The Letter

Leslie fires the gun into Hammond (out of frame)

Melodramas don’t start much better than 1940’s The Letter. A man fleeing from a bungalow on a balmy evening in Malaya. A woman fires at gun at him. He falls to the ground, obviously dead. She continues firing, not stopping until all the chambers are empty. “He tried to make love to me and I shot him,” the woman explains to her husband later. From the cold way we saw those chambers being emptied, we suspect this is not the entire truth. Nor do we entirely believe that the woman and the dead man barely knew each other. Because the woman’s explanation seems just a touch too blithe and high-handed. And because the … Read more

The Passenger

Randy in his fast food uniform

The psychopath as psychotherapist is The Passenger’s fresh offering, though it serves up this unfamiliar idea in pretty familiar trailer-trash style. So, no, not the iconic Antonioni movie from 1975, nor the iconic 1977 Iggy Pop song, though thematically this The Passenger is in the same territory – it’s about a guy who is not in the driving seat and is spending his time letting the world go by. Agency is the name of the game, in other words, with Randy (Johnny Berchtold) learning how to get it, and Benson (Kyle Gallner) learning the perils of having too much of it. Randy works at a fast-food joint tacked on to a semi-derelict gas … Read more

America as Seen by a Frenchman

Two old friends pose with dummies at a theme park

In the late 1950s the French documentarian François Reichenbach took his camera to the USA for 18 months. America as Seen by a Frenchman (aka L’Amerique Insolite) is the result, a snapshot of a country caught at a moment in time, where the tension between homogenising mass consumption and the individual pursuit of happiness runs through almost every frame. Reichenbach starts out in California and then winds his way across the country, finally ending up in New York. The opening shot is eye-catching – two American sailors staring out from a ship as it pulls into San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge – and Reichenbach continues to deliver seductive imagery at … Read more

Medusa Deluxe

Angie and Cleve demonstrate the fontange

“Who scalps a hairdresser?” The key line in Medusa Deluxe, an ingenious low-budget whodunit set entirely inside a regional hairdressing competition, where big characters vie to produce the hairdo that will grab the judges’ eye. Or they would have vied, if one of their number, Mosca, hadn’t wound up dead, the victim of the bizarre scalping incident. Who might have done it? An old flame, a rival, a cranky judge, an angry security guard or any one of a number of young female models, all of whom have enough spare energy to murder any number of people who get in their way. Now, the paramedics are here tidying away Mosca’s scalped body and … Read more

To Live and Die in LA

Cop Richard Chance point a gun

To Live and Die in LA – the title is almost an invitation. Its director, William Friedkin, though born in Chicago, did live in Los Angeles, and that’s where he died aged 87 last week (I’m writing this on 18 August 2023), till the end a combative, charming, rough-edged, cultured man of many parts. The director who gave us the magisterial The French Connection and the blood-thinning The Exorcist stumbled at the box office with 1977’s Sorcerer (for all its merits nowhere near as good as the film it’s based on, The Wages of Fear) and then as good as fell off the edge of the world with Cruising, a film that looks … Read more

Red, White & Royal Blue

Henry and Alex covered in cake

Hands across the sea – and down each other’s trousers – in Red, White & Royal Blue, a cute love story about the son of the US president falling for a British prince. It is the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers tale of two people who really don’t get on, until they suddenly do. The snobbish, standoffish Prince Henry and the loud American Alex Claremont-Diaz, who are thrown together at one protocol-heavy event after another, where they regularly irritate the hell out of each other until things come spectacularly to a head at the wedding of the prince’s older brother, when the pair of them somehow end up under the wedding cake, covered in … Read more


Tony with a picture of his former self

John Frankenheimer’s Seconds could almost serve as an emotional template for Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, made two years later in 1968, though Frankenheimer is working in black and white and brings much more of the live TV aesthetic to bear on his cool, highly influential horror movie – Face/Off, Total Recall and The Wicker Man also owe it a debt, and both Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon Ho are big fans. Seconds is the third, confusingly, in Frankenheimer’s so-called Paranoia Trilogy (after 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate and 1964’s Seven Days in May) and its Saul Bass opening titles neatly sum up what’s to come – distorted giant faces in extreme close-up fill the screen … Read more


Georges is calmed down by a therapist

Robust (Robuste in the original French) looks like it’s been made explicitly with Gérard Depardieu in mind. Writer/director Constance Meyer insists she that she wrote it for both Depardieu and co-star Déborah Lukumuena. But while Lukumuena does nothing but cover herself in glory, it’s Depardieu who’s the irreplaceable element. Because? Because it’s about an aged actor who has got a bit beyond himself. Georges (Depardieu) is unpredictable, wilful, prone to not turning up on set, prone also to making pronouncements about the state of the world – robust ones, to use the sort of adjective deployed by ageing red-faced males locked in endless combat with the pronoun-sensitive, offence-avoiding wokerati. It’s tempting, more than … Read more


Ninotchka and Count Léon

Because Ninotchka stars Greta Garbo, was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and was written by the great Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, along with Walter Reisch, it tends to get an easy ride when talk turns to the momentous American films of the golden era. It was released in 1939 too, Hollywood’s annus mirabilis, which also helps. If it’s not quite the classic it’s often billed as it’s not far off. Its problem – let’s get the bad stuff out of the way to start with – is that it solves the question it poses early on, leaving its star slightly with nowhere to go. The question: how would a stern, utilitarian Communist react … Read more

You Hurt My Feelings

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth

Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings is a midlife-crisis movie. A people-with-money movie. A first-world-problems movie. Prickly and trivial, easy to dislike sight unseen. Smart. A bit French. Talky. New York Jewish. The sort of film where middle-aged people drink wine and chat in restaurants while subtexts dash about beneath the surface. Like her movies Friends with Money or Enough Said or Please Give, then, except this time the knot Holofcener is worrying away at is honesty, and whether it serves a useful function in a loving relationship. Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is an author wrestling with her latest book, which is no good, though that isn’t what her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is … Read more