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Fern has a cigarette

Nomadland

In January 2011 the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, shut down. By July of the same year the town’s zip code had been discontinued. Nomadland makes personal a phenomenon that’s been going on for decades but has accelerated since the big crash of 2008. Of displaced older blue-collar workers who lose their homes and jobs and take to the road, travelling around the US working at any job they can, living out of cars, vans and recreational vehicles, a new nomad class. The film is based on the 2018 book by Jessica Bruder, an extended piece of non-fiction reporting detailing the phenomenon, and stars Frances McDormand as Fern – the only person … Read more
Christopher Rygh as the lone warrior

The Head Hunter

The Head Hunter is three quarters of the way to greatness as a high-concept fantasy horror movie. Fans of all things runic will love the beards and dirt, though they may balk at the length – it’s only 72 minutes long. If you’re in the market for a doorstop, there’s always Game of Thrones to rewatch. Also, here be no dragons whatsoever, so be warned. But in the shape of Christopher Rygh as its Nordic warrior hero it has an excellent star. Rygh is stout of limb, bright of eye and splendid of beard. It’s hard to tell whether he’s a great actor since there’s so little dialogue, but he passes muster in … Read more
Greer Goodman, Donal Logue and Nina Jaroslaw in The Tao of Steve

The Tao of Steve

“Men and women both want to have sex, but women want to have sex 15 minutes after us, so if you hold out for 20, she’ll be chasing you for five.” Everyone knows a shlubby, none-too-handsome guy in a low-status job who seems to do OK with the ladies. The Tao of Steve analyses that phenomenon, and casts the incredibly likeable Donal Logue as Dex, its hero. His quest – to get laid as often as possible. This he does with ease since he follows “The Tao of  Steve” a babe-magnet philosophy borrowed from all the chilled Steves of the world (McQueen, McGarrett, Austin – his list, not mine). Dex may be overweight, he may … Read more
Tina and Tom fall out

Cuba Libre

1996’s Cuba Libre is only Christian Petzold’s second movie, after 1995’s debut, Pilots (Pilotinnen), but already he’s got the formula and the team all in place. It’s a chilly thriller, in other words, with a man who’s losing his head over a woman, a woman who’s so otherworldly she might in fact be more metaphysical than real, and an overarching theme of escape, of existing in liminal space, of people perpetually on the way to somewhere else. Petzold insists that all movies are in a sense about transit, or transition, but he’s got a very particular way of doing it. It’s the sense of yearning he imparts. It suffuses everything, to the point … Read more
King-Lu and Cookie out in the woods

First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s films often operate at two levels. At the surface one story plays out, while somewhere to one side, and often as a comment on the first story, something different is going on. First Cow could really be called First Love, since it’s the story of two men who meet in difficult circumstances and then form a bond that lasts until death. What it looks like, though, especially at first, is a western, a story of a cook who’s travelling with hard-bitten fur trappers. They’re all out in the forest and there isn’t enough food. And even if there was, the trappers don’t seem to like what the cook’s been serving. There’s … Read more
The iconic shot of Marlene Dietrich

Shanghai Express

A train heads from Peking to Shanghai and a woman from disgrace to redemption in 1932’s Shanghai Express, the fourth collaboration between director Josef von Sternberg and star Marlene Dietrich. Another transformation is evident, of Dietrich, from the plubby Mädchen in The Blue Angel two years before to the star who’s all cheekbones and chiselled angles. This is the film that gave us the iconic image of Dietrich toplit and eyes imploringly turned heavenward. DP Lee Garmes got the credit for it and won an Oscar for this film’s spectacular lighting but Von Sternberg did almost all of it, according to Dietrich’s biography anyway. Strangely, it doesn’t look like her film at all … Read more
Robin Williams ready for ordeal by ordure in RV

RV: Runaway Vacation

And you thought that after being excellently sinister in Insomnia and One Hour Photo, Robin Williams had stopped making goofily sentimental comedies that stop every 20 minutes for toe-curlingly inappropriate improv from Mr W. Sadly not, as evidence there’s this woeful, slight affair in which Williams plays the family man driving his family cross country to a business convention (they think they’re going on holiday but he hasn’t told them the truth) in a recreational vee-hickle, even though they’re the sort of family who don’t do recreational vehicles, camping, communication, fun or togetherness. Cheryl Hines plays the exasperated wife and Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth are the heads of a family they meet … Read more
Ellen Page updates the Red Riding Hood look in Hard Candy

Hard Candy

Thonggrrrl14 , aka Hayley, agrees to meet Lensman319, aka Jeff, at a local coffee shop. They head back to his pad, the 14-year-old and the mature photographer, where Hayley drugs Jeff, ties him up and prepares to wreak some overdue revenge on behalf of all the other poor girls who have ever been hoodwinked and then abused by someone who should know better. First threatening to castrate him following procedures she learnt online – see how the internet gives but also takes? – she then spends a good amount of time messing with his head, in scenes which should be punctuated with reminders to breathe. Which way is this thriller going to play … Read more
The family (plus guest) line up for a Christmas photo

Happiest Season

Gooey, sentimental Richard Curtis movies are the template for this wannabe starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a romantically linked couple going back to Harper’s parents’ for Christmas. Being a mainstream movie about homosexual love – Lesbians, Actually – these young women are not in-your-face dyke-on-a-bike Sapphics but nice young women who just want to be accepted for what they are. Neither is heroic – Abby’s parents are dead and so she never had to come out to them; Harper has never told her parents. And that’s the hook on which this film hangs. Is Harper going to fess up and simultaneously re-apprise them of the identity of her … Read more
Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in a field

Supernova

Supernova is an admirably tight drama starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. It gives us the who and the where immediately – Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), a long-established couple on holiday in the Lake District in one of those tiny RVs, a Fiat Autotrail, that offer all the creature comforts (cooking, sleeping, sanitation) a crab could want. There’s a bed (the opening shot of a naked Sam wrapped around Tusker) and there’s banter as the two drive from one location to another, Tusker wheeling out the terrible jokes, Sam groaning in response, the pair of them reacting to the landscape and the songs on the radio as the vehicle snakes along tight … Read more
Kali Reis as Kaylee

Catch the Fair One

Catch the Fair One is a game of two halves kind of movie, absolutely the wrong metaphor for a story incidentally set in the world of boxing, and starring a boxer in her acting debut. Kali Reis not only plays the similarly named Kaylee, but also co-created the story, with director Josef Kubota Wladyka. Who came up with the fractured chronology is less clear and it doesn’t help a film that could most easily be described as a young woman’s search for her lost sister. Wrinkles come courtesy of the fact that Kaylee is also a female boxer and that her sister is the real daughter of a Native American mother, whereas Kaylee … Read more
Kris and Naomi

See You Then

See You Then pulls a neat “did not see that coming” switcheroo early on, though a glance at any of the blurbs about the film will reveal what it is. It doesn’t matter much – it comes scant minutes in, so won’t ruin the fun. Two women meet up. They were evidently once lovers. Both seem nervous. It’s been a long time, at least ten years, since they saw each other. Kris (Pooya Mohseni) seems keen, nervous, Naomi (Lynn Chen) less sure, wary. Having got the “look at you”, “it’s been so long” niceties out of the way, the two of them head for a friendly restaurant, where Kris reveals that her changed … Read more

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