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Shenxiu all at sea

Deep Sea

Deep Sea came as a genuine surprise, not that I know much about the state of Chinese animation in 2024, or any other year. But what a magical, remarkable, imaginative, technically inventive film this is. The story is pretty much Studio Ghibli – Shenxiu, a young girl whose mother has walked out and whose father has remarried and lost interest in her, falls over the rail of the ship her family are on and is instantly transported to a phantasmagorical undersea world. Here she ends up in a busy restaurant kitchen on board a cranky submarine powered by pedalling walruses and is taken under the wing of Nan He, an avant-garde chef (his estimation … Read more
Dan Duryea, June Vincent and Peter Lorre

Black Angel

The final film of director Roy William Neill, who died not long after it was released, 1946’s Black Angel is one of those overlooked noirs that could stand a bit more attention. Neill was the director of the string of Sherlock Holmes film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, rattling yarns that all came in at around 60 minutes. Here he’s also wasting no time, though he has almost a feature’s length to play with – 80 minutes – introducing his characters and setting out his stall at speed. One femme fatale, three men. The femme is played by Constance Dowling, and what a magnificent firecracker of nastiness it seems like she’s going … Read more
Freud and CS Lewis

Freud’s Last Session

Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis probably never sat down and had a conversation about the existence of God, a disclaimer at the end of Freud’s Last Session tells us, but that hasn’t stopped director Matt Brown and co-writer Mark St Germain (who wrote the play on which the film is based) from shaping a what-if drama about the event. We’re in London in 1939 as war is about to break out. Freud has recently arrived from his beloved Vienna, having been chased out by the Nazis because of his Jewishness. He has cancer of the mouth and only weeks to live – he’d opt for assisted suicide (a postscript also tells us) only … Read more
Frank leans out of a car window

Thief

Know thyself, as the ancient Greeks used to say. 1981’s Thief is Michael Mann’s debut feature, one of James Caan’s finest films and though it’s neo-noir and set on mean streets (Violent Streets was its original title), it’s Greek to the bone – this hero is shot through with the tragic flaw of not knowing himself well enough. Caan plays the ex-con now running a car sales business who keeps his hand in by moonlighting as a jewel thief. He’s good, one of Chicago’s best. In an opening sequence Mann demonstrates how good, and that this film’s director has seen all the great heist movies, in a sequence wehre Frank (Caan) is shown … Read more
Rose, played by Sofie Gråbøl

Rose

Rose is a film about a woman who’s mentally ill. And if that doesn’t set alarms ringing with you, it does with me. The easy sympathy vote is one reason, the gawp at the afflicted is another. But Rose does neither, probably because its director, Niels Arden Oplev, has based his film on his experiences with his own sister. Possibly also because the superb Sofie Gråbøl plays the lead character, named Inger, just to confuse things a touch. It’s the story of an institutionalised middle-aged schizophrenic who is plucked out of her safe, cared-for existence one day by her sister Ellen (Lena Maria Christensen) and her sister’s new husband Vagn (Anders W Berthelsen) … Read more
Malyanov cradles the child he's found

Days of Eclipse

Aleksandr Sokurov’s 1988 movie Days of Eclipse is often bracketed as sci-fi but there are no aliens, spaceships or weird tech in it. It’s not set in the future either. But there is something distinctly unworldly about it and it’s also based on a book by the Strugatsky brothers, who wrote the story Tarkovsky repurposed for Stalker, another movie often described as sci-fi but which also doesn’t slot right into that groove. Sokurov knew Tarkovsky, who is clearly the strongest influence on this strangely meditative movie you might call a homage to his mentor. Both feature single guys in what you might call a colonial setting. In Stalker the dude is hacking his … Read more
Jessie and Lee take cover behind a car

Civil War

Civil War. The title and the upfront concept – a modern-day fight to the death between secessionist states and the rest of the USA – is more enticement and attention grabber than political provocation. Look for evidence of red v blue or the culture wars writ large, or the Trump years, and you’ll find them, but you have to look hard and writer director Alex Garland has other rockets to launch here. For all the big budget and hardware, helicopter firestorms and battle scenes, it’s a very small, old-fashioned B movie about a single person’s journey towards salvation, with Kirsten Dunst as the battle-scarred war photographer whose inner dialogue about her approach – get … Read more
Anthony Franciosa as author Peter Neal

Tenebrae

The last time I watched Tenebrae was in 1999, when it had just been released in as near to a complete, uncensored version as anyone up to that point had managed for the home entertainment market. I didn’t like it much. A “weird blood-bucket whodunit” was one line in my notes, which also mentioned its strange non-sequiturs, its jagged dramatic throughline and its disengaged acting. So I thought I’d give it another go, to see whether Arrow’s recent 4K remaster – every nanosecond of it now back as Dario Argento intended – improved on the Nouveaux version from the last century, which was on VHS. For those who’ve not seen it, the film … Read more
Adam Brooks as Rey Ciso

The Editor

Astron-6 are a bunch of Canadians who knock out intelligent entertainment with a twist. They’re on a giallo tip with The Editor, and really the only thing you can say against it is that there’s probably too much of a good thing. It’s not really a horror film, though there’s plenty of splatter in it. No scares, in other words. That’s not the intention. They’re comedians, Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy and the cohort of creatives around them, or pranksters at the very least. A send-up of the sort of movie that wowed Italian audiences from the 1960s onwards (and went on to wow foreign audiences who could be bothered with subtitles), The Editor … Read more
Elizabeth Taylor in spectacular headdress

Boom!

“Beyond bad… the other side of camp… a perfect movie, really.” Schlock-loving John Waters’s verdict on Boom! is pretty much the mainstream take on this 1968 monstrosity, a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that is so monumentally kitsch that everyday adjectives aren’t up to describing it. Camp or kitsch? Why not both? If camp is unknowing whereas kitsch is deliberate, this has to be the latter, since it’s an out-and-out attempt to fix Tennessee Williams’s unsuccessful play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by making it even more grandiose and exaggerated than it was on the stage. You may hate it but you cannot deny its spectacle. The great Douglas Slocombe … Read more
Šarlota basks in the sun

Nightsiren

A young woman returns to the Slovakian village she fled as a child, little realising that she’s going to get the frostiest of receptions. She’s a witch, the townsfolk whisper, or the daughter of a witch, or at least lived in the house where the witch lived, they say. And, what’s more, while fleeing all those years before, she pushed her little sister off a cliff to her death. This is true, but the little girl’s death was an accident, a flashback makes clear, but no one in this village is buying that, or trading in hard facts where Šarlota (pronounced Charlotta and played by Natalia Germani) is concerned. She has been tagged, … Read more
Lon Chaney as HE the clown

100 Years of… He Who Gets Slapped

It’s 100 years old, at least, He Who Gets Slapped. Which helps explain a title that would be laughed out of the first production meeting these days. “He Who…? He Who?” Sounds like an old car changing gear. As for the rest of it, it wouldn’t pass muster either. Way, way too unsettling, grim and dour for our times. Though it might make a nicely dark horror movie. Here’s a film that was praised to the skies when it came out. The New York Times thought it was “perfect”… and a “faultless adaptation” of the original hit play (which had transferred from Russia to Broadway and become a hit all over again), and that … Read more

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