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Popular Reviews

Mena Suvari in American Beauty

American Beauty

London theatre director Sam Mendes’s debut as a movie director has been treated by some critics as if it were a missive from the gods. Perhaps it was the opening scene which showed Kevin Spacey jerking off in the shower which did it for them – so bold, so adult. The film locks straight in to a long line of suburban dystopian drama and hangs its story off the jowls of Spacey, playing the worm that turned, the comfortable middle-class corporate Joe who chucks it all in for the easy release of drugs and sex after he becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). His wife, meanwhile, is filling in the … Read more
Dennis meets Vilma

Favolacce (Bad Tales)

Grim and matter of fact, Favolacce follows up the D’Innocenzo brothers’ Boys Cry, a grim and matter of fact mafia drama with a tale, a bad tale (it’s also released as Bad Tales) of kids cusping on teenagerdom living in intolerable family situations. Asshole dads, toxic family relationship and cowed kids make for a film that’s tough going and yet oddly through-the-fingers watchable. Perhaps because, like frogs being gradually brought up to a simmer, we are introduced to the awfulness by stealth. To start with it looks like we’re in the world of Raymond Carver. There’s even what looks like a reference to that Carver story Why Don’t You Dance, the one about … Read more
Collini and lawyer Leinen

The Collini Case

The Collini Case is a courtroom drama adapted from a book written by Ferdinand von Schirach, a laywer-turned-novelist in the John Grisham mould, though being German and having been born in 1964, von Schirach has a different set of concerns. He would have been about 13 when the murder of industrialist and former Nazi SS man Hanns Martin Schlayer happened in 1977, at the hands of the Red Army Faction (aka the Baader-Meinhof Gang). He doesn’t directly reference that killing but it informs his book and this film, which is set in the here and now (ish) but is concerned with old atrocities and a peculiarity of the German penal code which allowed … Read more
Sibyl in clingy sexy black dress

Sibyl

Billed as a drama, Sibyl is in fact a tragic comedy, a brilliantly dry and pitiless one, Kafkaesque in its analysis of a person in self denial and also Kafkaesque in being almost opaque until that “ah-haa!” moment comes along. Director and co-writer Justine Triet, a fan of Hitchcock and Polanski, dives right in. Even before the opening credits we’ve met Sibyl, a shrink and former novelist who now wants to get back in the writing game. “Don’t do it,” boiled down, is the advice she gets from an old editor friend. But Sibyl does it anyway. Sibyl (Virginie Efira) is also a recovering alcoholic who really shouldn’t have another drink, and certainly … Read more
Michelle Yeoh in kung fu action

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Starting with its title and ending at infinity, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a “more is more” kind of movie that looks as if it was designed to be the last word in multiverse sci-fi. The plot is Matrix-shaped – nobody becomes somebody – but instead of a young dumb male as its protagonist, it’s a middle aged smart female, in the shape of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a drudge of a wife, mother, carer for her elderly father who’s just been served with divorce papers by her fairly useless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). And instead of being hunted by a sleek, black-clad, sunglasses-wearing Agent Smith, Evelyn and family are being … Read more
Anthony and Rosemary at the gate

Wild Mountain Thyme

From the very first shot of Wild Mountain Thyme I was thinking “Good god, surely people aren’t still making films like this!” The opening shot being an overhead of the lush slopes of rural Ireland while the soundtrack twiddled away in madly shamrocky fashion. It got worse. A beejaysus-Irish voiceover announces “I’m dead”, by way of an introduction. The whimsy-ometer starts climbing into the red zone. And then I realised it’s Christopher Walken doing the bad Irish accent. The letters W, T and F start to appear in the air. What the actual, it actually gets even worse, as we’re introduced to one Oirish character after another. Enter Walken as old farmer Tony … Read more
Henry spots Martha making a phone call

Heaven Can Wait

Here’s the logline that the IMDb is currently using for Heaven Can Wait – “An old roué arrives in Hades to review his life with Satan, who will rule on his eligibility to enter the Underworld.” Fair enough. It’s the line everyone inevitably takes when describing this 1943 movie, which cleverly sells a headline (the supernatural stuff) only to deliver something completely different. Yes, it does start out with Henry Van Cleve arriving in Hell, where the Devil, referred to as His Excellency throughout, refuses to grant Henry entry until he’s heard his story. And that’s the last we’ll see or hear of His Excellency until the dying moments of the film, when … Read more
Kevin flies through the air towards an opponent in the ring

The Iron Claw

The family is a cult and the cult a family in the films of Sean Durkin. After Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest, The Iron Claw continues Durkin’s excavations with a biopic of the Von Erichs, a famous wrestling clan whittled away by a tragic curse. After a quick black-and-white preamble sketching paterfamilias Fritz’s own career as a fighter who failed to win the big prizes, Durkin goes curtain-up on the era of the retired fighter’s sons, the sun-kissed 1970s and beyond. Fritz, now a ballsy uncompromising martinet of the old school, is in charge of training his boys and of the wrestling franchise they fight in. By this point the family … Read more
Barbara on her bicycle

Barbara

By the time Christian Petzold made Barbara in 2012, enough time had passed for his film not to be seen as just the latest in a line of Ostalgia movies (2003’s Good Bye Lenin! is a prime example). In any case the German writer and director tends to be more concerned with the problems created by freedom rather than a lack of it. Films misty-eyed for the communist era aren’t really his thing. However, Barbara does have some generous things to say about life in the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) wrapped up in a thriller about a woman trying to escape to the West. Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a doctor in … Read more
Cosmo meets the mob

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The world is at Peak Ben Gazzarra and Peak John Cassavetes in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a neo-noir from 1976 full of techniques – handheld camera, sparse (if any) lighting, crash editing, semi-improv – that seemed weird at the time but have since been absorbed into mainstream film-making. Cassavetes had worked on the early stages of the film with Martin Scorsese (a protégé) and there are parallels with the style and content of Mean Streets – a “hey we’re just guys talking” aspect to the storytelling and a loose shooting style which Cassavetes pushes a lot further than Scorsese. Here, the camera often becomes more obviously subjective and emotional, the image swinging … Read more
Paul in unform ready for action

All Quiet on the Western Front

Not a remake, say the team behind 2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front, referring to the legendary 1930 movie anyone would be a fool to try and remake. More another adaptation of the book it was based on, they say, Erich Maria Remarque’s serialised novel from 1928 about the grim reality of the First World War from the average soldier’s point of view. This is true. I’ve seen both, and the 1930 version less than six months ago, so can easily see what’s different in this adaptation. Absent, for example, is the class element – they were posh boys in the 1930 film and one of their great bugbears once they’d joined … Read more
Dracula cackles over Renfield

Renfield

Universal’s ongoing attempt to build a cinematic universe to rival (in its dreams) Marvel’s or even DC’s continues with Renfield, which has a task all of its own – how to get Dracula’s familiar into the spotlight all on his own, without his master stealing his thunder. Even casting handsome, likeable Nicholas Hoult as Renfield it’s an impossible task and you’ve got to question the wisdom of getting Nicolas Cage in to play Dracula. Here’s a man who needs no invitation to overdo it being handed the keys to the scenery-chewing kingdom. And Cage runs wild in it, giving a performance of manically comic proportions. The premise: after a disastrous encounter with some … Read more

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