Archive for the ‘Netflix’ Category

Ripley (2024) Netflix

Dir/Wri: Steven Zaillian | Cast: Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, Eliot Sumner, Maurizio Lombardi | US Drama series on Netflix

Tom Ripley, the raffish cad who steals through Patricia Highsmith’s psycho-thriller page-turners, gets a striking monochrome makeover in this stylish Netflix series – based on her first novel in the series The Talented Mr Ripley – and directed by Steven Zaillian who blazes a new trail for the 1960s grifter starring Andrew Scott – who is both vulnerable and venal.

Andrew Scott‘s Tom Ripley is not the suave, likeable rogue from the Texan writer’s creation ‘Deep Water’ or ‘The Cry of the Owl’. Here in this new series for Netflix he’s seen as a seedy swindler, uncomfortable with his life in a sordid bedsit in New York’s Bowery district, and certainly less self-assured than John Malkovich’s American trickster, who famously garrotted his travelling companion in Liliana Cavani’s suberb 2002 thriller Ripley’s Game. Incidentally Malkovich gets a role here as Reeves Minot.

Ripley. Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in episode of Ripley. Cr. Stefano Cristiano Montesi/Netflix © 2023

Scott is nevertheless immaculate in his re-imagination of the antihero. A glassy-eyed, high-performing psychopath desperate to rise to the occasion when Kenneth Lonergan’s brilliant Herbert Greenleaf, a shipping magnate, proffers an all-expenses-paid opportunity of a lifetime: a trip to Naples in its ‘dolce vita’ heyday to track down his son, Dickie (Flynn) a trust fund dilettante who has fled to southern Italy and re-styled himself as a playwright and painter (‘along the lines of Picasso’) with his laconic girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning makes a spectacular return).

But don’t expect a sun-drenched Italy basking in insouciance and graced with Alan Delon’s louche lounge lizard in Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (1960) – the light here is hard-edged as it stares down on jagged black & white echoing stairwells, stormy coves and chiaroscuro courtyards. Behind Ripley’s dark sunglasses lurks a calculating conman so out of his depth in Dickie’s milieu and so insecure of himself he could hit out, like Caravaggio, at any minute (the artist’s ‘Seven Acts of Mercy’ hangs in the local church). And Ripley even misjudges the soigne mood with Dickie – when he finally finds him at the top of a thousand steps in palatial splendour – by foolishly inviting a sinister stranger to drinks, bearing an ‘offer he can’t refuse’. Dickie couldn’t care less about money – these two are social worlds apart. But Dickie rubs Ripley up the wrong way too and they both part company under sullen skies.

Cinematic and compelling this is a watchable series both narrative wise and in artistic terms, Zaillian wrote and directed all eight episodes and it certainly makes for a worthwhile adaptation with its flinty humour and suggestive performances from Johnny Flynn and Dakota Fanning – Eliot Sumner striking the only slightly bum note as Freddie Miles. Miss Highsmith would be proud to know her creation is having another outing courtesy of this impressive series. @MeredithTaylor


Society of the Snow (2023)

Dir: J A Bayona | With: Enzo Vogrincic, Agustin Pardella, Matias Recalt, Esteban Bigliardi | Spain, Thriller 144′

The crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in the Andes mountains in the South American springtime of October 13 has been told many times before and certainly makes for compulsive viewing in J A Bayona’s horrifying version of the tragedy. Society of the Snow is Spain’s Oscar hopeful but perhaps Piers Paul Read’s 1974 book ‘Alive’ is still the most emotionally impactful retelling, leaving the visual impact of the events to our imagination. Bayona bases his version on a more personal account from Uruguayan written Pablo Vierci who grew up with some of the victims. 

From the warm comfort of our own viewing experience, how can we possibly imagine what it really felt like when the Uruguayan Old Christians Club rugby union team were forced to cope in sub zero temperatures after the plane carrying them to a match in Chile was sliced in half by the mountains. Sixteen passengers survived the initial crash and the event hit international headlines. Wearing scanty clothing and with no equipment whatsoever the victims made it through the initial days. But after the search was called off they were forced into an unconscionably grim 72-day fight for survival forcing them into cannibalism. Of the forty five original passengers, only sixteen would make it back home. 

This is not an involving, character driven film but one that launches from a brief introduction to the team into collective trauma, reflecting their common goal to survive. Bayona opts for sensationalism staying true to his roots in horror, working with mostly newcomers. There are no leads just an amorphous central casting. The film ostensibly deals with isolation, suffering and survival, but on a much deeper level the victims were forced to acknowledge the true impact of their plight. Their Catholic faith was test to the limit, not by praying in a Church, but on a bare mountainside through unselfish acts of human sacrifice. Desperately hungry, most ate their dead companions consoling themselves in the belief that this was the true meaning of Holy Communion. In this enforced team-building situation, the men are put to the test and forced to face the ultimate truth:  who are, and how do we relate to one another when everything is stripped away in a snowbound wilderness

Narrated by Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), who joined the trip at the last minute, the film is a lasting testament to all those who died, naming them individually in inter-titles as they die. Proving once again that truth is often more incredible than fiction, the nightmarish events the survivors are forced to endure really beggar belief: endless blizzards, an avalanche that traps them with their friends’ dead bodies for several days. Technically Society is faultless in Pedro Luque’s spectacular cinematography but there are longueurs and issues with pacing in a screenplay that involves four writer.s  Society of the Snow feels overlong at over two and a half hours. So in conclusion more of a last tribute to those that died than a moving engaging experience. My advice is stick to the book. @MeredithTaylor 


Nuovo Olimpo (2023) Netflix

Dir: Ferzan Ozpetek | Cast: Luisa Ranieri, Greta Scarano, Damiano Gavino, Aurora Giovinazzo, Andrea Di Luigi, Alvise Rigo | Italy, drama, 113’

Nuovo Olimpo is the 9th feature film during three decades for the Italian/Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek. The film has been quietly slipped into the Netflix schedules and the surprise is that it brings the director full circle to his striking debut Haman. Largely set in a Turkish steam house which becomes a place for two men to secretly meet, this 1999 film is remembered for its gentle and profound feeling for humanity and the coded mysterious ways we navigate questions relating to family, relationships and gender.

There is a strong hint the true story that inspired Nuovo Olimpo provides Ozpetek with what may be his most personal film since Haman. Many of the preceding films including Fati Ignoranti! (2022), Cuore Sacro (2005) and Mine Viganti (2010) are generally romantic generic family dramas possibly aimed more at the local rather than world film market. Nuovo Olimpo may seem slight and unassuming. Looked at more closely, it reveals a confident director with an understanding of how astute and careful narrative, sensitive performances and skilful layered editing can result in a nuanced film more effortlessly complex than first appears.

The story itself is of an eternal nature in which two young bisexual men meet but are unable to build the attraction into a complete gay relationship. Enea (Damiano Gavino) is a film crew set worker and Pietro (Andrea di Luigi) a trainee medical student who first lock eyes on each other in an opening sequence that is a homage to Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes’ Gloria. This is one of Ozpetek’s many love letters to the cinema with Nuovo Olimpo both the title of the film and the name of the cinema in the film that will be a space which becomes as safe to meet for the men much as the steam room does in Hamam.

The film has four acts, set in 1988,1998 and 2015 and begins in 1978 with a chance follow-up encounter between two men in a classic arthouse repertory cinema that will be familiar to those who remember The Biograph Cinema in London’s Victoria. Ozpetek captures details of cruising in a cinema to make this comparable to sequences in Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, Clements This Angry Age and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn. The cinema is presided over by a matronly box office fag hag woman with an astute knowledge of her male customers and Ozpetek includes clips on the cinema screen from Renato Castellani’s Nella Citta l’Inferno (1959) aka And We The Wild Women, with Magnani and Masina exuding fiery Italian passions while men in the audience cruise in auditoriums and toilets.

Ozpetek adds into the romantic tragic narrative hints of the cinema’s own ‘amour fou’ with subtle references to McCarey’s An Affair to Remember, Almodóvar’s Talk to Her and Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession. The film may also contain a fleeting reference to Ophul’s Letter from an Unknown Women with a street map containing the words: “so time and space won’t get in the way” which becomes a form of letter that returns to the men over the decades. One of the film’s most moving sequences involves the wife of one of the men who provides her husband with the key to follow his heart, much as Ang Lee centres on the women in Brokeback Mountain as the real creators of the destiny of men unable to realise a love unspoken in.

Ozpetek is aided by the delicate movement of beautiful wide screen camerawork by Gian Filippo Corticelli, both lush and restrained music, uniformly good acting including relaxed and very natural explicit nudity and sex scenes, while the cast undergo ageing over three decades.

Ultimately it is with his choice of theme that Ozpetek makes Nuovo Olimpo most satisfying. He explores how love can both envelope as well as separate, create doubt and distance between what is real as well as imagined. As if impossible loves live on longer, the film contains an exquisite sequence in which the two men are separated in space but united in time as they watch Nella Citta l’Inferno on Television screens as a reminder of time lost, but not forgotten.

The final sequence is masterly and may well be one of the most beautiful in recent cinema. As the two men face each other in an empty street and make a decision that changes both lives, Ozpetek   contemplates that if stinginess is all that heaven allows, there is also the choice to live on in the dream of an impossible love. The sequence concludes with an unbroken camera movement combining reality and a moment in time that was never to be. The film anticipates that there may be much more to come from this remarkable filmmaker. @PeterHerbert

Peter Herbert is Curator Manager at The Arts Project, 215 Weedington Road! London NW5 4PQ

8 of the Best Musical Biopics

Amy (2015) Rent/Buy

Best known for Senna, his acclaimed 2010 on about late Formula One driver, Asif Kapadia garnered an Oscar for this bittersweet biopic introducing the Southgate-born jazz singer as a “North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude”, who loved to write poetry and lyrics. Unearthing a treasure trove of photos, home movie footage and demos shared from over 100 interviews from those closest to her, he shows Winehouse as a witty, down to earth and “gobby” girl with a rich and velvety voice, who never wanted to be famous but whose inadvertent stardom let to her tragic death, aged 27.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021) – Apple TV/Prime Video

Do we need another Brian Wilson documentary? I Just Wasn’t made for These Times and Love & Mercy have already told his story, but the billion or so the super-fans will always ask for more. And The Beach Boys were America’s answer to The Beatles, back in the day, they epitomised an era and their harmonies are almost as divine – so yes, we do!.

Director Brent Wilson (no relation), veteran of music docs like Streetlight Harmonies, has tried the linear angle, confronting the images of the ‘Beach Boy’ founder with today’s survivor of schizoid-affective and bi-polar disorders, who enjoys being on tour again, even though the hallucinatory voices still haunt him – and have done for the last 60 years – when he is performing, in spite of all the medication available.

‘Rolling Stone’ editor Jason Fine, a close friend of Wilson, drives the megastar composer/singer round his favourite haunts, sadly only getting monosyllabic answers to his leading questions. Brian is very much in the shell he has created to survive. And there is more that enough pain for anybody to deal with, let alone a highly-strung artist.

Music-wise there is extensive time devoted to the iconic “Pet Sounds” and SMiLE, that came into being in the mid-1960s and finished thirty years later. There are few revelations, the bitter chapter of Brian’s relationship with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love is nearly brushed out of the picture. Only once the mask of self-defence slips, when Brian tells Jason “I have not talked to a real friend in three years.”

Miles Davis : Birth of the Cool (2019) Netflix/Apple TV

Documentarian Stanley Nelson tells it all in the usual talking heads style – Frances Taylor, Greg Tate, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and his final manager Mark Rothbaum all appear and a straightforward narrative structure enlivened by many photos and clips from the archives. The film luxuriates in its musical interludes which are enjoyable and plentiful making this possibly the definitive biopic of one of the most inventive jazz musicians of the 20th century. Stanley Nelson’s expansive documentary takes an entertaining breeze through the musical career of Miles Davis eclipsing Don Cheadle’s movie 2015 drama Miles Ahead

“All I ever wanted to do was communicate through music”. The iconic jazz trumpeter and composer developed smooth romantic vibes and invented a cool, sophisticated masculinity that came to be known as the ‘Miles Davis Mystique’. For over five decades Miles developed various jazz styles from bebop, cool jazz and jazz fusion working with Prestige, Columbia, and Warner Brothers despite a rocky personal life that was full of love but fraught by ill health and emotional instability.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

As fabulous now as when she was in 1979 when I first experienced her at a concert in Italy’s famous Covo di Nord Est – Grace Jones still rocks. Now at 75 her voice has mellowed, wavering occasionally, but her glamour and star power are just as potent and her aura and outrageous antics as just spectacular, if not more.

After an overture of Slave to the Rhythm where Grace performs in purple regalia and a golden sunburst mask, Fiennes cuts to an autograph session with fans fawning: “I’ve been waiting to see you for 25 years” – Grace responds “so has my mother”. Suddenly we are following her through Jamaica airport for an exuberant reunion with her mother (who looks like Aretha Franklin), son Paolo and niece Chantel, and as night falls, the camera pictures a sultry moonlight gig in the torridly tropical island, drenched in lush emerald forests.

Fiennes’ punctuates the gutsy real time footage shot in her kitchen, car and dressing room – with Grace’s mesmerising Dublin stage show, but both are beguiling and cinematic. Fiennes’ shirks the traditional documentary format – there are no photos or archive footage, making Bloodlight And Bami fresh, feisty and intriguing for longtime fans who have never really experienced the woman ‘behind the scenes’. It’s also longer than most docs at nearly 2 hours. In concert footage, Grace mesmerises with performances of Pull Up To The Bumper and more personal tracks including Williams’ Blood, This Is and Hurricane. She is s force of nature, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. MT

Stop Making Sense (David Byrne and Talking Heads (1985 re-released in 2023) AppleTV/Prime Video

Maybe not the latest look at but certainly the most iconic, this is a musical biopic in the best sense of the word. In Hollywood December 1983, French director Jonathan Demme films three concerts from Scottish maverick music maker David Byrne, rolling them out without explanation or talking heads – although Talking Heads are very much part of the scene. The bands speaks for itself and we get the best seats – on stage, up close and personal and from the back of the auditorium, even loitering in the wings. Demme’s film is an energising experience made at the climax of what would be the band’s final major tour. The show starts with the beat-driven Pyscho Killer and works its way through a classic repertoire with hits such as, Take Me to the Water to This Must be the Place that scored Paolo Sorrentino’s film of the same name in 2011 and of course, Once in a Lifetime. Byrne gradually relaxes from taut jutting-faced uncertainty to a more smiling and febrile intensity, a style icon in white plimsolls and oversized concrete-coloured suits. Hypnotic to look at, his moves are as funky, smooth and syncopated as Bing Crosby or even Elvis without the sexual magnetism: Byrne is a performer more artfully ambivalent in his erotic appeal, but none the less legendary. And he feels very much at home on his own or surrounded by his family of Talking Heads. A nostalgic, diverting, happy film. MT

Rachmaninov:The Harvest of Sorrow (1998) Rent/Buy

Tony Palmer’s extensive documentary about one of the world’s most loved composers (1873-1943) is a vibrant memoire, enlivened by musical interludes and ample archive footage of his life and times in Russia, Sweden and the United States where he finally died in 1943, unable to return to his beloved homeland: “a ghost wandering forever in the world”.

