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Lila the undead

Birth/Rebirth

James Whale would probably approve of Birth/Rebirth, a new take on the Frankenstein story which, like Whale’s 1931 movie, is creepy, dark and yet shot through with a touching humanity. Until it isn’t. It’s a female take, with the focus largely on women, plus a female director, who also co-wrote, and the cinematographer, composer, editors, production designers and so on are mostly women too. Plus two stars in Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes who play either side of a familiar stereotype. On one side the monstrous feminine of Rose Casper (Ireland), an emotionless pathologist in a hospital morgue who is secretly collecting genetic material to further experiments into the reanimation of dead people. … Read more
Francesco and the undead She

Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man

First, Dellamorte Dellamore is a much better title for a movie than Cemetery Man, which is how it went out in English speaking countries in 1994. Cemetery Man suggests something slasher-inspired, maybe. Dellamorte Dellamore, and its literal translation, Of Death, Of Love, something much more gothic and weird. And that’s exactly what this mad piece of super-cultish garage grindcore is. It’s Italian, who are good at weird, and is based on the novel Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sciavi. Sciavi had based his main character in an earlier work, the comicbook Dylan Dog, on the actor Rupert Everett (specifically the listlessly upper-class Rupert Everett character in Another Country) and so when it came time … Read more
Noodle and Wonka out walking

Wonka

Wonka the origin story, with Timothée Chalamet the chocolatier of every child’s fantasy, in a movie aimed straight at those with a sweet tooth and a love of whimsy. Lacking edge, stakes, call them what you will, it’s one for lovers of the soft centre. So, right, yes, story – Wonka arrives in somewhereland (England?) in ye olden times on a boat, with a pocketful of sovereigns and A Hatful of Dreams (first of the Neil Hannon songs), loses all his money to various urchins and mountebanks, and winds up in the clutches of a Mrs Scrubitt (Olivia Colman) and right-hand man Bleacher (Tom Davis), trapped by a contract he too readily signs, … Read more
Captain Hardt with gun in hand

The Spy in Black

Known in the USA as U-Boat 29, The Spy in Black is the better and the original title of the first film made by the powerhouse pairing of director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger. If that was all it had to offer it would be worth a look. But it is also a tight and thrilling spy caper bubbling with a typical Powell and Pressburger humanity. It was made when the Second World War looked obvious and opened in the UK in 1939 as war was breaking out. Its star is Berlin-born Nazi-hating Conrad Veidt, who plays Ernst Hardt, a German U-Boat captain who arrives under cover of the night on a … Read more
Fidé at work

Under the Fig Trees

Under the Fig Trees (Taht alshajra) isn’t a documentary but it’s made by Erige Sehiri almost as if it were. She’s been a documentary-maker up till now, and brings that different quality of storytelling to a quietly brilliant film full of drama. In the realm of fiction stories are told, but in documentaries they emerge – broad generalisation I know – but that’s the way Sehiri does it here. Opening shot: dawn, a young woman somewhere in Tunisia making her way towards a road. Next shot: climbing onto the back of a truck with a bunch of other people, all of whom know each other. Everyone’s in the back, except Fidé (Fide Fdhili), … Read more
Suzanne (Shelley Duvall) and Brewster (Bud Cort)

Brewster McCloud

Brewster McCloud, the Robert Altman film people rarely talk about, owes something to early Soviet pioneers like Eisenstein, but possibly a lot more to the ingestion of cannabinoids. It’s got experiment with form in mind, but it’s also sprawlingly formless, as if Altman was stoned while in the edit suite. We understand his point, but he will keep on making it. In high (take that any way you want) Altman style, it’s a scenes-from-a-montage affair, a collage of moments where Altman in effect says “This!… this!… this!… this!… and this!… are what it’s all about”. A snapshot of one world, then a snapshot of another, a movie reference, then a star from an old … Read more
Four men at the casting call sit on the sofa

