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Chow Yun-fat lights a cigarette with counterfeit money

A Better Tomorrow

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
Mia screams

Let It Snow

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
Maggie Cheung as Jade

Dragon Inn aka New Dragon Gate Inn

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
The horse Lean On Pete with Charley

Lean On Pete

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

Million Dollar Legs

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
Robert McCall sits in a chair

The Equalizer 3

At the beginning of The Equalizer 3 we appear to be in familiar “action hero in retirement” territory. A sunny place. Beautiful scenery. The camera drinking it all in. Surely, any minute we’ll be meeting Denzel Washington in a Hawaiian shirt, a cocktail in one hand, a pretty young woman on his arm, in much the same way Matt Damon or Jason Statham were introduced in follow-ups The Bourne Supremacy and Mechanic: Resurrection. Instead director Antoine Fuqua gives us mayhem, horror, lakes of blood, a man with a machete buried in his face, and, sitting coolly in the middle of it all, one-man vigilante machine Robert McCall (Washington). He’s clearly laid waste to … Read more
Henry Sanders as Stan

Killer of Sheep

Charles Burnett’s movie Killer of Sheep was shot in 1972 and 1973, mostly at weekends, didn’t get shown until 1978 and then vanished for about three decades even though it had had rave reviews from the few people who’d seen it and had been selected for preservation in 1990 by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The reason for its disappearance? Burnett had made it on a budget, guerrilla style, not bothering with shooting permits or anything official. Nor did he bother sorting out the music rights, and its eclectic mix of music (Dinah Washington and Scott Joplin to Earth, Wind and Fire and Rachmaninoff) is the backbone … Read more
Freddy as a werewolf

It Be an Evil Moon

It takes a while for It Be an Evil Moon to declare itself, but debut feature director Ben Etchells gives us something to snack on before it does with a pre-credits sequence – a guy driving at night in a forest finds his way blocked by something in the road. Gets out. Moves it. Gets back into the car. At this point the the entire audience is thinking “Something got into that car while you were out of it.” But Etchells does something odd just at the moment when whatever is going to pounce does pounce. With a flicker of a camera movement he pulls off the equivalent of the football one two, … Read more
Julian (Richard Gere) by a slatted blind

American Gigolo

In American Gigolo a man falls in love with the wrong woman and is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. It’s a classic film noir plot given a neo-noirish treatment in what looks like writer/director Paul Schrader’s homage to Howard Hawks and The Big Sleep. The twist being that this is the 1980s. And how. Though released in the opening year of the decade, American Gigolo is fully immersed in it. Its hero is a male prostitute obsessed with consumerist stuff. He drives the right car, wears the right clothes (Armani), is coiffed to perfection, works out to keep his body gym-toned and his skin has that well hydrated look of a … Read more
Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellan Skarsgård

Hope aka Håp

“Oh no, no, no, no, not another fucking cancer film,” was Stellan Skarsgård’s response when he was asked to be in Hope (aka Håp in the original Norwegian) by his old friend, its writer/director Maria Sødahl. Skarsgård has a point. The terminal illness weepie can itself be pretty deadly. But Hope is more about love and family life than about sickness. It doesn’t get too hung up on redemption. And it can boast fabulous performances all round, including from Skarsgård, who took the gig. The true-to-lifeness undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that it really happened. In 2011 Maria Sødahl learned that the lung cancer she thought she’d recovered from … Read more
Close up of Count Yorga's fangs

Count Yorga, Vampire

Going in to 1970’s Count Yorga, Vampire, the thing to remember – and the reason why it sometimes flies under an alternative title, The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire – is that it was originally destined to be a vampire movie of a softcore persuasion, at least as much about tits as teeth. It explains odd moments when the focus shifts from the matter at hand – an update on Bram Stoker’s Dracula story, in all the key essentials – and on to female flesh. There isn’t that much of it, to be fair to the film, which took its swerve away from the carnal early in the production process, at the point … Read more

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