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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
Ben Affleck and Diane Lane in Hollywoodland


Looking on paper like something better than it actually turns out, Hollywoodland is one of those films purporting to lift the lid on Hollywood, LA Confidential style. It tells the lightly fictionalised story of George Reeves (Ben Affleck) the man who played Superman on 1950s US TV, and asks the simple question – who done him in? The answer is, at least partly, he did it to himself, this being a tale of an actor who’d appeared in Gone with the Wind and yet by the mid-50s was in a TV serial aimed at kids. The ignominy. If you need a lesson in counting your blessings rather than dwelling on what might have … Read more
Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro at a phone box

No Sudden Move

On the principle that second-rate Soderbergh is better than no Soderbergh at all, a warm hello to No Sudden Move, a pastiche 1950s crime drama with a Maguffin that insists it’s more than a Maguffin. Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin and Benicio Del Toro play three prickly guys hired to “babysit” a family (ie hold them hostage) while one of them takes Dad Matt (David Harbour) off to pick up something from a safe. That “something” becomes increasingly important as the story progresses, eventually bathing everything in a Chinatown-style glow as it becomes apparent that behind these no-marks is a vast scheme based on corporate corruption of a sort that makes day-to-day Mob activity … Read more
Marmalade in a car


A clever one-two of a movie, Marmalade starts out looking like one thing, then turns into something else, but saves its best moves for the finale, when revelations come tumbling out at a rate of knots. What it looks like is one of those dweeby, comic coming-of-agers of the early 2000s, movies like Elizabethtown or Garden State, in which uptight milquetoast guys are given an injection of va-va-voom by a force-of-nature free-spirit female. The creation of the passive, sex-starved male writer, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – one dimensional, a catalyst in someone else’s story rather than a hero in her own and just incidentally as hot as lava – was so ubiquitous … Read more
PJ, intern Jaclyn and Jordan

The Beta Test

There is no test in The Beta Test but there is a Beta – lead character Jordan (Jim Cummings), a would-be Hollywood big wheel who’s not quite got the clout of a producer or agent, because he’s more a “packager” of deals, one of those legends in his own lunchtime who secretly wants to be Harvey Weinstein, though he’s too attuned to the zeitgeist to ever let on. Like Griffin Mill in Robert Altman’s The Player, Jordan looks impressive to people who aren’t in the know, but is less impressive to those who are. And he feels this so keenly it’s destroying him. When a potential client, an actual hotshot with money to … Read more
Alice Krige and Kota Eberhardt

She Will

She Will – think of it as a rhyme for Free Will rather than the beginning of an unfinished sentence – a declaration of independence by a woman on behalf of all women, with a payback moment late on that’s received by a character played by Malcolm McDowell, perhaps on behalf of all men. Stated baldly the plot sounds exactly like the sort of thing you’d expect horror film network Shudder to find interesting (they have indeed picked it up) – an ageing grand dame actress recovering from a mastectomy heads to Scotland for some R&R at what she thinks is a solitary retreat. When she and her private nurse get there, they … Read more
Petra on her shagpile carpet

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Though he had 40+ films to his name when he died in 1982 aged 37, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s roots lay in the theatre and it often showed. They’re clearly visible in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, a film playing out on one set where a handful of actors perform in a theatrical “back of the room” style. The action, what little of it there is, takes place in and around the bed of Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen), a massively entitled fashion designer attended by an entirely silent aide, Marlene (Irm Hermann). As Marlene brings coffee, cake, champagne, opens doors to let people in and out, types letters and between times … Read more
A high priestess

On the Silver Globe

Ready for one of the strangest sci-fi movies ever made? On the Silver Globe (Na srebrnym globie in the original Polish) is as powerful as it is incomprehensible, as if David Lynch’s Dune had been put in a bag and tossed around with Game of Thrones, Tolkien, Tarkovsky and Mad Max. The story behind it is interesting too. It was mostly shot in 1976 by the brilliant Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, but production was closed down by the Communist censor, who feared the film was wandering into off-limits territory. The sets and costumes were destroyed, and so were all prints of the film. Or so the authorities thought. In fact Zulawski managed to … Read more
Rocks and her friends


Rocks is the director Sarah Gavron’s best fiction feature to date, beating Brick Lane and Suffragette to top honours thanks to outstandingly fresh performances from a cast of actors who deserve all the praise that’s been heaped on them. It’s a simple and fairly familiar story. Rocks (Bukky Bakray) is a London inner-city kid, feisty and formidable, fast of mouth, quick of wit, older in attitude than her 13 years. One day her mother simply disappears from the council block she shares with Rocks and much younger brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), leaving behind a note saying she’s gone off somewhere to “clear my head” plus a bit of money intended to tide … Read more
Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas and Corky the dog

Theodora Goes Wild

Almost a commentary on Hollywood’s transition from Pre-Code licence to Post-Code moralising, 1936’s Theodora Goes Wild is a breezy screwball comedy that straddles the decades with its opposition of conservative smalltown standards and liberal big-city values. Irene Dunne is the go-between, playing Theodora Lynn, a compliant daughter of the founding family of the small burgh of Lynnfield, but secretly also Caroline Adams, author of a work of racy fiction currently scandalising her staid puritanical aunts. Life for Theodora/Caroline continues on this twin track – dutiful mouse at home, sophisticated woman of the world on her visits to the city – until smoothie-chops New York book illustrator Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas) takes a shine … Read more
Bob Odenkirk with cat


“Who the fuck are you?” two cops ask the bloody guy they’ve got sitting over the table from them, in some sort of interview situation. “I’m, er…” he says. And boom, up on the screen comes the single word in giant letters, NOBODY, and this head-clearing mix of extreme violence and dry comedy gets underway. The nobody is feeding a kitten from a tin of tuna, by the way. A movie-length flashback answers the cops’ question. The guy is called Hutch Mansell. Director Ilya Naishuller and writer Derek Kolstad quick-cut-montage a picture of his humdrum existence. A suburban husband and father who does the routine things that dads with two school-age kids do, … Read more
Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Gainsbourg

Daddy Nostalgie

Dirk Bogarde’s final film, Daddy Nostalgie (released as Daddy Nostalgia in the UK and These Foolish Things in the US), is also, arguably, Jane Birkin’s best one and a reminder (writing this just days after she died) how good she could be away from the shadow cast by Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a small-scale, almost subterranean drama, played out on the sunny Cote d’Azur, where retiree Tony (Bogarde) is recovering from a serious operation. The op might not have worked and Tony might not have long for this world. Time to get his affairs in order, settle things with wife Miche (Odette Laure) and daughter Caroline (Birkin) before the grim reaper turns up. And … Read more

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