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The two couples enjoy a meal

Speak No Evil

Another film that’s hard to like but easy to admire, Speak No Evil comes hot on the heels of a recent example of the same – Soft & Quiet – which I watched last week. Both set up and stoke a tension that becomes so janglingly unpleasant that, for this home viewer, pausing, getting out of the chair and walking around a bit became a necessity. I suspect the way to really watch this film is in a cinema, where there is more pressure to stay in your seat and not out yourself as such an obvious wuss. Again like Soft & Quiet, Speak No Evil starts out in the sunlit uplands of … Read more
Edward Woodward as the doomed Ian

The Appointment

Fans of plotless movies will love The Appointment, an increasingly cultish British horror from 1982. The only feature by Lindsey C Vickers, it was regularly described as lost until the British Film Institute got themselves together and released it as part of their Flipside series of under-appreciated left-fielders. As to plot, it’s the title. There is an appointment a man (Edward Woodward) is suddenly being forced to keep for work purposes, ruining his plans to be at a key recital by his daughter, a promising violin player. The daughter (Samantha Weysom) is upset he won’t be there. His wife (Jane Merrow) looks on as he insists he’s got to go and as the … Read more
Jane, a gun and her husband

Too Late for Tears

Misleading title, Too Late for Tears, suggesting there was a time for tears at all. By the time this 1949 film noir is done, the story of a woman rotten to the core, it’s clear that the time for tears – from her, or for her – might well be never. It’s Lizabeth Scott’s chance to chew the scenery, the furniture and her co-stars, playing a woman with a crushing sense of social inferiority who is transformed instantly when a big bag of cash suddenly lands on the back seat of the convertible she and her husband are powering towards a dreaded dinner party in the Hollywood hills. The car it came from … Read more
Robert Levey II as Jesse

The Cathedral

A film about a kid growing up, from 1980s birth to graduation, The Cathedral has Richard Linklater’s Oscar-winning, audience-slaying Boyhood to contend with. Which makes Ricky D’Ambrose’s debut feature even more impressive once you’ve seen it. The comparisons are still there, yet D’Ambrose has managed to make something recognisably operating in the same field as Boyhood and yet undeniably its own beast. Partly that’s because this is D’Ambrose’s own story – semi-autobiographical says the publicity – or more generally the story of his family, who as a group expend much psychic energy on their own affairs and ongoing family feuds, rather less on the future of the family, as embodied in the figure … Read more
Original cinema poster

Pitfall

A good example of a flat, stoic, buttoned-up film noir, Pitfall is as minimal and undemonstrative as they come, depending on how you view sex and death. The stars are Dick Powell, deadpan Dick as usual, while Lizabeth Scott is the femme fatale, a model (and so an independent woman) who’s not so much bad as just plain elementally disruptive. There are three key men in this film – Powell as the everyday happily married insurance man John Forbes, Raymond Burr as “Mac” MacDonald, the shifty private investigator Forbes sometimes uses in murky cases, and Byron Barr as Smiley, a crook now doing time for a bent insurance claim. All have lost or … Read more
Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta

19 November 2012-11-19

Out in the UK this week Arthur Christmas (Sony, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD) After some awful homegrown CGI animations – anyone remember Valiant? –  the Brits have made a comic adventure about Santa Claus and family that’s witty, gutsy, insightful and entirely entertaining. A new Christmas classic, surely. Arthur Christmas – Watch it/buy it at Amazon Two Years at Sea (Soda, cert E, DVD) Hungarian miserabilist Béla Tarr is clearly a heavy influence on this artfully artless documentary following a hippie/hermit as he serenely goes about his hardscrabble life. For stressed-out, always-on screen-jockeys this could be the ideal therapy. Two Years at Sea – Watch it/buy it at Amazon Big Boys Gone Bananas (Dogwoof, cert E, … Read more
The fugitive and the orphan

One Second

If your only exposure to Zhang Yimou is The Great Wall, the Hollywoodised epic starring Matt Damon, which, like its namesake, goes on and on, One Second might come as a bit of a surprise. It’s Zhang back on form, the guy who made Raise the Red Lantern and House of Spinning Daggers, spinning a simple yet never obvious story of a man, a woman and a can of film into a stirring anthem to the power of cinema itself. Heroic cinema! Heroic cinemagoers! In the eye-catching opening moments we meet a man walking over desert sands to see a film screening at a remote cinema. It’s 1965 and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution … Read more
A plague victim dies

Epidemic

Towards the end of Lars Von Trier’s second film, Epidemic, a film producer is handed a “finished” screenplay by Von Trier. It is only 12 pages long. “Is that it?” the producer asks, a hint of exasperation flickering across his face. Viewers of Epidemic may feel his pain. To explain: in meta-film-making style, Epidemic is both the story of a doctor (played by Lars Von Trier) going against the wishes of the medical establishment and heading out into the world to fight a deadly epidemic, only to find that he himself is what’s spreading the disease. And it’s the story of the writing of the film itself – how two guys called Lars … Read more
Vanessa and Jillian talk

I’m Totally Fine

Grief exploited for laughs. It’s not something you see every day but it works in I’m Totally Fine, the sort of film Frank Capra would recognise – funny, big-hearted, soft-centred and focused on a love between two people that’s not got even the tiniest shred of the sexual about it. In fact I’m Totally Fine pauses on two or three occasions, turns (metaphorically) to the audience and says it again, loud and clear – these two are friends. F.R.I.E.N.D.S – got it? It’s a two hander – give or take the odd intrusion by forces off to remind us of the non-sexual nature of their relationship – with Jillian Bell starring as Vanessa, a … Read more
Jill Banner as Elizabeth

Spider Baby

Spider Baby was exploitation director Jack Hill’s first solo feature (Blood Bath was a collaboration) but didn’t get released until after what’s often listed as his first film, but isn’t, 1966’s Mondo Keyhole. Ah, Mondo – does that make Hill one of those directors who knock out trashy, sex-drenched, shock-filed schlock for the drive-in crowd? Yes and no, but much more specifically no in the case of Spider Baby, whose alternative titles – The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy – might suggest otherwise. This is a good-looking, sharply shot, well acted movie with good production values and a keen sense of craft – the continuity works! Rather than … Read more
A wooden gargoyle lit up by flames

Notre Dame on Fire

On Easter Monday 2019, at 18:17hrs, a smoke alarm goes off in the small room occupied by a security guard working at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. He calls the relevant functionary, who zips up to the roof to see if anything up there is burning. Nothing. The system’s always doing this, the guard is told, playing up. It’s old, it needs replacing. With the alarm still squawking, the guard calls his superior. Turn off the alarm he’s instructed. He does what he’s told. It’s his first day in a new job. So begins Notre Dame on Fire, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film about the day when Paris’s 850-year-old cathedral caught fire and burned almost to … Read more
The crooks prepare for the job

Big Deal on Madonna Street

Working a gag a thousand times and in a thousand different ways, Big Deal on Madonna Street, aka Persons Unknown (a translation of its Italian title, I Soliti Ignoti) pours good-natured scorn all over the heist movie. The heist movie traditionally goes like this – a target is identified, a team is assembled and a plot is meticulously masterminded, there’s a dry run and then, finally, in the film’s big centrepiece, the heist itself, which goes like clockwork, apart from one tiny moment, when something freakish happens – a screwdriver slips, a guard varies his routine – and the entire operation is suddenly hanging by a thread. Writers Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (known … Read more

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