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The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro's wonderful fable – "my favourite thing I've ever done" – is kind of like Arrival starring Amélie, as a shy, mute cleaner (Sally Hawkins) at a government base begins to communicate with the aquaman in the tank, and feels the first flickerings of love.

Set – like my last film at the LFF, On Chesil Beach – in 1962, it's really about today: a plea for tolerance in the light of Trump and co's war on Muslims, blacks and gays, and a monster movie in which the monster isn't the Other, it's right-wing, gung-ho America, represented here by Michael Shannon, as a psychotic vet in a teal Cadillac who'll beat the living crap out of anything that doesn't conform to his very specific notion of a person. The toxic machismo and vicious hatred of otherness isn't restricted to him, though, it's endemic: and hiding behind the most benign of fronts.

Shot in a rich, stylised palette of greens and browns (admittedly more City of Lost Children), set partly above an old, working cinema and filled with little visual effects – though with a creature who's delightfully and resolutely real – it reminded me of nothing as much as Amélie. That 2001 movie might be the last time I felt quite so charmed by a lead character as by Hawkins' Eliza Esposito, whose increasingly appealing, steely, sexy performance recalls that holy trinity of great mute turns: Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase, Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown and Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda, and is just as full of nobility and pathos; just as lacking in gimmickry.

There's nice work too from Richard Jenkins, who is frequently held hostage in underwhelming comedies, but showed in Tom McCarthy's 2007 masterpiece, The Visitor that he's just about the best actor in America when he can be bothered. As Eliza's gay flatmate, a struggling, alcoholic advertising artist, he's never self-pitying or trite, and those traits no more define who he is than the fact he's bald.

The plot is fine: diverting, involving and well-balanced between moments of intrigue, suspense and humour, but it's the passages of poetry that completely bewitched me, including one sequence in a waterlogged bathroom that took the breath away.

There's another beguiling flight of fancy that memorably references Fred and Ginger's 'Let's Face the Music and Dance', and music is critical to this film: Hawkins and Jenkins engage in an impromptu tap, Alexandre Desplat equips her with the most enchanting theme, and del Toro exhibits his great love for – and understanding of – classic Hollywood by including several clips from old Fox musicals, including Bojangles and Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel and colour clips of Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda rendered in the monochrome of '60s tube TV. Realising that I was in a cinema in which a modern audience was being forced to watch old footage of Alice Faye, and listen to a short monologue discoursing on her ill- fated Hollywood career was just the most delightful thing.

So… a sci-fi, a horror, a monster movie, a romance, a Cold War thriller, and a history lesson about Alice Faye: this genre-bender is many things, but above all it's an emotional experience, a clear- sighted, glowing-hearted picture with some of the most beautiful imagery and a performance I'm going to be rhapsodising about for weeks, months, years.


A flat, self-important movie. I'm baffled by the critical bouquets.
Ronsel quick-drying mud stain: it does exactly what it says on the tin – attempts to create a weighty, socially-conscious art movie from Hillary Jordan's plotty, slightly trashy but well-meaning page- turner.

Dee Rees's film spends more time in battle, fleshes out the Ronsel- Jamie relationship, and dwells on the minutiae of African-American life in the Deep South, but in a choppily uninvolving way, and at the expense of Laura's intriguing story of love, repression, sexual and racial guilt.

Critically, it never summons the book's sense of inexorable, fatalistic dread, nor knows what to do as it reaches its climax, which is first silly, then rushed and finally pointlessly and unconvincingly rose-tinted.

Mudbound has a few painterly images, good performances from Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan (who has one fantastic scene largely disconnected from the narrative and the worst pregnancy prop in decades) and an unvarnished understanding of the unglamorous, subservient pragmatism needed to survive as a black man in '40s Mississippi, but it isn't very compelling or convincing.

I say this as a middle-class white bloke, but... what promised to be a timely exploration of the African-American experience from an urgent and valuable contemporary voice is instead just a standard book adaptation: a mediocre melodrama that deals with big themes in a handsome but hackneyed way. Plus lots of Mary J. Blige staring out of windows.

120 battements par minute

Intelligent and brilliantly unsentimental, but loses its way a little
An intelligent yet visceral film about the gay community in '80s Paris, which starts brilliantly – focusing on the protests and meetings of Act Up, a group of guerrilla AIDS activists – before turning into a film about a man dying of the illness.

No matter how compassionately, credibly and intimately it does that, segueing from a film about ideas to one about the individual, contrasting the character's dynamism and beauty with his pain- ravaged impotence, and showing the body – not the city – as the battleground, it's ground we've covered countless times before, and (at the risk of sounding awful) it made the movie increasingly tedious.

At its best, this confrontational, unsentimental but humanistic film has unexpected echoes of Melville's Army in the Shadows, which looked at action, division and necessity within the French Resistance, and I understand why it included so many sequences of illness and sex, but those elements don't seem as interesting as the story it started to tell. When it returns to it in those final moments, loaded with the suffering and sadness of what's gone before, the results are admittedly astounding.

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is absolutely terrific as Sean, a founding member, Mesut Őzil-alike and all-round complex human being, first introduced to us justifying the fact that he and his mates have handcuffed a government official to a post during his team's PowerPoint presentation.

On Chesil Beach

Close to perfect
For almost its entire length, this adaptation of Ian McEwan's 2007 novella is close to perfect: the beautifully-modulated, restrained story of a strait-laced couple in the still strait-laced early '60s who look back on their often idyllic courtship from the claustrophobic environs of their honeymoon suite.

