#224 – South Side Pick Up

(2012, US, 97 min) Dir John Moore. Cast Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan.

It’s 2008 in the kind of unnamed American city you see in films where it’s raining all the time. The financial crisis is unfolding – we know this because helpfully everyone’s either listening to the radio or sitting in the same room as a television ticker-taping the slow motion stock market crash. LaBeouf is the cocky but inept Harrison who has, through some unknown connection, landed himself a job with the local mob which is headed by Caan’s Jimmy Burch and enforced by Oldman’s businesslike Caspar O’Neill. His job is to jack cars – his area, the South Side. His prey, the rich. In his downtime O’Neill takes him on rides about the neighbourhood while he ‘runs errands’ and espouses his philosophy – of course his philosophy has a certain parallel with the ethos of the banks currently under investigation. This is nothing new of course – the idea of mobsters representing the capitalist id of America is a notion as old as the hills so it’s doubly embarrassing when a film like this comes along thinking it’s had an original thought. The fact that the film has also been blessed with a title that it almost certainly intentionally evocative of the great Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street only adds to it’s shortcomings. A smart-looking but conventionally shot film with LaBeouf as good as can be expected, Oldman on old ham form and Thirlby wasted as the worrying girlfriend awaiting inevitable peril to be rescued from.

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#223 – Ladies on Parade

(1958, US, 93 min) Dir Blake Edwards. Cast Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Martha Hyer, Norma Varden

Dean Martin and Tony Curtis are a pair of big gambling, swinging bachelors who elect to skip town ahead of their debts on a transatlantic cruiser with the scheme of hitting the tables of the French Riviera and winning big to pay back their debts. Also on board, luckily for them, are the American contenders for the International Lady competition. Amourous highjinks ensue with the two men trying their best to woo under the nose of the ladies chaperone (Varden). Of course despite having a boatload of beauties to choose from, the two men inevitably fall for the same woman – the morally upright and untouchable Patricia Lewis (Hyer). Further highjinks ensue. A candy-coloured comedy which lets up it’s breakneck pace only for a couple numbers from Dino. Martin and Curtis make a fine double act too, full of genuine cameraderie. The screwball finale in the Casino Magnifique where the two men try to make their winnings while constantly running upstairs to compete for Patricia’s affections as she competes for the role of Queen International Lady is a classic.

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#222 – Man-Ant, The

(1947, US, 73 min, b/w) Dir Ray McCarey. Cast George Brent, Boris Karloff, Anna Lee.

Due to be Val Lewton’s next film for RKO following Beldlam with pre-production completed by him and his regular collaborator Mark Robson, it was picked up by B director McCarey (with this his last picture before his death the following year) following Lewton’s dismissal from the studio. While not up to the standard of Lewton’s other RKO productions such as Cat People or I Walked With a Zombie it’s still a fun addition to the studio’s repetoir of the fantastic. Brent plays one Professor Radley Hammond whose courtship of Dolores Pearson (Lee) brings the ire of her father, the well-regarded but undeniably mad scientist Dr Lawrence Pearson (Karloff). Dr Pearson reacts to the news of their engagement in the manner one would expect of an unhinged man of science – he slips the prospective groom one of his experimental formulas in his celebratory drink which shrinks the unfortunate man down to the size of, you guessed it, an ant. Cue lots of fantastically huge props and a great chase scene involving the fleeing miniature man and an enraged household cat. Good fun, like I say, though one can’t help but wonder what the finished product would have been like had Lewton and Robson been able to complete it themselves – surely a great more vim would have been instilled into proceedings, especially in a baggy first half.

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#221 – Wichita

(1987, US, 104 min) Dir Gary Schmaltzer. Cast Tom Hanks.

Before he was stranded alone on an island in Castaway a pre-America’s Everyman/modern day Jimmy Stewart Tom Hanks was stranded alone in a new house in Wichita, a film probably best remembered for its TV ad campaign – a dark screen with someone whispering, with increasing urgency, “Wichita! Wichita!! Wichita!!!” followed by a shot of Hanks’ terrified face. Here he is Jim Grady, loving husband and father, whose family are moving to a new house in – yes, you guessed it – Wichita, Kansas. While his wife stays in New York with the kids packing up their things he’s in the new place overseeing the repairs. As the film starts he’s waving goodbye to the workmen leaving him in the house with just the family dog for company. He cracks open a beer and heats a tin of beans for dinner with the sun going down outside the window, talking away to Jake the dog the whole time in a terrifically funny and sustained one-sided conversation. That’s when the noises start and the light hearted banter ends. Is it an intruder? Are there supernatural secrets to this old house? The film keeps the viewers guessing an admirably long time. It’s a bit of an oddity for Hanks, sandwiched as it was between Dragnet and Big, though it nonetheless shows his serious acting chops being fleshed out in anticipation of later dramatic fare and in fact a late scene in the film in which he breaks down to a police officer is eerily prescient of the final scene in 2013’s Captain Philips.

