Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989; USA; DuArt; 104m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Sven Nykvist; m. Joe Malin (co-ordinator). Cast: Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Claire Bloom, Jerry Orbach, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Dolores Sutton, Sam Waterston, Joanna Gleason, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Gregg Edelman, Daryl Hannah, Kenny Vance, Joel Fogel. An opthamologist’s mistress threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, while a married documentary filmmaker is infatuated by another woman. Allen’s examination of the moral dilemma is played out over two intertwining stories – one deadly and darkly serious, the other satirically comic with Allen delivering incisive one-liners. That the cocktail works beautifully is a credit to Allen’s skills as writer and director. Landau and Hustom deliver scintillatingly real performances. Alda is also superb as a pompous TV producer. 
Eye in the Sky (2015; UK; Colour; 102m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Gavin Hood; w. Guy Hibbert; ph. Haris Zambarloukos; m. Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian. Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Kim Engelbrecht, Meganne Young. A proposed UK drone strike against Al Shabaab militants is complicated when a young girl enters the kill zone. Efficiently made morality tale about the choices made in the war on terrorism considering the risk of collateral damage and the lives that may be saved through nullifying the threat. Tension is kept high throughout the race against the clock deferment and decision making between the various political and military leaders. 
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986; USA; Technicolor; 103m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Carlo Di Palma; m. Puccini. Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Maureen O’Sullivan, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow, Lloyd Nolan, Daniel Stern, Julie Kavner, Joanna Gleason, J.T. Walsh, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins. Between two Thanksgivings, Hannah’s husband falls in love with her sister Lee, while her hypochondriac ex-husband rekindles his relationship with her sister Holly. Brilliantly observed portrayal of the lives of three sisters, their relationship with each other and with the men in their lives is amongst Allen’s finest achievements. Sharp and witty script is enhanced by superb performances from the cast. It is a movie that presents its three-dimensional characters in a way that is utterly engaging and believable. Caine, Wiest and Allen (as writer) all won Oscars. 
TABLE STAKES by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1978, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 348pp) ∗∗∗½
Blurb: David Burnham, a poker player of the old breed, crisscrosses the country with thousands of dollars in a battered briefcase, hitting the Big Game with Broadway producers, Texas oil millionaires, Hollywood moguls and the captains of Detroit. His lifestyle forces his wife to walk out on him with their son, Paul. The boy grows up admiring and envying his father from a distance and, eventually, emulating the legendary father in his own arena: rising from the cutting room floor to executive suite of a reviving film company. But, at the top, married to his boss’ beautiful daughter and contemplating a corporation takeover, Paul re-examines the parental code that has guided his life this far and determines for himself the price of winning and losing.
Table Stakes was Ernest Tidyman’s last novel (the factual Big Bucks being his last published work in 1982) and his most personal creative work in print, if not necessarily his best. Tidyman himself was an avid gambler and had also worked in film production since the early 1970s. Much of his knowledge of both is evident in the way he pieces together this moral drama. Tidyman gives all the main characters their own voice and allows them to breathe and as a result they feel real. Most of his characters are deeply flawed and selfish and the central father and son characters demonstrate this vividly despite their individual ideals.
The novel is split into two books. the first, titled Desperado, deals with father, David Burnham, and his inability to break away from the gambling table to take a respectable job as well as devote time to his wife and son. He is successful at what he does and sees no reason to change his lifestyle. His loyalty to his gambling partners outweighs that to his family. Whilst he plays an honest and honourable game he finally loses his wife and son when he is drawn into one final Big Game. Later tragedy strikes and we move on a generation to the second book entitled Scenario.
Scenario represents the final two-thirds of the novel and concentrates on son Paul who has returned injured from Vietnam. Paul looks to establish a new life for himself. An old friend of his father’s – Junior Gordon, owner of Gordon Film Studios – gives him a job as production coordinator in a bid to provide his friend’s son with an income, if little responsibility. When Paul teams up with Gordon’s own son – Bernard, who has self-destructive tendencies mirroring those of Keith Moon – and the pair produce a screenplay resulting in a successful movie, Paul’s star is on the rise. He at first seems loyal to his new girlfriend, but succumbs to the temptations offered to the rich and powerful and ultimately weds Junior Gordon’s daughter – the beautiful but vacuous Melody.
All this begins to play like a soap opera on the scale that would later be served up on TV by Dallas or Dynasty and there is plenty of sexual activity to add spice to the story. But there is also depth to the moral messages Tidyman gets across on the themes of power, ambition, family and trust. The latter plays very heavily in the novel’s final act in which Paul is torn between making the right decision for the business and his loyalty to his father-in-law. In the end it is evident that there can be no long-term winners and this is ultimately Tidyman’s comment on gambling and the film industry in general. Ultimately his message is either your luck will run out or you will alienate those closest to you in your pursuit of success. He sees success as a self-feeding beast driven by ambition and greed that can only ultimately leave you feeling manipulated and totally alone. A depressing message, but one seeming to come from first-hand experience.