McEwan and director Dominic Cooke don't change much of the book: they and their cast just subtly externalise feelings that were elucidated as thoughts on the page, and cast off a few memorable moments that might alienate or unwittingly unnerve a cinematic audience (a spasming muscle, jizz on the face).

The leads are brilliant, particularly Saoirse Ronan as the sexually repressed violin prodigy Florence, and if a couple of elements don't quite work − McEwan's slightly embarrassing fixation with Edward (Billy Howle) liking a good ruck, and Anne Marie-Duff's simplistic scenes as his mother, which are tonally off − those are offset by passages of understated lyricism and rich, convincing romance which clash gloriously with the hysterically uncomfortable wedding night, from the inedible none-more-1962 meal (rendered gloriously on the screen: slice of melon with glace cherry, anyone?) to Edward rolling off the bed because he can't have sex with his shoes on.

When the explosion comes, and it does, it's heartbreakingly portrayed, and one of those sequences that works so well because it's so faithfully rendered. Then McEwan starts to write new scenes that were merely summarised in the book, and all bets are off. The first three − dealing with Edward and his family − are minor but quite satisfying, especially the one with his father, and the fourth is an absolute belter, a slightly obvious but incredibly affecting scene set in a record shop in 1975.

If only they'd ended the film there, as the next has Edward explaining not just the moral but also the text of the story, before a closing sequence set in 2007 that has some of the worst Old Person Make-Up that I've seen: he looks like he's been badly burned, and the rest of the cast are only slightly less ridiculous. Yes, the moment that it's all leading up to got to me, even while I knew I was being manipulated, but from Edward's risible stance at the crease onwards, it's an embarrassing and completely unnecessary coda.

Look, lads, you've got a while till the general release, how about heading back and having another go? Because most of this movie is bloody brilliant.

Ingrid Goes West

Not quite what I was expecting
A genre-blurring indie starring Aubrey Plaza (I will watch anything starring Aubrey Plaza) as the lost, damaged and impressionable Ingrid, who gets out of the psychiatric hospital after one of the great opening scenes, takes the insurance money she got from her mum's death and hot-foots it to LA in the hope of befriending Insta superstar Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).

Matt Spicer's film isn't always as piercingly, exaltingly dark as it might be, but it treats Ingrid with just the right balance of interest, empathy and fear, and Plaza − who also produced − is absolutely superb in the lead, bringing a great depth, sadness and humanity to a character who can be the most appalling, manipulative monster, but somehow still isn't that big on Instagram.

There are elements that don't quite come off (Billy Magnussen's Nick is an interesting second act catalyst, but it's such a big performance that he unbalances the film; the love interest's Batman fixation is funny but pushed beyond the bounds of credibility), but it's a very interesting, enjoyable film that works as a black comedy, horror, psychological thriller, character study and satire on the skewed and unhealthy forced perspective of social media, in which everything is 'the best' and everything is put through a filter until it's perfect.

That's not perhaps the most profound observation, but the unexpected human fragility beneath Ingrid's monstrousness gives the film a real resonance, and makes it something slightly different to the razor- sharp, take-no-prisoners movie being sold to us.


Bad Lucky Goat

Pure charm. I loved this to pieces
I was expecting Brewster's-Millions-with-a-goat, I got something like the very essence of charm: a wonderfully atmospheric story of burgeoning sibling friendship, set on a Caribbean island, about a brother and sister who accidentally wreck their parents' car by running over a goat, and hatch one scheme after another to try to get level.

Colombian director Samir Oliveros shot the film on Providence Island (an old colonial outpost owned by Colombia) using non-professional local actors, a score written by local musicians (several of whom play on screen) and the locales as another character in a way that recalls a film of escape, change and geographical flavour that I've always loved, Seducing Doctor Lewis. Bad Lucky Goat is very funny when it wants to be, though it's not packed with jokes: much of the joy lies in its genuinely offbeat sensibility and its deceptively lofty ambitions.

Oliveros, who'd made just one previous short and is now doing a master's in LA, told me (as I was bothering him in the lobby) that he shot this one "guerrilla-style" and is now learning how to be a professional filmmaker, ideally in Hollywood. I hope that training doesn't erode the instinctive brilliance of this debut, which is fast-moving but laid-back, packing an astounding amount into its 76 minutes, dealing with themes of superstition, familial loyalty and accidental goat slaughter, and featuring beautiful performances from the two young leads − both of whom are now eyeing careers on screen. Like the rest of the cast, they adapted Oliveros' English-language script into their phonetic local language, Creole, and I could listen to their slang-heavy exchanges all day.

I got lost in its world, and while the film's trip to the cockfights may be a bit of a rude shock to myself and my other libtard cucks, it ultimately did little to dispel the film's very special atmosphere.

Una mujer fantástica

Glorious. My favourite of the London Film Festival so far
This is really, really good.

(opens a can of wasps)I'm always struck by the sky-high ratings on IMDb for bad LGBT movies, and wonder if it's attributable to a) the comparative paucity of these films, meaning that we should celebrate those we get, regardless of their technical or artistic deficiencies (the extension, I suppose, is the tribalistic mindset this engenders, in which you can't judge them as bad films, as they're not just films); b) my lack of insight into what these films should be doing in relation to their audience and LGBT issues in 2017.(/can of wasps)

Anyway, no such ruminations necessary on this one, it's bloody brilliant: a dazzling, poetic, sometimes dream-like Chilean film about a trans woman (Daniela Vega) trying to hold it together – and reach some point of resolution – after the death of her boyfriend. I should mention that his family aren't helping.

