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Jules Verne's Rocket To The Moon. (U.)
Directed by Don Sharp. 1967.
Starring Burl Ives, Troy Donahue, Terry-Thomas, Daliah Lavi, Gert Frobe, Jimmy Clitheroe, Lionel Jeffries, Dennis Price and Graham Stark. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Studiocanal Vintage Classics from April 12th. 119 mins.
Except it isn't. Jules Verne's that is. Haven't read it – young boys with a sci-fi leaning soon learn that Verne's 19th-century prose stylings make for turgid adventures – but I'm guessing that his book doesn't have P.T. Barnum (Ives) and Colonel Tom Thumb (Clitheroe) joining up with various members of the Victorian aristocracy to engage in a selection of comic shenanigans while attempting to build a giant cannon in a Welsh mountain to fire a manned projectile to the Moon. I'm also pretty sure it included a rocket that went to the Moon.
Catch Us If You Can. (12.)
Directed by John Boorman. 1965.
Starring Dave Clark and His Five, Barbara Ferris, Yootha Joyce, Robin Bailey, David Lodge, David de Keyser, Ronald Lacey and Clive Swift. In black and white. Out on 91 mins
Though perhaps hard to believe now, there was a time in the early mid-sixties, just after the British Invasion of the United States, when The Dave Clark Five were seen as the main rivals to The Beatles. The Five's drummer supremo Dave Clark took this rivalry seriously enough to try and emulate the success of the Fab Four's big-screen debut. But Catch Us If You Can isn't his answer to A Hard Day's Night; it's his assault on it. It takes it outside and delivers a right good beating, knocking all that swinging sixties frivolity out of it. It's like a parent who tries to break up a teenager's 18th birthday party at 9:30; trying to expose the fake rebellion and freedom of the swinging decade when it had barely begun. What kind of sixties youth culture film has the last line, “I thought the Police were very decent.”
Lost in America. (12A.)
Directed by Albert Brooks. 1985.
Starring Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection on March 29th. 91 mins.
The UK branch of the Criterion Collection crowd are a capricious bunch but you do have to wonder what the thinking was behind the decision to end the month with an Albert Brooks double bill. Alongside this, they are also releasing his Defending Your Life. Albert Brooks, who he? In the last decade, you may have seen him in supporting roles in Drive, This Is 40, A Most Violent Year and Concussion. He was the voice of Marlin in Finding Nemo and Dory. In the 70s he was the campaign co-worker trying to get Cybill Shepherd to notice him in Taxi Driver. Most of all, he was the third lead in James L. Brooks' Broadcast News and delivers the line about a lot of alliteration for anxious anchors. And in US late-night TV circles he was reckoned to be a comic genius. And he made some films.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. 1980
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Kenichi Hagiwara, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Jinpachi Nezu, Hideji Otaki and Daisuke Ryu. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection. 180 mins.
Back in 1980, Kagemusha was a very big deal. After a decade without making a film in Japan, this was 70-year old Kurosawa's big comeback: an ambitious historical epic about warring clans in the 16th century with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas as executive producers. It was a big hit and won the Barn Door at Cannes. And yet now its place in film history is as the trial run for his next film Ran, the King Lear adaptation that would usurp this as his late-era masterpiece.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. (18.)
Directed by Wes Anderson.
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody and Jeff Goldblum. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. 99 mins.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson's most successful, most popular, most loved film. It's the one everybody likes, even those who find his other films a little too precious and whimsywankical. Released in 2014 it became a massive hit, making $170 million worldwide. It was like a 90s shoegazing band suddenly recording a global earworm; the Cocteau Twins finding their equivalent of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Its pleasures though are tinged with sadness, a hard-to-shake intuition that the best film Anderson has made so far will also turn out to be the best he ever makes. We really hit it off, but it was a one time deal.
Saint Maud. (15.)
Directed by Rose Glass.
Starring Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Rosie Sansom and Turlough Convery. Out on Blu-ray/ DVD/ Limited edition Steel box and VOD from Studiocanal. 84 mins.
