Batman (1943) – Chapter 7: The Phoney Doctor

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 16m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, William Austin, Charles Middleton, John Maxwell, Charles C. Wilson, Gus Glassmire

With the help of some strategically fallen cross beams, Batman (Wilson) is shielded from the effects of the explosion and emerges unscathed from the rubble. Back in civvies as Bruce Wayne, he warns Ken Colton (Middleton) to be wary of any visitors to his hotel room, and then heads to police headquarters where he and Dick (Croft) are able to identify one of Daka’s hirelings from a mug shot. Meanwhile, Colton does exactly what he was warned not to do, and allows a man claiming to be a doctor into his room. Soon he’s drugged and being taken to Daka’s hideout. There, Colton learns what’s happened to his friend, Martin Warren (Glassmire) and tries to escape. Bruce and Dick find out Colton has been abducted, and a clue leads them to the Nakina Laundry. As Batman and Robin, the pair encounter a group of Daka’s men and a fight ensues. Batman is over-powered and he falls to the bottom of a lift shaft. Daka’s men make their escape, but not before sending the lift down to crush the Caped Crusader to death…

Having almost reached the midway point, Chapter 7 provides us with the shortest entry yet – and that’s with the first two minutes including a recap of the end of Chapter 6. But it’s another episode that packs a lot in, as if relishing the challenge of having such a short time in which to make an impact. As a result we’re spared some of the more tiresome aspects of the serial so far, such as Daka’s pontificating, and Bruce and Dick waiting around for the next clue to drop into their laps. We get to see a little more of Bruce’s Young Scientist chemical set, continue to wonder why it is that every one of Daka’s henchmen has the same handprint (could it be that Daka’s monitor is stuck on Henchman No. 5 and he hasn’t realised?), marvel at how different the colour of Colton’s beard is from the hair on his head, and wait for another comic one-liner from Captain Arnold. Even the obligatory bout of fisticuffs seems to have been bettered choreographed this time around, and there’s some surprisingly subtle moments of humour in there as well. This entry doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of Chapter 5, but it’s pretty darn close.

Of course, we’re part way through a mini-storyline that has yet to fully play out, what with Colton’s radium mine in Daka’s sights, but the doldrum that was Chapter 6 put to one side, the serial seems to be picking up increasing speed and purpose. Even the scene where Colton shows off the gun he keeps up his sleeve isn’t as redundant as it feels because there’s a payoff to it later on. And the script makes Batman and Robin far more proactive than they’ve been at any time previously. It’s almost as if what’s gone before has been the filler needed to get a fifteen chapter serial to the point where it can legitimately take off and become really entertaining. It’s reflected in the performances, with Wilson and Croft shrugging off the over-earnest nature of their characterisations in favour of going with the narrative flow, and Middleton – one of those unsung supporting actors you can always rely on – providing energy and grit as the two-toned Colton. But while there’s much that’s good about Chapter 7, there is one aspect that is getting a little wearing. Just once, it would be nice to see an episode end without having to wonder just how is Batman going to survive this time…?

Rating: 7/10 – an above average entry, Chapter 7 zips along at a good pace with no shortage of incident, and helps to make Batman look and feel as if it has more of a purpose now; stripped back and straightforward seems to be working, something that it’s to be hoped is continued in Chapter 8.

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The Tenth Victim (1965)

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Original title: La decima vittima

D: Elio Petri / 89m

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli, Salvo Randone, Massimo Serato, Milo Quesada, Luce Bonifassy, George Wang

In the future, war has been eradicated thanks to The Big Hunt, a televised form of mass entertainment that involves people with violent tendencies taking it in turns to be Hunter or Hunted. The Hunter knows everything about their prey, while the Hunted has no idea who might be trying to kill them. There is a financial reward for the winner of each round, and if a contestant successfully despatches their tenth victim then they win a million dollars and can retire from the game. Caroline Meredith (Andress) is facing her tenth hunt; her intended victim is Marcello Poletti (Mastroianni), who has survived six hunts. With sponsorship allowing Caroline the chance to stage the grandest of all televised kills, she sets about luring Marcello to his death by pretending to be a journalist who wants to interview him about the sexual proclivities of Italian men. But Marcello becomes suspicious of her behaviour, and soon the pair are involved in an increasingly convoluted game of bluff and double-bluff, a game that will test the limits of the feelings they are starting to have for each other…

In many ways, Italian movies from the Sixties were startling creations, and unlike any others from around the world. Adapted from the short story, Seventh Victim (1953) by Robert Sheckley, The Tenth Victim fits neatly into that category, its tale of intrigue and romance bolstered by futuristic costume designs, a visual style that fuses images of old Rome with avant-garde projections of its future version, and a reckless approach to the narrative that serves the movie well for the most part, but which also undermines it completely at other times. It’s a sci-fi thriller with earnest romantic leanings that don’t quite gel into a convincing whole, but it’s also a movie that provides sights and sounds that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else (even in other, similar Italian movies of the period). Where else would you see a bra that fires bullets, or a mechanical toy animal that Marcello calls his only friend, or a seat that catapults an unlucky sitter into a nearby pool with a crocodile in it? Bizarre moments like these, where the script goes off on a creative tangent, help the movie overcome some of its more pedestrian passages, but there aren’t enough to overcome the feeling that the material is being stretched too thin in places, and to no obvious benefit.

That said, the game of bluff and double-bluff played out by Caroline and Marcello does have its moments, with each trying to manoeuvre the other into place so their kill can have the most impact. Andress is earnest and determined as Caroline, both in terms of her character’s growing love for Marcello, and her single-minded pursuit of the game’s ultimate prize. But while Andress – unexpectedly – proves to be very good indeed in her role, the same can’t be said of Mastroianni, who is let down by the script’s indecision in how to portray him. One minute he’s looking smug, the next he’s angry, the moment after that he’s as amorous as a typical Italian male… and so on. He’s not helped by Petri’s scattershot approach to directing, with the future director of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) unable to maintain a consistent pace or tone throughout. There are very definite highs in the movie, but there are also very damning lows, and it’s this inconsistency that stops the movie from being as carefree and as enjoyable as it could have been.

Rating: 7/10 – while there’s a lot going on visually – all of it captured by Gianni Di Venanzo’s exemplary cinematography – the story suffers somewhat, making The Tenth Victim both invigorating and disappointing at the same time; with the main storyline falling victim to a series of implausible built-in plot developments, the movie is as preposterous as many others of its kind from the Sixties, but thanks to a frothy sense of its own absurdity, overcomes many of its faults by sheer force of indomitable Italian will.

A Brief Word About Cineworld Unlimited

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Here in the UK, we have a cinema chain called Cineworld. They were the first to introduce a monthly subscription – called Unlimited – and the main attraction is that for a set price each month (currently from £17.90), you can see as many movies as you want and as many times as you want. This sounds like a great deal – and it is – but beneath the surface glamour of such an offer, there are a couple of restrictions that don’t seem to add up.

First, if you’re an Unlimited member, you can only make up to three online bookings at any one time. This seems counter-intuitive to what Unlimited is supposed to mean. Say you’re looking at the current listings. It’s a surprisingly good week at the cinema in the UK and there’s a bunch of movies you want to see. Being a major movie buff, you naturally want to see as many as possible, and using the kind of judicious organising that only the truly obsessive would spend time working out, you realise you can see four movies all on the same day (sure, you might end up going from one movie straight into the next with only a few minutes to spare but, hey, that’s all part of the fun). But thanks to the cap Cineworld have placed on online orders, you can only book three of them. To see the remaining movie, you’ll have to visit the cinema on the day and hope that a) the screening you need isn’t sold out, and b) if it isn’t, that you can get the seat that you want.

It doesn’t get any better at the cinema, either. Say you pick your day’s worth of movie watching and decide to just head on down to your local Cineworld, card in hand and with a serious desire to put a dent in their hot dog (or popcorn) and Pepsi Max supplies. You get to the counter and try to get tickets for each movie on your list there and then. Except you can’t. You can’t “buy” tickets in advance at the cinema, you have to “buy” each one before each separate screening. And nobody tells you why. Not even Cineworld on their website. The only way you can book in advance – drum roll, please – is online. And we know where that gets us. Now is that crazy, or is that crazy?

Membership or no membership, this is pretty poor in terms of customer service. And by extolling the virtues of a subscription deal that says as many movies as you want and as many times as you want, it seems that at the same time, Cineworld are content to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of their members actually getting to see the movies they want to see. And again, that’s just crazy.

Million Dollar Legs (1932)

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D: Edward F. Cline / 59m

Cast: Jack Oakie, W.C. Fields, Andy Clyde, Lyda Roberti, Susan Fleming, Hugh Herbert, Ben Turpin, George Barbier, Dickie Moore

In the country of Klopstokia, where the women are all called Angela and the men are all called George, brush salesman Migg Tweeny (Oakie) runs into a young woman (named Angela, naturally) and immediately the pair fall in love. Angela (Fleming) takes Migg to meet her father, who just happens to be the country’s president (Fields). The president is at odds with his cabinet. Led by the Secretary of the Treasury (Herbert), the cabinet is plotting to overthrow him as his policies – or lack of them – have resulted in Klopstokia teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. When Migg realises that many Klopstokians are natural athletes, he suggests the country takes part in the upcoming Olympic Games; if they win, they’ll also collect a large cash reward being offered by Migg’s boss (Barbier). The cabinet take steps to sabotage the president’s efforts and hire femme fatale Mata Machree (Roberti) to seduce the athletes (why isn’t she called Angela?). Only a last-minute intervention by Angela keeps the country’s Olympic dream alive, and it comes down to the last event, the weightlifting competition, to decide if Klopstokia will avoid financial ruin…

If you’re in any doubt as to what kind of comedy is being served up by Million Dollar Legs, then an opening caption should explain everything (as it does about Klopstokia): Chief Exports … Goats and Nuts. Chief Imports … Goats and Nuts. Chief Inhabitants … Goats and Nuts. Yes, we’re in a weird approximation of a European country where anything goes. There’s parody, slapstick, farce, and every other form of comedic license you can think of. There are visual gags galore, razor sharp one-liners, and all courtesy of a group of comedians whose own individual (and often contrasting) styles somehow come together to make the movie one of the most consistently funny releases Paramount ever produced. With a script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Henry Myers that was originally written for the Marx Brothers (who turned it down), Million Dollar Legs is so carefree and unconcerned with being disciplined that the viewer has no choice but to go along with it all. Scenes often exist just to be funny, and they bear no relation to anything that’s gone before, or will do in the future. It’s like watching a movie that has only a tenuous sense of story and plot, is more than aware of it, but just doesn’t feel it’s important.

There’s so much to take in and enjoy. Fields ditches his standard curmudgeonly persona and appears looser and more relaxed than usual; the result is a performance that sparkles with comic invention. He’s in good company, too. Oakie shines as the loveable lunkhead he always played so well, Clyde is restraint personified as the president’s major-domo (and fastest man on two legs), Herbert makes his character’s shifty and obsequious behaviour a constant source of amusement, and Turpin pops up unexpectedly here and there as a black cloaked spy with a notebook. Roberti is equally effective in a pastiche Marlene Dietrich role that sees her throw her hips around with the kind of wild abandon that could injure someone. Ostensibly in charge of everything, Cline has no option but to stand back and let his cast loose on the material. Anarchy and preposterousness ensue in equal measure, with side orders of silliness and absurdity. Paramount never made another movie even remotely as harebrained as this one, and though at first glance the Marx Brothers’ rejection of the script might imply that this won’t be as good as one of their own movies, nothing could be further from the truth.

Rating: 9/10 – hugely enjoyable, and with its experienced cast working in effortless fashion, Million Dollar Legs is the kind of movie that modern audiences would be tempted to overlook – and that would be a travesty; alive with comic possibilities and fizzing with imagination, this is hilarious, inspired stuff indeed, and packs more into its relatively short running time than some features manage over twice the length.

NOTE: The trailer below is for a special screening of the movie held in 2010.

Paterno (2018)

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D: Barry Levinson / 105m

Cast: Al Pacino, Riley Keough, Kathy Baker, Greg Grunwald, Annie Parisse, Larry Mitchell, Michael Mastro, Benjamin Cook, Kristen Bush, Peter Jacobson, Sean Cullen, Jim Johnson

In October 2011, Joe Paterno (Pacino) wins his 409th game as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team. At the ripe old age of eighty-four, Paterno has been with Penn State for sixty-one years, and is a local legend; a statue dedicated to him refers to him as “a coach, an educator, and a humanitarian”. But when a former assistant coach, now retired, called Jerry Sandusky (Johnson) is indicted on charges of child sexual abuse, Paterno finds himself embroiled in the case as speculation mounts that he was aware of Sandusky’s behaviour and did nothing to stop it. A local journalist, Sara Ganim (Keough), is the first person to fully investigate and report on the story, and she establishes a rapport with one of Sandusky’s victims, a student called Aaron (Cook), who was the first to come forward about the abuse. As the ensuing week plays out, the story broadens to include senior members of the Penn State faculty and the role they played in downplaying historical accusations made against Sandusky, accusations that they were aware of. As further accusations of wrong-doing are made, Paterno and his family find themselves trying to deal with a situation that, increasingly, they can’t control…

The question at the heart of Paterno isn’t how could a paedophile like Jerry Sandusky get away with what he did for so long, and nor is it how could his peers have ignored it for so long and so deliberately. Instead, the question is: how likely is it that Joe Paterno, given his standing at Penn State, didn’t know about it? As the story unfolds, and Debora Cahn and John C. Richards’ script reveals more and more about the levels of culpability that allowed Sandusky such a free rein for so long, each revelation serves to make it appear more and more unlikely that Paterno could have been as in the dark as he claimed. And as the movie progresses, we see Paterno’s initial refusal to get involved give way to moments of tempered reluctance, unwarranted bravado, and desperate agitation. Pacino – back on form after a string of less than sterling performances – shows both the physical frailty of the man, and the emotional reticence that informs his behaviour when challenged as to his awareness of Sandusky’s crimes. Thanks to both the script and his portrayal, Paterno isn’t just the legendary football coach beloved of everyone, but a human puzzle whose pieces don’t quite fit together as neatly as they should.

Pacino’s performance is cleverly constructed and detailed, and serves as the movie’s strongest suit. You’re never quite sure if Paterno is feeling guilty for what he did, or for what he didn’t do, and it’s this ambiguity that makes the movie so watchable. (It’s almost a shame that the movie ends the way it does.) Also making something of a comeback, director Levinson ensures the immediacy of the story remains paramount, and there are parts of the movie that play out like a thriller as more and more of the truth is revealed. Shot through with carefully chosen moments where the soundtrack is  teeming with snatches of angry, accusing, or shocked vox pop, the movie is dramatic without overstepping its remit, and even the scenes of people chanting Paterno’s name outside his home are based on fact. There are good supporting turns from Keough and Baker (as Paterno’s wife, Sue), and though this never “opens out” due to what must have been a tight budget, Marcell Rév’s cinematography perfectly complements the claustrophobia of Paterno’s unofficial “house arrest” while matters were decided without him.

Rating: 8/10 – featuring Pacino’s most effective and rewarding screen performance for some time, Paterno rightly keeps its focus on its leading character while also exposing the hypocrisy and deception going on around him; an intelligent but modest drama that packs an emotional wallop when it needs to, it’s also a movie that successfully avoids being exploitative or insensitive.

Every Reason to Forget (2018)

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Original title: Todas As Razões Para Esquecer

aka All the Reasons to Forget

D: Pedro Coutinho / 90m

Cast: Johnny Massaro, Bianca Comparato, Regina Braga, Maria Laura Nogueiro, Victor Mendes, Thiago Amaral, Rafael Primot

Antonio (Massaro) is an ad designer whose relationship with Sofia (Comparato) comes to an abrupt end after two years. Convincing himself that she made him end it, Antonio stays temporarily with his cousin, Carla (Nogueira), and her husband, Felipe (Primot). Carla and Felipe are having marriage problems and are seeing a couples therapist, Dr Elisa (Braga). When it’s suggested that Antonio should see her so he can make sense of his break-up from Sofia, he goes along with the idea without considering if therapy will really help him. While Dr Elisa challenges Antonio to open up and express his feelings, he takes advice from Carla and his friends, neighbour Deco (Amaral), and would-be writer Gabriel (Mendes), and tries to win Sofia back. His efforts don’t work as planned, and it’s not until Dr Elisa prescribes a certain mix of medication that Antonio finds his life improving, and things getting arguably better. But will Antonio’s newly found peace of mind help in winning back Sofia…?

A romantic comedy about one man’s tragic inability to understand the nuances and particularities of romantic relationships, Every Reason to Forget is an amiable, pleasant enough movie that somehow makes a virtue of its main character’s vapid intelligence and startling short-sightedness. Antonio isn’t just clueless, he’s actively clueless. He’s like a child who keeps burning his fingers on the stove but can’t work out why it keeps happening. He knows there’s a reason why he and Sofia are no longer together but he can’t work out what it is. This makes it nigh impossible for him to move on with his life, and why he makes so many mistakes in trying to do so. Faced with such an uphill struggle, Antonio resorts to measures such as finding a match on Tinder, and using relationship questions from a teen magazine to highlight how much more in tune he is. Amusing as much of this is though, writer-director Coutinho – making his feature debut – never really clarifies if Antonio is doing all this to win Sofia back (initially most likely), or for himself (increasingly most likely). And why he’s the way he is isn’t explored at all, leaving the viewer to wonder just how his relationship with Sofia lasted for two whole years in the first place.

As the emotionally switched off Antonio, Massaro has a certain vulnerable charm that works well for the character, and when the movie gets a little darker – which isn’t too often – he’s not afraid to make Antonio appear selfish and inconsiderate. Massaro also has a knack for keeping Antonio sympathetic in these moments, and though he’s someone for whom the art of poorly focused navel-gazing seems to be a built-in personality trait, Massaro’s portrayal of Antonio is effective without feeling contrived. There’s good support too from Braga as Antonio’s sex obsessed therapist, and Nogueira as the cousin who, in a US remake, would likely be the character he ends up with. Coutinho keeps things moving at an even pace, but in doing so, makes this occasionally feel like it’s dragging, and it’s not as willingly dramatic as it could have been. Despite this, and despite Antonio’s perpetual misunderstanding of his own imperfections, Coutinho does his best to make this an amusing and somewhat pleasant diversion, even though you might be wondering if there’s ever going to be any depth to the proceedings. The answer is yes, but with reservations as to when they do.

Rating: 5/10 – too monotone in its dramatic and visual approach – Joao Padua’s cinematography sometimes feels as if there wasn’t enough time for a proper set up – Every Reason to Forget is genial enough but lets its main character off the hook for his behaviour once too often; still, Coutinho shows promise, and with a tighter script in the future, should do much better, but until then this outing will have to serve as a fair attempt at putting a Brazilian twist on a well established genre.

NOTE: Currently there isn’t a trailer with English subtitles available.

I Can’t Think Straight (2008)

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D: Shamim Sarif / 79m

Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Antonia Frering, Dalip Tahil, Nina Wadia, Ernest Ignatius, Siddiqua Akhtar, Amber Rose Revah, Anya Lahiri, Kimberly Jaraj, Sam Vicenti, Rez Kempton, Darwin Shaw

The daughter of wealthy Christian Palestinians (Frering, Tahil), Tala (Ray) is preparing to get married. Hani (Shaw) is a handsome young businessman, and her fourth fiancé. The wedding is due to take place in Jordan, but Tala lives and works in London. There she meets Leyla (Sheth), the girlfriend of Ali (Kempton), one of Tala’s old college friends. There’s an instant attraction between the two, and soon they are finding excuses to spend time together. A trip to Oxford with one of Tala’s sisters, Lamia (Lahiri), leads to Leyla and Tala sleeping together. But where this emboldens Leyla to acknowledge and embrace her sexuality, Tala cites her family and cultural traditions as reasons why she can’t commit to a relationship with Leyla, and this causes a wedge between them. They go their separate ways, with Tala preparing to enter into a marriage that isn’t what she wants, and Leyla choosing to make a life-changing decision. Time passes, but though both women retain their feelings for each other, it takes one more life-changing decision to allow them the chance of being happy together…

A lighter, less dramatic (and contemporary) version of Sarif’s previous movie, The World Unseen, I Can’t Think Straight is also another adaptation by Sarif of one of her novels. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale where Leyla represents Sarif, and reunites Ray and Sheth in similar roles from The World Unseen. It’s a breezy effort, more concerned with applying humour to events than focusing on the drama, and making the romance between Tala and Leyla more predictable. It’s a movie where the outcome can be guessed within the first ten minutes, and where each character fits neatly into a prescribed stereotype, particularly both sets of parents, with the mothers portrayed as controlling, and resistant to truly supporting their daughters’ happiness, while the fathers are entirely accepting and sympathetic. With the majority of the characters being so agreeable, Sarif has to work hard to make Tala and Leyla’s burgeoning relationship the source of any conflict. And when she does, the same issue that hampers the script elsewhere also comes to the fore: it’s all too inevitable to be completely convincing.

Along the way we’re treated to picture postcard shots of London and Oxford, a battery of supporting characters who are all painted in broad brush strokes, and a polo match where Tala’s hair and make up are immaculate – after she’s taken part (the script does acknowledge this, but even so…). But what really doesn’t help is the dialogue. Clunky and awkward, and often proving the better of the cast – including Ray and Sheth – Sarif and co-screenwriter Kelly Moss have concocted some truly cringeworthy lines that  call attention to themselves when they’re uttered. It’s not helpful either that the script is peppered with lumbering references to the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and Tala’s mother voices as many anti-Semitic remarks as she can manage in any given scene. Thankfully, Ray and Sheth manage to make more of Tala and Leyla than is on the page, though the rest of the performances remain perfunctory throughout. As that commonplace conundrum, the difficult second movie, I Can’t Think Straight lacks the persuasiveness and focus of Sarif’s first movie, and suffers accordingly. It’s lightweight and somewhat superficial, and unsure if it’s a rom-com or a rom-dram. In the end it’s an ungainly combination of the two, and though there are occasional moments where the script does work, there aren’t enough of them to make this anything more than disappointing.