Vega has the most fascinating face and the camera makes the most of it, not least in a dazzling nightclub sequence that moves from pain to sensuality to a fantasy dance number, but there's such depth to her characterisation too, and the film's refusal to give her easy, sassy victories is uniquely satisfying, grappling profoundly and humanely with issues that are both specific and universal.

The effect is of a Dardennes story adapted by Almodovar, but I haven't seen anyone like Vega before. I'm not sure she can really sing classical (the best use of 'Ombra mai fu' is now and forever in Humphrey Jennings' seismic short film, Spare Time, Handel fans), but the rest of the music's a treat, with British composer Matthew Herbert delivering an audial dreamscape that like the script, photography and performances serves to conjure a very particular mood.

Le vénérable W.

It's important, but it's not a great film
A pretty good documentary from Barbet Schroeder − a former Éric Rohmer collaborator who now makes factual films about awful people − dealing with Ashin Wirathu, the world's naughtiest baby. Oh, OK, he's a Buddhist hate preacher. Who's eaten quite enough alms, by the looks of him.

It's more a potted history of the path to genocide − with a bit of access and some intelligently-compiled raw footage shot by others − than an in-depth portrait of its subject, though it's an important story and a timely primer on an urgent humanitarian crisis.

As a film, it might be more effective if it had taken the route of its trailer, which makes the Errol Morris-like decision to unveil The Venerable W's toxic Islamophobia at the midway point, rather than leading with it.

In the screening, a woman behind me tutted at everything from fascist rhetoric to burning bodies, as if otherwise we'd think that she was endorsing the behaviour in the film.

Battle of the Sexes

So much fun, and Stone is terrific
A hugely uplifting, entertaining movie, with a typically dynamic central performance from Emma Stone, who inhabits the character of Billie Jean King almost entirely, as the tennis legend breaks away from the sexist tennis establishment, confronts the fact she's a lesbian, and gears up for the eponymous match, opposite self-styled 'male chauvinist pig', the shy and retiring Bobby Riggs.

When I heard about the movie, I thought it might be dressing the occasion up as something it isn't, but it gets Riggs right − played by Steve Carell with great subtlety and chutzpah as a slightly pathetic hustler who plays the press like a violin − seeing the villain (represented by Bill Pullman's Jack Kramer) as the society that allows his phony chauvinistic bluster to land.

Almost everything about the film is first-rate: the montages (I love a sports montage!), the pacing, much of the dialogue, it's just the one-dimensional nature of the human villainy (Kramer, Margaret Court) and the overt on-the-nose social commentary that feels too shallow and Hollywoodised: Alan Cumming's character, a gay costume designer, seems to have wandered in from The Hunger Games and just doesn't seem real. The audience loved him, but he's so magic gay: an acerbic queen who's really a wise and profound guardian angel.

On the whole it's a really lovely film, though: incredibly fun and with such a deep, appealing performance from Stone: that penultimate scene in the changing room is so perfectly played, so complex and apposite, when most movies would have given her an unconvincing and sentimental fictional heart-to-heart with Riggs that explained her character and justified his.


How is a Todd Haynes film with a character based on Lillian Gish this bad? And why is this his follow-up to Carol?!

This YA mystery – adapted by its author – has an intriguing dual- time structure, a nice Carter Burwell score and some neat nods to silents, but it's also cloying, not very mysterious, and incredibly longwinded: not trusting its audience to understand anything, and struggling with some laborious translation problems reminiscent of Le mèpris, in which a lot of the dialogue has to be written down and held up. It doesn't help that the central kid seems to have wandered in from a school play. Or that it ends up looking like an extended advertorial for some museums.

It's sort of like Hugo, if everything that Scorsese's film had done had gone a bit wrong.

(The Gish films being homaged, incidentally, are primarily The Wind (the poster of the film-within-a-film starring 'Lillian Mayhew' is based directly on a publicity image for this 1928 masterpiece) and Orphans of the Storm, though she played mothers in few of her starring vehicles and Wonderstruck diverts considerably from her real life.)

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Baumbach's best since Frances Ha
A moving, frequently hilarious comedy-drama – sort of 'Woody Allen's The Royal Tenenbaums – about a family living in the shadow of impossible oft-married patriarch and undiscovered sculptor, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman).

It has perhaps a couple of endings too many, and Emma Thompson misses the mark as a ditsy New York alcoholic, but the rest of the cast is great, some of the comic, character-rooted flourishes are instant classics – Sandler and Stiller's conversation about business, the way Hoffman runs (I tell you, if he'd done this in Marathon Man, it would've been twice as good) – and there are several darkly comic passages addressing neuroses that frequently debilitate me: Stiller asking a nonplussed nurse if he's abandoning his father by going to a meeting, Sandler's summation of his dad's legacy.

In fact, Sandler has several scenes here that are superb, and if his familiar excesses occasionally intrude (or at least call to mind his dual life as the worst thing on screen), he's now started giving so many good performances that he's in danger of becoming liked and respected. The call with his daughter (Grace Van Patten) early on in the picture is a beauty.

The Meyerowitz Stories is a really terrific film, Baumbach's best since the unassailable Frances Ha, and yet after 10 minutes I thought I was going to hate it, the director setting it up as a film about privileged, self-serious New York intellectuals with their meaningless problems, before tipping us a huge wink with a line about houmous.

Bao lie wu sheng

Bone-crunching action and art-house silences
Hurray, the first good film of this year's festival! A genuinely unusual take on that old chestnut, the 'psycho looking for his missing kid' flick, but used to interrogate the iniquities of contemporary Chinese society (without anyone involved in the production gettinh killed), as a mute miner – left behind by the rapid pace of progress – engages in a bleak, apparently hopeless quest that's punctuated by moments of dark comedy and bone-crunching action (there's a lot of him just kicking people really hard).

