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John Connor with rifle

The Hard Way

1980’s The Hard Way sounds like the answer to several questions in a quiz with a special round on esoteric movie trivia. What’s the only film that Patrick McGoohan and Lee Van Cleef starred in together? What’s the only screen acting performance of the novelist Edna O’Brien? Michael Dryhurst has directed only one film – what is it called? Other interesting factoids for collectors of arcana include that the director John Boorman is The Hard Way‘s executive producer and that much of it is filmed in Wicklow, Ireland, where Boorman lived at the time. And that Henri Decaë is the cinematographer, the monster talent who did so much work with Jean-Pierre Melville. The … Read more
Salvatore Ferragamo and wooden shoe moulds of the famous

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams

As solidly made as the shoes of its subject, though not as imaginative, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams does exactly what it sets out to do – tell the life story of Salvatore Ferragamo, the man who puts shoes on Dietrich, Garbo, the Duchess of Windsor and Ava Gardner and built an empire based on high-end footwear. He was clearly a remarkable man. Born in a small village 90km east of Naples in 1898, Salvatore was the 11th of 14 children and the second of his parents’ children to have that name – an older brother had died. He wanted to make shoes from almost as soon as he could remember but his parents … Read more
Lucas, the wheelchair and Anselmo

El Cochecito

There aren’t many films called El Cochecito. That’s the Spanish title. In English it goes by the title The Wheelchair. There aren’t many films with that title either. A wheelchair is not aspirational, it’s not something people covet. (As for The Little Coach, which the film sometimes flies by, no one even knows what that is.) But the main character in El Cochecito really does aspire to own one, which makes him an unusual character. But then this is a very unusual film. Rather than confinement, the wheelchair seems to Anselmo Proharán to offer freedom, escape. He’s a retired man, a somebody back in the day, a widower who now lives with his … Read more
Lisa and Mara

The Girl and the Spider

Not much happens in The Girl and the Spider (Das Mädchen und die Spinne) but that doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Superficially the story of one young woman moving out of the apartment she’s been sharing with another, beneath the surface it’s a roiling stew of emotion, lust, jealousy, neediness and isolation. There’s are Bergmanesque developments, things said and unsaid, as we track Mara (Henriette Confurius) and Lisa (Liliane Amuat) through one day, a night and into the next day while around them wheel Lisa’s mother, a handyman and his helper, a neighbour or two, other young women from downstairs and next door, first in the apartment Lisa is moving into, and then … Read more
Dóra Szinetár as Laurin


Robert Sigl was about 25 when he started making Laurin (aka Laurin: A Journey into Death), his remarkably atmospheric feature debut. It did well at the festivals when it came out in 1989, and Sigl picked up a rake of awards. More personal movies should have followed. But since the distinctive 1994 TV mini-series Stella Stellaris, Sigl seems to have been content to scratch the idiosyncratic itch with a series of occasional shorts; to keep the wolves at bay he’s done gun-for-hire work on German TV. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere is what Laurin is about, a Hammer horror meets Mario Bava/Dario Argento affair full of red-haired women, crimson lipstick, creepy churchyards, rolling mists, an … Read more
Grey Trace


Leigh Whannell started as an actor, became a writer – of the horror franchise Saw and its sequels most notably – became a producer, then eventually a director. Upgrade is his second film behind the camera, having familiarised himself with the controls on Insidious: Chapter 3. Here he wears all the hats apart from the actor’s, in a film that’s attempting a genre blend – superhero origin meets detective thriller meets social commentary – in a techy story about a paraplegic guy who has his functions restored, upgraded even, after being implanted with a computer chip designed by a squillionaire tech mogul called Eron. Ahem. Upgrade was released in 2018, which was the … Read more
Moses with the tablets of stone

100 Years of… The Ten Commandments

Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, so good he made it twice. This is the original 1923 version, which came about after DeMille held a public competition asking for suggestions as to what he should make next, maximum shock and awe being the big idea. The winning entry started with the line “You cannot break the Ten Commandments – they will break you,” and that was that as far as De Mille was concerned, a theme and a challenge all in one. He shot some of it in two-strip Technicolor, while the rest of it was tinted, as was common at the time. That’s all gone now; restorations come in a standard black and white. … Read more
Kosovare Krasniqi as Venera

Looking for Venera

Men are mostly lurking presences rather than characters in Looking for Venera, Norika Sefa’s film which she says is about showing the world that life in Kosovo isn’t all about poverty and exotica. Sitting in London, it looks pretty poor and exotic to me. Sefa opens with a shot of a teenage female having pounding sex with a man in the woods, observed sight unseen by another teenage female. Later we learn that the young woman having sex is Dorina (Rozafa Celaj) and the one watching is Venera (Kosovare Krasniqi). They are not friends, but after Venera pulls Dorina aside to quiz her about what she was up to on her back among … Read more
Charlota and Jean


The last man standing at the surrealists’ party, Czech animator Jan Svanmajer is as good as his tag in 2005’s Lunacy (aka Sílení), a blend of live action and trademark stop-motion, using two Edgar Allan Poe stories and the life of the Marquis de Sade as inspiration. Svankmajer himself pops up just before the story gets going, in front of a white screen, to inform us that art is almost dead and has been replaced with advertising, that the deep has been replaced by the superficial, the implication being that what we’re about to see is a) art and b) deep. Bold claim. He’s also told us that his film is about two … Read more
Megan Purvis as Carly

Medusa: Queen of the Serpents

An admission. Medusa: Queen of the Serpents isn’t the film I was after. I was aiming towards plain old Medusa, Anita Rocha da Silveira’s follow-up to Mate-Me Por Favor (Kill Me Please). Both films came out about the same time and when you type Medusa into Amazon, the covers of both films come up. Both feature a woman’s face and a greenish background. They’re pretty similar. Hence…  Failure explained. Preamble over, let’s dive into a film that also dives pretty hard, and with great enthusiasm, into its low-budget ethos. It’s all set on a grim caravan site somewhere in low-rent UK, where a trio of working girls – Carly (Megan Purvis), Simone (Sarah … Read more
The executioner (left) with the undertakers

The Executioner

It’s only towards the end of The Executioner (El Verdugo) that it becomes really obvious what writer/director Luis García Berlanga is up to. Released in 1963 during the Franco era in Spain, when to criticise the regime was to court disaster, it looks to all intents and purposes like a light comedy, maybe like Italian ones starring Marcello Mastroianni, or British ones featuring Leslie Phillips, or the ones Billy Wilder was still reliably turning out in the USA. It focuses on José Luis (Nino Manfredi) a young undertaker in Spain who’d rather be an engineer in Germany, who we meet at a prison where he’s about to take delivery of a body recently … Read more
Alex Bakri as Sami

Let It Be Morning

Sam and Mira are a Palestinian couple back in the village where he grew up. They’re at the wedding of his brother, a big, rowdy affair, with the extended family out in force, music, dancing, kids running around, it’s a lot of fun. It’s being held in his father’s half-built house and as Sami wanders off around it to grab some air and a moment to himself, he discovers exactly who is doing the building, one of the “daffawis”, as Palestinian refugees are disparagingly known by Sami’s far less woke brother in law. This refugee is a ragged looking guy and he’s camping out in a shell of a room with his young … Read more

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