The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Watched: 21 September

Tedious, unimaginative buddy action movie that has clearly only been made because someone thought you could simply put Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson together on screen and get Ryan L. Jackson, a kind of genetically spliced-together two-headed charisma machine. Sadly, what you get instead is Samuel Reynolds, an eager-to-please two-headed clown who stares blankly ahead without blinking while occasionally spitting out the word ‘muthafuckin’ or ‘muthafucka’ like a malfunctioning Jules Winnfield doll. A bonus point for the bizarro decision to try and put Coventry on the map, but this is sub-Shane Black crud. (*½)

The Ghoul

Watched: 20 September

The Ghoul is a moody low-budget debut feature by Gareth Tunley that occasionally brings to mind Ben Wheatley’s second film Kill List as well as Omer Fast’s slept-upon 2016 thriller Remainder. On the face of it it’s an undercover police story, in which Tom Meeton’s homicide detective Chris poses as a therapist in order to investigate a double homicide, but The Ghoul is more complex than your average procedural, and eventually a far more chilling proposition to boot; to give any concrete details away about the plot would be unfair, but suffice it to say it’s a film in which the protagonist’s mind begins to fracture and questions of identity are to the fore. I couldn’t quite fully buy into it, and while there are some decent performances here (Meeton and Dan Renton Skinner acquit themselves well) there are others that aren’t quite up to scratch; perhaps allowances should be made given the finance available to the filmmaker for that, though. Though this may sound vague if you haven’t seen the film (or even if you have!) I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the way the keys to unlocking the story are presented, either, but plenty of people seem to have liked this outlier, so hey ho. (**)

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter Of Cambodia Remembers

Watched: 19 September

The daughter of Cambodia referred to in this film’s title is Loung Ung, a former child soldier who lost her parents and ended up being separated from her siblings during Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Ung has adapted her own autobiography First They Killed Their Father for this small screen release, and the film has been co-written and directed by Angelina Jolie; made by Netflix, comparisons with Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation, another film released by the platform that told the story of child soldiers from the point of view of a young protagonist, are somewhat inevitable, and Jolie’s film is certainly underpinned by as much empathy for the children as Fukanaga’s (though admittedly that really should be a given). Keeping the camera low to show the audience the seven-year-old Loung’s perspective, Jolie gets good performances out of her mostly-young cast, with star Sreymoch Sareum impressing the most. There seems to me a good feel for time and place, too, though I’m really basing this on just a couple of other films I’ve seen set during the same period. There are slight issues with the pace – it drags a little in the middle – but it’s an improvement on the uneven Unbroken and I expect it’ll last longer in the memory than that earlier effort. (***½)

Strong Island

Watched: 19 September

A moving, powerful documentary by Yance Ford about the murder of his brother William Jr – who was shot dead during an argument at a gas station in Long Island in the 1990s – as well as the subsequent investigation, which Ford argues was not as thorough as it should have been and has as a result caused the family much anguish during the interim years. Ford often appears, speaking directly to the camera about how he feels and spelling out exactly why he feels the way he does, his face filling the majority of the screen; it’s a powerful technique that adds to the overall righteousness and anger of the piece, while appearances by other members of the Ford family are equally saddening, and maddening. By the end you’re left in no doubt that an entirely different kind of investigation would have taken place had William Ford Jr been white instead of black. The film clearly sets out the Ford family’s experiences on Long Island as well as slowly revealing details about the relationships between family members; it’s an excellent, provocative and timely documentary. (****½)

The Great Wall

Watched: 18 September

Risible fantasy nonsense from Zhang Yimou, which has been written and cast in a way designed to maximise audiences in both China and the US. As such, we have Jing Tian and Tony Lau leading an army of warriors who live on and in the Great Wall of China, and they’re joined by Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe as they do battle with an ancient race of monsters hell bent on wiping out humanity. There are so many visual effects here that inevitably a sizeable portion look quite dodgy, although typically Zhang manages to redress the balance with a few grand, sweeping shots of soldiers on the barricades or hordes of creatures gathering before laying siege to the wall. Sadly, though, once the monsters have been introduced – right at the start – The Great Wall quickly starts to become boring, and none of the grandly staged battles and acrobatic derring-do can jolt the film as it flatlines for a good hour or so. It’s the dullest Zhang film I’ve seen by some distance. (*)

Eraserhead

Watched: 17 September

David Lynch’s debut film is a mysterious, stark and troubling nightmare brought to life, in which alien-like babies are born and, uh, ‘cared for’, a god-like figure in the sky pulls mechanical levers that presumably are affecting or controlling events down on Earth (which has become, apparently, an industrial wasteland), weirdo families stumble through awkward, skin-crawling dinners together and disturbing body horror takes place. It’s utterly fascinating in itself, but viewed within the framework of Lynch’s entire filmography it’s quite a surprise to see how many tropes appear here that have become familiar because of his later work: the strange, otherwordly torch singer (memorably, here, The Lady In The Radiator, played by Laurel Near), for example, the zigzag patterns on carpets, the sudden shift into unsettling passages where dreams meet reality, the 1950s-influenced characters and production design, and just the skin-crawling oddness of all of that put together, along with the superb sound design and weird inserted images. Trying to figure out what it all means is a thrill, and an impossibility. (****½)

Brighton Rock

Watched: 17 September

I first watched this film adaptation of Brighton Rock while reading Graham Greene’s novel around 25-30 years ago, and it still seems like a wonderful portrait of a seaside town’s seedy, threatening underbelly to me today. The threat is most obviously manifest through Richard Attenborough’s horrible gang leader Pinkie, a vicious, violent criminal whose inherent cowardice memorably comes to the fore during two key events in the story; next to him, Hermione Baddeley’s dogged Ida Arnold (the title is surely a reference to her solid indomitability) seems incredibly strong and – for want of a less-tainted phrase – stable. Folliowing Pinkie are perma-wary fellow gang members Dallow, Spicer and Cubitt (William Hartnell, Wylie Watson, Nigel Stock), and later Rose (Carol Brown), whose naievety is as frightening as anything else in the film.