In horror film terms, Maud (Clark) is both Regan and Father Karras; the possessed child and the exorcist. A recent trauma has seen her retreat from hospital nursing and become gripped by religious fervour. Amanda (Ehle) is a terminally ill former choreographer and dancer now stuck in a wheelchair with stage 4 lymphoma who doesn't believe there is a maker to meet and is scared of the prospect of nothingness. When she gets the position as her live-in carer, Maud takes on the task of being her salvation.
The Masque of the Red Death. (15.)
Directed by Roger Corman. 1964.
Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green and Patrick Magee. A 4K restoration out on Blu-ray and DVD from Studiocanal. New 4K restoration. 90 mins.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about Roger Corman's absolutely beautiful Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is how precisely it fits into the QAnon playbook. Led by Prince Prospero (Price), the evil Satan worshipping elite exploit the masses and hide away in their castle to stay safe from a deadly epidemic. Any man from the village who stands up to them (Weston, Green) are brought to the castle to be sacrificed for their entertainment; any innocent lady (Asher) to have her pure faith corrupted. The most alarming moment is when Price and Magee slaver over the attractiveness of a young child who looks to be around five years old. Actually, this character, Esmerelda, is meant to be a midget woman being played by a seven year old but with her speaking voice dubbed by an adult. Which makes it even more creepy. I cannot believe that in some dark corner of the internet there isn't a piece on how this was an early coded warning about the Deep State.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Rossif Sutherland and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Signature Entertainment on February 8th. 103 mins
Now that the son has taken over the family business, I wonder how the Cronenberg family Thanksgiving dinner will go/ went. Will father David tousle son Brandon's hair, congratulate him on his latest film and for producing a dispassionate body horror concept that touches on any number of contemporary fears without being too blatantly or obviously metaphoric? Perhaps he'll smile wryly and reminisce that when he was making his second film back in the 70s, he was sticking a virus spreading, blood-drinking prosthetic penis under porn star Marilyn Chamber's armpit, not inflicting gruesome indignities on a quality international cast. Or does he take him aside and say, “Son, I think you're trying too hard.”
David Byrne's American Utopia. (15.)
Directed by Spike Lee.
Starring David Byrne, Jacqueline Acevedo, Chris Giarmo, Daniel Freedman, Tendayi Kuumba and Angie Swan. Available on Blu-ray and DVD. 105 mins
If white supremacists were serious about that contention, rather than just picking a side and supporting the same team that their father does, wouldn't they try and style themselves on someone like David Byrne? Not because he's so very superior, but because during his many years in music, fronting the Talking Heads and performing solo, he has set himself up as the whitest of rocknrollers. His music has taken in African rhythm and funky beats but he has managed to encompass all that while maintaining a stiff, formal, dry, intellectual air. Remaining aloof from the excitable elements, he has bent them to his will. Surely these attributes make a more compelling case for Caucasian dominance than beer bellies, tattoos and shaven heads?
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes.
Directed by William Greaves.
Starring Patricia Ree Gilbert, Don Fellows, Audrey Henningway, Shannon Baker, William Greaves, Bob Rosen, Jonathan Gordon, Susan Anspach and Steve Buscemi. Out on Blu-ray75 mins/ 99 mins.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: that's its name, don't wear it out. Though, on the evidence of the film academic in the documentary included on this disc, once you have got the hang of the pronunciation and get the order straight in your head – the Symbio, the Psycho, the Taxi and the Plasm - you can't stop yourself from saying Symbiopsychotaxiplasm at every possible opportunity. It's a good title: initially forbidding and trays wanky but also intriguing and playful and ultimately a good fit.
Directed by David Cronenberg. 1996.
Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Elias Koteas and Rosanna Arquette. 4K Restoration from Arrow Video out on UHD and Blu-ray from December 14th. Also available to download. 96 mins.
