Favorites: Deathtrap

Deathtrap (1982)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Ira Levin, Jay Presson Allen
Produced by Burtt Harris, Alfred De Liagre Jr., Jay Presson Allen
Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth, Henry Jones

"The most important thing in acting is honesty: if you can fake that, you've got it made."

--George Burns

For four flagrant flops in consecution, their famed but fading author (Caine) of thrillers is driven to dejection, desperation and distraction of a kind inspiring the murderous machination to invite a sometime student (Reeve) who's penned and posted him a first-rate foray in his manner to his home for collaborative colloquy, so to dispatch the gifted greenhorn with an article from his panoply of stage props and antique weaponry, and crib the thriller as his own to revive his career and finances. Attic dialogue, anfractuous artifices and artful auguries of Levin's hit stage play are preserved and magnified in this penultimate picture of Lumet's second winning streak, as sable in its hilarity as it's diegetically flexuous, defying and denying prevision for initial viewers first with a perverse masterstroke at midpoint, then a succession of vicissitudes as both the sinuous plot and that of its culprit's eponymous work unfold pari passu, complicated by the homicidal playwright's squirrelly, cardiopathic wife (Cannon) and a meddlesome, clairvoyant celebrity (Worth) of Netherlandish extraction. Caine was cast choicely in the seething, sulky, scheming, creepy lead opposite Reeve, whose typecast stature as cinema's charming, caped darling made selection of a wickedly rigorous role as impressive for his professional daring as his patently protean proficiency. "To show you any more would be a crime," proclaims this movie's trailer in sincerity; that first of several twists may not shock with the potency it had over three decades ago, but the cinematic dash with which Lumet and continually contemporaneous collaborator Allen adapted Levin's ingenious source elevates it in transition to the filmic medium. It's shot, played and cut with such irresistible, hysterical, cutthroat, playful panache, you almost can't envision its proscenium!
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shock to the System.


Palatable: Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen (2002)
Directed by Ken Loach
Written by Paul Laverty
Produced by Rebecca O'Brien, Michael André, Ulrich Felsberg, Gerardo Herrero, Luke Schiller, Peter Gallagher
Starring Martin Compston, Annmarie Fulton, William Ruane, Michelle Abercromby, Martin McCardie, Calum McAlees, Jon Morrison, Michelle Coulter, Gary McCormack, Tommy McKee, Robert Rennie, Junior Walker, Gary Maitland, Scott Dymond

"It's frightening to think that you mark your children merely by being yourself."

--Simone de Beauvoir, Les Belles Images

Anticipating the release of his mother (Coulter) following the imprisonment she's endured on behalf of her boorish boyfriend (McCormack), a tough, enterprising adolescent (Compston) and his madcap buddy (Ruane) strive to procure her respectable accommodation removed from sordid council estates by hawking cheap cigarettes, then pilfered heroin via the delivery service of his friends' (Walker, Maitland, Dymond) pizzeria -- first independently, then under the aegis of a stern mobster (Morrison). Loach's idiomatic, kitchen sink realism trimly fits this funny, violent, ultimately piteous treatment of Scotland's urban underclass with a blunt objectivity and forceful performances in Glaswegian accents that may for the inconversant necessitate subtitles. He's still a paragon among social filmmakers for his consistently balanced depictions of societal dysfunction and its personal consequences, unifying character development with sociology rather than neglecting either (or worse, delivering dogmatic preachments behind the veneer of entertainment). Compston's bastardly, audacious drug dealer is undone not by the risky criminality he perpetrates to effectuate his modest ambitions, but for a filial love as blind as unrequited, and the disloyalty pernicious in an anomic culture that stymies its young aspirants.