Rating: 4/10 – a movie that betrays its low budget production values, and gives the impression its script needed more of a polish, I Can’t Think Straight tells its lesbian love story like it was a meringue, i.e. light and insubstantial; Sarif does her own novel a minimum of justice, and there’s a complacency to the material that hampers it further, making this something of a curio and nothing more.

Batman (1943) – Chapter 6: Poison Peril

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 17m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Charles Middleton, John Maxwell

Unable to exit the stricken Lockheed plane before it crashes, Batman (Wilson) instead just walks clear of the wreckage, but not before saving the mechanics who had been zombified by Dr Daka (Naish). In doing so he discovers the snazzy silver caps that Daka uses to control people, and takes one with him. When Daka is informed of the failure of his mission, there’s another setback when the submarine he’s been in contact with is blown to bits by the US Navy. Meanwhile, Linda (Patterson) tells Bruce and Dick (Croft) about an old friend of theirs, Ken Colton (Middleton). Colton has struck it big with a radium mine, and is in town to see Linda’s Uncle Martin, who helped him buy it. Daka has Linda’s home bugged and learns about Colton’s mine but not its location. Colton is attacked by Daka’s men but Batman and Robin come to the rescue. When Daka makes another attempt on Colton’s life by luring him to an abandoned factory, Alfred (Austin) poses as Colton. Batman and Robin burst in, but Robin is soon incapacitated, and Batman knocked unconscious just as toxic chemicals receiving an electrical charge bring the factory down on top of the Caped Crusader…

Though Chapter 5 is definitely the silliest entry yet, Chapter 6 tries its best to match it. That it doesn’t succeed is due to the introduction of Colton and the latest sub-plot to revolve around Daka’s pursuit of large quantities of radium. Having to spend time setting this up, and planting the suspicion that Daka may eventually start targeting Bruce Wayne, this entry certainly has its moments – and Batman walking out of the plane wreckage without a scratch on him is easily one of them. Daka’s role is affected too, with the script requiring him to do a lot of knob-twiddling, while uttering the classic line (about Bruce Wayne), “That simpering idiot could never be the Batman!” And once again Alfred is placed in danger by impersonating someone else, and doing so in such a constipated manner that he and his fake beard aren’t fooling anyone. It’s all hands on deck on the good ship USS Implausible. The script follows its by now standard pattern: Batman cheats death, Daka plots something new, Bruce and Dick find out about said plot, there are fisticuffs, and then Batman is put in harm’s way at the end of the episode.

The introduction of Middleton as Colton seems promising enough but he’s very much the latest deus ex machina for Daka’s plotting, and in some respects he’s a replacement for the returning Linda. While she manages to get through the entire chapter without being put in danger, Colton is soon incapacitated and made to rest up (though it’s not so bad that he loses consciousness, or is forgotten about). But what is really noticeable is the apparent reluctance Batman has in doing anything with the clues he’s discovered, such as Daka’s radium gun, or the snazzy silver caps of Daka’s zombified henchmen. Just when you think, “this must be the episode where Batman starts to take the fight to Daka”, the script continues to do the opposite. Frustrating as this is, the formula remains king, and though a showdown between the two is inevitable, it’s obviously not going to happen soon. And so we have another poorly choreographed scrap between Batman and Robin and Daka’s goons – actually two such scraps – and the unexpected development of the Caped Crusader having a glass jaw (he’s been knocked out before, but not so easily). But all of this at least leads to the usual question: just how is Batman going to survive this time…?

Rating: 6/10 – the stop/start nature of the serial is in evidence here as yet another sub-plot tries to get off the ground without appearing flimsy and not particularly well thought out; Chapter 6 fizzes here and there, but there are too many moments where the effort to keep Batman from feeling strained and/or under-developed leads to just such an assumption.

A Brief Word About R. Lee Ermey and Vittorio Taviani

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With the recent death of Miloš Forman, this past weekend has been made even sadder by the passing of actor R. Lee Ermey, and director Vittorio Taviani.

R. Lee Ermey (24 March 1944 – 15 April 1987)

A character actor whose career blossomed thanks to his portrayal of Gny Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), Ermey was the epitome of the gruff, no-nonsense soldier he so often portrayed. He was also a much in demand voice actor, lending his easily recognisable tones to the likes of Starship Troopers: The Series (1999-2000), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2009-2011), and of course, the Toy Story trilogy. Ermey’s military background made him somewhat typecast, but he did have solid supporting roles in movies such as Fletch Lives (1989), Dead Man Walking (1995), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). His signature role as Hartman, though – one of the few occasions where Kubrick allowed an actor to improvise his dialogue – will always be remembered for its vitriolic intensity, and some of the most inventive insults ever committed to screen: “Private Pyle, your ass looks like about a hundred and fifty pounds of chewed bubblegum!”

Vittorio Taviani (20 September 1929 – 15 April 1987)

With his brother, Paolo, Vittorio Taviani was repsonsible for some of the most impressive Italian movies of the last fifty years, including Under the Sign of Scorpio (1969), the Palme d’Or prize-winning Padre Padrone (1977), The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982), Good Morning, Babylon (1987), and Caesar Must Die (2012). Also a writer, a producer and an editor like his brother, Taviani favoured a poetic, visually arresting style that is both attractive to watch, and an often powerful backdrop for the stories he and his brother told. He began his career as a journalist, but switched to making movies in the Sixties, a decision that allowed him to express his own personal political beliefs through features such as A Man for Burning (1962) (which the brothers co-directed with Valentino Orsini). Inspired to make movies by a chance viewing of Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà (1946), Taviani and his brother have given us a wonderful selection of movies that explore human truths with honesty and sincerity, and which have held up a mirror to the irrepressible nature of Italian culture.

10 Reasons to Remember Miloš Forman (1932-2018)

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Miloš Forman (18 February 1932 – 13 April 2018)

Miloš Forman once said, “It all begins in the script. If what’s happening is interesting, it doesn’t matter where you shoot from, people will be interested to watch. If you write something boring, you can film from mosquitoes’ underpants and it will still be boring.” Forman knew the value of a good script, and even a cursory look at the movies he made reveals a grasp of that essential provision. Though he was a master visualist, and an expert at creating the relevant mood for each of his projects, his affinity for the written word always made his movies stand out from the crowd. Through dialogue he could reach the emotional heart of a character and show that emotional heart to audiences around the world. From his beginnings in his native Czechoslovakia, through to the movies he made as a continual outsider within the Hollywood system, Forman was a director who pursued the projects that interested him, and through doing so, ensured that his body of work would remain fascinating and thought-provoking.

At a young age, he wanted to be a theatrical producer. He attended boarding school with the likes of future Czech president Václav Havel, and future movie makers Ivan Passer and Jerzy Skolimowski. He studied screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and later worked for Alfréd Radok, the creator of Laterna Magika. He began making movies in the early Sixties, creating a comedic style that brought him to the attention of festival programmers around the world, and soon to much wider audiences than could be found in Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring of 1968 pushed Forman into leaving his home country, and he wound up in the US, where after a good but inauspicious start, he was hired to direct an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckkoo’s Nest – Forman always said that he was hired because he was within the producers’ price range. He won an Oscar for his efforts on the movie, and from there on, the future of his career was assured (he won a second Oscar for his work on Amadeus).

Forman continued to make intelligent, critically well received movies across a variety of genres. But though his movies didn’t always do well at the box office, his standing within the movie community increased with every project. Even a “lesser” Forman movie, such as Goya’s Ghosts (2006), had moments where his artistry and skill as a director helped transform the material into something better than originally envisaged. He worked particularly well with actors, and steered the likes of Jack Nicholson, Brad Dourif, Elizabeth McGovern, F. Murray Abraham, and Woody Harrelson to Oscar nominations (Nicholson and Abraham, of course, won). Forman was also a staunch advocate of individual freedoms, and was wise to the irony of fleeing one country (Czechoslovakia) where censorship was directly applied by the State, to another country (the US) where indirect censorship applied by the studios, often meant it was more difficult to make the kinds of movies he was interested in making. But what was most important to him was that he liked to have fun when making a movie, even if he was making a serious drama, and in that respect, his movies retain an engaging, sprightly quality to them, a liveliness that helps keep them feeling fresh even after repeated viewings.

1 – A Blonde in Love (1965)

2 – The Fireman’s Ball (1967)

3 – Taking Off (1971)

4 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

5 – Hair (1979)

6 – Ragtime (1981)

7 – Amadeus (1984)

8 – Valmont (1989)

9 – The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

10 – Man on the Moon (1999)

British Classics – An Inspector Calls (1954)

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D: Guy Hamilton / 80m

Cast: Alistair Sim, Olga Lindo, Arthur Young, Brian Worth, Eileen Moore, Bryan Forbes, Jane Wenham

For the Birlings, a prosperous middle-class family living in the Yorkshire town of Brumley, an evening celebrating the engagement of their daughter, Sheila (Moore), to Gerald Croft (Worth), the son of one of Mr Birling’s competitors (Birling is a successful mill owner), is interrupted by the appearance of a police inspector named Poole (Sim). Poole is there to make enquiries relating to the death of a young woman at the local infirmary. Poole reveals that the young woman, Eva Smith (Wenham), appears to have committed suicide, and that she left behind a diary which mentions her connection to Mr Birling at least. At first, no one in the family – or Croft – admits to having known her, but as Poole relates her story over the last two years, it soon becomes clear that each one of them has had an effect on the direction the young woman’s life has taken, and that they may ultimately share a combined responsibility for her death. But a chance enounter reveals a truth about the inspector that none of them could have been prepared for…

The first screen adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s stage play, An Inspector Calls is a movie with a sense of political and social purpose. Set in 1912, it acts as a critique of post-Victorian middle-class hypocrisy, and in its own measured way, paints a searing portrait of the innate superiority that the middle-classes felt they were entitled to feel when dealing with the working-classes. Birling fires Eva from his mill because she was asking for better wages; he takes offence because he already feels he’s doing more than enough for his workers. Croft meets her at a low-point in her life, but his good deeds lead to her being set up as a mistress, and exploited accordingly. And at another point, when Eva is in dire need of help, Mrs Birling’s chairmanship of the local committee for financial aid, allows her to pour scorn on Eva’s request because she won’t reveal certain details of her situation out of pride. Desmond Davis’ screenplay highlights the self-satisfied, arrogant nature of the older Birlings, entrenched in their views and unwilling to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions, while Priestley’s own socialist message is reflected in the younger Birlings’ ability to see why concern for others should be a necessary part of repaying earned privilege.

As Eva’s story plays out, and the scale of one family’s involvement in her tragic death is revealed, Davis and director Guy Hamilton tighten the emotional screws, and strip away the pretence and denial avowed by Croft and the Birlings until, as Sheila states, they’re all different people thanks to the inspector’s arrival. Sim is excellent as the gentle yet forceful Poole, his often mournful expression reflecting not just the sad fate of one young woman, but the inability of the older Birlings to admit their culpability. Lindo and Young deliver performances full of arrogance and bluster, while Moore is suitably anguished as the one person who can see why Poole’s presence is so meaningful for them all. Worth is a little stiff at times, but Forbes shines as Eric, the son whose drinking problem can’t be acknowledged by his mother because of how it will reflect on her. In many ways, the movie is a classic “drawing-room drama”, but spiked with an element of mystery. It draws in the viewer confidently and with a clear understanding of the story’s themes and values, and deftly skewers the institutional glibness and bigotry of the period. And by the time it reveals the hidden twist in its tale, its deconstruction of moral lassitude is complete.

Rating: 9/10 – a perfectly judged exploration of the class divide existing in pre-World War I Britain, An Inspector Calls offers an unassuming yet powerful dissection of that period’s social inequality; Sim has rarely been better, Hamilton’s direction is precise and uncompromising, and as theatrical adaptations go, it’s in a league of its own.

NOTE: Sadly, there’s no trailer available for An Inspector Calls.

The World Unseen (2007)

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D: Shamim Sarif / 90m

Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Parvin Dabas, Nandana Sen, David Dennis, Grethe Fox, Colin Moss, Natalie Becker, Rajesh Gopie, Bernard White, Avantika Akerkar

Cape Town, 1952. Amina (Sheth) is a young Indian woman who owns and runs the Location Cafe, a haven for both the local Indian community and the blacks. Miriam (Ray) is an Indian housewife and mother of three who visits the cafe and finds herself fascinated by Amina’s seemingly carefree, yet proud attitude. Her husband, Omar (Dabas), opens a general store on the outskirts of the city, and for a while, things progress as expected. Omar’s sister, though, puts them in danger when she comes to visit from Paris with her white husband. The police discover their presence, and Omar’s sister, Rehmat (Sen), is only saved from arrest by Amina’s hiding her. This helps to build Amina and Miriam’s friendship, something that is aided by Omar’s decision to hire Amina to create a vegetable garden behind the store. The two women spend more and more time together, and their friendship deepens until each begins to acknowledge the attraction they have for each other. But how can their love flourish when they have to contend with the social, sexual, cultural and political milieu they’re a part of?

A romantic drama set in a time and place that would have heavily condemned the sexual love of two women for each other, The World Unseen is a carefully paced, judiciously mounted movie that isn’t too interested in putting its central characters in too much jeopardy, while it explores themes related to the racism and homophobia of the period. Adapted from writer-director Sarif’s own novel, her tale of fledgling love amidst the trials and tribulations of apartheid South Africa is a low-key affair, telling its story simply and with due care and attention to the characters of Amina and Miriam. Thanks to Sarif’s script and the performances of Ray and Sheth, both women are sharply drawn, and their thoughts and feelings expertly expressed through covert looks, cautious body language, and coded language. The slow reveal of their feelings for each other is hidden behind a veil of subterfuge, and Sarif shows the mounting tension between Amina’s longing for Miriam and Miriam’s hesitancy over what it will mean to her marriage and her children, in such a way that the sincerity of their emotions is never in doubt.

With the movie’s central relationship locked in, Sarif is free to build around it, adding sub-plots and minor incidents to help flesh out the running time. Sadly, not all of these sub-plots are as successful as they could have been, and though they don’t do anything to hurt the pace of the movie – Sarif’s measured direction ensures everything proceeds at an even pace – there are too many that feel as if they’ve been lifted from a soap opera. Amina’s silent partner in the cafe, Jacob (Dennis), has a predictably short relationship with a white postmistress (Fox), Omar has a secret that Miriam has no choice but to tolerate (at first), and Amina’s grandmother tries to push her into an arranged marriage. Most of these elements end as quietly as they began, and lack any appreciable impact, but thanks to the engaging quality of the material as a whole, the movie doesn’t suffer as dramatically as it might have done. The rest of the performances are adequate (though Moss’s permanently aggressive policeman is particularly one-note), and the visual style is consistently muted in terms of colour and light, something that robs it of any further appeal, but overall this is a quietly persuasive movie that does very well by its central characters.

Rating: 7/10 – with its well conceived romance, and passive recreation of the time period it’s set in, The World Unseen is exemplary when focusing on its central characters’ hopes and dreams, but less so when the focus switches elsewhere; Sarif’s first outing as a writer and a director shows promise, and there’s a clear message about female empowerment, but in the end, there’s too much that feels perfunctory instead of important.

Ghost Stories (2017)

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D: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman / 98m

Cast: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman, Leonard Byrne, Samuel Bottomley, Jake Davies, Nicholas Burns

Beginning with fragmented home movie footage set in 1979, Ghost Stories is the latest British horror movie to be granted a wide release, and to be backed by generous praise. The home movie footage shows incidents from the childhood of professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman), a paranormal investigator who has a TV show that debunks self-proclaimed psychics. Goodman receives an invitation from 70’s paranormal investigator Charles Cameron (Byrne), to look into three cases of apparently unexplainable ghostly sightings. The first relates to a nightwatchman (Whitehouse) working in an old, disused women’s asylum. The second relates to a young man (Lawther) who has an encounter with the Devil while driving home one night. And the third concerns a financier (Freeman), who experiences poltergeist activity at his home. Goodman investigates each case in turn, and comes to the conclusion that there is nothing remotely supernatural or paranormal about any of the cases, preferring instead to believe that what each person has experienced is actually the result of their own neuroses and psychological issues. But when he returns to confront Cameron with his findings, what happens next is far more disturbing…

…except, it isn’t. What happens next takes the movie into completely different territory and serves only to dissipate the sense of muted dread that has been achieved so far. It expands on the framing device of Goodman’s investigations, but in a way that abandons the eerie approach of the first hour in favour of a waking nightmare scenario that sees Goodman haunted by events from his childhood. There’s a pay off at the end (which is meant to be clever, but feels contrived instead), but by then it’s too late. The initial promise of the movie – that Goodman’s investigations will reveal a world of horror he can’t explain away rationally – never gets off the ground, and while there are plenty of riffs and echoes on events within the movie, there’s too much that proves superfluous. The title is misleading as well, as only one of the stories, the first, is about an actual ghost. And as the movie progresses, it does what so many other horror movies fall prey to: having inexplicable things happen for no other reason than that it’s a supernatural story and anything can happen… even though they shouldn’t.

The movie is also hampered by its indecisive tone. There’s humour here, and in the second story a little too much (though Lawther’s reply to the Devil’s command to “Stay” is priceless), and some of the situations and the performances veer between serious and comic, often within the same scene. Whitehouse plays his character straight for the most part, but the script can’t resist giving him a few forced one-liners. Lawther is batty with a side order of nuts, while Freeman opts for supercilious, a decision that fits the character but which leaves him looking and sounding as if he’s walked in from another movie altogether (and not a horror movie). Alas, it’s Nyman who really draws the short straw, which is unfortunate given his involvement as co-writer and co-director with Jeremy Dyson. Goodman is a classic naïf, in way over his head, and with no idea what he’s got himself into. As a result, Nyman does baffled a lot, and then afraid without knowing why he should be (aka baffled a bit more). On the plus side, Ole Bratt Birkeland’s widescreen cinematography is a major asset – you’ll be looking in every corner for the next scare – but aside from some knowing references to Seventies British horror, this is standard fare given an unlikely and surprising boost by critics who really should know better.

Rating: 5/10 – an adaptation of the original stage play, Ghost Stories is less the straight up horror movie it looks like, and more of the convoluted psychological thriller with horror overtones that it actually is; less effective than it needs to be, and uneven for much of its running time, it’s a movie that manages to throw in a few good scares, and offers a handful of creepy moments, but very little else to keep real fans of the genre properly entertained.

Batman (1943) – Chapter 5: The Living Corpse

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 17m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, William Austin, John Maxwell

Having jumped from the truck just before it crashes through a barrier and topples down the side of a mountain, Batman (Wilson), along with Robin (Croft) and Alfred (Austin), return to Wayne Manor. Meanwhile, Dr Daka (Naish) bemoans yet another of his plans having failed, until he receives a message from a Japanese submarine advising him of a “package” being delivered to him that evening. The “package” is a Japanese soldier (the Living Corpse of the title) who instructs Daka to steal a Lockheed plane that has an experimental engine. At the same time, in his civilian guise of Bruce Wayne, Batman receives instructions from the US government to safeguard the very same Lockheed plane. While Daka kidnaps two Lockheed employees and turns them into zombies, Bruce and Dick go undercover at the Lockheed plant. Bruce sneaks onto the plane, while Dick discovers that Daka’s zombies have replaced the original pilots. He alerts Bruce (now dressed as Batman); Daka’s zombies tackle him. While they fight, the military learns of the plane’s hijacking and order it to be shot down. Soon the plane takes multiple hits, and crashes, sending the Caped Crusader to certain death…

…and the award for silliest entry so far goes to Chapter 5! After the turgid nature of Chapter 4, the writers perhaps imbibed a little too much sake, and the result is easily the wildest, most logic free entry of the series. The whole idea of the Living Corpse is just so spectacularly absurd it’s hard to believe anyone thought it would work in the first place. Dropped off by a submarine and delivered to Daka’s lair in a coffin, the Living Corpse is revived by electrical stimulus à la Frankenstein’s monster, imparts his message before tearing off a uniform button that contains further information about the plan, and then promptly expires. The whole thing is made all the more absurd thanks to two things: Daka having spoken to the submarine captain on the radio beforehand (why not have the captain relay the plan that way?), and the terrible map of the Lockheed plant that is retrieved from his button (it looks like it was done by someone with no real idea of what a map should look like). Whether it was meant to be a dramatic device or not, the result is laughter all round.

Chapter 5 also marks the point where the script starts to become irretrievably lazy. Daka zombifies the Lockheed workers, but unlike his other, similarly afflicted henchmen, they don’t wear the snazzy silver caps that act as control devices – so how does he control them? And instead of stealing experimental planes, why isn’t Daka out patenting the dashcam he’s had his henchmen install in the cockpit – the one that allows him to warn them that Batman is in the plane with them? It’s all too silly, and yet… and yet… all this silliness somehow works. Hillyer’s direction is as fluid and fast-paced as in Chapter 2, and even the now traditional dead spot where Batman is gifted a clue as to Daka’s next nefarious plan is fun (it involves an invisible message and a Young Scientist chemical set). Even the use of three different models once the Lockheed plane is in the air can’t detract from the fun to be had from this Chapter. And while all this craziness goes on, the cast get on with the arduous task of taking it all seriously, something that Shirley Patterson at least doesn’t have to worry about: she doesn’t appear at all (though to be fair, her character is probably still unconscious from the previous chapter). But if she did appear, one thing is for sure: she’d probably be wondering just how is Batman going to survive this time…?

