Dial M For Murder (1954)
This Hitchcock-directed film, based on a stage play, centres around a successful golfer’s plot to have his unfaithful wife murdered, and what happens when things don’t go according to plan. I felt this film was especially well written; there’s some clever and compelling conversations throughout. Tony, the murderous husband, has to do a lot of improvising under pressure, and there are some well-placed Chekhov’s Guns here and there. As foreshadowed by the wife’s lover – who is a crime novelist – it ends up being various little things that muck up the grand plan and create tension, which continues to build in the subsequent police investigation. The cinematography is impressive, given that most of the film takes place in one room; and so is the acting, particularly from Grace Kelly as the wife.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Here, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen play Bob and Charlotte, two lonely characters who form a relationship while both visiting Japan. This film does so many things really well. Both characters find themselves isolated in an alien environment, but this element is handled subtly; the first scene of Bob alone in his hotel room will feel pretty familiar for anyone who’s travelled alone. But there’s plenty to like about their surroundings as well: the film really delves into Japan’s unique atmosphere and multiple facets, almost feeling like a travelogue. The chemistry between Bob and Charlotte is unforced, with simple non-cliche affection, and you’re not sure just where the relationship is going to lead; there are quite a few very lovely scenes between them which don’t even have any dialogue. It’s not entirely clear what the story or the message is; there are no big insights or resolutions; and some people might get bored watching the film, but I never did. I was really charmed watching Bob and Charlotte’s journey together, and I’d actually like to visit Japan now.
Kenneth Branagh both directs this adaptation of the Shakespeare play, and stars as the title character – and he handles both with typical excellence. Despite it being not quite clear what era the film is meant to be set in – it seems vaguely late 19th or early 20th century, with even a steam engine turning up at one point – this is a really grand spectacle with impressive showpieces. It succeeds in adding its own unique character interpretations and setting elements to the existing script, which not all Shakespeare adaptations do; every scene has its own strong atmosphere, like the awkwardness in the theatre performance. The acting is top-notch: there’s passion and appropriate emotion in every line delivery. Branagh himself produces a manic, fast-talking, quirky Hamlet whose mood changes constantly. Another highlight is Derek Jacobi as Claudius; even though he’s technically the villain, it’s rather hard to dislike him because he’s presented so charismatically. This adaptation hits all the buttons, and is a must-see for any fan of Shakespeare.
This film, directed by James Cameron, is often cited as one of the relatively few sequels which is better than the first film. That’s certainly true: I found the original Alien too slow-paced for my liking. But while Aliens is certainly a good film, I didn’t feel it was anything really special. It produces a good setup – a group of Marines taking on a whole hive of xenomorphs – that certainly promises more action than the first film. There’s some excellent tension, and I enjoyed the mix of characters and their chemistry with each other, but I didn’t feel it fully delivered on the action, which could have been a bit more inspired. I did enjoy the final fight between the alien queen and Ripley in the loader, however.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, this Western was directed by Sergio Leone, and features Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name. Here, the character finds himself in a little town where two families are at war, and begins stirring things up himself in the hopes of getting something out of it. Eastwood’s character is easily the best thing about the film. He doesn’t exactly have complex motivations; he’s just an anonymous guy, passing through, looking for opportunity where it comes up. As he shoots four men dead and then ignores the threats of the sheriff, you can see how he could have inspired many future action heroes. He successfully plays both sides in the conflict, and while he doesn’t seem to care all that much about the innocent people caught in the middle, he does eventually prove to have something of a heart. Unfortunately, the Man with No Name is far more entertaining than anything else around him – both the other characters, and the overall story. Aside from the climax, I wasn’t really compelled by the other elements of the film; I felt that The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was a much more effective construction, with much more to like besides Eastwood.
This vampire film takes place in a world where a plague has turned most of the human population into vampires, while humans either hide in the shadows or are farmed for their blood. It’s certainly a good concept, and it gets taken in some interesting and logical directions: one of the film’s central conflicts is that vampires are actually running out of blood to drink and are searching desperately for a substitute – and, naturally, it’s vampire businessmen who are running things. The film is more compelling for being set mostly from a vampire’s point of view – though the main character, Edward (Ethan Hawke), does end up tangling with the human resistance. The nature of the film’s vampires is used for some cool action sequences, like a car chase during the daytime where Edward is trying to avoid beams of sunlight entering the car; plus there’s the fact that these vampires explode in flames when you pierce their hearts. I did have a few nitpicks with Daybreakers: the story is ultimately more interesting than the characters in it, and while I liked the concept of blood-deprived vampires turning into wild bat-like monsters, they’re not really utilised to any serious purpose overall. Still, an inventive and enjoyable entry in the vampire genre.