Director John Boulting makes great use of Brighton itself, particularly the seafront, which becomes the setting for many important scenes: the ride on the ghost train; the sudden realisation and panic when two pairs of eyes meet another pair at the bandstand; the part when Pinkie records his own voice (which leads in turn to the story’s superb coda; and the finale on the pier. The locations work well because they are generally associated with happiness and enjoyment, and are therefore full of normal people smiling and laughing in the background, oblivious to the danger in the midst or the deaths that are occurring. And the interiors are memorable, too; the backstreet pubs, the grand cafe where Rose works and – increasingly as the film progresses – the house where the gangsters are living, temporarily, which becomes a kind of claustrophobic prison. It’s all sharply shot by Harry Waxman, and I suppose the only negative thing to say is that our idea of a villain has changed so much during the ensuing years that the character of Pinkie sometimes seems a little ridiculous, as do the reactions of others when he’s around. Anyway, that’s splitting hairs; this is a wonderful adaptation and it oozes backstreet menace. Don’t go near the 2010 remake, which tried to marry Greene’s story to that other Brighton touchstone, Quadrophenia. (****½)

Gone Baby Gone

Watched: 16 September

This is the first time I’ve seen Ben Affleck’s directorial debut since it was on in the cinema. (I say ‘directorial debut’, but that’s discounting his 1993 short I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal at Disney, which I am guessing is probably not worth watching.) As much as I enjoyed Argo I think this is his best film to date, helped immeasurably by the textures of Dennis Lehane’s source novel and very good performances by Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Ryan and Ed Harris. Affleck Jr stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private detective who is quickly established on screen as being both wiser and more confident than his age might suggest. He’s also a native Bostonian who has kept his roots in the neighbourhood of Dorchester, and is therefore well-placed to investigate the disappearance of a young girl who has seemingly been taken as revenge for a drug deal rip-off. The plot isn’t labyrinthine, by any means, but it is convoluted enough to wrongfoot both the viewer and Kenzie on a few occasions while the investigator slowly figures out what has happened. I think the film is well structured, particularly in the way a typical heroic ending is passed over for something far more satisfying, and I like the way the various rescue attempts or interrogations inevitably descend into violence (sometimes tragically), as if no-one is in control of the situation or their reactions to events. Its warmth toward the people of Dorchester is a major feature, too, which helps to lift it above and beyond the police procedural pack. (****)

Airplane!

Watched: 15 September

I have no idea how many times I’ve seen Airplane! over the years, or its sequel, but I had it down as being one of those comedies that would always, always make me chuckle. I don’t know what has happened, but this time round the rampant, scattergun silliness created by Abrahams and the Zuckers raised a bunch of half-smiles but the belly laughs have sadly gone. Perhaps familiarity has lessened the blow of all those gags, or perhaps my sense of humour has changed drastically since I last watched it 15-20 years ago. Anyway, Lloyd Bridges is still the best thing about the film, and I can still appreciate how terrific an achievement it is to have gotten so many jokes into one movie (regardless of the number that actually work). (****)

Jawbone

Watched: 15 September

If you’ve seen more than two or three boxing dramas in your life you might well be nonplussed by the premise of Jawbone, the British debut by Thomas Napper, written by and starring Johnny Harris (London To Brighton). Harris plays Jimmy McCabe, formerly a promising youth boxer, now in his 30s, homeless and struggling with alcoholism; and if that sounds to you like a rote Great White Hope character just waiting to find redemption in the ring, then you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that in his hour of need Jimmy looks to his old backstreet boxing gym for sanctuary, where Ray Winstone’s ailing gym owner Bill and Michael Smiley’s seen-it-all corner man Eddie reluctantly offer to help.

Despite being heavily reliant on such underdog sports drama cliches, Jawbone is better than it sounds, thanks mainly to three committed performances by the actors mentioned above (Smiley in particular is fast becoming one of the more reliable British character actors working today). It also benefits from some excellent cinematography by Tat Radcliffe, who wanders into the thick of the action during the film’s only notable bout, an illegal match organised by Ian McShane’s promoter that takes place in an extremely hostile northern venue (indeed so volatile is the crowd during this scene it’s a surprise not to see an establishing shot of Jimmy and Eddie on their way up the M1 passing a ‘Here Be Dragons’ sign, or something similar). Perhaps it’s a result of budgetary constraints, but the film feels on the short side at 91 minutes, which is a shame – I could have stood another 20 or 30 minutes and some more character development to add a little more depth. (***)

The Signal

Watched: 14 September

There’s a half-decent sci-fi premise here, in which the symbiosis of man with something that’s biologically very different to the human body is a major theme, though it’s never really explored in a satisfying way, and by the end the story has thrown up far too many unanswered questions for the film to be considered a success. Briefly, three MIT students – two of whom are hackers – are on a road trip while also partaking in a tit-for-tat battle with a rival hacker; this leads them to a remote cabin in the desert, where something very strange takes place, and I won’t elaborate further except to say that the main antagonist thereafter is Laurence Fishburne, looking suitably imposing in a hazmat suit. The Signal feels like a modern take on The Twilight Zone by the end, and it’ll probably float your boat if you were or are a fan of that series, but ultimately it’s a mixed bag: the performances are OK, but the characters are very thinly drawn archetypes and no amount of syrupy flashback scenes can change that (oh are there syrupy flashback scenes in this movie). I’m not a fan of the soundtrack, either, particularly during the film’s finale, but there is at least a less-is-more approach to the special effects, which I assume is due to the budget as much as anything else; when effects are employed some of them are very inventive and convincing. (**½)

Fifty Shades Darker

Watched: 13 September

Yeesh. Having watched the first film a couple of years ago – my local cinema was unusually packed to the rafters for that and the atmosphere was electric, more so than any other film I can remember seeing there – I felt duty bound to continue with the Fifty Shades franchise despite expecting the worst from this second entry (fnarrr!). It’s every bit as terrible as the reviews suggested, and far worse than the first film, with Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey cementing his place among the most preposterously awful characters ever seen on screen. Hilariously poor and about as sexy as a wet Wednesday night in Chalfont St Peter. (½)

Inversion (Varoonegi)

Watched: 12 September

A well-acted Iranian drama in which the pollution of Tehran, and the subsequent respiratory illness suffered by the mother of a family, eventually leads to fractious exchanges between three siblings. The youngest of these, Niloofar (Sahar Dolatshahi), is a single, independent woman, and her older brother and sister insist that she should be the one to accompany their mother and move to a rural area, thereby giving up her own life in the city. The film ruminates on this family hierarchy and other challenges faced by young women in Iran, and in doing so it’s a rather unassuming realist drama, and so the fact that it seems to have slipped under the radar shouldn’t be a surprise. There’s a preponderance of medium close-up shots, particularly when four or more family members are grouped together, and I can’t help but think that a little more variety in terms of the cinematography would have been welcome, but it’s worth a watch. (***)

Whitney: Can I Be Me?

