The Unbelievable Truth 1989 ***


Hal Hartley is an American auteur whose best work deserves better than being dropped into a dusty oubliette. Before the highs of Amateur and Henry Fool, his debut The Unbelievable Truth features a simple story, careful performances, a delicate air of comedy and drama, and a number of other elements rarely seen in US indie cinema until the rise of mumblecore. Audry (Adrienne Shelly) lives in a small town, and she’s just broken up with her boyfriend. Josh (Robert John Burke) arrives with charm to burn, but also a dubious reputation; he’s just out of jail, and various whispers suggest he not only killed his girlfriend, but her father too. The truth, of course, is rather more believable than that, but Hartley’s film neatly dovetails the stripping away of the lies about Josh with Audry’s modelling career, which seems to involve fewer clothes with each gig. Popping up on Amazon streaming services might bring Hartley’s offbeat approach to a new audience; his use of space and silence is somewhat refreshing in today’s post MTV world, and The Unbelievable Truth shows the strength of the US indie scene before the Tarantinos and Soderberghs arrive to shake things up.


Let The Corpses Tan 2018

The opening credits of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s epic crime-opus give the game away; crediting a 1971 book by Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid as inspiration, it’s clear this is a trashy crime thriller in a manner of Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs. Always a striking presence, Elina Löwensohn plays Luce, the moll of a number of local gangsters in the sun-drenched region of Corsica. After an armoured-car heist, involving the shooting of several guards, the thieves repair back to Luce’s literal hole in the ground. The cops arrive, and after a shoot-out, a siege develops, with a fortune in gold awaiting anyone who can think their way out of the trap. Psychedelic visuals, extreme violence, more than a whiff of sexual excess; Let The Corpses Tan has it all, and even if the surfeit of style is overpowering at times, Let The Corpses Tan has a punk energy that enthrals for the most part.

Illuminata 1998 ***

illuminata-movie-poster-1998-1020204021Another entry in there “Where do Amazon find these films?’ file, Illuminata was barely released anywhere back in 1998, and is likely to find its biggest audience now that its inexplicably popped up in Prime. John Turturro directs from a play by Brandon Cole, and given that the play is about a play being staged, it’s an intensely theatrical experience. Turturro plays Tuchio, a theatre director who is struggling to finish and perform his play, with performers (Susan Sarandon, Rufus Sewell) and critics (Christopher Walken) ranged against his artistic vision. The seam of talent runs deep with Beverley D’Angelo, Ben Gazarra and Donal McCann also contributing to the gallery of exquisite caricatures. The best of the has to be Walken’s dissolute, sexually-motivated critic, on whose foibles the venture lies. Leaching after the male lead with grim enthusiasm, Bevelaqua is a grotesque subversion of any kind of morality, and a perfect pivot for a story of the madness of creativity. Admirers of Vanya on 42nd Street or Cradle That Rocked will enjoy this, a painstaking evocation of the theatre in days gone by; Tuturro’s career as a director has been occasional, but Illuminata is far better than it’s lack of recognition suggests.

Thunder Road 2019 ****

thunder-road-sxswThe low-budget indie-smash is a lesser-spotted variety of film these days; Jim Cummings’ development of his own short into Thunder Road proved that lightning can still strike. Cummings writer, directs and stars in this story of a diligent cop called Jim, who we first meet in a long, painful shot capturing his grief at his mother’s funeral. Jim’s mother loved dance, and Jim has prepared a tribute based around her favourite Springsteen song. But when the CD doesn’t play, Jim’s performance goes viral and damages his relationship with his colleagues, and with his daughter Crystal (Kendall Farr). Thunder Road is a micro-budget film, but makes a virtue of a narrow scope by showing real sensitivity to the relationship between Jim and Crystal. Jim is a complex character, needy, strident, and anxious for success but lacking the skills to get what he wants. Cummings brings his central character to life in a series of unforced, gentle scenes that make Thunder Road something of a triumph of minimalist indie cinema.

Society 1989 ***


Issues of class are rarely to the fore in American films; Brian Yuzna’s debut horror feature is an exception. It tells of Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) a young man who seemns to lack the social-climbing interests of his friends and family. While they all seem to be upwardsly mobile, Bill feels stigmatised by his lack of breeding; his paranoia about such issues proves to be well-founded, and Society ends with Bill stumbling on an upper-class party where the rich literally devour and absorb the poor. With Make-up effects courtesy of someone called Screaming Mad George, Yuzna’s film takes a while to go for the jugular, but the revolting punch-line is delivered in memorably shocking terms.