The final shot could have used a bit of work, but the ending is otherwise superb, a fitting capper to a film with a few rough edges (cartoonish villainy, an opening that's more confusing than intriguing, a little mid-section bagginess) but interesting ideas, superb imagery – that in-camera shot of the desert giving way to the city! – and the best exhausted fight scene in aeons. Clever title too.

It's basically Kurosawa's High and Low, but for China in 2017. Having said that, and as the director acknowledged, there are no state officials involved in wrongdoing: the corruption shown is all in the private sector, even if it's high-ranking lawyers who operate within the public realm and increasingly dominate Chinese society.

... and curiously, like my previous film in the festival, Todd Haynes' risible Wonderstruck, it hinges on a mute person and a taxidermical diorama. This one's good, though.

El Pacto de Adriana

A riveting documentary about a young Chilean filmmaker, Lissette Orozco, who discovers that her beloved aunt was a member of Pinochet's notorious secret police.

As a (debut) film, its balancing of the disparate elements is perhaps a little off – too much unrelated footage of other family members, too much of the director talking about her feelings – and it does become slightly repetitive towards the end, but its story and levels of access are incredible, and it's one of those few films deserving of that most overused of adjectives: brave.

Also Orozco has a lovely pretty face. Her next film, brilliantly, is about an uncle!


An extraordinary film, one of the most powerful I've seen in years
A haunting, heartbreaking and stunningly brilliant film from Senna director Asif Kapadia, which takes us into the confidence of Amy Winehouse, as the bolshy, big-voiced, jazzy Jewish girl from North London becomes a megastar, while her personal demons, her relationship with a drug addict, and a ravenous, amoral press proceed to rip her to shreds.

Thanks to an abundance of revelatory home video footage, soundtracked by incisive interviews, we see her not only as the beehived, cat- eyed chanteuse or the alarmingly ribbed tabloid quarry, tumbling out of a club at 3am, but as a shy, spotty teen with a seductive offhand confidence in her vocal gift.

I'm not an enormous fan of Winehouse's music, I think because her deeply personal writing and distinctive, expressive voice tended to be masked by such contrived, Americanised pastiche – trading first on '30s jazz and then '60s girl groups – but the portrait that emerges here is uncompromising, thrilling and frequently devastating: of an unhappy girl equipped with a massive talent, but none of the stability or serenity to deal with the perpetual media storm that her success brought upon her.

We see stand-ups and TV presenters laughing at her bulimia and drug abuse, her management pushing her out of rehab and onto foreign stages, and – in the second half – a rapacious, vulturous paparazzi incessantly stalking her, an essential decency chillingly absent. If that was my job, I think I would struggle to watch this film and think: "Yes, what I am doing with my life is essentially fine."

By contrast, Kapadia's film is quite beautifully lacking in sensationalism. Though it essentially doubles an indictment of a society almost entirely lacking in basic compassion and empathy, it's a work that possesses both virtues in apparently limitless amounts, surely compressing and simplifying an impossibly complex narrative, but attaining something that seems awfully like the truth – and apparently is, according to her closest friends.

Amy is a tough watch, but it feels essential, not just for its vivid picture of a fascinating, deeply troubled young woman, but also for its wider significance: as a plea for people to stop being so horribly selfish, to stop seeing excess and illness as 'rock and roll' and drug abuse as a joke, and for the media to realise that if it wants to paint itself as a crusading Fifth Estate, then some basic humanity wouldn't go amiss.

Pennies from Heaven

Peters is sensational, so are the numbers. The film isn't - quite.
A conceptually dazzling musical, adapted by Dennis Potter from his BBC series, which juxtaposes the grim reality of Depression-era life with the fantasy of popular song.

Steve Martin is a pipe-dreamer and travelling sheet music salesman who thinks about sex once every one second, leaving his frigid wife (Jessica Harper) in the lurch and a timid spinster (Bernadette Peters) up the duff. Potter doesn't give Peters the soapy sob story, though. In fact, what he does with this tiny-mouthed schoolteacher is remarkable to the point of revolution, and her candid, conflicted, sensual performance is astonishingly good, one of two real reasons to see the film.

The other is the songs: an endless succession of show-stoppers, mostly framed as fantasy sequences, and almost all lip-synched to the crooniest available versions of old standards, while faithful to some distinct visual style of the 1930s. Many borrow directly from Busby Berkeley - Yes! Yes! even has kaleidoscopic overheads - but there's also a nod to nautical numbers, an enduring obsession in American popular culture for reasons unknown, while the film reaches the height of its ambition with a Fred-and-Ginger take-off staged on a replica of the Let's Face the Music and Dance set, but with choreography inspired by Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.

Just about every number is impressive or thrilling in some way, from Peters' exuberant Love Is Good for Anything That Ails You (mimed to a Phyllis Robins record and featuring schoolchildren as backing dancers), to a gold-tinted, stunningly-staged version of the title tune danced by Vernel Bagneris, and excellent guest spots for '50s hoofer Tommy Rall and Christopher Walken, the latter magnificently objectionable as a face-cutting pimp with a sideline in tap-dancing, whose incredible version of Let's Misbehave is probably the gateway drug that Tarantino fans need to get into Cole Porter.