Watched: 11 September

I had convinced myself that Nick Broomfield’s documentaries would be better without the director’s numerous intrusions, but now I wonder whether the various appearances that he makes in his most famous films, which are by their nature rather provocative, are key to the sparkiness and the controversy the documentaries generated at the time, and thus directly related to how interesting they actually are. His most widely-seen films about fetishes, Heidi Fleiss, Biggie and Tupac and Kurt and Courtney are all more entertaining than this sympathetic, well-constructed but ultimately unremarkable documentary about the life and tragic death of Whitney Houston, which is fine and respectful but lacking a little… I dunno… nosiness and accusation? There are revelations about Houston’s sexuality and – if you’re someone like me who didn’t really pay much attention to her career or her private life – the extent of her addictions, but there seems to be a restraint here that isn’t typical of Broomfield’s other more populist work; I dunno, maybe the sensitive approach is something that indicates a late-period maturity from this prolific filmmaker. (***)

The Hippopotamus

Watched: 10 September

A forgettable and sometimes painfully slow adaptation of Stephen Fry’s 1994 novel – in fact Fry has inexplicably been brought in to narrate the story, despite the fact that the narrator, a disgraced poet by the name of Ted Wallace, is played in the film by Roger Allam. (Why not just get Allam to narrate? It would make much more sense.) Anyway, as much as I like Allam (particularly for his excellent work on The Thick Of It), I’ll happily admit that this is not my kind of humour at all, and therefore I just couldn’t click with it; I imagine if you’re a fan of the book, or you’re satisfied by a bit of emphatically-delivered swearing, or even if you’ve enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s satires on the upper class, then you might well get more out of it than I did. (*½)

Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock

Watched: 10 September

Despite the wafty title, which almost seems to be offering the viewer a road-map to enlightenment or some other higher plane of existence via the medium of music, this is actually a fairly straightforward documentary in which the photographer Mick Rock looks back on his long career documenting musicians like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry and so on. Rock’s hard-living heyday was the 1970s, as you may have guessed from that brief and incomplete list, though judging by the glimpses we get of the terrible music videos he directed during the 1980s (for equally-terrible hair metal bands), a bit more focus on that decade might have made for a more unusual, more entertaining and more rounded portrait of an artist. At least he’s candid about such mis-steps, as well as other bill-paying commercial jobs he has taken on over the years. Throughout, Rock’s outward-looking professional gaze contrasts with his introspective discussion of a severe heart attack, though I’m not sure the floaty, dreamy reconstructions of his near-death experience add all that much to the overall piece; I’d rather just watch him discuss this, as opposed to watching a fake version of it with a voiceover. Anyway, I’m a sucker for a rock anecdote or ten, and there are some good ones here. (***)

Life

Watched: 9 September

Not a taxing film by any means, and as plenty of other people have pointed out before me it’s very much an Alien rip-off, though evidently nowhere near as good or as terrifying as Ridley Scott’s original, claustrophobic horror. However, I did actually enjoy Life; if nothing else it’s perfect fodder for a mindless Saturday night in front of the TV. There’s no doubt that the few big names appearing here have turned in better work and aren’t exactly stretching themselves (well, I suppose Ryan Reynolds might be), but the plant-like alien creature that grows and later wreaks havoc on board the International Space Station is enough of a horrible and clever fucker for you to sympathise with the characters as their perilous situation gradually worsens, and it sustained my interest all the way to the silly ending as a result. It’s not great, or even particularly ambitious, but I think this one has been unfairly maligned, and having since watched the bloated, self-important and incredibly dull Alien: Covenant I’m even more impressed by Life‘s simple, throwaway b-movie nature. (***)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Watched: 8 September

A disappointingly predictable sequel, in which they’ve unsurprisingly dialled everything that audiences responded to while watching the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie up to eleven – so even more lashings of intra-group banter, which is a good thing, and more soundtrack-shifting AOR/MOR hits from the 1970s and 1980s – while also throwing anything and everything at the screen in the hope that some of it sticks: there’s a proliferation of increasingly psychedelic (though occasionally dodgy) visual effects peppering this MCU space romp, as well as appearances by instantly recognisable legends, which I assume are supposed to impress but in fact come off as a bit naff; as such Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell join the original cast, but for what it’s worth it could have been any old experienced dude combo, like Jeff Bridges and Liam Neeson, or Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bobby De Niro, or Morgan Freeman and a CGI version of a CGI version of Peter Cushing. Anyway, despite a pervading feeling that the film is ultimately suffering from a lack of risk by simply dishing up more of the same (in increased quantities), one has to admit that not fixing something that isn’t broken is a sure-fire way to make oodles of cash, and the film is still a lot of fun at times, particularly when the so-so plot is ditched in favour of interplay between the Guardians. Of these, Dave Bautista’s Drax is still at the heart of every comic highlight, and I’d happily sit through at least one more film featuring that particular character. In short, this is an effective and occasionally enjoyable – but ultimately cynical – water-treading franchise blockbuster. (***)

It Comes At Night

Watched: 8 September

Trey Edward Schults’ second film has much in common with his first (last year’s Krisha, a minor indie gem about a recovering alcoholic woman who struggles to get through a Thanksgiving meal with her estranged family). Both are single-location movies (give or take) and both turn houses into oppressive, unsatisfyingly-charted spaces in which there is seemingly no escape from gathered family members and other temporary occupants. The external catalyst for change and the demon faced in Krisha was alcohol, whereas here the family that has turned their backwoods house into a makeshift fortress is battling something else; a disease, it seems, that has spread throughout the US and has apparently led to a devestating loss of life. (The trailer for It Comes At Night has the air of a zombie flick, or similar, though it isn’t that kind of horror film at all… apparently much to the chagrin of audiences.)

It quickly becomes apparent that the real threat comes from within, and thus what we have here is a character-driven film in which one family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr) reluctantly takes in another (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner), only for the various stresses and strains of the temporary houseshare and the apocalyptic nature of What’s Out There – a bit Walking Dead-y, with gun-wielding robbers liable to jump you in the woods at any minute – to eventually take their toll. It’s a subtle horror, evenly-paced and without much in the way of gore, and the cast do their jobs well enough. Perhaps my main issue with the film is that it intrigues at the start and remains similarly intriguing at the end, a positive for many critics but unfortunately I wanted it to suddenly go somewhere unexpected, to take the risk of shedding some of its ambiguity about the world outside, to let the house of cards that is created come tumbling down. Alas, it doesn’t do that, but it’s an effective enough thriller if you’re after something understated and suggestive. (***)

