Friday 29 January 2021

For what it's worth...

My top ten streaming picks (for the week beginning January 29, 2021):

1 (new) Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (uncertificated) **** (MUBI)
2. Citadel (uncertificated) **** (MUBI)
3. 76 Days (12) **** (Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player, Dogwoof on Demand)
4. Quo Vadis, Aida? (uncertificated) **** (Curzon)
5. Archive (15) **** (Prime Video)
6. Dear Comrades (12A) **** (Curzon)
7 (new) Cenote (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
8. Baby Done (15) *** (Prime Video, Curzon)
9. About Some Meaningless Events (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
10. MLK/FBI (12) *** (Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player, Dogwoof on Demand)

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (3) The New Mutants (15)
2 (1) Bill & Ted Face the Music (PG)
3 (2) Tenet (12) **
4 (7) The Greatest Showman (PG)
5 (5) Roald Dahl's The Witches (PG)
6 (4) Spider-Man: Far from Home (12) ***
7 (8) Jumanji: The Next Level (PG)
8 (6) Bad Boys for Life (15) ***
9 (19) Joker (15) **
10 (12) Jojo Rabbit (12) **

My top five: 
1. Shirley

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. The Conversation [above] (Saturday, BBC2, 11.55pm)
2. Beautiful Boy (Saturday, BBC2, 10pm)
3. The Homesman (Sunday, BBC2, 12.30am)
4. Nightcrawler (Friday, BBC2, 11.20pm)
5. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Sunday, C4, 11.05pm)

Thursday 28 January 2021

Bad faith: "Beginning"

There seems to have been a small but notable flourishing in Georgian cinema, as far as one can make out from the films that have landed on these shores in recent times: 2013's In Bloom and 2017's My Happy Family, from the directorial partnership who bill themselves as Nana and Simon, were very skilfully poised on that generic border where domestic drama meets thriller. Beginning - feature debut of writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili, bowing on MUBI this weekend - is far narrower in its scope than either of those pathfinders, composed as it has been in a recognisably rigid, prescriptive arthouse style that presumably explains why it was selected to compete at last year's cancelled Cannes festival. You'll be getting - enduring? - all of the following: a taut, unyielding Academy ratio frame; extended takes and sequence-shots that routinely go on longer than any incident contained within them; and a general air of glumness that would be tough to take at any time, but doubly so in the pandemic present. Carlos Reygadas - hawks, spits - is credited as an executive producer, and Beginning is, you feel, exactly the form and content to which Carlos Reygadas would be attracted: the sorry tale of a young Jehovah's Witness couple who find both their faith and their marriage tested in the wake of witnessing their church being firebombed. Assisted in their suffering by Georgia's least efficient fire brigade - who let this tiny place of worship burn all day and night for the sake of several bleakly picturesque compositions - the couple attempt to start anew, only to befall one misfortune after another. It's a latter-day religious parable, only - and here, for better and mostly worse, is where the Reygadas heavy touch becomes apparent - one that features the kind of language and atrocities they don't teach you in Sunday school.

Beginning is strikingly composed and rehearsed: it has to be, given the nature of some of those atrocities. Yet like a lot of films by young filmmakers who've seen a lot of films (and a lot of the New Extreme Cinema, in particular), it appears, scene by scene, utterly removed from life as it's actually experienced by real, non-movie, flesh-and-blood people; from first frame to last, we're watching terrible things happening to crash-test-dummy characters in one of those rigorously self-sealed art-movie vacuums. That firebombing, never followed up, is really no more in the film's grand design than a screenwriter's inciting incident, something to get the bad times rolling. In order to shoot a protracted rape scene - a must-have item for this kind of cinema - Kulumbegashvili has to set her heroine to wandering around a rocky riverbank in the middle of the night with not a hint of motivation for her to be doing so. Were it not for the sounds of this babbling brook, I fear you could hear Reygadas stood on the sidelines of the shoot, cheering all parties on. That's it, smear one another's faces and bodies with grime! Threaten to bash each other's brains out! Degradation, fuck yeah! For just over two hours, Beginning is shit being heaped, with no particular energy or empathy, on characters and viewer alike; the remaining ten minutes offer a very trite counterbalance, in which the juniors of the couple's church are presented - with a crude simplicity typical of the project as a whole - as paragons of innocence and hope. I've seen the occasional word of praise for Kulumbegashvili's film from representatives of Festival Twitter, eternal suckers for punishment such as they are, but this was one of those beginnings that looked to these eyes very much a dead end.

