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Popular Reviews

Sean and Ally drink wine together

Somebody I Used to Know

Like some sort of cosmic ordering service, romances and romantic comedies work to put together people who deserve to be together. But what happens if the people concerned don’t deserve to be together? That’s what Alison Brie and Dave Franco’s Somebody I Used to Know sets out to discover. Married couple Brie and Franco co-wrote it, Franco directs and Brie stars, as the Hollywood burnout who heads back to the small town where she grew up after her TV show, Dessert Island (a baking meets dating reality thing), gets canned. There she bumps into the ex she bailed out on suddenly ten years before to go and make it big in Hollywood. The … Read more
Robert Levey II as Jesse

The Cathedral

A film about a kid growing up, from 1980s birth to graduation, The Cathedral has Richard Linklater’s Oscar-winning, audience-slaying Boyhood to contend with. Which makes Ricky D’Ambrose’s debut feature even more impressive once you’ve seen it. The comparisons are still there, yet D’Ambrose has managed to make something recognisably operating in the same field as Boyhood and yet undeniably its own beast. Partly that’s because this is D’Ambrose’s own story – semi-autobiographical says the publicity – or more generally the story of his family, who as a group expend much psychic energy on their own affairs and ongoing family feuds, rather less on the future of the family, as embodied in the figure … Read more
Bunta Sugawara as Hirono

Battles without Honor and Humanity

Never mind Battles without Honor and Humanity, how about battles that make some sense? There’s lots to love in Kinji Fukasaku’s 1973 gangster movie – the first of a five-part series of “Battles” movies he’d make in two years (amazingly) – but coherence isn’t high on the list. It’s often called the Japanese Godfather, and there’s plenty of that in there. But there’s also Goodfellas, since it’s the story of a guy, Hirono, an ex-soldier who (actually) never always wanted to be a gangster. But once this smalltime criminal has landed in trouble with the law he finds himself sharing a prison cell with a yakuza guy. Once invited to join, he is … Read more
Steed charms his way into the gang

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 21 – Build a Better Mousetrap

Build a Better Mousetrap is a great episode of The Avengers – it’s Brian Clemens at his best, from its very Clemens-y joshing title, to his use of British eccentrics, and his mix of the venerable with the modern, the tech with the antique and the old with the young, not forgetting Clemens’s usual dabble in the sociology of class. And it gets off to a flying start, making sensible use of Mrs Gale’s penchant for leather by inserting her into a motorcycle gang, somewhat improbably. As the episode gets going, one of this gang’s number is frightening two harmless old ladies (Athene Seyler, Nora Nicholson), who retaliate by threatening to put a … Read more
Nitram and a burning car

Nitram

Nitram is a tough sell: a film about the Port Arthur shooting in 1996 – 35 dead, 23 wounded at the hand of a lone gunman called Martin Bryant – it was controversial in Australia, where the shooting occurred, and unsurprisingly several politicians were particularly vocal in campaigning against it. The fact that Australian’s gun laws were changed in the aftermath of the shooting might suggest culpable hostility on the part of politicians who had clearly been asleep on the job if a man with restricted intelligence, with a history of reckless behaviour and with no firearms licence could easily buy enough weapons to supply a small army. It’s a tough sell, though, … Read more
Brigitte Bardot in a bikini

The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter

Brigitte Bardot turns 90 in 2024 so this is a good time to have a look at her first starring role, in The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter. It wasn’t her first film. That was Le Trou Normand, which also came out in 1952. It isn’t really her first starring role either, since Bardot herself doesn’t appear until 40 minutes in. The opening credits have her top-billed, but they might possibly have been reshot or recut for the US release, which didn’t happen until 1958, by which time Bardot was a phenomenon. You can see why that happened in this movie, which makes much of the physicality of the teenage BB – the original French title … Read more
Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Dan Stevens and Jeremy Allen White

The Rental

Take your pick – The Rental is a deliberately confounding amalgam of genres or a film that can’t work out what it wants to be. It starts out looking like one of those cabin in the woods things, and we meet two couples – Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Mina (Sheila Vand) – as they’re arriving at a secluded and fabulous place by the coast, complete with ocean view and hot tub. They also have a dog in tow, which the rules of the rental explicitly forbid. But they’re entitled “white privilege” kind of guys and so those rules don’t apply. Actually, one of them, Mina, isn’t white … Read more
Tom Hanks

The Money Pit

Barely ever really funny, The Money Pit is something of a slapstick classic all the same, a triumph of a kind of Hollywood film-making and playing that’s so precise that you have to admire it… even though you’ll probably not laugh. The scenario is lifted wholesale from the 1948 comedy Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, which starred Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as the couple who buy a doer-upper and realise there’s more to do up than they can possibly manage. Here it’s Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as the pair who leapt before they looked. Hanks, two years after his breakthrough in Splash, is in his high comedy phase. Two years later … Read more
Diana and Julián hug

Manticore aka Mantícora

Manticore takes its name from the mythical beast with the head of a man, the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion. But writer/director Carlos Vermut has another beast in mind – two, in fact – in this Spanish film giving us a flash of what it’s about before lulling us into a state of forgetfulness until coming back hard and horrible in its final moments. Nacho Sánchez plays Julián, a Madrid “monster modeller” who does all the mythical beasts for the video game company he works for. At home one day applying a horn, or some scales, to his latest 3D image, he hears cries from a neighbouring apartment, … Read more
Ralph Fiennes as Norman Darbyshire

Coup 53

It took Iranian exile Taghi Amirani more than ten years to make Coup 53, a documentary about the 1953 coup against the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The coup was organised and paid for by the US and UK governments. While the US long ago admitted that the CIA had a role in bringing Mosaddegh down, the ever-secretive British have never owned up. At first it looks like that’s what Amirani is up to, getting the British to come clean. But as his film winds along, it becomes clear he has grander objectives. He unpicks the story of Mosaddegh’s downfall in detail – here’s how as a foreign agent you … Read more
Steed pours vodka on his bowler

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 32 – Get-A-Way!

The penultimate Avengers episode actually goes right back to the early days of this series’ production run. There was over a year between the completion of Get-A-Way! in February 1968 and its transmission in May 1969. It’s one of the ones produced (or started, at any rate) by John Bryce, whose short-lived attempt to take The Avengers back to some version of realism never really had enough time to gain traction before the old team of Clemens and Fennell were reinstated. Invisibility (realism?) is what Get-A-Way! is all about. Invisibility at a high-security prison for enemy agents, run as if it were a monastery – the warders wear habits (again, realism?) – where … Read more
Roy puts an opponent to the sword

Boss Level

For those days when you just want something entertaining – Boss Level, a new Joe Carnhan movie that gives us the familiar Carnahan formula, action plus buffoonery, delivered with a deadpan rictus by a new arrival in geri-action heroics – Frank Grillo. Grillo plays Roy Pulver, a guy who wakes up every day to the same scenario – a “machete wielding asshole” trying to kill him, followed by an encounter with a helicopter gunship, followed by a deadly explosion and a fall from a high window, after which he’s chased down city streets in fast cars by gun-toting bad guys determined to kill him. That’s if they haven’t already killed him. Because Pulver has lived … Read more

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