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Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage in The Family Man

The Family Man

On with the florid jumper, down with the heavy meat-based meal and away we go for Christmas. Oh no it isn’t, I hear you shouting. See, you’re getting it. But, inexplicably, when this festive-themed movie was released in the UK on DVD, it was decided that the middle of the summer was the time to do it. Windows, that’s the reason – the scheduling slots decreed by the suits to give the cinemas time to milk the product first, before the home entertainment departments get their hands on the big cash-laden teat. It’s that sort of film too – two sets of concerns vie for a hold on the central character, played by … Read more
Snow White sings to the bluebird in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

David Hand? Look at the credits and you’ll see the name down as the director, one among quite a few, depending on where you’re looking. Such is the grip of the “director as auteur” notion on modern thinking that everyone – from the IMDB down – feels obliged to list the director first, as if theirs were always the guiding hand. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Snow White is a Walt Disney film. He might not have directed any of it but he directed the people who did. And, in the days when we’re meant to marvel at the computer-generated output of Pixar and the like, how much more amazing to … Read more
Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller and Jason Patric in Your Friends & Neighbors

Your Friends and Neighbors

Like writer/director LaBute’s In The Company of Men, his 1997 debut, Your Friends and Neighbors deals with a theme that’s current in cinema – that all men are rubbish. LaBute focuses on three self-obsessed friends, travelling further into their psyches as the film progresses. And the further he travels, the shallower the trio appear. Contemporary gents, LaBute appears to be saying, have benefited enormously from the liberalising cultural shift of the 1960s, but these days instead of being high, they’re more high and dry. For some people this film might be a bit preachy, a bit speechy, and it’s true that LaBute’s origins as a writer for the stage seem fairly evident. Perhaps the … Read more
Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root in Persuasion

Persuasion

Before popping up seemingly out of nowhere when he directed Notting Hill, Roger Michell had had a successful career as a theatre director, at the groundbreaking Royal Court Theatre in London with Samuel Beckett and John Osborne (where he also met Danny Boyle), before moving on to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and then switching to directing for TV. Persuasion was his second gig for the BBC, and considering that stories of difficult love (Notting Hill, The Mother, Venus) would be his future, and the theatre was his past, it is the Venn diagram overlap of the two spheres. His cast for Persuasion is theatrical through and through, Amanda Root (an RSC stalwart) … Read more
Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore

Rushmore

Hollywood in look but in tone something else, this is the odd tale of an intellectually precocious, loquacious, speccy, blazer-wearing 15-year-old (Jason Schwartzman) who falls for one of his teachers, pretty Olivia Williams (think of a non-irritating Liz Hurley with a couple of decent dinners inside her). Unfortunately, misanthropic  local steel baron Bill Murray (back on Groundhog Day form) is equally smitten. Faint heart never won fair lady and the oddly mismatched and yet similarly obsessive love rivals are soon at it hammer and tongues. Very weird and often touching romantic comedy ensues as these two strange characters are dissected, helped along by acting that’s all played straight, no one raises even so … Read more
Madeleine Carroll handcuffed to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

There are several filmed versions of John Buchan’s novel. The other two notables have Kenneth More and Robert Powell in the lead. But this one, in spite of its antiquity, is the best. It stars debonair, pencil-moustached Robert Donat as the innocent man forced into going on the run after accidentally getting caught up at the wrong end of someone else’s spying caper. The “innocent” theme was something Alfred Hitchcock was already comfortable with in 1935 and one which he’d return to repeatedly, most notably in North by Northwest. If you’ve read John Buchan’s original book, you’ll know The 39 Steps is a taut thriller full of derring-do, a rattling good read even … Read more
Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine in Spring Breakers

15 August 2013-08-15

Out in the UK This Week The Gatekeepers (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD) What sort of people would you expect the former heads of Israel’s counter terrorism agency, Shin Bet, to be? This documentary takes prejudices (mine, anyway) and turns them on their head. Sure, collectively they look like they’re auditioning to be the next Bond villain – when they talk about killing, they smile, they chuckle – but they’re a lot more pragmatic than you’d expect. And their opinions on the illegal settlements, the religious zealots who drive policy in so many areas, and the occupied territories are just not what you’d expect. That director Dror Moreh got any of the surviving former heads, … Read more
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

Based on the breakthrough novel by former spy John Le Carré, shot in black and white to suggest that espionage is unglamorous, dirty work and starring a hollowed out Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is as far from James Bond as it’s possible to get – further, even than Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer of the Ipcress File. Telling the story of a jaded spy who is busted to a desk job in London and then recruited by East German intelligence – or that’s what they think – it’s a bleak marvel, as redolent of the drab side of the 1960s as the smell of a wet duffel coat. Martin … Read more
Elvis in rehearsal in That's the Way It Is

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is Special Edition

Here’s Elvis trying on the cape, the batwings and the wide belts in Las Vegas in 1970. There must have been a lot of material in that original white outfit because it was certainly let out a lot as the Seventies progressed. But not here, this is Elvis at his sleekest, only two years after his famous 1968 comeback special, when he proved he was one of the few people in the world who could wear top-to-toe black leather and not look like a gimp. This “special edition” is a recut of the original film, there’s a lot more goofing about, more pre-show rehearsal with the band (watch James Burton on guitar and … Read more
Greer Goodman, Donal Logue and Nina Jaroslaw in The Tao of Steve

The Tao of Steve

“Men and women both want to have sex, but women want to have sex 15 minutes after us, so if you hold out for 20, she’ll be chasing you for five.” Everyone knows a shlubby, none-too-handsome guy in a low-status job who seems to do OK with the ladies. The Tao of Steve analyses that phenomenon, and casts the incredibly likeable Donal Logue as Dex, its hero. His quest – to get laid as often as possible. This he does with ease since he follows “The Tao of  Steve” a babe-magnet philosophy borrowed from all the chilled Steves of the world (McQueen, McGarrett, Austin – his list, not mine). Dex may be overweight, he may … Read more
Rosario Dawson

5 August 2013-08-05

Out in the UK This Week         Trance (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) Danny Boyle’s attempt to retake the crown as Britain’s most commercially savvy yet critically hailed director – current holder Christopher Nolan – sees him heading up Inception avenue with a crime thriller. Trance takes a basic heist plot, throws hypnosis and multiple levels of reality into the mix, then lays on the group dynamic of Shallow Grave. Which means that auction-house gopher James McAvoy, hypnotherapist Rosario Dawson and gangster Vincent Cassel are playing a threesome not exactly at ease in each other’s company. There’s much to enjoy here, particularly Boyle’s sense of pace, Cassel’s cool Mr Nasty turn … Read more
Max Adrian as Frederick Delius in Song of Summer

Song of Summer: Frederick Delius

Any follower of British arts programmes on TV, from the South Bank Show backwards, will be aware of the bleating of Ken Russell and his ilk that no one really makes ’em like they did in the Sixties, when clever chaps freshly down from Oxbridge would be sent out with a curmudgeonly working-class crew and instructed to make films on anything that took their white-shirted fancy. Well, I have to report that Russell’s 1968 B/W film on Delius does back him up. Detailing the strange five-year relationship between Eric Fenby, the young amanuensis who helped blind dying syphilitic Frederick Delius complete some of his most noted works, it is very good indeed. Russell wasn’t … Read more

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