Beginning streams from tomorrow via MUBI.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Faltered states: "Synchronic"

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are the indie writer-directors who announced themselves via a run of genre-twisting puzzle pieces: to a degree, these were something like Christopher Nolan only without the fuss or budget, and with at least a little more human interest. Their best film remains 2014's
Spring, which pursued the young-Americans-in-Europe trope into genuinely fresh and surprising territory, though some admired 2017's (to these eyes, self-conscious) cult-movie-about-a-cult The Endless. Their latest, Synchronic, has a set-up you could imagine a more illustrious studio production running with: a laddish pair of paramedics - ever-tailchasing Steve (Anthony Mackie) and listlessly settled Dennis (Jamie Dornan) - are summoned to an increasingly bizarre series of callouts linked to the titular new designer drug. Yet Moorhead and Benson develop their material laterally, and in a way that might well seem counterintuitive, forsaking cheap thrills in favour of cultivating a heavy, brooding atmosphere. Every dingy, rundown flophouse the crew relocates to gets misted up; Mackie's Steve, who just so happens to be dying from a brain tumour, is invited to quote from a letter Einstein wrote to a deceased friend's wife. This is a trip movie, then, but it's a trip movie labouring under a bad case of brainiac strain: I can understand why my Guardian colleague Peter Bradshaw lost all patience with it, and there are stretches - particularly early on and towards the end - where I think I, too, might have preferred to be watching Bradley Cooper in Limitless

One perma-niggling limitation: neither Mackie nor Dormer are quite as dynamic as they need to be - rather than "Synchro", they need speed, or a dose of whatever Nic Cage was snorting through Bringing Out the Dead - though it hardly helps the performers' cause that these medic bros appear far more interested in themselves than they are in anybody else around them. (The plot boils down to Steve solving Dennis's problem, rather than anybody addressing the casualties flooding ERs in the present-day.) What diverted me for at least some of the running time were the budget-defying setpieces, which amplify the way the drug erodes linear time and space: thus Mackie can be seen sitting on his sofa one moment, and wind up being chased through swampland by crocodiles and conquistadors the next. This second act, which is basically the Falcon tripping his balls off while zipping around the universe, is where Synchronic belatedly and briefly starts to fizz; once Steve uses this pharmacological superpower to access and start tinkering with formerly sealed-off parts of the plot, however, the exhilaration wanes, and the directors resort to overthinking once again. What they're puzzling over here - and it's a puzzle even they can't solve this time - is the correct ratio of profundity to momentum; it's how much ambition, characterisation and fragmentation a B-movie plot can bear before it buckles under the weight. As an experiment, Synchronic never takes; but I see that its chief scientists are now headed for the MCU - they're overseeing the TV spin-off Moon Knight - so perhaps the bigger puzzle of converting pulp into a viable career has been solved for them. Hey-ho.

Synchronic will be available to rent from Friday.

From the archive: "Crimson Peak"

Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro’s first horror movie since Pan’s Labyrinth, is a pretty, self-reflexive – and pretty self-reflexive – item: both a story about stories, and the limitations of fiction to protect us from the predations of the real world, and a beautiful film about beauty, and how susceptible we are to it. It joins Inherent Vice, and perhaps even this week’s The Lobster, as the work of a director wearing their broken heart very much on their sleeve.

In 19th century New York, Mia Wasikowska’s aspirant writer Edith Cushing – younger viewers may need schooling in the reference – churns out tales haunted by the ghost of a mother who died young. The entire direction of her life changes upon the arrival of Tom Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet courting Edith’s father to invest in his plans to mine the red clay under the ancestral home he shares back in Cumberland with brooding sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

One look at the siblings’ rare combo of clothes and cheekbones, and you can see why the solitary Edith might fall for them, and turn to them for shelter after her father’s mysterious death: their Allendale Hall holds the exotic appeal of a Northanger Abbey, no matter that it proves a dusty, rusty pile scattered with dead bugs and sinking into said clay. Thus does del Toro’s tale offer its first lesson – that that which appears desirable can conceal nowt but rot – while bidding for every production design award going over the coming months.

What follows there has obvious Gothic antecedents: a touch of Rebecca in the vast portraits mounted over the staircase, a dash of Bluebeard in the basement’s bubbling clay pools. The casting of Wasikowska would appear a nod to both Jane Eyre and Stoker, the movies’ last Gothic fable to boast such conspicuous and consummate stylisation. Yet this is no mere pastiche. Del Toro absorbs all these influences, before going his own way: a heightened, very 21st century violence makes us feel the loss of key characters more keenly yet.

On the other hand, the plot mechanics are overlaid with tenderness and nuance. Hiddleston’s Sharpe is hardly some heartless, moustache-twirling bounder: the actor brings such remarkable subtlety to the arriviste’s first rejection of Edith – telling her she’s no good as a writer, in order to pocket the cheque her father has promised him – that it almost looks and sounds like constructive criticism, offered in the hope of making a loved one an even better scribe. Or was I, too, being fooled? (A punchline, buried in the closing credits, suggests not.)

She only belatedly recognises it, but Edith, throughout, is surrounded by protectors, inserted by a writer-director keener to watch over his heroine than put her through the mill: her late mother’s spirit, a hideous apparition who proves to have her child’s best interests at heart (“Beware of Crimson Peak!”), an American suitor investigating her father’s demise (Charlie Hunnam, much improved since Pacific Rim), and eventually the ghosts of this house, too, where even a gathering pool of snow comes to provide a soft landing amid the extraction of hard and ugly truths.

Del Toro makes great play of mirroring the mining going on outdoors – slowly bringing the paydirt to the surface – with that going on inside: Edith shuttling up and down in Allendale Hall’s lift, encountering hidden chambers, locked chests, wax cylinders with their own stories to tell. On form, as he is here, this filmmaker is one of the few to be as interested in the baroque possibilities of narrative as he is in those of design; his latest offers the pleasure of seeing a mystery being located, excavated and dusted down for all the world to see.