Philomena

Watched: 7 September

Despite its slew of award nominations I missed Philomena – Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee – when it was on at the cinema. I’m not really sure why I’m so ambivalent towards the director; he has, after all, made a diverse range of enjoyable movies (e.g. The Grifters, High Fidelity, My Beautiful Launderette, Dirty Pretty Things, Dangerous Liaisons, Tamara Drewe, to name but a few), and I should probably pay more attention when his films come out (Victoria and Abdul is, as I write, in cinemas). This one features a warm, winning performance by Judi Dench as the title character, a woman who in real life became pregnant while unmarried in 1950s Ireland, and who was subsequently sent to the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, whereupon her toddler child was cruelly taken away from her and sold to adopting American parents. Steve Coogan plays journalist Sixsmith, portrayed here as a man who – initially at least – is cynically after any old human interest story in order to get his name into a Sunday newspaper magazine. Dench exudes class as the older Philomena, worn down by years of being fobbed off by the highest ranking nuns at the abbey, while Coogan gradually and skilfully turns Sixsmith from a rather unpleasant and dismissive hack into a likeable and noble investigator with the bit between his teeth. Frears brazenly pushes the audience’s emotional buttons throughout, and despite some initial resistance to that I was eventually worn down by the performances and Alexandre Desplat’s mournful score, and indeed very much moved by the story. (****)

Unlocked

Watched: 7 September

It’s a shame to see a figure like Michael Apted, whose career is long and distinguished, churning out such a sub-standard terrorism/political thriller as this; Unlocked, put simply, is a mess of cliches and barely-credible plot twists with more than its fair share of laughably awful dialogue and ropey performances. Still, it’s quite good to see Noomi Rapace in a kind of cut-price Jason Bourne-style role, and I enjoyed a typically OTT John Malkovich, playing a CIA bigwig who also happens to be the best Skype conversationalist ever. However, Michael Douglas phones it in, Toni Colette’s MI5 chief has been inexplicably styled as Annie Lennox circa 1989 and Orlando Bloom’s efforts at a Cockney ex-soldier means that we have been bestowed with one of the worst – and therefore funniest – performances of 2017 to date. “I lav a tagine,” he says at one point, oblivious to his own mockney ridiculousness as he lays the salt-of-the-earth, diamond geezerness on way too thick. I do have some sympathy with the actors, though, given that they have to make do with a very poor script. Best forgotten, or avoided. (*)

Gold

Watched: 6 September

Oh, you know: one of those American Dream films, if we are to understand the American Dream in the same way that inferior writers, producers and directors in Hollywood do, i.e. that it’s nothing more than the pursuit and making of a shitpile of money. This time it’s Matthew McConaughey huffing and puffing away in the lead role, playing a rather one-dimensional character whose fortune is to be found via a goldmine in Indonesia, though the film doesn’t really give much thought to any serious questions relating to the ethics of his mining operation (it’s far more interested, rather predictably, in the ethics of American banks and boardrooms). Gold is yet another of those rags-to-riches-to-rags tales with a montage that depicts lots of cokey, prostitutey excess in the middle. It is directed without much panache and it’s also a bit odd (or inconsistent) in terms of its structural choices. For example, McConaughey’s expositionary voiceover appears at irregular intervals but it doesn’t add anything of value to the characterisation, as would have been the case in a Scorsese film, and if often seems as if the director, Stephen Gaghan, has forgotten all about it. Then there’s the soundtrack: the likes of Joy Division, New Order and Pixies all appear, which I am guessing is to remind the viewer that all of the action is taking place during the 1980s, but each selection reinforces the lack of thought that has gone into the film; I can’t see how anyone would think that a song like Joy Division’s Atmosphere would be a good fit for a story about a man negotiating the pitfalls of corporate America and chasing extreme wealth. It’s sloppiness like this that undoes the film, but at least the star (with Oscar bait-y combover and pot belly to disguise his good looks) is as watchable as ever. (**)

Meek’s Cutoff

Watched: 5 September

The phrase anti-western is bandied around a lot, but in the case of Kelly Reichardt’s tale of settlers travelling through 1840s Oregon – my Blind Spot for September – it’s very much applicable. For one thing, there are no heroic men here – at least not in the traditional American western sense – and unusually the threats or problems that concern the small group of travellers are largely unseen or are never actually faced. One of these is a potential shortage of water, which becomes even more of a concern when one of a few wagons used by the group for transporting essential goods is destroyed; another is the threat of a Native American attack; and then there’s the question of whether or not to trust either the unnamed Native American that the group captures (played by Rod Rondeaux), or Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), the frontier guide leading the group west. In real life Meek led an ill-fated expedition, and the Meek Cutoff is a route that runs through the Oregon desert, though one never gets the sense that this film is either a historic pitcture concerned with the presentation of numerous facts or indeed that it’s in any way tethered by real life events. Reichardt’s direction of the actors – who bandy together in twos and threes as their characters share hushed, often inaudible conversations – is impressive, with Michelle Williams, Will Patton and Greenwood standing out among the cast, while she also sets up and then steadfastedly sticks to a slow pace and a bleak tone. Presented in the Academy ratio, it’s a strange outlier and a hugely atmospheric piece that pushes its actors to the forefront. (****)

Beauty And The Beast

Watched: 4 September

I sat through this live-action remake of the Disney cartoon out of duty, rather than any specific desire to see it; it is, after all, the highest grossing film of 2017 as things currently stand, and thus something of a cultural phenomenon within a cultural phenomenon within a cultural phenomenon, or something like that. I should probably make it clear that I’ve not seen the animated film version, or indeed Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of the traditional French fairy tale, so I’m not comparing it to any prior cinematic efforts despite being familiar with the story. Anyway, it’s OK; perhaps a touch over-long for some children (I certainly got fidgety way before the end), and often way too dark (I know a lot of it is set at night, but my eyesight’s fine and I couldn’t make out what was going on half the time), but the three leads manage to turn in typical Disney performances (without ballsing things up too much), a couple of the songs are decent (when you’re in the moment) and the Beast’s castle is certainly lavish to look at (presumably that’s where most of the budget went). It has clearly found a willing, appreciative audience, though given that more live action remakes of classic Disney films are on the way I wonder whether this one will be remembered at all five years from now. (**½)

Raw (Grave)

Watched: 1 September

The feature-length debut for writer and director Julia Ducournau, as well as the feature-length acting debut for lead Garance Marillier (who had previously worked with Ducournau on short films), Raw is a visceral, highly-stylised European horror that doffs its cap regularly to Italian giallo, both in terms of the bloody, over-the-top, exploitation-style violence it contains and the lurid colours employed occasionally throughout, which are cleverly incorporated into the plot and the production design so that the film also manages to retain a certain sense of realism, at least in terms of the setting; events that transpire, and the way that they are depicted at times, are way more out there.

