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Xialing, Shang-Chi and Katy

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Self-important, windy, drowning in lore, full of flat characters and just plain old dull, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is everything it shouldn’t be, a spectacular own goal from Marvel. It looked like an open goal, too. Moving the Marvel Cinematic Universe to China is a great idea – a civilisation with millenia of history, superheroes aplenty and enough dragons and lion-headed creatures to stock a whole other pantheon of characters and an entire alternative bestiary. Plus, not to be forgotten, a massive population waiting to be sold stuff. The film is based on Marvel’s 1973 creation Shang-Chi, who was originally the virtuous son of the villainous Fu Manchu (Marvel … Read more
Ronald Lacey and Diana Rigg

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 15 – The Joker

The creeping feeling that The Avengers is running out of puff is further reinforced by The Joker, a rewrite of the Cathy Gale-era episode Don’t Look Behind You. Except in this case it’s Emma Peel who is stalked by an admirer with a deadly agenda. It was a very good episode first time round and works its magic this time too. But before Mrs Peel can be sent off for a weekend at the house of bridge-playing Sir Cavalier Rusticana – Steed jokes that it sounds like an opera (hardly surprising since the joke name is modelled on the opera Cavalleria Rusticana) – first we see a mystery hand cutting a picture of … Read more
Harley and Callie confront each other

Back Roads

Having played the junior James Bond figure Alex Rider in Stormrider, and then a few teenage heartthrobs before bulking up to become a kind of Channing Tatum in waiting, Alex Pettyfer takes control of his own destiny by starring in his own film. It’s his directorial debut and a pretty good one, a knotty piece of American trash gothic about a family in trouble. As we open, Pettyfer’s blood-stained Harley is being grilled by cop Robert Patrick. Why did you kill her, the cop wants to know. But the question this film actually asks is not why but who? We know it’s a woman who’s dead, but which woman exactly? Harley’s life is … Read more
The children see the Virgin

Fatima

In many ways a bog-standard bible flick given a cursory wipeover with a humanist rag in the figure of Harvey Keitel – doing penance for Bad Lieutenant all those years ago – Fatima is just dramatic enough, lavish enough and well directed enough to escape the “it is what it is” label. But first a bit of background for those not schooled in Catholic lore. During the First World War the Virgin Mary appears to three peasant Portuguese children who live in the village of Fatima, not once but several times. A cult grows up around the children, who report back on the Virgin’s latest utterances to the growing crowds, and eventually Mary … Read more
Gordon Parks with camera

A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks

HBO’s documentary A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks does a great service for ignoramuses (like me) who mistakenly had Parks pegged as the guy who directed Shaft and a few other films and maybe dabbled in photojournalism earlier in this life. He was so much more. Born in 1912, Gordon Parks came of age as the Depression was taking hold and by his own admission (in archive interview footage) would probably have lived the life of the career criminal/hustler if he hadn’t become fascinated by some photographs in a magazine and picked up a camera. Parks had real talent and was a hard worker and by the end of the 1930s … Read more
Manya aka Sara

My Name Is Sara

My Name Is Sara also goes by the title The Occupation – two separate titles for one film setting out to tell two distinct stories. There’s another bit of splittage going on as well. It’s a film shot in Poland with a Polish cast and crew but everyone in it speaks in English, regardless of how well they can actually do that. Into the story, which is a true one, of a Jewish girl called Sara Guralnik escaping with her brother from a Polish ghetto in 1942 and then trying to make it through the rest of the war while hiding out inside the borders of neighbouring Ukraine – there are the Nazis, … Read more
A lone horse and rider on a hill

War and Peace Part I

So here’s the most expensive film ever made in the USSR, or a quarter of it. War and Peace Part I finally arrived in 1966 after years in the making, a rebuke to the massive 1956 US version starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda. Here’s how you do Tolstoy, the Soviets are saying, at five and half hours long, with a cast of thousands, no expense spared, big sets, huge battle scenes, and so on. It was released in four big chunks originally, too, and it’s best watched that way, in instalments. It’s impressive, certainly, shot on 70mm film for that widescreen epic look – though on muddy Soviet film stock – but … Read more
Strawberry and Mikey on a fairground ride

Red Rocket

Red Rocket is the latest news bulletin from Scuzzville USA by Sean Baker, who gave us bitching transexual sex workers in Tangerine (the one “shot on an iPhone”) and the travails of motel-dwelling poor white trash in The Florida Project. Both of those flirted with poverty porn and so does Red Rocket, more literally this time with the story of busted porn star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), who returns to his Texas hometown to re-ingratiate himself with his his estranged wife Lexi, who lives with her mother in however you designate a dwelling that’s one up from a trailer. Constant background noise, or something big and ugly hovering at the edge of the … Read more
Macki Wea and Matthieu Kassovitz in Rebellion

Rebellion

This ambitious and almost entirely successful drama sees Mathieu Kassovitz, the director of La Haine, back in France and back on form after a less than stellar time in Hollywood churning out studio cack such as Gothika and Babylon AD. It tells the true story of a small kerfuffle in 1988 in New Caledonia, a far-flung outpost of France, and follows a crack GIGN team – a SWAT team with brains – led by Captain Philippe Legorjus (Kassovitz) as they seek to restore order after a breakaway group of separatists seize a group of gendarmes and hold them hostage in a cave in a remote part of the island. Because of the way … Read more
William H Macy in A Slight Case of Murder

A Slight Case of Murder

One of those feelgood made-for-TV films that’s somehow managed to net a great cast as they were commuting between better paying jobs. I suspect that that’s because William H Macy is involved, David Mamet’s favourite actor being the star and the adapter of Donald Westlake’s novel about a film critic who kills his girlfriend by accident and then uses his film buffery to cover up the crime. It’s a neat conceit obviously designed to appeal to film lovers, who get double helpings when the cop on the accidental killer’s tail (Adam Arkin) also turns out to be a film buff himself. Comic noir is the prevailing tone, once the film’s initial skittishness has … Read more
Yaya and Carl on sun loungers

Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness is Ruben Östlund’s third dance with essentially the same ideas that powered Force Majeure, his force majeure of a drama from 2014, and The Square, his Palme d’Or winner from 2017. Triangle of Sadness also won the Palme d’Or, so Cannes obviously likes Östlund’s take on role-playing and status. But first, Östlund has a little game to play. In a kind of prologue he restages the casting process for the film, with eventual-lead Harris Dickinson playing one of many male models being seen for a role in some never-specified campaign or show. To win the part ofTriangle of Sadness‘s Carl, Dickinson eventually beat out 230 contenders, so this fictional reworking … Read more
Mumble the penguin leaps for joy in Happy Feet

Happy Feet

A CGI animation featuring penguins which comes along in the wake of March of the Penguins, so it’s probably pushing at an open door. And unlike a lot of animated films about animals, this one sets its stall out really quickly. Emperor penguins, it seems, all have a special song that they use in courtship. Except for one, the hero of our fable, called Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who has “happy feet” instead – he’s got the sort of dance moves you might expect from Sammy Davis Jr. His mum thinks it’s cute, his dad thinks it’s suspect whereas the stern community Elder, Noah (voice: Hugo Weaving), takes the view that it’s Mumble’s … Read more

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