Haifaa Al-Mansour directs Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah and Abdullrahman Al Gohani in this Saudi Arabian set childhood tale where a rebellious kid wants a bicycle.
A lovely little film about a subject that should be grim, alien and unfathomable to Western eyes. Women in this regime are so policied and restricted that they cannot own bicycles for pleasure or cars to get to work, innocent touch is misinterpreted as forbidden lesbian romance and political elections aren’t even allowed to be glimpsed at from rooftops. A ten year old showing her wedding photos is played for non-judgmental laughs. Yet the film remains surprisingly light, buoyed by a mischievous turn by our titular heroine. She remains defiant and determined to get what she wants, a bicycle so she can race and play with her neighbourhood boy mate on equal terms. Watching her beautiful mother’s subplots about work and marriage expose the limited future Wadjda has in stall for herself, why not let her have a bit of fun and freedom while she still can?
Andrew Bujalski directs Regina Hall, Shayna McHayle and Haley Lu Richardson in this workplace comedy where put upon GM of a Hooters-style bar struggles with a full day of drama.
Convincing in its first half where Regina Hall rushes around calmly trying to keep the business operational and the girls safe for little recognition or reward. As a bar manager myself, I can attest such plate-spinning days, where nothing seems to go right and rest breaks just don’t happen, are commonplace. The film rejigs itself in the second half to be something less definable and farther reaching than a work place farce. It doesn’t convince in this mode. Also Shayna McHayle’s performance is particularly grating and remote. She’s stuntcasting from the hipster rap world but the gamble that she is multi talented doesn’t pay off. With such a prominent part as Regina Hall’s smoke break confidant she leave our excellent lead with nobody sympathetic to effectively bounce off of for an entire film.
Carlos López Estrada directs Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal and Janina Gavankar in this drama where three days before his probation ends a young black Oakland moving man’s wayward white work partner and childhood friend buys a gun.
To call this timely undermines the real life situation and politics that fuels this cracking little film. It has much the same heart, energy, invention and verve as the prescient Do The Right Thing yet feels very much like its own thing. Daveed Diggs puts in an off kilter but captivating lead turn. It is swing by swing funny and angry and insightful and salty and intense as the very best movies are. I’d say the final sequence of suspense possibly is a little too didactic – even for a movie that trades in some disturbingly on-the-nose dream imagery. But you’ll struggle to find another current work that gets so much right yet doesn’t feel filtered or warped by branding or movements. This might be your new favourite.
Kōji Shiraishi directs Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro and Aimi Satsukawa in this crossover sequel to the Japanese J-horror hits Ringu and The Grudge.
Easily the best Grudge film I’ve seen and possibly the best Ring sequel also, this simplifies and mashes up the creaky franchises in a meat and potatoes kinda way. It is cartoonish and efficient… gorgeous Japanese teens are cast to scream and run, you buy your ticket and it delivers. A satisfying death comes every five minute (Sadako’s curse is tweaked so her fatalities come quicker). In fact the doomed girls in the Ringu strand are amusingly bimbo-ish, which makes a change of pace from the dull academics who used to watch the vengeful ghost’s home movies. Not world altering but about as good a reconditioning that tired series like this will ever get.
John Sturges directs Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine in this thriller where a disabled WWII Vet stops off at a one horse town full of secrets and aggression.
A pure piece of cinema, it just does what it has to do with bold, unadorned confidence. You get a modern day Western as the stranger faces down a dusty town that angle to kill him. You get a noir in the harsh daylight mystery as we and Spencer Tracy try to figure just why an entire town is so cagey and threatening. You get a blunt political allegory about racism, McCarthyism and lynch mob mentalities. Never back or side or allow a bully, never help them, as they’ll either own you or turn on you. You get a trademark Sturges manly ensemble… he directs men ganging up, men facing off and men squaring up like no one else. And in glorious Technicolor. You get the perfect line… “You’re not only wrong, you’re wrong at the top of your voice.” Can’t wait to use that one next time I have to deal with a loudmouth dickhead. Sure, some of that constantly brawling tension is ruined by the fact they clearly have settled on killing Tracy’s lone sticky beak by the end of the first act… and then they don’t… even though there’s nothing stopping them. Not even morals. Not even decency. A quibble. This is a formidable thriller.
Adrian Lyne directs Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri and Sunny Johnson in this dance drama where a welder dreams of becoming a professional dancer.