Between these musical high points, though, which reveal the central characters' hidden urges or wildest desires, the dramatic passages don't quite cut it. I haven't seen Potter's original, but his script here - which underwent 12 revisions while boiling down six hours of drama to less than two - operates mostly at a surface level, and seems to mistake repetition and mundanity for profundity. Few of the characters seem truly affected by anything that happens to them, that strange, cold aloofness preventing you from engaging with much of what's going on amidst the impeccable period design. The writing isn't bad - there are moments of truth amidst Potter's laid-back perviness - but it isn't up to the standard of its interludes, which border on the sublime.

There's also the problem of Martin's performance. His attempts at emotion seem to have a unique, mawkish insincerity about them, while his zany treatment of some of his musical spots, mugging when he should be following Peters' restrained lead, often puncture the pastiche, leaving only a cartoon in its place. He makes a good fist of the dancing, but with someone down-to-earth and dramatically dynamic in the central role, perhaps Potter's spoken passages would have come closer to the robustness and realism needed to make the central contrast really work. Though its numbers aren't as impressive, that's why Ken Russell's version of The Boy Friend works so well: you believe in the seedy seaside world it creates, and so the songs give you something to escape from.

I wish this were great. It should be. It almost is. But it doesn't quite make it. A little like the pipe dreamer at its centre.

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

One of the greatest movies ever made

When I'm writing about this one, I tend to run out of superlatives halfway through. It's the greatest film from one of Hollywood's greatest directors; a silent translation of a popular operetta, and as much fun, romance and heartache as most people can generally stand across an hour and three quarters.

Ramon Novarro is the titular prince, the nephew of the king of Karlsburg, whose restrictive upbringing - one of "duty, obligation and loyalty" - goes out the window, however briefly, in a fug of love, friendship and beer, swirling (swilling?) across the old city of Heidelberg.

The love - and the beer, for that matter - comes from an ethereal but down-to-earth, slightly cross-eyed barmaid (Norma Shearer): the guileless, glugging Kathi forever the high point of her screen achievements. Novarro himself wasn't blessed with the greatest range, but then you don't want J. Carrol Naish as your callow, conflicted young romantic, you want a sweet, sensitive, big-eyed kid with a seductive streak - and who more suitable than Novarro, a Latino sex symbol whose tenderness and vulnerability were all too real.

You want your kindly professor, his sense of fun overriding his sense of decorum, played by someone with the chops and twinkle-in-the-eye of Jean Hersholt. And, of course, you want Lubitsch, the inimitable, irreplaceable Lubitsch, behind the camera, every scene handled with that "Lubitsch touch", every moment seeming to offer something new and extraordinary to bring a smile to your lips or a tear to your eye: Shearer checking out Novarro with absolutely no subtlety when they first meet, a garden-full of beer glasses raised with military precision, the look on the lead's face as his love interest downs an entire pint, the pair's spirited night-time excursion to the finest field in movies, and that heartbreaking return to Heidelberg, as heartfelt a paean to lost innocence and the youth that is never to return as the movies have ever served up.

You can analyse the film a dozen different ways and it comes up faultless - from its abundance of visual metaphor, shifting perspectives used to illustrate the prince's changing moods, to the director's sparing use of intertitles, and the use of a groundbreaking shot in summation that predates The Long Good Friday by 53 years - but it all adds up to the same thing: a film for the ages, an emotionally overwhelming portrait of self-sacrifice, paradise lost and position found, of young lovers meeting like passing trains, together for a fleeting, shining moment, then torn away by "duty, obligation and loyalty". And it's all scored to perfection in the old Thames Silents version by the peerless Carl Davis.

"It must be wonderful to be a prince," muses one of the town kids, studying a portrait of Novarro. On this evidence, not so much, but then isn't life just about enjoying those perfect moments when they come? This film has more than almost any other.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

So disappointing
I'm resigned to the fact that "0 out of 124 people" will find the following review useful (in the world of IMDb, dissenting opinions are usually regarded as useless - quite odd, as I always enjoy reading reviews that challenge my thoughts on a film). Anyway, here goes: If the original Cloudy was like one of those Heston Blumenthal dishes that's both outrageously odd and utterly brilliant - I don't know, perhaps fried egg with jam and Rice Krispies - then this misguided, saccharine sequel is a pointless pudding, an overly sweet dessert that makes you sick up a bit of the main course.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) lands a job with a shady corporation run by his childhood hero - funny how he wasn't mentioned in the first film - who decides to send Flint back to his home island for the post-first-film clean-up, whilst playing him off against his friends. The island itself is now inhabited by living beings made of food, including a cute little strawberry with the voice of Eric Cartman, a spider comprising Big Mac and fries, and a taco-dile that spits vegetables everywhere. Are you sure this script is ready? The problem, no doubt, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were only on hand to provide the story and exec-produce, with former South Park staffer Erica Rivinoja botching the writing job, and Cody Cameron (Shrek, Madagascar) and Cloudy contributor Kris Pearn taking care of the rest.

There are a few good jokes - the fishing trip, the translation, Steve the monkey generally - but it's largely overbearing sentiment, food creatures with punny names (essentially a Twitter hashtag that got out of hand), and Steve Jobs-based villainy, a sort of Robots/Wreck-It Ralph/Jurassic Park III hybrid, with a minimum of heart, wit and invention. I wanted something as anarchic and genuinely original as the first movie. Instead, I got a film that's not only aimed at kids, but doggedly conventional, and insultingly predictable, both in its re-treading of old ground and its telegraphing of old jokes.

It's the most disappointing movie I've seen for a couple of years at least.

The Life Story of David Lloyd George

A landmark of British silent cinema that lay unseen for over 75 years
Intended as a morale-booster in the wake of World War One, this staggeringly ambitious British epic simply disappeared when Elvey and his team were paid £20,000 by parties unknown to bury it just prior to release. Considered lost for decades, it was found in the house of Lloyd George's grandson more than 75 years later, and finally screened in 1996. Such is the film's scale of ambition and level of success that silent film scholars argue that if it had been released in 1918 as planned, it may have altered the course of British cinema forever.

