Posts Tagged ‘NETFLIX’

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

The Stranger (2022) Netflix

Dir: Thomas M Wright | Australia, Thriller

Two strangers meet on a bus ride in the outback in this tense Australian thriller written and directed with visual flair and ingenuity by Thomas M Wright.

At first The Stranger feels like one of those heist movies, one last trick before retiring for a bearded and biddable loner Henry (Sean Harris) hired by Paul (Mouzakis), an amiable undercover cop. Henry is down on his luck and looking for a gig ‘but nothing violent’. Paul then introduces his new pal to his criminal circle and an uncertain Henry goes along for the ride soon bonding with Mark (Joel Edgerton), who will show him the ropes.

Paul and Mark soon turn out to be police detectives working on a cold case, an unsolved crime involving the disappearance of a boy eight years earlier in 2002. The police have been working tirelessly to find a body and a murderer, but so far have been unable to pin down Henry, the only suspect, who was seen in the area at the time the boy vanished. But when they discover Henry has another identity things start to fall into place.

Based on Kate Kyriacou’s book The Sting: The Undercover Operation that Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer, The Stranger is a gripping and sinuous piece of filmmaking with a twisty, tantalising narrative and convincing performances from Harris and Edgerton, who also produces.

Mark works hard to win Henry’s trust and their close relationship runs parallel to the nationwide police investigation that will gradually get to bottom of Henry’s murky past. Until the police get firm tangible evidence to place murderer and victim at the scene of the crime their killer could still slip away, after eight years on the run. MT


Autumn Girl (2021) Netflix

Dir.: Katarzyna Klimkiewicz; Cast: Maria Debska, Leszek Lichota, Krzysztof Zalewski, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, Katarzyna Obidzinska; Poland 2021, 105 min.

Katarzina Klimkiewicz’s Autumn Girl is both a tribute a Kalina Jedrusik (1930-1991), Poland’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, and a snapshot of her homeland in the 1960s.

Krzysztof Kieslowski pictures life in sixties Poland as a time of austerity, to say the least. Not so according to Klimkiewicz and Maria Debska who turn this biopic into a first class Hollywood musical, overcoming sexism and dodgy politics, with a triumphant Debska getting away with everything, just like the original Kalina Jedrusik who died of an asthma attack after starring in Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique.

It all starts in a fashion boutique where Kalina refuses, and not for the first time, to toe the Party line: “The Woman of the 1960s should be fashionable, but modest. Dashing but modest. Chic but modest. Focused of Hearth and Home”. But Jedrusik is anything but modest, she lives the life of Laurie as the star of a Polish TV show, and men literally queuing round the block. After hours, she lives with husband and writer Stanislaw Dygat (Lichota), but their flat is also home to hunky, in-house lover Lucek (Zalewski).

When party bureaucrat Ryszard Molski (Kotschedoff) takes over the TV Ents department – he too wants a piece of the action with Kalina (literally), more or less calling her a whore. And when she rejects his advances she is blacklisted and even banned from her favourite show the “Elderly Gentlemen’s Cabaret”. Her mood swings from aggression to self pity but she paints the town red with her best friend Xymena (Obidzinks), the two ending up in the bus depot after midnight, one of the buzziest numbers of this revue.

Warsaw dazzles in Weronika Bilska and PD Wojciech Zogada’s stunning camerawork with Debska the star turn in an all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza set to Radoslaw Luka’s original score. The aesthetic choices are adventurous in a parallel universe where candy-colours quell dour black-and-white reality: Ken Russell minus the hyperbole springs to mind, with Klimkiewicz playing fast and loose with the facts. Autumn Girl’s success lies in not taking itself not too seriously, or resorting to camp. It maybe a man’s world, but this woman reigns supreme with her sparkling zest for life. 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


Calibre (2018) Netflix

Dir/Wri: Matt Palmer | Cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, Ian Pirie, Cal MacAninch | UK Thriller 101′

A wee weekend in the Scotlish highlands has no happy outcome for anyone concerned in this gritty thriller that sees the usual low budget British gangland flick evocatively transposed to north of the border.

Calibre is the feature debut of seasoned shorts director Matt Palmer whose canny script certainly makes for gripping if uncomfortable viewing. The only downside is the lack of a spunky female character to counterbalance the fearsome  red-bloodied males in a cast led by Jack Lowden (Dunkirk/Small Axe).

