Krzysztof Kieślowski directs Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko and Mirosław Baka in these Polish arthouse hits that follow a stalker who tries to connect with his beloved and a killer who faces the death penalty.
Two films, both expanded from episodes of Kieślowski’s Ten Commandment’s TV series Dekalog. Love is a beautiful little slice of strange romance. It paves the way for the themes and style of his Three Colours Trilogy. Grażyna Szapołowska gives a rapturous performance as the woman who discovers she is being watched by an obsessed stranger across the way. While never condoning the toxic masculinity of the boy who spies on her, this reverse Rear Window has a sweet poetry. Killing is harder going. A treatise against Poland’s continued practice of the death penalty, it is a self consciously ugly film. The image is filtered to look sickly green and the lens distorted so that the frame never settles. We watch various characters fall into place (all of Kieślowski’s tales seem fascinated with fate and human beings tumbling into a certain unavoidable combination) before a prolonged, grim murder… then the brutality of the state sanctioned execution of the guilty. The TV episode was instrumental in changing the law and ending the practice allegedly. The pair of films are a fascinating view of Poland in the last gasps of Soviet life.
Amy Seimetz directs Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams and Kentucker Audley in this indie drama where an infectious fatalism spreads among a bunch of posh cunts who spend their last day blankly staring into space and bumming me out.
One of those movies that make all the critics’ end of year lists so you dutifully watch and then wonder… who the actual fuck is employing these dicks for their opinions? Maybe their aspirational upper middle class lifestyles of awkward dinner parties, modern art on the walls and bad relationships are mirrored here? I don’t know. This just plays out like bad fringe theatre. A real Emperor’s New Clothes situation. The concept has been fleshed out far better before in Camus’ The Plague and the Canadian indie gem Last Night. It doesn’t help that this ponderous, deadpan time waster has been billed everywhere as a horror. They aren’t all going to die because of some terrifying Lovecraftian pandemic, they are going to die as someone decided to film a bunch of their slightly famous mates doing an acting class exercise and pass it off as a feature length movie.
Harry Bradbeer directs Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter in this kids adventure where Sherlock and Mycroft’s little sister investigates her mother’s disappearance and the attempts on a hot teen lord’s life.
A perfectly serviceable entertainment that feels like three episodes of a Christmas tea time miniseries crammed together to make a feature length release. By the end, only a side mystery has been solved and that’s so the Timothée Chalamet resembling romantic interest involved can boxed up to be replaced by whatever ever foppish Corey is in fashion when Enola Holmes 2 starts rolling. The production values are high, there’s an admirable effort to make the mid billed casting as diverse as possible. It is all very suffocatingly breathless. Like a corset, ornately attractive but with little room to enjoy one’s self in. Stranger Things breakout Millie Bobbie Brown is an engaging lead, she will be a star, but this relies a little too much on her eagerly sticking her piehole right up into the camera to make sure we are keeping pace with the nonsense plot. You’d go mad if you did, the screenwriters haven’t bothered, so why should you?
Jerzy Skolimowski directs Alan Bates, Susannah York and John Hurt in this psychological chiller where an obtuse loner moves into a couple’s home and threatens the sound recordist husband with his mystical scream that kills all that hear it.
This is aiming for a combination of the discombulating unease and sexual intrusion that Joseph Losey and Nicolas Roeg achieve with their studies of societal deconstruction and creeping madness. The only problem here is it is quite boring. Well acted, nice concept… dully executed. “Get out of here Anthony, or I’ll shout your bloody ears off.”
Jerzy Skolimowski directs Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner and Klaudia Kaca in this arthouse actioner where a Taliban terrorist escapes redaction from the US forces in the Russian wastelands.
Surprisingly spectacular action for a lower budget film as Gallo silently fights his way through the freezing cold barefoot. There is minimal dialogue and plot… this way the actor preserves some sympathy as he endures in an unforgiving environment. Not a pleasant watch and quite repetitive.
Philip Haas directs Mandy Patinkin, James Spader and M. Emmet Walsh in this drama where two drifters play a pair of millionaires at poker and find themselves winning a lesson in life.