Playing out as a long autobiographical letter to his daughters Tatiana and Irina, voiced by Gielgud in slightly sardonic but wistful tone, the film covers the composer’s life until his final months in New York. But it starts at a low point, with the Rachmaninoff family leaving Russia in 1917, escaping from the Bolshevik devastation of Petrograd (soon to be Leningrad) set for musical adventures in Stockholm, and thence to America. Desperate about leaving his homeland, the composer also felt at a low ebb creatively: “Nowadays I am never satisfied with myself, I am burdened with a harvest of sorrow: I almost never feel that what I do is successful”.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023) Netflix

Rock legend Little Richard comes alive in this new biopic from Lisa Cortes. It sees the musical icon trying to come to terms with his complex personality and explores the lack of public recognition during his lifetime. John Waters, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones – among others – help to shed light on a life so full of promise, but blighted by social reality. Sometimes verging on the hagiographic, Cortes manages a wealth of information with aplomb, a more non-linear approach might have been an alternative.

Richard Wayne Penniman (1932-2020) was born in Macon (GA) in the deep South of he USA. Black, queer and disabled he was most certainly abused in childhood. But his deep religious faith eventually led to him renouncing his gayness: “God wanted Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

The man who would create “Tutti Frutti”, ”Long Tall Sally”. “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Rip it Up” single-handedly invented Rock’N’ Roll – but the glory and the awards went to Elvis and Pat Boone: No wonder, he felt cheated. He was the architect of an art form and a social identity that became progressively clearer only later in his life.

ENNIO (2021) Prime Video

Ennio Morricone was one of cinema’s best loved and most prolific composers. Giuseppe Tornatore captures his complex romantic spirit in this warmly nostalgic tribute that also celebrates their own working relationship that started with Cinema Paradiso (1988) and continued for many years. In his lifetime Morricone scored over 500 movies, one year alone completing 18 films.

The biopic straddles film and musicology enriched by a treasure trove of excerpts and the stars that brought them to life praising Morricone’s charisma and single mindedness and describing their own experiences with a man whose modesty contrasted with his prodigious talent to amuse. The final half hour does feel repetitive with its endless clips of concert performances which add nothing to the party, and almost fly in the face of the composer’s lowkey sense of style. MT






Munich: Edge of War (2021) Netflix

Dir.: Christian Schwochow; Cast: George MacKay, Jeremy Irons, Jessica Brown Finlay, Jannis Niewöhner, Anjil Mohindra, Liv Lisa Fries, Sandra Hüller, Martin Wuttke; UK 2021, 203 min.

German director Christian Schwochow – perhaps a surprising choice – directs British playwright Ben Power’s adaption of Richard Harris’ 2017 bestseller as a lively mixture of personal and political conflicts. Schwochow takes on board the strengths and weaknesses of the novel: the need to suspend reality is better suited to the cinema than the written page: but it’s an entertaining romp, even hair-raising at times with with a brilliantly sensitive George MacKay and Jeremy Irons the gallant stars.

German Paul von Hartmann (Niewöhner) and Englishman Hugh Legat (MacKay) meet in the early 1930s at Balliol, Oxford, later falling out over Hitler’s’ racial policies. But they are forced to bury their differences and pull together when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Irons) heads to Munich to sell out Czechoslovakia in the Autumn of 1938. He soon finds himself in a race against time to prevent war. His personal secretary Legat and German underground agent Hartmann are hellbent on stopping Chamberlain’s appeasement politics, well aware that the German Army would putsch against Hitler, if Great Britain and France were to take up arms in the event of a German invasion. 

Chamberlain and the French Premier Daladier are determined to accommodate Hitler’s demands, not even bothering to invite a Czechoslovak delegation to Munich, instead it is Benito Mussolini who has a staring role at the conference. Meanwhile Legat has marriage trouble, his wife Pamela (Brown Findlay), resents Hugh’s workaholic life, Von Hartmann on the other hand is putting his life on the line by having a torrid affair with co-conspirator Helen. 

Although Chamberlain is briefed on a secret document outlining the imperialist goals of the Third Reich, he is adamant that avoiding war is the only way forward with Hitler, he even goes so far as to have the infamous “Peace in our Time'” note signed by Hitler himself, ignoring advice that the piece of paper is just that. Nobody was prepared for Hitler to take a shine to his stand-in translator Von Hartmann. In a pivotal moment, which could change the course of history, Paul finds himself alone in a room with Hitler (Wuttke), a loaded revolver hidden behind his papers.

Jeremy Irons steals the show as Chamberlain, an ageing supremo more suited to the gentlemanly decency of Victorian England, he now sees his friends being killed in the trenches while dealing a psychotic upstart who shares none of his gallant concepts of honour and gentlemen’s decency. Ironically Chamberlain would go down in history as the man who helped Hitler turn against Europe.

DoP Frank Lamm uses the wide screen to brilliant effect (shame that the feature is destined for the small screen of Netflix). So despite underlying flaws Schwochow delivers an exhilarating political thriller of the first order vaunting triumph over adversity. AS



The Hand of God (2021)

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Dora Romano, Alessandro Bressanello, Birte Berg, Roberto Oliveri, Alfonso Perugini | Italy Drama 129’

Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino returns to Naples in the 1980s with this melodramatic coming of age drama fuelled by football, family and Fellini.

The Hand of God has all the hallmarks of Sorrentino’s signature style: the violent men, corrupt officials and voluptuous women who inhabit a larger than life landscape vibrantly brought to life by Daria D’Antonio’s lush camerawork. But this is a tragedy in the Greek style, complete with folkloric undertones and a soulful often strident chorus-line scoring the mosaic of magnificent vignettes that make up a poignant feature tainted by tragedy, and possibly Sorrentino’s most personal yet.

Naples is the star of the show, the majestic Campania coastline and the mauve mountains of Capri shimmering in the Tyrrhenian sea providing an amazing backdrop to the flamboyant storyline. In the traffic strewn Spaccanoli a big-breasted woman (Ranieri) waits wearily for her bus home. A limousine pulls up and a blue-eyed man (Decaro) claiming to be San Genaro, patron saint of Napoli, offers her a welcome life home and hints at the possibility of a much-wanted child to heal her marriage to Franco (Gallo), who the driver appears to know by name. Astonished, the woman climbs on board, but her arrival home is greeted with a brutal beating from her husband, forcing her to call her happily married sister Maria (Saponangelo) and husband Saverio (Servillo) who soon arrive with their teenage son Fabietto (Scotti) from whose perspective the story continues.

At this point it becomes clear that Fabietto is Sorrentino’s younger self: a gentle, thoughtful, football-mad teenager, desperate to lose his virginity: “just get the first time out of the way” urges his conspiratorial father Severio, a warm and loving pater familias with a fine line in tailoring and a solid job.

But Fabietto’s first love is football, hence the film’s Diego Maradona linked title – referring to a divisive goal he scored in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. Welcome news for the lustful but lowkey Fabietto arrives when the Argentine player is signed for Naples and will turn out to be his saving grace in the final denouement.

But until then the film swelters with Neopolitan summer indulgences: robust encounters, raucous al fresco lunches and volatile viragos busting out of bikinis or stripping naked to bask in the sun. There’s a cheeky scene where Fabietto eventually scores, not in the football sense but with his much older neighbour (Pedrazzi). His creativity is stimulated by the charismatic film director Antonio Capuano (Capano) – whose 1998 feature The Dust of Naples, was co-written by Sorrentino.

Sorrentino recalls all this with nostalgia and a tender affection that steers clear of sentimentality in bearing its heart on an elegantly crafted sleeve. Scotti’s Fabietto makes for an appealing, introspective alter ego capable of extreme emotion and utter devotion in fervently pursuing his future career. MT


Django and Django (2021)

Dir.: Luca Rea; Documentary about Sergio Corbucci with Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Ruggero Deodato; USA/Italy 2021, 80 min.

Italian director/co-writer Luca Rea (Cacao) pays tribute to compatriot director Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990), who, with Sergio Leone, dominated the short era of the Italo-Western in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Corbucci, who made 63 feature films, is usually shunned by mainstream critics, even though he directed huge box office successes with Adriano Celantano and Toto, as well as the later Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Western comedies. Quentin Tarantino is the main source, leading us through Corbucci’s career in seven chapters.

Sergio Corbucci, like Leone, started out as a film critic, and via screen writing became an assistant director. In 1959 Leone and Corbucci worked for Mario Bonnard in The Last Days of Pompei and their valuable contribution set them both up for a great future, even though both Sergios’ insisted the glory belonged to Bonnard alone. Tarantino maintained that Corbucci’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ were a settlement of his scores with Fascism, since the young Sergio grew up under the Mussolini dictatorship and WWII. He even had the ‘honour’ – as a member of the Fascist Youth Choir – to be five feet away from Mussolini and Hitler he visited Rome. Corbucci’s villains rode roughshod through all his features as sadistic, misogynist and racist monsters, in love with spilling blood – particularly the one of innocents.

Romulo and Remo (Duel of the Titans) 1961 was Corbucci’s first attempt to show a prototype of the violent men which would later dominate his Westerns. His first, Minnesota Clan (1964) was shot in the same year as Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood. The shooting of Django (1966) didn’t go to plan: all the horses bolted, and nobody was sure which of the film lots they were shooing on. Nevertheless, the Kurosawa-inspired revenge story (nearly all Corbucci Westerns fall into this category), “was the most violent film, before Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch came along in 1969″.

Corbucci’s Mexican Revolution trilogy of The Mercenary (1968), Companeros (1970) and What Am I Doing in the Middle of a Revolution (1972) is perhaps his most popular, but the most violent by far is The great Silence (1968). The role of Gordon, the mute avenger, was meant for Franco Nero but he decided to go to Hollywood, making an angry Corbucci cast Jean-Louis Trintignant. Klaus Kinski acted the sadistic killer Tigero, who survives, whilst Gordon is killed. Shot in an eerie, snowy landscape, The great Silence also featured another re-occurring theme of the Corbucci’s Western: the cowardly citizens of the hamlets, who would rather obey the repressor than take the side of the avenger. “It feels like Corbucci is taking a swing at John Ford. The latter’s films show the town building and solidarity of the citizens, whilst Corbucci’s folks are rather meek and cowardly”. One of Corbucci’s last Western was Sid & Jed (1972), a Bonnie and Clyde story set in a Western milieu.

Tarantino offers a clever solution to an unsolved riddle in Django. When the titular hero arrives, we see him laying flowers on the grave of a certain Mercedes. Tarantino conjures up an explanation, in which Django is a soldier who has fought the Confederates, and now returns to give a keepsake to Mercedes, the wife of his black friend who was killed in the war. He then encounters the hooded KKK, who have done away with the black population, and are targeting the Mexicans. All set in Missouri, where slavery was not abolished.

Filmmaker Ruggero Deodato, once Rossellini’s assistant, who worked with Corbucci on 13 films, gives insight into the director’s work, as do many private videos sharing some hilariously funny and candid incidents during shooting. They also show a director who certainly enjoyed his work, and who was always ready for a good laugh – even at himself. AS


The Last Days (1998) Netflix

Dir.: James Moll; Documentary with Bill Basch, Irene Zisblatt, Renee Firestone, Alice Lok Cahana, Tom Lantos, Dario Gabbai, Randolph Braham,Hans Munch; USA 1998, 87 min.

Five Hungarian Holocaust survivors, now settled in the USA, share their memories of Dachau, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen in this astonishing Oscar-winning documentary that sees James Moll (Inheritance) taking them back to their tragic past. The Last Days, was only the American director’s second feature yet it manages to stun with its trenchant insight and archive footage showing the human spirit at its darkest. But there are glimmers of hope.

In March 1944 Germany occupied Hungary with the help of the Hungarian Fascists, the Arrow Cross Party. Nearly half a million Jews were ferried in cattle trucks between 15th of May 1944 and 9th of July 1944 to Concentrations camps in Poland and Germany, where they were murdered. The Jews of Budapest were saved by the arrival of the Red Army. But elsewhere in the country the occupying Germans (and their allies) focussed on annihilating Jewish Hungarians at the expense of the war effort, which was admittedly by this time a busted flush.

Irene Zisblatt, now a grandmother, remembers the day, when her mother sewed diamonds into hem of her skirt – the girl would swallow these and wash them again and and again in Auschwitz, they would provide bread when the going got tough. These diamonds have been fashioned into pendants, given to the first girl in each new generation in the USA.

Alice Lok-Cahana, a painter, is joined by her children, husband and grandchildren for a prayer in KZ Bergen Belsen. Art is her way of re-emerging from the ashes of the Second World War. But there is also survivor’s guilt: business man Billy Basch recalls how he swore everlasting friendship with two fellow inmates. But when the Germans ordered the Auschwitz prisoners on a death march in the winter of 1945, a foot injury prevented one of them from continuing, the SS guard putting paid to their solidarity threatening to shoot all three, leaving their friend to a certain death.

Renee Firestone, a teacher, literally interrogates Hans Munch, a German doctor who experimented with women prisoners: sterilisation and changing the eye colour of prisoners were his speciality. Her sister Klara, who died in June 1945, was one of his victims, Renee is seen putting flowers on her grave. Munch managed to escape indictment at numerous court cases claiming his parents would have been executed had he not obeyed. His mitigating ‘decency’ acted in his favour, compared to the sadism of the other doctors. But when he talks cold-bloodedly about the smell of human fat, the facade slips.

And there is Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to the US Senate, singing the praises of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who hid him and others in houses belonging to Swedish diplomats. Lantos is now the proud grandfather of seventeen grandchildren.

