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Popular Reviews

Cicely Tyson as the mother


A critical and box office hit, Oscar-nominated and a movie now preserved by the US National Film Registry, Martin Ritt’s Sounder is one of those important films that no one seems to talk about any more. It seems to have been forgotten, or is a cult being kept alive by a small band of devotees. Perhaps it got lost in the undergrowth, along with films like the comparatively well known Silent Running, because it’s a movie from 1972 and so was squeezed out by the competition in one of the mega years – The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, Solaris, Sleuth, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Carry On Matron (I’m joking). Or maybe it’s … Read more
Doctor Holliford checks Dan while son Chris lies on a bed


George C Scott, as well as acting, also directed three films. Rage, the second, was the first to get a theatrical release and is an interesting failure, unlike Scott’s first film, The Andersonville Trial, which was a critical hit. Scott’s last, The Savage Is Loose, tickled neither audiences nor critics – it was probably the theme of incest. The fascinating thing about Rage is that it’s a conspiracy thriller with a plot that’s all about the US government conspiring against its own people. This was 1972, pre-Watergate, when mainstream US-set conspiracy thrillers generally still hinged either on malevolent foreigners hatching dastardly plots (The Manchurian Candidate) or rogue generals planning a coup (Seven Days … Read more
Close up of Count Yorga's fangs

Count Yorga, Vampire

Going in to 1970’s Count Yorga, Vampire, the thing to remember – and the reason why it sometimes flies under an alternative title, The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire – is that it was originally destined to be a vampire movie of a softcore persuasion, at least as much about tits as teeth. It explains odd moments when the focus shifts from the matter at hand – an update on Bram Stoker’s Dracula story, in all the key essentials – and on to female flesh. There isn’t that much of it, to be fair to the film, which took its swerve away from the carnal early in the production process, at the point … Read more
Charlie plays the piano

Shoot the Piano Player

How do you follow a classic like The 400 Blows? With another one, if you’re François Truffaut. Shoot the Piano Player (aka Shoot the Pianist, or Tirez sur le pianiste in the original French) debuted in 1960, one year after 400 Blows had made Truffaut’s name as a director. Just in case there was any doubt about his talent, he’d also written Breathless (A bout de souffle), another classic, with Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol in the interim. Let’s get the story out of the way, because in a way it’s not interesting, though the way Truffaut tells it is. Charles Aznavour plays a concert pianist called Edouard Saroyan who meets a young … Read more
Naomi naked in the shower

Nude Area

Films about falling in love have been done so often that the way people declare their love has become incredibly important. How does “I love you. You complete me” compare to “Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches…” or “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her”? Top marks for spotting Jerry Maguire, The Princess Bride and Notting Hill. Love stories depend lots of things – but emotional plausibility and the romantic stars aligning go along with good writing and chemistry to take things over the line. So how about doing a … Read more
Isabelle Huppert as Frankie


Having made films with more than a hint of the French about them – character driven, focused on metropolitan angst, loose, semi-improvised acting style, unafraid to let nothing happen – Ira Sachs finally gets almost all of the way there with Frankie, a drama set in Portugal but with plenty of French speakers in his cast. Patrice Chéreau’s 1998 drama Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (Ceux Qui M’aiment Prendront le Train) is a close analogue, though here the central figure around which everything spins is still alive. She’s played by Isabelle Huppert as Françoise (aka Frankie), a famous actress who has called all her family together in Sintra, Portugal, for … Read more
Maggie Cheung as Jade

Dragon Inn aka New Dragon Gate Inn

Unsurprisingly, 1992’s Dragon Inn (aka New Dragon Gate Inn) is a remake of 1967’s Dragon Inn. One of the pivotal movies of the wuxia genre, the 1967 original paved the way for the martial arts explosion of the 1970s. If the remake is opportunistic, it also a showcase for the sort of production that Tsui Hark was masterminding in the early 1990s – movies of scale, with high production values, starring big names, made in impressive locations. And it showcases his love of eclecticism. Dragon Inn owes quite a bit to Sergio Leone’s westerns – the spectacular vista, the extreme close-up. Its soundtrack, by Chan Fei-Lit (aka Philip Chan) and Chow Gam-Wing, regularly borrows … Read more
Patrick Allen and Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 18 – The Thirteenth Hole

The Thirteenth Hole sees Steed and Peel in action at a golf club where golfers seem to keep dying. Once again, it’s an episode with a needlessly elaborate plot about an international consortium of bad hats getting up to skulduggery. But instead of prosecuting their roguery from an office or a warehouse out on a sensible industrial estate, they choose an idiosyncratic and public location – this time a golf club – which out here in the real world would provide over-easy access for any number of potential thwarters of their enterprise. Or perhaps I’m taking the whole thing a bit too seriously. The plot, when it finally fully reveals itself, is all … Read more
Karl Urban in Pathfinder


A Viking orphan is raised by American Indians in Newfoundland, circa 1000AD, only to be confronted with the mother of all identity crises when the warlike Norsemen return years later, and set about raping and pillaging their way through the villages of his adoptive nation. Which call is he going to obey – blood or upbringing? Offering the viewer the supposed delights of the clash of two of the world’s ur-peoples – the Viking and the Native American – Marcus Nispel’s follow-up to his fairly pointless remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre proves he’s still more at home with pop promos for Janet Jackson and Billy Joel than as a big screen director. … Read more
Michael York as Tom Wabe

Smashing Time

London in all its 1960s Swinging glory is what Smashing Time offers, in what’s meant to be a satire on the time and the place but is more a jaunt around the zeitgeist’s tourist landmarks strapped to some weak songs and very feeble comedy. I kid you not, there is a banana skin gag. Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave play Brenda and Yvonne, a pair of friends from “up north” who arrive in London determined to locate Carnaby Street and plug straight into the scene. Instead they find themselves penniless, having been robbed the minute they arrived in the capital. From here bullish, stupid Yvonne and timid, smart Brenda’s paths diverge slightly, allowing … Read more
Honor Blackman and Edric Connor

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 7 – The Gilded Cage

Shown on 9 November 1963, just one day after five thieves had almost nabbed a king’s ransom of jewels and gold on the streets of Manhattan –they were thwarted because the getaway driver couldn’t work the manual gears of the heisted station wagon – The Gilded Cage is all about vast amounts of gold, which, it appears, Steed and Gale are trying to steal. With a passing mention of Bretton Woods – the post-War economic order which pegged international currencies to the dollar, itself pegged to gold (hence the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox as a common trope in this era) – it’s made clear that this isn’t just about the loot, … Read more
Lin Yun as mermaid Shan

The Mermaid

So, Stephen Chow, the martial-arts practitioner/actor/writer/director/producer best known outside Asia for two brilliant films, 2001’s Shaolin Soccer and 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle, hasn’t troubled western waters too much ever since. Take The Mermaid, the all-time highest-grossing movie in Chinese history barely got seen when it was released in the UK (where I live) and it didn’t fare any better in the USA. What western distributors have against a proven moneyspinner I don’t know, but Chow’s previous film, Journey to the West, also the highest-grossing movie in Chinese history when it was released in 2013, suffered a similar fate. But back to The Mermaid, a fun, fast and familiar piece of Chow excess laced … Read more

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