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A Face In The Crowd (PG.)
Directed by Elia Kazan. 1957.
Starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick, Percy Waram. Black and White. 127 mins. Released on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
Seen in 2019, Kazan and Budd Schulberg's satire on the power of TV, the corrupting force of fame and the crossover between celebrity and politics is like seeing an early documentary about the possible link between smoking and cancer. The message is so familiar, so obvious to us now that you have to constantly adjust your perception and remember that this was something of a revelation when it was first shown. The film charts the meteoric rise of a folksy raconteur Lonesome Rhodes (Griffith) from local radio personality in Arkansas to nationwide fame and political influence. As a study of American culture it is a mix of the all-too-understandable, and aspects that remain impenetrable to outsiders.
The Phantom of Liberty. (15.)
Directed by Luis Bunuel.
Starring Adriana Asti, Julien Bertheau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi, Paul Frankeur, Michel Lonsdale, Pierre Maguelon, Francois Maistre, Helene Perdriere, Michel Piccoli, Claude Pieplu, Jean Rochefort, Bernard Verley, Milena Vukotic, Monica Vitti, Muni, Jean Rougerie. In French with subtitles. 104 mins. Screening on MUBI till May 15th as part of their Obscure Objects of Desire season.
At the beginning and the end of Bunuel's penultimate film the declaration “Down with liberty” is heard and, to be honest, I had some sympathy. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose and here liberty is just another word for doing a half arsed job. Armed with his Discrete Charm Of The Bourgeoisie Oscar the 75-year-old Bunuel finally had the window to make a film of all those little ideas and images he'd had in his head for years but never could find a use for. The result is a film full of ideas and images that you don't really have any use for.
Death in Venice. (15.)
Directed by Luchino Visconti. 1971
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano, Marisa Berenson, Mark Burns, Romolo Valli. 130 mins. Out now on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
He dies at the end, Dirk Bogarde. Sorry if that's a spoiler but given that the film is nearly half a century old and the novella by Thomas Mann it's based on is over a century old I assumed you'd know. And if you didn't, the title's a bit of a giveaway. You'd be put out if he didn't die. It'd be as ridiculous as a film called The Expendables where everybody survives. When death comes to him on his deckchair on the Lido beach it is preposterous, ridiculous and deeply poignant. You'll scoff a little scoff and shed a little tear; an appropriate conclusion for a film that is both artistic embarrassment and triumph.
The House That Jack Built. (18.)
Directed by Lars Von Trier. 2018.
Starring Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Jeremy Davies and Riley Keough. 152 mins. Out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Artificial Eye.
Who owns the house that Jack built, was the question posed by Paul Weller protégé Tracie on her Respond Records 80s hit. The answer, it turned out, was we owned the house that Jack built and now you can own the Lars Von Trier's House That Jack Built. And yes, I know that was a torturous opening but I've had that damn tune in my head ever since the disc for this arrived and torturous openings are the order of the day in LVT's grisly American set serial killer epic, which manages to be somehow jeering, contemptuous and yet meek, even defeated. It is some kind of career culmination for the Danish provocateur: he's finally scraped the bottom of his barrel. A disappointment if you are an admirer, though I guess Lars may derive some satisfaction from finally making it there after all those decades of trying.
Tokyo Drifter. (15.)
Directed by Seijan Suzuki. 1966.
Starring Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Hideaki Nitani, Tamio Kawachi, Ryûji Kita, Eiji Gô. 82 mins. Out of Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
The gangster thriller Tokyo Drifter, the film of a popular song from the time, is about a Yakuza family that is trying to go legit and the noble foot soldier Tetsuo (Watari) who is fanatically loyal to his boss. But this is not a film where you need worry too much about the plot; the filmmakers surely didn't. It's all about the look, and the look is incredible. It's a Bobby Dazzler, no doubt about it. That said, while watching it I did a bit of Tokyo drifting myself: wowed by the visual but alienated by the narrative incoherence my mind did occasionally wander. It's a perverse achievement. While you are watching it you will probably become increasingly distant from it. Then, when it is finished, you want to go right back and it again to be overwhelmed by that colour scheme.
True Stories (PG.)
Directed by David Byrne. 1986
Starring David Byrne, John Goodman, Annie McEnroe, Swoosie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Jo Harvey Allen, Tito Larriva, John Ingle, Matthew Posey, Alix Elias. 87 mins. Out on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
More than thirty years ago David Byrne, singer and songwriter with Talking Heads, (in case that is no longer common knowledge,) made a film. It was A Film About A Bunch Of People In Virgil, Texas, in which Byrne, wearing a cowboy suit and driving around in a red Chrysler convertible, narrates and interacts with various local characters as the town prepares for the sesquicentennial (150 years) celebrations of the founding of Texas. Byrne presents everything with wide-eyed innocence and a sense of wonder that may well be less arch than you assume it to be. It's marvellous: original, funny, wise, prescient and moving. Its style is wry and detached, yet incredibly warm. It's a true one-off. And after it, Byrne never made a film again. I guess that was all he had to say about that.
