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Gabrielle and Louis in 1910

The Beast aka La Bête

Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast (La Bête) isn’t the first adaptation of Henry James’s novella 1903 The Beast in the Jungle. It’s not even the first one of 2023. That honour goes to Patric Chiha’s French-language movie The Beast in the Jungle, which made it to the screens about six month’s before Bonello’s. Whether Bonello trimmed his sails having seen Chiha’s fascinating and underloved film is doubtful. The Beast looks like the vision of a man who’d already decided to take Henry James and put him through an extreme wash followed by a rigorous spin cycle. James’s story has lost its original shape in Bonello’s version, which flips the genders for a start, and … Read more
César del Campo, Lucy Gallardo, and Enrique Rambal

The Exterminating Angel

One of a string of films by Luis Buñuel sticking it to the bourgeoisie, the church, the authorities, the man, The Exterminating Angel (El Ángel Exterminador) looked wildly radical and political when it debuted in 1962. Now it looks like a metaphor in search of a story. Times change. Even before things have descended into the purely allegorical, Buñuel is telling us that something is afoot. All is not well at the grand house preparing for an after-party for the swells who have just attended the opera. Everyone is uneasy. The servants are making excuses to get out of the building before their social superiors arrive. When this gaggle of top-hatted, fur-wearing toffs … Read more
Arthur with an ancient Etruscan artefact

La Chimera

Halfway through making La Chimera, its star Josh O’Connor took a break and went off to make Challengers for Luca Guadagnino, then came back to Italy to finish off for Alice Rohrwacher. Since his breakthrough in 2017’s God’s Own Country, after five or so years of plugging away, these days everyone wants a piece of O’Connor. They’re not remotely similar roles – a tennis player in Challengers, a graverobber in La Chimera – but from the actor’s point of view they have something in common. Both are essentially unlikeable people the audience needs to feel something for, and does, because O’Connor, as he also demonstrated in God’s Own Country and then Only You … Read more
François Holin smoking a cigar

Ho!

After a year off working out what to do next, Jean-Paul Belmondo returned in 1968 with Ho! (sometimes called Ho! Criminal Face). Having been courted by Hollywood, he’d decided he wanted to stay in France and stick with what he was best at – films that emphasised a moody masculinity. It’s got to be said straight up that Ho! isn’t very good, but it is very stylish and so is Belmondo. He plays François Holin (aka Ho), a former racing driver who is now a getaway driver for a mob. Ho was once a star but now he’s treated like an errand boy by the other guys in the gang. Secretly he yearns … Read more
Ruth Ramos as Alejandra

The Untamed

Genre collision is the dish of the day in The Untamed (La Région Salvaje) as the most down-to-earth drama, the soap, meets the most out there – sci-fi. The result probably shouldn’t work but it really does, thanks to writer director Amat Escalante’s decision to keep the sci-fi stuff in the background for most of the film. After an opening shot of a black meteorite in space, followed by one of a pretty young woman apparently pleasuring herself, or being pleasured by, a giant pink tentacle, we’re off into an entirely different realm until, in the film’s last section, the tentacle, and the creature it’s attached to, return for some very out-there cross … Read more
Elgar arrives at his new block in his white VW Beetle

The Landlord

The Landlord is a remarkable film dealing in an unusually nuanced way with entitlement, white-saviour complex, gentrification, poverty tourism and cultural appropriation decades before the rest of the pack got there. It was made in 1970 by Hal Ashby in his first film as a director, but it’s Bill Gunn’s flexing, unflinching screenplay that makes it what it is. It also happens to be one of the best films ever to star Beau Bridges, who is really remarkably good as the very rich white boy who decides to buy a brownstone block in “the ghetto”, with the idea of turning it into one of those new-fangled loft spaces that all the “beautiful people” … Read more
Godzilla on the rampage

Godzilla Minus One

A country basks in the reflected glow of a single man’s redemption in Godzilla Minus One, the 33rd outing for Toho Studios’ big bellowing beast/god and a contender for best of the bunch. Writer director Takashi Yamazaki wants to tell a story of shame and salvation rather than wang on about a big lumbering beast destroying things, though that happens as well, and narrows his focus onto a Japanese kamikaze pilot in the Second World War who chokes when it comes to his big day and then struggles to come to terms with his actions, or lack of them. Godzilla is effectively that pilot’s shame incarnate – the creature arrives on the scene … Read more
Marinka and Maté on the merry-go-round

Merry-Go-Round

“The pinnacle of Hungarian cinema,” is how István Szabó described Merry-Go-Round (Körhinta), and since he directed Mephisto and Colonel Redl, he’s worth listening to. But what of Zoltán Fábri, director of Merry-Go-Round, two of whose later films were Oscar nominated, which is quite a feat considering the deterrent effect of the Iron Curtain when he was at his creative peak. Not having seen any of his other films, I can only speak for this outing from 1956, which tells a familiar love story, adds just enough politics to keep the commissars happy (and allows for all manner of readings) and overlays everything with a heady wash of poetic realism, just like the French … Read more
Art and Patrick kissing Tashi

Challengers

Structured like a game of tennis, pinging back and forth over a chronological net, Challengers tells the story of three people locked together in an unsavoury menage. A big, panting melodrama of the sort Douglas Sirk would recognise, it’s thrillingly conceived, ingeniously constructed and plays out impressively but overstays its welcome like a tie break that will not deliver a victor. And that’s your lot for tennis metaphors. It starts at the end, where once-friends and now-rivals Art Donaldson (the solid plugger) and Patrick Zweig (the naturally talented bad boy) are at a tournament playing the game of their lives, though how important that game is won’t become apparent until the film reaches … Read more
Eriq Ebouaney as Patrice Lumumba

Lumumba

Lumumba tells in grimly appropriate bullet points the story of the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of Congo-Léopoldville from its moment of independence in 1960 to Lumumba’s ousting and killing in a coup less than three months later. If you don’t know anything about Lumumba, Raoul Peck’s film will tell you just enough of what you need to know. How a charismatic and politically engaged young man went from being a successful beer salesman to the country’s first prime minister by espousing national and pan-African ideals. How this stirred resentment from rivals more wedded to a tribal and regional politics. And how they caballed with the ousted rulers of … Read more
Author and activist Michael Pollan

Food, Inc. 2

Food, Inc. 2, it won’t surprise anyone to hear, is the follow-up to Food, Inc., the 2008 documentary which usefully summarised what you might call the anti-Big Food position. Bad, in a word. Food, Inc. 2 doesn’t have much that’s positive to say in this update, not at first anyway. It also starts with an opening premise that seems to be contradicted by facts – that the production of food is in so few hands that the supply chain isn’t secure. It then points to the Covid pandemic when… er… I don’t remember hearing stories of food running out. Panic buying, yes. Kinks in the supply chain, yes. More than that – not so … Read more
Donald Sutherland in Klute

Klute

Donald Sutherland died the day before yesterday, so I thought I’d rummage around and see what I had of his. Turns out I have Klute in Criterion’s 4K restoration. And, having now watched it, I can report that it delivers on many levels, not least Sutherland’s performance, which is a thing of minimalist wonder. It was made in 1971 so we’re at Peak Donald – Mash, his breakthrough, and Kelly’s Heroes had both come the year before. Don’t Look Now would come two years later. Then came 1900 and Fellini’s Casanova, probably the best of the bunch of around 18 movies Sutherland made in that hot streak from 1970-77. Klute is actually Jane … Read more

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