Rating: 7/10 – a transformative episode, and a complete turnaround from the dour exploits of the previous entry, Chapter 5 ditches the serious tone adopted until now and opts for outright absurdity, making this possibly the most enjoyable episode so far; whether this approach continues in the next chapter remains to be seen, but let’s hope so, as by taking such a ridiculous and nonsensical direction, this might prove the making of the serial as a whole.

A Brief Word About Cannes 2018 and Netflix

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In what sounds like the reaction of a spoilt child when told by its parents that it can only have one slice of birthday cake and not the whole thing, Netflix is threatening to pull five of its movies from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Cannes has decided that only movies that receive a theatrical release in France will be eligible for entry to the prestigious Official Competition. The five movies are: Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Paul Greengrass’s Norway, and two Orson Welles related features, Morgan Neville’s documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’s own movie that has recently been completed after being believed lost.

Cannes have apparently changed the rules in relation to the Official Competition, and it’s this that Netflix are protesting against. While many see it as a snub by the Old Guard – Cannes is seventy-one this year – against the new kids on the block, this is actually a clash of “business models”. Cannes believes it’s important that movies be seen on a big screen, in cinemas, as part of a shared cultural experience. The festival also highlights the range and diversity of cinema from around the world, and despite its elitist standing, always seeks to present what would be regarded as more mainstream movies throughout its yearly run. Already confirmed this year is the latest Star Wars offshoot, Solo, and when the full line up is revealed on 12 April, there’s little doubt that other more mainstream movies will be present.

Netflix, however, have no interest in releasing its movies in cinemas. It’s not their distribution model, and they’re just as inflexible in their approach as Cannes is. Some people are saying that Netflix and their streaming services are the future of movies, that home viewing, whether on sixty-inch plus TV screens, or computer monitors, or tablets, will see an end to theatrical distribution. Perhaps. But if television, once heralded as the inevitable cause of the demise of movie-going, hasn’t done the job after all this time, then Netflix isn’t going to make a difference either. And while it’s true that people want a wider choice of access based on their own terms and needs, the shared experience of a visit to the cinema is still the way to see a movie. As the makers of Godzilla (1998) put it, Size Does Matter.

But should this divide between Cannes and Netflix be considered as anything more than a falling out amongst uneasy friends? Possibly, but in the end it’s unlikely to affect the potential success or failure of any of the movies being withheld, and Cannes and Netflix will continue to prosper in their own unique ways. And as long as that continues, then we, the audience, will continue to be well served by both organisations.

Bomb City (2017)

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D: Jameson Brooks / 98m

Cast: Dave Davis, Glenn Morshower, Logan Huffman, Lorelei Linklater, Eddie Hassell, Henry Knotts, Dominic Ryan Gabriel, Luke Shelton, Maemae Renfrow, Michael Seitz, Marilyn Manson

In 1997, Brian Deneke (Davis), a nineteen year old resident of Amarillo, Texas returns home after spending time in New York City. He reconnects with his friends in Amarillo’s punk sub-culture – where he’s well regarded and the vocalist of punk band The White Slave Traders – but finds that the long-standing enmity with the members of the local high school football team is still very much in place. A few minor altercations do nothing to diffuse matters, and though Brian uses his influence to try and calm matters, it’s his own friends that want to escalate things. When some of the jocks carry out an act of mindless vandalism on the place where Brian’s friends live, one of them, King (Knotts), chases them to a car park where he’s overwhelmed by greater numbers and badly beaten. King rallies Brian and some others, and carrying weapons, they return to the car park. A fight ensues, and during it, one of the jocks, Cody Cates (Shelton), uses his car to run down one of the punks… and kill them…

Based on a true story, but changing many of the details of what happened and how, while keeping the basic premise intact, Bomb City – a reference to Amarillo’s being home to one of the largest nuclear weapon facilities in the US – delves deep into the punk sub-culture that existed at the time, and paints a vivid portrait of Brian and his friends that serves to ground the movie as a whole. We get to spend a lot of time with them, and even get to understand them somewhat, and in doing so, Brooks makes his sympathies clear, something that is reinforced by the events that happen after the fight. These events are presented through scenes at a subsequent trial that are woven into the main narrative, but in such a way that they keep the unaware viewer in the dark as to the actual tragedy that occurred, and its highly controversial outcome. But while Brooks – making his feature debut as a director – does a commendable job of making the punks recognisable as individuals, the same can’t be said for the jocks, who remain arrogant stereotypes all the way through.

With the contrast between the two groups highlighted in bold as it were, and the animosity between them based on ignorance and purposeful misunderstanding (and sometimes on both sides), the cultural conservatism of Amarillo, Texas, during the Nineties is brought home powerfully by Morshower’s performance as Cates’s defence attorney, Cameron Wilson. In a chilling summing up before the jury, Wilson’s choice of rhetoric is horrifying, and it’s at this point that the movie reveals the real tragedy of what happened. Everything leads up to this one moment, and Brooks delivers two swift gut punches to the viewer in quick succession. The movie ends on a note of outrage, and it’s left to the viewer to decide if the movie’s themes of prejudice and social xenophobia will ever be addressed fully in the future. Tough though the movie is at times, there’s still much to enjoy before it heads into darker territory, and much of this is there in the script, which has a knowing sense of humour. The performances are solid, with Davis and Huffman making an impact across the divide, and the movie is enhanced by Adam Dietrich’s production design and Jonathan Rudak’s art direction, both of which help to create a convincing milieu for the action.

Rating: 7/10 – an angry movie with purpose, Bomb City explores a real life tragedy with integrity and grit, but takes a little too long in explaining why it’s so angry; still, it deserves a wider audience, and Brooks is someone to keep an eye on, all of which makes the movie a minor gem just waiting to be discovered.

Poster of the Week – Withnail & I (1987)

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Almost the very definition of a cult movie, Withnail & I is a movie with a number of virtues, and one that remains as consistently entertaining today as it did when it was first released (if you haven’t tried the drinking game yet, then shame on you). It’s fitting then that the poster for the movie should be as iconic as the movie itself, and thanks to the involvement of the artist Ralph Steadman, that’s exactly what it is. It speaks to a very specific kind of British mentality, the kind that operates independently of any other cultural affectation or belief system. It’s an amazing mix of image and graphics, and of the time period the movie takes place in, referencing a bygone era represented by two distinct elements: a classic British dartboard, and a telegram. Both of these elements have a role to play in the movie, but while their importance on screen is negligible, their inclusion and their placement within the poster help to consolidate the tone and feel of the movie itself. It’s the perfect accompaniment – or appetiser, perhaps – for Bruce Robinson’s tale of ribaldry and conspicuous excess.

The dartboard hints at so much of what the movie is about: the passing of an age, an age in which Withnail and I, in their own way, are becoming just as obsolete. Despite the vivid colours and the depth that goes with them, look closer and you’ll find that the board is cracked and weathered. It’s a clever indication that what can be seen at first glance can be deceptive, that there’s an acknowledgement of past glories, of better times gone by, but also that a decisive moment has passed. The same is true of the arrows holding Steadman’s unflattering drawing of the pair to the board. With their Union Jack feathers, the arrows also represent the end of a bygone era. They’re ineluctably tied to the board, a last reminder that things were better – or at least they seemed that way. The drawing itself, featuring Steadman’s trademark artistic style and wildly expressive depiction of Withnail (while I stands diffidently in the background), perfectly expresses the different natures of the two characters. And if you look closely you can see another dartboard in the background with three darts in it, and below that another telegram pinned by another dart.

The telegram is another symbol of a bygone era, a form of communication that has been surpassed by newer technologies; its time is almost up (as is Withnail’s dream of becoming a star). The fact that it contains an invitation to “spend a funny weekend in the English countryside” is the one aspect that strays from the poster’s overall theme, and is the nearest it has to a promotional tagline. But it still somehow fits the tone of the poster (and the movie), that slightly off-centre British attitude that has its own rules and conventions. The whole thing is rounded off by Steadman’s unique graphic style with words, the credits assembled in fractured lines one atop the other but still in deference to the title itself. Boldly highlighted in red, the title is like a challenge: do you dare watch Withnail and I? And perhaps more importantly, if you do, will you like what you find?

The Third Murder (2017)

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Original title: Sandome no satsujin

D: Kore-eda Hirokazu / 125m

Cast: Fukuyama Masaharu, Yakusho Kôji, Hirose Suzu, Saitô Yuki, Yoshida Kōtarō, Mitsushima Shinnosuke, Matsuoka Izumi, Ichikawa Mikako, Makita Aju

An apparently disgruntled ex-employee persuades the chairman of the company that fired him to go with him to the side of a river at night. There, the ex-employee, named Misumi (Yakusho), kills the chairman and sets light to the body. Misumi is arrested and charged with robbery with homicide (the chairman’s wallet is found on him). Misumi confesses to the crime, though when his initial lawyer Settsu (Yoshida) brings in a hot shot lawyer called Shigemori (Fukuyama), Shigemori begins to have doubts about Misumi’s confession and what actually happened when the chairman was killed. Soon, the chairman’s wife, Yamanaka (Saitô), and his daughter, Sakie (Hirose), are revealed to have things to hide, while there are echoes of a previous crime committed by Misumi thirty years before when he killed two debt collectors. In the run up to the trial, Misumi’s story changes at various times, making it difficult to get at the truth of what happened, and making it difficult for Shigemori to mount a good defence. With his client obscuring matters at every turn, Shigemori finds himself almost desperate to learn if Misumi is really guilty or truly innocent…

A legal drama-cum-thriller, The Third Murder isn’t quite the riveting experience you might hope for – its pace is too slow for that – but it is a compelling examination of the Japanese legal system, where the accused’s guilt or innocence isn’t as important as getting the charges right (or sometimes, the wording of the charges). Of course, the complexities of the Japanese legal system don’t seem like a viable basis for a legal thriller, but in the hands of Kore-eda (who spent several months observing lawyers carrying out mock trials in order to write the screenplay), they form the bedrock on which the wider story is told. With Kore-eda showing us the murder right at the start, and making it clear that Misumi is responsible, doubt is sown through the exploration of the circumstances leading up to the crime. Some of Misumi’s story appears contradictory, and circumstantial evidence appears to paint a potentially different story. And when the chairman’s wife and daughter appear to have colluded in their own separate ways with Misumi, his motive for the murder becomes less straightforward than it had at the beginning. With the narrative shifting at random, the truth – whatever that may be – becomes something that’s slippery and indistinct.

Kore-eda assembles the various layers of Misumi’s story with a great deal of skill, and puts particular emphasis on the scenes where Shigemori visits Misumi in prison. Thanks to Kore-eda’s skill as a director, and Fukuyama and Yakusho’s committed performances, these scenes are less a battle of wits and more a battle for understanding on both sides. There’s a genuine emotional heft to these scenes, and the final confrontation between them sees Kore-eda overlay their heads in a shot that highlights just how important their relationship has become to them. As already mentioned, the movie is slow-paced, but effectively so, and there’s a melancholy feel to much of the material that suits it. The movie looks tremendous as well, thanks to Kore-eda’s decision to shoot in the CinemaScope format, something the writer-director hasn’t used before. As a result, Takimoto Mikiya’s cinematography is often absurdly beautiful to look at, especially when Shigemori and his assistant, Kawashima (Mitsushima) visit the snow-covered area where Misumi committed his first two murders. There’s much more to enjoy, including a fine, understated performance from Hirose, and a subtly emotive score from the under-used Ludovico Einaudi.

Rating: 8/10 – perhaps not everyone will be enamoured of Kore-eda’s latest feature, but The Third Murder sees him on very good form indeed, and creating an intelligent and challenging movie that doesn’t go out of its way to explain everything that’s happening; with its themes of trust and culpability running throughout the movie and affecting how the main characters behave, this is absorbing stuff indeed, and well worth watching if you’re in the mood for something a little different.

Batman (1943) – Chapter 4: Slaves of the Rising Sun

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 18m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Robert Fiske, Gus Glassmire

Having been shoved off the bridge by Robin (Croft) into the river below, Batman (Wilson) at least has the reassurance of knowing that Dr Daka’s henchmen weren’t able to blow up the supply train. This is something that Daka (Naish) is unaware of at first, but his chief henchman, Foster (Fiske), soon arrives at his lair and gives him the bad news. Foster also turns on him, telling Daka he’s on the losing side, but when he tries to leave, he falls through a trapdoor into a pit full of crocodiles (naturally). Meanwhile, Batman and Robin wait for their next lead. It comes in the form of Linda (Patterson) getting a call to visit a swami where she’ll learn more about her Uncle Martin’s disappearance. It’s all a ruse to get hold of a receipt for a shipment of radium Linda is overseeing to the Gotham City Foundation. Daka’s goons grab the receipt, but Batman and Robin give chase by car. Batman gets onto the goons’ truck, disables two of the men inside by using the radium gun, but when he tussles with the driver, the truck crashes through a barrier and barrels down the side of a mountain, sending the Caped Crusader to certain death…

Four episodes in and already there are increased signs of padding (though not quite as much as there is around the waist of Wilson’s stunt double). For the third time we’re treated to the sight of one of Daka’s men take the fairground ride to his hideout, and for the second time, Daka is given an extended amount of screen time that doesn’t bring anything new to the narrative. On this evidence – and if you thought he had a superpower – the sight of him talking into a microphone is the one thing he seems able to do really well (and with menace). Naish still sounds like Peter Lorre playing Mr Moto – but in a karaoke impression kind of way – and he’s about as menacing as the middle aged men he’s turned into zombies. But he’s still more interesting than the Dynamic Duo, here fast becoming the Dynamic Dunderheads. It’s perhaps unfair, but as the serial is progressing, the decisions Batman and Robin are making aren’t necessarily the brightest. As Bruce, Batman decides to take the swami’s place when Linda visits him, but all it does is ensure she’s grabbed and loses the all-important receipt (though why go to all that trouble when they could just hijack the shipment? Oh well…)

It’s indicative of the problems the serial is facing when an episode that runs eighteen minutes feels tired and perfunctory. Batman is saved at the beginning (naturally), the focus switches to the villain (cue more exposition about the New Order), Bruce and Dick bemoan their lack of clues, Linda is placed in danger once again (it already seems as if she’s spent more time unconscious than not), Robin proves himself useless at being a lookout (again), and there’s the expected showdown between Batman and another bunch of Daka’s hoodlums. It’s formulaic, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon – the high water mark of Chapter 2 already feels like it was ages ago – but still and all, there’s something about the way Hillyer pushes things on that’s appealing, even when his cast stumble over their lines (step forward, Naish and Croft). Despite the lethargy in the script, Hillyer still manages to inject some much needed pace into the material, and the chapter is (naturally) over before you know it. Luckily, it still makes you wonder, just how is Batman going to survive this time…?

Rating: 6/10 – a slapdash, mediocre episode that chugs along without raising too many cheers for itself, Chapter 4 leaves the serial in idle while it rehashes old scenes and doesn’t even try to hide the fact; by this still relatively early stage, Batman seems to be holding back “the good stuff”, so the benefit of the doubt is required, but let’s hope things improve in Chapter 5.

A Quiet Place (2018)

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D: John Krasinski / 90m

Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

In the near future, humans have been decimated by creatures who hunt by sound. One family, the Abbotts – dad Lee (Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Blunt), daughter Regan (Simmonds), and son Marcus (Jupe) – are living in a farmhouse away from the nearest town. They have learned to adapt by being as silent as possible: when they travel they don’t wear anything on their feet, and they stick to paths they’ve created that soften their footfalls. Regan is deaf, and the family all communicate using sign language. Nearly five hundred days have elapsed since the creatures first appeared, and Evelyn is heavily pregnant. One day, Lee decides to take Marcus with him on a trip. Regan wants to go as well, but she’s charged with staying behind and looking after Evelyn. Angry at this, she decides to run away. Meanwhile, Evelyn injures herself, something that causes her to cry out (and attract one of the creatures), and also to go into labour. With the family split up, all of them find themselves in danger, and all of them must rely on their ingenuity to keep from being killed…

A creature feature with a modern, high concept twist, A Quiet Place opens with a prologue that highlights just how much peril the Abbotts are facing on a daily basis. With this established, the movie proceeds to introduce us properly to the characters, and to explore further the world they live in, what with all its rules about being silent, and how best to avoid the creatures that are lying in wait. In adapting an original screenplay by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, actor-director John Krasinski has made a horror thriller that plays on our fears of the nuclear family coming under threat from a seemingly unstoppable force, and the potential destruction of said family. It’s a movie with a warning message: be careful and keep your family close, because if you don’t, bad things can happen (as the prologue tells us). This allows the movie to explore aspects of personal paranoia and fear that resonate throughout. Bolstered by a determination not to let anyone off lightly, the movie puts its characters into harm’s way at several different turns, and it doesn’t always provide them with a free pass. For once, this is a movie where you can’t be sure just who is going to make it to the end.

Naturally, the focus is on the sound design – though the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is equally vivid – and it’s the combination of muted dialogue and rarefied natural sounds, along with periods of prolonged silence that makes it all so effective. Krasinski lessens the effect by including Marco Beltrami’s music score (would that he could have left out a score altogether), but the absence of a familiar soundtrack adds to the tension, and this makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere against which the action takes place. Making his first foray into the genre, Krasinski acquits himself well, and there are good performances from the cast, including Simmonds who is deaf in real life. If there are any caveats, it’s that the movie does feel stretched as it heads into the final half hour, and a couple of narrative decisions push the boundaries of what is otherwise a fairly well constructed scenario. The creatures are appropriately menacing, if a little over-exposed by the end, and the script makes only a casual attempt to explain their provenance, something that’s refreshing and doesn’t cause the movie to put itself on hold while someone delivers a few minutes of exposition (though if they were killed for doing so…).

Rating: 7/10 – a solid, unpretentious horror thriller that is at least trying to do something different, A Quiet Place is an intelligent if ultimately overwrought movie that has a number of effective moments, and makes a few good points about the perils of parenting along the way; there’s tension aplenty, and even though most of it dissipates in favour of the kind of showdown seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times before, this is still an above average survivalist horror that has a lot more to offer than most of its ilk.

Interview with Kristina Anapau

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Kristina Anapau has been an actress since 1997, when she made her screen debut in Escape from Atlantis. Since then she’s appeared on stage, and continued to appear on screen in movies such as Black Swan (2010), and Cornered (2011). Kristina has worked steadily in television as well, bagging guest spots on shows such as CSI: NY and House, and a recurring role on True Blood. She is even more talented, having trained as a classical ballerina as a child, while also being a classically trained pianist. More recently, Kristina has had articles published in a variety of magazines including The Hollywood Film Journal. Her work on the Hawaii-based production, Kuleana (2017), prompted thedullwoodexperiment to interview her about the movie and filming it in the US state where she was born.

How did you come to be involved with Kuleana?

I met the director, Brian Kohne, back in 2011 at The Big Island Film Festival – his first feature won [the] Grand Jury Prize that year. He sent me an earlier version of the Kuleana script about a year later – every time he sent a new draft, I thought the script just couldn’t get any better, but it did. Every time. It was such a beautiful story, I knew I wanted to be a part of it right away.

How did you approach the character of Rose, and were there any particular challenges to playing the role?

I drew a lot from certain elements of myself in creating Rose – Brian and I spoke a lot about her before filming – [and] added layers upon layers. Rose was a pleasure to portray. I think the only challenge were the “fake” cigarettes I had to smoke all day in the scene at the police station. I swear there was something else in those cigarettes!

What was it like working with Brian Kohne?

Brian is so lovely to work with. He has a vision for exactly what he wants to see on screen and puts 200% into everything he does. His creative drive is infectious, and you can’t help but want to join in to help bring that vision to life.

The movie reflects on a turbulent time in Hawaiian history – how much were you aware  of before coming on board?

This film was definitely an education for me in that regard! I’m not a Hawaiian history buff to say the least, and wasn’t born until about ten years later, so I learned a lot about the cultural upheaval of that time period during the making of this film.

How important is your Hawaiian heritage to you both personally and professionally?

I actually don’t have any Hawaiian heritage other than having been born there. My parents both came from the mainland U.S. shortly before meeting there in the 70’s – Anapau is my middle name. My real last name is Roper – British heritage on my Dad’s side and Swedish and German on my Mother’s. Although I just sent my 23andMe kit in, so ask me again in 6 weeks! Maybe I’ll discover a surprise in there!

How was it filming on Maui?

It’s always lovely to go home to Hawaii and Maui is an island I had never explored. A beautiful place to film!

What’s the vibe like in Hawaii in terms of the film industry there?

I haven’t actually spent too much time around the Hawaii film industry other than while making Kuleana and attending a few film fests throughout the years, but everyone seems very driven – very creative – I’m really hoping that Brian’s success with Kuleana will open the door for local filmmakers in a big way.

You were an executive producer on Kuleana – do you see yourself supporting other Hawaiian movies in a similar way in the future?

If the right project came along. Absolutely.

You were awarded a special No Ka Ai award at the 2011 Big Island Film Festival – how important was that to you?

It was a wonderful honor – it was such a special event to be a part of.

Away from acting, you’re a writer and a musician, and you trained to be a classical ballerina – do you have any other ambitions within the arts?

Just to write more!

Who has influenced you the most in terms of your career?

Linda P. Brown. In terms of my career. My life. Everything.

And finally, what’s next for Kristina Anapau?