This adaptation of J.G. Ballard's book about a group of car crash survivors who form a sexual fetish around the event, marshalled by "hoodlum scientist" Vaughan is a sick, sick film; you can't help thinking that the Ban This Filth crowd have a point with this one. It is also the greatest and most faithful of all film adaptations of literary novels. It perfectly captures the essence of the book, without being pedantically faithful to it. But more than that though, it leaves you the book, completely unscathed. Cronenberg's film is absolutely Ballard's book, but if you read the book after seeing it, his film doesn't intrude into your reading.
Defending Your Life. (PG.)
Directed by Albert Brooks
Starring Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant and Buck Henry. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. 111 mins.
This is an Afterlife film whose primary problem is that its concept of the afterlife is bunkum. Brooks plays an advertising executive who dies on his birthday because he drives his brand new BMW straight into a bus because he wasn't looking at the road while listening to Barbra Streisand perform Broadway show tunes. In the afterlife, he has a four-day hearing, a kind of court case with a prosecution and a defence, in which he will have to defend his life. Riding on the verdict isn't heaven and hell but his reincarnation: has he learnt enough to be ready to move up to the next level or will he have to go back to Earth and try again to achieve enlightenment.
Directed by Sam Raimi. 1985.
Starring Reed Birney, Sheree J. Wilson, Louise Lasser, Brion James, Paul L Smith, Edward R. Pressman, Antonio Fargas, Richard Bright and Bruce Campbell. Out on limited edition Blu-ray from Indicator. 82/87 mins.
Here's a film that I was giddy with excitement about when the review disc dropped through the letterbox even though I had zero expectations for it being any good. The excitement was because this is an early collaboration between Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers; the low expectations were because I'd seen it before. And it isn't a great film but it is madly ambitious – a slapstick screwball comedy parody of 30's crime noirs done as a live-action cartoon. Its most celebrated scene is a series of door frames collapsing like dominoes which is kind of appropriate for a film that is constantly falling on its face but in a way that is totally admirable.
Twentieth Century. (U.)
Directed by Howard Hawks. 1934
Starring John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns. Out on Blu-ray from Indicator. Black and white. 91 mins.
This early screwball comedy is the kind of film where a review seems largely redundant: all that is needed is to run through the credits. There are Barrymore and Lombard in the lead roles; a script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and direction by Howard Hawks. There are no sure things in the movies but this is surer than most and it all comes together perfectly. This is a film so great it even makes the Fearta seem like a marvellous place.
Directed by Rob Savage.
Starring Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drankova, Caroline Ward and Edward Linard. Out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. 57 mins
When Michael Bay attempted a lockdown action film, Songbird, set in a 2024 ravaged by Covid-23, audiences were repelled by it. Too soon. In contrast, the cheeky opportunism of this British horror film set entirely in a quarantine zoom meeting has been widely welcomed as a perfect way of letting off steam and venting frustrations and fears.
Directed by Shane Carruth. 2004.
Starring Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford. Available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Films “Primer + Upstream Color: Two Films by Shane Carruth.” 77 mins.
The first time you see Primer your response will be Uh, What? The second time, armed now with the knowledge that you're going to have to pay really, really close attention to this story about two scientists who accidentally build a time travel machine in their garage in their free time, your response will be UH, WHAT? Even after you give up and find a plot explanation or diagram or explanatory flow chart on Google it's still going to be a struggle to follow. It's like that game of chess when everything appears to be progressing well and you're developing your pawns nicely and you've already castled and then suddenly you look at the board and realise your position is absolutely screwed and you've no idea how it happened. Everything was fine just a minute ago and now you're completely lost.
Directed by Stanley Donen.
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Jacques Marin, Ned Glass, George Kennedy. Out on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection. 113 mins.
Just as Con Air is the greatest Michael Bay film not directed by Michael Bay, Charade is possibly the greatest Hitchcock film not directed by Hitchcock. But while Con Air is the greatest Michael Bay Film ever made, I don't think anyone will be mistaking Donen's romantic comic thriller for North by Northwest. Still, it's got Paris, it's got Hepburn, it's got Grant and it's got more than enough going for it to gently wave away any objections you may have. It is a thriller so smooth, so elegant, so sophisticated that it has no need for anything as indecent as tension. That would just get in the way of Hepburn making gooey eyes at Grant.
