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Jamie Bell and Chris Evans

Snowpiercer

That sound? The plane taking off from LAX taking another great Asian director back home, sobbing with disappointment. It happened to John Woo, who did at least manage to crank out Face/Off, but his sad run of Hollywood films include Windtalkers, Mission: Impossible II and Hard Target. To the Pang brothers too, whose The Eye was one of the attention-grabbers of 2002. They came to Hollywood, made The Messengers for Sam Raimi, then put their tail between their legs and went home. So what about the latest Asian import, the great South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, whose uniquely flavoured movies include Memories of Murder, a killer-thriller-whodunit whose cops get their man more … Read more
Gaby, Pépé and Slimane

Pépé le Moko

One of the great French “poetic realist” movies of the 1930s, Pépé le Moko is also a chance to see Jean Gabin at Peak Gabin, as the much-admired, much-feared man all men want to be and all women want to be with – as the saying goes. He’s a good bad guy, a kind of Robin Hood, but whereas Robin was happy in Sherwood Forest, Pépé is beginning to bridle at his confinement in French colonial Algiers, in the Casbah, the ramshackle part of town that’s a no-go area for the colonial authorities, who badly want Pépé but can’t touch him while he’s on his turf. Homesick Pépé’s yearning for the sights, sounds … Read more
Philip Madoc and Peter Vaughan

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 28 – My Wildest Dream

Though broadcast towards the end of the Tara King era, My Wildest Dream was made towards the beginning. It marks the point where Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell had fully taken back control of the series from John Bryce and were able to start banging out episodes that were theirs through and through, rather than rehashes/cut-and-shuts of stuff Bryce had finished or half-finished. This was the first of that bunch. It looks, perhaps no surprise, like an Emma Peel-era episode. Defiantly so, in fact – big bold colours, wide, empty sets, a pop-art influence. The dialogue is more Peel-era too – rat-a-tat-tat, knowing and smart. The story is by Philip Levene and has … Read more
Mrs Gale is held by Roman soldiers

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 10 – The Grandeur That Was Rome

As prescient as a hot button shop, The Grandeur That Was Rome is also proper Avengers stuff – arcane, bonkers, camp, with implausible undercover work and mad hair. Even before the opening credits have flipped into view (and no pre-credits murder this time, thankfully) we’ve been treated to Roman senators, gladiators, toasts uttered in Latin and drunk in wine, plus a vague threat to destroy Western civilisation – just like the Romans, er, didn’t. After the credits we’re in a different milieu, another dreadful British company captained by a glib posh chap (Ian Shand) which is not doing quite as well as he says, and run by an ineffectual number two (Kenneth Kealing). … Read more
Leslie goes wild

To Leslie

There’s a real market for films showing the lower orders wallowing in a misery of their own making. To Leslie looks like the familiar offer – feckless blue-collar gal wins big on the lottery, then pisses it all away in a hedonistic splurge. The message of films like this, usually covert, is: leave money to those who already have it. Michael Morris’s film avoids a lot of the pitfalls of the genre by concentrating not on the fall but on the bounce along the bottom. He introduces Leslie (Andrea Riseborough) in archive local TV news footage, ecstatically receiving a gigantic lottery cheque and squealing in redneck excitement before he cuts to the present … Read more
Adam meets Anthony in Enemy

Enemy

If there is such a thing as “what the hellness” then Denis Villeneuve’s latest film absolutely has it. But then the French-Canadian does have form. With Incendies Villeneuve managed to turn the conflict in the Middle East into a thriller with a reveal that disconcerted and amazed. In Prisoners he made us feel bad for suspecting that a lank haired, stuttering, educationally subnormal Paul Dano was a paedophile, and then made us feel bad for cutting such an obvious wrong’un too much slack. The tricks are more playful in this latest exercise in duplicity. As with Prisoners, Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal, this time as Adam, a history professor who suddenly spots his spitting … Read more
Nellie LaRoy rides the crowd at a party

Babylon

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is a behemoth about Hollywood excess in the silent era, a feisty female ingenue’s rise and its biggest male star’s fall, and the arrival of the talkies and how that changed everything. It packs a lot in and moves at pace but whoah is it long. At three hours and a handful of minutes it covers more or less the same ground that Singin’ in the Rain or The Artist did with 90 minutes to spare. Chutzpah on Chazelle’s part, you could say, or a lack of discipline, maybe. It’s big and baggy and overegged yet undeniably glorious. The first two hours are brilliant and the last hour-and-a-bit brilliant too. … Read more
Moses with the tablets of stone

100 Years of… The Ten Commandments

Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, so good he made it twice. This is the original 1923 version, which came about after DeMille held a public competition asking for suggestions as to what he should make next, maximum shock and awe being the big idea. The winning entry started with the line “You cannot break the Ten Commandments – they will break you,” and that was that as far as De Mille was concerned, a theme and a challenge all in one. He shot some of it in two-strip Technicolor, while the rest of it was tinted, as was common at the time. That’s all gone now; restorations come in a standard black and white. … Read more
Hannah Hoekstra as Hemel

Hemel

In brisk, businesslike fashion, much like its heroine, Hemel gets straight down to business with an opening scene of two people naked and rolling around, the woman mocking the man’s penis – you’re no David and it’s hardly Goliath etc – as part of an extended bout of cockteasing foreplay. Hemel – it means Heaven in Dutch – is a woman who likes sex and, being good-looking and young, has no trouble getting it. But, sex in this film being nowhere near as simple as it seems, Hemel wants it with an urgency that seems almost too needy. Later, having had her fun with the partner we met in the opening scene, she’s … Read more
Grace with a gun

The Reckoning

Contagion, hysteria, conspiracy and the patriarchy – you can’t accuse British horror film The Reckoning of not being on the money, even though it was shot in Hungary in 2019 while the Sars-Cov2 virus was still getting its boots on. Patriarchy is its biggest concern, though, or one 17th-century woman’s plucky fight against it. Charlotte Kirk both co-wrote and stars as Grace, the hot widow whose looks earn her the unwelcome attention of the local squire (Steven Waddington), who’s already dispatched her husband with plague-spiked ale and now – out of bitter spite at being sexually rebuffed – has accused her of being a witch. Visually and tonally we’re in the realm of the … Read more
Lady Sylvia with fangs

The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm is a good place to start if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Ken Russell. Once upon a time he was a good film-maker who made fascinating, elegant dramas. Then the success of Women in Love turned his head and from that point on, almost without exception, his subject matter – rock music (Tommy), classical music (Lisztomania), DH Lawrence (The Rainbow) – mostly came second to Ken’s “vision”, a frotter’s orgy of corny erotica. The Boy Friend somehow escaped the Russell treatment, and in Altered States Russell was held in check by a studio mightier than Ken’s own ego. But give Russell his head, and look out. … Read more
Stan and Zeena

Nightmare Alley

2021’s Nightmare Alley isn’t based on the 1947 film noir of the same name, so we’re told by various venerable authorities. Tell that to the judge. Even if it genuinely is a bona fide and honest reworking of the same source material, William Lindsay Gresham’s smash 1946 novel, even a quick look at the 1947 movie is enough to convince anyone that this Nightmare Alley has seen the older one, taken notes and then studied them hard. This extends to the casting choices. These start with Bradley Cooper as the grifter who starts out as a nobody in a carnival, works his way to the top of showbiz with a mentalist routine, over-reaches … Read more

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