DoP Harris Done has a delicate hand, always knowing when to cut if the witnesses are too overcome by grief. With a memorable score by Hans Zimmer, The  Last Days leaves us in no doubt. Over 75 years later the psychological wounds still run deep. AS


Cairo Station | Bab el Hadid (1958)

Dir.: Youssef Chahine; Cast: Youssef Chahine, Hind Rostom, Farid Sawqi, Hasan al-Barudi; Egypt 1958, 75 min.

Cairo Station was the eleventh of over thirty feature films by prolific Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine (1926-2008) providing a snapshot of Egyptian society that appears, on the face of it, more permissive than today.

Chahine was born into a multi-lingual family of Coptic Christians in British-occupied Alexandria where his lawyer father was a supporter of the Wafd nationalist party; his Greek mother sent him to the Christian English-speaking Victoria College. His desire for a theatrical career was first prompted in childhood by seeing shadow plays, then 9.5mm films.

Chahine rose to the international stage with his autobiographical trilogy set in the bustling Mediterranean port of Alexandria, the place of his birth and a creative melting pot where the Egyptian film industry was born in the 1920s: Iskindiria … Leh? (Alexandria … Why?, 1978); Haddouta Misriyya (An Egyptian Story, 1982); and Eskandarai Kaman We Kaman (Alexandria Again and Forever, 1989). But although he was highly regarded by European directors his films were rarely shown beyond the festival circuit in the West, apart from in France where he won a Palme d’Or for his oeuvre in 1997. Cairo Station was Chahine first auteur feature: far ahead of his time aesthetically and contents wise and now getting a international showing on Netflix.

Radical and very much ahead of its time – when you consider the step back that the Arab world has since taken – Cairo Station was later banned and Chahine forced to leave Egypt.

The station is seen as a microcosm of Egyptian society in the late 1950s. The country had undergone drastic changes: In 1956 Gamer Abdel Nasser had overthrown the monarchy and nationalised the Suez Canal. Everything was being questioned, particularly the role of women and the status quo between employers and workers. Despite the ebullient liveliness of some of the scenes, there’s a sinister thread of misogyny running through this psycho-sexual melodrama, Chahine was not for nothing an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and DoP Alvise Orfanelli mirrors his use of light and shadow both on the widescreen images of the station and in intimate close-ups that convey the lust, fear and longing in the characters’ eyes. Considered Neo-realist by some critics, the element of male sexual obsession belongs very much to the early 1970s films of Brian de Palma, another Hitchcock disciple.

Told by the elderly narrator Madbouli (Al Barudi), a newspaper seller at the station, the narrative focus is his club-footed employee Quinawi (also played by Chahine) who lives in a porn-decked hovel where he drools over photos of semi-clad females dreaming of the flirtatious drinks seller Hanuma (Rostom). Quinawi is besotted by Hanuma, who sometimes plays him along if it suits her, although she is really in love with station porter and trade unionist Abu Serih (Sawqi), who is active in cutting out the middlemen, who take much of their earnings, giving the film its political angle.

One day Quinawi reads in the papers that a serial killer is on the loose. And while Abu Serih is busy with his union business, Hanuma plays a wicked game with Quinawi: toying with his offer of marriage and taking him up on his idea of going back to his village, where they will marry and raise a family. When Quinawi finds out he has been duped, he strikes out in the same style as the serial killer, blinded by rage and anger, making a fatal error that leads to the shocking finale where he emerges a tragic and pitiful victim.

There are two impressive highlights: the first is a Be-Bop interlude with “Mike and the Skyrockets”, performing in a train, Hanuma dancing along with gusto. The other one shows Quinawi taking revenge for his frustration on a little kitten. There is nothing muted or tender about the film’s characters who are seen in all the cruelty and splendour of the Middle East. AS

Drama & Desire: The Films of Youssef Chahine – BFI Southbank season

In the Mist | I Dimma Dold | (1953) Netflix

Dir: Lars Eric Kjellgren | Cast: Eva Henning, Sonja Wigert, Hjordis Petterson, Dagmar Ebbesen, Georg Rydeberg, Sven Lindberg | Noir thriller Sweden 82′

A valuable collection of films by the Swedish director Lars Eric Kjellgren have recently appeared on Netflix, including this rather stylish arthouse noir starring Eva Henning as the kittenish femme fatale Lora (a Nordic Lizabeth Scott).

Based on his own novel Vic Suneson’s script begins as Lora is driving away from her comfortable mansion where her husband Walter (a rather ghoulish Georg Rydeberg) is later discovered shot dead. But the murderer remains a mystery as the glacially elegant Lora demurely teases a coterie of locals – including an earnest detective (Sven Lindberg) and a ludicrous pair of old biddies, into solving the crime.

Boasting bold black and white photography by Gunnar Fischer (Wild Strawberries) this is a joy to watch as it gracefully combines vivid realist street scenes of 1950s Stockholm with lush interiors culminating in a ‘Cluedo’ style dinner party denouement primped by Erik Nordgren’s needling score. MT


The Great Adventure | Det stora äventyret (1953) Netflix

Dir: Arne Sucksdorff | Cast: Arne Sucksdorff, Anders Nohrborg, Kjell Sucksdorff, Gunnar Sjoberg | Sweden, 93′

The Great Adventure is a lyrical Swedish cinema verite drama that pictures a year on a farm in remote Sweden seen through the eyes of the family who live in the heart of the forest, the director doubling up as the pipe-smoking father.


Arne Sucksdorff’s film won prizes at Cannes (1954) and Berlin, appropriately taking a Silver Bear for the poetic way he combined truly magical wildlife photography with a gripping storyline and evocative score to create a nature tale that plays out like a thriller with touches of humour and sadness  – the feel is a cross between Tarka the Otter, My Life as a Dog and Mikhail Kalatozov’s Letter Never Sent. And all the time Arne is offering us a fascinating nature study with the most beautifully observed shots of owls, otters, pine martins, rabbits, squirrels and lynx, in their natural habitat, ever committed to celluloid film in the depths of 1950s Sweden.

Working with his composer Lars-Erik Larsson, and it took Arne two years to film and edit the material for his Berlin winner. Mysterious yet majestic the sly vixen is pivotal to the narrative, somehow emerging the tragic heroine with her family of cubs. Arne’s agile contre-jour camerawork following her antics from Midsummer’s white nights through to the snowbound winter, stealthily slinking through moonshine or broad daylight – one scene shows her toying with silk stockings on a washing line. Always fleeing at the last minute with a plump chicken she darts across swaying curtains of corn or flowery meadows, to feed the cubs.

Man is the villain in this rural adventure, determined to kill the beast, his shotgun poised at the ready. One scene sees the old fisherman springing a vicious iron trap, then opportunistically tracking an otter with an axe. As the otter bobs away across the twinkling snow drifts, the chase gains momentum, a fox cub joining in the chase. Eventually the kids come to the rescue (Kjell is Arne’s son) saving the otter from a burrow and keeping it as their secret pet. Sometimes the mood is upbeat, others more sinister, the animals unwitting players in this often nightmarish murder story, that often ends in tragedy, but there are surprises in store in this incredible journey. MT


The Dig (2021) Netflix

Dir.: Simon Stone; Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Archie Barnes, Monica Dolan, Johnny Flynn, Ken Stott, Lily James, Peggy Piggott; UK 2021, 112 min.

This tender and touching tale about loss and the fragility of life takes place in the soft landscape of Suffolk just as England is entering another World War in 1938.

The Dig is ostensibly about the discovery of an ancient burial site at  Sutton Hoo but its historical significance pales into insignificance and the human story is what we remember, sensitively brought to life by Moira Buffini’s skilful adaptation of John Preston’s novel, and Carey Mulligan’s deeply affecting performance as young world-weary widow Edith Pretty who lives at the Hoo with her young son Robert (Barnes).

The repercussions of the Great War are still being felt even in rural Suffolk where Edith maintains a noblesse oblige approach despite her life-limiting heart condition brought on by rheumatic fever. Robert is gently traumatised by the thought of losing another parent, in a household where everyone is crying silently but putting a brave face on things. Ralph Fiennes gradually becomes an unlikely saviour as the stern, pipe-smoking amateur archeologist Basil Brown who Edith hires to investigate mounds of soil on her land. Robert takes very well to the individualist Brown, but it gradually emerges he is married to local lass Mary Brown (Dolan) and that’s another sad story.

Naturally being England, emotions are well buttoned-up despite the balmy summer setting; director Simon Stone possibly had LP Hartley’s The Go-Between in mind with his imagining of events, Buffini making Mrs Pretty decades younger than the book, thus adding a frisson between her and Basil.

But that’s not the only touch of romance going on. There’s a low key flutter between Edith’s cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) and Lily James -who is curiously underpowered as Peggy, the sexually starved wife of a (gay) RAF officer (Ben Chaplin, looking worried) – although it certainly provides light relief from the rather underwhelming burial discovery which brings with it a motley crew of ‘official’ specialists from London headed by British Museum expert Ken Stott. Pulling rank he places the site under Government control, although Edith is adamant that Brown should finish what he started, especially as he is nearly killed in a landslide.

Drama also comes from the looming shadow of war. A plane crashes in a nearby lake, Rory trying in vain to rescue the pilot. And although Edith is fading away slowly she still lights up every scene with her understated class and decorum, keeping up “a good show”, and trouncing Peggy’s discrete ecstasy with Rory – yes, they do get a coy minute of passion just before he leaves to join the RAF. MT




The White Tiger (2020) Netflix

Dir: Ramin Bahrani | Wri: Aravind Adiga, Ramin Bahrani | Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav | Drama 125′

This stylish snapshot of modern india glints with cynism and snarky humour its sharp social contrasts bared like the titular tiger’s teeth.

Netflix has the pleasure of hosting this little brute from 99 Homes’ Ramin Bahrani, adapting Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel that sees a poor guy from rural India rise from servitude to success as a global entrepreneur in Bangalore. The wider world opens up through his experiences along the way as a driver for the spoilt and privileged son of a corrupt local industrialist.

The first person voiceover brings to mind Slumdog Millionnaire but that’s where the similarities end – this is a much edgier beast powered forward by the appealing character of young Delhi tea-maker Balram (Adarsh Gourav), who one day lands a job far beyond village life, ferrying round US educated Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his liberated wife Pinky (Chopra). This lowly gig leads Balram to a rocky but glittering future by keeping his nose to the grindstone and his eyes to the stars.

Bahrani’s focus is very much on bumpy road ahead as his hero Balram navigates potholes in this journey of self-awareness and nouse-gathering. And this angel-faced servant soon has to toughen up if he’s to survive and thrive. Rather like Balzac’s rags to riches hero Eugene de Rastignac, Balram is a socially challenged but highly intelligent young ingenue equipped with guile, charisma and a low cunning as he wades through a morass of corruption, deceit and betrayal of India’s myriad social divide. Adarsh Gourav is entertaining to watch as he masters Balham’s dextrous human complexities, ducking and diving and wising up through the exotic ever-challenging landscape that lies before him.

Bahrani shows a real understanding of the delicate social structures at play, conjuring up the dark continent convincingly with its intoxicating chemistry of sights, sounds and contemporary social scenery which is magically conveyed by Paolo Carnera’s dazzling camerawork and set to an original soundscape from Oscar-tipped Danny Bensi and Saunder Juriaans. MT

Available on Netflix worldwide Jan 22.


Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

Dir.: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel | Doc; USA 2013, 85 min.

A nanny makes history in this fascinating film that was also one of the most popular documentaries in the year of its release. It’s not often than one finds a genius by accident, furthermore a genius who did not want to be discovered and who hid her art from everybody: but this is exactly what happened to the Chicago neighbourhood historian John Maloof, when researching photos to illustrate a history about his local district in 2007, and obtaining a box of photos from a nanny called Vivian Maier.

Ms Maier died in 2009, aged 83, just when Maloof began to collect all her work (over 100 000 negatives, 27 000 roles of film, audio tapes and 8mm and 16 mmm films) consisting of mainly street photography from the rougher parts of the “windy city”. Her photos are now shown all over the world; the work of a rare talent who hid from the world. Having discovered Maier’s work, Maloof began to research Vivian Maier’s life: this film is the result of his detective work.

Vivian Mayer was born in 1926 in New York, but her French mother and Austrian father (who soon cleared off), moved to a village in the French Alps, where Vivian was educated, before moving back to Manhattan in her mid-twenties. There she worked in a sweat-shop, before moving to Chicago in her early thirties where she was employed for the rest of her working life as a nanny. Maloof has found over a hundred of her ex-charges and their memories are mostly positive (some paid her rent in old age), but a few talked about her temper, or her style draconian discipline. But most remember being dragged by Vivian into the slums of the city where most of her photos were taken, though the more bourgeois quarters, where she lived, are also represented. Maier was an artist first and foremost: when one of the children she was looking after was hurt in a car accident, Vivian took photos of the injured child whilst the mother, rushing on to the scene of the accident, was relieved that it was not the family dog who was injured.

Vivian, who features in many of her photos taken with a Rolleiflex twin lens camera (which she always carried with her), was a tall, imposing woman. But in contrast, to her physical appearance, psychologically, she was very fragile. She was extremely shy, sometimes not even wanting to give her real name, calling herself V.Smith. Some of her former charges remembered that she was very hostile towards men in general, and speculated that she might have been abused as a child.

Looking at the photos it is clear that Vivian identified with the underdog in society, finding a split-second where photographer and subject become emotionally engaged. The same can be said about Maloof and his subject: this documentary is a labour of love, one obsessive collector researching another. The interviews are very informal and lively, and Maloof obviously shares his love of Chicago with Maier. Kafka asked for his writings to be destroyed, and we can thank his friend Max Brod for disobeying him – Maier never wanted the acclaim she is getting now posthumously, and we have to thank John Maloof for discovering her style. History repeats itself sometimes in strange ways – but then, Vivian Maier was in a way very much a stranger on this planet. AS

Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny by Ann Marks  | 
Atria Books £28 pp368






Athlete A (2020) **** Netflix

Dir.: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk | With Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jessia Howard, Jamie Dantzsher; US Doc 2020, 104 min.

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrey&Daisy) get behind the camera for this worthwhile documentary that chronicles the ongoing sexual abuse of members of the USA Gymnastic team. The person responsible was none other that their trusted team physician Dr. Larry Nassar, who got a custodial sentence of 121 years in 2017 for molesting over a hundred young women. The feature is shot from the perspective of the investigating journalists of the Indianapolis Star, whose efforts are the basis for this documentary.

But the inquiry also uncovered complaints against 54 coaches were made during a course of many years. The President and CEO of USA Gymnastics , Steve Penny (who resigned and awaits trial), helped to cover up the abuses – and he was not alone. But if there is one weak point of the documentary, it pins the entire blame on Penny as the evil mastermind – in reality the whole organisation has to take the rap for the systemic abuse.

