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Maverick in the cockpit

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick comes such a long time after the original film – 30something years – that a quick introductory “previously on Top Gun” wouldn’t go amiss. Instead, new director Joseph Kosinski (who worked with Tom Cruise on Oblivion) puts us at ease with an opening sequence that’s a homage to Tony Scott, director of the original Top Gun – machines and processes fetished, a high tech something in silhouette, steam escaping from somewhere. A racing motorbike on a long flat road. “Hell, yeh” masculinity. Long lenses. Heat shimmers. It’s a “previously on Top Gun” as a mood board. And then we’re in to a story that wastes no time in letting us … Read more
Aris on a child's bike

Apples

Apples makes clear that, even in 2021, the Greek Weird Wave continues to roll. A retro-scifi story of a world afflicted by an illness that robs people of their memories, it stars Aris Servetalis as Aris (handy), a man who leaves his home one day and then, suddenly, is sitting on the bus unable to answer basic questions like “where are you going?” or “what is your name?” The prognosis appears to be bad. In this world, once the memory has gone it can’t come back. And so Aris winds up in a medical program designed to give him new memories. He’s given a place to live and is asked to follow a … Read more
Valerie Van Ost

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 20 – Dead Man’s Treasure

Dead Man’s Treasure takes that old staple of the country house weekend – the treasure hunt – and turns it into a reasonably thrilling car-chase adventure unsure quite how jokey it wants to be. My hunch is that the thrills come courtesy of writer Michel Winder, the jokes from showrunner Brian Clemens, since camping it up is pretty much Clemens’s shtick. But on to the plot, and things get going in a very familiar style as one of Steed’s agent colleagues dies in time-honoured “The treasure’s in the … aaaagh” style, having been pursued in his nippy Sunbeam Alpine MG (see below) by stylish dastards in an E Type Jaguar. For car nuts, this … Read more
Judy Parfitt

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 15 – The White Elephant

  For the first episode of 1964, broadcast on 4 January, the day that Auburn University in Alabama accepted Harold A Franklin as its first black student (accompanied by three US marshals and 100 state police to keep the mob at bay), John Steed and Mrs Gale are on the case of a missing albino elephant in an episode unsurprisingly titled The White Elephant.     The beast has been stolen from a private zoo which supplies mainstream zoos, run by upper-class English chap Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley) – modelled on John Aspinall (gambler, zoo-owner, anti-Semite and the man who allegedly facilitated murderer Lord Lucan’s escape from the UK).     Why this … Read more
Liu Yifei as Mulan

Mulan

  Anyone for a live-action remake of a much-loved animation?     The latest of Disney’s live-action makeovers of its own back catalogues continues a “so-what?” run of remakes – Jungle Book, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo to name a few. They’re not bad films exactly – no, hang on, Dumbo is – but how many of them have been necessary, what are Disney playing at exactly, and how long before Snow White? Junking the songs and comedy sidekicks of the 1998 animation, this Mulan sticks fairly close to the original Chinese folk tale, first written down about 1,600 years ago, of a feisty young woman skilled in combat who, fearing for … Read more
René Otero

Boys State

Fascinating, sometimes grimly so, Boys State is a documentary about a Texas program designed to educate high schoolers in the intricacies and mechanisms of democracy. It’s been run by the American Legion since 1935 and claims to be a “week-long experiment in self-governance” during which young men run for office, get a team around themselves, organise into parties, committees and cabals. En route, the cream (or scum) rises to the top, and the sharp elbowed and quick-tongued win out over the more thoughtful and considered. They’re not an entirely self-selecting group. In early interviews conducted by Legion members in full uniform, it’s obvious what sort of “boy” is being sought – one whose … Read more
Paul Renard in church

Broken Lullaby

Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby was originally called The Man I Killed, like the Maurice Rostand play it was based on (L’homme que j’ai tué). It turned out to be a title too hard-hitting for the box office and so it was decided to change it. To The Fifth Commandment. Until some bright spark pointed out that “Thou shalt not kill” isn’t always in the number five position in the Commandments. If you’re Jewish or Orthodox, it’s number six, for example. And so, bizarrely, Broken Lullaby is what the movie ended up being called. Both the play and the film are the story of a French soldier who kills a German soldier … Read more
Ellen Page updates the Red Riding Hood look in Hard Candy

Hard Candy

Thonggrrrl14 , aka Hayley, agrees to meet Lensman319, aka Jeff, at a local coffee shop. They head back to his pad, the 14-year-old and the mature photographer, where Hayley drugs Jeff, ties him up and prepares to wreak some overdue revenge on behalf of all the other poor girls who have ever been hoodwinked and then abused by someone who should know better. First threatening to castrate him following procedures she learnt online – see how the internet gives but also takes? – she then spends a good amount of time messing with his head, in scenes which should be punctuated with reminders to breathe. Which way is this thriller going to play … Read more
William H Macy in A Slight Case of Murder

A Slight Case of Murder

  One of those feelgood made-for-TV films that’s somehow managed to net a great cast as they were commuting between better paying jobs. I suspect that that’s because William H Macy is involved, David Mamet’s favourite actor being the star and the adapter of Donald Westlake’s novel about a film critic who kills his girlfriend by accident and then uses his film buffery to cover up the crime. It’s a neat conceit obviously designed to appeal to film lovers, who get double helpings when the cop on the accidental killer’s tail (Adam Arkin) also turns out to be a film buff himself. Comic noir is the prevailing tone, once the film’s initial skittishness … Read more
Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), what a treasure trove of spine-tingling musical goodies this film is. “Directed” by Questlove, whose role is really more curatorial and editorial, it’s a compendium of highlights from a series of six free concerts held on Sundays in Harlem from June to August 1969. Billed at the time as The Black Woodstock, after legendary festival which was being held upstate at around the same time. There were around 40 hours of performances recorded, and most of it has lain abandoned in a basement ever since it was shot by producer Hal Tulchin. Tulchin’s plans to get it a wider distribution came to … Read more
Laura with Shelby Carpenter

Laura

A complex psychological thriller masquerading as a film noir, 1944’s Laura is about three men who are bewitched by a woman so ethereally, transcendentally beguiling that it is entirely appropriate that, when director Otto Preminger takes the curtain up, Laura (Gene Tierney) is already dead. What follows is a basic whodunit pulled in various unusual directions. A for-instance: the cop on the case, Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews), invites one of the men suspected of killing her, Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), to accompany him while he cross-examines other witnesses. What cop does that? Another: the cop doesn’t do very much actual investigating and instead spends an inordinate amount of time in the dead woman’s … Read more
Jessica Harper as Suzy

Suspiria

Suspiria, the original 1977 one not the 2018 remake (a treat for another day), pulls a version of the same trick on its audience that Orson Welles pulled on his crew while making Citizen Kane. “It’s a dream sequence,” Welles would sometimes shout, when he ran into resistance against whatever novelty he was trying out on any given day. Park your timeserved-craftsman’s logical objections, in other words, and give it a try. Armed with a “dream sequence” Welles could experiment away to his heart’s content. If Welles had a dream, Dario Argento has a nightmare to deliver and everything in his film is shaped by it. Park expectations about “good” acting and “professional” … Read more

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