The Big Clock: adapted by Jonathan Latimer and Harold Goldman from the novel by Kenneth Fearing; directed by John Farrow; starring Ray Milland (George Stroud), Charles Laughton (Earl Janoth), Maureen O’Sullivan (Georgette Stroud), Rita Johnson (Pauline York), Elsa Lanchester (Louise Patterson), and George Macready (Steve Hagen) (1948): Enjoyable, occasionally quite quirky film noir/ ‘Wrong Man’ thriller starring Ray Milland as a crime-magazine editor who finds himself tracking himself as a wrongly accused murderer. Yes, it’s an American noir with more than a hint of Borges in its DNA.
There are a lot of gratifyingly wacky supporting characters and off-beat situations, to the extent that one figures the Coen Brothers may have watched this movie at some point during their artistic evolution. Charles Laughton is a creepy, blustery hoot as a tyrannical, time-obsessed magazine publisher. Fun and under 100 minutes. Recommended.
The Sapphires: adapted by Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson from the stage play by Tony Briggs; directed by Wayne Blair; starring Deborah Mailman (Gail), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia), Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Shari Sebbens (Kay), and Chris O’Dowd (Dave Lovelace) (2012): Based on a stage play that was based on a true story, The Sapphires tells the story of an Australian aboriginal girl group that ends up entertaining troops in Viet Nam in the late 1960’s. Chris O’Dowd’s Irish band manager seems to have been parachuted in from the realm of pure fiction in order to secure financing.
But while he’s billed first, O’Dowd plays a supporting role to the four women. The movie may be fairly breezy and song-packed, but it does hit on some of the horrible truths of the Australian treatment of aboriginals in general and children in specific over the years. Nonetheless, this is more a celebration of the power of song (and songs are a key component of aboriginal culture and mythology) than it is a scathing historical drama. Recommended.
Bad Words: written by Andrew Dodge; directed by Jason Bateman; starring Jason Bateman (Guy Trilby), Kathryn Hahn (Jenny Widgeon), Rohan Chand (Chaitanya Chopra), Philip Baker Hall (Dr. Bowman), and Alison Janney (Dr. Deagan) (2014): Jason Bateman directs himself starring as a 40-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules for a U.S. spelling bee (based on the Scripps bee) so as to compete against 49 tweens for the $50,000 prize. He does so for reasons that become obvious about halfway through.
The movie and Bateman’s character are both gratifyingly nasty throughout, though this isn’t wholly a black comedy. Bateman’s character’s growing friendship with one outcast contestant — cleverly played by Rohan Chand — leads to some pretty funny, non-Hollywoodesque scenes of debauchery. So too Bateman’s relationship with Kathryn Hahn’s reporter, and Bateman’s psychological gamesmanship with whatever tweens are unlucky enough to sit next to him during the activities. The movie could be funnier, but it’s still pretty funny. Recommended.