The story takes place largely within a veterinary college. Marillier’s character Justine, a vegetarian, is one of many newly-arrived first-year students, and it becomes apparent that studying here is a family tradition; her parents both attended the school, and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already in her second or third year, providing very little support as Justine and other new arrivals are forced into a series of hazing rituals (in fact, at one point the new students are forced to eat rabbit kidney, much to Justine’s disgust and Alexia’s apparent enjoyment).

What develops out of this cruelty is a campus-based horror that is often quite stomach-churning, though not at all scary (indeed, there were reports upon its cinema release earlier this year of people throwing up in the aisles, though whenver I hear about this kind of thing it always seems a little unlikely… unless of course the barfers in question have consumed large quantities of foie gras before popping over to their local arthouse cinema). Raw is visually very striking in terms of the way that it’s shot and edited and the presentation of the gorier moments, while the various dreamy, slow-mo, techno-heavy party sequences are pretty enthralling, too; I suppose some discerning critics may disagree that all of that is a good thing… admittedly at times it almost feels as if an off-the-shelf template for cool, modern, western European cinema has been employed in terms of the visual style. Still, as debut features go, I found it impressive: it’s pleasingly gruesome, rather funny at times, and well acted, particularly by Marillier, who convincingly does the heavy lifting as her character’s reactions to events and own actions gradually change over time. (****)

Their Finest

Watched: 31 August

There are obviously things to like about this British crowd-pleaser, which tells the story of a screenwriter (Gemma Arterton) working on a propaganda drama film about Dunkirk (heh, excellent timing) during the Second World War. Arterton is on good form, smiling wryly at one point at a comment informing her character that she will be paid less than male counterparts who are doing the same job, an inequality that the actor has sadly had to campaign against in real life. She does quiet defiance and mild irritation very well as the film grapples with issues arising from sexism, and gradually her writer earns the respect of her male bosses (how noble of them, etc etc) as the story progresses. And then there’s Sam Claflin, whose role is more shades of grey than black and white, and Bill Nighy as a smirking, vaguely roguish luvvie, his age counting against him as American and British producers push for younger, dashing heroes. There’s a pleasant score, and a fair amount of amusing lines, too, though sadly the tragedies and sourer moments of the film fail to make as strong an impression as the lighter material. In all honesty, though, I’m just a bit tired of the nice, conventional, slightly-rousing British heritage staple – even good ones like this. That said, I’m glad that in recent years a number of high profile heritage films have been made in the UK in which the stories focus on women, and therefore it’s one genre that is successfully addressing the overall disparity in terms of leading roles for men and women in western cinema. (***)

The Wall

Watched: 30 August

While it’s a conventional single-location movie, Doug Liman’s low-key thriller The Wall gets enough mileage out of its wispy premise – the year is 2008 and an Iraqi sniper has two American soldiers pinned down next to a crumbling wall – to warrant its existence. Much of the heavy lifting is done by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, grimacing and panicking as he is taunted by the enemy soldier over a radio frequency, and he delivers a fairly good performance (actors normally do decent work in these relatively cheap and short single location movies). The film makes a rather resigned point about the futility of America’s involvement in Iraq at the end, but otherwise keeps its focus on the individuals in the story and the way that they react under severe pressure, though the emphasis is largely on the two Americans, of course. (***)

Best Of Luck With The Wall

Watched: 29 August

A short film by Josh Begley accompanying Laura Poitras’ documentary Risk, in which 200,000 satellite images of the Mexico-US border have been stitched together to create an abstract work of art. Not that anyone with a shred of intelligence needed confirmation anyway, but as the title suggests the film’s purpose is to highlight the stupidity of Trump’s xenophobic, ridiculous border wall promise. (***)

Risk

Watched: 29 August

Laura Poitras’ lastest documentary is a study of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, the Australian programmer who has been holed up in the Ecuador Embassy in London for the past five years, despite the fact that an investigation into an alleged rape in Sweden has now been dropped; Assange would, however, face criminal charges after breaching his bail conditions if he were to leave the embassy. The film begins with Poitras as a watching presence, filming Assange and his inner circle (which is fascinating) while WikiLeaks is under sustained attack from the US Government (principally), and perhaps this footage would have formed the basis of the film she was going to make, which had the working title Asylum. She ended up re-cutting the work, though, into Risk‘s more critical presentation of Assange as a flawed character; a move that was triggered in part by some of his own on-screen comments about women and partly, as Poitras acknowledges via her candid voiceover, in the wake of her own brief affair with activist and Assange supporter Jacob Applebaum, who was publicly accused of abusing women in 2016. Some reviewers have criticised Poitras for entering into an affair with one of the subjects of the film, though the version released in 2017 seems balanced and honest to me, mostly as a result of her own commentary; Assange himself has been left disappointed by the portrait, which at times becomes absurdly comic – witness his bizarre chat with Lady Gaga, for example, a cringe-inducing moment for all concerned that’s included here in a truncated form. (***½)

Seoul Station

Watched: 28 August

An animated prequel to last year’s popular Korean zombie film Train To Busan, made by the same director. There are a couple of thrilling moments here, in particular a scene in which four people with one gun between them manage to lock themselves in a jail cell that’s under attack from a horde of the undead, but overall unfortunately in the animation some of the speed and aggression of the live action film’s zombies has been lost. That might please the Romero purists, but it doesn’t quite sit right with me, given that we’re supposed to consider the two films part of the same story. There’s also a rather nasty, misogynistic flavour to the final act, though the point is seemingly being made that your actual live human males are just as bad or worse as their zombie counterparts. Worth seeing if you liked Train To Busan, but hardly essential. (**½)

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)

Watched: 27 August

Park Chan-wook’s latest film another critical hit that has translated into moderate commercial success is a twisty three-parter, effectively starting out as an elaborate, class- and race-focused period con movie and then typically of Park turning into something quite different indeed: a film that easily shifts back and forth from its central queer (and often explicitly-rendered) love story to psychosexual drama and even twisted revenge thriller. It’s a delight to look at from start to finish, lushly shot by Chung Chung-hoon and showcasing excellent work by Seong-hie Ryu (production design), Sang-gyeong Jo (costume design) and Jong-hee Song (make-up and hair design); the efforts of the latter three in particular help to create a wonderful sense of time and place, The Handmaiden being set in Japanese-occupied Korea during what I am guessing to be the 1920s (though I’m no expert on the region or the era, and it could just as easily be the 1910s or 1930s).