The account of survivors make heart-breaking listening: there is Maggie Nichols (the titular Athlete A, named so after her complaint which was followed by blackballing her); Rachael Denhollander; Jamie Dantzscher and Jessica Howard, their stories telling not only the actual abuse but the cover-up which went on for over a decade. Dantzscher states she was so proud of being an Olympian, but after Nassar abused her during the games in 2000, she associated the Olympics with this vestige of shame.

But this is also a story of the Cold War: Until the end of Stalinism in 1989, gymnasts from the Warsaw pact countries had dominated the sport. In 1981, Bela and Marta Karolyi, Hungarian-born coaches of the Romanian national gymnastic team (along with their choreographer Geza Poszar) defected to the USA. They had been responsible for the success of Nadia Comaneci among others. The Karolyis installed themselves in a training facility near Huntsville, Texas, which closed in 2018. They have both been sued for being part of the Nassar cover-up. There is a clip in Athlete A, with Marta Karolyi (who retired in 2016) admitting her awareness of  Nassar’s abuse at the “Ranch”. Poszar admitted the method of working with the young athletes “was total control over the girls.” Coaches, not only the Karolyis, abused the gymnasts verbally, emotionally and physically: they were slapped, and told that they were fat.

The norm for female gymnasts was to be 5.4 feet and anorexic. Poszar also claimed these method were acceptable in Romania – and obviously in the USA too. The gymnasts in the Huntsville were isolated, parents were not allowed to visit, the gymnasts were forbidden to phone friends or relatives outside the facilities. Former USA National Team gymnast Jennifer Sey (one of he co-producers of the feature), author of “Chalked Up” talked about merciless coaching, overzealous parents, eating disorders and above all, the dream of Olympic Gold. The line between coaching and abuse gets blurred, Athletes were often forced to compete in spite of serious injuries. We watch Kerri Strug winning a Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympics despite a severe ankle injury. But medals meant good business for the USA Team and their CEO Steve Perry.

Perhaps the most saddening statement comes from one of the victims: “Dr. Nassar was the nicest grown-up in the camp”. This most damning sentence calls for a complete reassessment of the next gymnastic competition in the sporting calendar. Shot with a lively camera by Jon Shenk, Athlete A is  another eye-opener: the perverted drive for Olympic medals, reducing young women to “little girls” to be objectified and abused, is just another example of the male gaze and its horrifying consequences, finally emerging after decades of cover-ups. AS


A Call to Spy (2019) Netflix

Dir: Lydia Dean Pilcher | Cast: Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhka Apte, Linus Roache, Rossif Sutherland, Samuel Roukin | US Drama 123′

US director Dean Pilcher lifts the lid on a little known Americanised account of World War II history about a group of women recruited by Churchill’s Special Operations Executive a “club unlike any other”. The proviso was that they should know all about France, be passionately against Hitler, and pretty.  The film is coincides with this year’s 75 anniversary of the D Day Landings.

Slick, affecting and brilliantly acted this impressive feature never takes itself too seriously thanks to Megan Thomas’ zesty script (she also produces and plays one of the spies) and the film has that distinctive look of TV zipping along at a brisk pace in establishing how the women were recruited and the stumbling blocks they will encounter professionally and personally in the field.

Stana Katic is a chic, no-nonsense Vera Atkins, a Romanian Jew whose accent occasionally lets her down, but she is keen for promotion and in charge of the recruitment drive as secretary to the head of the French section of the SOE (Roache). Keen for promotion, she begins the recruitment drive in the lush countryside of occupied France selecting Noor Inayat Khan (Apte) a French Sufi Muslim, and Virginia Hall (Megan Thomas). All are experiencing the discrimination of British society at the time: Virginia has lost part of her leg in a hunting accident; Noor has been held back by racism, along with her religion’s pacifist credo. But she is a talented wireless operator and her winning personality will clearly be an asset.

The multi-stranded plot is often bewildering as it wears on – there are too many unanswered questions – although this flaw could easily be attributed to inexperience, and the inherent confusion that prevailed during wartime. Strong performances carry the feature through, particularly that of Apte as Noor. Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Baumgartner and Goodall’s atmospheric camerawork evokes the claustrophobia of their secret situation and the perilous, frenzied atmosphere of the covert operations.

The stakes are high and the constant sense danger is ever present as the women soldier on coping not only with the fear of detection and capture from the enemy, but also making quick decisions that affect their lives – not just their jobs – and the frequent errors of judgement made by their male counterparts back at base. And not all will survive to tell their tale.

Enjoyable and passionate A Call to Spy is also confusing at times and may have worked better as a TV series allowing the characters to expand into real people with rounded lives not women just caught up in a difficult war. The women were courageous heroes in the true sense of the word, and will be an inspiration to many who think that success is just about celebrity. MT

Signature Entertainment presents WWII espionage thriller A Call to Spy now on Netflix

The Hater | Sala Samobojcow Nejter (2020) **** Netflix

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Maciej Musialowski, Gabi Krasucka, Danuta Stenka, Jacek Koman, Agata Kulesza, Adam Grandowski, Maciej Stuhr, Piotr Biedrom; Poland 2020, 135 min.

Polish director Jan Komasa (here teaming up with again with his script writer Mateusz Pacewicz from Corpus Christi fame), goes from strength to strength, his latest outing Hater, a blend of sexual and party politics, went on to win this year’s Best International Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca.

It follows Tomasz (a strong Maciej Musialowski) who has just been sent down from his Law studies for plagiarism, and is licking his wounds in the company of God parents Robert (Koman) and Zofia (Stenka) and their daughter Gabi (Aleksander) in their plush Warsaw flat. Leaving his mobile behind on purpose so he can eavesdrop on their negative comments about him, he is left deflated. Their relationship goes back a long way, the Krasuckas and Tomasz’ family often holidayed together, and the young man has always carried a candle for Gabi, who is already involved, and has dropped out of university due to drug problems.

Tomasz is hungry for affection from the Krasuckas, but also hell bent on revenge. He joins the social media agency run by the devious Beata Santorska (Kulesza), and soon he is on the staff of liberal politician Pawel Rudnicki (Stuhr), who is running for mayor, Krasucka family are among his main followers. Tomasz wins Rudnicki’s trust, the young man ‘thanking’ him by luring the seemingly bi-sexual candidate into an LGTB club. But the scandal doesn’t impact negatively on Rudnicki. Then Tomasz goes for broke, arranging a march by Rudnicki’s supporters next to a “White Power” demonstration. Failing again, he uses his last ace, Stephan ‘Guzek’ (Grandowski), a mentally impaired right-wing weapons addict. The ensuing bloodbath is nothing compared with the brilliant twist at the end.

Tomasz is a baby-faced psychopath who does everything to undermine the Krasuckas, but still is desperate for Gabi’s love. There is a world of difference between Tomasz’ behaviour at work (where he cruelly dismisses his former boss Kamil, having overtaken him in usefulness for Beata), and his miserable home life. Tomasz is almost reduced to tears when Gabi leaves with her new boyfriend for New York. Komasa shows how social media can become the last resort for the frustrated, masochistic loser, desperate for revenge and needy of love. DoP Radek Ladczuk’s hard-edged images leave nothing to the imagination: Kieslowski would have been proud of his soulless city where superficial consumerism and racist hatred has replaced the drabness of Stalinism. AS



Curtiz (2019) *** NETFLIX

Dir.: Tamas Yvan Topolanzky; Cast: Ferenc Lengyel, Evelin Dobos, Andrew Hefler, Scott Alexander Young, Declan Hannigan, Nicolett Barabas, Caroline Boulton, Christopher Krieg; Hungary 2018, 98 min.

The shooting of Casablanca, one of the most iconic Hollywood features, is the centrepiece of this ambitious debut drama from Swiss-Hungarian writer/director Tamas Yvan Topolanzky. The result is not a disaster, but underwhelming: Curtiz will be best remembered for making us want to see the 1942 classic again, and with new eyes. The film also explores the troubled relationship between Curtiz and his daughter, which was never resolved (according to the final credits).

Born in Budapest in 1886 as Mano Kaminer, Michael Curtiz arrived in Hollywood in 1926 and would direct a string of masterpieces: The Adventures of Robin Hood and Mildred Pierce being the most outstanding in a career that would showcase his talents across the genres, with 177 feature films. Casablanca, for which he won his only Oscar, was bedevilled from the very beginning. Studio boss Jack L. Warner (Hefler) and producer Hal B. Wallis (Young) had a fight on their hands to keep Curtiz and Johnson (Hannigan), the censorship head, from tearing each other’s heads off. Curtiz was a mixture of fellow Austro-Hungarian directors Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger. But Warner was a bottom line man (“I don’t want it great. I want it Tuesday”), and the spiralling production budget made him concerned that Bogart and Bergman would walk away – they were critical of the  script. Curtiz (“Don’t talk to me when I am interrupting) was a well known womaniser and but his grasp of English led to some hilarious misunderstandings during the making of Casablanca: there is an amusing interlude when the prop master misinterprets Curtiz’ request for ‘puddles’ during the rainy scene at the Gare de Lyon, bringing five poodles on the set, amid much consternation. But the joke was on Curtiz who also had a long running argument with actor Conrad Veidt (Krieg), a German emigrant who often cast as a Nazi; but vehemently insisting that not all Germans were Nazis, a fair point.

The director flagrantly cheated on his third wife Bess Meredyth (Barabas), an accomplished actor and writer, seducing young women, by using his director star power. The arrival of his daughter Kitty (Dobos), from an earlier marriage in Hungary, made things even more complicated. In a very ugly scene, we see see Wallis trying to rape Kitty, unaware she is Curtiz’ daughter. The director (“Magic happens on the casting couch”) was also disinclined to help his sister leave a Hungarian ghetto. She and her family were eventually deported to Auschwitz, she was the only survivor. Finally, we come to the end of shooting, when the small cardboard plane, which will carry Elsa and Laszlo to the USA, is half hidden in fog and surrounded by Lilliputian soldiers, to make it look bigger.

Curtiz is stylishly shot by DoP Zoltan Devenyi, his roving camera often mimicking the style of Christian Matras in La Ronde: the re-imagining of the original black-and-white photography is stunning, although the crane and circular rotation shots are overdone. This is a film where the aesthetics beat out a script clinging to the sensational, and parlously uncritical of any sexism. AS




The Two Popes (2019) *****

Dir: Fernando Meirelles | Wri: Anthony McCarten | Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins | Drama, Brazil 125′

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins add weight and sophistication to this soigné and sumptuously mounted tale of Papal spirituality and responsibility. As the two great minds on the opposite ends of the spiritual debate they chew over and elegantly digest Anthony McCarten’s witty and thoughtful script that imagines the conservative Pope Benedict (Hopkins) paving the way for the liberal Pope Francis (Pryce) to forge a new future for the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI quotes from Plato when he makes his unprecedented decision to abdicate into order to guide Pope Francis into his vacant chair: “Those who don’t want to lead are the best leaders”. Yet the pontiffs couldn’t be more different, Francis is a warm, generous and garrulous soul who enjoys football and travelling to visit his vast congregations. Benedict is a detached and fastidious intellectual who dines alone and plays classical music on the papal piano.

The two are first seen meeting for a private tete a tete in the peaceful gardens of the Castel Gandolpho – and we are transported there by Cesar Charlone’s impressive widescreen camerawork that also captures the intimate spaces and vast crowd scenes in this thoughtful and and surprisingly moving drama.

They discuss world poverty, the migrant crisis and climate change and these are skilfully woven into black and white flashbacks picturing Pope Francis as a young Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio (played convincingly by Juan Minujin), who found himself receiving the calling just before his intention to marry.

Hopkins is steely and often vituperative as Benedict. He stresses their crucial conflicts and is dour in his discussions – although he occasionally lightens up with acerbic one liners: “It’s a German joke. It doesn’t have to be funny.” Pryce adopts an gentle, over-awed expression and sometimes appears back-footed as Francis, and we genuinely warm to him – this is Oscar level stuff.

And we see him journeying to the backstreets of Lima and Lampedusa, cooking in soup kitchens and visiting the needy and poverty-stricken. At this point Meirelles delves into striking archive footage of mid 1970s Chile showing the desperation on the streets when people where disappearing during the Coup d’Etat.

Eventually the two reach a common agreement cleverly conceived in the spry and intelligent script. And Benedict gradually shows the silver lining to his heart of stone as a really warm friendship develops. Hopkins gives luminous and considered performance full of quiet integrity in fitting with the Pontiff’s perceived wisdom. After all, these are two players at the zenith of their game – and it shows – in this highly enjoyable and inspirational piece of filmmaking. Let’s hope God approves. MT





Marriage Story (2019) ****

Dir.: Noah Baumbach, Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azly Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta;ion, the running time USA 2019, 135 min.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) has produced his version of Scenes from a Marriage, mostly funny, but in the end veering of into something altogether more sinister. The stellar cast keeps us engaged for over two hours in what seems like an overindulgence on Baumbach’s part, especially as the film will end up on Netflix – making it even less likely to sustain an audience.
Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) have been married for a decade and have a son, Henry (Robertson), who is at pre-school age. Charlie is the director of an avantgarde, off-Broadway theater group, Nicole his star. For a long time she wanted to direct herself, but is always thwarted by the narcissistic and overbearing Charlie, who likes to control her life like the classic patriarch men often are. The son is spoilt and even gets presents for going to the bathroom.
When Nicole finds out Charlie has slept with a colleague, the dam bursts and she goes for a divorce, taking Henry to her family home in LA. Before Nicole met Charlie, she had success as a mainstream actor, and she takes up her professional life in the same circles. At first, Charlie does not take his wife seriously, hoping that “she will come to her senses”. It soon dawns on him he will lose her, and also his son. Soon they are both getting legal advice. Nicole engages the fiery Nora Fanshaw (Dern), who makes Charlie go back to his first choice lawyer (Liotta), who is equally as expensive and as dirty as his female counterpart.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Baumbach brings a lightness of touch in the form of witty one-liners and slapstick. One scene takes place in Charlie’s LA flat, where he tries to prove to the state evaluator that he and Henry are happy. But there are darker moments, and the tone grows more hysterical – and soon sparks fly.
DoP Robbie Ryan turns out the usual cliched images of New York and LA. Hollywood’s town is a colourful circus, unlike sober, intellectual NY. Baumbach is skilled in this kind of territory – it’s clearly a subject he knows well, and lays bear the subtle nuances that lead to the end of love. Although he brings nothing particularly new to the party. This has a richer texture than his previous films, as he reworks and embellishes an already rich tapestry of replays in this sub-genre with its universal appeal. The Randy Newman score is unobtrusive, but effective. Performance wise this is a winner. Marriage Story is a tale we all know too well. AS

The Irishman (2019) *****

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Wri: Steven Zaillian | Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons | US Crime Drama, 2019, 208mins

Much of the hype surrounding The Irishman has focused on the fact that it reunites Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It also throws Al Pacino into the mix, and marks a return to the mob-infused crime dramas with which Scorsese made his name. The excitement is understandable – Scorsese made a string of iconic hits while working with De Niro, and it was through these that he established himself as one of the great American filmmakers. 