Last year I co-created and produced a kids show with award-winning host and comic John Kerwin. It’s essentially The Tonight Show for kids – we have all the young stars of Disney, Nickelodeon, and everywhere else – kids in the audience – it’s a lot of fun. It has been airing nationwide on DirecTV, but [is] about to launch across a variety of big streaming platforms, so keep an eye out, we will be everywhere. Follow us on insta@johnkerwinkidsshow for all the latest! So, very busy with that – I have a few more projects in development as well. Writing and producing are my main focuses now.

Monthly Roundup – March 2018

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The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) / D: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan / 101m

Cast: Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Olivia Munn

Rating: 6/10 – when you’re the despised son (Franco) of an evil warlord (Theroux), there’s only one thing you can do: vow to defeat him with the aid of your ninja friends; after a superhero mash-up and a solo Batman outing, The LEGO Ninjago Movie brings us ninjas, but in the process forgets to provide viewers with much in the way of story, though the visual  innovation is still there, as is (mostly) the humour, making this something that is only just more of a hit than a miss.

Braven (2018) / D: Lin Oeding / 94m

Cast: Jason Momoa, Garret Dillahunt, Stephen Lang, Jill Wagner, Zahn McClarnon, Brendan Fletcher, Sala Baker, Teach Grant, Sasha Rossof

Rating: 4/10 – a trip for Joe Braven (Momoa) and his father (Lang) to their family cabin located in the Canadian wilderness sees them fighting for their lives when drug runners come to claim a shipment that has been hidden in the cabin; an unsophisticated action thriller, Braven has an earnestness to it that sees it through some of its more absurdist moments, but its Nineties vibe works against it too often for comfort, and despite the occasional effort, Dillahunt remains an unconvincing villain.

Passport to Destiny (1944) / D: Ray McCarey / 61m

Cast: Elsa Lanchester, Gordon Oliver, Lenore Aubert, Lionel Royce, Fritz Feld, Joseph Vitale, Gavin Muir, Lloyd Corrigan

Rating: 6/10 – in World War II, a cleaning woman, Ella Muggins (Lanchester), who believes herself to be protected from harm thanks to a magical glass eye, determines to travel to Berlin and kill Hitler; a whimsical comic fantasy that somehow manages to have its heroine save a German officer (Oliver) and his girlfriend, Passport to Destiny is an uneven yet enjoyable product of its time, with a terrific central performance by Lanchester, and a winning sense of its own absurdity.

Hellraiser: Judgment (2018) / D: Gary J. Tunnicliffe / 81m

Cast: Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris, Paul T. Taylor, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Helena Grace Donald, Heather Langenkamp

Rating: 3/10 – the hunt for a serial killer finds its lead detective (Carney) coming face to face with the Cenobites – still led by Pinhead (Taylor) – but the solution to the case isn’t as obvious as it seems; the tenth movie in the series, Hellraiser: Judgment at least tries to offer something new in terms of the Cenobites’ involvement, but in the end it can’t escape the fact that Pinhead et al are no longer frightening, the franchise’s penchant for sado-masochistic violence has lost any impact it may once have had, and as with every entry since Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), it fails to introduce one single character for the viewer to care about.

The Final Year (2017) / D: Greg Barker / 89m

With: Ben Rhodes, Samantha Power, John Kerry, Barack Obama

Rating: 7/10 – a look at the final year of Barack Obama’s second term as President of the United States focuses on his foreign policy team and their diplomatic efforts on the global stage; featuring contributions from some of the key players, The Final Year is an interesting if not fully realised documentary that never asks (or finds an answer for) the fundamental question of why Obama’s administration chose to concentrate so much on foreign policy in its last days, something that keeps all the good work that was achieved somewhat in isolation from the viewer.

And Then Came Lola (2009) / D: Ellen Seidler, Megan Siler / 71m

Cast: Ashleigh Sumner, Jill Bennett, Cathy DeBuono, Jessica Graham, Angelyna Martinez, Candy Tolentino, Linda Ignazi

Rating: 4/10 – in a series of Groundhog Day-style episodes, the undisciplined Lola (Sumner) is required to rush a set of photographs to her interior designer girlfriend, Casey (Bennett), so she can seal the deal at a job interview – but she has varying degrees of success; an LGBTQ+ comedy that stops the action every so often to allow its female cast to make out with each other, And Then Came Lola doesn’t put enough spins on its central conceit, and doesn’t make you care enough if Lola comes through or not.

The Ritual (2017) / D: David Bruckner / 94m

Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid, Maria Erwolter

Rating: 7/10 – following the tragic death of one of their friends, four men embark on a memorial hiking trip in Sweden, but when one of them is injured, taking a short cut through a forest puts all their lives in jeopardy; a creature feature with a nasty edge to it and above average performances for a horror movie, The Ritual employs mystery as well as terror as it creates a growing sense of dread before it runs out of narrative steam and tries to give its monster a back story that brings the tension up short and leads to a not entirely credible denouement.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) / D: Jake Kasdan / 119m

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner

Rating: 7/10 – four teenagers find themselves transported into a video game called Jumanji, where, transformed into avatars, they are charged with thwarting the dastardly plans of the game’s chief villain (Cannavale); a reboot more than a sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has the benefit of well-drawn, likeable characters, winning performances from Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan, and confident direction from Kasdan, all things that serve to distract from the uninspired game levels and the predictable nature of its main storyline.

Paddington 2 (2017) / D: Paul King / 103m

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Noah Taylor, Joanna Lumley

Rating: 9/10 – the theft of a unique pop-up book sees Paddington (Whishaw) end up in jail while the Brown family do their best to track down the real thief, Phoenix Buchanan (Grant); an absolute joy, Paddington 2 is just so unexpectedly good that even just thinking about it is likely to put a smile on your face, something that’s all too rare these days, and which is thanks to an inspired script by director King and Simon Farnaby, terrific performances from all concerned, and buckets of perfectly judged humour.

Gangster Land (2017) / D: Timothy Woodward Jr / 113m

Original title: In the Absence of Good Men

Cast: Sean Faris, Milo Gibson, Jason Patric, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Peter Facinelli, Mark Rolston, Michael Paré

Rating: 4/10 – the rise of boxer Jack McGurn (Faris) from potential champion to right-hand man to Al Capone (Gibson), and his involvement in Capone’s feud with ‘Bugs’ Moran (Facinelli); a biopic that’s hampered by lacklustre performances and a leaden script, Gangster Land wants to be thought of as classy but budgetary constraints mean otherwise, and Woodward Jr’s direction doesn’t inject many scenes with the necessary energy to maintain the viewer’s interest, something that leaves the movie feeling moribund for long stretches.

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) / D: Trish Sie / 93m

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, Ruby Rose, Matt Lanter, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, DJ Khaled

Rating: 4/10 – the Borden Bellas are back for one last reunion before they all go their separate ways, taking part in a European tour and competing for the chance to open for DJ Khaled; a threequel that adds nothing new to the mix (even if you include Lithgow as Wilson’s scoundrel father), and which is as empty-headed as you’d expect, Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t even well thought out enough to justify its existence and trades on old glories in the hope that the audience won’t notice that’s what they are.

Something Real and Good (2013) / D: Luke Rivett / 81m

Cast: Matt Jones, Alex Hannant, Colton Castaneda, Marla Stone

Rating: 4/10 – he (Jones) meets her (Hannant) in an airport lounge, and over the next twenty-four hours, get to know each other, flirt, have fun, and stay in a hotel together due to their flight being cancelled; the slightness of the story – boy meets girl, they talk and talk and talk and talk – is further undermined by the cod-philosophising and trite observations on life and relationships that they come out with, leaving Something Real and Good as a title that’s a little over-optimistic, though if it achieves anything, it’ll be to stop people from striking up random conversations with strangers in airports – and that’s now a good thing.

Ladies First (2017) / D: Uraaz Bahi / 39m

With: Deepika Kumari, Geeta Devi, Shiv Narayan Mahto, Dharmendra Tiwari

Rating: 8/10 – the story of Deepika Kumari, at one time the number one archer in the world, and her efforts to obtain Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016; a sobering documentary that for a while feels like it’s going to be a standard tale of triumph over adversity (here, relating to Indian culture and gender equality), Ladies First offers a much deeper examination of success and failure than might be expected, and shows that in India, as in many other countries, there are precious few opportunities for women to be anything more than wives and mothers.

Heritage Falls (2016) / D: Shea Sizemore / 88m

Cast: David Keith, Coby Ryan McLaughlin, Keean Johnson, Sydney Penny, Nancy Stafford, Devon Ogden

Rating: 4/10 – three generations of males head off for a bonding weekend designed to overcome the divisions that are keeping them distant or apart from each other; a mixed bag of drama and lightweight comedy, Heritage Falls wants to say something sincere and relevant about father-son relationships, but falls way short in its ambitions thanks to a script that can’t provide even one of its protagonists with a convincing argument for their position, a bland visual style, and even blander direction from Sizemore, making this a turgid exercise in emotional dysfunction.

The Long Dark Hall (1951) / D: Anthony Bushell, Reginald Beck / 86m

Cast: Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Denis O’Dea, Reginald Huntley, Anthony Dawson, Brenda de Banzie, Eric Pohlmann

Rating: 7/10 – when an actress is murdered in the room she rents, suspicion falls on her lover, married man Arthur Groome (Harrison), but even though he goes on trial at the Old Bailey, his wife, Mary (Palmer), stands by him; an early UK attempt at film noir, The Long Dark Hall has its fair share of tension, particularly in a scene at the Groome home where Mary is alone with the real killer (Dawson), but Harrison doesn’t seem fully committed (it wasn’t one of his favourite projects), and the screenplay lurches too often into uncomfortable melodrama, though overall this has an air of fatalism that keeps it intriguing for viewers who are used to their crime thrillers being a little more straightforward.

Ready Player One (2018) / D: Steven Spielberg / 140m

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen

Rating: 7/10 – in 2045, people have become obsessed with a virtual reality game called Oasis where anything can happen, but when its creator (Rylance) reveals there’s a hidden prize within the game, one that will give overall control of the game and its licence to the winner, it’s up to a small group of gamers led by Parzifal (Sheridan) to stop a rival corporation from winning; an elaborate sci-fi fantasy that provides a nostalgia overload for fans of Eighties pop culture in particular, Ready Player One has plenty of visual pizzazz, but soon runs out of steam in the story department, and offers way too much exposition in lieu of a proper script, a situation it tries to overcome by being dazzling if empty-headed, but which in the hands of Steven Spielberg still manages to be very entertaining indeed – if you don’t give it too much thought.

The Temple (2017) / D: Michael Barrett / 78m

Cast: Logan Huffman, Natalia Warner, Brandon Sklenar, Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida

Rating: 4/10 – three American tourists – best friends Chris (Huffman) and Kate (Warner), and Kate’s boyfriend, James (Sklenar) – are travelling in Japan when they hear about an abandoned temple and decide to go there, little knowing what will happen to them once they get there; even with its post-visit framing device designed to add further mystery to events, The Temple is a chore to sit through thanks to its being yet another horror movie where people behave stupidly so that a number of uninspired “shocks” can be trotted out, along with dreary dialogue and the (actually) terrible realisation that movie makers still think that by plundering legends and myths from other countries then their movies will be much more original and scary… and that’s simply not true.

Chokeslam (2016) / D: Robert Cuffley / 102m

Cast: Chris Marquette, Amanda Crew, Michael Eklund, Niall Matter, Gwynyth Walsh, Mick Foley

Rating: 5/10 – a 10-year high school reunion gives deli owner Corey (Marquette) the chance to reconnect with the girl he loved, Sheena (Crew), who is now a famous female wrestler; a lightweight romantic comedy that pokes moderate fun at the world of wrestling, Chokeslam is innocuous where it should be daring, and bland when it should be heartwarming, making it a movie that’s populated almost entirely by stock characters dealing with stock situations and problems, and which, unsurprisingly, provides them with entirely stock solutions.

All the Money in the World (2017) / D: Ridley Scott / 132m

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer, Marco Leonardi, Giuseppe Bonifati

Rating: 8/10 – a recreation of the kidnapping in 1973 of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), and the subsequent attempts by his mother, Gail (Williams), to persuade his grandfather (Christopher Plummer) to pay the ransom, something the then world’s richest man refuses to do; Scott’s best movie in years, All the Money in the World is a taut, compelling thriller that tells its story with ruthless expediency and features yet another commanding performance from Williams, something that takes the spotlight away from the presence of Christopher Plummer (who’s good but not great), and which serves as a reminder that money isn’t the central concern here, but a mother’s unwavering love for her child.

5 Headed Shark Attack (2017) / D: Nico De Leon / 98m

Cast: Chris Bruno, Nikki Howard, Lindsay Sawyer, Jeffrey Holsman, Chris Costanzo, Amaanda Méndez, Ian Daryk, Jorge Navarro, Lorna Hernandez, Michelle Cortès, Nicholas Nene

Rating: 3/10 – a four-headed shark terrorises the waters off Palomino Island in Puerto Rico before mutating into a five-headed shark, and being hunted by both the island’s police force, and a team of marine biologists from a local aquarium; operating at the bargain bucket end of the movie business, 5 Headed Shark Attack, SyFy’s latest cheaply made farrago, references Sharknado (2013) early on (as if it’s being clever), and then does it’s absolute best to make its audience cringe and wince and wish they’d never started watching in the first place, something the awful screenplay, dialogue, acting, special effects and direction all manage without even trying.

The Daughter (2015)

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D: Simon Stone / 96m

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Odessa Young, Sam Neill, Anna Torv, Wilson Moore, Ivy Mak

When he learns that his father, Henry (Rush) is remarrying, Christian Nielsen (Schneider) comes home to Australia from the US for the ceremony. He’s been away since his mother died, and in the meantime he’s developed a problem with alcohol, one that is jeopardising his current relationship with Grace (Mak), even though he’s been sober for three months. Henry is marrying his housekeeper, Anna (Torv), a situation that Christian is initially happy with. But it’s when he reconnects with his oldest friend, Oliver (Leslie), that he realises that this isn’t the first time his father has had a relationship with a housekeeper. Back when his mother was still alive, there was another, Charlotte (Otto), whom Oliver is married to. They have a teenage daughter, Hedvig (Young). When Christian starts putting two and two together, this coupled with Grace splitting up with him, prompts him to start drinking again. Tensions between Christian and his father threaten to mar the wedding, but it’s not until the evening reception that  Christian, fuelled by alcohol, reveals what he knows to an unsuspecting Oliver…

Another tale of secrets and lies, The Daughter tells exactly the story you think it’s telling, and does so in a melancholy, mournful way that says everything it’s relating is inevitable. From the moment when Christian mentions that he’s three months’ sober, to Grace telling him via video link that she’ll fly out to join him, writer-director Simon Stone’s movie adaptation of his own theatre adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, proceeds carefully and assuredly along a path toward an inexorable and tragic fate that will sweep up and engulf all its main characters. Christian is the central protagonist, adrift in his own life and seeking some kind of permanence in order to make himself feel good, but too beset by his own personal demons to be able to. By contrast, Oliver is settled and content, even if he has just lost his job at the local sawmill (a sawmill owned by Henry in a subplot that goes undeveloped). Happily married and with a daughter he’s immensely proud of, Oliver is Christian’s opposite. At first it’s easy to sympathise with Christian, but as the movie progresses, it’s easy to see that his anger at his father’s actions is merely a cover for the jealousy he feels at Oliver’s happy home life.

Though the story has its antecedents in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, here Stone is unable to avoid providing viewers with a number of scenes that are more melodramatic than successful. There’s plenty of exposition too, some of which is dragged out across several scenes, while in contrast, Henry and Anna are sidelined by a succession of short exhanges where he refuses to talk to her. Thankfully, the performances come to the rescue, with both Leslie and Young on superb form. As Oliver and Hedwig, they make the pair’s father-daughter relationship both convincing and natural, while Young by herself makes Hedvig’s confusion over the fracturing of her family and the subsequent fallout heartrending to watch. Stalwarts Rush and Neill do what they’re required to do (which isn’t too much), Otto fleshes out her character to the extent that there’s more to Charlotte than her dialogue allows, and Schneider does equally well in revealing the depths of Christian’s insecurities and resentments. Stone’s direction wavers from time to time, and the movie’s flow is often curtailed; he also adopts a time distortion effect where dialogue is spoken over scenes that occur some moments after. It’s an interesting idea, but like much else in the script, sadly doesn’t have the impact that may have been intended.

Rating: 6/10 – intermittently absorbing, and plagued by scenes that come and go without being developed further or followed up, it’s left to the performances to keep viewers of The Daughter interested; that said, Andrew Commis’ cinematography is terrific compensation, but overall this is a movie that should be filed under missed opportunity.

FiveFilms4Freedom 2018

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FiveFilms4Freedom is part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival currently running until 1 April 2018. These five shorts have been shown as part of the festival, and thanks to an intitiative developed by the British Council and the British Film Institute, have also been made available online during the course of the festival.

Devi (2017) / D: Karishma Dev Dube / 13m

aka Devi: Goddess

Cast: Aditi Vasudev, Priyanka Bose, Tanvi Azmi

Rating: 8/10 – Tara (Vasudev) is a troubled teen who challenges her mother’s sense of tradition and moral certitude at every turn, but takes a step too far when she turns her romantic attentions to Devi (Bose), the housemaid who has helped raise her from a child. Dube’s critique of unyielding Hindi cultural traditions and strict morality plays well until you realise that Tara’s actions are entirely selfish and devoid of any consideration of potential consequences – which then leads the viewer to consider if Tara is quite the sympathetic character she’s made out to be at the start. Dube shows that there will always be victims in these circumstances, and the class divide is sharply illustrated by the inevitable outcome of Tara’s decision to act on her impulses. By exploring not just the cultural divide, but the generational divide as well, Dube shows that Tara’s behaviour is too frivolous to be tolerated by the traditions she’s rebelling against, and that acceptance is still a very long way off indeed.

Handsome and Majestic (2016) / D: Jeff Lee Petry, Nathan Drillot / 12m

With: Milan Halikowski, Lynnell Halikowski, Mike Halikowski

Rating: 7/10 – Milan is a twelve year old transboy living in Canada who has suffered more than his fair share of abuse and violence in his young life, and who has been routinely let down by the teachers at his school. Having endured all this, and gone through a period of depression that saw him try to take his own life, Milan has found the strength to come out as transgender, and in doing so, he’s found a friend in another transboy living just a few streets away. There are few of us who can fully understand what it must be like to feel trapped in our own body, and not to look the way we believe we should. Handsome and Majestic goes some way to explaining what that must be like, but spends too much time illustrating it by having Milan looking at himself in mirrors, and with a sad, pensive expression. Contributions from his family offer (perhaps unintentionally) stark comparisons with Milan’s own struggle, but just seeing him playing with his new friends allows the movie to end on a positive note that didn’t seem to be on the cards at all. It’s a moving, humane documentary, and though it doesn’t delve too deeply into transgender issues, it’s still an informative and engaging examination of one young boy’s wish to be accepted for who he is.

Uninvited (2017) / D: Seung Yeob Lee / 20m

Cast: Sum Lee, Keonyeung Kim, Jinseung Moon

Rating: 7/10 – An impending, and largely unexpected visit from his mother (Kim), prompts still-in-the-closet Jungho (Lee) to get his partner, Jae-ik (Moon), to pack most of his belongings and hide out in a nearby coffee shop while she’s at the flat they live in. Despite his best efforts, though, Jungho’s mother discovers evidence that points to his having a flatmate at best, and a gay lover at worst. Ostensibly a comedy, Uninvited lacks the bite needed to make this as funny as it could be, and Jungho is such a moody complainer it’s amazing anyone, gay or straight, would take him on. Still, this is anchored by a surprisingly compassionate and thoughtful performance from Kim, who never lets on if her character is disappointed or ashamed or appalled by her son being gay, but instead translates passive acceptance into determined support. Like Devi and Goldfish, this is another movie where the main protagonist isn’t the person who’s gay or a lesbian, but the parent whose own cultural identity makes it difficult to accept unreservedly their child’s sexuality.

Goldfish (2017) / D: Yorgos Angelopoulos / 14m

Cast: Michael Ikonomou, Lissandros Kouroumbalis, Eva Angelopoulou

Rating: 7/10 – It’s Stratis’ (Kouroumbalis) seventh birthday, and all he wants is a pet fish. His father, Yorgos (Iknonomou), wants him to get a warrior fish, but Stratis settles for a goldfish. On their way home, Stratis reveals the goldfish is called Tom, after Tom Daley the British diver. Incensed at what he perceives as yet another example of his son’s effeminacy, Stratis’ father throws the goldfish in the river, causing Stratis to run away from home… While it’s a little too broad in its approach – Yorgos is the kind of unreconstructed Greek male that borders on cliché – and the message is rammed home a little too bluntly, nevertheless, Goldfish is an enjoyable examination of how some men feel threatened by the merest hint of homosexuality, and the often absurd reactions they display as a result. Not a movie about being gay, then, but about the unnecessary fear and paranoia that comes from prejudice about homosexuality, and the terrible emotions that take over when the source of that fear and paranoia – your own child – might never be seen again.

Landline (2017) / D: Matt Houghton / 12m

Cast: Jem Dobbs, Niamh Blackshaw, Oliver Devoti, Bradley Johnson

Rating: 9/10 – In 2010, Keith Ineson, a chaplain from Cheshire in the UK, set up a helpline for gay farmers, one that allowed them to voice their experiences, their worries, and their concerns. With the helpline still being the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, Landline uses original telephone recordings and visual reconstructions of the events being talked about to paint a powerful, and sometimes disturbing portrait of rural prejudice and intolerance. Director Matt Houghton doesn’t just focus on the negative though: one perfectly judged vignette has the camera tracking through the debris and chaos of what appears to have been a terrible bar fight, only for the recording to reveal that it was one man’s coming out party, and probably the best night of his life. From this it’s worth mentioning the excellent cinematography courtesy of James Blann, which makes this docu-drama visually striking and compelling in equal measure.

