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The family eats a meal together

Alcarràs

Like Carla Simón’s previous film, 2017’s Summer 1993, Alcarràs is an intimate family drama shot in an unobtrusive semi-documentary style with performances so good you wonder how come actors like these get overlooked at awards time. There’s a feature idea – too good for an award (quietly files away idea only to forget it). Not the film itself, which has won a rake of gongs for direction and screenplay. But if I were handing out the trophies, almost any one of the actors (non-professionals all!) in Alcarràs involved would be a prime candidate for an honour, with Josep Abad at the top of the list. He plays Rogelio, the aged grandfather and patriarch … Read more
A mini Steed tries to make a phone call

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 24 – Mission… Highly Improbable

The US TV series Mission: Impossible was not quite a year old and hadn’t yet aired in the UK when the Avengers episode Mission… Highly Improbable debuted in the UK in November 1967, so Brits wouldn’t have got the joke/reference. It matters not – apart from the allusive title, there’s nothing else carrying over from the US show to the UK one. Apart, that is, from the high-budget looks. Everything looks like it’s been given two extra runs through the polisher – that’s the effect of American money. However, even though The Avengers was riding high on both sides of the Atlantic, the spy craze was on the wane. The Robert Culp/Bill Cosby … Read more
Anson Mount as Dr Strauss

MK Ultra

If the title MK Ultra means something to you already, you’ll know what this movie is about – the CIA’s MKUltra program, mind-control experiments on unwilling, ignorant or forced volunteers (soldiers, prisoners, prostitutes) using LSD and other drugs, often psychotics or psychedelics. There were various aims but one of them was the creation of the perfect soldier, one who would obey orders without thinking. What’s odd and bold about writer/director Joseph Sorrentino’s fictionalised retelling of the story is how unsensational he makes it considering the historical facts – the experiments were entirely illegal and secret and only came to light in the 1970s. Sorrentino’s preamble tells us the program got up and running … Read more
Tonia on a bed

So Pretty

I started out watching So Pretty convinced it was “not for me” but by the time it had finished I wondered if I was precisely its target audience. Me? Gammon-faced guy whose exposure to trans culture extends about as far as an evening in Soho’s (London) infamous drag bar Madame JoJo’s once, quite a while ago, to celebrate someone’s birthday. I got drunk. Who knows if anyone there was even trans. So Pretty starts with a shot of Franz (Thomas Love) picking up Tonia (Jessica Dunn Rovinelli, as Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, unpick at will) at the airport. Franz is a lithe gay young man with long hair. Tonia is a trans woman … Read more
Charlotte Rampling and Diana Rigg

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 12 – The Superlative Seven

Charlotte Rampling, Donald Sutherland and Brian Blessed are the standout names in The Superlative Seven, a title suggesting this episode is going to borrow heavily from The Magnificent Seven of seven years before. In fact it’s more a reworking of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with a bit of Hunger Games thrown in (appropriately, since a five-decades-older Sutherland would be prominent in that). Blessed was probably the best known of the three at the time, having been a key cast member of the hit UK show Z Cars, though Rampling was close behind, Georgy Girl having made her a name the year before. Sutherland? More a familiar face than a big name, TV … Read more
Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage in The Family Man

The Family Man

On with the florid jumper, down with the heavy meat-based meal and away we go for Christmas. Oh no it isn’t, I hear you shouting. See, you’re getting it. But, inexplicably, when this festive-themed movie was released in the UK on DVD, it was decided that the middle of the summer was the time to do it. Windows, that’s the reason – the scheduling slots decreed by the suits to give the cinemas time to milk the product first, before the home entertainment departments get their hands on the big cash-laden teat. It’s that sort of film too – two sets of concerns vie for a hold on the central character, played by … Read more
Danila with a gun

Brother 2

The gang’s all back together for the sequel to Brother – Brother 2, unsurprisingly. That includes the writer/director Aleksey Balabanov, star Sergey Bodrov, key members of the support cast, notably Viktor Sukhorukov as the titular brother, plus cinematographer Sergey Astakhov, editor Marina Lipartiya, composer Vyacheslav Butusov and even the chunky knit sweater that Bodrov wore through most of the first film. Amusingly, Balabanov starts off his sequel with a direct callback to the first film – a scene in which Bodrov’s Danila, an ex-soldier and hitman of the cool, unassuming sort, wanders on to a film set, just as he did first time out. This time, though, Danila is in Moscow rather than … Read more
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Roll Out the Barrel: Pubs Never Looked So Good

A collection of documentary shorts on the British pub paints a warm, comforting picture of one of the country’s most cherished institutions. But is it a true one? “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,” intones a voice theatrically, “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” The quote is from Samuel Johnson and it kicks off The Story of English Inns, the first of 20 collected documentary shorts from the archive released in June 2012 by the British Film Institute. Alas, anyone who’s ever been to a British pub will tell you that this adage conveys only half the truth. For every charming hostelry … Read more
Valeria washing herself

Huesera: the Bone Woman

Huesera: the Bone Woman opens and ends with spectacular images – of a gigantic golden Virgin Mary at a shrine to start, and of a writhing mass of naked zombie-like creatures to finish. In themselves they’re impressive but they also offer a distilled show-and-tell of the shift in tone Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera has brought about over the 97 minutes’ running time of her movie. Things start out in the everyday, rational, workaday world of a young woman, Valeria (Natalia Solián) who wants to have a baby. At the shrine she is visiting largely to keep her supersitious mother happy she offers up a prayer to the Virgin. Otherwise Valeria is relying … Read more
Alexa Vega in Sleepover

Sleepover

Alexa Vega – the girl component of Spy Kids – gets her own teenage vehicle, and it’s the sort of film it’s very easy to be snarky about, especially if you’re not the target audience. It’s the usual teen/tween fare, in fact, about girls who are obsessed with friends, boyfriends and status and focusing on Alexa and her mates who must embark on a scavenger hunt against the film’s obligatory Rich Bitches to win a treasure hunt. The hunt itself has no importance except to keep the film going but then there are a lot of films that use the flimsiest of pretexts to keep things bubbling along. In other news, Ferris Bueller’s … 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
Baahubuli in full warrior gear

Baahubuli: The Beginning

If you’ve ever wondered where RRR came from, or how come Tollywood became bigger than Bollywood, Baahubali: The Beginning is the answer to both questions. RRR was the crossover all-action spectacular that forced the rest of the world to take notice of Tollywood in 2022, and finally pushed it to the number one position in terms of Indian movie-making. In 2022 Tollywood (Telugu-language, centred in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) produced 219 feature films against just 42 from Bollywood (Hindi-language, out of Mumbai, formerly Bombay) – the numbers do not lie. Nor does the box office. Baahubali: The Beginning had the best box offfice of any Indian film ever when it debuted in 2015, … Read more

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