FILM: Hell’s House (1932, Howard Higgin)

HellsHouse.jpg

Pre-Code drama Hell’s House is set in late Prohibition era America, and was distributed by Capitol Film Exchange. Teenage orphan Jimmy Mason (Junior Durkin) idolises family friend Matt Kelly (Pat O’Brien), but is unaware that Kelly is a bootlegger. When Jimmy is arrested during a Police raid, he refuses to expose Kelly and is subsequently sent to a Reform School. There he endures hard labour and poor living conditions, a matter made worse when cellmate and best friend Shorty (Frank Coghlan Jr.) becomes seriously ill in solitary confinement.

PROS

  • The low lighting throughout the first 60 of 72 minutes, but particularly in the interior scenes, works very well, given how bleak and hopeless Jimmy’s story arc is.
  • A decent narrative that looks at human selfishness, abuse of power and the importance of friendship – not bad for a film shot on a micro-budget in 13 days.
  • A good lead in Junior Durkin, who captures Jimmy’s naivety very well, and is ably supported by a kind and sincere Bette Davis in an early role.

CONS

  • The narrative does feel quite rushed and a little tonally inconsistent, due to several scenes which are a little too upbeat. As such, the film could really have benefited from being longer than a mere 72 minutes.
  • While the themes of abuse of power and human selfishness are clear, they are at quite a surface-level depth (again, a longer running time would have been beneficial).
  • For the most part Pat O’Brien’s performance feels quite forced, as does his chemistry with Bette Davis.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Red Joan (2018, Trevor Nunn)

Red Joan poster.jpg

Spy film Red Joan is distributed by Lionsgate, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and is based Jennie Rooney’s novel that was inspired by the life of Melita Norwood. Octogenarian Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is arrested for breaking the National Secrets Act during World War II. During Police interviews, she relives how, as a young Cambridge graduate (played by Sophie Cookson) she passed on nuclear weapon secrets to the Soviets during her time working for the government.

PROS

  • Judi Dench is, as ever, a dependable leading lady, giving a nuanced and emotional turn as someone who wants desperately for people to understand the reality of decades long gone. Her scenes are easily the most engaging.
  • Decent production design recreates the 1930s and 1940s, while the low-lighting conveys just how gloomy the war time era really was.

CONS

  • A highly underwhelming screenplay, which does not delve into just how bleak and uncertain a time World War II really was for people beyond a surface-level depth, and feels very cliched in its underdeveloped conveyance of somebody who broke the law, but did so as she considered doing so morally right.
  • Trevor Nunn is an excellent theatre director, but not so much so a film director, as his direction here feels very uncertain, as does his vision for the film, which has a very poor balance between war-time drama and love story.
  • An overall weak cast, with a number of wooden supporting turns, while Sophie Cookson has quite poor chemistry with Stephen Campbell Moore and Tom Hughes (the actors playing Joan’s two love interests).

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Wild Rose (2018, Tom Harper)

Wild Rose poster.jpg

Drama Wild Rose is distributed by Entertainment One, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) is an aspiring country singer living in Glasgow, who has just finished serving a prison sentence. Determined to finally achieve her dreams of getting to Nashville and achieving her big break, she starts working as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who spots her talent and wants to help her achieve her dreams. However, Rose-Lynn also has two kids (Ryan and Nicole Kerr) who her mother (Julie Walters) is adamant that she must not let down again (and rightly so).

PROS

  • While it does fulfil some notable cliches of the tale of an aspiring musician trying to find a big break, Nicole Taylor’s screenplay has a lot of warmth and emotion to it thanks to the focus on familial dynamics, making it a highly engaging and heartwarming experience.
  • Jessie Buckley is a phenomenal lead as Rose-Lynn, realising the character’s nuances and bringing real energy when required, as well as truly raw emotion, and does a brilliant job with the music scenes. Buckley is backed by an excellent supporting cast, the stand-out of which is a sharp turn from the brilliant Julie Walters.
  • There is a real energy to this film, particularly to the music scenes, but equally there is rich, nuanced character-driven drama, and director Tom Harper’s vision is clear throughout.
  • Jessie Buckley is an outstanding singer, but the songs themselves are also wonderfully written, very memorable and boast great rhythm.

CONS

  • Due mainly to its use of notable cliches, there are a number of moments in the film that are quite predictable, not least the fact that the secrets that Rose-Lynn keeps are found out, while the Nashville scenes are fitting but feel a little rushed, and the entire film would probably benefit from being 10-15 minutes longer.
  • Several supporting characters are very thinly used, only really serving as plot devices, while Ashley McBryde’s and Kacey Musgraves’s cameos feel somewhat shoehorned in.

VERDICT: 8/10

PREVIEW: May 2019

April is almost at a close…we are already one-third of the way through 2019, which is crazy, and summer is almost upon us. We have had the Endgame and now we are on the cusp of the Battle for Winterfell. I have had a decent number of cinema trips during April and got a good amount of content published on the blog.

I have a fair few cinema trips lined up for May, including AladdinThe Secret Life of Pets 2Long ShotRocketman, TolkienThe Curse of La LloronaThe HustleGodzilla II: King of MonstersJohn Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. As ever, I shall endeavour to get reviews for these published (time permitting, of course). I shall also aim to publish some content on Game of Thrones, seeing as it is having its finale in three weeks time (I am so excited but equally so saddened by the prospect of that).

