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Liam has a swim

The Lesson

If Saltburn left you craving more class envy and death in a grand country house then pile your plate high with The Lesson. You also get another helping of Richard E Grant at his most brutally awful. At his best, in other words. Like Saltburn it’s the story of an outsider invited to spend some time with a very la-di-dah family. Liam (Daryl McCormack) is a very smart would-be writer taken on to act as the tutor (the film’s original title) to the son of the nation’s favourite novelist, JM Sinclair (Grant). The job: get son Bertie (Stephen McMillan), a shoegazey heap of attitude and entitlement, into Oxford. Also in residence, as Liam … Read more
Murizio Merli as Leonardo Tanzi

The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist

A good place to start if you’ve never seen one of the “poliziotteschi” films popular in Italy in the 1970s, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Il Cinico, l’Infame, il Violento) is one of a series of movies actor Maurizio Merli made with director Umberto Lenzi, both leading lights of the genre that took over when spaghetti westerns lost their box-office allure. The action is set during the so-called “years of lead” of political turmoil in taly and centres on Inspector Leonardo Tanzi (Merli), a decent cop who handed in his badge in the previous outing for Merli and Lenzi, The Tough Ones. But his life as an everyday freelance sword of … Read more
Anson Mount as Dr Strauss

MK Ultra

If the title MK Ultra means something to you already, you’ll know what this movie is about – the CIA’s MKUltra program, mind-control experiments on unwilling, ignorant or forced volunteers (soldiers, prisoners, prostitutes) using LSD and other drugs, often psychotics or psychedelics. There were various aims but one of them was the creation of the perfect soldier, one who would obey orders without thinking. What’s odd and bold about writer/director Joseph Sorrentino’s fictionalised retelling of the story is how unsensational he makes it considering the historical facts – the experiments were entirely illegal and secret and only came to light in the 1970s. Sorrentino’s preamble tells us the program got up and running … Read more
Sgt Brown and his daughter

Cut-Throats Nine

With eyes obviously much sharper than mine, some people maintain that 1972’s Cut-Throats Nine (Condenados a Vivir) is the inspiration for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. It’s true both are westerns and the snowy setting of Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s original is unusual in the same way that The Hateful Eight’s was (though let’s not forget Sergio Corbucci’s great snow-filled western The Great Silence of 1968). And it’s also true that Tarantino loves to plunder overlooked genre movies of yore. Which would make this spaghetti western – a paella western, more precisely, since it’s made in Spain – a prime candidate. But having watched it I cannot see much more connecting the two films than … Read more
Katja, Nola and Martina relaxing

The Long Summer of Theory

The “theory” in the title The Long Summer of Theory (Der lange Sommer der Theorie) refers to critical theory, a grab-bag term that lumped together the likes of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, an achingly fashionable cohort of philosophers and theorists whose thoughts and theories were referenced in universities and in the wider field of (especially) the arts until one day, someone concluded, their “summer” had ended. That someone was Philip von Felsch, whose book, The Summer of Theory, is the starting point for film-maker Irene von Alberti’s relentlessly fascinating examination of the political scene among young people – women mostly – who reckon themselves to be progressive, politically engaged and … Read more
Alice asleep with eye shade

Footprints on the Moon

What is Footprints on the Moon (aka Footprints aka Le Orme), apart from an Italian movie from 1975? Genre categorisation isn’t easy but how about psychological sci-fi thriller meets love story meets giallo horror meets paranoid modernist dreamscape? Or, from a different direction, it’s DP Vittorio Storaro’s entry in the “world’s best cinematographer” competition. The visuals are astonishing, glorious, technically insane at times. And they also threaten to bring the film to a complete standstill here and there. But it just doesn’t matter because a) they are so bloody amazing and b) there isn’t very much to bring to a standstill in the first place. So, yes, there’s not much plot. But what … Read more
Kate investigates

Mara

“Over 40% of the world’s population suffer from sleep paralysis,” the written preamble to Mara informs us. “Two thirds of them describe being attacked by a demonic entity.” Entirely fanciful statistics delivered, director Clive Tonge, who presumably wrote this nonsensical opening statement with co-writer Jonathan Frank, gets his movie underway. It is, you won’t be surprised to discover, a horror movie about demonic entities – just the one, in fact – visiting people in the night and pinning them to the mattress while they lie in their beds asleep, or are frozen in fear half awake while is this all going on. The star is Olga Kurylenko, who plays a forensic psychologist working … Read more
Saadet Isil Aksoy as Isil

Eastern Plays

What has a guy got to do to stay noticed? Take Bulgarian director Kamen Kalev’s 2009 feature debut Eastern Plays. It got good reviews (Variety called it “an impressive debut”), went to Cannes and won a clutch of awards on the festival circuit. But Kalev has made only three films in the intervening 15 years and his latest, 2020’s Février (aka February), is currently sitting on the IMDb with no reviews whatsoever to its name. On the evidence of Eastern Plays, which is the only one of Kalev’s films I’ve seen, this is grossly unfair. This is an extraordinarily accomplished film, full of visual style, and loaded with a vivid punk energy and … Read more
Fran's fantasy of being dead on a beach

Sometimes I Think About Dying

Can we agree that the casting of Daisy Ridley in the Star Wars reboot was one of the best right calls ever made? My preferences established, can we all also agree that her non-Star Wars choices have often been less than stellar? On to Sometimes I Think About Dying, a reminder of why she was chosen for The Force Awakens and how good she can be with the right material. In flat grey Oregon, flat grey Fran (Ridley) lives a mouselike existence, creeping every day into her desk job in a run-of-the-mill office, creeping home again after work for a dinner consisting of cottage cheese before settling down for the evening with a … Read more
Hélène and Charles

Que la Bête Meure aka This Man Must Die

Writing poetry doesn’t pay very well and so in the 1930s Cecil Day Lewis, father of Daniel, started writing detective fiction on the side. The Beast Must Die was his fourth crime novel. Translated literally into the French, it gave Claude Chabrol the title of his unusual 1969 thriller, Que la Bête Meure, which in English usually goes by This Man Must Die, and even sometimes Killer! As titles go all three are good penny-dreadful shockers but the film is anything but, even though it starts with the death of a child mown down by a car going recklessly fast and continues with the father’s quest to find and kill the driver. Michel … Read more
Clara Nowak loses her cool

The Teachers’ Lounge

Instructive but not didactic – and also as tense as hell – The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) takes a fairly simple situation and not only escalates it but pushes it out in all directions. Good guys and bad guys are there none, or not, at least, any that we can quite get a glove on. We’re in a German school where someone has been stealing stuff from the staff room. It’s one of the kids, is the feeling, since what adult would do such a thing? As the action opens Clara Nowak, an idealistic new teacher, is trying to prevent her class of kids from being physically searched. She’s unsuccessful and the search does … Read more
Gérard Séty as Dr Malic

Les Espions aka The Spies

In the 1950s Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot were always looking over the directorial shoulder at each other. In Les Espions (The Spies in English) Clouzot attempts his most overt homage to one of Hitchcock’s amused thrillers… and gets it completely wrong. A non-thrilling thriller crossed with a non-funny comedy is the result. Gérard Séty plays the Hitchcockian innocent abroad, a shrink running a struggling private psychiatric clinic who takes up an offer from a shady American agent in a bar to hide a spy on the run in return for a big wedge of cash. The Americans chose this man and this place, it seems, because it’s ideal as a safe space: … Read more

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