A surprise smash in its day, this now looks and sounds bloody incredible. The setting and plot has zero grip on reality. Yet you don’t want to pick the glowing, pulsating, gritty yet tender fairy tale apart. It just glides and seduces, the persuasive pop soundtrack never giving you a chance but to submit to its charms. What a Feelin’. Gloria. Maniac. Joe Eszterhas gets an early screen writing credit here. His crude, brash, porno Cinderella attitude means there’s the constant threat of rape or exploitation in what should be a fluffy romance / empowerment B-release. Some of dialogue is painfully nasty. Yet you could see it as soft open for Showgirls in that respect, this is the more palatable flick but they share a lot of the same swagger and ambition. Beals makes a strong impression in her only lead role of note. Shame she chose not to capitalise on her one hit while the iron was hot. She’ll always be cinema’s only cabaret dancer with a steelworker’s union card. And her Kabuki meets Maxwell VHS performance art sequence is oh so eerie you wonder why it isn’t talked about more?
Raoul Walsh directs James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O’Brien in this gangster classic where the leader of a bunch of hoods has to contend with internal coups, undercover agents, unfaithful wives, overbearing mothers and crippling headaches.
Manages to cram in a hideout stand-off, a prison break and a chemical plant siege all into one tidy movie. Cagney is aggressive, unpredictable, funny, evil and seductive. In other words the absolute boy. The action is pretty impactful for a movie made under the Code. Well deserving of its legacy in Hollywood history.
Spike Lee directs Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jnr. in this action drama where four Vietnam vets return to the former war zone in their old age to find a buried comrade and some hidden gold.
A brilliant ensemble with an Oscar worthy turn by Lindo. That’s the headline. The first hour of this is AAA-rating Lee. Verve, technical mastery, salty bonhomie, searing political commentary and a persuasive black history lesson. Some of his bravest storytelling gambles pay off (a very simplistic romance revived, having the pensioners play their youthful selves in the original conflict flashbacks) and the whole thing is motored by a combination of Marvin Gaye songs and fetishising ‘Nam cinema of the 80s. The moment the gold is discovered has a feel good beauty that matches Tuco running around the graveyard in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly but obviously these old boys are nowhere near as sprightly. Then everything grinds to a halt just as the action sharpens… sure, there are Mexican stand-offs, explosions and even Shakespearean soliloquies but the pace has terminally declined. Indulgence sets in, the flatter characters become more evident, we seem to be on hold when we should be in “the shit”. This is the best film Lee has made since Inside Man, his most potent since He Got Game but fuck me does it try the patience in the hodge pudge second half. A potential classic is relegated to flawed epic.
Xavier Neal-Burgin directs Jordan Peele, Tony Todd and Keith David in this retrospective documentary of African-American characterisation in horror movies.
A good solid mixture of talking heads and clips, slightly undermined by trying to knock the few actual classics to fit an academic theory. For example – whole swathes of the Candyman mythology are overlooked so it can be seen as white misrepresentation (and therefore negative) of black male lust. If you’ve watched the film you’ll know the argument doesn’t fit and the story has been over simplified by the essayist here. Watching poor Tony Todd squirm in his seat having defend his brilliant performance for being outdated and racist, when it clearly isn’t, is symptomatic of when this project frequently stumbles. See also Keith David’s response to the black character always dying in service of the white lead. “I didn’t in my first film.” That film was The Thing! Or the off hand dismissal of Wes Craven for “trying” to be inclusive. The man was a former sociology professor who used horror to effectively subvert representation and values in most of his films! Horror Noire is an exhaustive survey history of a sub-genre but its overriding directive to awkwardly deify identity over quality means rubbish films are lionised while universally accepted classics often get short shrift as the directors weren’t black even if the actors are. I know I’d much rather watch The People Under the Stairs over Bones any day of the week. I think in your heart of hearts a horror fan of any colour knows this to be true too.
Brian Clemens directs Horst Janson, Shane Briant and Caroline Munro in this later Hammer Horror where an aristocrat travels the lands looking for vampires.
A solid adventure, possibly one of the best Hammer productions. Not in anyway scary but has a nice alternative mythology and good, clean storytelling. There’s some keen sequences of vampire detection involving bows and bells in the woods and great bit of Grand Guignol were a newly turned unfortunate is tortured as cure. Horst Janson is wooden but brooding. A bevvy of English roses including Munro’s gypsy free love sidekick and Wanda Ventham special guest milf keeps things PG sexy. Ian Hendry wanders in as mercenary for a few scenes and pretty much recalibrates the entire plot around his sneering performance. If this were a pilot for a TV show you could bet five will get you fifty that his twin would be back in future episodes to avenge his death!