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I wish you (as ever) Happy Reading…!

FILM: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film).jpg

Thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much was made by Gaumont Pictures. The Lawrence family – Bob (Leslie Banks) and Jill (Edna Best), and their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) – are on a trip to Switzerland, where they befriend French skier Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay). Louis is assassinated one night and uses his dying breath to tell Jill where to find a note that must be delivered to the British consul. Bob finds the note and reads it but, because of what it contains, the criminal group who killed Louis deem that Bob knows too much, meaning that they kidnap Betty with the intent to dispose of her, should Bob share what he knows.

PROS

  • Good direction from Alfred Hitchcock (who considered himself a “talented amateur” at this early point of his career), who proves more than capable of executing an intimate familial scene and large scale pieces to equal standards. The Albert Hall scene is very suspenseful and meticulously executed, while the film’s climax is slow-burn, edge of your seat stuff indeed.
  • Very good cinematography by Curt Courant, who utilises close-ups and wide shots equally well, and also makes very good use of point-of-view shots. Hugh Stewart’s editing is very tightly and meticulously crafted, meaning that the film is well executed technically.
  • Leslie Banks is a good lead, but the real star is Peter Lorre as primary antagonist Abbott. Lorre could not speak English when he joined the project and learnt his lines phonetically (no easy feat). His final performance is very sinister, while the otherworldly quality to it is both unsettling and rather chilling.

CONS

  • There are some pacing issues, which reflects the fact that Alfred Hitchcock was still at an early point in his directorial career and still developing his own voice. The first 10-15 minutes of the film feel just a little too rushed, whereas the climax is (fittingly) slow-burn.
  • There is one scene that is tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film and feels out of place – an over-the-top farcical scene in which Bob tries to protect himself from the criminal gang by throwing chairs at them.
  • The familial dynamic of the Lawrence family is quite surface-level, meaning that the emotional stakes of the film are a little lacking.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Hellboy (2019, Neil Marshall)

Hellboy (2019) theatrical poster.png

Supernatural-superhero film Hellboy is distributed by Lionsgate and based on the Dark Horse Comics character of the same name. Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is brought back to power after 1500 years and seeks to destroy mankind with her supernatural forces. Only Hellboy (David Harbour) can stop her, but prophetic visions indicate that his stopping her could cause the apocalypse. Can Hellboy find a way to stop her without causing the apocalypse?

PROS

  • Good use of make-up, and also of fake blood and injury detail in the fights.
  • David Harbour gives a suitably gruff turn as Hellboy, while Ian McShane is on fine form as ever as the (anti?-)hero’s adoptive father.

CONS

  • A highly convoluted film with a dull opening, shoddy pacing throughout and a hot mess of a climax (which has poorly realised emotional stakes) and an ending which is a blatant set-up for a franchise.
  • Poor concept art behind a lot of what comes to the screen, including a number of character designs, while the production design is rather shoddy with no real feeling of authenticity. Throw into the mix some appalling CGI and you have a film which is visually a real mess.
  • An appalling ensemble of characters, with a forgettable antagonist, ridiculous henchmen and cringe-worthy British stereotypes. There is a very poor standard to the supporting cast who play them, with a number of wooden performances, while having a Liverpudlian voice to Grugach the hog (Stephen Graham) is not in the slightest bit menacing.

VERDICT: 3/10

FILM: The Fat Spy (1966, Joseph Cates)

Fatspyposter.jpg

Z-movie The Fat Spy was made by Troma Entertainment. A swimsuit-clad group of teens head to a small island just off the coast of Florida for a scavenger hunt. The island, however, is believed to be home to the Fountain of Youth, and the island’s owner Wellington (Brian Donlevy) recruits his daughter Junior (Jayne Mansfield) to remove the teens from the island.

CONS

  • An appalling screenplay with very clunky, forced dialogue and an incredibly bare bones plot, with more focus on singing than character development. The characters are, of course, awful – heck, Jayne Mansfield’s Junior makes the dumb blonde stereotype that Marilyn Monroe played in the 1950s look like a certified genius.
  • The fact that most of the film either depicts the characters singing or the action happening with soundtrack playing over it makes the entire film feel like a series of cheap music videos, with the paper-thin plot existing solely to join them together.
  • Very sloppy cinematography by Joseph C. Brun, who at random points opts either for tilts the camera upside-down or on its side, while the editing is very rushed and thrown together with an overall very poor standard. The ultimate testament to the poor quality editing is that the dialogue and lip movement are not even in sync with each other *shudders uncontrollably*.
  • A unanimously appalling cast, with everyone either giving a very wooden turn or a very hammy turn. Furthermore, in multiple scenes an actor will either look at the camera or focus their gaze on something off-screen and seemingly read their lines off an auto-cue. That is not acting, that is an insult to the audience (at very best).

PROS

  • There are a couple of occasions where a character says exactly what the audience is thinking, the only worthwhile bits of dialogue in the entire 80 minutes.

VERDICT: 1/10