Just been watching…(44)

The Body (2012)
(Original Spanish language, English subtitles)

***No spoilers***

I make no secret of my love for foreign language films. I really like to discover new ones, those where the actors are unknown to me, and the story has an unusual slant. On first sight, this modern Spanish thriller takes a theme we have seen before, the theft of a woman’s body from the morgue. Then we see some events in flashback, setting the scene for how the body arrived in the first place. The detective in charge of the case has many familiar traits. He lost his wife in an accident, went off the rails, and has recently returned to work after therapy. Starting to sound depressingly familiar, I know.

But don’t be fooled. This is a taut thriller with superb pacing, and little is as it seems to be on the surface. The young husband of the dead woman is brought in for questioning, as the police seek some background as a reason why the body may have been stolen. He’s not a likable man, and the detective distrusts him immediately. Add to that the viewer is privy to many details seen in those flashbacks, and we have a cat and mouse game on our hands as the husband and the cop lock in a battle of wits.

More backstory is thrown into the mix. The detective’s daughter is now living in Berlin, and he hardly sees her. The husband has a young lover, one of his university students. And a mysterious unseen person seems to know everything that happened, leaving tantalising clues around the police station, much to the consternation of the increasingly worried husband. During a night of torrential rain, storms, and power cuts, the story unfolds in just the right way, never revealing too much or too little. The viewer is left in no doubt what has really happened. Or are they?

The final scene is a twist that is simply masterful. I certainly didn’t get it, and the way it unfolds is beautifully done. I haven’t seen a better ending since ‘The Usual Suspects’, so that’s high praise indeed. One of the best mystery thrillers I have seen in years, and highly recommended, if you can tolerate the subtitles. Here’s a trailer.


Just Been Watching…(43)

Lots of sport on TV at the moment, so I have had the chance to catch up on some neglected DVD purchases. I bought this used copy for less than £1, so didn’t expect too much.

Columbus Circle (2012)

***No spoilers***

A modern American thriller that on the surface at least, appears to offer nothing new. In the New York district of Columbus Circle, wealthy residents live in very expensive apartment blocks; their needs and whims catered to by devoted and obsequious doormen. The film starts in one such block, with the murder of an elderly resident. Hearing the news, Abigail, a young woman in the opposite apartment writes a letter to the management, asking if she can buy the property owned by the dead lady. She doesn’t want to move into it, she just wants to exclude the possibility of having neighbours.

The Police arrive to investigate, with one detective suspecting foul play, rather than the accident that everyone assures him was the cause. When attempting to interview the young woman opposite, he discovers that she is a recluse. She has never left her apartment, and not once left the building since the day she moved in. Everything she needs is brought in by the doorman, who happily fulfills all of her requests. When she eventually grants the detective an interview, she is unhelpful, and distant. This just makes him more interested, and he begins to delve into her past.

Cue the back story of a missing heiress, with a massive fortune. The media has been searching for her since she disappeared as a teenager, and her story reappears on the news now and again. Then a couple move into the apartment opposite, angering the young woman who wanted to buy it. She soon discovers that the attractive blonde neighbour, Lillian, is being physically abused by her hard-drinking boyfriend, and after a violent attack one night, Abigail reluctantly gives her shelter, and a shaky friendship begins. Lillian finds out that Abigail is terrified of leaving the apartment. Her years of seclusion have left her with agoraphobia, and she can’t even manage to walk out into the hallway. As well as the doorman, Klanderman, she relies on Raymond, a doctor who is an old family friend, for advice and support.

So far, nothing much, I agree. But then the film moves up a gear. It piles one twist upon another, and we are soon aware that Abigail may not only have that dark past, but she is also in danger from almost everyone that surrounds her. The conclusion is a satisfying double-twist, following some dramatic, and not always predictable events. The strengths of the film come from the excellent Giovanni Ribisi as the dogged detective, and co-writer Kevin Pollack, as the doorman who may not be all he seems. Add a small but important role for Beau Bridges as Raymond, the kindly doctor, and you are left with a competent thriller that ticks many boxes. The cast believe it, and I went with them at the end.

Not bad, for less than £1. Here’s the official trailer.