After a romantic opening scene the engines start firing when suburban, soon to be father Vaughn (Lowden) bids farewell to his fiancé Anna (Morgan) and heads off with close friend Marcus (McCann) into the wild and rather hostile territory of West Lothian for a spot of deer shooting.

Palmer and his Hungarian DoP Mark Gyori establish the dour milieu of the tartan-shrewn hunting lodge where the two settle down to a night of heavy drinking, you can almost hear the bagpipes grinding ominously in the gloaming. Dawn sees them venturing into bristling gorse-lands nursing hangovers that clearly skew their shooting skills. What happens next is pivotal to the remaining hour or so of the film where the two wish they had spent the weekend quietly at home in Edinburgh rather than drenched in dread and despair up north. A gross error of judgement leaves Vaughn and Marcus toughing it out at the lodge, rather than reporting events to the local police, or even heading home – there’s also a suggestion that some kind of business deal is attached to the trip to explain their staying, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise gripping little thriller. One mistake leads to another as soon all hell breaks loose with the locals who are not able to forgive or forget. There’s a Straw Dogs feel to the way the film plays out, and it’s brutal and not for wimps.

Most of the violence occurs off-camera with Chris Wyatt’s clever editing skills conveying an unbearable tension that gnaws away as the vehement locals prepare to take matters into their own hands. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX | Calibre won the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature at Edinburgh 2018.

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 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






News of the World (2020) ***

Dir: Paul Greengrass| Cast: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Helena Zengel | US Drama 114′

The American Civil War has come to a close and in Texas a virulent epidemic is sweeping through the panhandle. Tom Hanks and German newcomer Helena Zengel star as two lost souls drawn together in the aftermath of the tragedy, this once happened 150 years ago but Greengrass gives a contemporary feel with its migrant central characters.

Set on the wide open panoramas of the Southern desert yet intimate in its personal story of survival, the theme of storytelling is at the heart of this ambitious Western adventure, both for Greengrass and his lead, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. The soldier has seen active service during the war but several years later has turned to ‘newscasting’ – making a crust out of telling spirited, often didactic stories that connect his audiences with the wider world. As he makes his way across the vast desert landscape, Hanks is believable and appealing as the strong and benign warrior.

Piqued with lively action sequences, News of the World is contemplative rather than swashbuckling but impressive nevertheless, wearing its burnished period detail on a war-torn sleeve, this is a well-mounted and poetic frontier adventure, and a departure from the director’s usual slick modern thrillers such as The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93. 

Greengrass quickly establishes his statesman-like hero’s credentials in the opening scenes, a respectable horseman now down on his luck but making the best in his reduced circumstances, he still cuts dash spinning his newsy yarns with languorous dignity during long evenings in candlelit hostelries. One topical item relates to the opening of a new railway line from the Kansas border all the way to Galveston, that was the Pacific Railway’s first foray across Indian reservations.

Essentially a two-hander though with the occasional side-lining vignette, the slow-burning storyline carries a distinct whiff of cultural diversity, the Captain journeying through this lawless territory with a blond 10 year-old he meets while hitching up his waggon in the frontier town of Wichita Falls. And this relationship sets the reflective tone of their odyssey; he is mentor, protector and father-figure, a role Hanks pulls off with a respectable swagger, though the two lack a noticeable chemistry: Johanna is sullen, unreachable, but turns out to be a German orphan raised by a Native American tribe. Hanks finds himself tasked with relaying her to blood relatives in another part of Texas, against her will.

Writing with Bafta-award winner Luke Davies, Greengrass bases his script on Paulette Jiles’ 2016 bestseller that centres on two unlikely companions who gradually develop a mutual bond. Shooting took place in the magnificent scenery of New Mexico by Dariusz Wolski, his jerky intense handheld ‘urban’ scenes contrasting with the feral beauty of big desert countryside where the two encounter all kinds of surprises during their eventful escapade.

