Attack Of The 50ft Woman

I was just in the mood for a 70-odd minute-long slice of camp 1950s American sci-fi, and although no-one would seriously try to suggest that Nathan Juran’s Attack Of The 50ft Woman is a good film, it certainly deserves its cult status because of its cheap-but-inventive effects and its playful subversion of the various ‘giant male’ films that preceded it. Anyone partaking in any activity that might be considered morally dubious at the time (drinking! dancing! philandering!) finds themselves punished by the end of the screenplay, in some way or other, and of course there’s fun to be had in trying to figure out whether the strange ball that floats around the American countryside – or indeed Allison Hayes’ titular mutated lady – are somehow representative of Atomic Age fears and the growing, combined voices of independent women, respectively. The panicked men of the area respond with gunfire, gunfire and more gunfire, rather predictably. (**)

George Best: All By Himself

For those who do not follow football, the George Best story is a sad one. The Belfast Boy’s life is routinely separated by the media into two distinctive parts: first his rise as an inventive winger while playing for Manchester United in the mid-to-late 1960s, culminating in a starring role in his club’s first European Cup win and the kind of press profile shared only by a Beatle or two; and, secondly, the way that his subsequent playboy lifestyle derailed his career, with the remainder of Best’s life defined by a struggle with alcoholism that would eventually lead to his early death at the age of 59. It’s a shame, then, that this new documentary fails to present much new insight for those already familiar with George Best, despite the presence of loved ones who knew him intimately (ex-wives, but not his son) and former team mates and friends who spent years in his company (Paddy Crerand being one example). The film covers his career and all the damage he caused away from the pitch in a competent fashion, mixing its talking heads with the expected archive footage; the problem with the latter is the relative paucity of live football recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, compared to today, meaning that anyone who cares will have already seen Best’s showreel of great goals dozens of times already. (**½)

The Limits Of Control

Few people went to see (or were able to see) this Jim Jarmusch film, and it doesn’t seem to have picked up an audience on the small screen either, which is a shame as long-term fans will find much to enjoy. The story is slight, the narrative sticking with Isaach de Bankolé’s near-silent hitman as he follows a series of instructions in Madrid and Seville that will eventually lead him to his target, but there are so many of Jarmusch’s idiosyncrasies it’s hard to take against the film too much, despite its frustrating, deliberate simplicity. Messages are delivered in beautiful old matchboxes, regulars like Tilda Swindon, Bill Murray and John Hurt show up and scene-steal, the director’s obsession with coffee resurfaces and there’s a nice, dreamy ambience to the whole affair – as well as some object fetishisation – that carried on through to Only Lovers Left Alive. Not his best, but good. (***)

Rich Hall’s Countrier Than You

Typically insightful feature-length BBC4 documentary featuring comedian Rich Hall, who has now made several of these films about various aspects of the US (usually relating to the American South in some way or other), and spat out in his trademark belligerent, no-time-for-idiots style. This one covers the history of country music, and although country aficionados may find they know a lot of the facts and info presented, it’ll be illuminating for anyone who’s dipping in to this vast and varied genre. I could watch Hall for hours. (***)

The Selfish Giant

Though it does nothing to dispel the long-standing notion that ‘it’s grim up north’, Clio Barnard’s 2013 debut is nevertheless an extremely gripping and superbly-acted tale, concerning two young lads negotiating their way through life in a run down area of Bradford. The Selfish Giant deserves the many plaudits it received upon release, as well as its positive associations with Ken Loach, most obviously Loach’s 1969 drama Kes: this is a grim and gritty film, though there are these faint notes of optimism and humour too, and you end up liking the two poor, put-upon main characters so much you find yourself sitting there wishing they could experience many more lighter moments. It’s set partly within a school, partly within the home, but mostly within the scrap metal trade, an industry that seems at once ancient and strangely modern: scrap collections are still made by horse-drawn cart and men stand around burning oil drums, but there’s lucre to be made by stealing brand new, superfast copper telecom and power cables (even, as in one case, as they’re just about to be laid). Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas give terrific performances as hyperactive Arbor and horse-loving best mate Swifty, while there are also excellent turns by Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ralph Ineson and Steve Evets in supporting roles. But be warned: Barnard’s film will break your heart. (****)

Ginger & Rosa

The title of Sally Potter’s 2012 drama suggests it examines a female friendship, and I guess it does to a certain extent, though really 17-year-old Ginger (Elle Fanning) is the main focus of this film and the narrative examines her changing relationships with everyone around her: close friend Rosa (Alice Englert), troubled, taken-for-granted mum Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and wishy-washy boho father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), as well as various family friends and acquaintances. It’s set in an England that is not yet dreaming and is instead very much concerned with the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world; Ginger and Rosa both fall into a world of angry meetings and protest marches, the former seemingly genuinely, the latter perhaps drawn ever-so-slightly by the presence of cute, older men. The cast is good – particularly Fanning – and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography typically sound, but I wasn’t quite drawn in as much as I’d hoped to be, and eventually started thinking about a better English drama that deals with similar subject matter during the same period: An Education. (**½)

Letter To Brezhnev

As someone who grew up in the area, it has taken me far too long to get around to Frank Clarke’s mid-80s, Liverpool-set romantic comedy. (Letterboxd user Mark Cunliffe’s Mersey Movies list gave me the inspiration to do so, helped by the fact that the BFI recently put out a rather lovely Blu-Ray.) The story follows two lively young women (Alexandra Pigg, Margi Clarke) on a night out in the city, during which they hook up with a pair of Russian sailors (Peter Firth, Alfred Molina) who are briefly on shore leave. Echoing the stances of the two iconic Liver Birds that sit on top of the Royal Liver Building, Pigg’s character Elaine looks out to the rest of the world, dreaming of an escape, while Clarke’s Teresa keeps her focus on the city, content to stay, work and play… for now. The pair complement each other, though each is also forthright in their own way, and combative, and to an extent hampered by the much-reported ails the city endured throughout the decade. If the dialogue seems a little awkward (not helped by some of the delivery) and the slang a little dated, the film does at least ring true in terms of its presentation of Liverpool nightlife and family life at the time, and of the port city’s general warmth towards outsiders (these girls aren’t swallowing any western propaganda about the Soviet threat, for one thing). Clarke, Pigg and Firth make an impression, and Molina does his best with the only underwritten character from the foursome, smiling genially through most of his scenes. There are some stirring shots of the city’s mid-80s waterfront and skyline, too, which have changed considerably since, as have the city’s fortunes more generally. Letter to Brezhnev may have lost some of its impact over the years, but at the time of release it must surely have been considered a striking, upbeat and optimistic tale, delivered when Liverpool needed it, having endured the Toxteth riots, factory closures and mass unemployment, increased amounts of heroin on the streets and more. I wish I liked it more than I do. (***)