Stateline Motel 1973 ***

Also known under the underwhelming title Motel of Fear, Maurizio Lucidi’s Stateline Motel is a rather cool little melodrama, ruined for your home viewing by this hideous print on Amazon Prime. Looking like the disregarded holiday snaps of an extremely amateur photographer, Stateline Motel is of interest primarily to connoisseurs of murk, but for those prepared to look beyond the abject, miserable presentation, there’s some narrative gold to be mined.

More recent efforts like Deadfall or Reindeer Games have a similar vibe; Stateline Motel is a Canadian-set, Italian financed melodrama the follows crooks in the aftermath of a heist gone wrong. Fabio Testi plays Floyd, jail-bird partner of Eli Wallach’s Joe, who both have blood on their hands and some priceless jewels to split after a Montreal store-raid; Joe takes the bus across the border, while Floyd takes the car. Driving like a diddy for no obvious reason, Floyd totals his car and is forced to check into the motel of the title, where Michelle (Ursula Andress) is undressing five times nightly, distracting him from his share of the loot. Floyd and Michelle inevitably get it on, but when he wakes up, the jewels are gone…

Stateline Motel is no masterpiece, but it’s actually pretty compelling in the final straight as Joe closes in and the plotlines finally intersect before a cool final twist; it’s tough, hardboiled stuff, the kind of thing that Tarantino’s best films ape effectively. Testi and Andress are fine, and Wallach is a nasty bad-guy, with another Bond- girl Barbara Bach also in a key supporting role.

With horrible dubbing, gibberish subtitles and a dismal print quality, Stateline Motel perhaps is not the ideal place for genre fans to gain a taste of the 1970’s, but there’s just enough meat on the bones to justify a watch. It’s just a pity more time and effort hasn’t gone into restoration; the cast deserve better than this.

Enemy 2013 ****

Enemy (2013)

It’s hard to imagine what Jose Saramago’s book is like; Denis Villneuve’s accomplished psychological thriller is so cinematic, there’s few trace of the literary origins. Enemy explores the idea of dopplegangers, on old chestnut from The Man Who Haunted Himself to The Double, but adds a new and disconcerting angle. Jake Gyllenhaal gives two subtly differentiated performances as a college lecturer and a aspiring actor who share the same face and body; when Adam spots his look-alike in a movie bit part, he sets out to track him down, only to be confronted with Anthony. Anthony suggests swapping places, and their respective partners Sarah Gadon and Melanie Laurent seem unable to spot the difference. Villneuve makes clever use of Toronto’s architecture to suggest the dualities of the deception, and Enemy also offers a weird backdrop of sex-clubs where naked women in high-heels squash giant spiders in stilettos. It’s weird fare, but not as overblown as Villneuve’s well acted but overlong and melodramatic Prisoners, and brilliantly performed by Gyllenhaal in probably his best performance to date.

Scanners 1981 ***


While there’s not much to be said for the sequels that followed, David Cronenberg’s consideration of telekinesis is a nicely-done conspiracy thriller than benefits from the cold Canadian feel of the locations. Taking some ideas from the Thalidomide scandal, with pregnant women given drugs which adversely affected their children, the Scanners of the title are grown-ups who have destructive powers which the government seek to control; Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is on the case, and his final confrontation with revoke (perfect villain Michael Ironside) has become such a pop-cultural meme that it can cheerfully be referenced on The Big Bang Theory. Cronenberg also creates a big bang of his own in an explosive opening sequence, with a head tearing apart like a tomato in a microwave, but while the gore is capably handled by genre master Dick Smith, the whole production has a grimly downbeat feel that haunts the mind.

Black Robe 1991 ***


Bruce Beresford’s film would make a good double-bill with Roland Joffe’ s The Mission; with Jesuit priests as their main characters, both films explore the difference between heaven and earth with skill. Adapted by Brian Moore from his own novel, set in 164 Quebec, Father Laforgue (Lothaire Bluteau) sets out across snowy wastelands to establish contact with a remote mission, only to find the superstitions amongst his party tearing it apart. Based on a true story, Black Robe contrasts the beautiful but deadly vistas of remote locations with the physical and mental tortures that men exert on each other; it’s a darkly spiritual film that repays patient viewers.

I Love A Man In Uniform 1993 ****


Also known as A Man in Uniform, presumably to hide any gay subtext, writer/director David Wellington’s low-budget drama has a strong central idea; bank worker and aspiring actor Henry Adler (Tom McCamus) is bored of his life, but gets a part in a TV show as a cop. Taking his uniform home, he enjoys dressing up as a cop, and starts wearing his uniform on the streets to help him get into the part. But taking on the mantle of a policeman lands Henry in trouble; his encounters with real-life copy Frank (Kevin Tighe) can only lead to disaster. I Love A Man In Uniform is a slow-burning but tense affair, looking at the media’s obsession with police-work and how it impacts on one man’s frazzled psyche; well acted and constructed, it’s a perfect little sleeper.

The Brood 1979 ***


A typically chilly Canadian venture from writer/director David Cronenberg, The Brood is a thought-provoking horror film that deals specifically with psychiatry and therapy. At  the Summerfree institute, Dr Raglan (Oliver Reed) is experimenting with his patients; one, Nola (Samantha Eggar) is able to produce  dwarf-like figures that act on her vengeful impulses. The dwarves resemble the haunting figure from the end of Don’t Look Now, and set about their victims in highly disturbing set-pieces.  The Brood deals overtly with divorce and custody issues, as well as offering a withering critique of psychological  experimentation techniques  in a vivid, gory thriller.

Stories We Tell 2013 ***


Actress Sarah Polley has made quite a career for herself as an actress in popular movies like the Dawn of The Dead reboot, and as a director with Away From Her and Take This Waltz. For the documentary film, she turns the camera on herself and her own family, and documents her own search for her real father. Using home movies, she builds up a picture of her mother and family life, then embarks on a series of interviews with her adoptive dad and the man she believes his her real father. Stories We Tell ruminates intelligently on the way people can lie to themselves about who we are, and Polley includes herself in this equation; she demonstrates how she has to fake elements of the story to deal with them. Where most documentaries happily take on the mantle of truth, Polley’s film looks with admirable honesty at the nature of lies and why we need them to survive.