers ahead. This post will be published some weeks after the extraordinary performance of Season 6 at the Emmy Awards. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara won outstanding lead actor and actress in a comedy series, Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy won outstanding supporting actor and actress in a comedy series, and the show itself took home the award for best comedy series, and quite rightly too.

The general premise of he show is that a rich Jewish family lose their riches when one of their business partners screws them over. The federal government seized all of their assets aside from one small town called Schitt’s Creek. The family then moved to the town’s Motel where they remained until their fortunes improved. Season 6 of Schitt’s Creek picks up where Season 5 ended, on a dazzling finale showing the cast doing a performance of my favourite musical Cabaret (and doing it splendidly at that) and the announcement of David Rose’s engagement to his boyfriend Patrick. Season 6 follows the story of the wedding planning and the wedding itself, as well as Moira’s resurgence to television fame, the downfall of Alexis and Ted’s relationship and the expansion of the Rosebud Motel empire.

 

Without speaking at length about each episode, I shall give you a few of my season highlights. the first episode sees David, Stevie, Alexis and Patrick looking for wedding venues. They find the perfect venue, only to find out gleefully that the first Sunday of every month is heavily discounted. There is an opening coming up for the coming Sunday and David is on the cusp of accepting when the group hears the screaming wails of pigs being slaughtered on a neighbouring farm. The noise and stench prove too much for the gang who continue on their search for a suitable venue.

Another highlight for me was Episode 7, Moira Rosé, where Moira returns to Herb Ertlinger’s winery to have a specialist wine named after her, following the success of her recent film venture, The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening. Mr Ertlinger appears first in Season 1 with an equally disastrous visit as the one in Season 6. A clip from the Season 1 episode, Wine and Roses, is featured below. The Season 6 episode is for me demonstrative of the reasons I love Schitt’s Creek. It is first and foremost a comedy. The writing is stellar, the story arc is beautifully executed but the crux of the show is to show simply and without prejudices an alternative way of life. This is keenly demonstrated by the touching scene where Johnny Rose and Patrick have a heart to heart while watching football on the television, something Johnny is clearly not well versed in. The scene conveys perfectly that Johnny loves his son enough to put himself in an uncomfortable position speaking to his soon to be son-in-law, and that Patrick loves David enough to poke fun at Johnny by partially ignoring him in favour of the game. Patrick knows that Johnny is too polite to interject hence Patrick can confront the inevitable talk on his own terms, which he does. In the end the two have a frank and almost tear inducing conversation which ends with the mutual understanding that both just want David’s happiness. All of this is done without an iota of preaching or suggesting the viewer should feel one way or the other, it just is. And that is the most beautiful thing about Schitt’s Creek.

 

Seeing Henry Czerny in Episode 7 as Alexis’ new lover and Johnny Roses’ stern talk with him was also a big highlight for me. Both he and Eugene Levy are actors I have a huge respect for and their performance is dazzling.

My final highlight of this dazzling Season is of course the final episode. Catherine O’Hara, when asked about her favourite episodes, said the first one (Season 1 episode 1) and the last one (Season 6 Episode 14). I can concur though I would highlight Season 1 episode 2 as one of the strongest in the show overall. This episode has everything, it has romance, comedy, plot finalising and a suitable cliffhanger making the viewer wonder about the future of the splendid characters in the series. It also has the most iconic Moira Rose outfit of the whole show but I will not spoil this for you.

Sadly the show ends its six year run here, just as it has garnered global recognition and suitable reward at Emmy level. In a way it is better for it to end now. It has fostered a love within its fan base which has been incrementally built up over the last six years hence its appreciation has solid grounding. It is poetic in a way for the show to end now at the peak of its fame. Please watch all the seasons if you have time. I am firmly of the belief that the sixth season is the best one. See below a highlights reel of the first five.

Escape Room – Terrific Insular Horror

Escape Room – Terrific Insular Horror

M and I are horror aficionados, and were pleasantly surprised with this 2019 offering. My first instinct when I have enjoyed a film is to check Empire for their invariably scathing review. This film did not fare well with the discerning male critics, and I do share some of their criticisms, but overall I thought this was a well wrought, impressively produced and tantalising piece of horror. The premise is this: six ostensibly random people meet and try to solve a series of escape rooms to obtain a prize of £10,000. It soon becomes apparent that they are in fact trying to survive.

After a flash-forward to a character in deep doo-doo, the set-up is a little mechanical, introducing us one by one to the (thinly drawn) key players as they are invited to the game via a little black box bearing the old Cannon films logo. So we meet shy but genius maths (physics, as it happens) student Zoey (Taylor Russell), cynical millennial Ben (Logan Miller), dedicated escape roomer Danny (Nik Dodani), scarred Iraq War vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), blue-collar trucker Mike (Tyler Labine) and smarmy financial whizz Jason (Jay Ellis). Empire

I’m afraid that the character depth in this film does not go much deeper than the above block quote. However, what the characters lack in dimension and depth is more than made up for in set design. Without spoiling each wondrous room for you, I shall concentrate my praise on one room only. This was the enormous bar room with an oversized jukebox playing a distorted version of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ on repeat. This bar was not as it seemed however, it was upside down! The escapees had to climb their way through the room and solve the riddle as the floor/ ceiling was falling away beneath them. This made for jaw dropping graphics but also thrilling watching.

