You and Me

Sylvia Sidney and George Raft

What’s the best Fritz Lang film? The argument could go on all night, and there are so many to choose from – contenders include M, Fury, You Only Live Once, The Woman in the Window, or While the City Sleeps. Or how about Rancho Notorious, Metropolis, The Big Heat or Man Hunt? So how about the worst one? 1938’s You and Me is a prime candidate. It’s still an interesting if largely unsuccessful film. Lang himself considered it to be his worst, a “lousy picture”, he said in his autobiography, in which styles argue with each other while a miscast lead does his best to make sense of a character. George Raft is … Read more

A Man Called Otto

Tom Hanks as Otto

Gently coaxing boomers away from the culture-wars trenches, Otto is the sweet story of a sour man, a Christmas movie with no snow or jumpers (or Christmas, just for the avoidance of doubt). Otto is Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, or George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the guy failing to see that heaven is a place on earth, if you want it to be. See also Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood as the grouch copping redemption). And St Vincent (Bill Murray ditto). It’s an adaptation of a Swedish novel, En man som heter Ove (A Man Called Ove), a bestseller in many markets, and it’s already been spun off once, into … Read more


Victoria Guerra as Lena

The bare bones of ace provocateur Andrzej Zulawski’s final film, 2015’s Cosmos, are easy to lay out. A writer called Witold goes to Portugal to write a book. He is staying in a French-speaking private house, the sort of place where everyone eats dinner together in the evening. While there he strikes up a friendship with fellow holidaymaker Fuchs, a designer who’s just chucked in his job with a big French fashion house. Also there are Madame Woytis, who rules the roost, along with her second husband, Léon. Plus her daughter, Lena, and Lena’s new husband, Lucien, the pair of them so good-looking it hurts. In the evenings, while Madame twitters and Léon … Read more

Lamborghini: the Man behind the Legend

Frank Grillo as Ferruccio Lamborghini

Frank Grillo is the best thing about Lamborghini: the Man behind the Legend, putting force and subtlety into his portrayal of Ferruccio Lamborghini, the farmer’s son who wanted to make tractors, later the tractor manufacturer who became a producer of high-end sports cars. Choose your metaphor – a vehicle that never quite gets going, a gear change fumbled, an engine running on the wrong fuel – this a strange film relying on prior knowledge, and lots of it, to fill in the gaps. Back from the Second World War, young Ferruccio (played here by Romano Reggiani) disappoints his farmer father by proclaiming that he’ll not be taking on the farm when his time … Read more

The Narrow Margin

Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor

Dangers on a train? If it’s jeopardy on board a speedling locomotive you want, The Narrow Margin is the way to go. Made for buttons, shot in 13 days and with no big tentpole stars, it made the name of director Richard Fleischer, a B-movie guy bumped straight up to the big time once it eventually debuted. “Eventually” because RKO’s owner Howard Hughes sat on it for two years. There are many theories as to why – one prime candidate is that he was going to reshoot bits of it with bigger names to capitalise on its obvious qualities. Another that the film got caught up in Hughes’s machinations as he tried to … Read more


Young Siegfried in his room

Terence Davies struggled to raise the finance for Benediction, as he does so often with his films. There’s no multiplex demand for Emily Dickinson (subject of his last feature, 2016’s A Quiet Passion) or Edith Wharton (2000’s The House of Mirth), he’s told, and in any case the uncompromising Davies isn’t the sort of writer/director to meet audiences halfway with explication-heavy dialogue. Producers and money men take fright. And yet, every time a new Davies movie does finally make it to the screen, it turns out that there is an audience for it, the people who have some idea who this modernist poet was, or that infamous writer, or want to know more. … Read more

Cutter’s Way

Jeff Bridges as Richard Bone

When it’s remembered at all, 1981’s Cutter’s Way is often lumped in with All the President’s Men, The Parallax View and other 1970s conspiracy dramas, but it’s much more at home in the company of 1970s noirish murder thrillers, like Chinatown, or, most obviously, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Apart from mis-categorisation its other big problem is its title. It was originally Cutter and Bone, after the two men at its centre, drunk, angry firecracker Alex Cutter (John Heard), who lost an eye, an arm and a leg in a war we assume to be Vietnam. And slinky, college-educated golden boy Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges), whose given and family names both hint at … Read more


Elisabeth at a formal dinner

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898), the focus of writer/director Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage, isn’t that big a deal outside the Germanosphere. Inside it, though, it’s a different matter. A huge number of documentaries have been made about her in Germany and Austria, going all the way back to 1921. The interest remains fervent in the 21st century. So far this decade she’s made an appearance in no less than five Austrian/German dramatisations of her life – as well as Corsage, there’s the TV series Sisi; feature Elisabeth; another TV series, The Empress; and another feature, Sisi and I (whose release date got bumped when Corsage came along). What’s the fascination? Maybe it’s that she, … Read more

La Règle du Jeu

Octave with pilot André and Christine

The usual description of Jean Renoir’s 1939 classic La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) as a swingeing/coruscating/blistering (or some such) indictment of the ruling class on the eve of the Second World War misses something – it’s a farce, and a funny one, done at breakneck speed. Sure, the swingeing etc etc stuff is there, but it’s more a background, a bass drone. Equally important is what’s going on up top. Here, the brilliance of Renoir’s direction is most obvious. The plot gathers a bunch of (mostly) highly entitled, frivolous, selfish characters and sequesters them in a chateau for the weekend, where clandestine affairs and class-warfare skirmishes are conducted below … Read more

Holy Spider

Rahimi dressed modestly for undercover work

Between August 2000 and July 2001, Iranian serial killer Saeed Hanaei murdered 16 women in the holy city of Masshad, Iran, in what he claimed was a jihad against decadence – Hanaei’s victims were either prostitutes or drug users or both. Holy Spider tells the story of the “spider killer” – he lures them to his place, where he kills them, hence the name – and the female journalist who set about tracking him down, in the face of the attitude of male journalists, male cops and male imans, who are barely capable of registering what’s going on as a crime, because it’s druggies and whores who are the victims, but even more because … Read more