Movie of the Week: Never Look Away (2018)

Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck directs Tom Schilling, Paula Beer and Sebastian Koch in this period drama following an artist’s development through Nazi Germany, the establishment of socialist East Germany and the conceptual freedom offered by the Düsseldorf Art Academy.

Called, somewhat ironically, ‘Work Without Author’ in its native tongue, here is a brilliant film about how tragedies, both personal and political, impact and inform an artist’s voice. The movie’s grand narrative is a blend of heart wrenching oppression, transgressive sexuality and glorious burst of soapy romantic freedom. The movie reminded me most of the ambitious scale and tone shared by The Shawshank Redemption or Doctor Zhivago. Social upheaval and the brutality of a system are observed within a cosy period accurate palette and the epic sweep of a master storyteller. The terminal cycle of callous bureaucracy a slightly overwhelmed young aunt finds herself trapped within during the Hitler period of Act One sets the tone for the next twenty years of escape, sex and creativity. The acting is fantastic – especially Koch as an SS doctor whose life run parallel with our young painter and Saskia Rosendahl as the doomed Elisabeth, misunderstood, fragile, desirable… she haunts the film entire, long after she is lost to history. This is a great traditional film -moving, unfussily told and beautiful.



White Material (2009)

Claire Denis directs Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert and Isaach De Bankolé in this drama about a plantation owner trying keep her business viable during a violent uprising.

Set in an unnamed country. Making obvious points about colonialism. Slow and uninvolving. Huppert is good.


Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Gary Dauberman directs Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife in this The Conjuring horror spin-off where the exorcising Warrens spend the night away and the babysitters unleash supernatural evil in their suburban home.

Tame yet surprisingly solid. You’ll never be shocked, you’ll never be bored. If it wasn’t the seventh entry in a franchise it would make good entry level horror for sheltered teens. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson turn up to bookend the fun in extended cameos … and are the best things in this. This reminded me of an old article about script doctors in Premiere magazine. They gave a fantasy example of how a script doctor might reduce costs of a Beverly Hills Cop / Die Hard crossover. The script doctor injured Axel Foley and John McClane in the first scene and then attributed all the action and dialogue to Judge Reinhold and Bonnie Bedelia thus saving the production $30 million dollars in star salaries … AS IF THAT MAKES ANY SENSE CREATIVELY OR FINANCIALLY?! Who is turning up to that film when it does not feature Eddie and Bruce? Who wants to see Holly Gennaro shout “yippee-kay-ay” as she ends a bad guy!?? As Judge would say “GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!”. This doesn’t suffer that hypothetical weirdness but the same disappointing dunceheadedness applies.


Time Bandits (1981)

Terry Gilliam directs Craig Warnock, David Rappaport and David Warner in this time travel fantasy where a dressing gown bedecked child joins a ragtag bunch of era-hopping thieves.

Proper fantasy cinema, warts and all! I wasn’t allowed to watch Time Bandits as a kid. My dad must have seen the opening chapter where knights, dwarves and disembodied glowing ghoul heads tore through a little boy’s bedroom and sensibly thought the inevitable nightmares wouldn’t be worth it. I really enjoy it now as an adult… the squawking, heckling leads not quite so much. These dwarves are really “little people-ing” it up. The short person’s equivalent of blackface. They are gratingly loud, babyish and unfettered. I have no issue watching the rough and tumble, nose picking grossness but people from a similar background might find the depiction dated and offensive. Beyond that there are plenty of great fantasy sequences here interspersed with unfortunate swathes of shouty squabbling and poor pacing. It is almost as if Gilliam imagines wondrous scenarios then he doesn’t know how to use his lead ensemble in them. As a rag tag collection of big name cameos and extraordinary imagery the Time Bandits is unrivalled but it tests the patience as often as it marvels… and because I waited until teendom to watch it, it isn’t quite as beloved as say Willow, Back to the Future, The Goonies or The Monster Squad.


My Top 10 Time Travel Movies

Anna (2019)

Luc Besson directs Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren and Luke Evans in this Cold War thriller where a young Russian fashion model also works as a killer for the KGB.

Less convoluted than Atomic Blonde. Less kinky and shocking than Red Sparrow. Less stunt packed than The Villainess. Less chic than Nikita (the mammy to all these beautiful hit woman films). Anna works on a simple motor -it is not as star powered as its contemporaries, nor as gung-ho, yet it somehow hits the same spots just as satisfyingly. The biggest plus is it always manages to be one small twist ahead of it audience without losing them. So Besson probably can be forgiven for rehashing old ground when Valerian was such a dog’s dinner. He’s made exactly this film a couple of times now over his career yet you wouldn’t have shamed Hitch for making another Wrong Man chase or Argento for going giallo one last time. Less a creative retreat than a rousing rumble through a dated director’s comfort zone.


