Films of the week: Hawks, Humph and a hard-boiled noir original
The Big Sleep
(Howard Hawks, 1946) Even Raymond Chandler, who wrote the source novel, famously couldn't work out this film's finer plot points. But all that you really need know is that Humphrey Bogart's LA gumshoe Philip Marlowe is exceedingly cool under fire, knows how to treat a dame, and meets his match in Lauren Bacall's sassy Vivian Rutledge. One of the most purely enjoyable hard-boiled thrillers of all time. *****
(Guy Hamilton, 1964) The third and arguably the most entertaining Bond film was the series' first box-office smash, and set the template for the next 17. It is the one in which Sean Connery's 007 drives a souped-up silver Aston Martin, encounters Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), tracks Gert Frobe's eponymous criminal mastermind to his underground lair, and is told, "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die." *****
(John Hillcoat, 2009) Viggo Mortensen and his son roam the post-apocalypse in this uncompromising adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel – a kind of literary Mad Max. There are other survivors but they've turned feral and cannibalistic, so the pair – weakened by starvation and down to their last few bullets – may represent the world's last shreds of humanity. It is not a pretty sight. ****
Johnny Mad Dog
(Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, 2009) Christopher Minie stars in this French-Liberian film about child soldiers fighting a civil war in an unnamed African country, which has little in the way of story, context, politics or hope; only murder, rape, senseless tragedy, some surreal detail and the bitterly compelling truth. "If you don't wanna die..." the children's general shouts, "...don't be born," they chant back. ***
(Renaud Barret, Florent de la Tullaye, 2011) This loosely rhythmic cinema vérité documentary is about a band of homeless, mostly polio-crippled musicians called Staff Benda Bilili whose talent, tenacity and homemade instruments manage to help them escape life on the streets of Kinshasa. It can go from joyous to heartbreaking in a beat, but ends on a triumphant and inspiring note. ****
A Fish Called Wanda
(Charles Crichton, 1988) The kind of British comedy – cruel in much of its detail but generous in its overall spirit – that was perfected in the Ealing films. Here it is resurrected by one of that studio's veteran directors, in conjunction with John Cleese, whose lampooning of a repressed upper-middle-class Englishman is both fierce and humane, and executed with exquisite comic timing. ****
(Martin Scorsese, 1990) Martin Scorsese's exhilarating gangster drama, based on the memoirs of the mob informer Henry Hill and spanning the New York of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, is a truly bravura piece of filmmaking. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci repeat the success of their on-screen partnership in Raging Bull; this time it was Pesci, terrifyingly convincing as a grinning sociopath, who won an Oscar. *****
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