House of Bamboo

Robert Ryan as Sandy Dawson

In many ways an atypical Sam Fuller film, House of Bamboo does conform to Fuller type in one specific way – strong performances by his two leads. They are Robert Ryan and Robert Stack, as two guys involved in different ways in crime in post-War Japan. Doing almost nothing at all, Ryan acts Stack right off the screen as crime boss Sandy Dawson, an American who has found rich pickings in the debris of post-War Japan. And yet Stack is also pretty effective as a smalltime hoodlum who arrives in the country and immediately starts throwing his weight around and extorting money in the smallest of smalltime ways. What Eddie Spanier (Stack) doesn’t … Read more


AJ Cook as investigating lawyer Kate

In any contest for the top slot by the humanoid monsters of the movies, zombies and vampires fight it out for the number one slot, while werewolves lope along way behind. It could be worse – the mummies in their tatty bandages get barely any attention and even further down the field are invisible men who are hardly ever seen (geddit?). So maybe the werewolf doesn’t have it too bad, all things considered. At first glance 2013’s Wer appears to be in the business of pushing the fanged, hirsute lycanthrope even further down the pecking order. But first a pre-credits sequence in which a nice French family on a camping holiday are subjected … Read more

Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning)

Cora and Frank

Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning) was the first screen adaptation of James M Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. The novel, a best-seller and a critical hit, was published in 1934 and Pierre Chenal got his hot, fast and lyrical interpretation of it into cinemas in 1939. There have been many other versions since. Luchino Visconti made his directorial debut in 1943 with Ossessione, his unacknowledged adaptation of the story. And Michelangelo Antonioni made his directorial debut with Cronaca di un Amore (Story of a Love Affair), which lifted plot elements from Cain’s novel. Most famously there’s the 1946 Lana Turner and John Garfield version, which stuck with Cain’s title, and … Read more


Cassandro in the ring soaking up the applause

After two documentaries in 2010 and 2018 that did the same, Cassandro tells the story of Saúl Armendaríz, a lucha libre fighter in Mexico in the 1980s, and his transition from being one of masked luchadores to being an altogether rarer creature, an exótico. As a gay man on the macho lucha libre circuit, Saúl has always felt a little “exótico” among the grapplers and grunters. But he’s a masked fighter like they are, even though he’d probably be better off if he just went along with the locker-room banter and got his full flame on. So far he has resisted the switch from being a masked fighter to being one of the … Read more

A Better Tomorrow

Chow Yun-fat lights a cigarette with counterfeit money

John Woo’s woo-hoo moment came in 1986 with the release of A Better Tomorrow, the crime drama that revived his career, created the “heroic bloodshed” sub-genre and, ultimately, influenced the way action movies the world over would look. It’s a simple story, of two brothers on either side of the legal divide. Leslie Cheung plays younger brother, Kit, a cop, while Ti Lung plays Ho, the older sibling who works, unbeknown to Kit, for a gangster. Woo and his co-writers, Chan Hing-Kai and Leung Suk-wah, are much more interested in the morally compromised Ho than the slightly peevish and almost dangerously vanilla Kit. What energy they have left they lavish on Ho’s sidekick, … Read more

Let It Snow

Mia screams

Let It Snow looks like a thought experiment: could we remake The Revenant, shift the action to Georgia (the country, not the US state), swap out Leo for a relatively unknown female, and bring home the whole thing on a fraction of the budget The Revenant might have spent on turmeric tea? The answer is a qualified yes. This is Ukrainian film-maker Stanislav Kapralov’s first feature and if not everything works you can’t fault his ambition. So, yes, it’s a horror movie, of sorts, or starts out looking like one at least. There’s a pre-credits sequence where a Somebody gets killed gruesomely (a blameless young girl in this case) and then post-credits Let … Read more

Dragon Inn aka New Dragon Gate Inn

Maggie Cheung as Jade

Unsurprisingly, 1992’s Dragon Inn (aka New Dragon Gate Inn) is a remake of 1967’s Dragon Inn. One of the pivotal movies of the wuxia genre, the 1967 original paved the way for the martial arts explosion of the 1970s. If the remake is opportunistic, it also a showcase for the sort of production that Tsui Hark was masterminding in the early 1990s – movies of scale, with high production values, starring big names, made in impressive locations. And it showcases his love of eclecticism. Dragon Inn owes quite a bit to Sergio Leone’s westerns – the spectacular vista, the extreme close-up. Its soundtrack, by Chan Fei-Lit (aka Philip Chan) and Chow Gam-Wing, regularly borrows … Read more

Lean On Pete

The horse Lean On Pete with Charley

Lean On Pete isn’t at all like Andrew Haigh’s last film with the word “Pete” in the title. Greek Pete was a biographical mostly-documentary about the life of a London rent boy. It was adult in both senses of the word. Lean On Pete is YA, young adult, the coming-of-age tale of a lonely 15-year-old lad. No sex, no sign of any metropolis, no Brits. Haigh has set out to transform himself entirely as a film-maker and has succeeded entirely. If the whole thing even gets a bit aw shucks now and again, that’s probably also deliberate. His admirably direct approach remains the same, however, as it has been in all his films … Read more


Napoleon Bonaparte urges his men on

With Ridley Scott’s Napoleon thundering over the horizon on horseback, time to haul out a movie Scott and his star Joaquin Phoenix have clearly feasted on, 1927’s historic and historical behemoth, Napoleon, aka Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (ie “as seen by Abel Gance”). Adored by Coppola, derided by Kubrick, who thought it “really terrible” though technically a masterpiece, the movie clearly divides opinion but is required viewing by anyone with an interest in the Corsican general who conquered Europe or the silent films of a century ago. Whatever you think of it, you’ll get a dry laugh from reading the one-line synopsis on the IMDb – “A film about the French general’s … Read more

Million Dollar Legs

Susan Fleming, Jack Oakie and WC Fields and a number of very heavy weights

Originally intended as a Marx Brothers movie, Million Dollar Legs is a comedy with humour verging on the surreal and is set in a familiar Marx Brothers world. Even so it’s probably too mad even for them. It’s so familiar, in fact, that you might wonder if they read Joseph Mankiewicz’s original treatment for Million Dollar Legs and rejected it because there wasn’t enough meat in it for all the brothers but liked its basic outline enough to borrow it for Duck Soup, which came out the following year, 1933. Duck Soup is the one where Groucho is the ruler of a bankrupt country called Freedonia, who goes to war to save his … Read more