If that process isn’t as devastating as Pan’s Labyrinth, that may be down to the studio universe del Toro is now operating within: the final act is but a clever runaround, steered towards a happy ending. Yet it remains a work of notable craft and vision, hitting the story beats with style while generating images that look to have leapt fully formed from the del Toro imagination, onto his sketchpad, thence the screen. After several wobbly steps into blockbuster territory, it’s reassuring to see the director of Cronos making his own kind of movie with a whole lot more money.

(MovieMail, September 2015)

Crimson Peak screens on Channel 4 at 1.45am.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

The Truman show: "The Capote Tapes"

This is becoming a trope: the theatrical documentary that depends for its existence on the discovery of previously unheard audio recordings. (The pick of these remains Stevan Riley's Brando doc Listen to Me Marlon; more recently, we've had James Erskine's Billie.) In the case of this week's The Capote Tapes, director Ebs Burnough has secured access to conversations the revered journo George Plimpton recorded with Truman Capote shortly before the latter's passing in 1984; these would eventually form the basis of Plimpton's 1997 biography Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. The key question is what any such film has to offer visually beyond stills of the author hobnobbing with highfliers and stock shots of tape spools going round and round. In theory, at least, we're getting a more complete picture of the life than was put forth by those celebrated biopics from the first decade of this century, compiled not just from those tapes, but disparate sources besides: archive footage that confirms that the actual Capote looked far more like Toby Jones than Philip Seymour Hoffman, scenes from the movies that leapt on the author's books and made him a household name.

Yet the gaps in this account tend to be filled with talk rather than telling images. Alternating artlessly between its supplementary interviewees (Colm Tóibín, insightful on Capote's methods; an antsily jovial Jay McInerney; former Vogue supremo André Leon Talley), this is a story being told rather than illustrated, and then told with a prosaic flatness that undercuts even the film's notional revelations. Sidebars on the probability of Holly Golightly being a romanticised portrait of the author's own mother and Capote's final, unpublished tell-all manuscript are afforded the same time and weight as a chapter on a masked ball; Burnough is caught gabbling past the more intriguing material in a bid to condense this life into a somewhat squat, TV-ready 90 minutes. As a unifying concept, Plimpton's tapes offer the advantage of direct recollection, but they're having to compete with a lot of other chatter, and don't - can't - add anything to the visual palette. (Again, we cut back to those endlessly revolving tape spools.) I can see the appeal these tapedocs have for some filmmakers, in that half the spadework of laying down storybeats will have already been done for them. The trouble with them as films is that, handled indifferently, they can all too easily resemble radio documentaries that have taken a wrong turn to reach us.

The Capote Tapes will be available to rent from Friday.

Monday 25 January 2021

Capital punishments: "Citadel"

Here's an early contender for comeback of the year. Citadel is a typically stimulating 20-minute dispatch from the British artist and filmmaker John Smith, director of 1976's great, funny, endlessly teachable structuralist short The Girl Chewing Gum. There are unexpected similarities between the two works, not least how they invite us to look upon London in longshot, although in the far more pointed Citadel, we're very quickly made aware that this is an enforced longshot: the familiar skyline of Gherkin, Shard et al. as viewed from the artist's flat over the first months of the 2020 lockdown. Having locked off that camera position, Smith began working (from home) on his soundtrack, deconstructing and remixing a series of public pronouncements by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, beginning with a February 2020 speech in which he set out his vision of making the UK the Superman of free trade. (With the country languishing in a post-Brexit impasse of its own making heading into February 2021, those words sound even emptier.) That the two positions - geographical and political - are linked is eventually made explicit by a visual effect that suggests one building (not the Walkie Talkie, oddly) is broadcasting Johnson's voice to the world; Smith's thesis is that this PM speaks for business, and for the "business as usual" mindset that has held such deleterious sway over Conservative policy during the pandemic. Still, as a dagger-sharp footnote slipped into the end credits notes, the party's brains trust has overseen not just Europe's highest death rate per capita but also the country's deepest recession in living memory. The 40% still claiming they'd re-elect jolly old Boris in a heartbeat can cling to their talking point: oh come on, they're doing their best in difficult circumstances. Smith, watching on silently from the margins, shows us what a skyline - and a country - starts to look like when a ruling party's best just isn't good enough.