Viewed almost a century on, it's a remarkable achievement: storytelling on a grand scale. The sequence depicting a riot at Birmingham Town Hall utilises 10,000 extras, intelligently orchestrated (well, once some of them stop grinning); there are victory parades, fog-shrouded war scenes and symbolic tableaux: France's Marianne raises her sword triumphantly upon a Great War battlefield, we flash back into American history, and receive a visit from the ghost of premiers past. There are rural scenes of breathtaking bucolic beauty, and tours of wartime factories which, even if they go on a bit, offer a valuable history lesson, and provide a glimpse of Elvey himself.

Made with the blessing of Lloyd George's family, and featuring a distinctly hagiographic tone, the film begins by showing his genuine birth certificate and snapshots of his parents, shoots extensively at genuine locations, and features numerous details and anecdotes from his career, shared by friends and confidantes, alongside his notable political triumphs. From a humble background, he becomes a solicitor, before his gift for oratory finds him a place in the House of Commons, then the cabinet, and then the hot-seat. He fights for the poor, runs away from the Suffragettes like a big girl's blouse, and then inspires his nation to triumph against the empire-builders of Germany - while lamenting the human cost of the conflict - in what may be a slightly fanciful retelling of the Great War. (I also can't help but notice that the French celebrate his uplifting wartime speech in Paris by waving white handkerchiefs in the air; typical French.) Lloyd George is played, as an adult, by Norman Page, with Alma Reville - Hitchcock's wife and sometime collaborator - as his spouse, and Ernest Thesiger, the great Golden Age character actor, best-known for The Old Dark House and The Bride of Frankenstein, as Joseph Chamberlain. It's Page's show, though, he's rarely off-screen and proves a charismatic screen presence, with a perma-pointing finger.

Such is its antiquity that the flaws are obvious to the modern viewer: there's little dramatic tension throughout the narrative, the scenes of ordinary people's lives being transformed by the beneficent title figure are heavy-handed in the extreme, and where the writers don't have access to speeches from the late 19th century, they're resistant to speculation, and so simply show Lloyd George speaking with no intertitles. There's also a truly baffling scene in which the film breaks off from its story about social reform to let us know that Dave enjoyed a day off and scored a bogey on the first hole of the golf course, an impressive achievement that's then expressed pictorially. Sadly, no mention is made of Lloyd George's greatest attribute; greater even than his golfing prowess. In his diaries, Tony Benn recalls how he was showing a group of students around the Strangers' Gallery at the House of Commons when he happened to mention the former prime minister. At this point he was interrupted by a very old man, who rose to his feet and announced, "Lloyd George had a prick like a donkey".

As a director, Elvey shows extraordinary promise, but also comes up short compared to, say, Griffith, due to a marked lack of close-ups. The film is rousing and frequently compelling, with an eye for a crowd scene and an ear (or another eye?) for a great line of speech-making, but it's missing the human touch that comes from photographing the face. Elvey is a whizz with a long shot and a wonder with a montage, but a film is often too aloof if you can't read people's expressions. Having said that, on one of the rare occasions when we do get a medium close-up, it's in order to view what must be the most unconvincing false beard I've ever seen. Lloyd George's dad looks like someone has affixed a doormat to his face.

For all the film's highlights - which while strung together rather episodically are great in number - stretching from little Lloyd George shaking his fist at a grown-up buying off the family furniture, to refusing to say the catechism at Sunday school, through speeches in the Commons, a genuinely funny scene about a big liar, and that huge riot, my favourite is by far the short procession sequence, tinted in red, lit by night fires and accompanied by the loveliest portion of Neil Brand's beautiful score, in which Lloyd George's supporters celebrate his election with a sign that reads, "VICTORY FOR YOUNG WALES". Shot from high above, masterfully-composed and effortlessly moving, it's the highlight of an inevitably dated but extraordinarily confident and mightily impressive landmark in British silent cinema.

The Hired Hand

One of a kind
The Hired Hand is a New Hollywood masterpiece from Peter Fonda, a reflective Western in which redemption comes not through revenge, but romance, in all its selfish, selfless glory. Its title comes from the stone of story at its centre, in which Fonda tries to atone for walking out on his wife (Verna Bloom, shorn of all vanity) by signing on as her hired hand, accompanied by his friend Warren Oates. That set-up suggests gender battles or sexual power-games, but what we get is something altogether quieter, subtler and more persuasive: a story about forgiveness, dependence and the healing of wounds, with an almighty kick in the tail that takes genre mythology and proceeds to do something unforgettable with it. The relationship between the reformed, gentle Fonda and his strong, unrepentant wife only accounts for perhaps a third of the running time, but gives the film such heart that it can justify the numerous asides and self-contained vignettes: a fatal shot from out of nowhere, an early-morning mission of vengeance and the shattering of a tranquil idyll as a young girl's dead body snags on a fishing line.

