Poor Things

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo

Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to The Favourite, is an act of restitution to Emma Stone, who was the best thing in that movie and yet lost out at awards’ time to Olivia Colman. Queens (as Colman was) trump upstarts. Stone does not lose out this time (in between writing and posting this, she has won the Best Actress Oscar). She is not just the focus of the movie but increasingly its purpose, once Lanthimos’s huge arm-sweep of influences and genres have bedded down. It’s Frankenstein meets Alice in Wonderland in a world styled by Jan Svankmajer and Jonathan Miller (both did Alice movies), Bertrand Bonello at his most decadantly fin-de-siecle (see House … Read more

Light Sleeper

John in sunglasses

Of the three “loner” films that Paul Schrader wrote, Light Sleeper gets the least love. Taxi Driver is always number one, of course, and American Gigolo is often mentioned in despatches. But ask people if they’ve seen Schrader’s 1992 drama and the answer is often an open mouth and a tilted head. It’s a pity because it’s a superb film in which Schrader gets it right both as a writer and as a director (something he doesn’t always manage). These “loners” are all night workers too – Taxi Driver’s Travis (Robert De Niro), American Gigolo’s Julian (Richard Gere) and now, in Light Sleeper, Willem Dafoe’s John, a drug dealer who works the high … Read more

To Live and Die in LA

Cop Richard Chance point a gun

To Live and Die in LA – the title is almost an invitation. Its director, William Friedkin, though born in Chicago, did live in Los Angeles, and that’s where he died aged 87 last week (I’m writing this on 18 August 2023), till the end a combative, charming, rough-edged, cultured man of many parts. The director who gave us the magisterial The French Connection and the blood-thinning The Exorcist stumbled at the box office with 1977’s Sorcerer (for all its merits nowhere near as good as the film it’s based on, The Wages of Fear) and then as good as fell off the edge of the world with Cruising, a film that looks … Read more

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man complete with arachnid arms

Spider-Man spun? Spider-Man: No Way Home is another gargantuan Marvel movie full of action, great power/great responsibility moments and the sort of emotion you’d expect in stories about a highly strung teenage superhero. Jon Watts is back as the director, and the writers are again Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers – all three have been behind the other webslinging adventures with “home” somewhere in the title, (2019’s Far from Home and 2017’s Homecoming, if you’re not up to speed). Fine craftsmen all. But. But. But. The suspicion lingers that this creative team knows what Marvel also obviously does – that these Spidey stories are done and don’t need doing any more, and that … Read more

The Card Counter

Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish at a table

In The Card Counter we meet another of Paul Schrader’s lost loners, with Oscar Isaac joining actors as varied as Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) and Lindsay Lohan (The Canyons) as the latest in a series of souls seeking salvation, redemption, expiation in a do-or-die struggle with their own human frailty. In familiar Schrader first-person voiceover William Tell (Isaac) explains how he learned to count cards while in prison serving an eight-year jail term for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Tell goes into some detail explaining how card counting works – high value cards score minus one, low value cards plus one, the other cards nothing at all – and how … Read more


Tommaso and his wife Nikki

Tommaso is a film by Abel Ferrara that’s essentially a film about Abel Ferrara, with Willem Dafoe in the lead role as an avatar of the writer/director, a creative dude trying to live out his golden years in Italy but finding old demons constantly resurfacing. It’s an uncomfortable and not entirely gripping drama, though Dafoe’s amazing performance does almost get it over the line. We first meet the talented, accomplished and open Tommaso at a language school learning Italian, making the effort because he has a much younger wife at home (Ferrara’s own wife, Cristina Chiriac) and an infant daughter (Ferrara’s own daughter, Anna). He’s a film-maker, still working, and because of a … Read more

Motherless Brooklyn

Lionel aka Brooklyn in a stakeout

Motherless Brooklyn is the first film Ed Norton has directed since 2000’s Keeping the Faith. Oddly, considering Norton is a child of Episcopalians, that also had a connection to Catholicism – a rabbi and a priest fall for the same woman, boom boom. Here the link is the Catholic orphanage where Norton’s Lionel Essrog and his buds grew up, before being rescued by a kindly benefactor (Bruce Willis), who put them all to work in his detective agency. “Brooklyn” is what Frank (Willis) calls the motherless Lionel but let’s not worry too much about Frank since he dies in the first few minutes, providing the kicking-off point for a whodunit set on mean … Read more


Clint and an Inuit man out in the snow

Abel Ferrara’s 2019 film Siberia wasn’t shot in Siberia, unlike the 2018 film of the same name starring Keanu Reeves, which was. Ferrara now lives in Rome and so, needing snowy wastes to tell a story about a remote bar-owner’s journey into his own psyche, he starts and ends his film in the Italian Tyrol, where the white drifts of winter snow pass muster. The film is based on Carl Jung’s Red Book, which was a full-blown surrender to his own unconscious mind in the wake of his split with fellow psychoanlyst Sigmund Freud. Though he worked by day, gave lectures and saw patients, by night Jung just let it all go, letting … Read more

The Hunter

Willem Dafoe takes aim in The Hunter

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 9 July Queen Victoria creates Australia, 1900 On this day in 1900, the world’s sixth largest country was created by the Empress of India, Queen Victoria. It had of course existed since it broke away from Gondwana around 150-180 million years ago, and had been inhabited by various groups of indigenous “Australians” for at least 40,000 years. And collectively the landmass had been called Australia, or a variant on it, since before it had even been discovered – the Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Land of the South) of legend. But Australia had never existed as a political entity. Starting out initially … Read more


Charlie Sheen in Platoon

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 19 May Ho Chi Minh born, 1890 On this day in 1890, Nguyen Sinh Con, later known as Ho Chi Minh, was born, in Hoang Tru, in Vietnam. One of four children, he got an education thanks to the colonial French, at a local lycée, and under the direction of his father, a Confucian scholar. Realising there was little future for him in Vietnam after his father lost his administrative position – influence was everything – he boarded a ship for France, working as a ship’s cook, where he failed to get work in Marseille. Over the next few years he … Read more