And yet… Scorsese’s body of work has a depth and breadth to it which is often obscured by a focus on certain titles (notably GoodFellas, 1990), and there was, perhaps, a fear that Scorsese’s return to this world might present if not a step backwards, at least a retread of ground already covered. 

Fortunately, such worries prove to be unfounded: the world of The Irishman may be familiar – it even touches on the mob’s involvement in Las Vegas, which formed the backbone of Casino – but the tone is something new: though not without Scorsese’s trademark humour, the film trades the baroque exuberance of his earlier work for a more reflective pace, closer to the ruminations of Silence (2016) than the crashing excess of Casino. 

Spanning multiple timelines set over several decades, The Irishman spends as much time examining the wiles of old age as the wilds of youth. In parts, the film almost plays like a eulogy: throughout, Scorsese uses titles to tell us how characters will die, and the film’s focus on death and aging seems like a lament for the end of an era – of a certain type of lifestyle, and a certain type of cinema. In the past, Scorsese has faced accusations that he glamorises mobsters, but here everyone seems to end up worn out, tired or dead, as if those are the only possible outcomes. The religious angst which has fuelled Scorsese’s work since Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) has here transmuted into a nihilistic acceptance of life as it is.

The story itself is drawn from the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, by former investigator Charles Brandt, and follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran’s career as a hitman for the mob, painting houses with other people’s blood. After being introduced by head mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci), Sheeran becomes right-hand man to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a loan-shark to the mob, supplying them with funds from the Union’s pension fund. As the decades pass, the mob’s machinations extend from the union to the White House, installing and removing presidents to suit their needs – an offhand remark about one of the Teamsters’ love of golf makes for some interesting contemporary commentary. 

Throughout the years, Sheeran’s conscience is troubled by disapproving glances from his daughter (for Sheeran has a personal family as well as his mobster family), but it is Sheeran’s friendships with Bufalino and Hoffa that really form the heart of the epic narrative, and which drive it towards its tragically moving conclusion. Given that the film serves, in so many ways, as a family reunion, it’s a fitting thematic thread and one which, thankfully, weaves a powerful tribute to the legacy of what’s come before it. Alex Barrett



Earthquake Bird (2019) ****

Dir.: Wash Westmoreland; Cast: Alicia Vikander, Riley Keough, Naoki Kobayashi, Jack Huston; USA 2019, 107 min.

Wash Westmoreland (Colette) turns Susanna Jones’ 2001 debut novel into a traumatic nightmare, set in 1989 Tokyo. The ménage-à-trois between two ex-pats from the UK and a Japanese photographer ends in murder – or does it?

In Tokyo, Lucy Fly (a brilliant Alicia Vikander) works as a translator and is haunted by the accidental death of her brother, for which she blames herself. She is emotional fragile and hates showing her feelings, very much in keeping with Japanese whosemotions are equally repressed. She plays the cello in a quintet of women musicians, and tries hard to fit in. All that changes, when she meets Teiji (Kobayashi), who works during the day in a noodle restaurant, but is obsessed by taking photographs. He lives in a sort of container, high up in the sky. Lucy falls for him, and for the first time forgets all her inhibitions. Enter Lily Bridge (Keough), a nurse who has just arrived in Tokyo and is equally taken by the mysterious Teiji. During an outing, Lucy falls ill and is left behind by Teiji and Lily. But then, in a bizarre twist, the police arrest Lucy at work for the murder of Lily. Lucy confesses, but the Japanese inspector is not convinced about her guilt, and the results of the DNA tests are inconclusive.                       

This is not so much a who-done-it but a study in guilt and betrayal. It is unfortunate that the first man Lucy trusts could well be a murderer. Vikander plays her like a cornered animal, plagued by psycho-somatic illnesses, due to her on-going low-level depression. She is often unable to find find a way through life, because nightmares are intruding more and more in her perception of reality. DoP Chung-hoon Chung shows Tokyo at night like a horror-movie, and during the day a cold landscape lingers gloomily. Vikander’s Lucy is caught in a flight from her past, only to be delivered to a haunting existence, in which she questions everything and everybody. For once, an atmospheric thriller with a gripping narrative. AS

ON NETFLIX FROM 1 November 2019



Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019) Netflix

Dir: Stanley Nelson | 115 mins | Music Biopic 

Stanley Nelson’s expansive documentary takes an entertaining breeze through the musical career of Miles Davis eclipsing Don Cheadle’s movie 2015 drama Miles Ahead 

“All I ever wanted to do was communicate through music”. The iconic jazz trumpeter and composer developed smooth romantic vibes and invented a cool, sophisticated masculinity that came to be known as the ‘Miles Davis Mystique’. For over five decades Miles developed various jazz styles from bebop, cool jazz and jazz fusion working with Prestige, Columbia, and Warner Brothers despite a rocky personal life that was full of love but fraught by ill health and emotional instability.

The film delves into the archives opening with seductive slew of stills that capture Miles’ style through the ages. This all plays out in velvet black and white to the iconic melody Kind of Blue while Davis’ deep husky voice making sporadic contributions to the drive the story forward. 

Miles Davis (1926-1991) grew up in a well to do family in Illinois where his father was a dentist. His mother was keen for him to get a classical music education and so in 1944 he started at the New York’s Juilliard School during the day and headed to the famous 52nd Street in the evenings where the music scene hung out in its many with Jazz clubs. And it was here that he discovered B-Bop and gradually taught himself to develop his own iconic style. It was not an easy time personally because his girlfriend Irene soon turned up with their child so his spare time was spoken for with the domestic demands. But music was his first love and the end of the 1940s saw him working with one of his major collaborators Gil Evans.

Drifting over tp Paris in 1949 he met and fell in love with Juliette Greco. Suddenly the world was opening up and he found himself treated as an equal by some of the intellectual giants of the day: “I was living in an illusion of possibility”. Amongst these luminaries was was Jean Paul Sartre who saw asked him why he wasn’t already married to Greco. Davis simply answered: “Because I love her.” The love lasted nearly all his life but it couldn’t work in the confines of the US where racism was still rife.

Returning to New York he was”back to the bullshit white people put a black person through in this country”. He describes how he hit rock bottom again and lost his sense of discipline, turning eventually to heroine and losing direction in his career. Eventually his father took him back to his own birth place of East St Louis hoping to bring him back to normal in the family farm. And according to childhood friend, Lee Annie Bonner, he eventually got himself clean. 

By the mid 1955s, age 29, his career was looking positive again and he found himself playing in the Newport Jazz Festival where Columbia Records selected its artists – and he would become one of them. Suddenly Bebop found a mainstream appeal for white people – Miles Davis made his name during the festival playing vulnerable ballads and hit a romantic vibe that resonated with audiences everywhere. He developed a unique voice: one with a sense of romance that avoided sentimentality born out of richly sophisticated vibes that touched on waves of emotion as they built their pure and elegant melodies. 

But tragedy struck again when he discovered a growth on his larynx and had to stay silence for several months. Bizarrely this is how he developed the gravelly voice that still defines him today. He met and fell for dancer Frances Taylor who was much sought as an artist and pursued by all the stars of the day for her beauty and particularly he long legs. Miles saw her appearing in Sammy Davis Junior’s Mr Wonderful on Broadway and the two found stability and love during a time when he was producing some of his most ground-breaking work: “Now I’ve found you I’ll never let you go” was according to Frances his opening gambit. 

One of his most incandescent musical journeys is the one that tracks Jean Moreau through the streets of Paris in Louis Malle’s 1958 French New Wave drama Ascenceur pour l’échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold). The pianist René Urtreger – who played piano for the piece talks at length about one of the film’s best known jazz scores.

Nelson highlights how Davis’ music gained popularity not just with jazz lovers but the mainstream crowd. His 1959 album Kind of Blue appealed to just about anyone interested in music. The album also introduced saxophonist John Coltrane. His style developed in his next album Bitches Brew which he describes as “cosmic jungle music.”

But when Frances was signed for Westside Story, Davis was back on the cocaine trail and deeply jealous of her admirers in the musical’s cast. He told Frances to quit the show and the two of them set up home with his own kids. But Frances sparked a jealousy in Davis he could not overcome and she realised the marriage was doomed. He deeply regretted her leaving and later commented: “Whoever gets her is a lucky son of a bitch”. 

Dark years passed but once again Miles re-invented himself during the late 1970s experiencing funk and a more loose way of playing. This segment covers his meeting with actress Cicely Tyson, a bond which continued to enrich his inventiveness until the early 1990s when once again, his career hits the buffers.

Nelson tells it all in the usual talking heads style – Frances Taylor, Greg Tate, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and his final manager Mark Rothbaum all appear and a straightforward narrative structure enlivened by many photos and clips from the archives. The film luxuriates in its musical interludes which are enjoyable and plentiful making this possibly the definitive biopic of one of the most inventive jazz musicians of the 20th century. MT




The King (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir. David Michôd. US/Australia. 2019. 133mins

David Michôd’s The King re-imagines history to give a rather intriguing version of the story of Henry IV’s least favourite son Prince Hal, a Prince Harry style character who mends his ways to become serious about the business of running the kingdom and bringing glory to England at the Battle of Agincourt.

Although there is no mention of Shakespeare here, all the traditions are respected, the costumes are magnificent and the battle scenes spectacular. Even though we know what happened on that fateful day, Michôd and his co-writer Joel Edgerton – who also stars as Sir John Falstaff – embellish the story to deliver a solemnly gripping firecracker of a film that will make you “Cry God! For Harry, England and St George” and Brexit too, if you’re so inclined.

Timothée Chalamet is sombre and rather thoughtful with a cut glass English accent in the style of a David Lean wartime hero. All peaky and pale as Hal, his transformation into a King, on the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn), sees him exuding newfound charisma and integrity in a gentle way – Chalamet gives a performance of vulnerable allure lighting up every scene. The screen time shared with his trusted friend and ally Falstaff makes this one of the most engaging versions, Edgerton bringing a warm and witty confidence to his Sir John.

The trump card is played by Robert Pattinson as a sneering and flirty Dauphin with a tousled mop of hair and a perky French accent that would make Macron proud.

The elegant script allows plenty of time for philosophising as each powerful lord gives his liege the benefit of well-formed opinion as to the merits of spoiling for battle with France after the King is given a cricket ball as a coronation present by the Dauphin. Evidence of an assassination plot come to light courtesy of a courtier William (Sean Harris) – a decision he will live to regret: this sylph-like newly-crowned Monarch has a fist of iron and a steely resolve behind his boyish exterior, and this comes through in impetuous bursts as the story unfolds.

The battle scenes unleash their bloody mayhem with a hail of longbow arrows and a clash of steel armour and military might as blood soaks the muddy Autumn fields of Pas de Calais in 1415. The strategy is a good one explained calmly by Falstaff in his moment of glory.  This should be experienced on the large screen but sadly The King is bound for Netflix.

The female roles go to Lily-Rose Depp as the bony-faced French princess who makes her caustic intentions clear as Henry’s bride. Tara Fitzgerald has a cameo as the cantankerous  barmaid and thorn in the bibulous Falstaff’s side.

On the eve of battle he proclaims in a timely speech that still holds true today : “I die here or I die of the bottle in Eastcheap — I think this makes for a better story.” And given the parlous state of England’s care homes dying with glory seems a more sensible idea. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Greta (2018) Netflix

Dir. Neil Jordan. US/Ireland. 2018. 98 mins.

Neil Jordan’s latest drama Greta has the basis to be something much greater, but  chooses the silly route, becoming creepy too soon. Luckily Isabelle Huppert’s blood-curdling turn as a lonely widow saves the day.

Falling between comedy and horror this enjoyable pulp thriller throws a spanner into the works of seriously gripping psychodrama  – instead we get an over-baked absurdist potboiler with one or two electric shocks that will have you screaming out loud. The moral of the story is: one good turn doesn’t lead to another.

Jordan and Ray Wright (The Crazies) have co-written a script that melds Hollywood slickness with European arthouse subversiveness deftly rendered in DoP Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping visual wizardry, with a small role for Stephen Rea. Chloë Grace Moretz is naive Ivy League graduate Frances who shares a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone with her more savvy friend Erika (Maika Monroe). One days she finds a smart-looking handbag on the subway and duly heads to the home of its owner – one Greta Higed – who inhabits a small secluded house in a Manhattan backwater. A soignée Isabelle Huppert (Greta) opens the door to a cosy French country interior, although it later transpires she is originally from Hungary.

It turns out that well-meaning Frances has recently lost her mother and is feeling isolated emotionally and unhappy with her father’s new relationship. She is instantly drawn to Huppert’s faux bonhomie and the two bond, Greta missing her own daughter, who apparently lives in Paris. A few espressos later they are swearing undying allegiance to each other, all too much too soon. To add further credibility to her caring side, Greta adopts a dear old dog (Morton) on his last legs in a nearby sanctuary. Alarm bells ring. Huppert does her best not to let this descend into a schlocky psycho-scenario but it does, and she knows it, but is having a lovely time with her role. She is also the only woman with normal lips, the others having blown theirs up with fillers. Jordan is having fun with his soundtrack – a blend of classics from Vivaldi to some smaltzy French chansons, just the right background for a ‘girls only’ night in where the femme fatale cooks up some recipes Frances hadn’t bargain for: “Good, no?” says Greta, an evil glint in her eye as she morphs into mean mummy – spouting fluent Hungarian – just to add menace to the mix.

Jordan occasionally makes some bad decisions disrupting Huppert’s subtly crafted character performance and misjudging the mood. One example is the restaurant scene that starts with chilling elegance and is ruined by cack-handed melodrama. Greta is a surprising departure from Jordan’s usual fare and will certainly appeal to the mainstream crowd with its devilish humour and slap in the face thrills. MT


Pet Sematary (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Kevin Kölsch/Denis Widmayer; Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, John Lithgow; USA 2019, 101 min.

