Bodies Bodies Bodies

Maria Bakalova, Amandla Stenberg, Myha'la Herrold, Rachel Sennott

The thing about those murder mysteries full of celebrity names, where Faye Dunaway or Lauren Bacall swan about among fellow stars until they either wind up dead or are revealed as the killer, is that everyone on the train or in the country house deserves what’s coming to them. There’s an uber-entitlement payback thing going on. Bodies Bodies Bodies understands that dynamic and mints it anew, with a privilege-unchecked gang of nicely rich bright young things, who convene at the big old house owned by the absent dad of one of their number, take drugs, drink, cavort and finally decide to play a game. What I’d call Murder in the Dark they call … Read more

Ministry of Fear

Marjorie Reynolds as Carla, with a swastika projected over her

A Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn’t make, Ministry of Fear has the innocent man on the run, the dangerous/vulnerable blonde and a shadowy organisation pulling the levers in the background. Fritz Lang directed it, in mid 1943, but it took until mid 1944 before it was shown in cinemas (and even then it only happened piecemeal). Considering it’s about Nazis, a dangerous conspiracy and life during wartime, that’s a long time for a film to be sitting on the shelf. Fritz Lang didn’t like it, nor did Graham Greene, who wrote the book it was based on, but Lang was forced to work with the adaptation written by Seton Miller, who was the … Read more

The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed on the guitar

A stark, bare-bones title for a documentary about a stark, bare-bones band, The Velvet Underground sees superfan director Todd Haynes using his own celebrity to gain access to talking heads who might not otherwise talk – the film’s coups are having a warm, chatty John Cale and a voluble and twinkly Moe Tucker on board to deliver the “I was there” bona fides from founder members. The Velvet Underground are the template for every art-rock or avant-garde rock band ever since. In their jangling, discordant, off-key, unschooled way they burned bright and short, and the cliché runs that though not many people ever saw them, everyone who did so formed their own band. … Read more

War and Peace Part I

A lone horse and rider on a hill

So here’s the most expensive film ever made in the USSR, or a quarter of it. War and Peace Part I finally arrived in 1966 after years in the making, a rebuke to the massive 1956 US version starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda. Here’s how you do Tolstoy, the Soviets are saying, at five and half hours long, with a cast of thousands, no expense spared, big sets, huge battle scenes, and so on. It was released in four big chunks originally, too, and it’s best watched that way, in instalments. It’s impressive, certainly, shot on 70mm film for that widescreen epic look – though on muddy Soviet film stock – but … Read more

The African Desperate

Diamond Stingily as Palace

The African Desperate probably set out to give some viewers an attack of the vapours. Job very much done – it’s divided critics right down the middle, with as many one star reviews as raves. How you react to it probably depends on your knowledge of, and attitude to, art school and art students, particularly ones who are way too cool for school and who pepper every sentence with references to post-colonial theoreticians and the like. A life in other people’s words, on other people’s wits. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of make-believe – I loved it. It’s an acid satire blurring the line between savage takedown and knowing complicity precisely because it … Read more

Short Sharp Shock

Costa, Bobby and Gabriel

In 1998 while Guy Ritchie was making his feature debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Fatih Akin was in Germany making his, Short Sharp Shock (Kurz und schmerzlos). There are parallels. Though Akin’s take on the whole “guys out of their league” drama doesn’t have the sheer entertainment sparkle of Ritchie’s, it does have a feeling for life at street level which Ritchie can only conjure up as pastiche. In precisely the way Ritchie (aping Tarantino aping Leone) might do it, Akin introduces the guys in individual vignette dramas, freeze-framing to flash up a name at the end of each – Costa the Greek, Bobby the Serb, Gabriel the Turk. We’re in Hamburg, … Read more

Stay the Night

Carter and Grace embrace

Boy meets girl in Stay the Night, a story of an antsy girl and an angry boy who meet by accident in downtown Toronto and dance around each other hesitantly while writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan teases the audience with the old will they/won’t they. Grace (Andrea Bang) works in HR but has just got passed over for promotion. Too standoffish for a people-facing position, her boss says. Too picky generally, her sexually adventurous room-mate tells her. Carter (Joe Scarpellino), meanwhile, is an ice hockey player who’s just been canned from his team. Having taken his position for granted, he’s been coasting – till now. Overnight, if he’s very lucky, his agent might find something for … Read more

Penetration Angst

Dennis and Helen

Penetration Angst – a good, eye-catching title for a no-budget black comedy made in 2003 but mainlining the vibe of the 1980s video nasty. It was called just plain old Angst in the USA, which is their loss. It’s the story of a girl called Helen (Fiona Horsey) who has an unruly vagina, one frequently weaponising itself against aggressively horny guys. And since Helen is an attractive young woman, men are forming an orderly and disorderly queue for her, unaware of what awaits them. Men like Jack (Philip Hayden), a laddish boy racer in the provincial town where Helen lives, who is so desperate to have sex with her that he jams her … Read more

Aftersun

Sophie and Calum

Thanks to Normal People, the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-seller, for a while Paul Mescal was one of the most famous actors in the UK, and further afield. The world, as the Brits like to say, was his lobster. So it’s nice to see him lending his name to Aftersun, a debut movie by an unknown director, and one who’s taking risks with storytelling technique. It turns out to be a smart choice, since Charlotte Wells’s film is astonishingly well conceived and astonishingly well made. A bare-bones description: a dad and his daughter are on holiday in Turkey. Wells’s camera appears to be logging scenes from their time together as if showing … Read more

The Counterfeiters

Sally and Burger face off

When The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008, there was disquiet in some quarters. How come Cristian Mungiu’s brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days hadn’t even been nominated? Didn’t that glaring omission obviously invalidate all the other entries? As with most cases of whataboutery, the answer is yes, but mostly no. The Oscars are always a bit of a scrum and for all their claims to objectivity are best seen as industry awards first (ie the “Buggins’ Turn” rule is in play) and guarantors of quality second. In the end The Counterfeiters won and, while not quite a classic on the Mungiu level, it’s a fine … Read more