Cleopatra (1934)

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D: Cecil B. DeMille / 100m

Cast: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, Joseph Schildkraut, Ian Keith, Gertrude Michael, C. Aubrey Smith, Irving Pichel

After his previous movie, Four Frightened People (1934), died at the box office, legendary director Cecil B. DeMille was charged with making an historical epic with “lots of sex in it”. DeMille, who knew exactly how to infuse his movies with sin when required, decided on a remake of the original 1917 version starring Clara Bow (that version is now lost, sadly). And with the Hays Code only just coming into force, DeMille had to move quickly. His intentions are clear from the start: the movie opens with a shot of a strategically lit woman who looks naked. And he doesn’t stop there. Star Claudette Colbert (not necessarily the first choice for a role bordering on that of a femme fatale) wears a succession of skimpy, revealing outfits, and DeMille ensures that there are plenty of equally skimpily clothed handmaidens and dancers lurking in the background. For a movie made in 1934, it’s remarkably en point when it comes to selling sex to the masses. And that’s without all the writhing and the coquettish looks and the inference that life in Rome and Egypt was one long round of hedonism punctuated by the occasional war.

But while DeMille keeps the focus mainly on a number of entertainments and festivities that litter the movie, the story suffers as a result. While the basics are there, this isn’t the movie to quote as an historical record. That aside, Cleopatra’s seduction of Caesar (William) plays out against a backdrop of Egyptian political intrigue before shifting to include Roman political intrigue (“Caesar! Beware of the ides of March!”), and her subsequent romantic entanglement with Mark Antony (Wilcoxon) plays out against a backdrop of Egyptian and Roman political intrigue. It’s a two-act movie with both acts appearing interchangeable with one another, and with only the contrast between William’s starchy Caesar and Wilcoxon’s rambunctious Antony to let the viewer know which one they’re seeing. It doesn’t help that the movie is also littered with some of the worst dialogue in an historical epic heard before or since (Caesar: “I picked a flower in Britain once, the color of your eyes”). The performances are reasonable in comparison, but Colbert has a hard time convincing the viewer she’s someone that one powerful man could fall in love with, let alone two – and in quick succession.

This being a Cecil B. DeMille movie though, the acting, the script and the dialogue are the least of the director’s worries. What’s important here is the spectacle, the sense of immense proportions and its impact. This is a movie that screams “production designed to within an inch of its gaudy life”. There are sets the size of football fields, with ceilings that remain out of sight no matter how hard you look, and rear walls that are so far back from the camera they might as well have their own time zone. It’s excess on a super-grand scale, and DeMille keeps the camera lingering over the sheer enormity of it all, from Cleopatra’s barge to her triumphant arrival in Rome (which was overshadowed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 version). Victor Milner’s lush, exuberant cinematography captures it all (he also won an Academy Award for his efforts), but it’s the efforts of uncredited art directors Hans Dreier and Roland Anderson, along with costume designer Vicky Williams (also uncredited) that truly stand out. Without them, DeMille would have had a movie with no sets and naked stars. (And he would probably have been fine with that.)

Rating: 6/10 – a turgid script by Waldemar Young and Vincent Lawrence is rescued in entertainment terms by DeMille’s insistence on everything being more sumptuous than is humanly possible, and with as many scantily clad starlets hovering around as possible; the story is weak, the chemistry between Colbert and William is something that never convinces, and Wilcoxon at times looks and sounds like Guinn “Big Boy” Williams – and that’s definitely not a compliment.

10 Reasons to Remember Stèphane Audran (1932-2018)

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Stèphane Audran (8 November 1932 – 27 March 2018)

The Sixties were a boom time for French actresses, and Stèphane Audran certainly made her mark on international cinema during that period. Success came quickly after she began acting in the mid-Fifties, appearing on stage and in an early short movie by Eric Rohmer. In 1957 she was introduced to the director who would do the most to shape her career, Claude Chabrol (and who she would marry in 1964). Early in her career, she often played the lively, vivacious friend of the female lead, but Chabrol saw another persona that could be used to greater effect: that of a glamourous yet detached sophisticate whose emotions ran deep. It was the role that Audran was seemingly born to play, and during her early collaborations with her future second husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant was her first), it was the kind of part that she returned to time and again, but she was always able to give each portrayal a different spin. By the end of the Sixties, Audran was an established star of French cinema and one of its finest ambassadors around the world.

It was the Seventies that really saw her career take off, with a string of impressive performances that garnered her a clutch of awards, and which cemented her reputation as one of the most intelligent actresses of her generation. Audran had never really had much confidence in her abilities when she started out, but the reception to performances such as the one she gave in Just Before Nightfall gave her the boost she needed. As the decade progressed she consolidated her position as one of France’s best actresses, and began appearing in English language movies, such as The Black Bird (1975) and Silver Bears (1978). Her marriage to Chabrol was beginning to suffer by then, and her portrayal of Isabelle Huppert’s working class mother in Violette Nozière aside (a role she thought she wasn’t right for, but which brought her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress), Audran began to suffer psychosomatic problems. Her career declined for a time, and though she continued working, and still on occasion with Chabrol himself, the Eighties weren’t as successful for her as the Seventies were.

But it was a movie made in 1987 and set in 19th century Denmark that cemented her reputation: Babette’s Feast. Beautifully crafted and with perhaps Audran’s finest performance at its centre, this was the movie that erased any doubts as to her skills as an actress. She continued to work steadily from then on, and even though she never again scaled the heights of the previous decades, she remained a consistently reliable actress whose performances were always carried off with honesty and sincerity. All of which was a far cry from her formative years when she was plagued by illness, and an over-protective mother who disapproved of her decision to become an actress. By her own admission her early roles weren’t very good, and she always attributed her success to Chabrol, but if she was his muse – and they did make twenty-four movies together – then we should all be grateful that he saw what a talented actress she could be, and made sure that we all found out.

1 – Good Time Girls (1960)

2 – Les biches (1968)

3 – The Unfaithful Wife (1969)

4 – Le Boucher (1970)

5 – Just Before Nightfall (1971)

6 – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

7 – Violette Nozière (1978)

8 – Coup de Torchon (1981)

9 – Thieves After Dark (1984)

10 – Babette’s Feast (1987)

Batman (1943) – Chapter 3: The Mark of the Zombies

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 17m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Robert Fiske, George Chesebro, Gus Glassmire

Having fallen from a power line while carrying Linda to safety, she and Batman are saved by Robin throwing the line that helped him to the ground. Meanwhile, Dr Daka is still trying to persuade Linda’s uncle, Martin Warren, to join the New Order. When he refuses, Daka decides there’s nothing for it but to turn Warren into a zombie, another of his men that he controls through a radio microphone. Back at Wayne Manor, all Batman and Robin can do is wait for a response to the ad they placed in the newspapers about the radium gun. While they do, Daka arranges to have a military supply train blown up as it crosses a bridge that evening. Before that, though, he charges his men with responding to the ad and retrieving the radium gun. They fall for Batman’s trap, but in the process of escaping, leave behind details of their plan for the supply train. Racing to where Daka’s henchmen are planting the explosives, the ensuing fight leaves Batman unconscious on the bridge, and with the supply train thundering towards his prone body…

After the breakneck pace of Chapter 2, Chapter 3 settles into a steadier groove once Linda is saved. There’s more time spent with Dr Daka, time that gives the impression Naish is channelling the spirit of Peter Lorre as Mr Moto in his performance. And though the chapter is titled The Mark of the Zombies we’re still no nearer finding out why Daka even bothers turning people into zombies in the first place. We’ve seen a total of three so far: an ex-colleague of Warren’s who attacked Batman in Chapter 1 before inexplicably jumping to his death, and the two who act as doormen whenever Daka wants to move from the New Order’s meeting room to his adjacent laboratory. Now there’s poor old Warren to make it four. How fiendish! There’s fun to be had, though, in the contrast between Daka’s nefarious actions and a contemporaneous scene that sees Bruce and Dick lounging about at Wayne Manor waiting for a break to come their way. It could almost be a behind the scenes moment with Wilson and Croft waiting to be called for their next scene. Thankfully it’s a short scene and then the script remembers it needs to get a move on.

The plan to blow up the supply train serves as a reminder that for all the superhero trappings and radium gun shenanigans, Daka is at heart a saboteur working for Emperor Hirohito. It’s a timely reminder in terms of the overall story that it’s more than likely that Columbia had an idea for a World War II-set serial laying around and Batman was co-opted into it. But before all that, there’s the small matter of Daka’s henchmen and the trap set for them by Batman. The first of two excuses for another poorly choreographed punch up, this sequence features Alfred disguised as an early precursor of Colonel Sanders, and once the scrapping has started, calling for help on the telephone in his own inimitable English fashion: “Get me Scotland Yard… I mean get me the police… get me anybody, I’m being murdered!” As he did in Chapter 2, Austin steals the show (which admittedly isn’t difficult), and the action becomes more entertaining because of his presence. As for Wilson, he’s a little stiff this time around, perhaps reminding himself he’s got another twelve chapters to get through in that ill-fitting hood, and asking himself how did his career start off like this. What he should be asking, though, is just how is Batman going to survive this time…?

Rating: 7/10 – a solid, dependable chapter that isn’t as fast-paced as its predecessor, this is still entertaining stuff thanks to Hillyer’s firm hand on the tiller, and a script – give it up for Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker and Harry L. Fraser – that knows how to give the appearance of moving things forward while also keeping them static at the same time; at this point, Batman is in danger of just having the Caped Crusader turn up for a fight before being put in mortal jeopardy each week, but there’s enough here (so far) to stop that from being a problem.

Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017)

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D: Mark Cullen / 94m

Cast: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Famke Janssen, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Goldberg, Emily Robinson, Maurice Compte, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes, Adrian Martinez, Ken Davitian, Tyga, Wood Harris, Christopher McDonald, Kal Penn, Elisabeth Röhm

Steve Ford (Willis) is a private detective. He doesn’t appear to take anything seriously, except for his dog, Buddy. Buddy is the most important part of Steve’s life, and even though the dog spends more time with Steve’s niece, Taylor (Robinson), the bond between the two is unbreakable. While being chased – naked and on a skateboard – by the brothers of a young woman (Gomes) he shouldn’t be “seeing”, Steve is helped by an old friend, Tino (Martinez), who does so on one condition: that Steve retrieves Tino’s car, which has been stolen by a local gang. The gang’s leader is Spyder (Momoa), and when Steve manages to steal the car back, Spyder retaliates by stealing stuff from Taylor’s home – including Buddy. Steve tries to get Buddy back from Spyder, and they agree on a deal, but when Steve comes through he learns that Spyder’s girlfriend, Lupe (Sigman), has disappeared, taking Buddy and a briefcase full of drugs with her. Spyder makes Steve another deal: find Lupe and retrieve the briefcase, and Buddy can come back to him.

From time to time, a movie comes along that looks like the very definition of unprepossessing, and which you’re pretty certain is going to be either a disappointment, or a big letdown, or both. It’s a movie that requires little conscious thought in order to watch it, and which is likely to be about as memorable as that time you can’t remember from a week ago. Once Upon a Time in Venice is one such movie. There’s a phrase: so bad it’s good, and sometimes it’s an apt phrase, but not here. This is, and let’s not forget it or make allowances for it, a bad movie. On so many levels, from the performances, to the script, to the direction, and the casual stereotyping (or racism, if you want to use a stronger term). This is a movie that gets so much wrong it’s almost as if the makers were challenging themselves to under achieve. And yet… and yet… while it may appear unprepossessing, it’s also an unlikely candidate for Guilty Pleasure of 2017. It’s definitely not so bad that it’s good, it’s so bad that it’s actually enjoyable… though not always for the right reasons.

Now, we’ve become used to Bruce Willis phoning in his performances over the last ten years – notable exceptions: Moonrise Kingdom and Looper (both 2012) – and here it’s no different, but for some reason the silliness and the absurdity of it all, and the very broad acting ranges on display, actually help to make this movie more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Willis as Steve is like an eclectic combination of John McClane and the Three Stooges (though without the eye poking and the face slapping). Goodman plays Steve’s best friend, Dave, as if he’s having a stroke the whole time, while Momoa’s drug lord(!) is a muscular mumbler, short on smarts and far too easily manipulated. The plot seems to have been made up on the spot during filming, and Cullen’s direction is so loose that it’s in danger of being blown away. Whether it’s Willis in drag (not a pretty sight), or homophobic grafitti directed at minor character Lou the Jew (Goldberg) (the script actually says the soubriquet isn’t offensive because he calls himself that), this is a movie you can only follow along blindly, accepting it for what it is – very bad indeed – but enjoying it nevertheless.

Rating: 4/10 – somehow grabbing an extra point just by virtue of how barmy it all is, Once Upon a Time in Venice is a low-brow crime caper that contains way too much bad acting, way too much bad dialogue, and way too much bad everything else; but somehow it’s a movie you can laugh with instead of at, and it’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed… on so many levels.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

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Original title: Toki o kakeru shôjo

D: Mamoru Hosoda / 98m

Cast: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi, Mitsuki Tanimura, Yuki Sekido, Sachie Hara, Utawaka Katsura, Midori Ando

Makoto (Naka) is a seventeen year old whose life consists of one lucky break after another: whether she oversleeps or not she still gets to school in the nick of time, she does well enough on her tests even though she doesn’t study too hard, and when she loses control of her bike heading downhill toward a train crossing, she always manages to regain control just before reaching the barrier. She has two male friends, Chiaki (Ishida) and Kosuke (Itakura), whom she plays baseball with after school, and a female friend, Kaho (Tanimura). But her various relationships undergo a variety of changes – some good, some bad – when an accident at school leaves her with the ability to leap back in time. At first she tries to help her friends in different ways, but her plans and ideas always seem to backfire, and she has to keep repeatedly going back to the same times and places to try and fix the things that she’s caused to happen. Soon Makoto learns that she has a finite number of time leaps available to her, and as they begin to run out, she has to double her efforts to ensure that everyone affected – including herself – is better off than when she started.

It’s heartening to discover that in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the girl is only interested in using her gift to help others. She finds that helping herself has adverse effects on others that she couldn’t have predicted, while she also finds she has only modest ambitions for herself. Instead she tries to bring Kosuke and Kaho together (an idea that suffers a multitude of setbacks), and attempts to find out more about her newfound gift. One of the nicest things about Satoko Okudera’s script, itself a semi-sequel to Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name, is that it doesn’t preach about the perils of interfering in the lives of others, or how dangerous it might be to meddle with time. What we get instead is a sensitive portrait of teen anxiety in the face of unresolved romantic feelings, and a heartfelt treatise on the nature of individual responsibility. What hampers Makoto from getting things right is her inexperience and her naïvete; she can’t see the potential consequences of her actions, no matter how unselfish they might be.

Hosoda brings all this together in charming and winning fashion, and provides an often beautiful backdrop for the action. The backgrounds are often astonishing for their vibrancy and depth of colour, and many scenes have a simplicity of style and execution that is inspiring. However, while the characters are well drawn, certain aesthetic decisions conspire to make them look outlandish and bizarre. Makoto suffers the most, with one scene showing her tipping her head back with laughter and her mouth widening to the extent that it looks freakish (or something out of a horror movie). And Hosoda curiously elects to remove all facial features from characters when they are in the background. These elements, along with a sub-plot about a time traveller from the future and a particular painting Makoto’s aunt is restoring, distract from the overall effect, and prove unsettling and unrewarding in equal measure. But there is a fresh, joyous quality to the material that makes up for much of this, and there are plenty of subtle emotional layers to be savoured throughout the movie. The voice cast acquits itself well, and though Hosoda’s direction is uneven at times, this remains a delightful, if unspectacular, coming-of-age anime.

Rating: 7/10 – it’s easy to forget that there are other animation studios in Japan beside Studio Ghibli (here it’s Madhouse), but despite some obvious flaws, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a positive reminder; engaging and unpretentious, it’s a movie that treats its more serious themes with genuine integrity, while adding a lively sense of humour, all of which makes for an entertaining, if not entirely polished, viewing experience.

I Kill Giants (2017)

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D: Anders Walter / 106m

Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Art Parkinson, Jennifer Ehle

For Barbara Thorson (Wolfe), the existence of giants is a given, as much a part of the fabric of her daily life as brushing her teeth or riding the bus to school. Barbara is an expert on giants, she knows their origins and their proclivities, but worse still, she’s seen one in the forests outside the town where she lives. Knowing their destructive power, she determines to save the town, and constructs elaborate traps designed to kill the giant. Of course, no one else believes her when she talks about these terrible creatures, not her adult sister, Karen (Poots), or her older brother, Dave (Parkinson). At school she’s treated like the outsider she’s happy to be, and is regularly targeted by the school bully, Taylor (Jackson). The arrival of Sophia (Wade) from England gives her a chance to make both a friend and an ally in her fight against the giants, but with the omens and portents pointing toward a greater threat than even she is prepared for, Barbara’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. Her friendship with Sophia suffers, she rejects the help of the school psychologist, Mrs Mollé (Saldana), and does her best to avoid talking about the reasons why her main weapon against the giants is called Coveleski…

Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, and with a script by Kelly, I Kill Giants is a winning blend of teen drama and fantasy thriller that plays it straight throughout, and when it does add humour, ensures that it’s as mordaunt as possible. Barbara’s world is convincingly structured from the start, and as the movie progresses, Kelly’s script adds the kind of layers that make it difficult for the viewer to dismiss Barbara’s fantasy world as being just that (there are moments when you’ll be sure it’s all in her head, and then moments when you won’t be). The movie provides clues as to the reality of what’s happening, but unless you’ve already read the original graphic novel, it’s unlikely you’ll piece it all together before the end. This means that the tone of the movie is dark overall, with its themes of imminent peril from without (the giants) and from within (Taylor), the fractured dynamic of Barbara’s family, and the cause – if there is one – of her retreat into a fantasy world.

With all these elements in place, you could be forgiven for thinking that I Kill Giants is a dour, depressing movie, but thanks to Kelly’s understanding of the characters and first-timer Walter’s sympathetic approach, not to mention an impressive performance from Wolfe, this is often uplifting stuff when it’s not addressing the serious natures of its various themes. Inevitably, Barbara is the kind of precocious child who can talk to adults on their own level, and leave them dumbfounded (something that only seems to happen in the movies), while her friendship with Sophia goes through the kinds of trials that leaves Sophia feeling less like a fully developed character and more of a deus ex machina. Elsewhere, there’s a striking animated section that depicts the origins and various incarnations of the giants, and several moments where the sound is either distorted or withdrawn in order to show Barbara’s disorientation when faced with certain unpalatable facts. Rasmus Heise’s cinematography, with its largely muted colour scheme, adds to the overall tone, and there’s a fascinating degree of detail in Stijn Guillaume’s set decoration.

Rating: 8/10 – an ambitious Irish/Belgian co-production, I Kill Giants tells its story with a great degree of warmth and affinity for its central character, and in doing so, proves itself to be noticeably sincere; it’s a cleverly assembled movie, forthright and stirring in places, and like all the best stories, it doesn’t give up its secrets until it absolutely has to.

Beast of Burden (2018)

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D: Jesper Ganslandt / 90m

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Grace Gummer, Pablo Schreiber, Robert Wisdom, Cesar Perez, David Joseph Martinez

Ex-US Air Force and Peace Corps pilot Sean Haggerty (Radcliffe) has a bit of a problem: he’s making a clandestine flight from Mexico to the US, and he’s carrying twenty-five kilos of drugs for a Mexican cartel. The plane he’s flying sounds like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, his Mexican handlers clearly don’t trust him for a minute, and as if either of these things wasn’t bad enough, he’s also being squeezed by the DEA into fetching them a laptop that (presumably, because we’re not actually told) contains incriminating evidence about the cartel. And when the flight plan is changed mid-flight, and a certain Mr Mallory (Wisdom) starts calling Sean and asking if he loves his wife, Jen (Gummer), it’s clear that it’s going to take a lot to keep Sean out of further trouble, and Jen safe. With Mallory and DEA agent Bloom (Schreiber) both calling him to keep him in respective line, and Jen calling him with an agenda of her own, Sean finds himself being painted into a corner that he’s unlikely to escape from.

Essaying yet another character dealing with an extreme physical and emotional dilemma, Daniel Radcliffe is Beast of Burden‘s principal asset, its MVP if you will. As Sean, Radcliffe spends most of his screen time in the plane’s cockpit, but it’s a tremendously focused performance – vivid, compelling, forceful and driven. Sean is effectively a loser trying one last time to get ahead, to boost his waning sense of self-worth and to show Jen (though she doesn’t know just how) that he can make things right in the wake of their finding out that she has ovarian cancer and may never have children. Yes, we’re in “one last big score” territory, but thanks to Adam Hoelzel’s sometimes wayward yet effective script, Radcliffe’s committed performance, and Ganslandt’s tough, muscular direction, it doesn’t always feel so clichéd or so derivative that it reminds you too often of other similarly themed movies. Instead, it grabs the attention and doesn’t let up as Sean’s position becomes increasingly threatened, and the machinations of both Bloom and Mallory ensure that whatever happens, if he comes out of it all alive, then he’ll be one very lucky drug mule indeed. Shot in close up for the most part, Radcliffe’s expressive features run the gamut from despair to anger to paranoia to fear to bewilderment to anguish and all the way back to despair again.

