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Yaya and Carl on sun loungers

Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness is Ruben Östlund’s third dance with essentially the same ideas that powered Force Majeure, his force majeure of a drama from 2014, and The Square, his Palme d’Or winner from 2017. Triangle of Sadness also won the Palme d’Or, so Cannes obviously likes Östlund’s take on role-playing and status. But first, Östlund has a little game to play. In a kind of prologue he restages the casting process for the film, with eventual-lead Harris Dickinson playing one of many male models being seen for a role in some never-specified campaign or show. To win the part ofTriangle of Sadness‘s Carl, Dickinson eventually beat out 230 contenders, so this fictional reworking … Read more
Marlene Dietrich in fur hat and with horse

The Scarlet Empress

When it came out in 1934, everyone knew that The Scarlet Empress was a reference to a scarlet woman, a sexual libertine. Doubly so once they learned that it was a biopic about Catherine the Great, the Russian royal who notoriously died while making love to a horse, or so the story went. Things are slightly more fragrant than that in this sixth collaboration between director Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, one of the first films made after Hollywood put into effect its infamous morality code, for fear of having one imposed on it by the government. Even so, right there, right after the information that this film has indeed been made … Read more
Denis Ménochet and Isabelle Adjani

Peter von Kant

François Ozon’s Peter von Kant is both a remake and a restoration of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. A remake because it takes exactly the same story and retells it in pretty much the same way, except with the genders flipped. A restoration because it peels away a layer of obfuscation added by Fassbinder to the original, to reveal where he was really coming from. In the 1972 original, Petra (Margit Carstensen) was a dreadfully self-centred designer waited on hand and foot by an entirely silent servant (Irm Hermann). One day Petra is introduced to a pretty young thing called Karin (Hanna Schygulla) and instantly totally loses her … Read more
Major Neuheim and Private Schulz

Private Schulz

The six-part TV series Private Schulz was a hit when it first aired and has become something of a cult since it was first broadcast in 1981. Made by the BBC in collaboration with the Australian ABC, it was the last outing for the great TV writer Jack Pulman, whose I, Claudius adaptation had been one of the great successes of the 1970s and who was the BBC’s go-to man for adaptations of big novels (Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace, Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks). It was also the first, and only collaboration between its stars, Michael Elphick and Ian Richardson, both scene-stealers extraordinaire, but who came at upstaging from … Read more
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson

Jungle Cruise

Exactly what it’s meant to be, Jungle Cruise is the walking, talking, filmic version of the Disney theme park ride it is based on. No one gets hurt, or wet, or even scared, no one laughs at the jokes, which are deliberately weak. It’s fun, in that slept-through-half-of-it way. Christmas afternoon, here it comes. The idea for the movie first took wing after the success of another film based on a theme park ride. But why saturate the market? And so Jungle Cruise got parked while Pirates of the Caribbean did its thing, after which the normal thousand-and-one interruptions to the process of getting an idea onto the screen got in the way. … Read more
Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine

Sleuth

Doubles and doubling feature a lot in Sleuth, the cockeyed comedy thriller from 1972 written by Anthony Shaffer, the identical twin of brother and fellow writer Peter Shaffer. Anthony also wrote Frenzy, for Alfred Hitchcock and The Wicker Man. Peter wrote Amadeus, Equus and Royal Hunt of the Sun, so no slouch either. They also for a while wrote detective novels together – as Peter Antony. Journalists would often ask the Shaffers whether there was rivalry between them. There was. It featured in Peter’s work (Amadeus is driven by it) and even more obviously in Anthony’s Sleuth, the story of an older man inviting his wife’s younger lover to his home to humiliate … Read more
Bowie and Keechie

They Live by Night

A gimcrack romance decked out in film noir finery, They Live by Night is a “kids on the run” story, the child of Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once and parent of Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. Three escaped prisoners on the run are holing up at the secluded cabin of the brother of their leader, where the youngest of the three first claps eyes on the brother’s daughter. In one of the great introductions in moviedom, Bowie (Farley Granger), a fresh-faced 23-year-old who’s been in jail since he was 16, meets Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), hat pulled down and light slanting across her face. He doesn’t know how to talk to girls. But one … Read more
Black Adam

Black Adam

Black Adam is the superhero film for people who’ve had enough of them. Or it wants to be. Full of familiar elements given a dry witty twist, it stars Dwayne Johnson as an immortal creature who returns to his native city of Kahndaq to save the citizens of a brutally colonised Middle Eastern city in their hour of need. So far, so King Arthur, though Black Adam, whose name is Teth Adam at this point, is actually more like the mummy from The Mummy Returns (an early foray into acting by Johnson, all those millennia ago) crossed with the terminator from The Terminator. The Terminator comparisons gain weight when Teth Adam takes up … Read more
Jane Fonda as the cruel Contessa de Metzengerstein

Spirits of the Dead

The film equivalent of the collateralised debt obligation, the portmanteau movie generally bundles together stuff of questionable quality then sells it on using a big name or a big star to help it achieve a decent credit rating. In Spirits of the Dead (aka Tales of Mystery and Imagination), three adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales, there are plenty of big names – Federico Fellini, Roger Vadim and Louis Malle as directors. Stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jane Fonda and Terence Stamp. But no matter how glossy the name, or even how polished the product, the rule of the portmanteau movie applies here as everywhere else – the finished product is less … Read more
Oppy at work

Good Night Oppy

Good Night Oppy tells the story of two robot explorers sent to Mars in 2003 by Nasa. The idea was for them to drive about collecting samples of rock and soil, with the ultimate aim of proving that what look like dried up rivers from Earth are in fact just what they look like, old water courses. Life on Mars, or the possibility of life on Mars, was what it was all about. The explorers were named Opportunity (nickname Oppy) and Spirit, and the engineers who designed them put a “warrantee” life on them of about 90 days. What with the low temperatures, the dust and the rigours of getting there and landing, … Read more
The uncle chastises Leopold

Europa

Europe is finished! Lars Von Trier’s finale to his Europa trilogy – Europa – makes summaries and predictions about life on a continent dragging a long, dark history behind it. All three films – The Element of Crime, Epidemic and now Europa – work in the same way, as grim anti-pantomimes of studied awfulness, presented in arthouse genuflection before Tarkovsky, Kafka and Brecht. Into a shattered post-War Germany in ruins Von Trier inserts his hero, a new arrival from America, full of idealism and signing up to work on the railways as a sleeping car guard. It’s not long before Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) has been compromised, restrained, tied down and discredited after involving … Read more
Lydia Tár on the podium

Tár

Tár, not Tar – even in the title of this drama about a world-famous conductor’s epic fall from grace there are hints as to what exactly caused it. Writer/director Todd Field, in his first film since 2006’s Little Children, structures this grand return like a symphony, with a big opening statement à la Mahler’s Fifth, introducing conductor extraordinaire Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) on stage in conversation with Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker. This is the full data-dump of personality – a glamorous, garrulous, driven, intellectual, unapologetic, combative internationally feted conductor at the top of her game. Tár’s self-satisfaction is almost unbearable to watch. After that a series of sketches dip slightly behind the … Read more

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