Something more specific, too: what it looks and sounds like then a special interest - really no more than a fetish for finances, a purse-string kink - is allowed to warp beyond the usual parameters. Visually, Citadel expands the idea of major metropolitan emptiness expressed in such lockdown artefacts as Netflix's Homemade, although the old-school Smith never resorts to droneshot cliche: his point is that this latest, ongoing lack of movement, the near-complete absence of mobility, may just be the logical endpoint of ten years of Old Etonian rule, what the Bullingdon Boys were hoping for all along. This London is a grey, cold, steely place, devoid of the colour and life people bring with them to any given location (here, Citadel deviates more or less entirely from The Girl Chewing Gum's glorious street scenes); when we do spy Smith's neighbours - glimpsed in passing through illuminated windows, Rear Window-style - they appear newly boxed-in, imprisoned as per that choice title. The city's skyscrapers have become its overlords, ugly, hollow, misshapen lumps of capital, dumped (and dumping) on a population whether or not it wants, likes or needs them. I watched Citadel on the morning it was leaked to the Government's pet right-wing media outlets that this current lockdown - the third such - could be lifted as early as next month, even as our hospitals continue to struggle to meet the elevated demand for ICU beds. That's business as usual, and doubtless the Wetherspoons crowd and the country's ghastliest columnists and phone-in hosts will be delighted if that does indeed come to pass. (It wouldn't be the first time Johnson's cabinet has turned a blind eye to the science. As Michael Gove infamously said at the height of Brexit mania in 2016, Britain has had enough of experts.) But how many more loved ones will have to die before we collectively learn the lesson here? Covid-19 - reported to have first taken hold in a direly underregulated marketplace, you'll remember - is but a symptom. The real killer remains morbid capitalism, and those doing their level best to assist its spread.

Citadel is now streaming via MUBI UK. 

On demand: "The Dig"

The rules state it's not awards season without at least one well-dressed but emotionally inert British period drama in the mix. (It's just about the only thing we have left to export.) This year, Netflix has thrown its ever more considerable weight behind The Dig, a film of John Preston's 2007 novel about the real-life Sutton Hoo excavation of 1939, adapted by Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe, the 2011 Jane Eyre) and directed by Simon Stone (The Daughter). To some degree, it's unusual material, as Preston's focal point wasn't a country manse but a field in Suffolk, some distance beyond anybody's back garden. It's here we watch disparate souls converge. Firstly, there is the widowed landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), who thinks this field might be hiding something of note, and the solitary archaeologist, Basil Brown, she calls in to investigate further. Even the positive references Mrs. Pretty obtains describes Brown as "difficult", which makes this a perfect role for Ralph Fiennes, his air of recessive reluctance only mildly tempered by an Adge Cutler accent and a Hulot-like pipe. Soon, it becomes clear that no film this year will be more aptly titled. Basil's initial dig turns up nothing very much; yet when he digs some more, he turns up some old Anglo-Saxon wood. Committing anew to his task, Basil resumes digging, and after a brief, rapidly overcome setback - digging so fast he causes a collapse that nearly does for him - he digs up evidence of an old Anglo-Saxon ship. So he digs some more, and when he gets tired of digging, he recruits a team of helping hands to take up the trowel, including a Rugged Type (Johnny Flynn) and a tweedy couple in matching shell-rimmed specs (Ben Chaplin and Simperin' Lily James). That's right: Netflix have only gone and thrown millions at a medium-screen reboot of Tony Robinson's Time Team.

Now: what you need to know about The Dig going in is that it heralds from a country that for decades has devoted no small part of its Sunday night television schedule to a grey thing called Antiques Roadshow, where crowds gather in the grounds of stately homes they wouldn't ordinarily be allowed near to watch experts evaluating relics belonging to individuals who scarcely appear much younger than the objects they're touting. To this day, I remain unable to watch even fifteen seconds of this loathsome, backward irrelevance without feeling my hair turning white and my arteries hardening over. (Just a few notes of the theme tune's twee awfulness is enough to remind me of the doldrums of a Sunday evening, and make me panic that I haven't complete my school homework assignments.) Brits remain suckers for their own history, as recent political events and TV hits have underlined, and The Dig is clearly digging with an eye to tapping this lucrative vein of self-regard. But I'm not at all sure the film ever gets much beyond surface-deep, and the insights this dig unearths are of negligible value. "It speaks, dunnit - the past," grumps Basil, in one of those Lines of Significant Dialogue that probably sound more profound in the context of a trailer. I mean: yeah, clearly it does to some. Yet I would wager there are many more of us who've spent the best part of the past decade wishing it would just shut the hell up every once in a while.

Stone has a few elegant visual tricks on standby to liven up the fusty, stuffy milieu he finds himself working within. He's a big fan of overhead shots that further isolate his lonely leads, or define the furrows they're working within. And as The Dig expands into more of an ensemble piece - an Archaeologists Assemble - it succeeds in opening up small pockets of eccentric life. I enjoyed Ken Stott as a bowtied representative of the prestigious Ipswich Museum, threatening to trample all over the burial site. ("You can't come in here!," Basil grumps at him. "Not a man of your size.") Yet these are few and far between, and outnumbered by episodes of Atonement-level English Ridiculousness: a suppressed homoerotic moment as two of the more sketchily defined diggers glance over at each other's tools, Chaplin going into spluttering mode after he walks in on Simperin' Lily in the bath. Clearly, one or more of the producers felt there was too much digging in places, and so they've prodded Buffini into inserting some contrived action: Basil realising he's forgotten to throw a tarpaulin over the site mid-rainstorm, a huge fuss as a fighter plane goes down in an adjacent river. In Preston's book, all this might have served as scene-setting context; here, these episodes are offered as zero-to-low-octane distraction from the unavoidable truth that this is fundamentally a film about people digging themselves ever deeper into a hole in pursuit of what we already know is there. As a non-motion picture, it's all but a dead loss; but as a film-metaphor for Brexit Britain, The Dig is pretty much unimprovable.

