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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
A spirit manifests in House

House

In 1977, inspired by the success of Jaws, Japan’s Toho film corporation decided that it too wanted a slice of that action and so cast about for something similar. House is what they got. A film about a big marauding thing which consumes people indiscriminately, it ticks that one box at least. Commercials director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi wrote the original treatment, and hoped Toho would pick it up. Instead Toho sat on it for two years while its in-house directors all made polite excuses and backed away. Which is how Ôbayashi himself ended up directing it, in his debut feature. Instead of a shark it’s a house that does the consuming, and instead of … Read more
Nanisca and new recruit Nawi

The Woman King

The Viola Davis “is there nothing she can’t do?” list gets a bit longer with The Woman King, an action epic with issues it wants to address, but first it wants to show us Davis, oiled up and charging into battle as the warrior commander of a deadly elite troupe of female African soldiers in West Africa in the 18th century. That shock – impressive, entirely believeable – out of the way, the film settles down to tell the story of Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a feisty young woman reluctant to marry whose father “gives” her instead to the king. She ends up as one of the Agojie, the deadly female force of Dahomey, a … Read more
Bette Davis and Paul Lukas

Watch on the Rhine

Remember Victor Laszlo, the most boring character in Casablanca? If you’ve ever wondered what Victor did next when he flew off into the night with his wife Ilsa, leaving Humphrey Bogart and Claude Reins to play bromantic footsie on the airport tarmac, Watch on the Rhine is as near as you’re going to get to an answer. Paul Heinried, who played Laszlo, was offered the role of the noble anti-fascist activist hero of Watch on the Rhine but turned it down, claiming he didn’t want to be typecast, leaving Paul Lukas to pick up the work (and a Best Actor Oscar) as the Laszlo near-duplicate, Kurt Muller, a German whose tireless agitating in … Read more
George Anthony Morton paints himself

Master of Light

A film “by Rosa Ruth Boesten and George Anthony Morton” it says at the beginning of Master of Light. Given that Boesten is this documentary’s director and Morton its subject, that’s an unusual way of putting it. And yet. It’s the story of a former drug dealer, a man who spent his entire 20s in prison, and how he has been saved by painting. Painting, what’s more, like the Old Masters – Morton is a big fan of Rembrandt. For a black guy with a neck tattoo there’s a certain headline-catching novelty factor right there. If the neck tattoo and jail time seem to tell one story, Morton’s softly spoken manner and kind … Read more
One of the villagers has a cloven hoof!

The Blood on Satan’s Claw

One of the “unholy trinity” of British folk-horror films of the era, 1971’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw sits between Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973) – there are a growing number of fans but it’s not as well known, cultish or highly regarded as the other two. I’m guessing the scrappy narrative is to blame. Both Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man tell a simple story – a witchfinder gets his comeuppance in one, a priggish policeman in the other – but The Blood on Satan’s Claw started life as an anthology of stories all set in the same village which then got reworked after director Piers Haggard came on board. … Read more
The sheriff and Sandra

God’s Country

Social media is never mentioned in God’s Country. No one even so much as pulls out a smartphone. And yet that seems to be what it’s about – the rush to judgment in a world of hot takes and the corrosive effect that that sort of behaviour has on public discourse. Thandie Newton is the star, now flying under her given name of Thandiwe, a woman we meet in a state of emotional shock after the death of her mother, a university teacher in a redneck world who becomes fixated on the hunters who park their red station wagon on her land before they head off with rifles for a day’s shooting. It’s … Read more

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