The entire cast impresses, though the two leads – Kim Min-hee as Lady Izumi Hideko and Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee – do the majority of the heavy lifting, and at least one of them is on screen for much of the film. The two women appear in a few erotic sex scenes that have proven problematic for some viewers; for what it’s worth I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on them, but this piece on Flavorwire makes for interesting reading. As with the similarly explicit Blue Is The Warmest Colour, there is a nagging sense that the director’s gender ensures questions of male fantasy and exploitation hang over the scenes.

There is a sense, as always, that Park is trying too hard. The camera is often very busy, showily moving around in a way that can be dizzying at certain points and rarely remaining still. There’s a high number of plot points and twists and turns to fit in here. Even given a running time of 145 minutes (the Director’s Cut adds another 23) I can’t help but feel that too many passages move along at breakneck pace, with few opportunities to fully digest what is going on, and why; I’d like a second viewing, whereupon I suppose I’ll be concentrating less on the story and more on the acting, the sets and other details. I don’t wish to sound too down on the film, though. It’s further evidence of Park’s strong vision and commitment to the kind of cinema that seeks to stimulate the eyes, the ears and the mind throughout, and for the most part he pulls off a labyrinthine, twisty tale. This kind of work doesn’t come about too often. (****)

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Watched: 27 August

New Zealand director Niki Caro – hitherto best known for her 2002 breakthrough Whale Rider – takes on Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book for her sixth film. Set initially on the cusp of World War II as Germany prepares to invade Poland, it stars Jessica Chastain as Antonina, one of the two keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, who in real life safely rescued and then successfully hid or aided the escape of over 300 Polish Jews during the course of the war. Caro and Chastain downplay this heroism to a certain extent, while still recognising and acknowledging that while it was an extraordinary effort to save such a large number of people over a sustained period of time; instead the emphasis is very much on the daily concern that the Nazis would discover the secret hiding places within the zoo and kill everyone involved, which is understandable given the various scenarios that can be employed in order to raise the tension. The Nazi threat is personified by Daniel Brühl’s Dr. Lutz Heck, Chief of the Berlin Zoo and a man personally appointed by Adolf Hitler as his head zoologist; aside from the considerable power Heck wields, he also wants to take Antonina as his wife, and his increasingly seedy and desperate advances provide the Polish woman with even more headaches (while also oddly relating to German fortunes during the conflict, especially after the tide turns in favour of Poland’s allies elsewhere). I’m left a little frustrated by it, overall, as there’s the nagging sense that it could have been better, and less reliant on the fate of one child in particular in terms of the way that the story is told. That said it’s well acted – Chastain is one of the safest bets out there at present – and the director and cinematographer both excel when trying to shift our perception of the zoo itself, turning it from a place of entertainment and happiness into a surreal, war-torn environment in which animals are sadly little more than collateral damage. Caro also employs a few strange shots depicting escaped zoo animals as they wander, perhaps dazed, around ordinary Warsaw streets, that have stuck with me. (***)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Watched: 26 August

A run of the mill Tom Cruise actioner – and one that never once manages to hit the same heights of the first Jack Reacher film, so there’s two good reasons not to recommend it. Sadly none of the performances are fun to watch (i.e. nothing here amuses as much as Werner Herzog’s villainous turn from the first installment) and Cruise understandably looks a little slow during the fights and foot chases these days. It’s one franchise too many for Tom, methinks. (**)

Aftermath

Watched: 25 August

A dour but occasionally compelling drama about the repercussions after two planes collide mid-air, killing everyone on board. The story follows two men equally: one, played by Arnie (who is making some interesting late career choices, and co-produces here with Darren Aronofsky), mourns the death of his wife and daughter, while another (Scoot McNairy), being the air traffic control operator on duty in an under-staffed control room, struggles with guilt and remorse. There’s a good performance by Schwarzenegger and a couple of powerful, emotional moments, though supporting characters are little more than thinly-drawn stereotypes and the ending – which feels rushed and a little flat – undoes much of the good work that precedes it. (**½)

Allied

Watched: 24 August

Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt play Second World War special agents who meet while operating in Casablanca. That setting, and all that it brings to mind, just serves to highlight how passionless their relationship is in this film, the latest from Robert Zemeckis; both actors are a touch dead-eyed here, even during the much-trailed scene in which they have quick bonk in an old jalopy during a sandstorm. The action shifts to London during the Blitz, and the couple marry and have a child, but SUDDENLY it’s possible that she’s a German spy and Brad must follow orders given by stiff-collared Englishmen and discover THE TRUTH. Is she? Isn’t she? I’m afraid I never once found myself caring, and got tired of looking at Pitt’s anguished face, which seems to be ever-present during the second and third acts. He mostly mixes confusion with worry and fear, as if he’s been asked to work out an advanced mathematical problem in thirty seconds flat and the fate of the world depends upon his success. Zemeckis has made several good films and a couple that are really great… but this isn’t one of them. (**)

The Levelling

Watched: 23 August

Hope Dickson Leach’s debut film has been praised to the high heavens in some quarters; personally it’s one that I like, rather than love, but there is evident skill in its making and this director is certainly someone worth keeping an eye on. It’s set in the aftermath of the 2014 flooding of the Somerset Levels, and details the return of vet-to-be Clover (Ellie Kendrick) to her family’s farm in the wake of her brother Harry’s suicide. The story concentrates on Clover’s examination of her relationship with Harry, as well as the problematic relationships both siblings had/have with father Aubrey (David Troughton), who has taken to heavy drinking and has apparently been neglecting the farm and its livestock while also remaining adamant that Harry’s death was an accident. While it’s sympathetic to some issues faced by those living and working in the countryside (which appears at equal turns beautiful and grim thanks to versatile cinematography by Nanu Segal), The Levelling is at its best when the setting becomes more incidental and Dickson Leach really hones in on the characters, exploring the notion of family members not knowing their nearest and dearest as well as they think they do. Admittedly I have no idea how I would react to the circumstances that Aubrey and Clover find themselves in here, but nevertheless it did seem to me a measured portrait of a family’s grief and trauma, both in terms of the death of Harry and the fallout after the flood. (***½)

Passengers

Watched: 22 August

It seems that audiences and critics alike found certain elements of this sci-fi story problematic, most notably when Chris Pratt’s space traveller – having spent a year wandering around a slumbering spaceship after his stasis chamber malfunctions, waking him early so that he faces much of the vehicle’s journey (and the rest of his life) alone – decides to do a terrible thing and wakes up a fellow passenger that he fancies, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Or, rather, people had problems with the way that Pratt’s character is subsequently forgiven for what is essentially an act of slow murder, let off the hook by the script, which works ridiculously hard to try to paint this selfish, lying cockwomble as a selfless hero for the next hour or so.

