Fifty Shades Darker (2017) / D: James Foley / 118m
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Kim Basinger
Rating: 4/10 – Christian Grey (Dornan) successfully woos back Anastasia Steele (Johnson), tries to go “straight” in the bedroom, and then narrowly avoids an attempt on his life – and that’s it for Round Two; flashy and trashy at the same time, Fifty Shades Darker continues the series’ commitment to providing two hours of inane, tedium-inducing material each time, and by never going as far as it might in the sexual activity department, making this yet another slickly produced teaser for the real thing.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016) / D: Roger Spottiswoode / 103m
Cast: Luke Treadaway, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head, Darren Evans, Beth Goddard, Ruth Sheen, Caroline Goodall, Bob the Cat
Rating: 7/10 – a recovering drug addict and talented busker, James Bowen (Treadaway), adopts a cat he calls Bob and in doing so finds a reason to stay off drugs and rebuild his life – with unexpected results; though A Street Cat Named Bob charts a particularly diffcult period in the life of the real James Bowen, the movie avoids being too depressing by emphasising the bond between Bob and his musician “owner”, and by resolutely aiming for feelgood, something at which it succeeds with a great deal of charm, and thanks to an endearing performance from Treadaway.
The Woman from China (1930) / D: Edward Dryhurst / 82m
Cast: Julie Suedo, Gibb McLaughlin, Frances Cuyler, Tony Wylde, Kiyoshi Takase
Rating: 7/10 – a Chinese criminal, Chung-Li (McLaughlin), kidnaps the girlfriend (Cuyler) of a ship’s lieutenant (Wylde) in order to satisfy his lust for her, but doesn’t reckon on one of his accomplices (Suedo) having feelings of her own for the same ship’s lieutenant; a late in the day silent movie, The Woman from China is a British production that has a Dickensian feel to it, narrowly avoids stereotyping its villain (very narrowly), and thanks to Dryhurst’s talent as a writer as well as a director, remains a well crafted thriller that is ripe for rediscovery.
We Go On (2016) / D: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton / 85m
Cast: Annette O’Toole, Clark Freeman, Giovanna Zacarías, Jay Dunn, Laura Heisler, John Glover
Rating: 5/10 – Miles (Freeman) is terrified of dying and wants incontrovertible proof of life after death, so he offers a reward to anyone who can provide it, but the responses he gets aren’t exactly what he was expecting; a paranoid chiller that doesn’t quite have the focus it needs to be interesting throughout, We Go On nevertheless contains some really creepy moments, and a fiercely maternal performance from O’Toole that elevates the material whenever she’s on screen, but overall it falls short in too many areas, and particularly the way in which it’s been assembled, which leaves it feeling haphazard and hastily stitched together.
Yukon Vengeance (1954) / D: William Beaudine / 68m
Cast: Kirby Grant, Chinook, Monte Hale, Mary Ellen Kay, Henry Kulky, Carol Thurston, Parke McGregor, Fred Gabourie
Rating: 4/10 – when a lumber company’s wages keep being stolen while en route to the nearest town, Canadian Mountie Rod Webb (Grant) and his faithful sidekick Chinook are sent to investigate; a remake of Wilderness Mail (1935), Yukon Vengeance is also the last in a series of ten movies Grant and Chinook made together between 1949 and 1954, and is pleasant enough if you go in not expecting too much, but it’s hampered by poor performances from Hale and Kay, uninterested direction from Beaudine (usually much more reliable), and material that offers no surprises whatsoever (though that shouldn’t be a surprise either).
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) / D: Kirby Dick / 98m
With: Kirby Dick, Kimberly Peirce, Matt Stone, John Waters, Kevin Smith, Maria Bello, Wayne Kramer, David Ansen, Mary Harron, Allison Anders
Rating: 6/10 – moviemaker Kirby Dick decides to try and find out just what goes on behind the secretive doors of the Motion Picture Association of America, and hires a private investigator to do so, while also eliciting the opinions of moviemakers who have had run-ins with the MPAA; Dick adopts a partisan approach to the material, but in the end, This Film Is Not Yet Rated doesn’t discover anything that viewers couldn’t have worked out for themselves without seeing it, and wastes a lot of time with Dick’s choice of private investigator as they sit outside the MPAA offices and take down car number plates for very little return (both investigative and cinematic).
The Claydon Treasure Mystery (1938) / D: H. Manning Haynes / 64m
Cast: John Stuart, Garry Marsh, Annie Esmond, Campbell Gullan, Evelyn Ankers, Aubrey Mallalieu, Finlay Currie, Joss Ambler, Richard Parry, Vernon Harris, John Laurie
Rating: 5/10 – following a disappearance and a murder, crime writer Peter Kerrigan (Stuart) becomes involved in a centuries old mystery at a country house, while attempting to work out just who is willing to kill to benefit from said mystery; what could have been a nimble little murder mystery is let down by Haynes’ solemn direction, and too much repetition in the script, but The Claydon Treasure Mystery does feature a handful of entertaining performances and a clever solution to the mystery.
Delayed Action (1954) / D: John Harlow / 58m
Cast: Robert Ayres, June Thorburn, Alan Wheatley, Bruce Seton, Michael Balfour
Rating: 5/10 – a suicidal man (Ayres) agrees to play the part of a businessman to meet the crooked demands of another (Wheatley), and forfeit his life at the end of the agreement, but doesn’t reckon on having a reason to live – a woman (Thorburn) – when the time comes; a sprightly little crime drama, Delayed Action never really convinces the viewer that Ayres’ character would agree so readily to the offer made to him, and Ayres himself is a less than convincing actor in the role, but the short running time helps, and Wheatley’s arrogant, preening master criminal is the movie’s trump card.