Just been watching…(42)

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

***No spoilers***

Not many westerns get made these days. I can see why, as almost every plot device and storyline has already been used, on countless occasions. This recent film takes a familiar theme, and delivers a solid take on the time-worn story of rescuing people kidnapped by a tribe of Indians. You might immediately think of ‘The Searchers’, John Ford’s classic, I know I did. But this is no elegiac tribute to the Old West, filmed in spectacular surroundings. This is a realistic, often brutal film that is more about endurance and determination, than heroism or culture. Thanks are due to my good friend Antony, who sent me this DVD as a gift.

Kurt Russell stars as Sheriff Hunt, looking like an older and grizzlier version of his portrayal of Wyatt Earp, in the film ‘Tombstone’. The small town is very small indeed, the saloon almost deserted, and no sign of dancing girls, or blowsy prostitutes. Hunt is helped by Deputy Nick, (Evan Jonigkeit) and by a lonely old man, Chicory, (Richard Jenkins) who is tolerated as a ‘backup Deputy’. The scene is set by Hunt being seen as a no-nonsense, shoot first and ask questions later sheriff, when dealing with the suspicious drifter, Purvis. (David Arquette)

Elsewhere in the town, we are introduced to the grumpy foreman, Mr O’Dwyer. (Patrick Wilson) He is stuck at home, recovering after breaking his leg when fixing the roof. His pretty wife Samantha (Lily Simmons) is caring for him, happy to have him around. She works as assistant to the town doctor, and has medical skills. When Hunt wounds the drifter, he asks the vain town dandy, Brooder, (Matthew Fox) to fetch Mrs O’Dwyer to tend to the wound, leaving her and the prisoner in the care of Deputy Nick.

The following morning, the stable boy is found dead, his body mutilated. When they go to the Sheriff’s Office, everyone has gone, and a single arrow gives the clue that Indians were involved. The Sheriff promises O’Dwyer that he will search for his wife, and Chicory insists on going too. Then Brooder also volunteers, claiming to be an expert Indian fighter who has killed many in the past. Mr O’Dwyer also demands to go, despite having his leg in a splint. They have to search in a forbidding desert area, told that a cannibalistic ancient tribe live there, people who communicate in sounds, instead of a spoken language.

The film now begins in earnest, with the difficult journey, problems encountered along the way, and the hopeless task ahead for this disparate band of would-be rescuers. When they finally find the lair of the cave-dwelling savages, things do not go exactly as planned, and they discover a fierce and brutal enemy nothing like they expected.

I liked this film for many reasons. Looking past the hackneyed theme, the characters are well-defined, with solid performances from the whole cast. The atmosphere is very well done, with the desert scenes having a suitably spooky and threatening feel. The fact that the group of rescuers hardly seems to be up to the task adds more realism, and the fierce Indians they encounter are genuinely terrifying. Despite Kurt Russell not really trying too hard, Richard Jenkins impresses greatly, with his portrayal of the sad widower, Chicory. And once again, Patrick Wilson shows just how good an actor he can be, given the right role. What I liked best though, was that this film did not settle for a conventional ending, and delivers its denouement with some style. Here is the official trailer.

Films or Music? : A conclusion

Now I have come to the end of my Musical A-Z, it’s time to give some thought to the process, and to compare it with my recent Film Challenge. Despite not publishing a post every day, I got through the music choices very quickly, with two letters a day on occasion.

The engagement on this challenge was great. I got a lot of feedback about my own choices, as well as a huge number of selections from those who left comments. Some kept it up through the whole alphabet, whilst others popped in and out, depending on the letter.

I was introduced to a fair number of singers and groups that I had never heard of, as well as being able to feature many songs or recording artists previously unknown to some readers. Thanks to You Tube, I rarely had to leave out a choice because I was unable to find a copy of the song. These posts were also faster to write up than the film posts, as much less research was required. As with the film posts, some letters were more popular than others, with a general fall off as the alphabet progressed, followed by a spike in views and comments for those letters with more options.

These challenges are enjoyable to do, as long as you are a fan of the content of course. Courtesy of the Internet, Wikipedia, and fan-based sites, it is easy to find out almost anything about singers or groups, as well as individual songs. I cannot imagine anyone being able to do this offline, without a whole library at their disposal, alongside a vast music or film collection.

So, which was the most popular, Film or Music?

Despite many of those commenting appearing on both challenges, Film was by far the most successful, in terms of readership and overall engagement. Film attracted almost three times as many daily views, and ten times as many new followers. Even during the Musical A-Z comments were still coming in on the Film Challenge, as well as ‘likes’ and follows based on those film posts.