But while Sean is in the air and the movie sticks to its one singular purpose, to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller, two narrative decisions mar the movie as a whole. One is the involvement of Jen. At first she’s the wife trying to cope with the possibility that she and her husband are drifting apart in the wake of her illness, but then the script catapults her into the action and she has to be rescued. There are no prizes for realising that this has to happen once Sean is on the ground, and that’s the second problem with the narrative: once Sean inevitably crash lands, the script crashes with him. The last ten minutes or so lack the focus of the previous seventy-five minutes, and what transpires is a huge disappointment in relation to what’s gone before. Thanks to Hoelzel and Ganslandt both taking their eye off the ball, the tension and the claustrophobia that’s been carefully built up, evaporates in the blink of an eye. It’s a shame, as up until then, this is a very entertaining thriller indeed.

Rating: 7/10 – anchored by another tremendous performance from Radcliffe, Beast of Burden is a thriller that gleefully – and effectively – tortures its central character, and then does an about face in favour of a messy, contrived ending; the movie also benefits from Sherwood Jones’s astute editing skills, a stirring and portentous score from Tim Jones, and the oppressive nature of seeing one man confined in such a relatively small space and trying to deal with much larger problems.

Poster of the Week – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

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When considering this particular poster for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, one thing is obvious: it’s so much subtler than some of the other versions out there. It takes one of the movie’s most iconic images and makes it the centrepiece, and does so in such a way that it highlights the exuberance contained within the movie itself, and the striking nature of the costumes. That massively extended, billowing train of silver fabric is also a bold statement of intent, a signal to prospective viewers that, just as they haven’t seen this kind of imagery before, so the movie will offer other sights they won’t have witnessed before (not the least of which will be the sight of Hugo Weaving in full on drag queen make up). This vision of excess and casual effrontery is impressive for its juxtaposition with the rather more solid and slightly battered presence of Priscilla herself, the tour bus seen making its way across the Australian Outback. By providing an apparent contrast between the expressive freedom of the costume, and the bulky shell of the tour bus, it’s takes a second to realise that in terms of the overall image there’s a connection that allows each to be an extension of the other; after all, they are both silver in colour.

Above them both is the poster’s boldest and most dramatic element: the dark blue sky against which the costume is framed. That much blue – taking up over a third of the poster – seems like it should be a bad idea, but with the principal cast members’ names arraigned across the top of the poster, their presence undercuts and softens the harsh nature of the blue sky. It also draws the attention to the sloping nature of Terence Stamp’s name, something that is at odds with the uniformity of the other three names. It’s a slight difference, and one that would probably go unnoticed at first glance, but it’s there, and little quirks such as this one always make a poster that much more interesting. In contrast, the lettering used for the title is split in such a way that the overlong (and somewhat clunky) title is rendered more palatable to the eye than if it had taken up more space. The reduction of all the words except for Priscilla works despite their almost being lost against the white sandy backdrop. And with the name Priscilla being given “star billing”, the importance of the tour bus to the story is reinforced by its name being on its own destination panel as well.

However, and despite the very good work on display across much of the poster, it does get some things wrong – three of them to be precise. The inclusion of what amounts to tiny doll representations of the characters played by Terence Stamp (black head-dress), Hugo Weaving (red head-dress), and Guy Pearce (tanned legs and shiny buttocks), is something of a design faux pas (darlings). Each image looks like the kind of scale size action figure available in a collector’s set, or as an offer from a cereal packet (send in six tokens to get the set!). Two are awkwardly placed and detract from the overall effect the poster is aiming for, and appear to have been included as a way of filling what would otherwise have been more blank space. Weaving’s place as the second I in Priscilla at least gives his figure a purpose, but it’s still an unnecessary one; it would have been better not to have included them at all. It’s still an evocative and attractive poster, though, and it uses its other elements to better, and more persuasive effect. (And better still, there aren’t any ping pong balls to explain away.)

Unsane (2018)

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D: Steven Soderbergh / 97m

Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving, Polly McKie, Gibson Frazier, Aimee Mullins, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Sarah Stiles

In Steven Soderbergh’s first stab at directing a horror movie, Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is a smart businesswoman making a fresh start for herself in a new town and with a new job. The reason for the fresh start is David Strine (Leonard), the man who stalked her for two years before she managed to get a court to issue a restraining order. But Sawyer begins to see him in various places – not directly, but out of the corner of her eye, or at a distance. Troubled by this and seeking a sympathetic ear, Sawyer attends a facility that purports to help victims of stalkers. But instead of helping her, the staff at the facility mislead her into voluntarily committing herself for twenty-four hours. When she realises this, Sawyer’s agitation leads her to strike an orderly; this results in her stay being extended to seven days. Things go from bad to worse when one of the night orderlies turns out to be Strine, masquerading as “George Shaw”. With the help of a fellow patient, Nate (Pharoah), Sawyer gets word to her mother (Irving), but with the facility legally in the right, she must rely on her wits to see out the seven days, and to stay away from Strine…

While watching Unsane it’s worth remembering that as a director, Steven Soderbergh has an eclectic, and distinctly personal approach to his projects. Touted as his first attempt at horror, the movie is actually a psychological thriller laced with horror elements, but even with that caveat, it’s clear from very early on that Soderbergh isn’t really interested in making a horror movie. Instead, Soderbergh – working from a script by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer – appears to be more interested in making a feminist statement, one that supports the idea that women, even now, with the MeToo movement and all, still aren’t being listened to. Instead, the movie is saying, women have to be resourceful and work things out for themselves. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a theme or a message, but as Sawyer is initially presented as a strong, more than competent businesswoman, the idea that she could be tricked into committing herself into a mental health institution – that she wouldn’t check the small print, as it were – strains credulity from the start.

There is much else that is problematical, from Strine popping up on Day Two (how does he know Sawyer is going to be committed, or that she’ll have her stay extended?), to the intransigence of the facility’s staff, and the uninspired laziness of the local police force (which seems to consist almost entirely of two patrol car officers). At least the script doesn’t belabour the whole is-it-or-isn’t-it-all-in-her-head approach, choosing instead to come down firmly on one side of the fence quite soon after Sawyer’s confinement. This allows the movie to switch from being a woman in peril movie to a woman still in peril but resilient enough to win through in the end movie. Foy is very good indeed as Sawyer, determined and tough even when she’s feeling vulnerable, while Leonard is the epitome of creepiness as Strine, his teddy bear countenance belying his twisted mindset. But while the script is saved in part by the quality of the performances, it’s Soderbergh who saves it the most, his visual approach to the material energising certain scenes and providing an unsettling mise-en-scène in others. There are moments where Sawyer’s sense of isolation is highlighted by having the background stretching away unnaturally behind her, and it’s these kinds of moments that are the most effective. But when all is said and done, this is still just another generic thriller, with too many plot holes, and too many occasions where the phrase, “Oh, come on!” seems entirely appropriate.

Rating: 5/10 – more of an exercise in style and visual representation – Sawyer having a psychotropic break is brilliantly realised – Unsane is a movie that, on the surface, appears to have more depth to it than it actually has; standard fare then, and emboldened in places by Soderbergh’s mercurial direction, but not the edge-of-your-seat thriller that it so obviously wants to be.

Batman (1943) – Chapter 2: The Bat’s Cave

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 17m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Charles C. Wilson, I. Stanford Jolley

Having been pushed off the top of the Gotham City Foundation building, Batman’s fall is broken by a conveniently situated maintenance cradle. Quickly back on the roof, he and Robin capture one of Dr Daka’s henchmen, and the radium gun they were using. They take the henchman back to the Bat Cave where the threat of being left alone with numerous bats scares the man into revealng the location of one of Daka’s hideouts, a fluff joint called the House of the Open Door. Meanwhile, Dr Daka is furious that his men have lost the radium gun, but he believes that one of the staff at the Foundation might have it. He targets Linda Page and arranges for his men to kidnap her. Using their only lead, Batman and Robin head to the House of the Open Door and manage to identify the room Linda is being held in. They get in through the window, and a fight ensues, during which some deadly chemicals are released. Forced to take flight back through the window, Robin crosses a power line and makes it safely to the ground. But one of Daka’s henchmen causes an electrical surge to course through the power line, causing Batman and Linda to fall to their certain death…

With the basic set up and character introductions of Chapter 1 out of the way, Chapter 2 can get on with the job of being faster paced, packing in more incident, and properly showing off the high-waisted design of Batman’s costume. It all makes for a more enjoyable, and entertaining, episode, and one that has time to feature Alfred as being more than just a chauffeur – though at the expense of Linda, who becomes the very epitome of a damsel in distress. However, Alfred is portrayed as something of a Nervous Nellie, even though he’s keen to get involved in the action. As a secondary character, it’s good to see him given more screen time, but still, this is called Batman rather than Alfred, and this episode sees Lewis Wilson’s portly Caped Crusader and Douglas Croft’s perma-permed Robin spending equal time in and out of costume. There’s a section where they don ordinary Joe disguises as a bum and a newsboy respectively, and carry out some sleuthing; it feels like Columbia’s way of acknowledging the fact that Batman got his start in Detective Comics.

And as the chapter title suggests, there’s our first proper introduction to the Bat Cave, a bare-bones, one-room affair that reminds us of the serial’s budgetary restraints, but which does lead to the Dynamic Duo appearing inside Wayne Manor via a grandfather clock, something that would be adapted in time by the comics. It’s details like this that help keep things fascinating for fans, and shows that even though this isn’t a big budget prestige picture, it’s still something that a lot of thought has gone into. Hillyer throws off the shackles of Chapter 1 to keep things at an often breakneck speed, and even allows for a few moments where the cast actually get a chance to act (Batman’s disguise as a bum is rendered credibly by Wilson, and there’s a delightful throwaway line for Charles C. Wilson as the beleaguered police chief, Arnold). There’s drama, there’s comedy, there’s thrills and spills, and there’s a sense that, after the stodgy scene setting of the first episode, that things have gotten better and should – hopefully – continue to do so. Now how is Batman going to survive this cliffhanger…?

Rating: 8/10 – a massive improvement in quality over Chapter 1, this entry feels looser in its approach to the story, and is much, much better without the racist posturings of its predecessor; two episodes in and Batman has become a winner, lively and exciting, and having overcome the stiffness and self-consciousness that marred the performances last time round.

The Green Butchers (2003)

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Original title: De grønne slagtere

D: Anders Thomas Jensen / 100m

Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Line Kruse, Ole Thestrup, Bodil Jørgensen, Aksel Erhardtsen, Lily Weiding, Nicolas Bro, Camilla Bendix, Elsebeth Steentoft

Svend (Mikkelsen) and Bjarne (Kaas) are friends who work for their local butcher, Holger (Thestrup). Holger is a success thanks to the quality of his sausages, but he’s arrogant and treats the two friends as if they were idiots. But Svend has always wanted to open his own butcher’s shop in tandem with Bjarne, and when the opportunity presents itself, that’s exactly what he does. There’s a lot of work to do in getting the shop ready, including seeing to the electrics in the meat freezer. When the electrician carrying out the work is locked in the freezer overnight, Svend finds his body. But before he can do anything about it, Holger calls in with an order for a dinner party he’s having that evening. Svend obliges, but has to confess to Bjarne that he included fillets from the electrician’s leg in the order. The next day, the shop is besieged by customers, and though Svend promises the electrician is a one-off, the temptation to come up with other “donors” – and continue their success – proves too much for him to follow through on…

A low-key black comedy that adopts a largely matter-of-fact approach to its mildly anarchic narrative, The Green Butchers is an enjoyable romp that retains a subtlety of purpose at the same time as it throws a number of farcical elements into the mix as its story unfolds. Aside from the small matter of Svend & Co providing the kind of customer service Sweeney Todd would be proud of, there’s also the small matter of Bjarne’s twin brother, Eigil (Kaas), in a coma when we first meet him, and then running around and complicating matters. But just when Eigil’s vegetarianism and love of animals seems bound to reveal the truth about Svend & Co, the script pulls a fast one and his presence ends up jeopardising Bjarne’s budding romance with Astrid (Kruse), a local girl whose uncle just so happens to have eaten human flesh before (yes, really). While Bjarne tries to rebuild his life and move past a tragedy caused by his brother, Svend continues on a dark murderous spiral into insanity that shows no sign of halting. Thanks to their tortured pasts – Svend has never known love, even from his parents – both men become inured to what they’re doing.

That the movie never loses sight of their humanity and doesn’t make them look and feel like caricatures, is a testament to Jensen’s skill as a writer and director. Though the narrative does its best to wrong foot the viewer, much of it is foreseeable if not entirely predictable, and what few twists and turns there are, are handled with care and don’t overwhelm the storyline. As for Bjarne and Svend, they’re a likeable odd couple, with Bjarne’s laidback pothead demeanour a perfect foil for Svend’s arrogant, over-compensating nature. Svend is often unnecessarily spiteful, and Mikkelsen (with his severe hairstyle) makes him a wretch who’s almost incapable of good intentions, while Kaas gives full expression to the conflicting emotions Bjarne feels toward his brother. Both actors are on good form, and it’s a pleasure to watch them at work, while the dark humour and inherent absurdities of the plot are teased out with patience and skill by Jensen. It’s an amiable movie, content to avoid dwelling on the messier aspects of Svend & Co’s acquisition of its “chicken” products, and therefore lacking “bite”, but for a movie that concerns itself with murder and cannabalism, it’s also refreshing for its restraint and self-discipline.

Rating: 7/10 – there’s no shortage of laughs in The Green Butchers, but then its moral compass is more than a little off-kilter, and its two main characters delightfully adaptable to their predicament; perhaps a little too tame to make much of a dramatic impact, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable slice of Danish hokum, with winning performances and some knowing things to say about the pursuit of fame and success.

Spielberg (2017)

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D: Susan Lacy / 147m

With: Steven Spielberg, Leah Adler, Francis Ford Coppola, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian De Palma, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Dreyfuss, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Michael Kahn, Janusz Kaminski, Tony Kushner, George Lucas, Janet Maslin, Dennis Muren, Martin Scorsese, A.O. Scott, Anne Spielberg, Arnold Spielberg, Nancy Spielberg, Sue Spielberg, John Williams, Vilmos Zsigmond

Spielberg opens with a confession from the man himself: that when he saw Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for the first time, it made him realise he couldn’t be a director. The scope and the depth of David Lean’s extraordinary movie was so far beyond Spielberg’s own capabilities as a budding movie maker that it was overwhelming. But not even Lean’s masterpiece could deter him completely. The next week he saw it again, and again the week after that, and the week after that… Awake to the possibilities that cinema could offer and provide, Spielberg continued to make short movies of his own, including Amblin’ (1968). This brought him to the attention of Sid Sheinberg, then president of Universal, who took a chance on him. A short stint in television led to his first feature, Duel (1971), and just four years later, he changed the face of cinema forever by making the first summer blockbuster, Jaws (1975). The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Susan Lacy’s celebratory documentary focuses on the various highs of Spielberg’s career, while studiously ignoring the lows. This is to be expected perhaps, but while the likes of Jaws, E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Jurassic Park (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), and Lincoln (2012) are studied in some detail, once 1941 (1979) is dealt with (“Why couldn’t I make a comedy?”), the focus settles on establishing Spielberg as a predominantly serious movie maker, and not the populist movie maker who, at his best, can still inspire the kinds of awe and wonder that other directors can only dream of. Lacy looks to how Spielberg has grown as a director, and how he’s used each new experience behind the camera as a way of augmenting and perfecting his craft. Even now, after more than fifty years as a director, Spielberg comes across as someone who’s still learning, and is eager to do so. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an engaging and often self-deprecating interviewee, and throughout he makes references to growing up and being a child of divorce, something that has infused much of his work since.

His recollections and reminiscences are supported by a range of collaborators and interested parties, but none are as interesting as those supplied by his family, from his mother Leah, father Arnold, and sisters Anne, Nancy and Sue. Their memories of his childhood, coupled with his feelings about being Jewish, help broaden our understanding of Spielberg the person, and what has driven him in his work over the years. But while he’s open and honest about his parents’ divorce and the effect it had on him, and the importance of his own family now, the absence of Kate Capshaw is curious (and unexplained). That aside, and though the movie overall is a fascinating endorsement of his career and achievements, it’s perhaps a little too safe in its approach. Though a plethora of behind the scenes footage, and photographs from his childhood and early career is welcome, and Spielberg is a worthy subject, there’s a sense that his observations about those movies which weren’t so successful – Hook (1991), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), or The BFG (2016) – would have been equally welcome. Lacy correctly focuses on Spielberg’s strengths as a director and the high regard he has amongst his peers, but even that brings up another issue: with Spielberg having had a considerable influence on a range of movie makers over the last forty-plus years, why are their contributions as noticeably absent as Capshaw’s?

Rating: 7/10 – a documentary that isn’t as wide-ranging as it could have been (and despite its running time), Spielberg is still an entertaining journey through the director’s life and career that is informative and convivial; having Spielberg revisit many of his movies is illuminating, and there’s enough here that’s new or previously unrevealed to make this – for now – the place to go to find out how and why he makes the movies he does.

80,000 Suspects (1963)

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D: Val Guest / 109m

Cast: Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Yolande Donlan, Cyril Cusack, Michael Goodliffe, Mervyn Johns, Kay Walsh, Norman Bird, Basil Dignam, Arthur Christiansen

It’s New Year’s Eve and all is not well between Dr Steven Monks (Johnson) and his wife, Julie (Bloom). After nine years their marriage is faltering. He has had an affair with a long-time friend, Ruth Preston (Donlan), the wife of one of his colleagues, Clifford (Goodliffe), but Julie only has vague suspicions and half-formed ideas as to why their marriage is in trouble. The discovery that a patient at the hospital where Steven works has smallpox, at first puts their problems to one side, but as more and more sufferers are found and the threat of an epidemic hangs over everyone, their relationship – and how they overcome their issues – takes on a greater importance for both of them. Julie contracts the virus, while at the same time, Ruth may or may not have left her husband. With the authorities stretched to the limit in their efforts to contain the outbreak, personal animosities become heightened, Steven and Julie find themselves making irrevocable decisions about their marriage, and one carrier threatens the safety of everyone…

Adapted from the novel, The Pillars of Midnight by Elleston Trevor, 80,000 Suspects is three movies rolled into one. There’s the hospital-based drama that unfolds as more and more smallpox sufferers are discovered and the Ministry of Health is brought in to save the day, there’s the relationship drama built around the problems of Steven and Julie, and there’s a late addition in the form of a race against time to find the last carrier, which makes it a thriller. All these elements bump against each other as the movie unfolds, and though they don’t always do so in an organic or believable way, the strength of the material overall ensures any rough transitions are smoothed over as quickly as possible. As each element is explored, the script also ensures that they’re not explored for too long before moving on or away to the next development in the story. This keeps the narrative ticking over effectively, and allows the characters – even the minor ones such as Johns’ over-anxious Ministry of Health coordinator – to stand out as credibly as possible. Working from his own script, director Val Guest adroitly keeps the focus where it’s needed, and elicits good performances from all concerned (though you could argue Johnson is a little stiff at times).

Shot in and around the town of Bath during the winter of early 1963 (which was particularly bad), the movie benefits from its location work, and the involvement of local residents in the scenes involving mass vaccination (watch out too for a cameo from Thirties star Graham Moffatt as a man with a fear of needles). This level of verisimilitude adds greatly to the no-frills approach adopted by Guest, and helps to make the potential scale of the epidemic that much more frightening. And for once, there aren’t any hidden agendas or characters using the outbreak for personal gain, just a group of people trying to do their best under difficult circumstances. The inter-relationships between the Monks’ and the Prestons does lead to a couple of soap opera-style moments, but these are forgivable in a movie that, by and large, could be mistaken at times as being a reconstruction of past events. Guest oversees it all with his usual skill, and in tandem with DoP Arthur Grant, uses the CinemaScope format to impressive effect, even though he relies on medium shots for most of the movie. Often gripping, this is a minor British classic, and easily due a revival.

Rating: 8/10 – an intelligent, yet modest drama with thriller leanings, 80,000 Suspects invests heavily in its characters and uses its smallpox outbreak as a way of exploring their faults and foibles, and in some depth; Bloom is terrific as the conflicted Julie, but Guest is the movies’s MVP, and if for nothing else, than for showing the fear and paranoia about the outbreak spreading out of control coming not from the public, but from the authorities trying to combat it.

NOTE: At present, there isn’t a trailer for 80,000 Suspects.

Kuleana (2017)

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D: Brian Kohne / 95m

Cast: Moronai Kanekoa, Sonya Balmores, Kristina Anapau, Stefan C. Schaefer, Augie Tulba, Marlene Sai, Branscombe Richmond, Mel Cabang, Vene Chun, Kainoa Horcajo, Steven Dascoulias

Hawaii, 1971. Nohea (Kanekoa) has returned home from Vietnam minus his left leg from the knee down, and with an uncertain future. He’s under pressure to sell the land his family has lived on for generations, and his grandmother (Sai), the current family elder, isn’t well enough to stop him. Things become even more complicated when his Aunt Rose (Anapau) appears to have committed suicide. Rose was married to a property developer who came from the mainland, Victor Coyle (Schaefer). In 1959, their adopted daughter, Kimberly, and Nohea’s father (Horcajo), disappeared. Victor accused Nohea’s father of kidnapping Kimberly, but as no trace of them was ever found, both are now presumed dead. Rose’s death brings the past and the present into sharp focus as Nohea tries to make sense of what happened twelve years ago, while also trying to fit back into a life and a culture that he’s lost his connection to. With Coyle intent on buying up as much land as possible for his own financial gain, and Nohea being drawn into Rose’s death, Kimberly’s sudden reappearance brings even further problems.