It soon emerges that Johanna is subject to some kind of kidnapping and is bound for San Antonio, so Kidd’s wings are clipped by the presence of the minor, who becomes his responsibility in the hostile terrain. The child has been let down by so many adults she proves unruly although vulnerable and lost in this turbulent country where settlers are at war with Native Indians and vice versa. And this milieu of conflict and danger provides a heady atmosphere to the couple’s journey. One episode sees their carriage involved in a terrible accident when the horse loses control over a mountainside. Another involves an ugly skirmish with some Confederate former soldiers (Covino, James and Lilley) who try to ‘buy’ the little girl, and have to be fended off. Johanna’s upbringing in Indian culture brings a spiritual and folkloric element to the Western adventure showing Hanks at his best in a gritty role of guardian for this tough but also thoughtful kid in a surprisingly lyrical piece of Americana. MT




Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (2020)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Doc, Italy 120’

Luca Guadagnino‘s warm tribute to the life and work of celebrity shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo positively glows with pride in showing how his fellow countryman rose from humble beginnings to international fame through sheer hard work and perseverance.

In his lifetime Ferragamo designed iconic shoe styles that are still in production today: such as the famous rainbow sandals created for Judy Garland and the red jewelled stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe.  The craftsman rose to fame as a favourite with the stars of the silent screen such as Pola Negri, Lilian Gish and Mary Pickford who became friends and confidents, and he was eventually providing footwear for epic productions by Cecil B. EMille.

Guadagnino takes us through the complex step-by-step design and assembly process that continues today in Ferragamo’s famous Florence workshop, stressing how comfort was the watchword even when vertiginous heels were the order of the day. And every design was carefully patented. Ferragamo was a shrewd business man as well as a talented cobbler.

Guadagnino dedicates lavish attention to Ferragamo’s family ethic and his rise to fame  in the early years of the 20th century when as a 13 year old he set his heart on becoming a cobbler, even though it was considered ‘lowclass’, and sailed for America  from his small village of Bonito, Naples, just before the First World War.  Relatively soon he found success in the early years of Hollywood along with other pioneers who were finding their feet in this new playground.

The film is enlivened with interesting archive footage of the era and interviews with Martin Scorsese, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Ferragamo’s extensive family, including his wife who gives insight into their first meeting  (the couple married soon after and had six children).

Clearly Guadagnino is interested in the glamour of it all and the importance of family, tripping rather lightly over the commercial side of the business which saw some ups and downs particularly during the Depression when Ferragamo was forced to file for bankruptcy. And after his death at only 60, there is no explanation as to how his wife and eldest daughter Fiamma took over the business to ensure its continued success today. In two hours there was ample time to touch on this but clearly Guadagnino has erred on starry-eyed indulgence with his subject matter. And there is a so much to enjoy in this bumper Italian success story you somehow let him get away with it. MT




The Truman Show (1998) **** Netflix

Dir.: Peter Weir; Cast: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich, Natalie McElhone, Brian Delate; US 1998, 103 min.

A pioneer of arthouse cinema in his native Australia Peter Weir (*1944) has made fourteen features in a career spanning 44 years. The Cars that Ate Paris (1974) was followed by string of cult classics: Gallipoli (1981), Picnic Rock on Hanging (1975) Dead Poet’s Society (1981) and Witness (1985) to name a few. The Truman Show is an underrated gem, a stinging satire of meticulous execution. Written by Andrew Niccol (who directed Gattica), who clearly had in mind the ‘Twilight Zone”, Weir in the end insisted on a more upbeat approach for this amusing state of the nation allegory which is increasingly relevant today.

Thirty-year-old insurance salesman Truman Burbank (Carrey) lives a toy town existence in smalltime Florida with his preternaturally chipper wife Meryl (Linney). Everything appears to be perfect but Truman somehow feels incomplete in this saccharine existence and we soon discover why. He is actually taking part in a global reality TV show which has been running world-wide for with more than 10, 000 eps, kicking off with Truman’s live birth on TV.

Life becomes even more disjointed when when his drowned father, appears to resurface. Or is it his father? A radio car message, not meant for him but for ‘actors’ in his vicinity, makes Truman even more suspicious and then completely bewildered when the beam from a Klieg light narrowly misses him from somewhere up in the sky. College girl friend Sylvia (McElhone) has to be written out of the show when she tries to spill the beans, finding her way to Seahaven, to warn Truman before being dragged away by her ‘father’, claiming his daughter is schizophrenic and will be taken to the Fiji Islands.

One feeling persists for Truman in this anodyne nightmare. The love he felt for an enigmatic woman, and his efforts to reach her provide the film’s dramatic thrust and the underlying truth behind life’s charade. Meanwhile Cristof (Harris) the director and creator of the TV show, would rather drown him than release his money-making hero into the real world. Credits must go to PD Dennis Gassner for creating a Stepford Wives-like environment, and DoP Peter Biziou for executing the different forms of reality in all its fine detail.