Jabberwocky (1978)

Terry Gilliam directs Michael Palin, Max Wall and Harry H. Corbett in this medieval comedy about an unlikely hero who is fated to slay the titular dragon.

It looks dank and dirty, every scene wafts of well faked stink. Yet the humour is that slightly snarky anachronistic look at past times. Weren’t they silly and grotesque back then? Ey? EY!? It lacks a softer goofiness. Gilliam is at his happiest flinging extras in the air by catapult. An occurrence that increases in frequency as the joke runs thin. A relative disappointment from a great director.


The Rundown (2003)

Peter Berg directs Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott and Christopher Walken in this buddy action comedy where a diplomatic shit brickhouse debt collector has to retrieve a goofy treasure hunter from a dangerous jungle.

Bombastic and bloodless – this stops and starts, mixing the extraordinary with the forgettable. Berg’s direction is flash cut edited within an inch of its life and devoid of wit. Which is shame as both The Rock and Stifler make for likeable screen stars who work well off each other – decent hulk and plucky clown. They give it full effort, overwhelming the loud brashness. Midnight Run and 48 Hrs are the templates but the only moment that threatens to reach a similar level of quality is when Arnie wanders past in a fleeting shot and figuratively passes his crown over to a new titan. Rosario Dawson is a sexy freedom fighter, Walken menaces as a mining tyrant who wants his cut and some raping monkeys get the laughs. It is almost as good as Commando or Beverly Hills Cop 2 and, even if it came out 15 years too late, often that’s all I want from a slick 1980s buddy action comedy. The bar isn’t that high… as Schwarzenegger intones…


Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

Richard Quine directs Audrey Hepburn, William Holden and Tony Curtis in this meta-farce where a playboy screenwriter and his new typist have just a weekend to completely create his new script and get lost in the romantic caper fantasy they moon over.

Considered an unreleasable flop on completion, partly due to its haphazard self aware style (ahead of its time – imagine an upbeat Charlie Kaufman comedy) and mainly due to William Holden being a train wreck on set. He was in the pits of his alcoholism, hoping to rekindle his affair with Hepburn that ended after they made Sabrina – unsuccessfully. His turmoil and tribulations don’t show up on screen… he’s tanned, roguish and has a lovely sparkle with Hepburn. She gamely gives it her all – going so wide eyed that you’d swear she had two IMAX screens for peepers while still physically stealing any scene were she isn’t given any foreground work to do. Hepburn’s status as a great beauty always seems to eclipse what a fantastic light slapstick comedy presence she was. In this bittersweet, daftly random bit of knockabout she rivals peak Goldie Hawn or Cameron Diaz in her megastar timing and goofiness. Well worth a watch.


Last Train From Gun Hill (1959)

John Sturges directs Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Carolyn Jones in this western where a sheriff goes to bring justice to his wife’s killers, only to find his old friend is one of the culprits’ father.

You can use this as a genre baseline. A particularly typical western, well made and solidly on point. If someone had never seen the tropes and style before then rather than starting them out on a titanium classic you could show them this so they can then see what a step up 3:10 to Yuma or Rio Bravo are, how much more artful John Ford or Sam Peckinpah or Clint Eastwood were in their takes and evolution of the form. As it stands this gets by on rugged star power (racism and injustice are dealt with by a hard punch) and fluid Technicolor production values. Carolyn Jones is the highlight, Morticia Addams as the bad town’s secret good girl.


My Top 10 Kirk Douglas Movies

Movie of the Week: Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster directs Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter in this psychological thriller where an on-the-ropes couple go to a remote festival in Sweden; hallucinogenics, constant sun, rituals, dancing, folklore, jealousy and death ensue.

I didn’t rate Hereditary… a horror movie far too in love with itself to deliver. It was the involvement of Pugh and Poulter that got me into this. And if you take it as a horror it will dissatisfy again. Not particularly scary, quite predictable and… I think that’s OK in this instance. It is more a disorienting psychological thriller, akin to Repulsion or Don’t Look Now. The weirder elements belong in the warped service of the relationships we watch play out, reality disintegrates just as any trust or affection or compassion between the tourists do. The results are mad and unsettling, sometimes vibrantly splattering. Shocking, surreal imagery is salted finely throughout the measured runtime. Yet this is an apt drama about fucked up people in an even worse situation. A morality tale where disrespect for another’s culture results in punishment… though the locals expect, predict and need for these transgressions to happen to reach their target. A sad tale of a woman who expects too much from her weak willed lover. A kinky remake of The Wizard of Oz where no one goes home but at the very least a version of The Scarecrow, The Lion and The Man Behind The Curtain are with us by the close of play. A meditation on death, pain and attraction. I really liked it. The long patient pace, trippy set-pieces (pulsating flowers a-go-go, maypole endurance tests) and strange kills. And Florence Pugh is excellent in it. Our screening was slightly ruined by some rude cunts who were let in during the last five minutes and had a lengthy chat on the stairs. But that’s Cineworld Edinburgh for you.