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Šarlota basks in the sun

Nightsiren

A young woman returns to the Slovakian village she fled as a child, little realising that she’s going to get the frostiest of receptions. She’s a witch, the townsfolk whisper, or the daughter of a witch, or at least lived in the house where the witch lived, they say. And, what’s more, while fleeing all those years before, she pushed her little sister off a cliff to her death. This is true, but the little girl’s death was an accident, a flashback makes clear, but no one in this village is buying that, or trading in hard facts where Šarlota (pronounced Charlotta and played by Natalia Germani) is concerned. She has been tagged, … Read more
Lon Chaney as HE the clown

100 Years of… He Who Gets Slapped

It’s 100 years old, at least, He Who Gets Slapped. Which helps explain a title that would be laughed out of the first production meeting these days. “He Who…? He Who?” Sounds like an old car changing gear. As for the rest of it, it wouldn’t pass muster either. Way, way too unsettling, grim and dour for our times. Though it might make a nicely dark horror movie. Here’s a film that was praised to the skies when it came out. The New York Times thought it was “perfect”… and a “faultless adaptation” of the original hit play (which had transferred from Russia to Broadway and become a hit all over again), and that … Read more
Jim Cummings as The Knife Salesman

The Last Stop in Yuma County

The Last Stop in Yuma County is a reminder of the sort of film there used to be a lot of in the late 1990s. In that first post-Tarantino wave, low-budget film-makers would head to the desert, find a diner somewhere, load it up with gonzos and dimwits, add guns and fruity dialogue and then let the chips fall where they might. A lot were disappointing and eventually they became a chore to watch, but here’s a reminder of how good they could be when done properly. Just a few characters, not too much horsing around, tongue kept for the most part out of the cheek, a minimal situation with a sense of … Read more
Inspector Ng with gun

Yes, Madam!

Yes, Madam! isn’t in any way like a fine wine. It has not aged well and looks far worse now than it did when it came out in 1985. A Hong Kong comedy actioner that knows its audience and its times, it was made quickly for a market that wanted it. Posterity could sort itself out. This is the bit where I outline the plot and it’s actually quite hard to do that, since so much of Yes, Madam! makes no sense and it feels at times like it’s been cobbled together from offcuts of other action movies. After a whipcrack opener involving a flasher, a heist, some gunplay and a car stunt, … Read more
Co-CEOs Mike and Jim

BlackBerry

The dramatised behind-the-scenes story of the rise and demise of the company that had the world where its customers had its little black phone – in the palm of its hand – BlackBerry is so well designed, tooled and assembled that it could be used as a case study for how to make a film about something potentially as uninspiring as developer code. Things kick off in the mid 1990s with two dudes – tech dweeb Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and tech schlub Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson) – getting absolutely nowhere pitching what they see as the future of portable communication. Their tiny startup has worked out a way to piggyback off bits … Read more
Veronika in hat

Veronika Voss aka Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss

By a stretch the best of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s so-called BRD Trilogy, Veronika Voss stands out against The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola because Fassbinder had the great good sense to co-opt Billy Wilder’s brilliant Sunset Boulevard to help with the telling of the story of an ageing German actress and the young man who befriends her in the 1950s, much as he borrowed Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel with Lola. Rosel Zech plays Voss, a once-shining, now-diminished star who is lent an umbrella in a downpour by a young sports journalist (Hilmar Thate). He has no idea who she is, but, with a journalist’s nose for winkling out a story, works … Read more
Lorenzo the troubled magician

Abrakadabra

2018’s Abrakadabra rides the giallo revival like an ace jockey, completing in one hour nine minutes what the likes of Amer, Berberian Sound Studio and Dario Argento’s Dark Glasses spent much more time over, packing it all in and then doling it all out atmospherically. For all its race-winning form, it never feels hurried. It’s a gory story about a magician, told like a magician’s trick, with plenty of misdirection – “What the eyes see and the ears hear the mind believes,” we’re warned in a written preamble, a quote from master magician Harry Houdini, apparently. And then we’re off into a story about a stage illusionist whose trick goes badly wrong, resulting in … Read more
Nina and Robert dance

Phffft

The comedy of remarriage is really a creature of the 1930s but here it is alive and reasonably well in 1954 in Phffft, a screwbally kind of thing starring Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday as a married couple of eight years who decide wedlock isn’t for them, then try the alternatives only to eventually have a rethink about why they got divorced in the first place. Eight years, not seven. Columbia had actually wanted to make a version of George Axelrod’s hit play The Seven Year Itch but the rights were tied up (it would become a Twentieth Century Fox film directed by Billy Wilder the following year) and so Axelrod sold them … Read more
Tess gets angry

Reborn

A horror movie coming at the genre from three different directions, Reborn starts off in distinct tits’n’gore territory, jumps quickly into the supernatural and then eventually morphs into something altogether more psychological. Key asset is Kayleigh Gilbert, who has a big-eyed face and long physique built for the gothic. She plays the teenager who was stillborn as a baby but then got resuscitated in the hospital by a freak burst of electricity. Raised in secret by morgue attendant Ken (Chaz Bono), a creep with a fascination for the breasts of dead women, she eventually escapes aged 16 to track down her mother, faded actress Lena O’Neill (Barbara Crampton), aided by an ability to … Read more
Zee and Robert get close

X, Y & Zee aka Zee and Co.

Once Elizabeth Taylor realised she wasn’t going to be starring in Cleopatra, or anything like it, any more, she set off on a mad career jag that saw her playing a succession of weirdos, harpies, harridans, drunks and foul-mouthed vixens. If that sounds like something you’d like to see, X, Y & Zee, or Zee and Co., could be the thing for you. As an added bonus you get Michael Caine in one of his best “shouting” roles. It’s “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” all the way through here. Made in 1972 but mainlining the back end of 1960s London, it’s Taylor and Caine as a married couple who’ve … Read more
Koffi as the sorcerer

Omen

Belgian rapper Baloji’s feature debut Omen (Augure in French) starts with an image that might have come from a spaghetti western. To a whistled tune on the soundtrack a lone rider on horseback pitches up at a watering hole. Dismounting, the figure pulls one of her breasts from under her dark robes and squirts what looks like bloody milk into the water. It’s an arresting and unsettling start to a film that mixes stuff like this – African magical realism, you could call it – with a seemingly mundane story of a black African and his white European wife-to-be back in the Congo to sort out some family business. For Koffi (Marc Zinga) … Read more
Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas and Corky the dog

Theodora Goes Wild

Almost a commentary on Hollywood’s transition from Pre-Code licence to Post-Code moralising, 1936’s Theodora Goes Wild is a breezy screwball comedy that straddles the decades with its opposition of conservative smalltown standards and liberal big-city values. Irene Dunne is the go-between, playing Theodora Lynn, a compliant daughter of the founding family of the small burgh of Lynnfield, but secretly also Caroline Adams, author of a work of racy fiction currently scandalising her staid puritanical aunts. Life for Theodora/Caroline continues on this twin track – dutiful mouse at home, sophisticated woman of the world on her visits to the city – until smoothie-chops New York book illustrator Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas) takes a shine … Read more

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