Latest Posts

Redneck Keanu Reeves in The Gift

The Gift

Director Sam Raimi is an expert in genre-twisting. Back when he was making The Evil Dead he so overloaded his gore epic that it eventually became funny. With The Gift he takes on a genre even more arcane: the British whodunit. Then he does weird shit with it. First he transports the whole shebang to the Deep South to remove all traces of afternoon tea or warm beer. Then he gives us Cate Blanchett as a clairvoyant detective who can’t quite make out the identity of the murderer – well, it wouldn’t be much of film if she could, would it? And then, as a masterstroke, he takes a raft of famous faces … Read more
Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot in Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques

If you’re working yourself towards film-buffery, you really need to have seen something by master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot – “the French Hitchcock” he is often called, when Jacques Deray or Claude Chabrol aren’t using the sobriquet. You may already have seen the masterful The Wages of Fear, Clouzot’s 1953 tale of gelignite being driven across the South American jungle. It’s well worth adding Les Diaboliques, 1954’s tale of the murder most horrid – drugged, drowned – of a brutish husband by a fragile wife (Vera Clouzot) and his scheming mistress (Simone Signoret, none better). Job done, except the body keeps disappearing. Less a whodunit, more a wheresitgone, Les Diaboliques also strongly prefigures … Read more
Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan in Love Is All You Need. Photo: Doane Gregory

Love Is All You Need

Wedding films can be a bit like wedding cake – lots of layers, too sweet, just enough is already a bit too much, not everyone is a fan. Given those caveats, and with the realisation that for every joyous wedding-themed movie like Bridesmaids there’s a steaming pile such as 27 Dresses, let’s wander up the aisle with director Susanne Bier and her two stars, Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm. Brosnan plays Philip, the father of the groom, Dyrholm plays Ida, mother of the bride, people who have never met until, at the airport, she manages to reverse her car into his. Ida is a hairdresser recovering from cancer and from the fact that … Read more
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit

8 April 2013-04-08

Out in the UK this week The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD) Having eventually run out of patience with the Lord of the Rings (with the books you could at least skip the endless battle descriptions), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy The Hobbit. I was wrong. Director Peter Jackson has absorbed the humanising touches of the Harry Potter series, the rambunctious sense of fun of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (at its best, I hasten to add. POTC could also be a hell of a drag) and made The Hobbit an immersive piece of storytelling with a lot of energy. Surrender to its flow – enjoy Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, … Read more
Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould

Mash

An on-screen statement, put there at the behest of a nervous film studio, claims this film is about the goings-on at a field hospital during the Korean War. That statement apart, this is obviously a film about Vietnam, a war the Americans had already lost at home, if not yet out on the field of battle. Now, decades later, from the other end of the countercultural telescope, Mash’s relentless portrayal of the military hierarchy as being overrun by charlatans and buffoons seems a bit old hat. But the director making it had earned the right to his opinion. Robert Altman was a veteran of the Second World War who’d gone on to become … Read more
06 strong language 1

Strong Language

London wunderkind Simon Rumley wrote, produced, directed and probably did the catering on this fantastic debut feature. As an exercise in storytelling it appears to be simplicity itself. Initially it’s little more than testimonies to camera from a bunch of young Londoners as they bang on about money, clubs, drugs, sex, food, drink and Blur (well, it was made in 1998) among other things. Then the stories from the unconnected talking heads start to coalesce and something much more disturbing starts to rear its ugly head. I won’t say more than that about the plot because Strong Language’s ta-daa moment is dramatic in the extreme. Which is not to belittle the acting, which … Read more
Julian Richings in Cube

Cube

Having worked as a storyboard artist on animated series such as Babar and Tintin, Vincenzo Natali was probably not top of the list to make his directorial debut with a sci-fi cult classic. But that’s what he did with Cube, a clean pure piece of sci-fi that could almost be said to have created a genre, the Aseptic White Room Thriller. See Duncan Jones’s Moon, for another classic of the genre. Cube riffs on Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, throwing a jailbird, a maths genius, a cop, a doc, a cynic and an autistic guy together inside a hi-tech, homicidal, claustrophobic cube comprising interlocking sliding parts – think Jenga with anger issues. None … Read more
Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

A simple story from first-time feature director Jonathan Glazer – an advertising hotshot who directed the famous Guinness “surfing horses” advert . It’s all about a retired tealeaf (make sure your dictionary of rhyming slang is beside you) being forced into one last job back in Blighty (as Brits of a certain vintage mock-affectionately call the UK). And right from its opening moments, featuring a glistening Ray Winstone in ludicrous yellow trunks flat out beside a Spanish swimming pool, Sexy Beast feels like a slice of your actual quality. The film is deliciously short but the pacing is so luxuriously slow and self-confident that initial groans – Oh God, not more Brit gangsters … Read more
Björk and Catherine Deneuve in Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark

Is it “Unique” (CNN), “Heartbreaking” (The Independent), “Riveting” (Radio Times)? Or, perhaps, “Ludicrous” (Daily Mail), “Numbing” (Salon.com) or “Grim” (TV Guide)? Lars Von Trier’s low-rent, grainy tale of the Czech immigrant in the USA who is losing her sight, made according to the minimalist Dogme manifesto, won the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes film festival. And even there fighting almost broke out in the audience. What got everyone’s goat was Von Trier’s decision to couple his muddy shakeycam style to the most velour of Hollywood genres – the musical – and to cast the coolest of Euro sophisticats, Catherine Deneuve, as a factory worker. Adding to this deliberate provocation is the singing … Read more
Samantha Morton and Billy Crudup in Jesus' Son

Jesus’ Son

The son in question is played by Billy Crudup, a near schizo drug user on a no-brain road to nowhere. But never mind Crudup, wait till you see the performance by Samantha Morton. When she was cast in Sweet And Lowdown, Woody Allen’s uncharacteristically misogynist film, Allen had her playing a mute. Even so, she stole the film from under Sean Penn’s chiselled cheeks. Here it’s brave Crudup who’s standing too close to the flame. She plays the girlfriend, a hopeless smack-happy, grinning, winsome and overwhelmingly simpatico partner to FH (Crudup, who at the time seemed to be on the brink of something big). Together they bounce from balls-up to self-inflicted distress, shooting … Read more
Jason Statham and Brad Pitt in Snatch

Snatch

Two years after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie returned with a film that looked, felt and almost smelt the same. Except this time around the story is about bare-knuckle fighting and diamond heists, and Brad Pitt (for the ladies) is playing an Irish tinker, just one of a number of silly ethnic stereotypes, which include Russian gangsters, Jewish jewellers and  a Turkish boxing promoter called Turkish (played by Jason Statham, one minute before he launched his action hero career). Lock Stock traded in the same currency, you’ll remember. As well as Pitt, Snatch is studded with other non-British actors, such as Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina. Nevertheless it often feels … Read more
Antonio Banderas

The 13th Warrior

A real proper old-fashioned Sunday afternoon film – epic in intention, ludicrous in execution. Considered to be unwatchable when it was test-screened, it was partially recast, rescored and reshot – by Michael Crichton, writer of the original book, who took over from John McTiernan, his Die Hard and Predator experience counting, apparently, for nothing. Crichton’s intervention doesn’t save it. Perhaps nothing could. Perhaps it was jinxed by the presence of Omar Sharif, an adornment of so many terrible films of a similar sort in days of yore. Or by his Nineties successor, Antonio Banderas. It’s an adaptation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf and Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a Muslim banished to the … Read more

Popular Posts