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Sister Wrath in habit, with gun

Nun of That

A film called Nun of That with the tagline “A blast for you and a blasphemy”? That’s two good reasons to watch right there. A third is that this is a funny (scrappy, admittedly) film wandering all over the dividing line between exploitation and satire. The action gets going in a strip club where a hitwoman disguised as a poledancing nun is shaking her ass at a roomful of appalled gangsters. These guys have all been raised as good Catholic boys and the sight of a gyrating bride of Christ is not helping the spaghetti and meatballs go down. Relief, of a sort, soon arrives, when the nun pulls out an automatic weapon … Read more
Carole Lombard and Jack Benny

To Be or Not to Be

Farcical Nazis. Nearly 30 years before Mel Brooks had a go in The Producers, here’s To Be or Not to Be, in which Ernst Lubitsch lays down the template. The comparisons are not endless, but in one respect 1942’s To Be or Not to Be does mimic The Producers – it’s set in the world of the theatre, itself a good target for comedy, which is where most of the laughs come from for the first chunk of the film. We’re in Poland, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, where a theatrical troupe is putting on nightly shows of Hamlet while rehearsing their next show, an anti-Nazi piece called Gestapo. … Read more
Phil on a horse

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog makes it five films in nearly 30 years for Jane Campion, plus a TV series and a handful of shorts. She’s not exactly banging them out. And taken at the level of the individual film you’d never accuse Campion of being in a rush either. It’s Slow Cinema, almost, storytelling done at a languid pace, the power coming from the meditative approach, whether it’s The Piano or In the Cut or Bright Star. Not everyone’s cup of well brewed tea. But here we are, a western, centring on two brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) who run a massive ranch in the 1920s. The influence of … Read more
Noriko laughs

Late Spring

Late Spring is the title and late spring is the condition of its central character, a woman who, at the advanced age of 27, is almost too old for marriage – she’s in the late spring of her adult life. It’s 1949 and in Japan the American occupiers are running the show after the end of the Second World War. 27-year-old Noriko is the smiling, gracious, pretty and dutiful daughter of kindly widower Shukichi (Chishû Ryû). As far as he’s concerned she’s perfect in every way except one – she really doesn’t want to marry. When Noriko meets one of her father’s old colleagues, a man who has recently remarried, she tells him that … Read more
Detail of the expressionist set design

Hinterland

Horizons aslant, perspectives askew, Hinterland borrows freely from German Expressionist cinema to put a new (old) spin on familiar material. “The war is lost,” intones a sombre voice in German as the lights come up. We’re in Austria after the First World War where a soldier just back from an extended stretch in a Soviet prisoner of war camp is acclimatising himself to life back in Vienna. He was a cop before the war and now he’s back on home turf he’d like to be again. Which is handy because there’s a killer on the loose, offing people in floridly extravagant ways – one man pinioned to a post by a large number … Read more
Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, Alain Delon

The Sicilian Clan

The golden age of hijacking (1968-1972) was just peaking in 1969 when The Sicilian Clan (Le Clan des Siciliens) debuted, a French heist movie itself hijacked – twice! – by a plot involving the illegal commandeering of a plane and by a superannuated screen star who really shouldn’t be in it. It’s really, at bottom, one of those heist movies in which security cameras, pressure sensors, alarms, iron bars, motion sensors and all the modern security paraphernalia have to be overcome by a gang smart and greedy enough to have a go. And that looks to be exactly what we’re getting as first our main guy, Roger Sartet (Alain Delon), is introduced, a … Read more
Ennio Morricone on the podium

Ennio

Whether you call this long and detailed documentary Ennio: The Glance of Music or Ennio: The Maestro, or just plain old Ennio – all three titles seem to be out there – one thing remains constant. It’s a love letter to one of the most famous film composers who ever lived. It’s directed by Giussepe Tornatore, a master of the billet doux – see Cinema Paradiso – and he brings a picturesque film-maker’s eye to bear on his subject. There’s lovely lighting, a breezy narrative structure and rhythmic editing, and Tornatore carefully montages together the standard-issue clips and reminiscence elements to lift this documentary onto another level. It’s a labour of love. It’s … Read more
Gian Maria Volonté

Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion

The twang of a jew’s harp is the first sound you hear in 1970’s Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion. “BOING,” it goes, slightly ridiculously, the soundtrack of Ennio Morricone (who else?) instantly setting the tone for the entire film, an uneasy mix of the absurd and the satirical. Meanwhile, on screen, a handsome man’s man (Gian Maria Volontè) in a smart cream suit is arriving at the apartment of a beautiful woman (Florinda Bolkan) who is clad in a kaftan and little else. “How are you going to kill me this time?” she purrs. Clearly this “killing” is all part of some sex game they play, he the killer, she the victim. … Read more
Manya aka Sara

My Name Is Sara

My Name Is Sara also goes by the title The Occupation – two separate titles for one film setting out to tell two distinct stories. There’s another bit of splittage going on as well. It’s a film shot in Poland with a Polish cast and crew but everyone in it speaks in English, regardless of how well they can actually do that. Into the story, which is a true one, of a Jewish girl called Sara Guralnik escaping with her brother from a Polish ghetto in 1942 and then trying to make it through the rest of the war while hiding out inside the borders of neighbouring Ukraine – there are the Nazis, … Read more
Johan and Marianne in bed

Scenes from a Marriage

Time has robbed Ingmar Bergman’s film Scenes from a Marriage of some of its force but even so, if a forensic examination of a happy marriage’s collapse is what you’re looking for, it’s never been done better than it was here. I’m talking about the 1974 movie version, not the original 6x45minute TV mini-series it was cut down from. TV was what Scenes from a Marriage was made for, and also ensured that Bergman’s film wasn’t eligible for any Oscar action (one of the many nonsensical nose/face strictures which the Academy has been forced to back down on over the years). Because it was “TV first” and had aired the previous year, it … Read more
Maverick in the cockpit

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick comes such a long time after the original film – 30something years – that a quick introductory “previously on Top Gun” wouldn’t go amiss. Instead, new director Joseph Kosinski (who worked with Tom Cruise on Oblivion) puts us at ease with an opening sequence that’s a homage to Tony Scott, director of the original Top Gun – machines and processes fetished, a high tech something in silhouette, steam escaping from somewhere. A racing motorbike on a long flat road. “Hell, yeh” masculinity. Long lenses. Heat shimmers. It’s a “previously on Top Gun” as a mood board. And then we’re in to a story that wastes no time in letting us … Read more
August and Juliane

Summer Window

When not co-creating, -writing and -directing the glorious Babylon Berlin TV series, Henk Handloegten likes to make films like Summer Window (Fenster zum Sommer), dramas that come front-loaded with a chunk of fantasy. The fantasy isn’t what his films are about, it’s more of a come-on, luring in the sceptical, who might find that they’ve lingered longer with his style of humane drama than they expected. In Good Bye Lenin!, which Handloegten co-wrote, the fantasy was more oblique, existing only in the mind of its East German characters, who were playing a gigantic game of make-believe with their frail mother, recently awake after a coma, in which the Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen and … Read more

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