The Dig will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday.

Friday 22 January 2021

For what it's worth...

My top ten streaming picks (for the week beginning January 22, 2021):

1 (new) Citadel (uncertificated) **** (MUBI)
2 (new) 76 Days (12) **** (Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player, Dogwoof on Demand)
3 (new) Quo Vadis, Aida? (uncertificated) **** (Curzon)
4. Archive (15) **** (Prime Video)
5. Dear Comrades (12A) **** (Curzon)
6 (new) Baby Done (15) *** (Prime Video, Curzon)
7 (new) About Some Meaningless Events (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
8. MLK/FBI (12) *** (Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player, Dogwoof on Demand)
9. Ham on Rye (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
10. The Basilisks (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (3) Bill & Ted Face the Music (PG)
2 (2) Tenet (12) **
3 (1The New Mutants (15)
4 (6) Spider-Man: Far from Home (12) ***
5 (4) Roald Dahl's The Witches (PG)
6 (7) Bad Boys for Life (15) ***
7 (10) The Greatest Showman (PG)
8 (9) Jumanji: The Next Level (PG)
9 (8) Little Women (U) ****
10 (17) Le Mans '66 (12) ***

My top five: 
1. Shirley

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Election [above] (Sunday, BBC1, 12midnight)
2. Crimson Peak (Wednesday, C4, 1.45am)
3. The Man in the Iron Mask (Sunday, five, 3.25pm)
4. Raging Bull (Saturday, ITV, 10.55pm)
5. Young Guns (Friday, BBC1, 11.35pm)

When words fail: "Quo Vadis, Aida?"

The Sarajevo-born writer-director Jasmila Zbanic has marked the 25th anniversary of the siege of Srebenica, that defining moment in the Balkan conflict, with Quo Vadis, Aida?, a film about a woman in the very middle of the middle of it. A teacher in peacetime, the eponymous heroine (Jasna Đuričić) has been recruited locally to interpret for the UN in their negotiations between the two factions. It's a crucial role: she doesn't just get to sit in the room, she also plays an active part in attempting to secure and reshape the region's future, determining what requires translation and what's best left unrepeated in the interests of keeping the lines of communication open. Very quickly, we pick up the stress involved; it's hardly a surprise Aida is most often observed with a cigarette on the go. The grave pressure doesn't relent once negotiations break down and the shelling begins, displacing thousands from their homes. One of Aida's sons makes it inside the UN's compound, hastily converted into a shelter, before the barriers come down; but the other is shut out, along with his father Nihad (Izudin Bajrovic). The method Aida alights upon to restore family unity is inventive, opportunistic and perhaps a little underhand - in other words, exactly the kind of choice people make in life-or-death situations. How wise it is will be called into question, minute-by-minute, scene-by-scene, as this situation develops. History tells us the siege will end badly. (A closing caption tallies the death count: 8,372.) What's up in the air for the duration of Zbanic's film is what exactly the damage will look like.

It's a thriller, then, but not one of those fun ones that steer us towards a final righting of wrongs and an unambiguously happy and reassuring ending. No, this is one of those thrillers - horror-thrillers, perhaps - which fill you with uncertainty and nag away at your guts. As if the wider tension of the negotiations failing wasn't enough, Aida finds herself zigzagging between stonefaced factions of men in military garb, and set upon by the refugee contingent - which includes many of her friends and neighbours - who attribute to her a power she doesn't really have within the UN chain of command. At best, she's a hired hand; at worst - and everything here tends to lean in that direction - she's apt to be regarded by the warring factions as one of them, innately compromised and therefore just about as disposable as anybody else on site. The advantage the character presents as a heroine is that she has mobility and access. Unlike those friends and neighbours, left sitting in place for much of these 100 minutes, caught between a rock and a hard place before finally being marched along straight lines towards their historical destiny, Aida has workarounds, ways out - or at least she thinks she does. That's enough to keep the film moving, even if it's just around the grimly functional interiors of the overrun, increasingly embattled compound.

Zbanic stages her crowd scenes - boasting hundreds of extras, representing the thousands of lives at stake in Srebenica - with great assurance, and adds a subtly affecting coda that gestures towards what it must have been like to live on in a country that was no longer recognisable; that appeared to have moved on, with so much business left unfinished and so many questions left unanswered. Yet our eyes are continually drawn towards this one representative woman, treading water in the midst of deadly sociopolitical turbulence. Keeping a schoolmarm's wits about her, Aida sees what's coming down the line when one faction sends bread to feed the refugees and buses to round them up; from a soldier's casually loaded inquiry about her son, she senses some personal animus is being pursued here, and that it's likely to end in bloodshed. She's certainly more alert than her UN colleagues, depicted as either wet-liberal soft touches or wet-nosed kids, hopelessly out of their depth when confronted by the grizzled war machines who swagger into shot, chief among them Ratko Mladic (Boris Izakovic). But this was one of those occasions where to be ahead of the game provided no consolation: Đuričić gives off a harried, nervous energy that transmits all too easily to the viewer. This would not be a good film to put yourself in front of if your New Year's resolution was to give up smoking - but it's a powerful one in many other respects. Zbanic eventually answers the question framed by her own title with a rare moral clarity and force. Where were the Balkans headed circa 1995? Towards outrage, carnage, infamy; towards images that require no translation whatsoever.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is available to stream from today via Curzon Home Cinema.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Outbreak: "76 Days"