Kuleana is the Hawaiian word for responsibility. It’s a word that hangs heavy over writer-director Brian Kohne’s second feature, a sincere, culturally sensitive drama that unfolds patiently and with quiet skill. It’s a movie that focuses on the characters first and the drama second, but which also ties them together so that as the twin stories unfold in both 1959 and 1971, the characters drive the events that happen much more than they react to them. Pitched against a backdrop of the continued homogenisation of Hawaiian culture by US influences – Coyle’s development plans inevitably make no room for maintaining any traditions or beliefs about the land – the movie shows how the erosion of cultural values was taking its toll. Nohea’s conflicted struggle to make sense of his own future is reflected in the attitudes of his uncle, Bossy (Chun), who supports Coyle’s plans, and The Moke (Richmond), an enforcer for a local mobster (Cabang) who finds it increasingly difficult to put aside his tribal roots. By showing the political and social divisions that were prevalent at the time, Kohne ensures the movie is more than about the mystery surrounding Rose’s death, or if Kimberly’s return will complicate matters.

Kohne gets his message across clearly and concisely, and makes the most of a limited budget. Dan Hersey’s cinematography highlights the natural beauty of the Maui locations without making them look like picture postcard versions of themselves, while Adi Ell-Ad’s fluid yet measured editing ensures the narrative plays out in confident style and at a good pace. The performances are good, with Kanekoa giving an understated yet compelling portrayal of a man trying not to be at odds with his heritage, while Balmores carries the weight of the wrongs done to Kimberly with a steely determination. As Coyle, Schaefer is stuck with the one character who doesn’t have an arc but who does have a bad wig, and Anapau, as Rose, doesn’t get the opportunity to do more with her pivotal role than is absolutely necessary. This is due to the demands of the main storyline, and is therefore unavoidable, but Rose is one character we could have spent more time with. Kohne adds some magical realism into the mix to good effect, but scores even higher with his choice of Willie K and Johnny Wilson for the score. Their efforts, combined with a soundtrack that includes a poignant use of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, add an emotional layer that complements and enhances the material from beginning to end.

Rating: 8/10 – despite some story elements that are either prosaic and/or predictable, Kuleana is an involving, credible drama that ensures its Hawaiian cultural backdrop is just as important as its central storyline; if this is an example of what can be achieved by Hawaiian movie makers working “at home”, then let’s hope that there will be many more opportunities for them to do so in the future.

Poster of the Week – Virtue (1932)

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Passion, torment, fear, distrust, regret – all these are present in the poster for Virtue, a pre-Code potboiler that uses an already well-worn theme to tell its sexploitation story. The wife with an embarrassing past was already a movie staple by 1932, and the poster for Virtue is a good example of the way in which the studios – here it’s Columbia – tried to be both exploitative and responsible in their promotion of a “racy” picture. (Which concept do you think they were more interested in?) What’s interesting about this poster is its combination of disparate and not immediately complementary elements – and to modern eyes – the rather dated and slightly humorous sexual overtones.

The top part of the poster is given over to what would have been regarded as a shocking tagline, one given extra emphasis by an exaggerated exclamation mark. Make no mistake, this tagline is saying, this is going to be strong stuff (and you won’t be disappointed). The euphemism is clear, but as usual it’s the kind of hyperbole that promises a lot, but which the movie itself won’t be able to provide. Then there’s the swirling blue background, something of a miasma designed to represent the turmoil the characters will find themselves battling. But as we travel down the poster, this murky miasma gives way to depictions of the two main characters, and the jarring use of orange and yellow hues to depict the passion that exists between them. A closer inspection, however, reveals something else, something revealed in their expressions. O’Brien’s character is looking at Lombard with apprehension, while Lombard returns his gaze with a concerned look of her own. It’s almost as if she’s asking herself, does he know? With this dynamic in place,it’s then that the poster decides it’s time to highlight the suggestive nature of the movie, and gives us Lombard’s exposed throat and the hint of a swelling breast.

Sometimes, when you see posters from the pre-Code era, it’s interesting to see just what was regarded as “racy” or “provocative”. Here we have the unflattering sight of Lombard (sadly not provided with the best of representations) in a pink chemise with a black shawl over one shoulder, her right hand behind her head in what was no doubt intended to be a sultry pose reflecting the kind of “past” O’Brien doesn’t know about. It’s the pose of someone with a disreputable character, but too awkwardly designed and executed to have quite the effect required. More startling is the spectral hand reaching out as if attempting to touch Lombard’s right breast, or perhaps to clutch at the more sultry embodiment further to the right. It’s a clumsy expression of the past life that’s about to catch up with her, and would be better off on the poster for a Forties’ horror movie. And then there’s the movie’s title, highlighted in blatant yellow, and a counterpoint to the rest of the imagery – as well as being something of a challenge. Virtue? you might ask? Really?

The rest of the poster, with its strong yet ugly shade of green used as a backdrop for the stars’ names and an unnecessary city landscape, is perfunctory if a little brutal. Judged as a whole, though, this is a poster that works surprisingly well, its contrasting colour scheme and pictorial stylings somehow coming together to make an effective piece of advertising. You could argue that it’s not pretty, and you could argue that it’s too inconsistent in its composition, but while all that may be true, what can be said with absolute authority is that this is a poster that captures the attention and has a lot to offer – and in spite of its diverse components.

All the Way (2016)

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D: Jay Roach / 132m

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Todd Weeks, Ray Wise, Ken Jenkins, Dohn Norwood, Mo McRae, Marque Richardson, Aisha Hinds, Joe Morton

In the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, newly sworn in (and ex-Vice) President Lyndon B. Johnson (Cranston) referred to himself as the “accidental President”. Kennedy’s death and Johnson’s sudden ascent to the highest position in US politics may have come as a shock, but Johnson was a firm believer in the ideals and policies of his predecessor in the White House. The Civil Rights Bill was one such ideal, and one of Johnson’s earliest statements to the Press confirmed his intention to have the Bill passed into law within the coming year. Inevitably, Johnson encountered opposition to his plan, but from within his own party, the Democrats. Political factions in the South tried to stop the Bill from being passed. Even Johnson’s mentor, Richard Russell Jr (Langella), worked against him, while Johnson sought support from Martin Luther King Jr (Mackie). Through a series of political manoeuvrings and confrontations, Johnson succeeded in getting the bill passed, even after removing a critical section that would have enabled blacks to have voting rights. But then there was the small matter of campaigning to be elected President…

Adapted by Robert Schenkkan from his original play of the same name, All the Way covers that fateful first year in the wake of Kennedy’s death. It’s an absorbing, deftly handled movie that packs in a lot of exposition while also finding time to explore the character and the personality of a President who, outside of the US at least, isn’t as well known as some of his predecessors and successors. Johnson was President at a pivotal time in American history, and by focusing on his first year in office, the movie shows just how dedicated he was to making huge social and political changes happen. And thanks to the combination of Schenkkan’s skill as a writer, and Cranston’s skill as an actor, the complexity of the man is brought vividly to life. Johnson the President is shown as tough, determined, and something of a bully. Johnson the man is shown as being wracked by doubt, and insecurity. Cranston gives possibly his finest performance as LBJ, inhabiting the role to such an extent that it’s easy to forget that it’s Cranston at all (though he is helped by a superb makeup job).

As well as depicting the various sides to Johnson, Schenkkan and director Jay Roach take care to flesh out the supporting characters, and ensure they’re not there just to give LBJ someone to square off with. As MLK, Mackie is patient and implacable, pushing LBJ to do what’s right, while Leo offers dignified and persuasive support as Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird. Langella is equally good as the experienced politician who finds himself outwitted by his protegé (and feels betrayed by him), and there’s further sterling support from Whitford (as future Vice President Hubert Humphrey), Root (as J. Edgar Hoover), and Weeks (as Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s top aide). Roach keeps things fairly simple, though there are moments where the political ramifications of certain decisions may confound viewers not up to speed on the issues of the time (and despite Schenkkan’s best efforts). However, this is compelling stuff that begins slowly and gradually builds up speed as it heads toward Election Night in November 1964. If there is one issue, though, that the movie itself never overcomes, it’s the flatness of Jim Denault’s cinematography. This may be a TV movie, but there are times when the image feels lifeless and looks unappealing. A little more sheen would have made this as impressive to watch as its content.

Rating: 8/10 – a history lesson that’s often as moving as it is educational, All the Way benefits from Roach’s assured direction, Schenkkan’s fascinating exploration of LBJ’s first year as President, and a standout turn by Cranston as the man himself; in shining a spotlight on a tumultuous period in 60’s American politics, it serves as a potent reminder of what can happen when a good man has his hand firmly on the wheel of change.

Batman (1943) – Chapter 1: The Electrical Brain

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D: Lambert Hillyer / 26m

Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Robert Fiske, Gus Glassmire, I. Stanford Jolley,

In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Batman aka Bruce Wayne (Wilson), and Robin aka Dick Grayson (Croft), have become secret government agents. They still find the time to catch regular bad guys though, and are supported by Wayne’s butler, Alfred (Austin). When Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda Page (Patterson), asks him to accompany her to meet her uncle, Martin Warren (Glassmire), on his release from prison, his abduction by men working for Dr Daka (Naish), the Japanese leader of a spy ring operating in Gotham, provides Batman with his most dangerous adventure yet. Daka has kidnapped Warren for information about a store of radium kept at the Gotham City Foundation. By coincidence, it’s where Linda works, and where Bruce and Dick witness some of Daka’s men entering the building. Using a radium powered device with explosive properties, Daka’s men steal the stored radium only for Batman and Robin to intervene. While one of them gets away with the radium, the others take on the Dynamic Duo in a rooftop fight that sees Batman pushed over the ledge and falling to certain death…

The very first screen incarnation of the DC Comics’ character, Batman fits neatly into the serial formula already established by the likes of Flying G-Men (1939) and The Shadow (1940). By this time, Columbia Pictures were old hands at this sort of thing, and in adapting Batman from the comics, they continued to mold an existing heroic figure into the bash ’em, smash ’em and crash ’em milieu they had been so adept at creating. Fans of the early comics will spot encouraging details such as the presence of utility belts, costumes that reflect the original DC design, and the presence of Alfred (whose appearance would lead to a complete change regarding his character in the comics). Inevitably, there’s no Batmobile, just a Cadillac Series 61 convertible that operates as a kind of Batmobile when the top is up, and as Bruce Wayne’s ride about town when the top is down. The costumes, though, aren’t quite as good as they could be, and are very baggy. Wilson isn’t the most athletic of actors, and Croft is clearly too old to be playing Robin, while the budget – such as it is – is highlighted by the sparse nature of the sets and the backlot surroundings.

But what of the story itself? Well, as mentioned before, Columbia were old hands at this sort of thing by 1943, and they weren’t averse to recycling some of their earlier plots. The pursuit of radium is used in much the same way as in Mandrake the Magician (1939), the hero’s girlfriend has already been attacked once (and no doubt will be again – and again), and there’s the first of what will be numerous car chases, so there’s much that will be familiar to devotees. But there is room for some invention: the bat symbol affixed to criminals’ foreheads (see above), and the car chase that ends due to the villains’ car changing colour; both of these are clever and creative in equal fashion. But this having been made during World War II, this is as much a propaganda exercise as it is a thrilling serial, and it is unrepently racist toward the Japanese. We’re introduced to Daka’s hideout, which is located in a rundown neighbourhood identified as Little Tokyo, and a voice over intones, “Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street”. No doubt there will be more like this in future episodes, but for now the tone has been set, the main characters have been introduced, and not for the first time, Batman is close to death. How will he survive?

Rating: 6/10 – as an opening chapter in a fifteen-part Forties serial goes, this isn’t so bad that it would put you off watching any more, but it is poor enough to make you wonder if sticking with it all the way to the end will be a profitable use of your time; this is history in the making, however, and as the first time the Caped Crusader appeared on screen, Batman has the advantage of being intriguing for how the character will develop across the remaining fourteen chapters.

Chloe & Theo (2015)

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D: Ezna Sands / 82m

Narrator: Michael Stiles

Cast: Theo Ikummaq, Dakota Johnson, Ashley Springer, André De Shields, Mira Sorvino, Eric Oram

When the Elders of his tribe approach him and tell him the story of a dream they’ve had that warns of the end of the world, Inuk Theo (Ikummaq) takes up the task of bringing the dream’s message to the Elders of the South. He travels to New York City, rents a room in a hotel, and wanders the streets looking for the Elders he needs to warn. It’s there that he meets Chloe (Johnson), a young homeless woman. She takes him under her wing, and in turn she introduces him to her friends, Tyler (Springer), Sancho (Oram), and Mr Sweet (De Shields). They each react in different ways to the story that Theo tells, but Chloe wants to help him get his warning out to as wide an audience as possible. But it’s slow-going until Mr Sweet tells Theo about the United Nations building, and suggests he take his message there. Theo finds himself detained, but once he’s released he finds an unexpected ally in Monica (Sorvino), a green campaigner who can help Theo’s message reach a wider audience.

There’s no avoiding it: Chloe & Theo is not the movie it should be. What should have been an endearing, humorous, heartfelt movie with a late but still timely ecological message, instead is a lumpen mess, a blundering attempt at bringing together all those elements into one satisfying whole. It’s hard to work out how it all could have gone so horribly wrong. It’s a fish-out-of-water story told in a very simple fashion, but with so many visual and narrative non sequiturs that it feels like a longer movie hacked down to its current running time entirely for commercial reasons (and not very good ones at that). Its environmental message is more simplistic than simple, and boils down to “rampant consumerism bad”, “listening to the planet good”. But that focus is dropped into the narrative at random times and for random reasons, with the characters – aside from some unnecessarily aggressive U.N. security officers – fully on Theo’s side but with no idea of how to help him. This means the first forty-five minutes, before the arrival of Monica, is replete with scenes where Theo’s naïvete is treated as a source of easy laughs, and the narrative moves forward with all the purpose of a stranded whale.

In the end, the movie doesn’t have an end, and what happens feels like a cop-out, designed to add some pathos to a movie that has only one truly emotional moment – and even that comes and goes without any context to support it. Also, the movie isn’t helped by the two main performances. Ikummaq is a non-professional so can be excused some very awkward line readings, and even though he exudes a quiet strength and dignity, he lacks the on-screen presence that would have allowed audiences to connect with him more effectively. Johnson, however, is a professional, but hers is a terrible performance, a succession of pouts and glowering expressions that highlight just how one-note her portrayal actually is. And giving her a few dirty smudges around her face and a mane of unkempt hair (while everyone else who’s homeless remains immaculately groomed) further hinders any credibility she might be trying to attain. There’s so much else that either doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t fit in, or feels forced, that the movie feels like yet another bad idea from the lab of Victor Frankenstein. Sadly, Sands, and despite very good intentions, lacks the wherewithal to tie everything together, and includes too much that is either far-fetched, problematical, dramatically redundant, or all three.

Rating: 3/10 – the Arctic scenery is stunning, an animated sequence is appropriately nightmarish, and there’s a great Indie soundtrack, but overall, Chloe & Theo is a disaster on a par with the one it warns about; lacking depth and a consistent tone (a homeless march on the U.N., anyone?), this won’t do anything for the green movement, or for viewers unlucky enough to give it a try.

Strange Weather (2016)

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D: Katherine Dieckmann / 91m

Cast: Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, Kim Coates, Shane Jacobsen, Glenne Headly, Walker Babington, Craig Boe, Ransom Ashley, Susan Gallagher, Choppy Guillotte

Still grieving seven years after her son, Walker (Ashley), committed suicide at the age of twenty-four, Darcy Baylor (Hunter) learns that a friend of her son back then, Mark Wright (Jacobsen), appropriated a business plan that Walker had come up with, and has made a success of the idea. Wright has even used a childhood memory that Walker had that illustrated his original concept for a chain of hot dog restaurants. Darcy decides to head down to New Orleans – where Wright has opened a chain of Hot Dawg sites – to confront him and find out why he did what he did. She’s accompanied by her best friend, Byrd (Coon), and along the way they learn things about Walker’s last day, and particularly the last few hours before he died, that brings into question the perception that he killed himself. When Darcy reaches New Orleans she has far more questions than she started out with, but when she finally confronts Wright, she learns that the answers she’s seeking aren’t as cut and dried as she expected…

In assembling Strange Weather, writer/director Katherine Dieckmann has made a movie that combines an examination of personal grief, a mystery, and a road trip, and in such a way that the viewer never quite knows where each element is leading them, or if any of them will be resolved satisfactorily. In portraying the residual grief that Darcy feels, Dieckmann shows how hollow her life has been, and how difficult it’s been to move forward when so many unspoken questions have been holding her back. Dieckmann also shows how Darcy’s grief has kept her going at the same time, and how she’s used that grief as a form of emotional support. It all makes Darcy a flawed yet interesting character, and unpredictable as well, as evidenced by her taking the gun that Walker killed himself with, on her journey to New Orleans. Dieckmann also keeps the mystery surrounding Walker’s death ticking over in the background, ever present and fueling Darcy’s need for the truth, and Byrd’s reasons for going with her. As the road trip takes them inexorably to the Big Easy, it serves as a conduit for the truth, and as a reckoning for the grief that Darcy feels so intensely.

Darcy is played with impeccable artistry by Hunter, an actress who just keeps getting better and better, and who portrays the pain and sadness that Darcy feels so adroitly that you can’t help but be moved by the determination she shows in getting the answers she needs. Hunter shows both the character’s inner strength and her unacknowledged vulnerability, and gives a performance of such subtlety and range that Darcy’s actions, even those that are somewhat questionable, retain a credibility that makes her all the more sympathetic. The supporting performances are good too, but Hunter is in a league of her own, and Dieckmann wisely leaves her to it (when someone like Hunter is this good, it’s best just to step back and make sure the cameras are rolling). The movie is honest and sincere in its approach to the material, and while a couple of plot developments do feel a little forced (and lifted from a daytime soap opera), by continually returning to Darcy’s dogged quest for answers to questions she hasn’t formulated yet, the movie remains a fascinating, if low-key, journey into the world of a mother who just can’t find it within herself to close the door fully on the death of her son… and who is proved right in not doing so.

Rating: 8/10 – an impressive performance by Hunter is the bedrock of a movie that is effective in terms of its examination of the nature of overwhelming grief, and which offers unexpected insights at several points along the way; David Rush Morrison’s cinematography provides a rich colour palette for the characters to appear against, and there’s a terrific soundtrack courtesy of Sharon Van Etten that complements the material in a rewarding and unforeseen manner, making Strange Weather the kind of movie that deserves a wider audience.

Gringo (2018)

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D: Nash Edgerton / 110m

Cast: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, Harry Treadaway, Thandie Newton, Yul Vazquez, Carlos Corona, Diego Cataño, Rodrigo Corea, Hernán Mendoza, Alan Ruck, Kenneth Choi

Ah, the underdog. The plucky, conscientious, yet continually overlooked underdog. One of Life’s also-rans, he or she rarely gets ahead because everyone around them is too busy feathering their own nests to do anything other than take them for granted – except when it comes time to make them the fall guy in some nefarious scheme or other. How many times have we seen this scenario in a movie? (Don’t answer, that’s an entirely rhetorical question.) And how many times have we seen the underdog, after many trials and tribulations, find a way to come out on top? (Again, don’t answer.) But it doesn’t seem to matter how often this kind of scenario plays out in a movie, someone will always come along and attempt to provide another variation on such a time-worn theme. Which leads us to Gringo, the second feature from Nash Edgerton, and another example of the underdog story. Here, the underdog is Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo), a Nigerian-born executive at a US pharmaceutical company, Cannabax Technologies Inc, who finds himself in trouble with a Mexican drugs cartel.

It’s all the fault of his duplicitous bosses, Richard Rusk (Edgerton), and Elaine Markinson (Theron). The marijuana-based drug they’ve been developing for the mass market is ready to go, but in their haste to rake in as much profit as they can, Richard and Elaine have decided to sever ties with the drugs cartel they have been colluding with up until now. Harold doesn’t know any of this at first, but he soon gets wise, and he learns that Richard and Elaine are planning to sell the company, meaning he’ll lose his job. So on a trip to Cannabax’s Mexican factory, Harold decides to fake his own kidnapping. He hopes to force Richard and Elaine into paying the “ransom demand” and pocketing the money for himself. Inevitably, things don’t go the way Harold has planned them, and soon he’s being chased by the cartel, getting involved with the girlfriend (Seyfried) of a drug mule (Treadaway) (they’re all staying in the same hotel where he’s hiding out), and finding an unlikely saviour in an ex-mercenary (Copley) who isn’t all that he seems.

Gringo is the kind of black comedy thriller that always seems to attract a great cast, but which then spends a lot of time and effort in giving them hardly anything to do, or to work with. It’s a busy movie, but messy and dramatically uneven, and unsure of what tone to adopt in any given scene. As it plays out, the movie seems committed to providing as many stock characters in as many stock situations as it can, and to adding a thick layer of humour to proceedings in the hope that if the drama doesn’t work, then the audience will be distracted by the sight of Harold’s high-pitched yelping when given an injection (admittedly funny thanks to Oyelowo), or the cartel boss’s obsession with The Beatles (less so). When things turn violent, the movie becomes another beast altogether, and it tries for tragedy as well, something it can’t pull off because by then it’s way too late. The performances suffer as a result, with Oyelowo and Copley coming off best, but Theron is saddled with a thankless “corporate bitch” role that even she can’t enliven. There’s a half decent movie in there somewhere, but thanks to the vagaries of the script (by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone) and Edgerton’s inability to maintain a consistent tone throughout, it’s never going to see the light of day.

Rating: 5/10 – intermittently funny, but otherwise too predictable and/or derivative of other, similar movies, Gringo wants to be entertaining but lacks the wherewithal to know how; a movie that coasts along at times in its search for the next incident to move it forward, it’s amiable enough, but not very ambitious in its ideas, something that leaves it feeling rough and ready and under-developed.

