Old Henry

Tim Blake Nelson as Old Henry

Suddenly everyone wants a very particular set of skills. Old Henry is the latest in a line of movies where the hero turns out to be capable of things he initially appears not to be capable of at all. Before Bob Odenkirk did it in Nobody. Before Keanu Reeves in John Wick. Before Liam Neeson got the current phase underway in Taken. Before all of those there was Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, reluctantly strapping the guns back on and doing what a killing machine does. Since then Marvel and DC have reminded us of the type with many variations of the same thing – the mild mannered type who’d rather not fight, but … Read more

While the City Sleeps

Dana Andrews, Sally Forrest, Thomas Mitchell and Ida Lupino sitting at a bar

While the City Sleeps is one of the great noir titles. Which is not the same as saying it’s one of the great noir movies. In fact it’s barely noir at all. Though it does start off looking like it might be. A lurid murder before the opening credits, then titles that come blaring at us in gigantic white letters, while Herschel Burke Gilbert’s title music of clarion brass and shrill strings suggests a great noirish feast is about to be served up. The director’s name – Fritz Lang – also promises the same. He’d done Scarlet Street and The Big Heat, after all, noir lodestones. There’s been a murder and the murderer … Read more


Mother and daughter cower

Settlers is a sci-fi film so far away from what people usually term sci-fi that it barely qualifies. In fact it opens looking like a western – big craggy mountains in a dusty landscape – and then plays out like a wildlife documentary. The sort of wildlife documentary where a new male lion arrives on the scene, kills the old leader of the pride and then moves in with the lionesses who were already there. It’s the law of the savannah. In this scenario the existing cubs usually get killed, a fact innately understood by young Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) after new male Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova) arrives at their remote settlement, displaces dad … Read more

Fallen Angels

Charlie Yeung and Takeshi Kaneshiro

Fallen Angels was originally meant be the third part of Wong Kar-Wai’s previous film, 1994’s Chungking Express, but Wong realised he’d told his story already in the two separate but interlinked stories he already had in the can. No third part necessary. And so here it is, all on its ownsome, an expanded reworked standalone, released in 1995. Stylistically it’s similar to Chungking Express – lurid lighting, whipcrack edits – but Wong and DP Christopher Doyle this time use very wide lenses held very close up, rather than the much longer ones of Chungking Express. A wide lenses give everything a stretched, in-your-face immediacy. Everything is tightly on and about the person in … Read more

Human Capital

Quint and Drew face off

First-world and real-world problems collide in Human Capital, which started life as an American novel, became an Italian movie (Il capitale umano) in 2013 and then returned to the US in 2019 for this English-language version. How best to describe all three? Bonfire of the Vanities meets The Ice Storm will about do it. In other words a broad spectrum portrait of modern life, with a narrow focus critique of the elite at its core. It starts, as Bonfire of the Vanities did, with a car accident, and then plays and replays the story from the point of view of each of the characters involved. Not the same events, exactly, but a “how … Read more

The Stranger

Mr Wilson with Mary

The Stranger is an entertaining enough noirish thriller but the real fun comes from watching it as a contest between a maverick director and a studio that wanted their hireling to turn out Hollywood product rather than a grand auteurish statement. The director is Orson Welles and the year is 1946. Welles was at a low ebb. He hadn’t been let near a feature film on his own for four years. 1941’s Citizen Kane had flopped and the follow-up, The Magnificent Ambersons, had gone so far over schedule and over budget that the studio had taken it off Welles, cut an hour and reshot whole chunks of it. It also bombed. Future generations … Read more

Lucy and Desi

Desi licks chococlate off Lucy's face

Amy Poehler’s debut documentary Lucy and Desi wants to tell the story, not unreasonably given its title, of both titan-of-TV-comedy Lucille Ball and her husband, business partner and co-star Desi Arnaz. Immediately there’s a problem. Lucy was a genuine star, Desi was not. Whatever his many talents behind the scenes, first as a musician then as a producer, they didn’t translate to the screen, and even a cursory glance at any one of Desi’s many appearances alongside his wife reveal a man who looks like he’s eager to get out of the bright lights. Not everyone can be a gifted comic actor, or wants to be. This asymmetrical twin focus is tough enough, … Read more

Cop au Vin

Lavardin eyeballs Lavoisier

Bienvenue à Cop au Vin, a rare example of a French film that didn’t use its original title (Poulet au Vinaigre) in English-speaking territories when it was released in 1985 but instead went for a different French title. Poulet is slang for cop. Cop in vinegar? Shrug. Actually, it’s everyone else who’s in vinegar in this superficially straightforward policier set in a charming French provincial town where a trio of local notables are trying to corner the market for real estate and now just need one family to agree to sell up. Director Claude Chabrol opens the film with a quick scene at a party, which introduces the action. It drifts by but … Read more

After Yang

Colin Farrell in a dark room

Philosophical (ie moody) sci-fi movie After Yang picks up on Philip K Dick’s sci-fi reflections on the possibility of consciousness in bots. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and all that. Dick’s stories tends to arrive on screen dark – Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report – but director Kogonada decides to go one better than any of those with a film that is almost stygian in its gloom. No matter which way you come at this movie – soundtrack, acting, delivery of speech, clothing, cinematography, framing, screenplay – that doomy, gloomy mood is there. It makes for a meditative experience, if you’re up for something that could also be … Read more

Sorry, Wrong Number

A fearful Leona on the phone

Sorry, Wrong Number, made in 1948, is a superbly melodramatic drama taking the brittle, “dangerous dame” image of its star, Barbara Stanwyck, for a protracted ride. Four years earlier Stanwyck had starred in Double Indemnity as the manipulative minx persuading poor schmuck Ed McMurray to kill her husband, and here she is in Sorry, Wrong Number as a victim, a bed-ridden rich woman who, on a crossed line while telephoning, overhears two men discussing a murder they’re going to commit later that night. The servants have been given the night off, her husband is away, but Leona Stevenson (Stanwyck) isn’t initially that worried. But as the night progresses and as she makes and … Read more