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Max Adrian as Frederick Delius in Song of Summer

Song of Summer: Frederick Delius

Any follower of British arts programmes on TV, from the South Bank Show backwards, will be aware of the bleating of Ken Russell and his ilk that no one really makes ’em like they did in the Sixties, when clever chaps freshly down from Oxbridge would be sent out with a curmudgeonly working-class crew and instructed to make films on anything that took their white-shirted fancy. Well, I have to report that Russell’s 1968 B/W film on Delius does back him up. Detailing the strange five-year relationship between Eric Fenby, the young amanuensis who helped blind dying syphilitic Frederick Delius complete some of his most noted works, it is very good indeed. Russell wasn’t … Read more
review kissmedeadly poster

Kiss Me Deadly

Critics continue to argue over whether this is the best film noir ever made but all seem united on one point – Kiss Me Deadly is the best adaptation of one of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. Now 50 years old, the film opens with a scene that still packs a punch – cynical private eye Mike Hammer picks up a girl hitchhiker who is wearing only a mac. Within minutes his car has been run off the road and a brutal gang is torturing the girl before killing her. The stage is set for Hammer, one of cinema’s great anti-heroes, to become avenging angel, visiting bad men in places high and low … Read more
Mike White as Buck in Chuck & Buck

Chuck & Buck

In this small-scale, nasty and even snivelling film born in the Classmates.com/Friends Reunited era, young sleek winner Chuck (Chris Weitz) returns to his hometown and falls somehow back into the orbit of old childhood chum Buck, who in the intervening years has polished his dweebieness into something altogether needier and more pathological. Buck is a stalker in other words and, having met Chuck again, he locks on hard. Mike White plays Buck and also wrote the film. He cut his teeth on slightly squeaky TV shows about high school, such as Dawson’s Creek and Freaks and Geeks, before turning to the dark side with this twisted debut. It was a welcome breath of … Read more
Redneck Keanu Reeves in The Gift

The Gift

Director Sam Raimi is an expert in genre-twisting. Back when he was making The Evil Dead he so overloaded his gore epic that it eventually became funny. With The Gift he takes on a genre even more arcane: the British whodunit. Then he does weird shit with it. First he transports the whole shebang to the Deep South to remove all traces of afternoon tea or warm beer. Then he gives us Cate Blanchett as a clairvoyant detective who can’t quite make out the identity of the murderer – well, it wouldn’t be much of film if she could, would it? And then, as a masterstroke, he takes a raft of famous faces … Read more
together

Together aka Tillsammans

There’s something very funny and fairly tragic about Lukas Moodysson’s 2000 film set on a Swedish commune called Tillsammans (or Together, in English). It’s set in 1975, just as the Spanish dictator Franco has been declared dead and follows what happens when Elisabeth, an abused woman and her children arrive and are taken in, grudgingly, by a gang of virtuous, or so they think, communards on a big experiment in free living outside Stockholm. Liberal idealism is at its peak and nurture has the philosophical upper hand over nature. The lentil-eaters believe that lesbianism is a political choice, not a predisposition,  that sexual love should come with no emotional baggage and that washing-up … Read more
Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel

The Blue Angel

This is the film that made Marlene Dietrich a household scandal back in 1930. It’s the story of how a pompous but respectable schoolteacher is lured on to the rocks by Lola-Lola, the nightclub singer in a Weimar-era club who can’t help “Falling in Love Again” (which Dietrich sings here). Poor Emil Jannings, who played the professor, thought he was the star of the film – as well he might since he’d won the Best Actor Oscar the year before, at the very first Academy Awards. He resisted director Von Sternberg’s choice of Dietrich, then a nobody, as the temptress. Von Sternberg had discovered her acting in a stage play quite by accident. … Read more
Anders Berthelsen and Iben Hjejle in Mifune

Mifune

The title is a reference to Toshiro Mifune, the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s favourite actor. He died as the film went into production and director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and writer Anders Thomas Jensen came up with the title as a way of honouring him. So, no, this isn’t Japanese arthouse; it’s Danish. Which will scare a few people off, most likely. Scarier still, Mifune follows the Dogma commandments – the puritanical, ornament-free film-making style that has Hollywood-lovers reaching for their revolvers. The story is similarly bare-bones: the wife (it’s Sofie Gråbøl, later of The Killing fame) of a newly married man (Anders Berthelsen) is far from happy when she discovers his secret history – … Read more
Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton of Cream

Cream: Farewell Concert

You don’t see films about popular music stars of the 21st century on the big screen too often. Recently Katy Perry and Justin Bieber have managed it, and a few years back there was Dig! – about the rivalry between the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols – which almost qualifies. But the back end of the 1960s saw the beginning of a run of them, from 1969’s Monterey Pop film, then on to the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Woodstock in 1970, before everyone – Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin – got in on the act. Director Tony Palmer got in early and used his record of rock supergroup Cream’s … Read more
Julian Richings in Cube

Cube

Having worked as a storyboard artist on animated series such as Babar and Tintin, Vincenzo Natali was probably not top of the list to make his directorial debut with a sci-fi cult classic. But that’s what he did with Cube, a clean pure piece of sci-fi that could almost be said to have created a genre, the Aseptic White Room Thriller. See Duncan Jones’s Moon, for another classic of the genre. Cube riffs on Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, throwing a jailbird, a maths genius, a cop, a doc, a cynic and an autistic guy together inside a hi-tech, homicidal, claustrophobic cube comprising interlocking sliding parts – think Jenga with anger issues. None … Read more
Jeremy Theobald in Christopher Nolan's debut, Following

Following

Can you honestly tell from Following, that its first-time director Christopher Nolan is only two years away from making Memento, the film that put him on Hollywood producers’ speed-dials? Shot on weekends and holidays guerrilla-style around London for about $6,000, it is a real “you saw it here first” effort and the acting is strongly redolent of the great days of British film – it’s rank. But when a story is this strong it barely matters. It’s simple too. We follow, in low-budget monochrome, a young, luckless and broke writer (Jeremy Theobald) who thinks it would be fun, “creative” in an artschool way, maybe, to “follow” people and see where it leads him. … Read more
Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel in Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke

A maker of thoughtful films, some hugely successful (The Piano), some not (In the Cut), Jane Campion here takes a small film – about a cultbuster (Harvey Keitel) and his intensely focused efforts to deprogram a naive Oz girl (Winslet) who’s been got at in India – and produces a sly, dry comedy of trans-Pacific manners. Being set in Australia really helps it, those highly personal, dialogue-heavy interchanges between the two main players being balanced against huge backdrops (does it come any bigger than the Outback?). Keitel is a presence it’s hard to miss too, of course, but he’s offset by deliberately ripe caricatures by some of Oz’s finest, the meat in the … Read more
Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy

Topsy-Turvy

Lovers of costume drama and light operetta are in for a treat. And so are people who can’t stand either, thanks to Mike Leigh, more usually known as a purveyor of working-class drama to the realm. Taking as its starting point the creative roadblock reached by the librettist WS Gilbert and his writing partner, the composer Arthur Sullivan, after the relative failure of their Princess Ida in 1884, Leigh’s film follows the duo as they struggle towards the rejuvenating success of The Mikado. Leigh’s masterstroke is to weave the composer/librettist’s full antler stand-off – Gilbert wanted to write an opera called The Magic Lozenge; Sullivan most definitely didn’t – with an oblique commentary on … Read more

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