In an interview in 1999 Weir told me he and his fellow Australian filmmakers, amongst them Bruce Beresford and Gillian Armstrong, really benefitted from the imported culture from the USA and Europe. “Culturally, we had a diet similar to Americans of our generation. Australians had no culture. We were simple people until recent times. We were Europeans in the bottom end of the world. As with a new colony, the Arts are the last thing to be developed. I think, my generation was the first to not withdraw, but go to London, as did the generation before us. But we stayed there. We were determined to make our mark, like the kid who has been the shortest at school and been bullied.”

Understatement is very much the watchword of Weir’s features, even those as placative as The Truman Show. Later on in his career with Witness and The year of Living Dangerously, he brought a delicate voyeurism to sex scenes, unlike many 1970 features, which showed too much naked skin. His response to why he chose this approach was revealing: “When the Hays Code operated between 1930 and 1966, directors were far more inventive in the way they showed love and lust. With the Hays Code gone, I tried to use the lessons I learnt; that less is more. You allow the viewers to join in making the film and apply their imagination. They are joining in and completing the movie with me”. AS




Only the Animals (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Dominik Moll; Cast: Damien Bonnard, Bastien Boillon, Laura Calamy, Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Roger ‘Bibesse’ N’drin, France/Germany 2019, 116′.

German born director Dominik Moll has been sadly neglected of late. Best known for his psychological thrillers Harry He’s Here to Help and Lemming and the hilarious News from Planet Mars (which never got a UK release) he came to Venice last year with one of the best features in the Venice Days line-up . Adapted from Colin Niel’s 2014 novel of the same name, this is an intense non-linear study of human behaviour, showing greed and possessiveness as the motivator that drives us all forward in the belief we are in love.

Most of the action takes part in a remote snowbound part of the French Massif Central, but the drama opens in the port city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. There Armand (N’drin) sets in motion a sort of Ariadne trail, with one woman paying with her life for the sins of others. Armand is a small time grafter who finds photos of Marion (Tereszkiewicz) on the net, setting her up as bait for the French farmer Denis (Menochet), who is married to insurance saleswoman Alice (Calamy).

She has fallen for one of her clients, Joseph, an unstable farmhand in Denis’ employer who has been disturbed by hallucinations since the death of his mother: “I only talk to the animals”, he tells Alice. Meanwhile back in Abidjan, Armand has succeeded in making Denis fall for Marion, extracting the first tranche of the money transfers from the farmer. Armand, who nicknames Marion ‘Armandine’ – even though he has never met her – then invents a precarious story making Denis fall into the trap of wanting to rescue Armandine – whatever the cost. But the real Marion in in a relationship with Evelyne (Tedeschi), who shares a holiday home with her husband Guillaume just down the road from Alice and Denis.

This is a complex plot, intricately put together by Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand (who worked with him on Harry). Suffice to say it keeps up absolutely glued to the screen, enthralled by a seductively simmering plot line, Patrick Ghiringhell’s camerawork providing plenty of visual thrills including panoramic images of the magnificent mountain region and the lively African port city. A spine-tingling score of strings primps the moments of tension.

The saying “money makes the world go round”  has never been so true, and in this particular drama it is spot on: internet and money transfers connect every part of the globe. And every character wants a part of the action. Apart from Joseph, who leaves no clues to his disappearance from the scene in this enigmatic mystery thriller. AS


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 



At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Netflix

Dir: Julian Schnabel | Cast: Willem Defoe, Oscar Isaac | US Drama | 111’

Julian Schnabel’s training as an artist informs another of his portraits of creativity like Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas and Jean Dominique Bauby. With At Eternity’s Gate he turns his camera on the tragedy of Vincent van Gogh with this luminous vision of the artist’s final days in Provence.

There have been many broad brush insights into the painter’s troubled life recorders on the big screen; the most recent, Loving Vincent (2017) attempted a living painted drama of the Dutchman, while Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015) explored the prodigious correspondence with his brother Theo. The reason to see this one is Willem Dafoe’s fabulous fleshing out of the artist in his febrile, sun-drenched final days after the breakdown of his fraught friendship with Gauguin (an unremarkable Oscar Isaac).