I do not necessarily agree with Empire that the lack of character dimension sufficiently hampered the film so as to lower it to a 2* rating. This is to be expected of this type of horror. With the possible exception of the first Saw movie (horror icon James Wan’s co-directorial debut, please note), the character development and backstory are always secondary to the elaborate torture scenarios devised for them. Overall this was a fast paced, visually staggering offering to the altar of horror and I would be remiss not to recommend it to you. It is streaming on Netflix at the time of writing.

Ready or Not – Unique Dark Comedy

Ready or Not – Unique Dark Comedy

I am often skeptical when Pater suggests films to me but my spidey senses were tingling with this title. Once again they did not let me down. All credit to Pater on this one, mind. An excellent find. Ready or Not tells the odd story of Grace, an orphan who marries into the wealthy Le Domas family. On her wedding night to Alex, she is made to play a game, as is family tradition, without realising the horror that was to come.

Samara Weaving … Grace

Adam Brody … Daniel

Mark O’Brien … Alex

Henry Czerny … Tony

Andie MacDowell … Becky

Nicky Guadagni … Aunt Helene

Prepare yourself for 90 minutes of brilliantly realised thrilling horror. Ready or Not was filmed at various locations around Toronto, including Casa Loma, Sunnybrook Park and the Claireville Conservation Area, as well as the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, Ontario. Somehow they managed to complete filming in 26 days, which does not at all show in the quality of the finished product.

The set-up is delicious in its absurdity. Grace (Weaving), an orphan brought up in foster homes, is marrying Alex (O’Brien) and into the wealthy Le Domas family, whose fortune has been made in board games. On her wedding night she has to take part in a bizarre ritual: every time someone new joins the family, they partake in a midnight game mechanically selected from a scary antique box. If not thrilled by the prospect, Grace plays along when the card selected is ‘hide and seek’. What she doesn’t realise is that she is now the prey for the rest of the family to hunt and kill by sunrise or they will all perish. Empire

Stellar acting on the part of Weaving, Czerny and MacDowell, together with Jutkiewicz’s restless camera and Tyler’s wonderful score drive the film forward without impacting the gothic soul of the film. I had all but written off Weaving after seeing The Babysitter and Killer Queen but she was on spectacular form here. Running from a cabal of related maniacs in a ruined wedding dress escaping her attackers was a constant thrill. Ready or Not even destroyed the getaway car trope in horror films. I shall leave you to find out what I mean by this while watching the film.

Within the mêlée, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin allow just enough time to sketch the personalities and dynamics of the crazy clan: frenzied patriarch (Czerny), a stern matriarch (MacDowell), a good-hearted son (Brody), a poisonous aunt (Nicky Guadagni), an ineffectual brother (Kristian Bruun) and a hilarious coked-up sister (Melanie Scrofano) Empire

Overall, this is an excellent high paced horror thriller with some top class acting and a plot to die for.

 

Die Hard – Great Christmas Action Movie

Die Hard – Great Christmas Action Movie

Die Hard for me was one of those films which I had heard of, probably seen at a younger age and paid no further mind to. Somewhere in the back corridors of my memory I remembered that this was supposedly a Christmas movie so I decided to watch it on Christmas Day. I will not exaggerate by saying this is probably the best action movie I have ever seen. If not, it is up there with Aliens, Predator, Terminator (1 and 2), The Matrix and RED, to a lesser but still large extent.

Bruce Willis … John McClane

Bonnie Bedelia … Holly Gennaro McClane

Reginald VelJohnson … Sgt. Al Powell

Alan Rickman … Hans Gruber

Paul Gleason … Dwayne T. Robinson

De’voreaux White … Argyle William

James Shigeta … Takagi

Alexander Godunov … Karl

Based on the 1979 Robert Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, this 1988 masterpiece was directed by John McTiernan and written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. Die Hard follows New York City cop John McClane (Willis) as he attempts to deal with a terrorist takeover of Nakatomi Plaza while visiting his estranged wife (Bedelia). The terrorists are headed up by Hans Gruber (a stellar Rickman).

John McClane’s smartmouthed New York cop was a career-defining turn, mixing banter, action heroics and a dirty white vest to stunning effect. Acting up to him every step of the way is Alan Rickman, at his sneering best – but the script and cast are pretty much flawless. The very pinnacle of the ’80s action movie, and if it’s not the greatest action movie ever made, then it’s damn close. Empire

Without spoiling the plot which I imagine many of my readers will know well already, I was so impressed with the concept, execution and dialogue of this film. I remarked to M halfway through that this was a flawless film across many fronts and succeeds in cinematography, script, is visually stunning, has suitably menacing foreign (to the US) villains and more gripping, relentless action than I could have imagined possible. A particular highlight for me was Willis’ roof leap hanging onto a fire hose, shooting his way through one of the windows. I had to watch that again several times. Aside from being a brilliant piece of action movie making, it was just so damn cool.

In summation, Die Hard is a classic, all-American action feast which succeeds across every metric by which one measures a good film. I am no less than staggered by it in its entirety and cannot recommend it enough.