The Night of the Party (1935) / D: Michael Powell / 61m
aka The Murder Party
Cast: Malcolm Keen, Jane Baxter, Ian Hunter, Leslie Banks, Viola Keats, Ernest Thesiger, Jane Millican, W. Graham Brown, Muriel Aked
Rating: 5/10 – at a dinner party, hated newspaper proprietor Lord Studholme (Keen) is murdered, but which one of the many guests – all of whom had reason to kill him – actually did the deed, and why?; Powell was still finding his feet as a director when he made The Night of the Party, and though much of it looks like a filmed stage play (which it was), it’s exactly the movie’s staginess that robs it of a lot of energy, and stops it from becoming as involving and engaging as other movies of its ilk, and that’s despite some very enjoyable performances indeed.
Office Christmas Party (2016) / D: Josh Gordon, Will Speck / 105m
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park
Rating: 5/10 – with their office being threatened with closure, manager Clay (Miller) and several of his staff decide to throw a massive Xmas party in the hope that it will help secure a contract with businessman Walter Davis (Vance) and so save everyone’s jobs; only fitfully amusing, Office Christmas Party probably sounded great as an idea, but in practice it strays too far from the original concept, and has its cast going firmly through the motions in their efforts to raise a laugh, although McKinnon (once again) stands out as an HR manager who makes being uptight the funniest thing in the whole misguided mess of a movie.
The Marine 5: Battleground (2017) / D: James Nunn / 91m
Cast: Mike Mizanin, Anna Van Hooft, Nathan Mitchell, Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Heath Slater, Naomi, Sandy Robson
Rating: 4/10 – now a paramedic, Jake Carter (Mizanin) finds himself trapped in an underground car park and fending off a motorcycle gang who are trying to kill the injured man (Mitchell) who has just killed their leader; five movies in and WWE Films have used a low budget/low return formula to ensure that The Marine 5: Battleground remains a dreary, leaden-paced “action” movie that features a lot more WWE Superstars than usual, more glaring plot holes than you can shove the Big Show through, and proof if any were needed that playing hyper-realised athletes every week isn’t a good training ground for acting in the movies, no matter how hard WWE tries to make it seem otherwise.
Incarnate (2016) / D: Brad Peyton / 91m
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, David Mazouz, Keir O’Donnell, Matt Nable, Emily Jackson, Tomas Arana
Rating: 4/10 – a scientist-cum-paranormal investigator (Eckhart) can induce himself into the minds of people possessed by demons and cast them out, but he comes up against a stronger adversary than any he’s encountered before: the demon that took the lives of his wife and son; a neat twist on a standard possession/exorcism movie, Incarnate suffers from the kind of muddled plotting, heavyhanded sermonising, and stereotypical characterisations that hamper all these variations on a horror movie theme, and in doing so, marks itself out as another nail in the coffin of Eckhart’s mainstream career, and a movie that lacks substance, style, wit, and credibility.
Crime Doctor (1943) / D: Michael Gordon / 66m
Cast: Warner Baxter, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Ray Collins, Harold Huber, Don Costello, Leon Ames, Dorothy Tree
Rating: 7/10 – a man (Baxter) found unconscious at the side of the road wakes with no memory of his past, but over time builds a new life for himself as a leading criminal psychologist – until his own criminal past comes calling; the first in the Crime Doctor series is a solid, suspenseful movie bolstered by strong performances, a surprisingly detailed script, and good production values, making it an above average thriller and hugely enjoyable to watch.
Island of Doomed Men (1940) / D: Charles Barton / 68m
Cast: Peter Lorre, Rochelle Hudson, Robert Wilcox, Don Beddoe, George E. Stone, Kenneth MacDonald, Charles Middleton
Rating: 6/10 – a Government agent (Wilcox) allows himself to be arrested and imprisoned in an effort to make it to an island owned by sadistic diamond mine owner Stephen Danel (Lorre), and then expose Danel’s use of ex-cons and parolees as slave labour; a seedy, florid atmosphere is encouraged and exploited by Barton as Island of Doomed Men allows Lorre to give one of his more self-contained yet intense performances, and which also shows that some Production Code-era movies could still be “exciting” for reasons that only modern day audiences would appreciate – probably.
Anybody’s Nightmare (2001) / D: Tristram Powell / 97m
Cast: Patricia Routledge, Georgina Sutcliffe, Thomas Arnold, Nicola Redmond, David Calder, Malcolm Sinclair, William Armstrong, Rashid Karapiet, Louisa Milwood-Haigh, Scott Baker
Rating: 5/10 – the true story of Sheila Bowler (Routledge) who in the early Nineties was arrested, tried and convicted of the death of her late husband’s aunt (despite a clear lack of evidence), and who spent the next four years fighting to have her conviction overturned; a miscarriage of justice story bolstered by Routledge’s dignified, sterling performance, Anybody’s Nightmare betrays its British TV movie origins too often for comfort, features some truly disastrous acting (step forward Thomas Arnold and Louisa Milwood-Haigh), but does make each twist and turn of Bowler’s legal case as shocking as possible, and in the end, proves once again that truth really is stranger than fiction.