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Myrna Loy and William Powell

I Love You Again

I Love You Again is a knockabout Hollywood farce, a cock-eyed “comedy of remarriage” – The Philadelphia Story is the king of the genre – done in rat-a-rat style by the crack team of director WS Van Dyke and his stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Van Dyke was known as One Take Woody, for reasons that don’t need explaining, and at this point had worked together with Powell and Loy on three Thin Man films, which had done all three of them a lot of favours. If you’re not familiar with the Thin Man films (there would eventually be six; the first three are the best), they all feature Powell and Loy as … Read more
The Djinn and Alithea

Three Thousand Years of Longing

The bomb of 2022 is what industry somebodies are calling Three Thousand Years of Longing. True, it didn’t do very good box office. It did terrible box office in fact. But streaming will probably claw back some of the deficit, where it’ll almost certainly be watched several times by quite a number of people. It’s that sort of film. It’s a compendium affair, always a tough sell, with no explicit throughline, the story of a narratologist (a person who studies stories to reveal truths about humanity) who finds a bottle in a bazaar while at an academic conference in Istanbul and discovers that it contains a genie, or djinn as they now tend … Read more
Larry on live TV

A Face in the Crowd

Loved by Truffaut, borrowed by Spike Lee, strangely overlooked today, A Face in the Crowd is a prescient film from 1957 that uses the word “influencer”, is worried about demagogues in public life, the corrupting effect of the media and the weird lives of celebrities. It’s directed by Elia Kazan, a man with an eye for for a political meme – he did Gentleman’s Agreement (anti-semitism) and On the Waterfront (union corruption) – and was made five years after he’d testified to the House Unamerican Activities Committee and “named names”. The febrile McCarthyite atmosphere of the times is partly what Kazan and regular writer Budd Schulberg are tilting at in the story of … Read more
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
Klaus Kinski as Aguirre

Aguirre, Wrath of God

As madly vainglorious as the expedition it tracks, Aguirre, Wrath of God follows a raggle-taggle band of 16th-century conquistadors into uncharted South America, where they hope to find incalculable riches in the fabled city of El Dorado. It was the first of five uneasy collaborations director Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski made together. Herzog opens on a richly extravagant shot of the conquistadors, the accompanying nobles, plus native bearers and a priest in single file descending through the jungle down towards the Amazon. Money has been spent, the shot shouts. This is a magician’s deflection. Most of the “action” in this movie takes place either on a riverbank or on board a raft … Read more
Josephine examines an unrest wheel

Unrest aka Unrueh

There was a real-life person called Pyotr Kropotkin, he isn’t a fantasy creation of writer/director Cyril Schäublin, who is also excavating his own family’s connection to the Swiss watch industry in Unrest (Unrueh), a film as quiet and precise as a high-end timepiece. Schäublin’s film follows the bearded Russian political radical (played here by Alexei Evstratov) as he arrives in a Swiss valley, where, he’s apparently heard, the workers are beginning to organise themselves in a loose anarcho-syndicalist fashion. There, posing as a cartographer making a map, Kropotkin stands back and observes, taking in the working relations of the late 19th century – feudal more than anything. He notices how the workers mutually … Read more
Jeanne and Andreas

The Love of Jeanne Ney

The Love of Jeanne Ney is one of those torrid love stories told against a backdrop of roiling conflict. Or that’s what it looks like at the outset. But by the end it’s become more like a showcase for everything the great Austrian director Georg Wilhelm Pabst could do – all the genres in all the styles. By this point in his career, Pabst had given Greta Garbo her first starring role two years before in 1925’s Joyless Street (aka Die freudlose Gasse). Two years later he would turn Louise Brooks into a global icon with Pandora’s Box. If Jeanne Ney was a bit of bait designed to lure Hollywood into hiring him, … Read more
Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman

The Woodsman

There are two big default ideas in Hollywood movies and in The Woodsman we have not just a fine film about a paedophile but also a film tackling these two notions head on. The first of Hollywood’s mantras is “be yourself”. The second: “you can have anything if you want it enough” – often expressed as “never give up on your dream”. In The Woodsman Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a fresh-from-prison paedophile who would give anything not to be himself, a man who would love to give up his dream – of having sex with young children. Unfortunately for Walter, his insane bail conditions force him to live over the road from – hollow … Read more
Alex Pettyfer in Stormbreaker

Stormbreaker

We’ve had young James Bond, courtesy of Charlie Higson, and the Spy Kids films, so there’s nothing that groundbreaking about Alex Rider, the mini-me spy and key character in Anthony Horowitz’s string of highly successful novels. 16-year-old Alex Pettyfer steps into the Rider role, his private school accent and rent boy looks making him ideal as the juvenile spy. Horowitz himself adapts his own novel. Which is a feat considering that he also writes the Power of Five series (known as The Gatekeepers in the US), has knocked out a Sherlock Holmes novel, a number of scripts for the long-running Sunday afternoon footwarmer Poirot, a whole raft of Midsomer Murders and he’s the creator … Read more
Roddy the Rat holds on tight in Flushed Away

Flushed Away

Aardman, the animation house that gave us Wallace and Gromit, announced the ending of their collaboration with DreamWorks (Shrek) just as Flushed Away was released. And watching it, you can understand why. High on sentimentality and laden with backstory, it’s a DreamWorks movie with Aardman touches, rather than what Aardman probably hoped for – an Aardman movie with DreamWorks muscle behind it. A good movie that could have been a great one, in other words, though the good stuff makes it worthwhile. The over-complicated story tells the tale of Roddy St James, a privileged London pet rat (voiced by Hugh Jackman) who gets “flushed away” down the toilet and into the sewers, where … Read more
Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson

Made in Italy

Made in Italy feels like it’s based on one of the books by Peter Mayle, the British advertising executive who tired of the life and lit out for France, where he set about writing lighthearted sun-dredged reports on his new life. A Year in Provence was the first and it sold very well. That became a TV series of the same name, starring John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan as the expatriate couple making a new go of it, and another Mayle book, A Good Year, later became a Ridley Scott film starring Russell Crowe as a Brit in Provence learning to be a bit less of a bull at a gate about life. … Read more
Entering the simulation

World on a Wire

World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s only stab at sci-fi. An epic 3.5-hour behemoth, it was originally shown on TV in two parts, and starts as Fassbinder means it to go on, setting up questions about what we’re seeing in front of us. The opening shot is done on a lens so long it causes an atmospheric shimmer. The picture wobbles just a touch, as if we’re looking through a heat haze. When the people we’re seeing start speaking, their voices have the dead flat ambience of a dubbing studio. So much for atmosphere – we’re disconnected from these businessmen out on the street and entering … Read more

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