In actual fact, the few fleeting moments of interest generated by this film arrive when the male lead – an actor of limited ability who gets by on charisma – behaves abhorrently, and duplicitously; you briefly get the sense that somewhere, buried within an otherwise boring screenplay, is an intriguing Hitchcock-in-space romantic thriller. But no, Passengers completelty bottles it and swiftly becomes a rote romance involving two big box office draws at their absolute blandest, which is unfortunate given that away from the main characters it’s also a stultifyingly ‘clean’ sci-fi with little in the way of truly memorable effects or production design. The screenplay does briefly touch on issues of class: there’s a plot device here in which a hierarchy that exists on board the spaceship allows privileged guests access to certain lifestyle products or areas; and indeed the passengers on board are already an elite bunch anyway, making their way to a distant colony of Earth because our own planet has apparently turned into some kind of unliveable shithole (by the very same people who are leaving, presumably). Sadly nothing much is made of this, either, and it’s all but forgotten about once romance blossoms between the stranded couple. There are too many disappointments and cop-outs here, and as a result it’s eminently forgettable, tepid pap. (*½)

 

The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)

Watched: 21 August

It may be a simple, stripped back film in terms of the style of the animation, the use of dialogue (there isn’t any, unless you count a couple of growls from the main character, a shipwrecked man who is stuck on a desert island) and indeed the storytelling, but The Red Turtle appears to have made quite the impact on a lot of people who have watched it. It’s not that surprising – there’s certainly a sweetness and a sense of hope to Michaël Dudok de Wit’s work – despite one scene in which the man’s cruelty towards the titular sea creature comes to the fore – and it’s a restful, calm watch that emphasises the benefits of accepting your lot in life and forming lasting, meaningful relationships with those around you. On a couple of occasions I closed my eyes for thirty seconds or so and concentrated on the sound design, which is really excellent. (***½)

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith

Watched: 20 August

OK, so having re-watched George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy  and I’m fairly sure this will be the last time I watch any of these films through choice I probably ought to elaborate on why I don’t like them, though I’ll hardly be covering any new ground in doing so. Put simply, the same problems found in the earlier installments The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones also plague this third film: there is some truly awful line delivery (and, more generally, acting) by stars McGregor, Christensen, Portman, McDiarmid and Jackson, a laughably clunky script (by Lucas, once again), an over-reliance on CGI (the space battle scenes in particular are turned up to eleventy-stupid) and underpinning it all is the mistaken belief that fans want nothing more than to gawp at new alien creatures or robots and garish, overly-busy backdrops every sixty seconds or so. I’m not suggesting the original Star Wars trilogy films are the best-acted or best-written blockbusters out there, but at least they’re measured, and fun, and simple, and memorable, and controlled; these later entries into the franchise are bloated, ugly movies, and examples of what happens when everyone refuses or is unable to challenge the ideas of the one guy in charge; somehow Lucas became even worse at writing dialogue and directing actors than he was before, and it seems as though no one was able to alter that. In the film’s defence, there’s nothing quite as bad as the worst parts of Menace or Clones, two movies with very little going for them (and I don’t see how it matters that they’re for kids, either; I doubt there are many millennials out there that look back fondly on these abominations today). In fact, if you are a Star Wars fan to begin with, a good portion of Revenge Of The Sith makes for fairly compelling viewing – particularly when events take a much darker turn (oh no… not the younglings!). The improvement comes too late in the day to save the trilogy, though, which is even worse than I remember it being, and the whole affair remains a career nadir for so many great (or even average) actors. However, I do want to end on a positive note regarding Lucas: he has made three films during the 1970s that I think are very good indeed excellent, perhaps  and, well, what happened here was unfortunate, but I still think so warmly of him for creating all of this shit in the first place. It has provided me with hundreds and hundreds of hours of enjoyment, overall. (**)

Frantz

Watched: 19 August

François Ozon’s latest is a sombre tale set between Quedlinburg, Germany and Paris after the end of the First World War, and apparently a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, which I’m afraid I haven’t seen. Frantz presents a Germany that is coming to terms with military defeat, and families who are counting the cost of war, with the sole community depicted in the film still reeling from the huge loss of life. ‘Frantz’ is the name of a dead German soldier, a man who died an ignoble death in a trench, and he is mourned by family members and his fiancée Anna (an impressive Paula Beer). A mystery gradually begins to play out: why would Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) seek out Frantz’s grave to pay a tribute? Ozon suggests a gay relationship may be at the root of it, but equally that may not be the case; either way Anna in particular is drawn to this stranger, as he can provide answers as to Frantz’s fate as well as possibly some kind of romantic future. It’s handsomely shot in black and white by Pascal Marti, who won the César for Best Cinematography earlier this year, while the tone and subject matter feels concomitant with Ozon’s other work as well as, occasionally, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. (***½)

No Country For Old Men

Watched: 19 August

This was the first time I’ve watched No Country For Old Men since originally seeing it on the big screen  incredibly, that’s nearly ten years ago. I remembered really liking it at the time, and of course its reputation has been cemented in the following decade, but it’s even better than I had thought, and though I’m loathe to make such unqualifiable statements it may well be the finest Coen Brothers film to date. (I like most of them, especially the ones that you probably like as well, but I do think that they’re at their very best as filmmakers when they’re exploring issues of providence, destiny and the complex nature of morality, while also appearing to have given up on all hope for humanity, as is the case here, and to a certain extent in Blood Simple and Fargo.)

Chigurh is one of the great literary and cinematic creations of modern times, and in Javier Bardem’s performance he is a terrifying Frankenstein- or Terminator-esque bogeyman, or perhaps an alien creature who is unable to fit in on Earth, incapable of fully understanding normal human behaviour and thought; to that end, a couple of scenes here reminded me of Alex Cox’s Repo Man, of all things. Bardem is superb here, the standout in a movie that also includes several more earthly turns from Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly MacDonald. Roger Deakins delivers excellent cinematography throughout, too. (*****)

You, The Living (Du Levande) 

Watched: 19 August

More perfectly-staged and blackly comic tableaux from Roy Andersson, and a film that’s similar to the two works that sit either side of it in his recently-completed trilogy (both of which I’ve watched before getting round to this one; I don’t think the order in which you see them makes much difference). I prefer You, The Living to Songs From The Second Floor, simply because I found it funnier and enjoyed its oddly-rousing musical interludes, and it’s probably on a par for me with A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence. The visual style is of a piece with Andersson’s other work, and I personally really like the milky, washed-out look that he goes for, with its emphasis on very pale greens, yellows and blues. It’s an anaemic, jaundiced-looking world, but I find it very appealing as it suits the material and I also quite like the way these colour-drained surroundings seem to add to the misery experienced by the characters – a mix of downtrodden people with imperfect bodies, drunks and hopelessly timid individuals. The scenarios here are often very funny, particularly the dream sequences; there’s one in which a guy tries to rip a tablecloth from underneath a huge antique dinner service that really had me chuckling, and a marital flight-of-fancy that’s weirdly joyous, even if much of the rest of the film proceeds with the director’s typical cheerless, dispirited tone. (****½)

