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Juraj and Michal


Servants is a story about the collusion between the Catholic Church and the Czechoslovakian StB (its secret service) in the days of the Cold War. It’s also a beautifully made film, full of arresting cinematography and a soundtrack so haunting that it alone makes the film worth catching. The opening shot, of a car seen from behind gliding down a night-time road through an industrial landscape, immediately places us in noirish thriller territory. This is a world where bad things happen at night, unsmiling men stalk the landscape, bodies are dumped by roadsides, cigarettes are smoked, drink is drunk and belted overcoats are worn. Women don’t have an awful lot to do. It … Read more
Mimi and Jean-Pierre

La Bouche de Jean-Pierre

La Bouche de Jean-Pierre (sometimes known as Mimi) was the first film Lucile Hadžihalilović directed and in its short 52 minutes’ running time it introduces the theme she’d more fully explore in later films – the arduous, abusive, coercive, manipulative way that human beings are tamed, trained, civilised, call it what you like. The work of the philosopher Michel Foucault, in particular Discipline and Punish – which deals with social control – seems to lurk in the background of all of Hadžihalilović’s films, all of which are extraordinary, often in a quiet and unassuming way. In this one the action opens with a woman taking an overdose, witnessed by her daughter, Mimi, who ends up … Read more
Steed and Gale kiss

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 16 – The Little Wonders

Whether it’s spelt Bibliotek, Bibliotech or Bibliotheque, the crime organisation at the centre of The Little Wonders is a brilliant creation by writer Eric Paice, an international, centuries-old outfit whose members go around dressed as clerics. Hence the funny pre-credits sequence of the Bishop of Winnipeg (David Bauer), a man with a dodgy heart visiting a doctor (Tony Steedman) and, on stripping down for an examination, revealing a gun in a holster. Not your average clergyman’s accessory. The fact that he’s accompanied by a female assistant, Sister Johnson, would raise barely half an eye if Johnson weren’t played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (a Canadian national, hence the Winnipeg, perhaps). Villains established, … Read more
Bob consoles wife Jill

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Here’s the original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the thriller Alfred Hitchcock would remake in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day in the lead roles. He later said this first version was “the work of a talented amateur, and the second was made by a professional.” However, ever a master of misdirection, it’s actually the first one that Hitchcock preferred. He found the second too polished. Unlike the second, this is a very British affair, with Leslie Banks and Edna Best as the married couple whose holiday in St Moritz is interrupted when a friend is shot and killed in front of them (in one of the most … Read more
Two pairs of feet on the salt flats

August 32nd on Earth

With perfect hindsight it’s easy to see Denis Villeneuve’s first feature, August 32nd on Earth (Un 32 Août sur Terre, in the original French), as the work of a director who would go on to make great sci-fi like Arrival, Bladerunner 2049 and Dune. Back in 1998, when it was released, it looked more like a homage to the French New Wave, albeit with little otherworldly touches ensuring that while its feet are on the ground, its head is somewhere else. With a “here I am” opening announcing Villeneuve as a young man in hurry, we’re introduced to Simone (also the film’s original title), a young woman in a hurry who’s gunning her … Read more
Molesch with his possibly imaginary friend, Cleo

One Minute of Darkness

At first glance One Minute of Darkness, last of the Dreileben trilogy, seems to be the most straightforward of the lot. A honest-to-goodness cat-and-mouser. On the one hand the escaped murderer Molesch, who has been little more than a bad smell in the first two films. On the other a cop on a mission to bring Molesch in, in spite of the fact that he’s ill and on leave. It’s deceptive, though, and the deception starts with the opening shots, of Molesch in custody being driven to a police station. This, it seems obvious, is a continuation of the previous instalment of the series, Don’t Follow Me Around (Komm Mir Nicht Nach), the … Read more
Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen in A Perfect Murder

A Perfect Murder

Andrew Davis has made something of a specialty of directing thrillers. He made Steven Seagal’s best film, Under Siege, and Chuck Norris’s best film too, Code of Silence. He’s also responsible for the breathless chase of The Fugitive and for this remake of Frederick Knott’s play Dial M for Murder, on which Hitchcock based his 1954 movie. The “perfect murder”, beloved of films of a certain vintage, now seems almost as dated a concept as that of the criminal mind. However Davis and adapter Patrick Smith Kelly squeeze a little more mileage out of it by playing up what you might call the Gordon Gecko aspects – cash and deceit. Which brings us … Read more
Rebecca Pidgeon and Philip Seymour Hoffman in State and Main

State and Main

An intelligent and acidic if somewhat stagey comedy about a film production descending on a small New England town and the effect that each has on the other. It’s written and directed by David Mamet, not known for out and out comedy, but clearly feeling flighty at the moment, flighty enough to turn out the sort of farce you might expect from the French, or from Michael Frayn. And Mamet has the cast to perform it – Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julia Stiles and a surprisingly good Alec Baldwin, all of them upping their game in homage to a master of the blunt misanthropic object who has spent enough time writing … Read more
Thomas Jane, Anne Heche and Jason Patric

The Vanished

The Vanished stars three names who used to keep casting directors’ phones busy. Anne Heche, Thomas Jane and Jason Patric all bring a useful intensity to an incredibly wayward kidnap drama written by Peter Facinelli, whose face you’ll probably know (from the Twilight films, or Supergirl or Nurse Jackie on TV) even if you don’t quite recognise the name. It’s a simple whodunit, in many ways, loaded up with paranoia, and kicking off in a trailer park that’s largely deserted, on account of it being Thanksgiving weekend, where married couple Wendy (Heche) and Paul (Jane) rock up in their RV with their daughter for a family camping weekend. What with the film being … Read more
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn

Dragged across Concrete

Dragged across Concrete is a bit of a masterpiece, an urgent, drily funny, brutal, dirty and often ugly film full of horrible people, whom we nevertheless root for because writer/director S Craig Zahler focuses on the relationships rather than the genre aspects of this admittedly big genre beast of a movie. Zahler – he’s called that by everyone, apparently (his mum too?) – has done this before. In 2015’s Bone Tomahawk he re-worked the western, switching out of what you might call Revisionist Indian mode (they’re all noble, sinned against etc) into something far less PC and much more gruesome. If you’ve seen it, I’ll just say “that scene where…” and leave it … Read more
Xialing, Shang-Chi and Katy

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Self-important, windy, drowning in lore, full of flat characters and just plain old dull, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is everything it shouldn’t be, a spectacular own goal from Marvel. It looked like an open goal, too. Moving the Marvel Cinematic Universe to China is a great idea – a civilisation with millenia of history, superheroes aplenty and enough dragons and lion-headed creatures to stock a whole other pantheon of characters and an entire alternative bestiary. Plus, not to be forgotten, a massive population waiting to be sold stuff. The film is based on Marvel’s 1973 creation Shang-Chi, who was originally the virtuous son of the villainous Fu Manchu (Marvel … Read more
Tara surrounded by people all dressed the same

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 16 – Invasion of the Earthmen

Here we are, Invasion of the Earthmen, the first Tara King episode shot by returning showrunner John Bryce, one of three he managed to get in the can before Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell again resumed control of The Avengers. This is not Bryce’s vision of the episode. Clemens has had a hack at it, and who knows what the Bryce version was originally like, but there’s a reason why this was slipped out 16 episodes into the final season, let’s just say. Star Trek is the obvious inspiration – from the clothes to the polystyrene boulders – and writer Terry Nation (the Dr Who writer no stranger to sci-fi) sets up an … Read more

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