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I Became a Ukrainian Vodka Baron

Meet Dan Edelstyn. He’s made a film, he’s resurrected a vodka brand and he’s reviving the fortunes of a faraway Ukrainian village Halfway through making a documentary about his grandmother, director Dan Edelstyn realised he was going to have to start all over again. The film he’d been shooting since 2005 – working title From Bolshevism to Belfast – had been a great story. It told of his Jewish grandmother’s sudden exit from Ukraine in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. How privileged, pretty Maroussia Zorokovich had wound up in Belfast, where her husband, Dan’s grandfather, had promptly gone native and become more staunchly Orange than the Paisley family. It was the story of … Read more
Uggie the Jack Russell with co-star Bérénice Bejou in The Artist

Dogs in the Movies

Dogs. Yes, that’s right, dogs. I’ve probably already doubled the amount of traffic to this site just by writing the word “dogs” three times. Four times if you count that mention. Because people just love dogs (five). They can’t help themselves. It’s down to their dependability. A human being might let you down, but a four legged friend probably won’t eat you until you’ve been dead at least four days. A cat would probably tuck in while you were still warm. Trenchant insight aside, a dog’s loyalty and trainability make it a natural for the movies. A dog can be encouraged to do stuff that’s cute. Or, with a sign from off-camera, it … Read more
Andrea Riseborough as young Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley

Five Films about Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, Mrs T, The Iron Lady, is dead. 31 years ago she was the most unpopular UK Prime Minister in history. Then, after winning the Falklands War she was re-elected in 1983. She was elected again in 1987 before being defenestrated by her party in 1990, a defeat she never quite came to terms with. Politically she was deeply divisive but on one point everyone is agreed – she recast British politics, and to a certain extent global politics, with her doctrine of open markets, privatisation, financial deregulation and tax cuts. Thatcher made the world we live in now. To some she was the greatest prime minister who ever lived, to others … Read more
Julian Richings in Cube

What Is an Aseptic White Room Thriller?

The simple answer to the question “what is an aseptic white room thriller” (AWRT) is Cube, Vincenzo Natali’s cult Canadian sci-fi movie from 1997. More abstractly, it’s a film that takes place on a single set, usually white though not necessarily. Lighting will be clean, clinical, fairly devoid of shadow. Soundtrack music will be scarce or absent. As for sound design, a background hum of air-conditioning is standard. Clanking, the whooshing of doors, “noises off”. It’s the plot that is most definitive. In the AWRT no one really knows what’s going on. Typically the film opens with the characters who don’t know each other waking up somewhere far from home, to find that … Read more
All That Heaven Allows original poster

The Curious Return of Douglas Sirk

What is it about a film-maker who died around 25 years ago in obscurity that fascinates a new generation of directors? The director Douglas Sirk died in 1987 aged 90. Born in Hamburg as Detlef Sierck, he became well known for his string of lush melodramas made in Hollywood in the 1950s. Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959) are considered his key works. The French “auteurists” were the first to start the re-assessment of Sirk in the late 1950s – the distinctive look of his films marking them out as … Read more
Lotus Flower finds the half drowned sailor

100 Years of… The Toll of the Sea

There are two good ancillary reasons for watching The Toll of the Sea, on top of the fact that it’s a touching, almost heartbreaking drama of a sort it’s almost impossible to imagine being made today. The first is that it stars Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese American star, here only 17 years old in a role that puts her to the test in terms of subtle emoting, and finds her sailing through unscathed. The second is that it’s the oldest existing Technicolor movie left on the planet. There was an older one, The Gulf Between, made in 1917, but that went up in flames and is now permanently lost. It was … Read more
ben dover wordpress

Ben Dover: The Sultan of Schwing

Britain’s pornographer-in-chief on the toughest thing about his job, changing attitudes to sex and why all politicians are bastards  “M’lud, one of the pornographic tapes in question involved a young lady and a German sausage, a Brat… (leans back) – or was it a Bock…? It was, I believe, a Bockwurst. The lady was in the process, your honour, of committing an unnatural act with a meat appendage.” Ben Dover, real name Simon (though he tells me it’s Lyndsay) Honey, hits the Soho bar we’re meeting in with his motormouth at full throttle and full volume. Now sitting opposite, he’s telling me about his court appearance for supplying porn to some Belgian bloke … Read more
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

The Best Films of 2014

Of the 350+ films I saw this year, these are the best ones. Some of them were released last year and I’ve been a bit slow getting round to them. Some of them were released even longer ago. The criteria are – I watched them in 2014 and I liked them. That’s it. The Best Computer Chess (2013, dir: Andrew Bujalski) Andrew Bujalski, inventor of mumblecore, proved there’s life in the old beast yet with this retro-verité drama about geeks meeting in the 1980s to pit their programs against a chess-playing computer. Shooting on original video cameras in fuzzy-edged boxellated black and white, Bujalski catches the moment when the let-it-all-hang-out era died and our … Read more
The musketeers and D'Artagnan join swords

100 Years of… The Three Musketeers

You’d have thought that the silent The Three Musketeers from 1921 would be the first film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s novel but it wasn’t. Depending on how you count these things it was around the seventh or eighth film version since 1903. It wasn’t even the first of 1921. That honour went to a French serial shot in 14 episodes, Les Trois Mousketaires. But this one, directed by Fred Niblo and starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr, eclipses all the forerunners and most of the successors, largely thanks to the presence of Fairbanks, cusping 40 when he made this but leaping around and larger than life from the moment he hits the screen. This happens … Read more
Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor in Factotum

Movies About Charles Bukowski

The news that James Franco is directing a film about gravel-voiced, pock-faced author Charles Bukowski, the go-to man for closet writers, bedroom tough guys and incipient alcoholics, reminds us that there have been several shots on goal before. Franco has a double obstacle – films about writing are inherently uncinematic, and films that rely on an authorial voice that’s ironic but utterly deadpan are also in choppy water. So Franco is concentrating on how Bukowski’s early years – abused at home, disfigured by acne – affected his later life. Perhaps Franco is buoyed up by the success of his portrayal of another writer, Allen Ginsberg. Or perhaps not. This is not Franco’s first … Read more
Pope Benedict in Brasil in his red loafers

Popes on Film

News that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to hang up the red papal slippers sets the mind a-wandering. Who are the great popes of cinema? Oddly, this is a harder question to answer than you might think. For starters, there are many films that feature a pope at the edge of the action but very very few are actually about a pope. Also, the pope, though held in contempt in some quarters, gets a rather easy ride in the movies, possibly because so many Hollywood films were made by Jewish emigres with first hand experience of what can happen when religion is dragged into the foreground. Either way, popes and knuckle-whitening drama don’t … Read more
A wounded Juan next to a bull

100 Years of… Blood and Sand

1922’s Blood and Sand was Rudolph Valentino’s third big hit movie in two years and it deserved to be. A grand, well-appointed, beautiful-looking, subtly-acted adventure rippling with themes and sub-themes and with properly fleshed-out side characters, it’s got more going on under the hood than at first appears. Famous Players-Lasky (later to become Paramount) had been caught on the hop by Valentino’s success and insisted that he carry on with the schedule already mapped out for him – which is why you’ll find a number of B movies sprinkled along the way between The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his breakthrough, and Blood and Sand. Though Valentino was hot stuff (and knew it), … Read more

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