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#220 – Night Driving

(1978, US, 111 min) Dir Jack Blackstaff. Cast Omar Sharif.

Northern Irish director Blackstaff elected to follow the Death Wish bandwagon jumping of Anvil Strikes! with Night Driving, seemingly designed by the producers to race the same year’s Convoy to theatres. Apparently uninterested in the plot of their film however, so long as it had trucks and CB lingo in it, they were presented with this supernatural number, surely the strangest entry in Omar Sharif’s CV and atypical of Blackstaff’s usual work. Sharif plays a cross-country trucker by the name of Joe Waylon and as the name might suggest the subject of his nationality and race are never mentioned – so far as the film’s concerned Sharif’s just another red-blooded American trucker and I’m not sure this is progressive or of Blackstaff couldn’t be bothered with a rewrite. Anyway – he’s pulling an all-nighter to get to the west coast through the Nevada hills when he’s cut off by another truck, all black and driving hell for leather with no lights on. In no time it’s vanished into the dark. Joe pulls in at the next stop and is greeted icily when he mentions this reckless driver. Perturbed, he carries on only to find that wherever he goes it seems he can see the black truck always up ahead and just out of reach. He races on, ever faster, trying to catch it. A deeply odd film that’s a strange blend of the existential road movie like of Two Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point and the supernatural. Despite the potential for ridiculousness (and a generous frame of mind helps when watching) a committed performance from Sharif makes a little go a long way.

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#219 – Moon and the Moth, The

(1961, Egy, 78 min) Dir Ezzel El-Hamed. Cast Omar Sharif, Soad Hosny.

A bizarrely fantastical film from El-Hamed, best known for his street level social realist dramas, starring the soon to be world-famous Sharif and the “Cinderella of Egyptian cinema” Hosny. Based on the scraps of poetry remaining of the “Desert Poet” known rather mysteriously as only Ibn or “son of”. Sharif plays an unnamed nomad who, one night in an unfamiliar country, spies a similarly unnamed princess in the high tower of her father’s palace and falls instantly in love. But, as is the way with such things, her father isn’t big on their union and summons a man of magic to transform his daughter into something else rather than have her endure a relationship with a commoner. This man of magic, for reasons best known to himself, decides that a moth would be a good idea and thus she is confined to an exquisite glass cage in that form. Of course it breaks and she escapes and Sharif is accordingly doomed to spend the rest of his life searching as far and as wide as he can to try to find the one moth that he loves. It looks as though his life’s search will be in vain when, as an old man, he collapses at the foot of an impassable dune, his eyes closing in the face of an oncoming storm. When he opens them again however he finds himself on the moon – his beloved princess has travelled there in the night, to the brightest object in the sky, where she transforms back for him and the two of them kiss, as young again as they were when they met. A beautiful tale well told and the fact that it plays out in near silence is a definite boon considering the expressiveness of the leads.

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#218 – Christmas is About Jesus

(2014, US, 92 min) Dir Raoul Acton. Cast Jimmy Grits, Feluza Marks, Mark Yorker-Clipse.

Humourless polemic masquerading as a cack-handed action film (and entertainingly advertised, as per the director, as “An Acton Film”) memorably described by reviewer Pan Nicholls as “Taken for Christ”. The time is now and Leo Clay (Grits) has returned from defending the country against the godless in the desert heat of some nameless Middle Eastern country and has decided to do something about the rising tide of atheism in the country he loves. He’s going to militarise the War Against Christmas. The fight begins at his local supermarket that won’t put up decorations for fear of offending the non-Christians. Now, I don’t know where in the world this shop is since I’ve never been in a shop at Christmas that isn’t floor to ceiling with festive tat, blaring seasonal music and slathered with more tinsel and lights than two sane eyes can cope with. But I digress – the determined Clay has soon taken his message all the way to the top of the liberal media’s ivory tower where he can shoot at the hand that pulls the puppet strings and strike a blow at the heart of the Global Conspiracy. One gets the idea that the script was written in all caps. Terribly shot, scored, acted and not very violent, it will no doubt entertain the similarly deluded but everyone else will leave bored and/or angry.

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