Festival (2005)

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D: Annie Griffin / 101m

Cast: Richard Ayoade, Amelia Bullmore, Billy Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Jonah Lotan, Stephen Mangan, Lyndsey Marshal, Stuart Milligan, Daniela Nardini, Chris O’Dowd, Deirdre O’Kane, Lucy Punch, Clive Russell

Set against the backdrop of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (and shot there in 2004), Festival is a compendium of interlocking stories centred around various actors and comedians who are all trying to be noticed or win awards. Amongst the comedians there’s Tommy O’Dwyer (O’Dowd), returning for his ninth year of unqualified non-success; Conor Kelly (Carter), who works with puppets; and Nicky Romanowski (Punch), who tells comic stories based on her Jewish upbringing. Amongst the actors there’s Faith Myers (Marshal), a first-timer with a one-woman play about Dorothy Wordsworth; a Canadian trio that includes Rick (Lotan), who finds himself attracted to the owner of the house they’re renting, Micheline (Bullmore); and Father Mike (Russell), whose play about paedophile priests may not be entirely fictional. Orbiting these characters are the likes of über-famous comedian and Comedy Award judge Sean Sullivan (Mangan), and his put-upon PA Petra Loewenberg (Cassidy); radio presenter Joan Gerard (Nardini), who’s also a Comedy Award judge; and Arnold Weiss (Milligan), an American agent looking to represent Sean in the US.

Ensemble movies can be a tricky proposition. Give too much screen time to one character and their story and you risk making another character’s story slight and uninteresting. Reverse that idea and you don’t do justice to the other character and their story. With fifteen main characters to juggle with, Festival does a good job of getting the balance right, but of necessity it does focus on some characters more than others, though not to the extent that any one tale suffers accordingly. However, whether or not you care about any of the characters is another matter, because while Annie Griffin’s feature debut doesn’t short change any of them in terms of development, even the most sympathetic of characters – Petra, for example – fail to connect with the audience. You can perhaps understand the dilemma: whether to show the hypocrisy and rampant self-absorption of the performers at the Fringe, or to make them less objectionable – and the movie less credible as a result. But the consequence of opting to show the hypocrisy etc. means that the result is a movie where being immersed in the various storylines isn’t as rewarding as it could be.

Part of the problem is in the movie’s fluctuating tone. In trying to accommodate both comedy and drama, while also including flashes of bathos and heavy-handed irony, Griffin provides too many awkward transitions from one to the other (and sometimes in the same scene). It’s also a less than subtle movie, with one sex scene in particular guaranteed to have some viewers squirming with discomfort (though not as much as one of the characters involved in it), and Griffin making the point over and over that comedians are an unhappy bunch whose ability to be funny masks a myriad of personal and emotional problems. Thankfully, trite observations such as these are offset by the quality of the comedy elements, which are very funny indeed. The drama though, still retains an overcooked feel to it that stops it from being entirely credible, and it’s in these moments that you can see Griffin trying too hard. As for the performances, there isn’t one portrayal that stands out from all the rest – though Mangan’s obnoxious Sean Sullivan comes close – which makes this a truly ensemble experience. The hustle and bustle of the Edinburgh Festival is expressed through often guerrilla-style cinematography courtesy of DoP Danny Cohen, and allows for an authentic backdrop. It’s just a shame that not everything happening in the foreground matches the industry of the festival itself.

Rating: 6/10 – promoted as a “black comedy”, Festival is more of an unfulfilled dramedy, one that succeeds more in one area than it does in the other; it’s entertaining enough while you’re watching it, but the relevance and resonance it’s aiming for doesn’t come across, making this frustrating and satisfying in almost equal measure.

NOTE: Alas, there’s no available trailer for Festival.

Poster of the Week – Equalizer 2000 (1987)

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Wait a minute (you may be thinking). What’s this? A poster for a low-budget Eighties Mad Max rip off? Has Poster of the Week been hijacked by someone with a fetish for beefcake and outsized weaponry? (Not this week.) No, the truth is, sometimes a poster can be enjoyed – admired, even – for what it gets wrong, just as much as for what it gets right. The poster for Cirio H. Santiago’s Equalizer 2000 is one such example: on the face of it, absurdly generic for the time, but upon closer inspection revealing a variety of unexpected pleasures. It’s a poster that’s not just saying, “Watch this movie!”, it’s also a poster that’s saying, “My designer was bored when they got this job, and they decided to have some fun with it!” Of course, this last may not be true at all, but the alternative is even worse: this is the best the artist could do.

First up is the volcanic explosion erupting behind our hero and his significant other. It’s an enormous fireball, sending out smoke and flames and debris in every direction. But is this the work of the title weapon, or is this a case of visual hyperbole? Will there really be an explosion of this magnitude actually in the movie (and will everyone run away from it in the poorly composited foreground?). The obvious answer is, you have to ask? So, already the artist is making the movie seem bigger and more impressive than it actually is. But this is what he or she is meant to do. Should we be blaming them straight away for such blatant misrepresentation? Well, to be fair, no. It’s a big explosion used to fill a large part of the poster and to provide the hero and the girl he just met at the beach with an exciting backdrop against which to pose. But there are subtle things wrong with both of them, things that again make you wonder if the artist was having a bad day at the easel.

The woman’s face is worrying. It’s an odd mix of angles and curves, hinting that she was perhaps a forceps baby, but definitely looking as if the artist completed one side, went away for a few drinks, and then came back to finish off a little the worse for wear. And then there’s the blond-maned, chiselled hero, clutching the titular weapon like a model posing for the front cover of American Hunter. But hold on a minute. Doesn’t his right breast look a little feminine, a little too rounded to be – you know – his? The more you look at it, the more it looks like it’s not meant to be there. It’s as if the artist, unable to provide cleavage for the woman looking to enter a 21st century beauty pageant, decided there was going to be at least one exposed breast in this poster – and if it had to be on the man then so be it.

The best has been saved for last, though. Below the beginning of the title is a group of people caught in various poses. Some are pointing with rifles, some seem to be playing their rifles like guitars, and the figure on the far left could well be playing air drums. But if anything, they look like they’re anticipating Madonna’s plea from Vogue (released in 1990): “Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it/Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it”. They’re a post-apocalyptic dance group with a hint of camp (that cap) and a striking lack of co-ordination. They’re also the most obvious indication that the artist, whoever he or she may be, wasn’t approaching this particular assignment with all the dedication and skill that they (hopefully) possessed. And for that, Poster of the Week salutes them all the more.

Barakah Meets Barakah (2016)

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Original title: Barakah yoqabil Barakah

D: Mahmoud Sabbagh / 88m

Cast: Hisham Fageeh, Fatima AlBanawi, Sami Hifny, Khairia Nazmi, reem Habib, Abdulmajeed Al-Ruhaidi

Barakah (Fageeh) works for Riyadh’s Municipal Police, issuing fines for minor offences such as selling goods outside a store’s permitted area. He’s single, amiable, and despite the overbearing intentions of the local midwife (and his surrogate mother) Daya Sa’adiya (Nazmi), not in any hurry to find a wife. A report of a civil disturbance brings him into contact with Bibi (AlBanawi), a fashion model who uses carefully cropped images of herself on Instagram as a way of promoting her own political and social agendas (while staying within the law). Barakah is instantly smitten, and thanks to some unwitting help from his friend Maqbool (Al-Ruhaidi), he’s able to meet Bibi at an art exhibition. As their relationship develops, obstacles arise such as the controlling nature of Bibi’s mother – and head of the fashion chain Bibi is the face of – Madame Mayyada (Habib), Barakah’s own naïve approach to romance, and Saudi Arabia’s strict laws regarding public interaction. But it’s a misunderstanding over a push-up bra that may just prove to be the biggest obstacle of all…

When you think about the rom-coms churned out by Hollywood, there’s always something that keeps true love from conquering all (until the last five minutes, that is), but one of the most refreshing things about Barakah Meets Barakah is that the “something” in question is Saudi Arabian law. The very real threat of imprisonment that hangs over the heads of Barakah and Bibi gives the movie a depth and a resonance that you rarely see in an average rom-com. First-time writer-director Sabbagh rarely alludes to it head on, happy to let it hover in the background while his script concentrates on providing viewers with one of the sweetest, and most endearing romantic comedies of recent years. Barakah is simply one of the nicest protagonists you’re ever likely to encounter: good-natured, a pleasure to spend time with, and like a puppy that’s eager to please in his pursuit of Bibi. She’s more fiery, able and willing to challenge the accepted order of things, but in such a way that she builds support for her efforts through her careful manipulation of social media. As a way of expressing female empowerment, it’s a clever conceit, and Sabbagh is equally clever enough not to wield the idea like a big stick.

In many areas of the movie the key word is restraint, as Sabbagh tells his story with admirable economy of style, and a minimum of fuss. His talented cast ensure that each character appears fully formed from the moment we meet them, with Fageeh proving that gauche and awkward can be charming as well, and AlBanawi investing Bibi with a seductive vulnerability (like Barakah, you can’t help but be captivated by her). Sabbagh peppers his script with wry observations on contemporary Saudi culture, has Barakah co-opted into a local amateur production of Hamlet to play Ophelia, provides unnecessarily pixellated images as a barb to state censors, and gets overtly political by contrasting the more liberal Saudi Arabia of the 60’s and 70’s with the restrictions that have been in place since 1979. But none of this is to distract from the central romance that anchors the movie and makes it so appealing. The movie brings its chaste lovebirds together at the end, but not in the traditional “love has conquered all” way that Hollywood approves of. Instead, Sabbagh offers us a reunion that speaks of hope for the future, a message that is both simple and powerful, and as much about Barakah and Bibi, as it is about Saudi Arabia itself.

Rating: 8/10 – an example of what can be achieved when you don’t have to follow a clichéd narrative pattern or formula, Barakah Meets Barakah is beautifully shot by Victor Credi, and hugely entertaining; by keeping things natural and straightforward, Sabbagh has created a movie where you never feel like you’re being led by the hand, and where you’re more than happy to share in the journeys undertaken by the characters.

Oh! the Horror! – Victor Crowley (2017) and Another WolfCop (2017)

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Victor Crowley (2017) / D: Adam Green / 83m

Cast: Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Krystal Joy Brown, Brian Quinn, Felissa Rose, Chase Williamson, Katie Booth, Tiffany Shepis

You just can’t keep a hulking, deformed mass murderer down… Ten years after the events that occuured in Hatchet III (2013), sole survivor of the last Honey Island Swamp massacre Andrew Yong (Shen) has written a book about his experiences, but he’s still viewed with suspicion as being the real culprit. His publicist (Rose) persuades him to return to Honey Island Swamp as part of the anniversary “celebrations”. Meanwhile, a trio of would-be movie makers, Chloe (Booth), her boyfriend Alex (Williamson), and Rose (Ortiz), head there in order to try and involve Andrew in a trailer they’re making to try and get funding for a movie about Crowley and the murders. Andrew’s flight crash lands in the swamp, while Chloe’s insistence on using the curse that made Crowley the way he is in the trailer, leads to his resurrection. Soon, Victor is back to his old tricks: hacking and tearing and rending his victims’ limbs from their bodies while they themselves fight to stay alive.

Does the world need another Hatchet movie? Do we really need another gore-splattered ode to Eighties horror? Thanks to the presence of series’ creator and overseer Adam Green, then the answer is… yes and no. Green is an old hand at this, and he knows what he’s doing, but this is easily the slightest entry in the series, and trades in comedy more than it does horror. The characters are forgettable, with even pantomime turns from Rose and Sheridan (as a swamp tour guide called Dillon) failing to engage the audience. With such a slight story, thanks be to almighty Victor that Green ladles on the ketchup with gleeful abandon, and makes as much of his victims-trapped-in-a-plane-waiting-to-die scenario as he can. The cast are clearly having fun, Green is clearly encouraging them to do so, Victor’s resurrection allows him a bit of a makeover from previous entries, and the truncated finale reminds everyone that this is a low budget horror movie when all’s said and dismembered.

Rating: 6/10 – Green is the key player here, his affection for the tropes and themes of Eighties horror movies serving him well, even if this latest outing lacks the franchise integrity of the previous entries; unrepentently gory, and made for fans of the series before anyone else, Victor Crowley at least retains the crude energy of its predecessors, but spends too much time trying to make us care about characters who are merely cannon fodder for Green’s cursed protagonist.

Another WolfCop (2017) / D: Lowell Dean / 79m

Cast: Leo Fafard, Yannick Bisson, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Serena Miller, Devery Jacobs, Kris Blackwell, Kevin Smith

In the small, run down Canadian town of Woodhaven, things are looking up: self-made billionaire drinks manufacturer Swallows (Bisson) is opening a factory to make and distribute his new beer, Chicken Milk Stout (no, really). Swallows has an ulterior motive though: his beer contains a formula that allows hideous, malformed creatures to gestate in people’s abdomens (though why he’s doing this is never explained; naturally). The local police, led by new Chief Tina Walsh (Matysio), know that something isn’t right in their town, but can’t quite connect the dots. Even Lou Garou (Fafard), the force’s own WolfCop, is at a loss. But with the help of former enemy Willie Higgins (Cherry), and Willie’s sister, Kat (Miller), Lou and Tina begin to put two and two together and realise what Swallows is up to. This leads to a bloody confrontation between Garou as WolfCop and Swallows’ minions, as the fight to save the town from being overrun by Swallows’ hideous creatures can only have one outcome.

Does the world need another WolfCop movie? Do we really need another comedy horror that’s content to amble through its poorly conceived set up with all the aplomb of a drunk trying to pass a sobriety test? Thanks to the presence of creator and overseer Lowell Dean then the answer is… yes and no. This is yet another horror sequel where the makers’ intentions are hampered by the practicalities of making the movie itself. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with low budget horror movies, but Another WolfCop shows that with fewer production values, there are often fewer moments where the movie works. Here, there are too many occasions where the script comes up with a fairly good idea only to abandon it minutes later, or it thinks of something cool to include, but then it doesn’t look as cool in its execution (a sex scene between Lou in his human form and Kat in her shapeshifting form fits the bill entirely). The first WolfCop showed invention and a degree of wit that suited the material, but on returning to the well, Dean has failed to produce the same kind of magic that made the first one work so well. At the end, the movie promises that WolfCop will return. If he does, then let’s hope Dean comes up with better material than he has here.

Rating: 4/10 – a massive drop in quality from the first movie shows that Another WolfCop should have been kept on the back burner until more money or a better script – or both – were available; the cast don’t seem able to muster the necessary enthusiasm to make things more palatable, the waywardness of the script derails both the drama and the comedy, and even the presence of Kevin Smith (as Mayor Bubba no less) can’t stop this from looking and sounding like a bad idea from the start.

The Watchman’s Canoe (2017)

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D: Barri Chase / 101m

Cast: Kiri Goodson, Roger Willie, Adam Beach, Stephanie Wallace, Ian Stevenson, Matthew Johnson, John Thomas, Dez Tillman, Jennifer Oswald

Jett (Goodson) is a young girl of mixed Native American and caucasian parentage who goes to live on the reservation of her mother’s people following the death of her father. Due to her dual heritage, she doesn’t fit in with the rest of the children her age, but her older brother, Tommy (Stevenson) – who happens to look more indigenous than Jett – fits in easily with some of the older boys. Jett is drawn to the surrounding trees and meadows, and has a deep affinity with nature. This affinity is recognised by her Uncle Ralph (Willie), who tells the tribal medicine man (Thomas) that Jett is a watchman, someone who can hear the voices of the wind, trees, plants, animals and water. The medicine man rejects this idea because Jett is a girl (though there is a precedent for it). But Jett becomes aware of the tribal myths and legends, and those surrounding nearby Witch’s Island, a place she becomes determined to visit. However, when she takes a canoe and travels to the island with her cousin Peedie (Johnson), the experience proves to be more of a test than she could ever have imagined.

From the outset it’s clear that first-time feature writer/director Barri Chase wants to make a lyrical, poetic movie about the ethereal nature of Native American mythology. To this end, there are plenty of shots of Jett communing with nature, walking in the woods and along the shoreline, and talking to the spirits that guide her. These are moments that are beautifully set up and shot by DoP AJ Young, and in terms of the journey of self-discovery that Jett embarks upon, eloquently reflect the spiritual nature of the world around her. But somewhere along the way, Chase has forgotten to make Jett’s journey as compelling as it should be. There are too many longueurs that ensure the movie’s sedate yet methodical rhythm grinds to a halt, and many of them involve Willie staring off into the distance – with meaning (though whatever meaning these longueurs have is never fully established). Chase has a terrific visual sense (unsurprising in someone with a background in fine art photography), but her narrative is like Jett’s canoe: it’s not long before it’s taking on water.

As a coming-of-age tale, the movie fares moderately well, but Chase lacks the experience to tie all the elements of her story together in a way that makes everything feel organic. There are several strands on show, and one that relates to the Fort Gang boys (the group Tommy falls in with) takes up too much time and peters out in terms of its importance to the overall story. Likewise, the problems Jett’s mother, Onie (Wallace), is facing trying to hold down a job: ultimately it’s one sub-plot too many. As for the performances, Willie is reticent and aloof (even from Jett at times), while Beach, as an historian who lives on Witch’s Island, is required to be enigmatic, but it’s an approach that is hampered by Chase not really knowing what to do with the character once he’s introduced. Goodson, initially, seems a perfect choice for the role of Jett, but she often looks uncomfortable, and there are times when the appropriate emotion, or response, in a scene escapes her. Chase doesn’t have a solution to this, or to several other issues, and so the movie stutters from scene to scene trying to build up a momentum that it can’t achieve. In the end, it remains enigmatic about tribal myths and customs, and never becomes as compelling as it should be.

Rating: 4/10 – sometimes, the format of a movie stops it from being all it can be, and this is the case with The Watchman’s Canoe, a movie that would have been more effective as a short; though beautiful to watch, the material isn’t strong enough to support anything but the most basic of ideas, and even then it does so falteringly and inconsistently – which is a shame, as Chase’s basic concept is a sound one.

I Am Nasrine (2012)

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D: Tina Gharavi / 88m

Cast: Micsha Sadeghi, Shiraz Haq, Steven Hooper, Christian Coulson, Nichole Hall

Nasrine (Sadeghi) lives in Iran with her mother and father, and her older brother, Ali (Haq). One day she finds herself being detained by the police. What happens to her is both violent and distressing. Fearing for her continued safety, her father decides that she and Ali must travel to the UK and seek asylum there. They enter the country illegally and find themselves in another difficult situation: while their application is processed, Nasrine has to attend school, while Ali is forbidden to work. They are given a flat in which to live, but in order for them both to get by, Ali finds work in a car wash and, later, a kebab shop as well. At school, Nasrine finds it hard to fit in, but makes a friend in Nicole (Hall), who is part of the local travellers community. Meanwhile, Ali struggles to fit in socially, his serious demeanour keeping others at bay (his concerns about his sexuality don’t help either). Nasrine also has relationship issues, having attracted the attention of Nicole’s older brother, Leigh (Hooper). But with the events of 9/11, both Nasrine and Ali discover that being refugees in a foreign country has unexpected consequences…

The debut feature of Iranian-born Gharavi, I Am Nasrine is a coming-of-age tale that explores issues surrounding the refugee experience, politics and sexuality, and finding one’s place in the world. But though it addresses these issues in various ways, and to varying degrees, it’s a movie that is about connections, how difficult they are to make, how difficult they are to maintain, and how difficult they are to break when they’ve run their course. In Iran, Nasrine’s actions cause the end of her middle-class lifestyle. In the UK she has to start again. The same applies to Ali, charged with being Nasrine’s protector, but equally unnerved by the changes that have led them to a dingy flat in London, and an uncertain future. Whether they are better off proves more and more debatable as the movie progresses, but it’s the siblings’ attempts at fitting in that provide the necessary dramatic focus. Whether it’s Nasrine’s growing friendship with Nicole and then Leigh, or Ali’s attempts to deal with his feelings for other men, including kebab shop customer Tommy (Coulson), it’s the way that writer/director Gharavi takes these basic desires and shows their universality that makes it all work so well. Refugees or not, Nasrine and Ali deserve the same respect we ourselves feel entitled to.

Gharavi’s approach is often straighforward and/or blunt, but this isn’t a bad thing as it precludes the possibility of any unnecessary sentiment, and allows what happens to Nasrine and Ali to remain unforced throughout. There’s a degree of unexpected and poetic beauty in the movie’s imagery as well, from the shot of Nasrine looking back from the motorbike she’s riding on in Tehran (see above), to the moment when she and Leigh experience their first kiss. Gharavi is also confident enough to minimise the impact of 9/11, safe in the knowledge that it will resonate quietly as the narrative unfolds, an unspoken component of the racial distrust and hatred that follows. She’s aided by a terrific performance from first-timer Sadeghi who instills Nasrine with a naïve yet determined quality that won’t be swayed, and unobtrusive production design courtesy of Chryssanthy Kofidou that anchors the narrative in a recognisable and credible setting. Gharavi occasionally makes some obvious dramatic choices that border on being predictable and rote, but the sincerity and the integrity of the story she’s telling more than make up for these choices, making the movie an absorbing exercise in what it is to try and belong anywhere where belonging comes at a price.

Rating: 8/10 – an engaging, thought-provoking movie that paints a candid and guileless picture of the need for acceptance, whatever someone’s personal circumstances, I Am Nasrine is severe and heartelt at the same time, and entirely up front about its plea for inclusivity; Gharavi’s passion for telling Nasrine’s story is evident throughout, and the story itself is rendered with compassion and honesty, making this a movie that is far more effective, and affecting, than it might seem at the outset.

NOTE: The quote by Ben Kingsley on the poster translates as: “An important and much needed film.”