Empire of Light

Stephen and Hilary on the roof of the cinema

Margate on the south coast of England is one of many British seaside towns that’s seen better days. So has its cinema, Wonderland, here renamed by Sam Mendes and his team as the Empire, for a story set in 1980 about people who’ve seen better days, a country too, perhaps. Britain once had an empire of its own, of course. Metaphor and symbolism hang heavy in Empire of Light and affect every aspect of it. In the opening sequences cinematographer Roger Deakins’s camera mooches balefully about the interior of this palace of plush. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score weeps. This place isn’t in good shape. Bits are roped off, a whole floor … Read more

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones and god-daughter Helena

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is 20 minutes of brilliantly choreographed, jeopardy-filled action featuring a de-aged Harrison Ford as everyone’s favourite whip-wielding archaeologist followed by a further two hours-plus of an 80something Harrison Ford doing the same, slightly slower, with a bit more regard for tardy reflexes and a more shatter-prone skeleton. Old or young, he’s great if sometimes a bit slow, which you could say about the film too. It’s mostly a case of back to basics, with the “basics” being, of course, the Nazis, who have set their sights on the Antikthera, the dial of Archimedes, an ancient Greek artefact long thought lost, which is powerful enough to unlock … Read more

The Girl

Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren

There were two dramatised features about the working methods of director Alfred Hitchcock in 2012. Hitchcock starred a pretty decent Anthony Hopkins as the corpulent director. But today it’s The Girl, a more obviously made-for-TV affair. It’s an HBO/BBC collaboration, with actors who bump it up the pecking order – Toby Jones as a dead-eyed Hitchcock, Imelda Staunton as his enabling, collaborative wife Alma and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds and Marnie. The story of The Girl is the story of a director who finds a new star, grooms her and, Vertigo-style, becomes hopelessly, almost pathologically obsessed with her. It’s Alma who first calls Hedren “the girl”, having noticed … Read more


Tom and Buster the elephant

There’s the bones of a true story inside Zoo, a light British cocklewarmer about a boy who, during the Second World War, spirited a baby elephant away from his local zoo and housed it in a back yard until danger from the Luftwaffe had passed. So, no, this is not to be confused with Robinson Devor’s bizarre 2007 documentary Zoo, about men who like to have sex with animals, or even We Bought a Zoo, though this is undoubtedly as light-hearted, entertaining and uncool as Cameron Crowe’s 2011 bauble. We’re not in California but in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Tom’s zookeeper dad has been called away to war, and his mum is always … Read more

First Cow

King-Lu and Cookie out in the woods

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

4 January 2013-01-04

Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio

Out in the UK This Week Berberian Sound Studio (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) “A dangerously aroused goblin prowls the dormitory” – a line that says it all from the never-seen film that soundman Toby Jones is working on in Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the brilliant, Romanian-set Katalin Varga, a brilliantly overheated, Italian-set homage to 1970s “giallo” horror. Really worth watching with headphones on, this one. Berberian Sound Studio – at Amazon The Imposter (Revolver, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) One of the most gripping films of 2012, a semi-documentary about how a 20something French juvie managed to pass himself off as a missing 16-year-old from Texas. And why the family bought it. A remarkable … Read more