Taxi Driver (1976; USA; Metrocolor; 113m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. Martin Scorsese; w. Paul Schrader; ph. Michael Chapman; m. Bernard Herrmann. Cast: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, Martin Scorsese, Joe Spinell. A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process. Intense character study with De Niro excellent in the lead. His descent from both engagement and disgust in the sleaze he sees all around him to violent redemption is portrayed with troubling authenticity. Herrmann’s imposing score and Scorsese’s use of New York locations add to the noirish nightmare atmosphere. The violent finale is shocking, whilst the film’s coda confused many with its contradictions. 
Apollo 13 (1995; USA; DeLuxe; 141m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. Ron Howard; w. William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert; ph. Dean Cundey; m. James Horner. Cast: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, Miko Hughes, Max Elliott Slade, Jean Speegle Howard, Tracy Reiner, David Andrews, Michelle Little, Chris Ellis. True story of the moon-bound mission that developed severe trouble and the men that rescued it with skill and dedication. Thoroughly absorbing account, authentically portrayed and superbly acted – notably by Hanks as mission leader and Harris as flight control. Based on the book “Lost Moon” by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. Won Oscars for Editing and Sound. A digitally remastered IMAX-format version was released in September 2002 and was 20m shorter. [PG]
Beguiled, The (1971; USA; Technicolor; 109m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Don Siegel; w. John B. Sherry, Grimes Grice; ph. Bruce Surtees; m. Lalo Schifrin. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Darleen Carr, Mae Mercer, Pamelyn Ferdin, Melody Thomas, Peggy Drier. A wounded Union soldier who has been taken in at a Southern girls’ school. The girls become curious and then sensuous. But when jealousy sparks, the anger is ultimately focused on the soldier. Haunting tale with Eastwood playing against type. Themes of repression, sodomy and sexual frustration are well-handled by Siegel and Page is excellent as a headmistress with her own secrets. Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan. 
Spotlight (2015; USA; Colour; 129m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. Thomas McCarthy; w. Thomas McCarthy, Josh Singer; ph. Masanobu Takayanagi; m. Howard Shore. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Gene Amoroso, Billy Crudup, Elena Wohl, Doug Murray, Sharon McFarlane, Jamey Sheridan, Neal Huff, Robert B. Kennedy, Duane Murray, Brian Chamberlain, Michael Cyril Creighton, Paul Guilfoyle, Michael Countryman. The true story of how in 2002 the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. Superb procedural journalistic drama with a strong cast and a thought-provoking matter-of-fact script that mercifully steers clear of Hollywood conventions. Recalls and stands alongside classic newspaper movies such as ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976). Won Oscars for Best Picture and Original Screenplay. 
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962; USA; B&W; 129m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Robert Mulligan; w. Horton Foote; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Elmer Bernstein. Cast: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy, Ruth White, Brock Peters, Estelle Evans, Paul Fix, Collin Wilcox, James Anderson, Alice Ghostley, Robert Duvall, William Windom, Crahan Denton, Richard Hale, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford. A lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge and his kids against prejudice. Sensitively directed and truly memorable drama plays on themes of childhood fantasies and their idealistic view of the world. Peck is superb as the lawyer father his children worship and who stands against the prejudices of many of the citizens he is employed by. Great score by Bernstein and top performances all round. Duvall makes his debut as Boo Radley. Won three Oscars: Best Actor (Peck), Adapted Screenplay, Art Director. Based on the novel by Harper Lee. [PG]
Front, The (1976; USA; Metrocolor; 95m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Martin Ritt; w. Walter Bernstein; ph. Michael Chapman; m. Dave Grusin. Cast: Woody Allen, Zero Mostel, Michael Murphy, Andrea Marcovicci, Herschel Bernardi, Remak Ramsay, Josef Sommer, Lloyd Gough, David Margulies, Danny Aiello, Marvin Lichterman, Joshua Shelley, Norman Rose, Charles Kimbrough, Georgann Johnson. A cashier poses as a writer for blacklisted talents to submit their work through, but the injustice around him pushes him to take a stand. Poignant, funny and sharply scripted commentary on the blacklisting of artists during the US’s communist witch-hunt of the 1950s. Allen gives his most assured performance to date as the front of the title. Several people involved in this film were themselves on the McCarthy-era blacklists. Last on-screen film project for Mostel.