Fonda's Easy Rider is a great film, because it captures a feeling, epitomises an entire period and exploded an outmoded cinematic status quo, but it isn't a very good film. It's tacky, juvenile, boring and full of ridiculous visual quirks that make no narrative sense (there's a reason why no-one uses those juddering transitions it attempted to initiate, and it's that they're pointless and crap). The Hired Hand, however, is a film touched with that refined, adventurous brilliance that seemed to be in the air in '70s Hollywood. It's visually outstanding, but it's more than that: it's like Monte Walsh - William Fraker's film about the "last cowboy" - but loaded with longing and sexual angst, and equipped with some trippily avant garde imagery that still stays true to the genre, Fonda, photographer Vilmos Zsigmond and editor Frank Mazzola simply kicking Winton C Hoch's eye-popping compositions up a notch. The most remarkable has Fonda and Oates talking by a corral. As they turn gradually to silhouettes, close-ups of their faces illuminate the sky behind, tinted by the setting sun. It's a jaw-dropping trick that pitches them as Western icons, larger-than-life, greater than contemporary folk heroes and at one with the sprawling plains and vast skies that are - or were - America. Fonda isn't interested in a conventional narrative, more in evoking an atmosphere, and as he slips from one episode to the next, he layers one piece of footage - a body twisting in a river, horses stalking along the trail - over the next. It's odd, then, that some of the interior scenes in the early part of the film look flat and cheap, if not '50s-B-Western shoddy.

Fonda is superb, while Bloom, one of the best things about Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, gives a remarkable performance as a woman who refuses to repent after looking for sexual solace in his absence, but yearns to be loved - and not just wanted. It's only during her pivotal speech that I feel she falters, but perhaps subsequent viewings will be kinder. And Oates? Well, Oates is simply sensational. Perhaps only Jason Robards ever combined the scuzzy, the world-weary and the roguishly appealing as well as the toothy, grubby, bearded Oates, and as a good guy fighting the lust coursing through his body, he damn well walks away with the film. The Hired Hand is one of the great movies of the '70s: a unique, unsentimental vision that doesn't seek to dismantle the Western, as Altman would with McCabe and Mrs Miller, but to take its iconography and its stock characters somewhere new. The gunfighter still rides to the rescue. The showdown still happens. And his body still falls to the floor with that same sickening thud. But then a hired hand returns to a homestead and closes a door, and we realise that there was never a Western like it, and that none ever gave us an ending like this, in all its simple, beautiful and perfect ambiguity.

Yip Man

Superb in every way. A triumph.
This is, simply, one of the three or four best kung fu films I've ever seen, a back-to-basics classic with a realistic setting, a powerful story and a series of superbly-choreographed fight scenes that place an accent on technical skill, and possess a heartening reverence for visual clarity. There are no mystifying close-ups of unidentifiable feet, and the film benefits from both a negligible amount of wire-work and a complete absence of juvenile comedy, placing it in a bracket almost by itself. It's also rooted in a stunning evocation of time and place, complete with poignant, beautiful bleached-out cinematography that calls to mind old sepia photos.

Donnie Yen starred in Yuen Woo-Ping's groundbreaking Iron Monkey (perhaps the first film to properly spotlight the stylistic preoccupations that would find a worldwide audience through The Matrix and Crouching Tiger), and had supporting parts opposite Jet Li in the jaw-dropping Once Upon a Time in China II and Zhang Yimou's disappointing Hero. But, unlike Li, he hasn't had it all his own way. As Yen searched for worthy starring vehicles, so fans had to suffer dreck like New Big Boss, a film which boasts the unique distinction of having a story so mystifyingly convoluted that it makes The Tree of Life look like Under Siege. When Yen ventured abroad, it was to appear as the villain in Shanghai Knights, and then to choreograph the action scenes in Stormbreaker. The poor bastard.

Ip Man, happily, is the perfect vehicle for his talents, casting him as the eponymous aristocrat, a quiet, noble family man who is forced to give up his home, his lifestyle and his beloved Wing Chun martial arts after the Japanese invade in 1937. After a fun, fight-heavy opening, we follow Ip Man and his compatriots through all manner of physical, moral and spiritual degradation, a process of dehumanisation that reaches a symbolic pinnacle when the martial arts masters are offered rice to prostitute their talents in front of the military brass. Ip Man doesn't want the rice, not at that cost, but he would quite like to fight 10 Japanese guys at once, train a factory-full of workers to stick up for themselves, and face down the general in front of the whole town.

It's a story of great heart, masterfully-conceived and perfectly-paced, with numerous punch-the-air(/punch-the-baddie) moments, the dramatic entrances from Yen's near-mythic hero - fists clenched in fury - set-up with such intelligence and emotion that, when he appears, the spirits soar. Each fight scene serves a purpose within the narrative, and every one is viscerally, intensely exciting, Yip and his action director, Sammo Hung, respecting Yen's artistry to such a degree that he's frequently shown in full-length shot, cuts only made to better showcase his skill or to transmit the pure power inherent in those twisting hands and flitting feet.

Agreeably, Yen's hero is also one of the most sensitive and progressive in action movie history. He uses a style of fighting devised by a woman, refuses to fight until given permission by his missus, and dismisses the taunts of a thuggish brute who's just turned up in his house by saying that there is nothing wrong with a man who "respects his wife". Take that, '70s Clint, you chauvinist wally. The thuggish brute, incidentally, is Siu-Wong Fan, who I saw in the terrible Supercop 2 just the other day (see below). There he was a pleasant, slim, slightly vacant young man with big eyes, who turned out to be fairly handy in a scrap. Let's just say that he's eaten several few pies and a lot of creatine since then. And grown a little beard.

Ip Man is an exhilarating experience, one of those films that uplifts you through its sheer brilliance and makes you ask: "Why can't ALL movies be this good?" I never thought I'd type these words, but it's like Fist of Legend. Only better.


