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Close up of Edith Evans as Mrs Ross

The Whisperers

As good a portrait of what it means to be old and lonely as any you’ll see, 1967’s The Whisperers is an atypical British movie for the Swinging mid-Sixties, almost a return to the kitchen-sinkers of the early part of the decade. Bryan Forbes, who wrote and directed and was a smart man, understands the risks of making this film at this time and so doubles down on the “grim up north” stereotype, starting his film with visuals strongly reminiscent of the TV show Coronation Street – back-to-back houses, empty streets, dogs in the alleys rather than people, chimney-tops and brick walls – before bringing his focus in on one elderly lady. He … Read more
Makeda and Pharaoh

100 Years of… The Loves of Pharaoh

Why this film from 1922 is called The Loves of Pharaoh in English is a bit of a mystery. It’s Das Weib des Pharao – Pharaoh’s Woman (or Wife) – in German and in every other language it was translated into (per the IMDb), the lady in question has been faithfully rendered as wife/woman/love singular. In fact the film was also much messed about with when it first debuted. In Russia Pharaoh was more of a tyrant, in the US there was more of a happy ending, whereas in its native Germany audiences got to see more or less what the director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Norbert Falk and Hanns Kräly had wanted … Read more
The Mangrove Nine in the dock

Small Axe: Mangrove

Small Axe: Mangrove is the first of a series of five standalone films made for the BBC by Steve McQueen. The umbrella title takes its name from the reggae song by Bob Marley (or Lee Perry, depending on who you ask) and though it was originally aimed at the big-name Jamaican music producers muscling everyone else out of the market, it translates perfectly to any underdog story. Mangrove is that story – 1968, Notting Hill in London, before it became the Notting Hill of Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts fame, was a downmarket inner-city area full of fine houses left to rot, crammed with too many tenants, many of them from the West Indies. It … Read more
Xolo Maridueña as Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle

The DC Extended Universe’s lowest-grossing movie of all time, as I write, is Blue Beetle, which is a slightly unfair way to look at it, since it was originally intended as an HBO or HBO Max or Max (or whatever it’s currently called) release, but got bumped up to theatrical as a result of musical chairs at DC HQ. It’s clearly not had movie money spent on it and you can see that in the special effects, which are used more sparingly than is normal in a superhero movie. Whose plot, you’re wondering, is what? Jaime, a Mexican kid just back from college and hanging out with his struggling family, is physically invaded, … Read more
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in front of a version of the Stars and Stripes

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

Professional musician and amateur situationist John Lennon has always been an easy target for anyone wanting to level a charge of hypocrisy. “Imagine no possessions,” he sang, and the fingers started pointing at his lavish lifestyle – insert your own version of the story about the fur coats kept in a refrigerated room in the Dakota Building. David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s documentary will provide fuel for both the haters and the idolisers, it being the story of how the US authorities revoked the chippiest man in rock’s Green Card in the 1970s, in an attempt to get this dangerous dissident out of the country. Well, that’s ostensibly what it’s about. In fact for … Read more
David with his dad Jacob out in the fields

Minari

Minari is an old-school film of the sort you used to see at Sundance a lot, gentle character driven dramas full of people who were essentially decent. The sort of film Robert Redford used to direct, like Ordinary People or The Milagro Bean Field War or A River Runs Through It (which starred Brad Pitt, an exec producer here). It did well there, winning both the Grand Jury and Audience awards. In the dying days of the Donald Trump administration it asks and answers the question: who built America? The answer is immigrants, though that message is never uttered out loud. Instead we follow a Korean family who’ve moved out from the city … Read more
Freda Dowie in Distant Voices, Still Lives

Distant Voices, Still Lives

A re-release from one of the most distinctive cineastes in British film. Terence Davies’s 1988 maundering autobiographical film (“It all happened… I had to tone down the violence of my dad”, Davies told The Guardian) is set in the Liverpool of his youth and is more an impressionistic montage of vibrant tableaux vivants than a drama with a traditional structure. It’s a two part affair, the first half concentrating on the brutish, violent dad (Pete Postlethwaite), long suffering, sad-eyed mum (Freda Dowie) and their three kids – as wartime austerity starts to crack and the good times of the late 1950s start to make their presence felt, which is the theme of the second … Read more
The family driving to save their lives

Greenland

Gerard Butler is a fine actor capable of great nuance, a line usually guaranteed to get a laugh. No, but he is. It’s just that he’s chosen the action-guy route in films like the (Olympus, London, Angel) Has Fallen series rather than the sensitive thespian path he could have taken after 2004’s Frankie (plenty of nuanced Butler there). Greenland gives us a lot of one sort of Butler and enough of the other to suggest that the actor is weighing up a return to actual acting, rather than continuing exclusively to pull Action Man poses. Because Greenland is a movie with nuance and some psychological depth wrapped up in a very familiar disaster … Read more
Original cinema poster

Pitfall

A good example of a flat, stoic, buttoned-up film noir, Pitfall is as minimal and undemonstrative as they come, depending on how you view sex and death. The stars are Dick Powell, deadpan Dick as usual, while Lizabeth Scott is the femme fatale, a model (and so an independent woman) who’s not so much bad as just plain elementally disruptive. There are three key men in this film – Powell as the everyday happily married insurance man John Forbes, Raymond Burr as “Mac” MacDonald, the shifty private investigator Forbes sometimes uses in murky cases, and Byron Barr as Smiley, a crook now doing time for a bent insurance claim. All have lost or … Read more
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson

Jungle Cruise

Exactly what it’s meant to be, Jungle Cruise is the walking, talking, filmic version of the Disney theme park ride it is based on. No one gets hurt, or wet, or even scared, no one laughs at the jokes, which are deliberately weak. It’s fun, in that slept-through-half-of-it way. Christmas afternoon, here it comes. The idea for the movie first took wing after the success of another film based on a theme park ride. But why saturate the market? And so Jungle Cruise got parked while Pirates of the Caribbean did its thing, after which the normal thousand-and-one interruptions to the process of getting an idea onto the screen got in the way. … Read more
Patrick Mower and Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 24 – A Sense of History

Fifty years before a referendum determined that the UK wanted to leave the EU, the subject was tackled in this Avengers episode called A Sense of History. But Martin Woodhouse’s screenplay doesn’t call on Winston Churchill or the Second World War to help invoke British exceptionalism. He goes further back… to Robin Hood and Merry England. Things kick off when an academic heading for a conference about Europia (a Utopian vision of a future Europe) is killed en route, by an arrow in his back, launched, possibly, from the bow of a student from the local St Bode’s college (the actors are mouthing “Bede” but in the post-dub it comes out as “Bode” … Read more
Vanessa and Jillian talk

I’m Totally Fine

Grief exploited for laughs. It’s not something you see every day but it works in I’m Totally Fine, the sort of film Frank Capra would recognise – funny, big-hearted, soft-centred and focused on a love between two people that’s not got even the tiniest shred of the sexual about it. In fact I’m Totally Fine pauses on two or three occasions, turns (metaphorically) to the audience and says it again, loud and clear – these two are friends. F.R.I.E.N.D.S – got it? It’s a two hander – give or take the odd intrusion by forces off to remind us of the non-sexual nature of their relationship – with Jillian Bell starring as Vanessa, a … Read more

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