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Sergey Bodrov

Brother

Brother (Brat, in the original) is unusual because it’s not only a film made in the teeth of Russia’s economic collapse in the 1990s following the “shock treatment” prescribed by neoliberal economists from other countries, but it reflects the day-to-day reality of that treatment. Without anyone actually sharpening a political axe for the whole of its 96 minute running time, Aleksey Balabanov’s film nevertheless has a very clear point to make. There’s a clear generational aspect, too, with the focus firmly on the younger inheritors of a broken Soviet system that’s now been broken even further by western intervention. In particular it’s on Danila (Sergey Bodrov), a drifter who’s just finished his conscripted … Read more
Chloé with Paul, or possibly Louis

Double Lover

Made in 2017 but with its heart firmly in 1947, François Ozon’s Double Lover (L’amant double in the original French) takes a pretty young woman, Chloé (Marine Vacth), and subjects her to a brutal gaslighting at the hands of a male psychiatrist. Two male psychiatrists, in fact, twin brothers (both played by Jérémie Renier) so alike that they can pass for each other. Except one is kind of nice and cuddly, the other is tough and sexy. Maybe Rosemary’s Baby (another film with its heart in the late 1940s) was also in the mind of Ozon when he set about adapting Joyce Carol Oates’s Lives of the Twins, since gynaecology is at the … Read more
Luc and Alice take a shower

Criminal Lovers

Criminal Lovers. Is that lovers who are criminals? Or people who love criminals? There’s no such ambiguity in the original French title of François Ozon’s 1999 shocker. Les amants criminels makes clear these are lovers who are criminals. No ambiguity at all, in a film shot through with it from start to finish. In what looks like a French reworking of Natural Born Killers, but is in fact a reworking of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, Ozon’s film opens with a pair of loved-up teenagers – the passive Luc (Jérémie Renier) and femme very fatale Alice (Natacha Régnier) – indulging in a bit of mild S&M. Sex, sex, sex seems to be the … Read more
Spider-Man complete with arachnid arms

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man spun? Spider-Man: No Way Home is another gargantuan Marvel movie full of action, great power/great responsibility moments and the sort of emotion you’d expect in stories about a highly strung teenage superhero. Jon Watts is back as the director, and the writers are again Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers – all three have been behind the other webslinging adventures with “home” somewhere in the title, (2019’s Far from Home and 2017’s Homecoming, if you’re not up to speed). Fine craftsmen all. But. But. But. The suspicion lingers that this creative team knows what Marvel also obviously does – that these Spidey stories are done and don’t need doing any more, and that … Read more
Forrest Stanley and Marion Davies in a clinch

100 Years of… When Knighthood Was in Flower

When Knighthood Was in Flower answers the question posed by Citizen Kane – just how much of a chump was media magnate William Randolph Hearst over actress Marion Davies? Here is how much – a massive movie conceived on the grandest scale, produced by a company Hearst set up expressly to make Davies a star, with her name above the title, opening credits making great claims to the film’s historical accuracy, an opening scene with a grand entrance by Davies’s character in a royal barge, exteriors shot in Windsor, UK, even though much of the rest of the film was shot in New York and Connecticut, followed by an advertising campaign on the … Read more
Encanto's heroine, Mirabel

Encanto

If you liked Moana then you are the target for Encanto, a song-filled animated story of young female derring-do, set against the background of an ancient civilisation and with a sprinkling of magic to help things along. Polynesia did the decorative thing for Moana, it’s Mesoamerica in Encanto, but if actual knowledge brings you in out in hives, be not afraid, it’s largely just a few masks and other accessories borrowed from the Amerindian back catalogue to give Disney’s latest princess a USP that sets her apart from Pocahontas, Mulan, Merida et al. This one also wears glasses just to make her stand out from the increasingly homogenous big-eyed throng. The action takes … Read more
Lotus Flower finds the half drowned sailor

100 Years of… The Toll of the Sea

There are two good ancillary reasons for watching The Toll of the Sea, on top of the fact that it’s a touching, almost heartbreaking drama of a sort it’s almost impossible to imagine being made today. The first is that it stars Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese American star, here only 17 years old in a role that puts her to the test in terms of subtle emoting, and finds her sailing through unscathed. The second is that it’s the oldest existing Technicolor movie left on the planet. There was an older one, The Gulf Between, made in 1917, but that went up in flames and is now permanently lost. It was … Read more
Adam Driver and Lady Gaga

House of Gucci

House of Gucci, Ridley Scott, this looks like a good fit. A fashion house relying on its image to shift product and a director who started out in advertising and still has an eye for an arresting visual. And so it proves to be, mostly… though by the end you might be staring at the screen with head slightly aslant. The what, the huh? Pushing comparisons to beyond their limit, in some ways it’s a remake of Alien, though this time Lady Gaga plays the invading creature who’s going to wreak havoc, a brassy little minx called Patrizia who bumps into sober, low-key Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) – scion of the fashion house … Read more
Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander won four Academy Awards at the Oscars in 1984 and was the first foreign movie to have done so. No foreign movie has ever won more and Ingmar Bergman’s film has only been matched twice in the years since – by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Parasite (2019). At the time it was the most expensive film ever to come out of Sweden and was designed by Bergman to be his last, a grand autobiographical flourish to explain the man behind a remarkable run of astonishing movies as the director started to look back at his accomplishments. With that autobiographical aspect in mind, and armed with the knowledge that … Read more
Stan and Zeena

Nightmare Alley

2021’s Nightmare Alley isn’t based on the 1947 film noir of the same name, so we’re told by various venerable authorities. Tell that to the judge. Even if it genuinely is a bona fide and honest reworking of the same source material, William Lindsay Gresham’s smash 1946 novel, even a quick look at the 1947 movie is enough to convince anyone that this Nightmare Alley has seen the older one, taken notes and then studied them hard. This extends to the casting choices. These start with Bradley Cooper as the grifter who starts out as a nobody in a carnival, works his way to the top of showbiz with a mentalist routine, over-reaches … Read more
Zeena and Stanton in a carnival truck

Nightmare Alley

1947’s Nightmare Alley is lavish, melodramatic, contains a hint of the supernatural and is a touch too long – you can see why Guillermo Del Toro wanted to remake it. It’s also a great role for a matinee idol trying to shrug off a pretty-boy tag (Tyrone Power even more so than Bradley Cooper in the remake). In a tale about a carnival worker tasting the heights and then plunging into the depths, Jules Furthman’s adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s best-seller plays the hubris card early on, in a little speech in which carnie Stanton Carlisle (Power) explains himself. “You see those yokels out there,” he says to mindreader Zeena (Joan Blondell), laying … Read more
Roxanne and Cyrano

Cyrano

If the tricky bit in musicals is the moment when people transition into song, what about the quasi-musical? Cyrano demonstrates that the problem isn’t doubled but squared – every time Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett or Kelvin Harrison Jr burst into song, it’s a genuine shock. The fact that the actual songs are a bit hit and miss is an added burden. In Edmond Rostand’s original story, Cyrano de Bergerac is the warrior poet with a massive nose and effortlessly spectacular language skills who falls badly for Roxanne, his ideal of femininity, but then helps a fellow soldier – handsome but dim Christian – woo her with his words, knowing that he has no … Read more

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