Lost Girls and Love Hotels. (18.)
Directed by Willliam Olsson.
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Misuzu Kanno and Kate Easton. Out on DVD and VOD February 8th. 93 mins.
Margaret (Daddario) wants to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and have rough sex with them. An English teacher in Japan, she throws herself into partying and at any Japanese man who looks like he has yen enough to pay for a few hours in a love hotel. Then she meets softly spoken, mild-mannered yakuza Kazu (Hira, from Giri/Haji.)
Southland Tales. (15.)
Directed by Richard Kelly.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Cheri Oteri, Wallace Shawn, Lou Taylor Pucci, Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn, Bai Ling, Holmes Osbourne, Miranda Richardson, Jon Lovitz, John Larroquette and Justin Timberlake. Out on limited edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video from January 25th. 145/ 160 mins.
This is my third time reviewing Southland Tales, Kelly's still notorious second film, and at least the fourth time seeing it. The first time was for its small scale UK cinema release in 2007, move than a year after it had been booed at Canz, a very great honour it shares with the likes of La Grand Bouffe, Crash, and Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me. In 2021, even though I covered it last summer for a release on MUBI, when I saw Arrow was releasing a limited two-disc edition I was straight on to the PRs for a preview disc.
Investigation Of a Citizen Above Suspicion. (18.) *
Directed by Elio Petri. 1970.
Starring Gian Maria Volonte, Florinda Bolkan, Arturo Dominici, Gianni Santuccio, Orazio Orlando, Salvo Randone. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection from 18th January. 110 mins.
It starts with Volonte giving a sly look back into the camera to check that everybody is following him. He's about to commit a heinous crime but is still so full of himself that he'd hate for it to go unnoticed. He then enters the Moorish apartment of an attractive young woman (Bolkan) who asks him how attends to kill her today. He replies by slashing her throat and after a bout of lovemaking does just that. And if that hasn't grabbed your attention than the revelation that the citizen above suspicion is a senior policeman, surely will.
Tin Drum. (15.)
Directed by Volker Schlondorff. 1979.
Starring David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Maria Winkler, Daniel Olbrychski, Berta Drews, Andrea Ferriol and Charles Aznavour. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. 163 mins.
The Tin Drum is a story about an evil little child that was born in Danzig in the first half of the 20th century, but doesn't become a Nazi. Adapted from Gunter Grass's novel, its central character, Oskar (Bennent) is a kind of sociopathic Peter Pan who at the age of three stops growing and bangs away on his beloved toy drum as the years pass him through the Neverneverland of Nazi Germany. He's still an obnoxious little tosspot, but he isn't an obnoxious little Nazi tosspot.
Directed by Albert Serra.
Starring Helmut Berger, Marc Susini, Iliana Zabeth, Laura Poulvet and Baptiste Pinteaux. Subtitled. Out on Blu-ray from Second Run on January 11th. 138 mins.
Though it combines two quintessentially British pursuits – costume dramas and dogging – this is a prime example of the kind of foreign muck we have set our borders against. It's the 18th century and a group of exiled French libertines and free thinkers turn up in Germany to encourage the Duc de Walchen (Berger) to round up some loose ladies, head down to the woods and circle the hand-drawn carriages for a night of sexual debauchery and abandonment, but always with their wigs on.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel and Kenneth Branagh. Out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD. 150 mins.
All I want for Christmas is a set of Tenet subtitles. Oh, and access to a rewind button. Back in August, I was up for the challenge of attempting to throw my head around the back and forth of Christopher Nolan's head spinning palindromic time travel puzzle but, fair's fair, at least let us hear what they're saying. There's a perversity in walking out of a spectacular Imax biggest-screen-in-Europe viewing having just witnessed what could be the last hurrah of big-screen entertainment thinking how you'd really like to see it on your telly.