Schnabel captures the glowering intensity of Van Gogh’s desperate descent in paranoia but also portrays the artist as a gentle introvert who was as much misunderstood as maligned by the petit parochialism of his Provençal neighbours.

Benoit Delhomme’s hand-held camera hovers around feverishly and vivid yellow predominates. Intense and intimate close-ups pan out into flaming widescreen vistas vibrating in the summer heat. The worst element is Tatiana Lisovskaya’s screeching score that will make you run for the exit. It over-eggs the already over-baked picture of dismay and despair..

Jean Claude Carriere writes with Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg (the latter also his co-editor) to sketch out the broad strokes of the narrative which opens in Paris in the late 1880s where van Gogh is an already an outsider amongst the Artistes Independents du jour. His financier and brother Theo (a well-cast Rupert Friend) cannot sell his avant-garde works, Vincent opining: “God made me a painter for people who are not born yet”. Only Gauguin appreciates his talent but the two are incompatible as housemates. 

“Go south, Vincent,” Gauguin tells him when van Gogh complains of rainy skies and fog, whereupon he moves to Arles where he discovers his yen for landscapes which glow and shimmer in the heat as Delhomme’s visuals capture the textures of roots, earth, leaves as well as the soft windswept pastures. We feel for Vincent when a schoolteacher (Anne Consigny) openly mocks his work in front of her kids, and after a violent outburst he is sent away from the town, admitting his fear of going mad – but it could be that he just hates people and prefers solitude, which is understandable amongst these cackling idiots.

With Gauguin he enjoys a companionable time until success takes him to Paris whereupon van Gogh starts to unravel emotionally with the famous ear incident. A doctor (Vladimir Consigny) suggests some therapy, that merely confines the artist to a straitjacket. Ironically this comes at the same time as an influential Paris art critic praises his work as uniquely sensual. Meanwhile a priest (Mads Mikkelsen in thoughtful mode) damns his vision and calls his work ugly. 

This sensuous re-imagining of the artist’s final days belongs to Dafoe whose craggy features and piercing blue eyes convey a lost and melancholy soul whose  sensitivity and artistic genius have now made him a household name . MT

NOW ON NETFLIX. TRAILER courtesy of Curzon Cinemas | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 Winner Best Actor: Willem Dafoe

Bird Box (2018) **

Dir: Susanne Bier | Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Sarak Paulson, Travante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver | Sci-fi thriller | 124′

Susanne Bier is a well known as one of Denmark’s most distinguished auteurs. Her themes are universal in nature but their focus is intimate and often family-based, both on her TV and in big screen outings. As one of the original Danish Dogme pack, her drama Open Hearts brought her into the international spotlight in 2002. Bier was also the first female director to win a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a European Film Award.

This time, to her credit, she has decided to experiment with a dystopian sci-fi drama . Structurally flawed and not particularly enjoyable, despite its starry cast, BIRDBOX is a laudable effort but not one of her best. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, a run of the mill artist who has converted her small flat into a studio and is expecting the imminent arrival of a baby. But her ordinary life is catapulted into bizarre and tragic circumstances when a wave of unexplained mass suicides in Romania and Siberia turns the world upside down. Everywhere people display what newscasters term “psychotic behaviour” in the post-apocalyptic meltdown. Cars crash for no reason, and pedestrians wander willy nilly onto main roads, or shoot themselves in the head. To add to the weirdness of it all, Bier’s narrative jerks backwards and forwards showing Malorie’s reaction in the present to the madness that has gone before. Clearly this all resonates with a contemporary scenario where people have lost sight of their goals. This translates into a storyline where humans must protect their eyesight at all costs when outdoors, and are forced to be blindfold for fear of facing their worst nightmares.

Bullock is superbly cast exuding all the pragmatism and resilience she’s well known for (in Gravity and Speed) but for some reason she’s also looking after two children who are clearly not hers. And why the pregnancy into the bargain? The film opens well with the cataclysm but then descends into torpor in the claustrophobically awkward second act which takes place in a house where Malorie is hiding with arch misery-guts John Malkovich’s Douglas and a retired soldier (Rhodes). Later joining them is a sinister but chipper Tom Hollander. This interior strife clearly echoes what’s happening outside, and is only briefly leavened by Douglas’ discovery of a cache of booze. But even when the action moves into the forest the whole scenario is unconvincing. BIRDBOX brings nothing new to the dystopian apocalypse party, apart from the blindfolds – which are a distraction. Clearly the dark forces causing all the mayhem are inspired by Medusa’s Gorgon, but this all seems too far-fetched and strung out. Full marks for trying but let’s hope Bier returns to form in 2019. MT