Flawed, but holds a special place in my heart
This was one of the only films I saw as a kid. I loved it then, have watched it rather too many times since, and still get a lot out of it now. It's the best of the "make me an old dude" body-swap comedies, with a normal 13-year-old kid waking up to find he is 30, has a hairy chest and is played by Tom Hanks. It's surprisingly if agreeably dark to begin with, while a sappy romance somewhat commandeers proceedings towards the end (and never gets over its problem of a grown woman boffing a kid), but the considerable middle is tremendous fun, with Hanks' brilliant comic performance, the famous giant piano set-piece and one of my favourite jokes in any movie. "She'll wrap her legs around you so tight you'll be begging for mercy," sleazy Jon Lovitz tells Hanks, pointing at a co- worker. "Well, I'll stay away from her then!" says Hanks gratefully. The delivery is amazing.

Young Tom Edison

Captivating Americana based on the boyhood of the famed inventor, played here by Mickey Rooney, who is kicked out of school for his intense inquisitiveness - and his habit of staring out the window, and that big explosion - is branded "addle-pated" by the townsfolk, but ultimately comes good. Rooney's stock persona was as a brash, cartoonish know-it- all who gets a lesson in humility (at which point he starts crying and saying sorry), but his best performances came when he was asked to calm down and actually act, doing extraordinary work in The Human Comedy and National Velvet. He's superb here - using slightly broader strokes than in those seminal later performances - and surrounded by a cast of top character actors, including Virginia Weidler as his affectionate sister, Fay Bainter as his protective mother and George Bancroft as a stern patriarch with impressive sideburns but an unfortunate propensity to ignore his son's protestations of innocence. It's a wonderfully-mounted production, with a literate script that mixes things that actually happened, things you wish had happened and MGM staples like the family sing-along. And it climaxes with two extraordinary, unbearably tense suspense sequences. If you're a cynic, just don't bother. For everyone else, this is a rosy primer on Edison's early years and a poignant, exciting and flavourful example of MGM at its absolute best.

Artists and Models

Not really my sort of thing, but alright.
When artist Dean Martin needs inspiration for a violent new comic book, he takes it from the dreams of his best pal (Jerry Lewis). Unfortunately they also contain the secret code for a new space station. This is the first Martin and Lewis film I've seen, and it was OK. Lewis isn't particularly funny, but you acclimatise to his relentless mugging after a few minutes, and he had a few good moments – particularly his encounter with the Bat Lady and the fat lady. I watched it because of Tashlin, a former animator who specialised in big, bright comedies satirising anything he felt like, including the marvellous Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? But here his direction is overbearing to the point of being annoying, with sound effects at every juncture. The film's best moments belong to Shirley MacLaine as Lewis's girlfriend (it's always amusing to see where stars ranked in the Hollywood Order of Attractiveness). This was her second film and she's so full of energy she's practically bouncing into your living room. Particularly good is her reprisal of the number Innamorata, where she leaps around a staircase, trying to kiss Lewis. In fact, the musical interludes are mostly surprisingly good; rather better than the comedy (the tone is set by the opening scene, which promises a man being flung through a billboard and then contents itself with dropping some paint on people's heads). Martin's Lucky Song, filmed in a similar way to I Got Rhythm from An American in Paris, is a joy, and the title tune is cleverly staged around an artist's palette filled with various women. Did I mention that the film is quite sexist? All in all, I'm not in a rush to check out more Martin and Lewis movies, but if there's one on TV, I might give it a go.

De vrais mensonges

A mess, though Tautou's very good
When hairdresser Audrey Tautou receives a lyrical, unsigned love letter, she first throws it in the bin, then fishes it out and sends it to her mum, who's in a four-year rut. Mumsy (Nathalie Baye) guesses who wrote it – over-educated handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila) – but not who it was intended for. After unwittingly waiting years for a love triangle featuring a mum and a daughter, I've seen two in two weeks (the other was It's a Date), but this one's no frothy confection; certainly not the Amelie-ish romcom promised by a disingenuous marketing campaign. It starts off cheerily, with an amusing opening 20, but gets lost, becoming a fraught, gloomy romantic drama desperately in need of a lighter touch. As an outwardly harsh businesswoman plagued by loneliness, fear and insecurity, Tautou is excellent, and Bouajila does a good job of articulating his character's predicament, but the film gives the distinct impression of having got out of hand somewhere along the line, with plot developments that simply don't work. Jean is buffeted around by lies in a way that's more bleak than funny. Beautiful Lies is neither enjoyable enough to work as entertainment, nor resonant or believable enough to have value as anything else. The French title actually translates as True Lies – I wonder why they changed that.

Perrier's Bounty

Not very good
When his plans to pay back a €1,000 debt go awry, scruffy criminal Cillian Murphy, the girl he loves (Jodie Whittaker) and his dying dad (Jim Broadbent) have to stay one step ahead of Brendan Gleeson's goons, who want to lop off his willy and put it up his bottom. Given the cast, this crime-comedy is a big disappointment, with a poor, mannered script of the type currently entrancing the Irish Film Board: a torrent of swearing and a show-off's vocabulary intending to compensate for a complete absence of anything to say. Man. Sorry, everyone in the film says "Man" all the time, like it's 1967 (or Manchester in 1998). Films like Brick really did create their own vernacular; this isn't how you do that. The movie is also saturated in the kind of obvious post-modern irony of which The Guard was sometimes guilty. Gleeson gives an excellent performance and Murphy and Broadbent are both quite good, but it's a smug and unsatisfying film, the agreeable invention of parts of the plotting and a handful of nice lines obliterated by a blizzard of bull faeces and a climactic death scene that is a new kind of rubbish. Perrier's Bounty sounds like a two- for-one at WHSmith. That it's actually less inspiring than that is probably a criticism.

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