Medusa: Queen of the Serpents

Megan Purvis as Carly

An admission. Medusa: Queen of the Serpents isn’t the film I was after. I was aiming towards plain old Medusa, Anita Rocha da Silveira’s follow-up to Mate-Me Por Favor (Kill Me Please). Both films came out about the same time and when you type Medusa into Amazon, the covers of both films come up. Both feature a woman’s face and a greenish background. They’re pretty similar. Hence…  Failure explained. Preamble over, let’s dive into a film that also dives pretty hard, and with great enthusiasm, into its low-budget ethos. It’s all set on a grim caravan site somewhere in low-rent UK, where a trio of working girls – Carly (Megan Purvis), Simone (Sarah … Read more

The Executioner

The executioner (left) with the undertakers

It’s only towards the end of The Executioner (El Verdugo) that it becomes really obvious what writer/director Luis García Berlanga is up to. Released in 1963 during the Franco era in Spain, when to criticise the regime was to court disaster, it looks to all intents and purposes like a light comedy, maybe like Italian ones starring Marcello Mastroianni, or British ones featuring Leslie Phillips, or the ones Billy Wilder was still reliably turning out in the USA. It focuses on José Luis (Nino Manfredi) a young undertaker in Spain who’d rather be an engineer in Germany, who we meet at a prison where he’s about to take delivery of a body recently … Read more

Let It Be Morning

Alex Bakri as Sami

Sam and Mira are a Palestinian couple back in the village where he grew up. They’re at the wedding of his brother, a big, rowdy affair, with the extended family out in force, music, dancing, kids running around, it’s a lot of fun. It’s being held in his father’s half-built house and as Sami wanders off around it to grab some air and a moment to himself, he discovers exactly who is doing the building, one of the “daffawis”, as Palestinian refugees are disparagingly known by Sami’s far less woke brother in law. This refugee is a ragged looking guy and he’s camping out in a shell of a room with his young … Read more

Meshes of the Afternoon

Maya Deren at the window

Scan the most recent (2022) of Sight and Sound magazine’s polls of the greatest films of all time (critics are polled every ten years) and you’ll see films you know intimately (Singin’ in the Rain or Vertigo, maybe), films you might have seen once or twice (The Searchers, Playtime) and films by directors you’ve heard of but maybe aren’t over-familiar with (Ozu, Murnau, Varda, Renoir, Denis). And then, in the number 16 slot there’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Chances are you’ve not heard of it, or of its makers, Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied. But there it is. It stands out for other reasons too. It was made in 1943 and is silent … Read more

Seriously Red

Fake dolly with fake Kenny

“Find out who you are and then do it on purpose.” Seriously Red starts out with this pithy aphorism from Dolly Parton then dives into the story of Raylene “Red” Delaney, an Australian property valuer who really really wants to be the Tennessee country star herself. Red is a lovely woman but a terrible valuer, and director Gracie Otto and writer Krew Boylan’s film wastes no time in getting her fired from her job for being too empathetic, not quite pencil-skirted enough, and then putting Red on the road to glamour and glory as she goes all in on being a Dolly impersonator. But can you be true to yourself by being someone … Read more

The Piano Teacher

Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel at the piano

Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher came out in 2001, just about halfway through his remarkable 20-year run of films starting with 1992’s Benny’s Video, ending with 2012’s Amour and taking in Funny Games, Time of the Wolf, Hidden and The White Ribbon. All of them have a pitiless, lidless-eyed quality to them, and The Piano Teacher won all the major awards at Cannes when it was shown there. That will never happen again – the rules were changed so as to spread the love a bit wider in subsequent years. It’s an unusual film for Haneke because he didn’t write it and didn’t intend to direct it. He took on Elfriede Jelinek’s novel … Read more

Somebody I Used to Know

Sean and Ally drink wine together

Like some sort of cosmic ordering service, romances and romantic comedies work to put together people who deserve to be together. But what happens if the people concerned don’t deserve to be together? That’s what Alison Brie and Dave Franco’s Somebody I Used to Know sets out to discover. Married couple Brie and Franco co-wrote it, Franco directs and Brie stars, as the Hollywood burnout who heads back to the small town where she grew up after her TV show, Dessert Island (a baking meets dating reality thing), gets canned. There she bumps into the ex she bailed out on suddenly ten years before to go and make it big in Hollywood. The … Read more


Space Girl about to go on the rampage

The cheap and cheerful Cannon Group were ready for the big time in the mid 1980s. Having made a decent amount of money out of various barrelscrapers – Death Wish sequels, Chuck Norris actioners and assorted Ninja movies – they decided to move upmarket. Lifeforce was the result, a big-budget (for them) sci-fi movie and the first of a three-picture deal between director Tobe Hooper (still hot from Poltergeist) and the “Go-Go boys”, as Cannon owners, cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, were known. The film was a total flop on its release and got hacked about a bit in an attempt to make it more sellable. That didn’t work either. However, over … Read more


The family eats a meal together

Like Carla Simón’s previous film, 2017’s Summer 1993, Alcarràs is an intimate family drama shot in an unobtrusive semi-documentary style with performances so good you wonder how come actors like these get overlooked at awards time. There’s a feature idea – too good for an award (quietly files away idea only to forget it). Not the film itself, which has won a rake of gongs for direction and screenplay. But if I were handing out the trophies, almost any one of the actors (non-professionals all!) in Alcarràs involved would be a prime candidate for an honour, with Josep Abad at the top of the list. He plays Rogelio, the aged grandfather and patriarch … Read more


Jennifer Connelly

The lesbian boarding school classic Mädchen in Uniform generally seems to be somewhere in the mix in Dario Argento films, and so it is with 1985’s Phenomena, another instance of a naive teenager, Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) in this case, arriving at a girls school, this time in Switzerland, where she will be monstered by staff, pupils and other forces. Jennifer gets a frosty reception from the stiff-faced headmistress (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a woman with a gravedigger’s haircut, and by the other girls in the school, apart from her nice roomie, Sofia (Federica Mastroianni, niece of Marcello). Out in the big wide world there’s a killer on the loose, one who dispatches young women … Read more