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



So Help Me God (2017) Netflix

Dirs: Jean Libon, Yves Hinant | Doc | Belgium/France | 100′

This shocking trawl through the daily casebooks of a plucky Belgian judge reveals a catalogue of sexual depravity, murder and domestic violence on the part of her male – mostly Muslim – suspects, proves compelling viewing. But what makes it so entertaining, apart from the usual stories of men disciplining their wives; dominatrixes pleasuring their clients and murderers pleading to be let off so they don’t lose their council properties – is Judge Gruwez’ laconic and no-nonsense approach, taking everything in her stride, but not always taking prisoners, from her bureau in the heart of Brussels.

There is humour here too in a film that is often downright ludicrous. Many of the characters freely admit to their crimes but angrily accuse the judge herself of ‘ruining their lives’ with her legal sentencing enforced to keep them from reoffending. There are macabre moments too: Attending a DNA exhumation in the blazing heat under a pink umbrella, she claims: “it smelt bad, but there was a nice little breeze!” We also witness a woman’s account of how she killed her son, whom she suspected him of being possessed by The Devil.

Driving around in her 2CV, Maitresse Gruwez listens to opera, keeps a snow white pet rat and types her owns correspondence, despite her reduced manual dexterity.  The directors maintain a strictly detached observational approach to the bizarre subject matter, often filming at close quarters. This remarkable and uncensored film certainly lives up to its name, and proves that truth is invariably stranger than fiction. MT


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.


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

Hell or High Water (2016)

Dir: David Mackenzie. Writer: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine | 102min | UK/US | Crime Drama

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a rangy arthouse western with a witty political undercurrent courtesy of actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario. British director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) continues to impress with a Texas-set heist led by a laconic Jeff Bridges (with an undecipherable Texan drawl) And Texas is looking a bit tired round the edges as brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) embark on the dodgy business of robbing banks. The humour sparks from their cynical repartee as they go through the motions of petty crime for paltry financial gain.

Toby and Tanner get down to business early in the morning so as to steal a march on the banking staff before they are really geared up for the day. This is a high-risk business, and they only take small amounts of untraceable bills so it’s not worth the bank’s while pursuing charges. Toby, a divorcé, was very much the apple of his mother’s eye and the sole beneficiary of her will, leaving him in control of a family property on oil land which he has signed over to his kids in trust. The bank heists have become a way of life rather than a desperate need, but he still goes through the motions to support his brother Tanner, a career criminal who got nothing in the Will, so there is a kind of irony in the plotline that spikes the dark humour.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) has his eye firmly fixed on their trail through his Wayfarer sunglasses. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a Native American and they share an affectionate relationship – this is the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches – with some politically incorrect racial jibing – in the best possible taste. Marcus is on the verge of retiring but reticent to throw in the towel knowing that not much else awaits him but the inevitable, and the two of them  mooch around town checking in at the same old diner where the feisty old local waitress would certainly give them the cold shoulder if they went too far off the main menu selection by ordering the trout like some out-of-towner did back in 1987.

Nominated for a fistful of Oscars this is an upbeat crime thriller with some vicious dust-ups and convincing action scenes between Marcus, Toby and Tanner that feel at home in the sun-baked landscape of New Mexico and Arizona. MT


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


’71 (2014) Netflix

Dirr: Yann Demange | Writer: Gregory Burke | Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris, Paul Popplewell, Charlie Murphy, Sam Hazeldine | 99min  Action Drama   UK

TV director Yann Demange (Top Boy) focuses on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland in his feature debut ’71, in a tightly-plotted narrative seen through the eyes of a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) left behind by his unit following a street riot. For anyone alive during the early Seventies, Northern Ireland was like another ‘Brexit’ only far more deadly – constantly filling the airwaves, TV and radio, with horrors like ‘tarring and feathering’ and daily reports of deaths and bomb blasts ‘in the Bogside area’. The Troubles’ and the terrible internecine warring in Northern Ireland is brought back with visceral clarity, and ‘71 contains some of the best street combat scenes ever committed to film. Demange has a masterful control of his subject-matter and delivers an utterly convincing and gripping thriller with a strong central performance from a young Jack Connell and a superb all-British cast including stalwarts of the genre Sean Harris, Sam Hazeldine and Paul Anderson. Gritty and unmissable. MT