Almost exactly one year ago to the day - January 23, 2020 - Wuhan was locked down by Chinese authorities investigating the outbreak of a mysterious new respiratory disease spreading rapidly through the city's population. A small crew of filmmakers - led by Hao Wu, Weixi Chan and an anonymous third party - had, depending on your outlook, either the colossal or lousy fortune to be training their cameras on ICU staff at four of the city's hospitals as the lockdown took effect, earning themselves the frontline access BBC News has only been able to secure this past week, a full ten months after the first UK lockdown. The film stitched together from this documentary rapid-response team's efforts, 76 Days, offers a jolting, up-close-and-personal account of just what happens in such environments in such times of crisis. It opens hard, with a nurse having to be physically supported by her colleagues as she learns her father has become one of the pandemic's very first victims ("I want to hear him sing again"). As the streets empty outside, the wards fill up with new patients, only some of whom will survive this first wave. In a box behind the counter of the nurses' station, the disinfected phones of the deceased vibrate with messages from loved ones that will never be heard by their intended recipients. Inevitably, some of 76 Days is upsetting in the extreme. Yet it also proves unexpectedly funny, as when the camera sporadically alights on one cranky old puffin, who makes everybody's jobs 5% more fraught by roaming the wards as though this were a regular Thursday afternoon in Wuhan. (He, too, is not invulnerable, it transpires - and you find yourself sorely wanting him to hold out beyond the end credits.) And then there is the heroism of those medics, seen taping up one another's protective suits, holding phones to the ears of those on life support, and generally going about their work under hellish pressure. "You are all charging forwards, facing enemy fire," as one patient, wisened enough to have seen actual combat, frames it. Sometimes, amid this charge, they save a life, too.

For sheer immediacy and human drama, 76 Days won't be touched this week - and perhaps not for many weeks to come. I shed more tears watching this than I have at any other point during the pandemic, which I can only attribute to the quiet restraint displayed by everybody passing into these hospitals' red zones. What's interesting from a formal perspective is that this crew achieved this cathartic effect without access to many of the usual visual cues. They obviously had to observe strict social distancing as patients were hooked up to ventilators; but we also barely see a face that isn't hooded, masked and visored up. (Those that aren't fully provoke an immediate jab of panic.) One especially vivid takehome: how loud the doctors have to talk to make themselves heard through all these layers, and it hardly helps that the majority of their critical patients are of an age where their hearing is on the wane. Just as the doctors had to work out a response to Covid, so too the filmmakers improvise their own protocols: holding back allows them to emphasise body language (medical staff slumped over chairs during a mid-shift powernap, or performing yoga stretches in the corridors to get themselves going again), while occasional close-ups register a range of poignant details. We see the tears pooling in the eyes of a pregnant woman who's just been told her husband can't be present during her C-section (given the stress-heavy times, I feel dutybound to reassure you this strand works out just fine otherwise); we see the Covid-blackened fingernails of one old dear hooked up to a vent, and are reminded of a moment when everyone was looking out for telltale symptoms. What broke this viewer, though, were the surgical gloves being inflated and redeployed by nursing staff as makeshift (but sterile) Get Well Soon balloons. Talk about going the extra mile.

The surprise to some Western viewers - and, I suspect, to Western doctors most of all, should they ever again get 93 minutes off to watch a film - will be how calm these wards become in the wake of the initial outbreak. The title refers to the total length of time Wuhan was in lockdown, a span during which these doctors and health officials - the first anywhere in the world to be confronted by Covid-19 - worked out not just how to treat this virus, but how to beat it. (As things stand, China's total death count from Covid is 4,635. In total. That's China, remember.) The patients, clearly, played their part, sanitising, masking up, and finding some correlation between saving face and saving lives. When that old geezer's son phones him to impress upon him a need to be civil to his doctors, his line of argument is: don't be a disgrace to your beloved Communist Party. Such methods would have held little sway in the individualised West, but it's notable that the filmmakers caught no sight of Covid deniers or whiny mask refuseniks. And what they do show is that certain structures were set in place to ensure China's Covid curve was properly flattened, not just given a light massage before the doors of the Wuhan Wetherspoons were thrown open once more. The city's hotel room quarantine, complete with free food delivery, looks blissful; I can't see why Brits wouldn't willingly go along with any such system. (I mean, it'd get us out of the house, which is something nowadays.) By the end of these 76 days, Wuhan was in a far healthier place than it was in January 2020; its citizens even had the luxury of unfettered mourning, something currently unthinkable in the West, given the mindboggling daily death counts and overriding public-health restrictions. (Joe Biden immediately distinguished himself from his indifferent predecessor by inserting a moment's silence for the dead into his inauguration speech: is this the start of the process whereby Western nations finally confront their loss?) You'll doubtless have seen the footage of Wuhan residents celebrating en masse over the Christmas period; going by date, it took a year for that sliver of normality to become a possibility again. Will the UK be anywhere close to that by the time we get to March? If not - and 76 Days is a film that absolutely empowers us to ask this follow-up question - why not?