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is not by his most enduring novel by chance: Even 36 years after publication it is still quietly overpowering. Directors Kölsch and Widmayer have triumphed (with writer Jeff Buhler) where Mary Lambert’s 1989 film version failed. They have taken out the cheese, included some wry humour and concentrated on the overlaying guilt and redemption theme. Apart from a ten-minute hiatus of near parody at the end, this would have been a neo classic.

Dr Louis Creed (Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Seimetz) move away from their hectic life in Boston to a rural home in Maine. Their two children Ellie (Laurence) and Gage (H. and L. Lavoie) just as enchanted as their parents with the rural idyll. Louis even jokes that it beats the graveyard shift at Boston General – but soon the graveyard for pets,  in the grounds of their 50-acre property, takes over their lives. Having watched a procession of children bury their pets, the Creed’s cat Church (short for Churchill) is run over by a speeding truck, and Rachel, still traumatised by the death of her sister Zelda from spinal meningitis, tells her daughter their feline friend simply ran away.

After Church’s burial, the purring pussy comes back as an aggressive predator. And their neighbour Jud is reminded that the native Americans deserted the area because the reincarnations of their own dead. But tragedy strikes again on Ellie’s birthday when she is run over by a petrol tanker. Once again, Louis buries her in the cemetery, ignoring what happening to Church. Ten minutes of spectacular schlocky bad taste nearly ruin this stylish arthouse horror, before the closing shot resets the tone and saves the day.

British DoP Laurie Rose works magic with his overhead shots to produce intense images of the woods, conjuring up terrifyingly claustrophobic shots of the Creeds’ house. Particularly gruesome are the scenes with Rachel’s sister Zelda, who gets stuck in a food lift. Rachel is somehow the main protagonist and catalyst, guilt makes her overprotective of her daughter and drives the action on into the past. Somehow, the American dream family comes unstuck, as it often does with Stephen King. John Lithgow again convinces with a truly frightening performance, with solid support from the others. AS 



Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) **

Dir.: Andy Serkis; Cast: Rohan Chand, Matthew Rice, Freida Pinto and the voices of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis; USA/UK 2018, 104 min.

Do we really need a new version of Rudyard Kipling’s story collection The Jungle Book (1894) so soon after the success of John Favreau’s 2016 version? The answer is no, and not this sinister one by Andy Serkis and written by Callie Kloves which takes the much loved children’s classic to a darker more violent place where there’s no singing or dancing  – and no appeal for its fanbase or anybody under the age of twelve, for that matter. A hybrid in every way, the five-year labour of love is an uneasy mix of super-hero yarn and identity conflicts.

After the hungry tiger Shere Khan (Cumberbatch) has devoured Mowgli’s parents, the young boy (Chand) is nurtured by wolves. Bagheera (Bale), the panther and Baloo (Serkis), a not particularly cuddly bear, keeping him safe from Shere Khan, along with python Ka (Blanchett). But Mowgli will never become a proper pack wolf after he is abducted by apes, and reared in a village where hunter Lockwood (Rice) and his gentle wife (Pinto) try to ‘humanise’ the wild child. But after seeing Lockwood’s trophy cabinet, Mowgli has second thoughts.

This latest MOWGLI lacks the humanity of Kipling’s vision: it’s more a Flight-Club in the jungle than anything else. Yes, the effects are stunning, DoP Michael Seresin pulls out all the stops, and other production values are equally convincing – but it always feels like a hijack, not an adaption. Perhaps Serkis wanted to distance himself completely from anything Disney-like – but by doing so, he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Mowgli sits uneasily  between semi-horror and a stale lecture about identity politics. At the same time it’s downright conventional picturing the partnership between Lockwood and his wife in the redundant cliché of hunter and carer. Most of all though, it lacks emotion: a muddled concept of true solidarity (the opposite of Kipling), this Mowgli is reduced to a soulless race for the line. See what you think. AS


Outlaw King (2018)

Dir.: David Mackenzie; Cast: Chris Pine. Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Stephan Dillane, Aaron Taylor-Jones; US/UK, 132 min. 

Director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) and his four scriptwriters have made this history book of medieval wars between Scots and English into a legend of machismo – but in the end the rivals all emerge as anti-heros, and all is drowned in blood and mud.

In 1304, after the end of William Wallace Revolution,. Robert the Bruce (Pine) attempts to unify the Scotts  tribes to fight Edward I (Dillane), who has seized the Scottish throne for himself – instead of appointing a promised Scottish successor. As a sign of the new alliance, Edward I allowed Robert the Bruce to marry Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh), daughter of the powerful Earl of Ulster. But after the death of Edward I, his son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward II of England), captured and imprisoned Elizabeth, who was not willing to divorce Robert.

Robert’s fury is fed by the treachery of a Prince of Wales, who was once his close friend. After many years of imprisonment, Elizabeth was re-united with Robert, and they had three children. The many ambushes culminate in the Battle of Loudoun Hill (1307), the show-piece of the feature, and turning point of the campaign for an independent Scotland – even though the war would last another twenty years.

Together with his second in command, James Douglas (Taylor-Jones), Robert is shown as ruthless and risk-loving. The action scenes are repetitive and cruel: at one point during the Battle of Loudoun, spikes are used by the Scots to pierce the bodies of the English horses.

Outlaw King is redeemed by a handful of scenes that are worth watching – between Elizabeth and Robert (who is rather gentle with his young wife) – and these provide a counterpoint to the endless monotone warring, although Mackenzie ruins it with an embarrassing sex sequence. At least Elizabeth is shown as being as stubborn and bloody-minded as her husband, and Pugh excels in another strong female role.  

Cut down from the 146 minutes of the version shown at TIFF, Outlaw King is still far too long. DoP Barry Aykroyd captures the fighting scenes with great power, but in the end, the over-kill is tiring. AS

ON Netflix



They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) Netflix

Dir: Morgan Neville | US Doc | 98′ | With Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Ecclesine, Oja Kodar, Frank Marshall, Joseph McBride, Beatrice Welles, Orson Welles.

Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) is back with a new doc that serves as a useful companion piece to Welles’ rather haphazard metaphor for the madness of the industry that tormented him: The Other Side of the Wind (2018).

Working with footage from the film itself, which started life in 1970, and complementing it with informative interviews and other Wellesian treasures, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead has a spirited and haphazard style that aims to capture the creative butterfly that was the larger than life, Orson Welles (1918-1985).

Those who wonder whether the world needs another Orson Welles documentary will do well to bear in mind that this Netflix affair will reach an audience that may not even have heard of the man and his genius, so the doc will hopefully find a completely new following along with its committed fanbase, amongst its viewership.

The title apparently refers to the pronouncement that Welles once made in reference to those film financiers and ‘powers that be’ who deserted him when he needed their help. And it’s reassuring to know that the film has finally been completed by those who have ultimately leant their support.

Neville has certainly set himself a tricky task but he pulls it off with the usual aplomb. His previous documentaries have been very well received: 20 Feet From Stardom (2013); Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) and Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). And he’s also brought his own creativity to this outing with its inventive camera angles and black & white to ease cohesion with the archive footage. The film’s interviewees were all close friends of Welles: associates Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. This documentary’s executive producer Frank Marshall also worked on the Wind shoot and produced the reconstructed film. And there is historian Joseph McBride, who appeared in Wind. Neville’s doc also serves as a tribute to the late Gary Graver, who shot Wind and served as his personal DoP for over a decade, putting his own career and family on the back-burner, in the same way that Leon Vitali dedicated his life to Stanley Kubrick.

The story of the experimental project that was Welles’ main focus for the final 15 years of his life unfolds before us in the velvety black and white sequences. Welles once said that Wind was inspired by his belief in “divine accidents” – and this is one thing that seems to unite the genius with his fellow filmmakers: Every director from Martin Scorsese to William Friedkin reports on these serendipitous moments, and Welles was no different. Wind was repeatedly re-worked and rewritten in a narrative that followed the last day in the life of a veteran film director called Jake Hannaford  (purportedly Welles himself, although he denied it) who was played by John Huston.

Ironically, Peter Bogdanovich started off hero-worshiping Welles, until his own success as a director saw him supporting Welles’ and even offering him accommodation in his own house, with Welles almost outstaying his welcome. But his romantic companion, co-writer and collaborator Oja Kodar, who worked with her paramour on another unfinished project The Deep (1970), remains an enigmatic presence here.

Sadly, Welles’ initial effort to raise finance for Wind remains the most poignant aspect of his endeavour, and the footage of his speech to the AFI in this veiled attempt to garner support, makes for disheartening viewing. The final scenes of the documentary see Welles speculating on the nature of Wind: “maybe it’s just people talking about a movie.”

Neville certainly gives us a great deal of background about Wind in his documentary, but there is very little on the subject of how the film eventually made it to our screens in 2018. And it’s because of this slight flaw in Neville’s film, you might even be excused of thinking that Wind remained a flight of fantasy, rather than a complete feature. Orson Welles and his legacy lives on. MT


Evelyn (2018)

Dir: Orlando von Einsiedel | UK Doc | 95′

A quietly moving exploration of grief is set in the Highlands of Scotland and the glorious summer seascapes of Cumbria where a family attempt to recover from their loss.

Orlando von Einsiedel’s the documentary debut follows a Oscar nomination for his short film Virunga, and he builds on that experience with something much more intimate and personal and also experimental: with so much grief to process he frequently questions his ability to complete the project given the feelings that surge up during film-making. As such, Evelyn is very much a cathartic experience for Orlando, as well as a testament to tragic bereavement and coming to terms with all.

When his brother, newly diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffering intense depression, took his own life at the age of 18. The eldest of the four, Orlando and his other two siblings have buried the trauma. His parents divorced after completing the family, long before the tragedy happened. Over a decade after the suicide, the family set out on a hiking tour, joined at one point by their rather pompous German father and Evelyn’s two best friends, to reflect on his death and life.

Sometimes when people die we imbue them with qualities they did not possess and this is certainly the case for Evelyn’s father who subtly casts aspersions for what happened on his family – particularly on daughter Gwendolyn, that almost suggests that his son would have survived had he gone to Germany. But on a more positive note, it is Evelyn’s close friends who bring the most warmth and clarity to this family buttoned down by their unreleased grief. Evelyn is a worthwhile and beautifully captured exploration of collective emotional grief.MT



22 July (2018) ***

Dir.: Paul Greengrass ; Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Oigarden, Hilde Olausson; Norway/Iceland/USA 133 min.

British director/co-writer Paul Greengrass (United 93) imagines what actually happened during the Norwegian tragedy of 22. July 2011, when right-wing nationalist Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 children on the island of Utoya. Earlier in the day, he had already killed eight passers-by with a bomb in the diplomatic quarter of Oslo. The main focus here is aftermath on the island, and Greengrass ends with a moving court scene.

Anders Breivik (Lie) is a narcissistic killer who prepares for his atrocities meticulously – as if the world were already watching him. After the bombs go off near government offices, he sets out for the island of Utoya, where the Youth Section of the Norwegian Labour Party is meeting. After the killing spree Breivik is contained, treating the policemen who arrest him, with cold distain, as if to say “you should be helping me, not putting me in jail”. In prison, Breivik asks for a well-known liberal lawyer, Geir Lippesad (Oigarden), who takes on his defence, even though he is emotionally repelled by his new client. Lippesad was forced to move his children out of their local schools, as fellow parents could not understand him defending a monster like Breivik. The latter had never actually met a single member of the local Norwegian fascist scene. One of its leaders, who had communicated with Breivik via the internet whilst playing video-games (!) describes him in court as a loner, not worthy of being one of the movement’s leaders – whilst also condoning his actions. Breivik’s mother (Olausson) tries to apologise for what has happened, but blames it all on uncontrolled immigration.

After the attack, Greengrass then switches his focus to Viljar (Gravli), who has been close to death after being shot by Breivik, on the island. Learning to walk again, and living in fear of the shrapnel pieces near his spine moving and killing him, he confronts his attacker in a cathartic court scene. Breivik’s isolation and loneliness contrasts sharply with the solidarity of his family and fellow-survivors.

Apart from an over-schematic script, 22. July is laudable largely because Greengrass avoids sensationalism, and concentrates on the personalities of those involved. Lie gives a brilliant performance of the isolated, arrogant and self-controlled killer, who is unable to feel empathy for anybody – apart from himself. DoP Pal Ulrik Rokseth’s images treat the events like a documentary, keeping the audience involved without becoming over-emotional. This portrait of a self-obsessed, human killing machine traces all the ambiguity of his complex personality, without reaching a conclusion. AS


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Director: David Lean |Script: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson | Score: Maurice Jarre | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, Zia Mohyeddin | UK/USA 1962  227′ | Adventure Drama

Based upon the writings of T. E. Lawrence entitled Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, a diary never meant for open publication, but allowed by his estate after his death, the making of Lawrence Of Arabia is a drama of epic proportions spanning three decades and worthy of a film in itself.

Alexander Korda kicked it all off in the 30’s, wanting Leslie Howard and then Walter Hudd as lead, but this all collapsed when the British Governor of Palestine at the time forbade ‘any large gatherings of Arabs’.  John Clements, Clifford Evans, Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier and even Cary Grant were also in the frame subsequently, as was Burgess Meredith in 1949 and then Alan Ladd. In 1952, Harry Cohn offered it to Powell and Pressburger, but they declined. Then, in 1955 Terrence Rattigan picked up the reins with Dirk Bogarde in mind and even got as far as location scouting in Iraq, only to have it all unravel as the King was assassinated and Iraq descended into revolution. When producer Sam Spiegel finally came aboard in 1959, he wanted Marlon Brando, but Brando backed out to go and do Mutiny On The Bounty

Alec Guinness was great, but too old, even though he played Lawrence in Rattigan’s well-received 1960 play Ross. Then it was to be Albert Finney, who infact undertook extensive screen tests, but eventually also backed out, citing that he didn’t want to be a star; frightened of what it would do to him as a person. He also, it had to be said, hated signing multi-picture deals.

Peter O’Toole had meanwhile appeared as a mere cameo in an otherwise forgotten film called The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England, which Lean saw, and knowing instantly that he had his man, even when Peter Hall refused to release him from his RSC contract in Stratford and Producer Sam Spiegel also initially rejected him.