Mutzenbacher

Every year the arthouse-friendly movie portal Cineuropa hands out a rake of Best Of awards. At first glance Mutzenbacher looks like an odd inclusion on its list, sitting alongside Aftersun, The Quiet Girl (my favourite), Godland, Piggy, Rimini and Eo. They are all fabulous, but they’re fabulous fictional dramas. Mutzenbacher is a documentary. And yet there is also something slyly dramatic, and possibly a touch fictional, about Ruth Beckermann’s documentary. For all its dispassionate forensic surface, Mutzenbacher does have a dramatic throughline, one that rather amusingly mimics events in the book that inspired it. Published in 1906, the novel Mutzenbacher, or Josefine Mutzenbacher, or The History of a Viennese Whore, is the supposed … Read more
The detectives assembled

Murder by Death

In Murder by Death Neil Simon proves he’s not always the surefire comedy hotshot, Peter Sellers reminds us that his non-European comedy characters are stinkers and Truman Capote demonstrates, in his only proper acting role, that he’d have made a pretty good Bond villain. It’s a spoof of a country house whodunit, written by Simon, directed by Robert Moore and with a cast that’s pure gold and the saving of this movie demonstrating that if you’re going to kick the legs out from under a genre, you’d better have done your homework. The conceit that Simon has come up with is to collect all the world’s most famous detectives – names slightly changed … Read more
Naru with a black stripe across her eyes

Prey

Prey refreshes the Predator franchise in ways that are predictable, unpredictable and surprising. All in all, it’s the best non-Schwarzenegger outing of the lot (which makes it number two of five overall, or seven if we’re including the Alien vs Predator spin-offs). An alien spaceship lands on the Great North Plains in 1719. On board is the mostly heat-seeking, mostly invisible, mostly lethal warrior/creature we’ve met before and outside are a band of Comanches going about their daily lives. One of their number, Naru (Amber Midthunder), almost instantly is on to the fact that the evil has landed, and over the swift, pacey 100 minutes that follow it’s Naru and her dog who … Read more
Nada and Frank fight

They Live

“One of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left.” Slavoj Žižek’s verdict on They Live demonstrates that even philosophers have off days. Whether Žižek had been smoking genetically re-engineered skunk or not, one thing about John Carpenter’s 1988 film is indisputable: if you want an allegory for the notion of false consciousness, you’ve found your baby. It’s an allegorical tale of a decent, hard-working all-American dude struggling to find work in an economic downturn discovering that the country is actually run by a cabal of extra-terrestrials. Keeping the populace subdued through television, advertising and so on, enables the aliens to squeeze the juice out of the planet. And then one day our hero … Read more
Zita strips

My Sole Desire aka À Mon Seul Désir

A film about stripping worried about boundaries, My Sole Desire (À Mon Seul Désir) is a bit like that J-Lo movie Hustlers but with not as many clothes, a bit more honesty and a touch less Hollywood make-believe. Good though Hustlers was, it wasn’t always in touch with reality. But back to Lucie Borleteau’s movie, which like Hustlers sees the world of stripping from the point of view of a newbie. Shy, retiring student and part-time grocery-shop cashier Manon (Louise Chevillotte) pitches up at a strip club wondering how a fit young woman goes about getting a job like this. Within minutes she’s been renamed Aurore, has made a best friend in stripper/would-be-actor … Read more
Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr laughing

Gunga Din

There’s a lot going on in Gunga Din, the high point of a certain kind of Hollywood film-making. Released in the golden era’s “annus mirabilis” of 1939, it’s an exotic, oriental white-man’s-burden kind of adventure adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story, but locked away in there something is grumbling away. All is not as it first appears. There are two main storylines, connected together by a familiar trio of bromantic soldiers – the lover (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), the joker (Cary Grant) and the fighter (Victor McLaglen) – three sergeants in Queen Victoria’s army in India sent out from their base to find out why the vital telegraph system keeps going down. It turns … Read more

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