Yves Saint Laurent (2014) Netflix

Dir: Jalil Lespert | Wri: Laurence Benaiim, Jacques Fieschi, Marie-Pierre Huster, Jalil Lespert | Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski, Marianne Basler | France, Biopic drama 104′

The legendary designer and couturier, Yves Saint Laurent, had two biopics dedicated to him in 2014. The first is this one from actor turned director Jalil Lespert, the second is Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent.which won the Palme Dog at Cannes for Best Doggy Death scene played by pooch Moujik.

For fifty years YSL was the creative force that shaped the International fashion scene with designs celebrating haute couture and paving the way for prêt-à-porter to gain respectability for those with more dash than cash.

Lespert takes the first (and most significant) part of YSL’s career, which deals with his rise to fame; his significant relationship with his business partner, Pierre Bergé, and his emotional decline. This biopic is meticulously-crafted in conveying the importance of style and correct dressing, epitomising French style through wearable elegance. The film features his immaculate designs and particularly his appreciation of the female body in celebrating voluptuous curves and waists (his sister and mother modelled for him in the early days) unlike Chanel whose boxy designs focused on a more gamine look, highlighted by Audrey Hepburn.

After a childhood in Algeria, then a French colony, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent moved to Paris to study fashion design. The film opens in 1953, as Christian Dior appoints him in-house designer. After a dalliance with one of the favourite in-house models (Charlotte Le Bon), he falls for Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who is to become his business partner and the love of his life.

On Dior’s sudden death, he is drafted into the army but escapes conscription in Algeria, on emotional grounds. The House of Dior then sacks him and YSL takes them to court, and wins. Lespert’s film works best in these early years when it deals with YSL’s perfectionist nature and his appreciation of the impeccable professionalism surrounding French design standards, and the seriousness with which the French treat the industry.

Lespert is also at pains to flesh-out his struggle with homosexuality in fifties France, and illustrates how Pierre Bergé was such a vital partner, providing a business brain and an emotional anchor due to their strong chemistry; showing how this was a compatible love match not just a sexual exploit, and also how the two strayed from their relationship, eventually making it stronger.

After they form their own fashion house, YSL moves with the times developing a groundbreaking prét-a-porter collection that responded to a new generation with sportier and more sexy, shape-flattering clothes for women such as the ‘Le Smoking’, thigh boots, tight trousers and swaggeringly sophisticated trouser suits.

Yves St Laurent copy

Stylish to look at, the film follows the couture shows on the catwalk, charting how the collections developed creatively demonstrating the importance of business acumen in the face of growing competition from the likes of Courrèges in the late sixties. As the brand grows in profile, the couple consort with the Jet Set, moving between Paris and Marrakech where the drama loosens up as an exotic twist tracks Saint-Laurent’s louche descent into drugs and alcohol – a reaction to his stiff upbringing and Bergen’s controlling influence. This segment also deals with Yves’ friendships with Loulou de la Falaise and Nicole Dorier and also his pioneering fascination with non-white models and ethnic designs, and this is accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack of hits from the era.  The narrative then wanders into more predictable ’sex, drugs and rock-roll’ territory rather than exploring Saint Laurent’s more personal love life.

Guillaume Gallienne is spectacular as Pierre Bergé, evoking not only his acute business and PR skill and in-depth understanding of Saint-Laurent, but also his aching desire to be seen as more than just a business man; and this shows through in Marrakech when his stiff style is at odds with the other relaxed creatives hanging out there.  Pierre Niney physically inhabits the role of Yves-Saint-Laurent. Not only does he look like the designer but he also embodies his volatility to perfection: his acute shyness in myriad expressions of painful anguish, mercurial anger and also his dignified restraint.

The film ends abruptly but perhaps at best the possible juncture for Saint Laurent as the later years of his life were less ground-breaking than his rise to fame. On reflection, a more in-depth examination of the earlier years would have made more fascinating viewing from a fashion point of view, with less of the repetitive drug-fuelled years which reveal nothing out of the ordinary, but create dramatic heft. Lespert’s film is at its best when charting the fashion scene of the fifties and early sixties and his family influences. Watching Pierre Niney, though, you cannot help but feel you’re in the presence of the great designer himself. MT



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