As film commenced in Jordan, the script was in disarray, the original writer Michael Wilson, who had done such a fine job on Bridge On The River Kwai left the project, after a year working on the script in a state of high dudgeon. Robert Bolt was drafted in, at first purely to write only dialogue, on the back of his hit play A Man For All Seasons. But at one point, as the cameras rolled in the desert, with the script still incomplete, Bolt was gaoled for a month for marching in a CND demonstration and had to be extricated from gaol -against his own wishes- by Spiegel in order to complete the script (he wasn’t allowed to write it in prison).

There are legion stories emanating from the two-year(!) shoot, in Jordan, Spain and Morocco; of new talents cutting their teeth, like Freddie Young working with the new Super-Panavision camera with 70mm colour stock. The industrial kit needed to hold the massive cameras being lugged out into the desert, against the heat, the wind the sand and the flies… but, after all this, what we are left with is an extraordinary coming together of some amazing talent, from the writing to the design, the music, the costumes and the performances.

So, what of the new 4k digital formatted release? Well, It’s magnificent. One of the greatest films ever made, so crisp, clear and sharp, it could have been shot yesterday. Lawrence was nominated for ten Academy Awards and went on to win seven, including 1962 Best Picture and Best Director. Inexplicably, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole and writer Robert Bolt all failed to score. With Kwai, five years earlier also winning seven Oscars, David Lean really was at the top of his game and knew he wanted to capitalize on it. His next outing was called Dr Zhivago.

Bearing in mind he had come up through editing, having cut over 20 feature films prior to taking the helm as a Director, Lean later wanted to lose 40-minutes from Lawrence, but also knew he wouldn’t know where from- lest he lose the magic in the trimming.

So. What is Lawrence of Arabia all about? Seriously? Well, it’s about an eccentric Englishman who goes out into the desert, turns native, goes mad and then comes back home. All 227 glorious minutes of it. Go and see it for goodness sake and stop asking damn’ fool questions.

Is it any good? Well, I’ll leave you with several published quotes from the time of the original release: John Coleman, writing in the New Statesman- “none of it is good enough. Setting to one side the obligatory, contemptible music, the film never decisively makes its mind up what its after…”

Penelope Gilliatt “Two And A Half Pillars Of Wisdom…. A thoughtful picture with an intensely serious central performance, but it doesn’t hold together in great excitement.” New Yorker Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice- “Dull, overlong and coldly impersonal… hatefully calculating and condescending” The bottom line is, we all still remember  David Lean.


Berlin Syndrome (2017) Netflix

Dir.: Cate Shortland; Cast: Teresa Palmer. Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading; Australia 2017,116 min.

Even if you don’t always agree with Cate Shortland’s point of view – Lore was a case in point – she has a special style –as in this variation on John Fowles’ The Collector, filmed in 1965 by William Wyler.

Australian tourist Clare (Palmer) is somehow lost in Berlin, and when she meets handsome Andi (Riemelt), an English teacher, she abandons her journey to Dresden, and stays with him. The sex is satisfying, but Clare soon finds out that Andi wants to keep her for good, as his prisoner: her Sim-Card disappears, the windows of the flat in an otherwise empty apartment block don’t open, and the door is double-bolted.

Andi is a lonely person, his only real contact is his father Erich (Habich), a university lecturer, who, contrary to his son, has some positive feelings about living in the old GDR. Andi’s mother ‘defected’ to the West when he was a child, something he will never forget or forgive.

Clare oscillates between fighting (both are seriously injured) and trying to coax Andi to release her. After  Erich dies, the two even spend a rather harmonious Christmas together in the dead man’s house. Andi adopts his father’s dog, and Clare is happy to have some company, when Andi is at work. But Andi’s true nature is soon revealed. A chance encounter with Franka (Bading) – one of Andi’s female students – who turns up on the doorstep, leads to a surprising, but well constructed, original conclusion.

The title refers to the claustrophobic atmosphere, which to this day, hangs over a united Berlin. Neither the neon-glitz of the western part of the city, nor the much less kempt part of the old east, lets us forget what happened here between 1933 and 1945. The fate of over 300 000 Berlin Jews, who were first excluded from public life and had to hide in their flats, before being deported from Grunewald Station to the extermination camps, still hangs over the city. And an involuntary wall the GDR rulers then erected, showed that Germans, whatever the ideology, are very good at creating a Huis-clos state of affairs.

When it becomes clear that Clare is not the first of Andi’s victims, she even allows him to use her more and more as a sexual object: he is more interested in taking photos of the helpless woman than having sex with her. He can only function if there is a woman substitute for the mother who abandoned him.

Palmer and Riemelt are convincing, both Erich and Franka seem to be only there to drive the plot forward. This is a shame, because we would have liked to learn more about Andi. The length of nearly two hours is also problematic: the tighter structure adopted by writer Shuan Grant in Melenie Joosten’s novel, would have kept the audience more engaged. DoP Germain McMicking’s images are most imaginative in the indoor scenes, the Berlin panorama is a little too idyllic. This is a provocative, but authentic production.


The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Baumbach’s latest serio-comedy THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES asks the question: how do you manage a creative father who constantly puts you down?

Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler deal with their own neuroses while managing a creative father who puts them all down. Stiller is well-off LA lawyer Matthew Meyerowitz, a half- brother to failed musician Danny (Sandler) and non-entity Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) who live close by to their sculptor father (Hoffman) whose party piece is bringing the conversation back to himself.
Harold’s retrospective show brings the family back together in the Brooklyn home he shares with his fourth wife Maureen, a scatty alcoholic played amusingly by Emma Thompson. But the show is put in jeopardy when Dad suffers a brain trauma that makes his narcissism worse.
The siblings find a certain love-hate solidarity as they struggle with the inevitable fallout, all operating from a position of shame; Danny feels a failure as an artist, although he’s a good father. Matthew fails by not being an artist, despite being a financial success; Jean has emerged from Harold’s negligent parenting never achieving anything, in act of self-sabotage; and they’re all latently angry with each other. Baumbach’s clever script ensures there’s plenty of dry humour, and even open wrestling, to lighten things up. With entertaining turns from Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson and a soulful Adam Sandler as the underdog, this is a film that will feel poignantly personal for many.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos | Cast: Colin Farell, Nicole Kidman,  Barry Keoghan | Drama | Greece | 101min 

Has Greek New Wave director Yorgos Lanthimos gone too far in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. A film that would have us believe that all families are essentially dysfunctional, and all men psychopaths. His latest is set in a sleek but soulless Cincinnati, Ohio in the run up to Christmas. Colin Farrell is an Irish heart surgeon who performs, as many do, to soaring choral music, adding a Kubrickian touch to the film’s bleak opening scene where open heart surgery is being wound up before blood-stained gloves and garb are then thrown into a bin. This sets the tone for a disquieting and starkly alienating parable that examines the human drive to escape death.

Farrell plays Steven Murphy, on the surface a loving husband and family man who has developed a weird friendship with a teenage boy that grows more bizarre as the film unfolds. It soon emerges the boy’s father died on the operating table when Murphy was the surgeon. Left with his unemployed mother, Martin is a young man with a grudge. Later in a speech Murphy tells how the doctor involved in the first heart transplant, Andreas Gruentzig, died in a plane crash: “The operation was successful, but the doctor didn’t make it”.

There’s a horrible feeling throughout the film that the Sword of Damocles is going to fall on Steven, (to use an apposite anecdote from Greek mythology) and all because of Martin (Barry Keoghan) who feels resentful and envious, and puts a curse on the family. Keoghan is a particularly chilling psychopath, but so is Farrell when he puts his mind to it in the final scenes. MT

Into the Inferno (2016)

Dir: Werner Herzog | Cliver Oppenheimer | Doc | 100min

Visionary filmmaker Werner Herzog seeks out the world’s most apocalyptic natural wonders in his latest film INTO THE INFERNO that comes hot on the heels of Low and Behold, It is a rambling but informative piece of filmmaking that will certainly appeal to devotees of Herzog’s inimitable style. Some of the images are so breathtakingly ethereal and often frightening, it’s difficult to believe they are actually real, flashing before our eyes to a score of operatic music. What seems to fascinate Herzog is their primordial ability to challenge our authority, exemplifying the essential fragilitiy of human existence. They also offer great filmmaking potential.

As his specialist guide and travelling companion Herzog choses the fizzingly enthusiastic Clive Oppenheimer, a leading luminary on the subject who offers scientific detail and he authoritatively engages with local experts as the duo journey through the South Pacific, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Iceland, North Korea and back to Vanuatu, whose inhabitants celebrate their volcano every Friday night. Some of the volcanoes are dormant, but some are still active spewing their firey red magma, billowing gas clouds and pumice showers over lush hillsides and stony ravines. Some photos are taken from space to capture the magnitude of volcanic crater lakes.

The Afar region in Ethiopia is the hottest place on Earth and Herzog and Oppenheimer can only enter with a miliary aide due to local hostilities. Here they discover the world’s best collection of fossils and hundreds of obsidian chips which, when fashioned into blades, are sharper than steel and were once used for eye surgery. In one of the film’s digressions, they meet up with a crackpot scientist and fossil hunter from California who describes how, thousands of years ago, the human species originated here as one type and gradually spread out to Asia, Europe and beyond where we different languages and characteristics developed. It also emerges that a massive volcano in prehistoric times nearly wiped out humanity.

In Iceland, Herzog gets to visit the Dead Sea scrolls equivalent, a revered manuscript that details and describes volcanic activity back to the Dark Ages. When invited to North Korea, Herzog accepts that his visit will be tainted with propganda. Here the main volcano is considered the mythical birthplace of the Korean people, and now a sacred site of pilgrimage. We meet a group of uniformed students who chant a (staged) anthem for the volcano, even though it has been inactive for over a thousand years. Oppenheimer is suitably deferential. Clearly he sees the authorities as more frightening than the possibility that the volcano might erupt. Although INTO THE INFERNO occasionally veers off into a field trip for Oppenheimer, especially in North Korea, it nonetheless provides absorbing entertainment for lovers of the natural world, MT.

AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX Launching on 28th October

Legend (2015) | Netflix

Dir: Brian Helgeland | Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Aneurin Barnard, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis | Biography | Crime | Thriller | US

As Reggie Kray, Tom Hardy essays the classic bad boy rise and fall narrative of genre familiarity. As Ronnie Kray, Hardy bears an uncanny resemblance to Patrick Marber. Unfortunately the filmmakers didn’t have the foresight to get Marber to do a rewrite of the screenplay.

Real life is messy, though arguably more dramatic. Working Title, who excel in chocolate box exports of the Union Jack, truncate and clean up the timeline of the brothers, and Reggie’s relationship with Frances, to a neat conventional structure, taking liberties with documented facts for the sake of a reductive and restorative three act structure.

Narrated from beyond the grave by Frances, as a sort of cockney sparrow cousin of Bridget Jones, all with a garish sense of retro-knowingness and provincial cool and a script full of some real exclamatory corkers “It was time for the Krays to enter gangster legend”. Its soundtrack, a wholly predictable mix of Green Onions, In the Mood and Hermans Hermits, literally illustrating, for those opening weekend punters who can’t be bothered, the wedding scene with Chapel of Love, the relationship turning sour with Helen Sharpiros Lonely Last Night, and her suicide with Make The World Go Away (a new version by Duffy, who may be the only authentic thing in the film).

No subtlety is allowed here. Ronnie’s schizophrenia is too complex for the flat white mainstream to handle, so instead they ramp up his madness way past 11, an absurdist idiot savant pitched somewhere between Tommy Cooper and Derek & Clive, complete with liberal and comedic use of the c-word. Spanking a Y-fronted young teen with a carpet beater, his sexuality is also far too abstruse a subject for its audience – better to grab some laughs with carry on up the camping instead. “Barbara Windsor was in here the other night”, Reggie tells Frances, as he seduces her with the nightlife. And at a Hackney orgy, John Sessions, as Lord Boothboy the perverted peer, enquires of a young lad “Do you like it down the hatch?”

Chazz Palminteri, a proper American actor who has played proper American gangsters with Robert DeNiro and Woody Allen, is brought in to please the studio and as an attempt to give weight to two brief cameo scenes of wretched expositional dialogue, apparently as Sicilian Mafioso Angelo Bruno, who comes out with clunkers such “London is going to be the Las Vegas of Europe”, then warning Reggie that Ronnie’s a loose cannon and “we need you to do something about Ron”, leading to Hardy’s very EastEnd reply “I can’t do that – he’s my bruvva”. Dum, dum, dum…

The Krays (1990) an earlier film with the Spandau brothers Kemp, a Buñuelian masterpiece by comparison, dealt largely with their mother Violet, played by Bille Whitelaw, and her unconditional love of her little monsters. Violet gets little screen time here, save for a scene where she berates Frances for making a bad cup of tea. Instead, Tara Fitzgerald is lumped with the thankless mother in law role. Elsewhere, other facts are inexplicably sexed up into bad movie scenes – Jack the Hat McVitie is shown having a doorstep scuffle with the accountant (David Thewlis) in a botched attempt to kill him – in reality his wife answered and said that he wasn’t in, so McVitie just pocketed the money and went home. Further licences are taken with scenes that are so dramatically convenient its laughable to believe they happened like that.

LEGEND, beyond the gimmick of Hardy’s doubletake, and though he does have some tender moments as Reggie, is nonetheless a simplistic 4th form Jekyll and Hyde sketch, with the soap opera plotline of a man, an alpha male, trying and failing to be saved to the straight and narrow by the love of a good little dolly bird, who he ultimately destroys, and who in turn inevitably destroys him. Apparently no CGI was utilised, instead using stand-ins and old fashioned angles for Hardy’s dual role, though one would have thought the 30 million budget would have afforded the blurring out of double glazing in Stoke Newington’s Cedar Court. @Robert Chilcott


Bridge of Spies (2015) Netflix

Dir.: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Eve Hewson | 145 min | Spy Thriller | US

The Cold War dragged on from the late 1940s to 1989, creating a new genre: the Spy film. Many of these films were purely propaganda vehicles, or portayed a romantic or nostalgic world devoid of reality. Bridge of Spies focuses on an attempted exchange of two famous captured spies at the height of the Cold War, just after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and before the Cuba crisis. With Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg captures a realistic snapshot of an era where angst dominated day-to-day living on both sides. And who better to transmit this feeling of dread and make it compelling and entertaining but Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks in the leads, supported by a sinister Sebastian Koch, an incendiary John Rue and a smirking Alan Alda.

In February 1962, Rudolf Abel (Rylance), a Soviet Spy sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in New York, and the US pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who had been shot down over the USSR. The film gets its name from the Glienicker Bridge in Berlin where exchanges took place during the era. This bridge connected West Berlin to the GDR, the borderline between two systems being the mid-point of the bridge.

