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Steed and Gale kiss

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 16 – The Little Wonders

Whether it’s spelt Bibliotek, Bibliotech or Bibliotheque, the crime organisation at the centre of The Little Wonders is a brilliant creation by writer Eric Paice, an international, centuries-old outfit whose members go around dressed as clerics. Hence the funny pre-credits sequence of the Bishop of Winnipeg (David Bauer), a man with a dodgy heart visiting a doctor (Tony Steedman) and, on stripping down for an examination, revealing a gun in a holster. Not your average clergyman’s accessory. The fact that he’s accompanied by a female assistant, Sister Johnson, would raise barely half an eye if Johnson weren’t played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (a Canadian national, hence the Winnipeg, perhaps). Villains established, … Read more
Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino

100 Years of… The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was the first of five films Rudolph Valentino made in 1921 and though it’s the film that made him a star he’s not the star of the film, which is an ensemble piece. The star is the film itself, an epic so complete and fine-tuned that it’s a reference point today whenever producers and directors are aiming to tell tender human stories against a background of raging conflict. It’s a big film too – two and a half hours long, which isn’t gargantuan compared to, say, Birth of a Nation (three and a quarter hours) or Greed (originally four and a half hours) – but surprises people who … Read more
Sister Wrath in habit, with gun

Nun of That

A film called Nun of That with the tagline “A blast for you and a blasphemy”? That’s two good reasons to watch right there. A third is that this is a funny (scrappy, admittedly) film wandering all over the dividing line between exploitation and satire. The action gets going in a strip club where a hitwoman disguised as a poledancing nun is shaking her ass at a roomful of appalled gangsters. These guys have all been raised as good Catholic boys and the sight of a gyrating bride of Christ is not helping the spaghetti and meatballs go down. Relief, of a sort, soon arrives, when the nun pulls out an automatic weapon … Read more
Madeleine and Nina

Two of Us

I was intending to watch Two of Us (aka Deux) a few weeks ago and in fact did watch a film called Two of Us, just not this one. That one was a zombie movie set in Thailand. This one is a tense human drama set in Paris. Do not confuse. Although both feature a pair of women in the central roles, the females in the Thai movie were young women. The women in question here are both pensioners, a pair of secretive lesbians who have lived next door to each other for decades. To be more precise they have both lived in the apartment of Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), while Nina (Barbara Sukowa) … Read more
Villain prepares for operation

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 8 – Second Sight

We finally arrive in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. As far as The Avengers is concerned, “upstream” means rarefied settings, no civilians or members of the public on view, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for Avengers episodes to come.   Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Which weren’t that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add to the plot a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eye) and a donee who has … Read more
Meet Wilbur and Lewis from Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons

Disney remind us of their legacy as animation innovators with this busy busy busy story about a young inventor genius and orphan (big aah) called Lewis who is zipped into the future by his new pal Wilbur Robinson. There Wilbur hopes Lewis will help him defeat a snarling, moustachioed villain called Bowler Hat Guy (who’s not a thousand light years removed from Dick Dastardly) and Lewis hopes Wilbur will help him recover his latest whizzy gadget, the Memory Scanner, from Bowler Hat Guy’s felonious grasp. This will enable Lewis to probe his own mind, in a desperate attempt to remember who his mother was (even bigger aah). On the way Lewis meets Wilbur’s … Read more
Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone

The Court Jester

A flop, amazingly, when it was first released in 1955, The Court Jester is pretty much perfect in every way. It has the looks, the jokes, the action and the stars, in particular a perfectly cast Danny Kaye doing what he does best. There are stories of Kaye holding theatre audiences spellbound just sitting on the edge of the stage and reminiscing, and his ability (or perhaps his need) to command attention suits him perfectly to the role of a carnival entertainer using his talents to save the realm. The wicked King Roderick (Cecil Parker) has usurped the rightful ruler and killed the royal family. All except the infant prince, identifiable by a … Read more
Alice and Robert by the River Thames

Rogue Agent

As I write James Bond’s producers have a “we’re hiring” sign over Daniel Craig’s vacant seat. Is Rogue Agent James Norton’s audition? If it is, it’s a funny sort of one, though Norton is fairly remarkable as a man on a mission – to deceive almost everyone he comes into contact with. The thing to bear in mind through the length of this familiar and yet bizarre film is that it’s pretty much all true. As the film opens, it’s 1993, the IRA bombing campaign on Britain is at full spate and Norton’s Robert Freegard is working undercover as a barman, recruiting students at an agricultural college to infiltrate what he assures them … Read more
Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda

Daisy Kenyon

Let’s just get this out of the way. Daisy Kenyon isn’t a film noir, even though it features on many noir “best of” lists. It’s a romantic melodrama of a very peculiar sort – “High powered melodrama surefire for the femme market” is how Variety described it on its release in 1947, in their odd, truncated way of communicating. More up-to-the-minute viewpoints can be found on Amazon – “NOT a true example of film noir”… “certainly not a film noir”… “DEFINITELY NOT FILM NOIR” – three of many. However, the tagging persists. It’s in the Fox Film Noir series of movies, its Amazon page pegs it as “Mystery & Suspense/Film Noir”, which is doubly, … Read more
Shirley and Rose talking

Shirley

Shirley is your madwoman’s breakfast, a seething mass of dramatic tropes held together by a distinctly 1940s Freudian thriller atmosphere and populated by characters from a hall of mirrors. Elisabeth Moss plays real-life novelist Shirley Jackson (even Moss is cagey about how close her Shirley is to the original), the febrile, blunt-speaking, possibly clairvoyant novelist living on campus with her bumptious professor husband Stanley, played at full dervish by the ever-superb Michael Stuhlbarg. Into their lives come young lecturer Fred (Logan Lerman in another vanilla male role) and his wide-eyed newly pregnant wife Rose (Odessa Young, the actual focus of the film), just for a day or so while the new arrivals get … Read more
Antoine and Olga

The Beasts

Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen reportedly said he wanted to make The Beasts (As Bestas, in Spanish) “as a western”. To a large extent that’s what he’s done. This is like a western where two opposing and implacable forces square off in a lawless milieu. John Ford might have made this, back in the day. If he had I wonder how much shorter he’d have made it. The story it tells is a true one, of a Dutch couple moving to a remote Spanish village to start a new life, then falling out badly with their neighbours until one day a moment of reckoning arrives. For the factual account, the true-crime documentary Santoalla (2015) … Read more
Bill Nighy

Turks & Caicos

Turks & Caicos is the second of the Johnny Worricker trilogy of TV movies made by Carnival Films (of Downton Abbey fame) for the BBC and boasting the sort of cast that was still rare at small screen level in 2014. Christopher Walken and Winona Ryder are the properly big names, though Dylan Baker, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves and Ewen Bremner (returning from the first movie) are hardly kitty litter. Ralph Fiennes, though present and correct, is only on screen for a few seconds and so doesn’t really count. For those coming in cold, there is absolutely no need to have watched the first one (Page Eight) to enjoy the second. All … Read more

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