76 Days will be available to stream for free tomorrow and Saturday via Curzon Home Cinema, the BFI Player and Dogwoof on Demand. Full details here.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Shots all round: "About Some Meaningless Events"

Time for some cinematic archaeology. Shot around Casablanca in 1974, About Some Meaningless Events suggests the Moroccan film industry of the Seventies was already all over a strain of self-reflexive cinema that Iranian filmmakers would only start to receive acclaim for in the Eighties and Nineties. The bulk of the activity documented here unfolds in a dockside bar, where we're invited to sit back and soak up the ambience. There is a good deal of it to soak up, all told: mumbled, sullen or outright tetchy conversations between young cineastes and other patrons, which sometimes degenerate into fisticuffs (one dockworker ominously breaches the frame clutching a stevedore's hook); vast plumes of cigarette smoke; the fashions and the abundant hair; the jazzy music, punctuated and overlaid by those phlegmy smoker's coughs that were a commonplace in 1970s watering holes. Then a voice - the voice of director Mustafa Derkaoui, a bespectacled, professorial type suggestive of a Maghreb Godard, either being or playing himself - calls cut, and the scene gets rearranged with new actors and extras. The stage is set for a commingling of reality and artifice, rubbing shoulders and sometimes rubbing one another up the wrong way in the manner of the bar's actual and planted boozehounds. When Derkaoui relocates to Casablanca's bustling thoroughfares, it's to conduct Jean Rouch-like vox pops with passers-by about the state of Moroccan cinema as it was in 1974. The general consensus is that directors need to err on the side of realism, and address those issues then facing the Moroccan public. Yet the camera keeps being drawn to a young man with a low-key, somewhat harried charisma and a prodigious afro who appears on the fringes of several conversations. Within narrow dimensions - 76 minutes, a four-by-three frame - Derkaoui opens a sketchbook and begins to outline a vision for a cinema that was then in the process of reinventing itself, that still hadn't come together yet. That kid, this camera senses, might be the missing piece, or a missing piece.

He first claims to be a teacher, though he's surely too youthful to retain much in the way of authority, and he has nothing to say about the state of Moroccan cinema. (Certainly not by comparison with his fellow citizens, drawn by the novelty of appearing on camera and arguing their corner.) He has a story, however, though it takes a while - and a renewed level of attention on director and film's part - to tease it out. Those taproom scenes are where Derkaoui starts to sketch a methodology, full of barflies getting between camera and speaker, buzzing with wasted energy - arguments, drinking, punch-ups, attempts at seduction. (The movie becomes ultra-Seventies whenever a female catches the crew's eye: you can very quickly deduce the limited place of women in this film industry at this time.) Both film and filmmaker need to tear themselves away from this dead end, compelling though it is. Around the halfway mark, Derkaoui reassembles his crew on a rooftop to talk through the implications of telling this story (Medium Cool, a previous hybrid of fiction and vérité, is cited in passing), and matters will conclude with a side-by-side conversation on a doorstep between the director and the kid. Making a movie, Derkaoui insists, is a matter of finding a subject, clearing a space for them, and then giving them your fullest attention. As a manifesto, About Some Meaningless Events retains the sensual pleasures that follow from having been shot on film and on location, but even in this restoration, it's a little rough-edged. Makhmalbaf (senior and junior) and Kiarostami would further refine Derkaoui's technique, whittling out quietly profound works of art over subsequent decades, where Derkaoui himself was laying bare his workings, showing how a film - and an industry - might keep itself honest. Did his investigations ultimately bear fruit? They were hardly permitted to: after a single screening at the 1975 Paris Film Festival, About Some Meaningless Events was suppressed by the Moroccan authorities. I'm tempted to answer that question with one Derkaoui is heard asking the man on the street in those early vox pops: when did you last see a Moroccan film? Time for the filmmaker's descendants to hit the streets again, perhaps.

About Some Meaningless Events is now streaming via MUBI.

Taps: "MLK/FBI"

Among its other accomplishments, Sam Pollard's documentary MLK/FBI forms a tremendous advert for archives and archiving. Pollard has occasioned a notable journalistic coup, in that he's got wind of the extensive surveillance activity the FBI carried out on Martin Luther King through the 1960s; the details of this have been sourced from several offices' worth of recently declassified Bureau memos. These in turn have been supplemented by an extraordinarily evocative array of photographs and newsreel taken during a particularly fraught moment in American race relations: a moment where King was viewed by some as the figurehead of the biggest civil rights movement in US history - and by the Bureau as (to quote one such memo) "the most dangerous Negro in the United States", a potential carrier of that lingering Cold War virus Communism. A hefty part of that fear was simple racism: as several of these documents indicate, there was a widespread belief on the Bureau's part that African-Americans were "more susceptible" to non-American ideas. For Reds under the beds, Hoover and his antsy G-men - nothing if not diligent in their pursuit of new boogeymen - substituted in a new threat: Blacks marching in packs. Tapes and wiretaps were therefore made in an attempt to catch something that might knock Dr. King off his lofty pedestal, and more specifically to demonstrate he may have been as untrustworthy sexually as the Bureau deemed he was politically. What's interesting about Pollard's film is how those supplementary photos and clips can't help but put King back up there, and - better - document King as he may well have been: a flesh-and-blood man at the middle of a maelstrom, yet one who came to embody hope, and to speak the words a sizeable part of the American public desperately needed to hear. If he did let his guard down or his halo slip, one concludes, it surely can't have been that often - and probably not often enough to seal any part of the Bureau's case.