Spielberg’s real hero is insurance lawyer James B.Donovan (Hanks) who is tasked with defending Abel and saving him from the death penalty, but his success is somewhat of a poisoned chalice as it makes the Irishman unpopular with both his boss and the American people. Most lawyers experienced in this kind of work had declined to act as Abel’s defence attorney, so Donavan was more or less pressganged by his boss Thomas Watters (a gritty Alan Alda) into accepting the role. But Donovan and Abel (the latter a dedicated painter, and we see his daubing a few canvases in the cutaways), for all their opposed political views, somehow find common ground: and a mutual respect.

Shunned at work, Donovan’s family home is attacked by enraged citizens: his teenage daughter Carol (Hewson) nearly killed in hail of bullets, shot through the window of the family house. In the commuter train, with his photo in the newspapers, Donovan feels the probing stars of his fellow passengers. But this all changes when the CIA suddenly needs Donovan’s powers of negotiation for the exchange. As Donovan had cleverly predicted, sentencing Abel to death would have meant that an American spy, caught in the USSR, would have suffered the same fate. Now, Francis Gary Power, pilot of a secret spy plane, which was was downed over the USSR, was the pawn in the hand of the Soviet negotiators in Berlin, who wanted their man Abel back as badly as the USA wanted Powers. Donovan went to Berlin to start negotiating, making his mission even harder when he insists on having a young American student, Frederic Pryor (Rogers), who was arrested by the GDR authorities, released into the bargain – whilst the CIA and the KGB simply wanted a straight forward exchange between Abel and Powers.

Mark Rylance is the right choice for the role of the enigmatic and likeable spy, Rudolf Abel (the name of a friend in the USSR who died). Born William August Fisher 1903 in Newcastle upon Tyne, Abel was the son of ethnic Germans, who were revolutionaries in Tsarist Russia, Fisher’s father had agitated with Lenin in St. Petersburg. Later the family emigrated to the UK, before returning to the USSR in 1921. Fisher, who was fluent in six languages, became a radio-operator for the secret service (OGPU) in 1927, but was sacked in 1938 during the Great Purge, his brother being a follower of Trotsky. In 1946 Fisher was working again as a radio-operator, re-joining the security organisation, now called KGB. In 1948 he was sent to the USA to build up spy networks.

Obviously Spielberg has build up Donovan’s hero status: his insistence on having Pryor released too does not seem to have been the gamble the film makes it out. The young student, having written a thesis on economics in a socialist country, was in the hands of the Stasi, the East German security services. But the power over all aspects of life in the GDR really lay in the hands of the USSR. Since the KGB was not interested in Pryor at all, but wanted the Abel/Powers exchange to go ahead, one phone call from them was enough to release Pryor. And Spielberg certainly got it wrong when he has Donovan travelling to East Berlin, using the Friedrichs Strasse Control Point. All members of the four Allies powers crossed to the East Sector via Check Point Charlie. Showing East Berlin as a city of ruins and roaming gangs is in the first place an exaggeration, and simply wrong regarding the youths, who robbed Donovan of his coat: the East German police was extremely repressive: gangs, of which ever kind, were simply not tolerated.

But apart from these small details, Bridge of Spies captures the angst of the Cold War era when American children were shown films about nuclear bombs at school, and were asked to learn superfluous precautions for the time after an explosion. Little Roger, Donovan’s son fills the bathtub in his home with water in case he has no time after the attack to store the drinking water. And the wild shots, fired into his daughter’s room, are proof (both sides) could not tolerate sympathy with the enemy – even if it was, like in Donovan’s case, purely imagined.

DOP James Kaminski (War Horse, Lincoln) conjures up many worlds with his images: there is Donovan’s family home, the typical backdrop, where Donovan can relax after his adventures behind the Iron Curtain. Then there is the work environment, in the office (dimly-lit like an English Gentlemen’s Club). The courtroom for Abel’s trial feels undignified, rather like a Roman arena. The presiding Judge is antagonistic towards Donovan, the public gallery wants his head, after Abel is awaits his sentence in an atmosphere that thirsts for blood.

Mark Rylance’s Abel somehow dominating the scenes with his subtle intensity, even though Hanks is nominal the hero and more present on screen: Rylance is resigned, only interested in his painting, having experienced Stalinist terror in the first place, he knows he may be put against a wall on his return, or be celebrated as a hero. Hanks’ Donovan is like a kindly bear, loving the good fight, whoever the opponent; he would later negotiate very successfully with Fidel Castro to release hostages after the invasion of The Bay of Pigs.

Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a triumph; an epic about two men caught in a time of mistrust, violence and overriding paranoia on both sides. AS




Mood Indigo (2013) Netflix


Director: Michel Gondry | Writers: Michel Gondry, Boris Vian | Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tatou, | 131min   French with subtitles   Romantic Drama

Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris team up again for this surreal tale of emotional love. Sex and lust are replaced by the heartfelt tenderness of romantic devotion; better summed up by the title l’Ecume des Jours (Froth on a Daydream), Boris Vian’s cult novel, on which it was based. You will either totally buy into its poetic retro charm (which does rather overstay its welcome at over two hours), or find it tedious in the extreme.

A wealthy young man, Colin, (Romain Duris) falls head over heels for the delicately coy Chloé (Audrey Tatou). But after a mysterious floral growth in her lung requires her to be perpetually surrounded by fresh flowers in order to survive, Colin’s financial means comes under severe strain. An upbeat jazzy start sees Gondry’s stylistic fantasy slowly shift in tone from fluffy romcom to shades of mournful melodrama as sullen clouds darken the lovers’ world, turning their florid love-song into a faded and poignant elegy, strangled in bindweed.

This is not the first screen adaptation of the novel, Charles Belmont made the film in 1968, featuring Vian’s wife Ursula as a nun. Go Riju also crafted a Japanese version in 2001. But Gondry’s film feels typically French with its light-hearted whimsical approach evoking the Parisian outings of the fifties and sixties. Technical effects are superbly inventive and Duris and Tatou are perfectly cast for the fun-filled slapstickery, and equally good when it all  darkens to cutesy pouting and tear-welling tristesse. You may even shed crocodile tears… MT








Simon (2012) Netflix

Director/Writer: Antonio Campo | Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Lila Salet, Michael Abiteboul, Solo, Constance Rousseau | 105min   US Psychological thriller

Simon Killer, is a subversive second feature by Antonio Campos: you get the overriding impression that it’s being filmed covertly or by a hidden camera possibly due to the slightly muffled sound effects and a close range hand-help camera that give this psychological thriller an unsettling feeling of doom-laden urgency with its a syncopated score occasionally and abruptly punctured by long periods of uncomfortable silence.

Simon is clearly a disturbed, self-absorbed and morose individual: an American who’s moved to Paris and has just finished a long term love affair brought on by his ex girlfriend’s infidelity, and this plays on his mind.

Sexually he’s also very pent-up and troubled by the past and this comes across in his relationships with the people he comes across in this foreign city.

Paris feels like a dangerous place. Not the romantic city of dreams always billed – but a hostile, jagged and unfriendly place harbouring criminal types and the disenfranchised.

Simon eventually hooks up with a mysterious French call girl who offers him casual sex, and the two become close when Simon asks her for temporary refuge. He becomes increasingly emotionally and sexually involved with in scenes that feel authentic and visceral.The camera plays on their torsos and occasionally scans across the room in an unnerving way. The two engage in experimental and brutal sex that’s explicit and intermingled with feelings from the past for Simon, as he begins a slow and disturbing downwoods spiralling into his fate.

This is a first rate mesmerizing psychological thriller that’s stylishly produced and pulsating with believable performances from the writer and director of the acclaimed Afterschool.MT

SIMON is now on NETFLIX . 

Django Unchained (2012)

Dir: Quentin Tarantino | Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Scoggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, David Steen, Dana Michelle Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Laura Cayouette, Ato Eassandoh, Sammi Rotibi, Clay Donahue Fontenot, Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, James Russo | US  165mins 2012 Western

It is very easy to be up in arms about this film for any given reason: for the violence; the Black story being told by a white man; for politically correct motivations and so on. Tarantino has long been a fan of the Western and Spaghetti Westerns in particular. Django Unchained was a long time in the making; ten years, infact, and it came following an illustrious and not so illustrious line of ‘Django’ Spaghetti Western films.

Like it or not, the slave trade is a (deeply regrettable) part of history for black and white alike. To see it on the screen with just a minute few of its countless atrocities witnessed has to be a good thing. How many times do we see twee period dramas, all spotless lace and heaving corsets, ignoring the reality that made it all possible? How often is the Black experience, the Black story ignored?

So here we have black actors portraying a true facsimile of what it was to live then. Interesting on several levels, not least of which being that here is a $100M movie, that millions are going to see now it’s on Netflix, populated by a massive Black cast and with a Black lead.

All of that aside and moving onto the film itself, is it any good? Well, yes it is. After a terrible blip in the risible Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino returns to form with a really well-constructed, well-thought out and well-made film. The locations, in the Californian Alabama Hills, Jackson, Wyoming and New Orleans in the Deep South, are simply stunning, with Tarantino concerned to use the real and not CGI to create authenticity.

On top of the general genre of Western and the Black/White slave thing, it’s a story of empowerment, of love and of sacrifice and there are many notable cameos: Don Johnson; Bruce Dern; James Russo. But the stand out performances belong to Jamie Foxx and Di Caprio. Di Caprio is as guilty as any of being in some steaming turds in his time, but then, isn’t every actor? He was also always a good actor. Anyone witnessing him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape could see that. Here, given free rein and the time to really inhabit his plantation-owning character, Calvin Candie, he really pulls off something special.

Foxx is asked for a truly committed performance and committed he is; his journey from slavery to freedom about a man learning to inhabit himself when even his name is not his own, is a well-drawn one, albeit attuned to a wide audience, rather than the sensibilities of an arthouse one.

We’ve moved on a great deal in the past decade since the film premiered and the argument will continue to run and run as to violence depicted in the cinema and its impact upon the viewing public, but it would have been a bigger crime to remove the teeth from a film about slavery and thus somehow sanitise it, than not. AT



The Passion of Carl Theodor Dreyer

Ordet   (1955)


Carl Theodor Dreyer is probably the greatest and most respected film director Denmark has ever produced.

Dreyer was the child of an illicit union between a Swedish maid, Josefina Nilsson, and a Danish landowner.   Born in secret in Copenhagen, he grew up the adopted son of a Danish couple.   He later went on to trace his biological Swedish family and learned about his mother’s death as a result of miscarriage while she was pregnant  by another man who had no intention to marry her, either. The reason that this is so important is that it might explain why Dreyer focused so much on the suffering of women in a man’s world.  He saw his life’s work as a kind of everlasting tribute to his mother, the woman he never knew.


At the end of his life Dreyer was working on a film about the suffering of a man called Jesus.  Strangely, the project never got off the ground but, of the films he did make, the suffering of women is the really the central theme. First, in THE PRESIDENT about young women who are seduced and abandoned with tragic results. Then, in LEAVES FROM SATAN’S BOOK, Clara Wieth heroically kills herself. Later, there is the oppressed wife in MASTER IN THE HOUSE: the Jewish girl caught in a pogrom, in LOVE ONE ANOTHER, the suffering and death of JEANNE D’ARC, the young woman who falls victim to a vampire in VAMPYR, the abandoned young woman in the short GOOD MOTHERS, Anne and the old woman accused of witchcraft in DAY OF WRATH, to a lesser degree Inger who dies and comes back to life in THE WORD, and GERTRUD, whose total commitment to love makes her disappointed in men.

After the peripatetic activitity of his early life,  when he directed nine films in five different countries, Dreyer’s career suffered a series of setbacks and failed projects. Dreyer not only focused on martyrdom, he himself was one of the greatest artistic martyrs in the history of film. Over the last 35 years of his career, it was tremendously difficult for him to get to make the films he wanted to make. After the privately financed sound film VAMPYR (1932) flopped, he did not get to make another feature until DAY OF WRATH  in 1943. He renounced his Swedish production TWO PEOPLE (1945), and over the next 25 years or so he got to direct just two other features, ORDET and GETRUDE. His pet project, Jesus of Nazareth, never actually came into being.

Vampyr - Carl Dreyer 1932

VAMPYR (1932

83 mins  German

Deep, dark and undeniably disturbing Carl Dreyer’s 1932 experimental feature base on Sheridan Le Fanu’s In A Glass Darkly was actually financed by the main actor, Baron Gunzberg.  As young traveller Allan Grey, he comes across an old castle in the village of Courtempierre and decides to stay there, entranced by a series of weird and inexplicable events that capture his imagination or is it his imagination?  A grim figure carrying a scythe, a ghastly landlady who appears at nightfall, shadowy figures flitting across walls, revolving sculls and a nightmare where he is buried alive. Events come to a head when the elderly squire of the village voices his fears for the safety of his young daughters and gives him a strange parcel to be opened after his impending death.  According to local folklore, souls of the unscrupulous haunt the village as vampires, preying on young people in their endless thirst for blood.


There’s an eerie and supernatural beauty to all this as the camera sweeps gracefully across luminously lit rooms and chiaroscuro passages in the ancient castle.  Curiously disembodied shadows counterbalanced by a soundtrack of strange voices, primal screams and periods of unsettling silence add to the feeling of otherwordliness. To create the curious half-light, filming took place during the early hours of misty dawn with a lens black cloth.

The acting is not bad either considering the only professional was a household servant.  Sybille Schmitz as daughter Leone, gives a bloodcurdling series of expressions when she realises her vampire fate ranging from abject fear and misery through to madness and finally menace (see clip).   Grey’s burial scene is also eerily evocative as he looks up through wild and staring eyes as the lid is screwed down on his coffin and a candle is lit on the small window above his face.  As he is carried through the streets the camera pans the drifting clouds and lacy treescapes on the way to his macabre interment.  This is a film that stays and haunts you a long time after the Gothic titles have rolled.

Meredith Taylor ©


ORDET (1955)

Cast: Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Hanne Agesen

126mins PG ***** Danish with English subtitles


Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece on love, passion and faith.  With his unique film language Dreyer takes a simple story to an ethereal level.  The breathtaking brilliance of the lighting and camera shots, the stark clarity of the compositions, the hypnotic quality of the pacing and the intensity of the performances make this a perfect film.

Meredith Taylor ©


NOW ON NETFLIX | Additional Information courtesy of the official Carl Dreyer website

Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia