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Alexander Skarsgård as James

Infinity Pool

What happens when the constraints of civilisation are loosened? It’s the sort of question Michael Haneke asks in a series of films, Funny Games and Time of the Wolf most obviously. In Infinity Pool Brandon Cronenberg attacks the same subject, except from a typically Cronenbergian direction, but comes to more or less the same grim and bloody conclusion as Haneke. Prepare, in other words, for a lack of laughs. Prepare also for another spectacular Mia Goth performance, current queen of letting it all hang out when it comes to horror. But first let’s meet James (Alexander Skarsgård) and wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), a couple staying in a dangerous developing country where the wealthy … Read more
Dennis Hopper as Ripley in cowboy hat

The American Friend

Ever since Alfred Hitchcock adapted Strangers on a Train in 1951, the novels and short stories of Patricia Highsmith have been hotly pursued by film-makers. They have a plot, thrills, seedy glamour, black humour and the suggestion of transgressive sex, any element of which can be dialled up and down. As I write there have been approaching 40 film and TV adaptations, quite a few of which are famous – Hitchcock’s, of course, Plein Soleil (starring Alain Delon), Carol (Cate Blanchett) and The Talented Mr Ripley (Matt Damon and Jude Law). The American Friend (aka Der amerikanishe Freund) not so much. In the mid 1970s director Wim Wenders had plans to do a … Read more
Nellie LaRoy rides the crowd at a party


Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is a behemoth about Hollywood excess in the silent era, a feisty female ingenue’s rise and its biggest male star’s fall, and the arrival of the talkies and how that changed everything. It packs a lot in and moves at pace but whoah is it long. At three hours and a handful of minutes it covers more or less the same ground that Singin’ in the Rain or The Artist did with 90 minutes to spare. Chutzpah on Chazelle’s part, you could say, or a lack of discipline, maybe. It’s big and baggy and overegged yet undeniably glorious. The first two hours are brilliant and the last hour-and-a-bit brilliant too. … Read more
Sterling Hayde as Detective Sims

Crime Wave

A heist-gone-wrong movie that actually starts with a heist going wrong, 1953’s Crime Wave (aka The City Is Dark) is a B movie and so doesn’t have time to hang around. It’s got an absolutely classic setup – within a couple of minutes of opening a cop is dead, one of the bad guys is wounded with an urgent need of medical attention and the heisters are on the run with the cops on their tail. Meanwhile, across town another classic ingredient, the ex-con who’s trying to go straight but who will be dragged back towards crime, first by the wounded man arriving at his door, then by the bent doctor who arrives … Read more
Moon So-young, Dong-soo, Ha Sang-hyun and baby


On a filthy rainy South Korea night a young mother abandons her baby, leaving it in the “baby box” – designated for just this thing – attached to a church. The next day, having changed her mind, she heads back to the church, only to find that a pair of “baby brokers” got to the box before the church authorities. They have stolen her baby and intend to sell it on the adoption black market. Two cops saw all this. Clearly onto the brokers, they were watching from a stakeout vehicle as Moon So-young (Lee Ji-eun) left her baby and as Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) filched it. As they watch and snack on instant noodles, gummi … Read more
Joe with gun, and Ann and Pat on a staircase

Raw Deal

Everyone gets a raw deal in Raw Deal, a taut and dark film noir from 1948, directed by Anthony Mann, lit by the great John Alton and so often overlooked when Greatest Noir lists are being compiled. Its characters all come with a tragic flaw which writers John Higgins and Leopold Atlas are eventually going to prise wide open but it’s the additional wallop of sheer bad luck that makes this unusual – that and the voiceover by one of its female characters, Pat Regan, played by Claire Trevor. Pat is in love with Joe (Dennis O’Keefe) but Joe is in prison doing a stretch as the fall guy for bigshot criminal Rick Coyle … Read more
Valeria washing herself

Huesera: the Bone Woman

Huesera: the Bone Woman opens and ends with spectacular images – of a gigantic golden Virgin Mary at a shrine to start, and of a writhing mass of naked zombie-like creatures to finish. In themselves they’re impressive but they also offer a distilled show-and-tell of the shift in tone Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera has brought about over the 97 minutes’ running time of her movie. Things start out in the everyday, rational, workaday world of a young woman, Valeria (Natalia Solián) who wants to have a baby. At the shrine she is visiting largely to keep her supersitious mother happy she offers up a prayer to the Virgin. Otherwise Valeria is relying … Read more
Elizabeth Taylor applying the war paint


Now this is a weird one. 1974’s Identikit, also known as The Driver’s Seat, and even occasionally as Psychotic, stars Elizabeth Taylor as what looks like a screen representation of her public persona – a batshit, flamboyant grande dame who we first meet in a German department store, where she is buying something garish and roundly insulting the sales assistant while doing so. Lise, it turns out, is a wanted woman. An identikit picture of her has been posted at all airports. The police are on her tail, for what we don’t know. And as she flies from Hamburg to Rome, they follow behind, questioning everyone Lise comes into contact with. Lise, for … Read more
Demir and Andrew take drugs


Playdurizm starts with what looks like a moment from a feverish dream. A man and a woman having sex. She’s in a sling and he’s standing up. Ecstasy on both sides. Meanwhile, in a separate reality, another man appears to be hurtling through space and/or time in a lo-fi mock-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “stargate sequence”, while in voiceover a quotation from Francis Bacon (the painter not the philosopher) informs us that humans are all “meat”. Dream over, that man, Demir (Gem Deger, who also directs and co-wrote with Morris Stuttard), wakes up in a strange place, not sure who or where he is. In the kitchen of the kitschy, Pop Art-y … Read more
Gabrielle Drake and Richard O'Sullivan

Au Pair Girls

Known in the US as The Young Playmates, Au Pair Girls is a ripe chunk of British cheese from 1972 and a prime example of the sort of film the UK was making at the time. A simple story of four girls arriving in the UK and then having various adventures, most of which involve them losing their clothes, Au Pair Girls really benefits from its feisty female leads, Astrid Frank, Gabrielle Drake, Me Me Lai and Nancie Wait. They’re an interesting bunch. Astrid Frank appeared in French, German and English language movies, switching from a French movie with Jean Gabin (1970’s Horse) to sexploitationers such as Swinging Wives or Swedish Love Games. … Read more
A bowler-hatted Mr Williams checks his watch


Everyone loves Bill Nighy but he’d never really looked like Oscar material – unjustly – until Living came along. Too diffident. Too stylised. Too often wearing that same blue suit. What Nighy did was so effortless that it hardly seemed like acting at all, or at least the sort of acting that Oscar likes (snot and disability, with a heartwarming character arc and a chastening moral). Living was his big shot. It ended in valiant defeat, as we now know, with Brendan Fraser winning out against a tough shortlist that also included Austin Butler for Elvis, Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin and Paul Mescal for Aftersun. It was a case of … Read more
Vanessa Howard as Girly

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly

Having shot everything from 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to David Lynch’s A Straight Story, it’s no surprise that Freddie Francis is best known as a cinematographer, one of the greats. But he also has more than 30 director credits to his name. Much of it was gun for hire work but in 1970, after eight years of doing others’ directorial bidding, he was finally given his head. Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (aka Girly) is his picture, done his way, co-conceived with writer Brian Comport, and shot at Oakley Court, a location he’d worked at many times on various Hammer horror productions when it was mostly used for its imposing exterior. … Read more

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