Les Misérables

Cops Pento, Chris and Gwada

The title Les Misérables is now so associated with the musical that it’s often hard to remember that it was originally a novel by Victor Hugo, and an immensely significant one at that. Surely, bearing the book, the musical and various film adaptations of both in mind, writer director Ladj Ly must have had qualms about calling his film that. But he went ahead anyway and here’s the result, a bravado piece of dramatic film-making that not only justifies Ly’s use of the title but also validates his chutzpah. Hugo’s masterpiece often translates as The Miserables, The Wretched, The Dispossessed and The Wretched Poor, and Ly finds the modern equivalents of Hugo bread-stealing … Read more


Feinberg and Wolf meet at the opera

Worth is a film about 9/11 and its aftermath and if you were about on that day and old enough to take in what was going on you might feel there’s little reason to watch it…  The shock was so intense and keenly felt that 2001 still seems so present, no reminder necessary, thanks. There might be political qualms too (the endless War on Terror, the ill-justified war in Iraq). And there might also be the suspicion that Worth is going to be… worthy. While it’s never going to put all those concerns back in their box, Worth turns out to be an adroit, astute, brilliantly conceived and played procedural drama in the All … Read more

The Voyeurs

Pippa and Thomas with binoculars

Sydney Sweeney’s big eyes and impressive breasts both work hard in The Voyeurs, a trashy thriller designed to titillate even as it vaguely warns of the perils of being too interested in what other people get up to. As is often the way with these things, a hearty interest in what other people get up to is actually The Voyeurs‘ raison d’etre. It starts with one of those grand cinematic establishing shots of a cityscape, the camera gradually zooming in, in, in, onto a street, a shop, then dissolving the window separating outside from inside, before advancing still further into this boutique selling lingerie, and towards a changing cubicle where Sweeney can just … Read more

The Secret Garden

Mary and Dickon climb a tree

The world may not need yet another version of The Secret Garden, but here’s one anyway. The latest adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story is in a crowded field and to cut through has to compete with two very respectable adaptations, the much lauded one from 1993 directed by Agnieszka Holland and the one from 1949 starring cute child star Margaret O’Brien. There are plenty of others, going as far back as 1919, and what all have in common is the same roster of character names – one sign of something achieving classic status is that no one dicks about with the names as written on the page. See Harry Potter, Elizabeth … Read more


Francesca Annis and Jon Finch

In 1971, less than two years after his wife, Sharon Tate, and unborn child had been murdered by Charles Manson and his mad followers, Roman Polanski went to work on his version of Macbeth (aka The Tragedy of Macbeth). “Exorcising the demons” is how the result is often described. Whether you buy into the pop psychology or not, this commercial flop is a bloody and brutal film, and a remarkably powerful one – direct, cinematic, taut and… yes… bloody. Polanski got in Kenneth Tynan – at the time the UK’s most famous critic, the literary manager at the National Theatre and infamous as the first man to say “fuck” on British television – to help … Read more

We Need to Do Something

The family in the dark

There’s something of three different movie genres in We Need to Do Something. It’s an out and out supernatural horror movie featuring demonic creatures, a bit. An “escape room” thriller about the perils of not co-operating, a bit. And a fraught drama about a marriage collapsing, also a bit. Taken individually none of these genre strands does anything staggeringly original, technically remarkable or drivingly tense, but you’ve got to admire the way writer Max Booth III and director Sean King O’Grady stitch the parts together. A family retires to a bathroom convinced a tornado is coming. It is, and within minutes of screen time the storm is howling all around them, eventually uprooting … Read more

Red Penguins

The Red Penguins

Using ice hockey as the prism through which to view Russia in the immediate post-Soviet era, that’s the USP of Red Penguins, a documentary made by Gabe Polsky, the son of Russian emigrés and a former hockey player himself, so he knows whereof he speaks. Polsky takes us back to the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, when the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to start a joint venture with CSKA Moscow (aka the Red Army hockey team), once a major force on the international stage but flat broke since the end of communism. The Americans send PR guy Steve Warshaw out to Moscow to sex up the Russians’ operation. And with a … Read more


Maya and Dini arrive in the village

Impetigore? It’s the English title of a horror movie whose original Indonesian name is Perempuan Tanah Jahanam, so if you’re aiming for authenticity, pile right in. The Trivia section on its IMDb entry helpfully tells us that the word is a conflation of “Impetigo (bacterial infection of the skin that is more common in young children than other ages), and the word Gore (which means violence and bloodshed).” So there we have it – Impetigore – and I can report that, yes, there is a skin condition and children are involved and, yes, there’s gore, plenty of it as this initally moody, sweaty and fascinating film winds towards its increasingly scary close. Things start … Read more

Prayers for the Stolen

Maria, Ana and Paula at school

Writer/director Tatiana Huezo drops us straight in to Prayers for the Stolen (Noche de Fuego). As a dark screen accompanied by rapid breathing yields to a daytime scene of two females digging what looks like a shallow grave, the internal interrogation starts – Who are these people? Where are they? Is it a grave? Why do they both look so frantic? No voiceover tells us, no “useful idiot” arrives on the scene to act as a conduit from screen to viewer. Huezo forces us to work it out. She’s a director with a background in documentary-making and this adaptation of Jennifer Clement’s best-seller uses a classic technique of the observational style. What makes … Read more

The War Below

The miners marching in a line

War movies cost money, but the team behind The War Below have somehow managed to produce one on the sort of budget that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk or Peter Jackson’s 1917 probably spent on catering. And they’ve made a decent fist of it. The fascinating and true story it tells is of the British miners recruited during the First World War to break the stalemate at the battle of Messines. Their task was to burrowing out through no-man’s-land and under German lines, lay explosives and blow the enemy position to pieces. Up against the obvious challenges such as unknown terrain and impossible deadlines, the five recruits, all mates of long-standing, are also battling the … Read more