HANK’S RECOMMENDATIONS 9/25/12

WHAT CONTEMPORARY FILMS HAVE LOST ALONG THE WAY

THE DARK MIRROR — Olivia De Havilland (ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE HEIRESS, THE SNAKE PIT), screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (GRAPES OF WRATH, THE DIRTY DOZEN, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, THE THREE FACES OF EVE) and director Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, CRISS CROSS)—the latter having been recently profiled by The New York Times as an under-sung pioneer of film noir—have combined forces in this film about Ruth and Terry, diabolically contrasting identical twin sisters.

A lawyer has been murdered in his office in the building in which one of the sisters tends a lobby candy and magazine kiosk. The latter, Ruth, has been pegged by several witnesses as the prime suspect, having left the office just prior to the body’s discovery. Or is it her sister, Terry, who was seen?

What had seemed initially an open and shut case proves a detective’s dilemma. The sisters, who look exactly alike—and even dress alike—refuse to cooperate. One is certainly the suspect; the other is at least guilty of obstruction of justice. But the police can’t force a person to testify and they can’t prosecute an innocent person in order to get the guilty one.

“You’re going to let them get away with it,” laments the frustrated detective (Thomas Mitchell) to the D.A. “What can I do…?” the latter responds. “You haven’t a witness who can tell one girl from the other. With a set up like that it would just be waste of time taking them to court.”

Enter the handsome psychiatrist who specializes in the study of twins and to whose researches Ruth and Terry have playfully subjected themselves. In the course of the good doctor’s testing, he’s falling for one of them. Or is he falling into a fatal trap?

Is one of the sisters, in this twisty film, an insane and murderous manipulator? Is the other one, should she become nervous, in danger for her own life? De Havilland puts in a tour de force performance parlaying two personalities that seem exactly the same but are, in fact, murderously different. Initially they wear name broaches so we can tell them apart, until De Havilland’s acting takes over for some subtle and then menacingly crucial distinctions. In fact, the film is fun as well as tense and, at times, scary. The beginning titles are presented over a series of Rorschach patterns. The manner in which De Havilland is directed in this pre-CGI special effects era has both “twins” appear simultaneously and seamlessly as they dialogue and plot together and appear with other characters onscreen. Above all, the movie is eminently satisfying. As my wife noted right after the beginning of the film (and having also recently seen HIGH NOON, with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly), “These old films get right to it. I already know a lot. The characters are great and the story’s so interesting. There’s not a thing wasted.”

Amen to all that. It’s why the film classics prevail.

HANK’S RECOMMENDATIONS 9/18/12

HEADHUNTERS — The cover art makes the film look like just another cheap mystery thriller. In fact, the film inside offers many surprises, with offbeat characters and plot turns that you’ve never seen before.

The movie is adapted from a Jo Nesbo novel not available in translation. For those who don’t yet know who Jo Nesbo is, he’s the best-selling, compellingly efficient Norwegian thriller writer who’s inherited the mantle of Stieg Larsson, the late and legendary author of the “Millennium Trilogy” that includes THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

In this adaptation that adds more than a dollop of wit to the bleak, menacing formula of Scandinavian thrillers, a successful CEO headhunter named Roger uses his interviews with well-heeled jobseekers to assess their personal assets and then burgle their art, replacing it with a forgery.

Roger’s personal life is a forgery as well. Though in love with his wife, on whom he lavishes money for her art galley, he is also a philanderer; though he lives for money, his pretentious lifestyle has drained him of it.

He finds his own chance for monetary redemption in the opportunity to steal a Rubens. The owner is a retired CEO whom Roger seduces into a job interview, and who turns out to be a more than competent adversary: a former special-forces veteran and military pentathlon winner whose expertise is tracking people with microfiber transmitters. He also has an “artful” relationship with Roger’s wife, and a dog he’s bringing in from the Netherlands who’s not simply a household pet.

This is a film in which everyone keeps secrets from everyone else, and where everyone’s sleek, self-satisfied veneer of competence is no bulwark against one thing going wrong after another.

Above all, it’s a sleeper of a thriller whose secret I’m sharing with you, dear viewer.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL — This is a movie that needs no introduction as it has received pervasive promotion, excellent reviews and, indeed, many requests from you. For those reasons its arrival warrants mention. (I also promised my wife I’d mention it since she liked it so much.)

Directed by John Madden (ETHAN FROME; PRIME SUSPECT: THE LOST CHILD [with Helen Mirren]; several INSPECTOR MORSE episodes; HER MAJESTY, MRS. BROWN; SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE; CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN [with pre-action hero Nicolas Cage], PROOF; THE DEBT), Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sports an exemplary British cast: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith (lately of DOWNTON ABBEY fame), along with the excellent Indian actor Dev Patel, the naïve and struggling owner of the eponymous hotel.

Here (as if you already didn’t know) a disparate group of British seniors whose lives have run out in England find revivified opportunities as well as cultural challenges in India. The film is about not going so “gently into that good night,” and while, in the end, it does resolve itself far too easily, it is cleverly written, colorfully located and, as mentioned, boasts a cast to die for (so to speak).

HANK’S RECOMMENDATIONS, 09/11/12

Mike Wheatley, our longest-standing staff member, has been producing and moderating bi-weekly Sunday Kid’s Matinees in our Performance Space behind our coffee bar. The venues have been full and it’s been great to hear kids laughing their heads off at films they otherwise probably wouldn’t watch: animation by Chuck Jones and the Fleischer Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and other stars of slapstick, Albert Lamorisse’s THE RED BALLOON. The events are for “kids of all ages,” so there are plenty of adults in the audience who are no doubt recollecting their own first encounters with such great entertainments.

Here’s a movie I’m hoping Mike will one day feature: it’s one of my all time favorites. It’s memorably entertaining and has – as with most good science fiction – more than a touch of profundity.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN — This is a film whose title seems jokey (indeed, it inspired a funny parody in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN, with Lily Tomlin), but in fact offers one of science fiction’s most thought provoking stories and masterfully written scripts.

Robert Scott Carey, a nice average guy in a happy suburban marriage, is enjoying a day off on his pleasure boat when he is enveloped by a mysterious radioactive cloud (this film was made in the cautionary 50s) that soon after causes him to begin to shrink. Over a short period of time his clothes no longer fit, his marriage ring falls off. Eventually he becomes the sensation of newspaper headlines and winds up living in a dollhouse in constant fear of the prowling house cat.

The only thing that grows is his own alienation and sense of personal tragedy. As he continues to shrink and the film moves toward its non-Hollywood mystical ending, we are treated to both poignant dramatic scenes and clever and amusing special effects: his encounter with a beautiful circus midget, his battle with a “giant” spider for a crumb of bread, the ever larger household props (chairs, pencil, match box in which he sleeps) that ultimately envelop his ever diminutive form. This movie, ultimately about the value of things however small and “insignificant”—s perfect for kids of all ages from six or seven on up and will doubtless continue to haunt them as they grow up.