The Gleaners And I: Two Years Later (Deux Ans Après)

Watched: 19 August

An hour-long documentary and a return to familiar subject matter by Varda; here she reports on the impact of her earlier film The Gleaners and I within France, and also meets up again with some of the people who featured in the original documentary. I enjoyed it almost as much as the first film, and it’s a good companion piece. All hail the humble, mis-shapen spud! (***½)

The Gleaners & I (Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse)

Watched: 19 August

An excellent documentary by Agnès Varda, ostensibly about terrible levels of food waste in France (as per the rest of northern Europe) and the people who – for various reasons – decide to ‘glean’ food that has been thrown away or unpicked. It also graudally encompasses those who sift and collect from other people’s thrown away rubbish, re-purposing objects for art and for more practical reasons (something Varda herself is not averse to doing); and so in a way it’s about the director herself, and her love of going around finding and filming things that pique her interest. She is a playful presence, appearing on camera here and there, and the people she interviews for the film are insightful and admirable. (****)

Elle

Watched: 18 August

Paul Verhoeven has been at it again, grand old provocateur that he is. With Elle he has made a film that depicts the rape of its main character, played superbly by Isabelle Huppert, as well as the psychological effects that the act has upon her, and yet despite taking on such a serious subject (and not for the first time) he also finds plenty of time to satirise contemporary bourgeois European society, taking pot shots at everything from male and artistic pride to – rather archly – depictions of violence in mass entertainment, in this particular case videogames. 

Huppert’s heroine is Michèle, the co-managing director of a software developer that is about to release its new blockbuster game; we see footage of a cutscene from the work in progress, in which a giant orc brutally rapes a woman. It’s nasty and unpleasant, yet discussed matter-of-factly by Michèle and her (predominantly male) colleagues, who have seemingly become inured to the extremely graphic content (no pun intended). The parallels between the game and Michèle’s own rape, committed by an unknown assailant at the beginning of the film, are immediate and obvious.

Sharing this workspace are Michèle’s business partner and best friend – significantly another woman within a male-dominated industry – as well as lots of younger programmers, designers and developers. Of these the story only focuses on two, both men, and who are both shown – in different ways – to be weak and immature. Michèle’s understandably-cold treatment of both of them in the office is perhaps informed by her disapproval of her own mother’s relationships with younger men.

Male psychological weakness is a theme that courses strongly through the entire film, even as far as the rapist himself, the depiction at odds with his initial presentation as a physically strong, brutal and overpowering force. Michèle’s son is in a relationship with a domineering, confident and possibly unfaithful woman named Josie (Alice Isaaz), and one of the subplots of Elle covers Michèle’s gradual acceptance of and growing admiration toward the younger woman. Elsewhere, Michèle has complicated relationships with her best friend’s husband and her own ex-husband; these two men seem incredibly needy. The latter has shacked up with a younger woman; he expresses concern for Michèle’s wellbeing, though it could in fact be his own infatuation and wounded pride that leads him to hang around outside her house at night, rather creepily.

If Verhoeven has opened himself up to criticism that his latest film takes on a serious subject and shrouds it in light-heartedness and withering social critique, then it should be reiterated that the act itself is depicted in a horrifying and entirely serious fashion, as should be the case. Afterwards Michèle refuses – or fights the urge, perhaps – to be considered or seen as a victim, taking steps to protect herself and later entering into a strangely fucked-up relationship with her assailant, which confirms his identity as the rapist but leads the film off on a dangerous, psycho-sexual tangent. All of this makes for a tonally-mixed but very compelling movie, in which Huppert’s commanding performance holds everything together; her apparent ease at portraying coldness-mixed-with-resilience makes her the perfect fit for the role. It’s clear that the Dutch director shows no sign of entering into a tamer, late-life period; this is among his most brutal, violent and unsettling work, at times, yet it also contains scenes that are among his most drily witty. (****)

John Wick: Chapter 2

Watched: 18 August

More of the same, which is to say that there are lots of carefully-choreographed action scenes in which Keanu shoots people in the head as they attack his titular hitman one or two at a time, just like the first John Wick. The most interesting parts of both of these films – by a long stretch – have been the scenes in which we observe the peculiar code of the Continental Hotel, and learn more about the worldwide network of contract killers who use it as a safe haven. For example, my favourite thing in John Wick: Chapter 2 is the scene in which three characters who we have just watched trying to kill one another suddenly end up in the hotel bar, where the spilling of blood is forbidden and they are bound by their unwritten law to act cordially; it’s quite a surreal moment, and I suppose it’s to the credit of the writer and director that you’re left wanting to see much more of this kind of thing, though it’s worth pointing out that Jim Jarmusch did it first and with more panache and weirdness in The Limits Of Control. I felt a little glum whenever the action moved away from the Wickiverse’s world-within-a-world into another long, drawn-out passage of shooting and stabbing and kicking and punching, but I guess all of that puts bums on seats and I can’t deny that it’s fun on occasion as the supposedly-retired hitman lays waste to dozens of faceless, nameless henchmen. There’s lots of gun porn, perhaps even more than the first film, and Reeves is well-suited to the role, but it’s a shame that John Leguizamo doesn’t feature more. (***)

Where The Wild Things Are

Watched: August 17

My least favourite Spike Jonze movie to date; I would probably feel differently if the source material had been a childhood staple in the UK, as it has been for many decades in the US, but alas here we are. Still, I appreciate the noble attempts made by the film in terms of exploring issues surrounding childhood anger, the excellent voice performance by James Gandolfini, and the wonky mix of live action and monster effects, even if I don’t love any of it. (**½)

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Watched: 15 August

Given that I’ve never watched a single Harry Potter film, and have never read a JK Rowling book, it’s no wonder that I was a bit lost during this prequelly, originy, shared-universey thingy, starring Eddie Redmayne (a man whose name I will forever pronounce in the same style employed by his absurd villain in Jupiter Ascending). It’s a typical modern Hollywood family-oriented blockbuster: loads of monster/smashy-smashy effects and plenty of patronising audience reassurances via the appearances of familiar, famous faces, with everything hurtling along at a fair old lick. There’s some fan service for Potter-lovers, as you’d expect, but it’s not for me, Harry. (**)