Elevator to the Scaffold

Julien with knife trying to escape

Lean, spare and elegant, Elevator to the Gallows isn’t so lucky when it comes to titles. It also turns up as Elevator to the Scaffold, Lift to the Scaffold (particularly in the UK) and even Frantic (says the IMDb, though this must be vanishingly unusual). Or, in the original French Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. It’s Louis Malle’s debut. He was only 24 at the time. And the plot is simple but fiendish. A man seen in opening shots on the phone arranging to meet his lover Florence (Jeanne Moreau) first has to deal with some business at work. Namely, killing his boss and making it look like suicide. Murder most foul accomplished, Julien (Maurice … Read more

Bad Times at the El Royale

Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee

The “who’s zooming who” thriller of the 1990s rides again in 2018’s Bad Times at the El Royale, one of those epics where, by the end, almost everyone is dead and the building is in flames yet barely a spark of emotion has been generated. That is probably the intention. Instead writer/director Drew Goddard wants us to admire the spectacle, and gasp as he piles dialogue on top of plot on top of wayward characters and vainglorious allegory, switching timelines, digressing, flashing back, hopping from one “lead” protagonist to another as he goes – oh no, he’s dead – and generally having a fun old time in a big, kitsch, faintly ridiculous but very enjoyable … Read more

Battles without Honor and Humanity

Bunta Sugawara as Hirono

Never mind Battles without Honor and Humanity, how about battles that make some sense? There’s lots to love in Kinji Fukasaku’s 1973 gangster movie – the first of a five-part series of “Battles” movies he’d make in two years (amazingly) – but coherence isn’t high on the list. It’s often called the Japanese Godfather, and there’s plenty of that in there. But there’s also Goodfellas, since it’s the story of a guy, Hirono, an ex-soldier who (actually) never always wanted to be a gangster. But once this smalltime criminal has landed in trouble with the law he finds himself sharing a prison cell with a yakuza guy. Once invited to join, he is … Read more

The Room

Kate and Matt

Weirdo sci-fi The Room has plot to spare and every time it feels like it’s about to hit a dead end of genre familiarity, the cul de sac reveals itself to be a road to somewhere else. The first “dead end” comes early on. After a boastful credit sequence during which much has been made of the fact that this is an “original idea by Christian Volckman”, with “written by” input by blah, and “collaboration and dialogs” by blah and blah, a strangely familiar story appears to get going. A couple who have moved out of the city and bought a doer-upper in upstate New York. They unload boxes, they throw old furniture … Read more


Katherine Borowitz and John Turturro

Bold and unusual and entirely itself it may be, but Illuminata isn’t entirely successful as a film. Strange as it may seem, maybe writer/director/producer/actor John Turturro wants it that way. This was only his second movie behind the camera and, being an actor of some renown, he was able to call in some of the finest talent of the day (1998) to help him get this love letter to thespianism, and in particular the live theatre, off the ground. All the world’s a stage and the stage is a world in this busy adaptation of Brandan Cole’s play Imperfect Love, a Shakespeare in Love meets Noises Off backstage farce following the comings and … Read more

Backwards Faces

Andrew Morra and Lennon Sickels

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, Jean-Luc Godard said, stealing/borrowing DW Griffith’s axiom. What, even to make a multiverse movie? When Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness started being eclipsed by Everything Everywhere All at Once last year, critically at first, with the box office catching up, Jamie Lee Curtis was all over the twittersphere saying how proud she was of their “little movie”, which was made for a fraction of the Dr Strange budget. Remember those posts as you watch Backwards Faces, a debut movie by director/writer/producer/editor/publicist Chris Aresco which somehow wrangles a multiverse movie out of a girl, a gun, a guy and … Read more

Storm Warning

Hank, Lucy and Marsha

Doris Day and Ginger Rogers meet the Ku Klux Klan in 1951’s Storm Warning, a noirish crime drama strangely silent on the most salient aspects of Klan activity but with things to say about the mob mindset and liberal American values nonetheless. It rattles along at around 93 minutes, with the focus mainly on Rogers, who plays a travelling clothes model arriving in the town where her sister (Day) lives and looking forward to seeing her sister for the first time since little sis got married. She arrives late and immediately something is off in this dark town, where everything curiously quiet. The lights are going off in shops. A cab driver refuses … Read more


Kevin Janssens as Patrick

So, Patrick (aka De Patrick), a film set in a Belgian nudist camp about a guy who’s lost his hammer. That’s it. He’s lost his hammer and he wants to know who’s taken it. Patrick has seven hammers which normally sit on the wall in their designated slots. Now there’s a space in the middle where one of them should be, and Patrick is upset about it. Or he would be if he showed any emotion at all, beyond a furious beetling of the brows. Patrick may be on the autism spectrum, it’s hard to say, or he might just be dealing with a long-term trauma. Either way he doesn’t go in for … Read more

Pépé le Moko

Gaby, Pépé and Slimane

One of the great French “poetic realist” movies of the 1930s, Pépé le Moko is also a chance to see Jean Gabin at Peak Gabin, as the much-admired, much-feared man all men want to be and all women want to be with – as the saying goes. He’s a good bad guy, a kind of Robin Hood, but whereas Robin was happy in Sherwood Forest, Pépé is beginning to bridle at his confinement in French colonial Algiers, in the Casbah, the ramshackle part of town that’s a no-go area for the colonial authorities, who badly want Pépé but can’t touch him while he’s on his turf. Homesick Pépé’s yearning for the sights, sounds … Read more

Cocaine Bear

The bear on the rampage

As “the title is the movie” movies go, Cocaine Bear is up there with Snakes on a Plane. Plot: a large shipment of cocaine falls out of a plane and a black bear gets hold of it, tries it and likes it. It’s very moreish. Addicted, she (it’s a lady bear) is soon on a stimulant-induced rampage through the national park where she lives, in search of more of the parcel-taped bundles containing the precious white powder… and woe betide any human who gets in the way. It was just Samuel L Jackson in Snakes on a Plane but there are a whole bunch of people at the wrong end of an angry bear … Read more