One of my favourite novels; a magical realist road movie that hits the brakes at the midway point and becomes a philosophical exploration of responsibility, employment, capitalism, fate and even marriage. This adaptation is remarkably true… a little character stuff is trimmed out of the first act, the ending has a bonus coda featuring a cameo from author Paul Auster himself. Otherwise this is faithful to the clear cut simplicity of the modern parable as written. Spader is excellent as Pozzi the scrawny peacocking gambler while the rest of cast remain enigmatic as the more ironically poker faced players trapped in this little dance. Cooly lensed by Haas, this joins The Spanish Prisoner, Trees Lounge and the films of Hal Hartley as the unusual club of minor indie classics nobody seems to remember anymore.
Clea DuVall directs Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis and Aubrey Plaza in this festive romantic comedy where a young woman wants to propose to her girlfriend on Christmas Day only to discover she has not yet come out to her family, with whom they are spending the holidays.
Often hitting the frothy wit, glossy sheen and ensemble zip of a Golden Age Hollywood farce. Like Father of the Bride or The Philadelphia Story but with an LGBT twist. Daniel Levy and Mary Holland duke it out for ‘man of the match’ as the fairy godmother-esque best friend and goofy over enthused little sister alike… whenever they are on screen laughs just naturally happen. Considering this contains comedy stalwarts Plaza, Alison Brie and Mary Steenburgen in prominent roles, that is no mean feat of scene stealing. My only criticism is that Stewart has noticeably more chemistry with Plaza… you can’t fully excuse Davis’ Harper’s more hurtful, selfish behaviour even when the happy ending clicks into place. A minor quibble though of a charming entertainment.
Remi Weekes directs Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku and Matt Smith in this British horror where a refugee couple are assigned a council estate masionette which houses terrors within its walls.
Something is in the shadows, something is in the cracks. Well acted, visually impressive and going toe to toe with James Wan’s blockbuster use of negative space, His House is a fine shocker. The ghouls are iconically nasty, the social message heartfelt. Like Jacob’s Ladder (another strong influence on the genre aspects) this is as much an existential puzzle as it is a five fingered exercise. Rial and Bol are clearly traumatised by the manifestations they cannot escape. Is it survivor’s guilt? A curse that has followed them across the ocean? A vision of the hell they do not yet realise they belong in? A psychic attack from the white country and white authorities and white neighbours who do not really want them to settle and integrate? A good old fashioned haunting? Weekes never shows his hand until he has played full value out of each and every card in it. His debut works as both an issues piece and a rattling good spookshow. Featuring stand out work from a defiant Mosaku and a creepy Smith.
Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart direct Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker and Sean Bean in this Irish animation where the daughter of one of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers befriends the wild girl who lives in the woods and turns into a wolf in her sleep.
I tend not to watch current kids’ movies now being child-free and finding the critically lauded ones to be often awfully middle class – joyless and conservative. They lack anarchy and fun, are more about emotions than thrilling the pants off of naive eyes. Say what you want about the feature length toy adverts I grew up on but they were action packed and silly affairs. Wolfwalkers had much that I enjoyed though. A Fox & The Hound style across the tracks / ‘we aren’t so different after all’ friendship. Rousing adventure with a strong basis in actual Irish history and a Celtic mystical tilt that appeals to these second generation paddy tastes. A nice, scruffy, chaotic, flowing visual sense that pulls you along like a bolt from a crossbow. If I had a young family I’d happily take them to see this hand drawn treat.
Steve McQueen directs Kenyah Sandy, Sharlene Whyte and Tamara Lawrance in this teen period drama where a bright black British boy is dumped into a pointless “special school” after a few misdemeanours in class.
The final Small Axe film is the most naturally entertaining, the one that resonated with my childhood the most and the closest that one got to bringing me to tears. The scene where Kingsley’s mother tests him on his reading ability just crushes your heart. I struggled at primary school in certain areas and more often than not faced punishment and castigation until I reached secondary school and handwriting was not deemed quite as important as content. I can recognise a lot of what Kingsley went through in class – the restless infractions, the segregation and kinda know… I was lucky to be white and born just a few years later. Despite the hard hitting subject matter… this is the funniest of McQueen’s explorations of black British life from when he and I grew up in West London. It also ends on a warmer moment of hope than the other films. I’m going to give the lauded Lovers Rock another try soon, but for me this and especially Mangrove were the highlights of a year defining project.