Empire of Light

Stephen and Hilary on the roof of the cinema

Margate on the south coast of England is one of many British seaside towns that’s seen better days. So has its cinema, Wonderland, here renamed by Sam Mendes and his team as the Empire, for a story set in 1980 about people who’ve seen better days, a country too, perhaps. Britain once had an empire of its own, of course. Metaphor and symbolism hang heavy in Empire of Light and affect every aspect of it. In the opening sequences cinematographer Roger Deakins’s camera mooches balefully about the interior of this palace of plush. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score weeps. This place isn’t in good shape. Bits are roped off, a whole floor … Read more

It Happened Tomorrow

Sylvia and Larry

A journalist is given a fast-track to glory when he starts getting tomorrow’s headlines today in It Happened Tomorrow, a bright and breezy fantasy from 1944. It’s easy to imagine Cary Grant in this movie. He was first choice to be its lead, and Frank Capra was meant to direct. It’s also incredibly easy to imagine Capra being involved too. The corny fantasy It’s a Wonderful Life was only two years in the future. However, both are ably substituted. Grant by Dick Powell, then still en route from being a matinee crooner to his reinvention as a hard-bitten private detective later in the year in Murder, My Sweet (aka Farewell, My Lovely). And … Read more

The Final Girls

Max and Nancy share a moment

Meta-slasher horror, the last refuge of the scoundrel – discuss. If you can’t make a decent straight-up slasher movie, why not put a frame around it and serve it up with an ironic wink, right? Prejudices laid out on the table, The Final Girls actually turns out to be a decent meta-slasher horror movie, with no scoundrels in sight, a good cast, sharp, smart direction and a high concept powerful enough to get it through a tight 90 minutes of jokes, shrieks, gruesomeness and a complete lack of bare breasts. You can’t have everything. Its premise: here in the early decades of the 21st century (the movie’s from 2015 so probably about there), … Read more

Dead Man’s Letters

Professor Larsen buries his dead wife

If there’s a prize for the dourest sci-fi movie ever made, surely Dead Man’s Letters would win it. Sometimes the original Russian title, Pisma Myortvogo Cheloveka is translated as Letters from a Dead Man, which is hardly any jollier. While Blade Runner or Solaris or Dark City or Threads will all have their advocates, this strange, dark, almost entirely subterranean movie set in the bowels of a museum in the aftermath of a nuclear attack has to be a contender. The movie’s opening scene more or less says it all: a dark, stygian basement, lit in garish yellow/orange, where an old man is tending to a woman who appears to be dying, while … Read more

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise

Two hours 43 minutes of pure entertainment is what Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One delivers. The only real question it’s raised by the end of its breathless 200-odd minutes is how is Part Two going to top it? There’s even a plot, the usual one of something that needs tracking down, Ethan Hunt and his team working in the shadowy “disavowed” realm, good bad guys ostensibly from their own side and bad bad guys keen to get their hands on the thing, which this time around is a key that will disarm a rogue AI superbrain with plans for world domination. Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt. Now looking decidedly middle aged … Read more

Paris Qui Dort

Overlooking Paris from the Eiffel Tower

Paris Qui Dort, Paris Asleep, The Crazy Ray, The Invisible Ray and even At 3:25, this odd French silent movie from 1925 goes by many names and was the first feature by René Clair, a film-maker who got into movies because that’s where the girls were, or so he said, and stayed there because that’s where the money was, more than in journalism at any rate, his original career choice. It’s not a long film, a whisker under an hour in most of the versions you’ll find (At 3:25 tends to be a shortened version) but the one to go for is the 2018 restoration, a beautifully done work of wonder which presents … Read more

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Puss in Boots close up

“Fear me, if you dare!” It’s a strange catchphrase but it is Puss in Boots’s and goes some way towards explaining his appeal – dangerous and ridiculous at the same time, as befits a vainglorious furball swashbuckler who’s Zorro in miniature, a legend in his own eyes more than anyone else’s, but a legend all the same. In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish two-time Zorro and four-time Puss Antonio Banderas returns to the role and remains a good part of the appeal of this character spun off from the Shrek franchise. Puss debuted in Shrek 2, returned in Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After, then got his own show in 2011’s … Read more

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Forbin and the team discuss strategy

Often overlooked when it comes to discussion about dystopian sci-fi of the 1970s, Colossus: The Forbin Project looks a lot more chillingly prescient now than it did back when it was released in 1970, when it was seen as a sub-Strangelove addition to the genre of jokey sci-fi. It’s the story of the computer that takes over the world, enslaving all of humanity with it. And it starts with Dr Forbin, a boffin who has come up with the design for Colossus, a supercomputer that will assume control of the defence of the United States, and with it “the free world”. What Forbin, his team and the acutely involved US President don’t realise … Read more

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Pinocchio the wooden boy

Guillermo del Toro was everywhere at the beginning of 2023, promoting what increasingly became known as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio in the Oscars window between Christmas and awards night. Tirelessly, enthusiastically, he made the case that his film should have been in contention not just for Best Animated Feature but also Best Picture. Why shouldn’t animation be treated as seriously as live action, he argued. At one point while in London del Toro got stuck in a lift between appearances. That, too, ended up on social media as part of the promotional caravanserai, an example of turning that frown upside down. In the end Pinocchio won Best Animated Feature. I suspect the only … Read more

A Blonde in Love

Hana Brejchová as Andula

One of the key movies of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, Miloš Forman’s A Blonde in Love (original title: Lásky jedné plavovlásky) was also the director’s international breakout. Through a long career, individual freedom was Forman’s abiding concern. The oppressive force of totalising regimes and the stultifying power of received wisdom on individual liberty always played a powerful role in his movies, whether it was Jack Nicholson trying to get the inmates’ voices heard in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Mozart trying to find an audience for his music in Amadeus or Larry Flynt banging the drum for free speech in The People vs. Larry Flynt. It’s the same here, … Read more