It is far from scientific I confess, but as far as this blog is concerned, Film rules!

Thanks once again to everyone who played along with both challenges. They would never have worked, without your support.

Just been watching…(41)

Mea Culpa (2014) Original French language, English subtitles.

****No plot spoilers****

I happened to notice that this film was being shown on BBC TV the other night. I hadn’t heard of it, but the fact that it was French, and an action thriller, seemed good enough reasons to watch it.
And I was so glad that I did!

On the surface, there is nothing new here. Two friends, one a cop, one an ex-cop, and his former partner. One is a widower, bringing up his young daughter, the other disgraced after a drink-drive incident, unable to cope with the guilt, and separated from his wife and young son.

Vincent Lindon is Simon; grizzled, depressed, forced to find a job as a security guard, and unable to cope with the shame of his dismissal from the Police. Gilles Lellouche is Franck; also grizzled, sad at the death of his wife, struggling to hold down his job as a policeman, and bring up his daughter at the same time. The two friends keep in touch, they socialise, and they have bonded for life.
Then a series of gangland murders set a chain of events in motion, events that will change the lives of both men completely.

So, we have some mean East European gangsters moving in on the local crime scene. They are ruthless and cruel, and leave no witnesses behind. During one of their executions, the killing is witnessed by a young boy. That boy just happens to be Simon’s son, and the action begins…

How can this all add up to a really convincing, edge-of-the-seat thriller? Well believe me, it does. Everything about this film is economical. Breathless foot chases around the old town of Toulon, in southern France. Sudden and realistic shoot outs, convincing fights, and totally believable characters. A small cast, with most of it featuring in every scene, and even a car chase that isn’t really a chase, but is just as exciting. Added to all of that, the running time is remarkably economical too, at just 95 minutes. It goes to show how much you can pack in to such a tight film.

There are few slow-downs. Some flashback scenes set the back story, and there is occasional parental angst, as well as the obvious marital difficulties on display. But this film is essentially a relentless series of superb set-pieces; from the shoot-out outside a police station, to a hectic pursuit in a bullring, on to another bullet-fest in a busy nightclub, with a thrilling climax on board a speeding inter-city train. I felt worn out just watching it, and my attention never wandered for a second. And there is a great twist at the end, with a detailed ‘reveal’.
I didn’t see that coming, I can tell you.

This is simply a masterclass in how to make an action film grab a viewer’s attention, make them root for the good guys, and get lost in the whirlwind of action sequences. No CGI, no unrealistic scenarios, and no pointless love interest either. This is classy; a very good thing, in a small package. We might think we have seen it all before, and we have. But this is how it should have been done.

I loved it.

Ozflicks, Susan, and the A-Z Challenge

I have just been informed by Susan Toy, that Peter from Ozflicks has compiled a definitive list of every film mentioned in my recent A-Z Film Challenge. He has gone one step further, by making a note of every person who joined in, and the choices they made. This is seriously detailed, and I am sure will be of interest to everyone who played along over the 27 days of that challenge. Here is a link to the list.


I have to once again thank Susan Toy for all her hard work, and now add those thanks to Peter, who didn’t even tell me he had done it! There are over 1,000 separate film recommendations, and a huge list of suggestions for any aspiring film buffs, or existing fans of film and cinema.

Things like this are really heartwarming, and confirm my belief that the best thing about blogging is being part of a great online community.

beetleypete’s A-Z Film Challenge … The List: A-L

Susan Toy has compiled a list of all my recommendations from the recent A-Z Film Challenge. She has also added every film choice from all those who commented, and made a complete list, in two parts. Here’s part one, with my sincere thanks to Susan for her real labour of love.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

During the Merrie Month of May, I discovered (through friend Felicity Harley’s reblogging of it) a series of posts by a new-to-me UK blogger, beetleypete, titled A-Z Film Challenge. I was late coming into the challenge with my own suggestions (I didn’t begin commenting until around the “L” post, I think), but I was pleased to see that Pete’s series had already attracted a great deal of attention and further recommendations from his blog’s readers that it seemed as though a real online “party” was going on! I also discovered in short time that Pete has an extensive knowledge of World Cinema (which I particularly enjoy) and had many of the same experiences of seeing films for the first time when he was growing up in England as I had growing up in Canada. Turns out we’re just about the same age. While Pete and I mainly agreed on…

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