Directed by Terrence Malick.
Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Alan Vint. (1973.) 94 mins. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.
I've reviewed Terrence Malick's first film twice already: first when it got rereleased in cinemas sometime in the first half of the decade and last year when Warners released it as one of their dual play Premium edition releases, so go here for the review. Criterion's version offers a restored 4K digital transfer, approved by Malick, and a selection of extras (supplements as they prefer to term them) which throw unexpected light on its creation, both in terms of Malick's approach and the film's basis in a real-life horror.
Khrustalyov, My Car! (18.)
Directed by Aleksey German. 1998.
Starring Yuriy Tsurilo, Nina Ruslanova, Mikhail Dementyev. Black and White. 147 mins. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Academy.
Because you can never have too many too many epic black and white Russian films in your life, I was drawn towards, but apprehensive of, this rerelease. After his posthumous sci-fi epic Hard To Be A God made a bit of a splash in the sleepy backwaters of Indie cinema when it finally came out in 2017, Arrow decided to dig up director Aleksey (or Aleksei) German's previous film. It's about a military doctor getting caught up in the Doctors' Plot in the last days of Stalin and it has a fevered style all of it own. It's a form of grim slapstick that mixes the frantic mania of a Terry Gillian film with the visual severity of Bela Tarr. It's really quite something. If I had even the slightest inclining of what was going on at any time during its 147 minutes I'd probably be calling it a masterpiece.
One, Two, Three. (U.)
Directed by Billy Wilder. 1961.
Starring James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Howard St. John, Hanns Lothar and Lilo Pulver. Out on Blu-ray from Eureka Masters of Cinema. 104 mins.
One, Two, Three is not one of the great movie titles and doesn't bear much relation to this farce about a harrassed Coca Cola executive Cagney in pre-Wall Cold War Berlin. It only really makes sense if you think of it in terms of being the countdown to the start of a song, a very fast song. It's Hey Hoy Let's Go, because Wilder 's follow up to Some Like It Hot and The Apartment is one of the most frantic movies this master of quickfire dialogue ever made. Reportedly the cover of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script bore the message, "This piece must be played molto furioso. Suggested speed: 110 miles an hour--on the curves--140 miles an hour in the straightaways."
Directed by Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi.
Starring Matteo Simoni, Nora Gharib, Said Boumazoughe, Junes Lazaar, Werner Kolf and Nabil Mallat. Flemish with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray/ DVD from Signature Entertainment. 121 mins.
If you are in need of another gangster flick you are not spoilt for choice – we Brits seem to turn out one a month – so probably you will feel disinclined to bother with one that necessitates a bit of reading. But if there is any life in the genre it is here, in this busy Belgium crime movie that has ideas well above its station and appears to have enough going on inside to fill up three movies. Not necessarily three good movies, but decent ones.
Directed by Steve McQueen.
Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson. 128 mins. Out on Blu-ray/ DVD on 18th March.
It was 2018's best thriller but audiences shunned it when it was released last November, and their reasons for doing so have been an issue of much debate. Is there no longer an audience for proper grown-up crime dramas? Did audiences fear that a film from the director of an Oscar winner, with females in the main roles, was going to be preachy? Or was it perhaps that, however entertaining, a film this open about how utterly corrupt American society has become was going to be all a bit too much for audiences in the states, even if there was a bit of bang-bang gunplay included.
Shoah The Four Sisters (E.)
Directed by Claude Lanzmann.
Featuring Paula Biren, Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman and Hanna Marton. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Eureka Masters Of Cinema. 273 mins
The final film of esteemed documentarian Lanzmann, was a surprising change of pace, a light-hearted reminiscence of young love. No, of course, it isn't, it's another Shoah. Like Edgar Reitz with the Heimats, once embarked upon the process of compiling a verbal history of the Holocaust, Lanzmann couldn't escape. The Four Sisters is four full-length interviews with Jewish women who made it through the Holocaust. They were filmed for, but not included in, the original nine and half hour Shoah. It is less a movie than it is a very comprehensive Extras feature. Or, if you prefer, it's testimony from four highly committed "crisis actors" who have stuck to their stories with unusual commitment and consistency.
Directed by Gasper Noe
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video, February 11th. 96 mins.
The devil has all the best tunes, and the misanthropes have all the best tracking shots. Gasper Noe is a man for whom the glass isn't just half empty, it's spiked. Climax is another tale of misery, destruction and despair but made with such exuberance, such style, such Joie de grief, that it is more uplifting than a thousand heavenly choirs. Or it would if you could drown out all the women and children screaming in the second half.