However it was recorded, King's voice comes through loud and clear: Pollard draws most regularly on his subject's informal interviews (radio and talkshow spots) rather than the more familiar speeches. Yet MLK/FBI structures itself around those memos, and the Bureau's increasingly heavyhanded efforts to catch their quarry in some dubious act; it swiftly assumes the pace and contours of a thriller. (Gaps in the archive are filled by extracts from such contemporary potboilers as 1951's I Am A Communist for the FBI and 1959's The FBI Story.) Those heard narrating this story - scholars, King associates, Bureau insiders (including former director James Comey) - are kept offscreen until late on. Pollard's aim has been to stitch together as immersive a document as possible of this most turbulent of American decades, and the story doesn't need intruders from the present-day, because we soon realise all this archive functions as both a record and a mirror. The paranoia fostered around MLK reflects that right-wing sources have fostered around the Black Lives Matter movement; the vox pops with citizens linking King to events beyond his control sound no less familiar. (You realise the Bureau wouldn't have had to dig up much to discredit King in the eyes of the American majority.) For his part, Pollard remains tactful - from a journalistic perspective, you'd say responsible - about the detail contained in some of the Bureau's memos, and he has to be: if the past few weeks, months and years have underlined anything, they've underlined the dangers of pumping scurrilous, imprecise information into the public domain. I suspect some viewers will want more on the potential bombshell the film drops - and begins to address - in its closing moments. As an end credit teases, we're now waiting for the release of classified tapes in 2027; to some degree, the memos are but preamble. But as any archivist would tell you, patience is a virtue; indeed, one reason to enter the archives in the first place is to distance yourself from - in actively disproving - all that is speculative and groundless.

MLK/FBI is now streaming via Prime Video, Curzon Home Cinema, the BFI Player and Dogwoof on Demand.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Express delivery: "Baby Done"

Maybe a romcom can cheer us up. Billed as "a Curtis and Sophie film" - the writer's Sophie Henderson, the director Curtis Vowell - with a prominent exec-producer credit for Taika Waititi, this week's Baby Done offers a breezy Kiwi variant on the accidental-pregnancy trope underpinning Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, to name the most prominent recent example. Rose Matafeo (runner-up, Taskmaster Series Nine) and Matthew Lewis (erstwhile Neville Longbottom) play Zoe and Tim, an unmarried but cohabiting pair of thirtysomething tree surgeons who self-identify as "a wild and crazy couple", and delight in the kind of devil-may-care activity they believe is beyond the reach of their (to their eyes, boringly) domesticated contemporaries. Choice example: as we join them, Zoe is making great strides through the field of competitive tree-climbing. She will be brought to earth - temporarily, at least - by the surprise news she receives upon a routine clinic visit, a development that in the short term cuts short her plans for a couples bungee jump. What Vowell and Henderson - Curtis and Sophie, if we must - are really interested in, however, are the longer-term effects of this news on the pair's personal and working relationship. Whether or not these two actually want a kid - and thus the thorny matter of whether or not the film will dare to invoke the A-word - seems less important in the scheme of things than the effect a kid would have on their lifestyle. As Zoe, by far the least conservative and least enthusiastic of the central couple, frames it: "I just don't want us to turn into dicks."

Thus does Baby Done present as somehow even more frivolous in its examination of unplanned parenthood than Knocked Up was before it; the moral of this story - surely borne out by someone's lived experience - is that some folk stumble into pregnancy, muddle through, and come out of it all fine; that, whatever choices you ultimately make, it really isn't and shouldn't be that big a deal. (Double-bill it with Pieces of a Woman for bonus shits-and-giggles.) Henderson's script has two solid, sustaining structuring gags. One is that adorable dork Zoe refuses to take any of this seriously: she doesn't even know when she fell pregnant, which leads to a nasty shock during an ultrasound appointment, and a frantic rearranging of plans. The other is that these are two people who can't for the life of them sit still. Early on, we find Zoe and Tim setting down lifeplans on paper, but they're sitting in a cable car as they're doing it; their inevitable turn-of-Act-Three bust-up takes place on a clifftop, and precipitates one of the best sight gags here, involving the couple's dog. Vowell has an eye for such casually amusing set-ups: witness a newly swollen Zoe attempting to slide out from beneath a locked cubicle door, or embarking on a plaster-of-Paris-covered walk of shame. (He and Henderson save the best of these sight gags for the delivery room.) As is customary, the laughrate takes a slight hit as the film lets down the landing gear required to get this child out into the hands of loving, responsible parents. Yet Vowell retains the services of funny supporting players - his own crack squad of comedy midwives - and there's something admirable in the way this getting of wisdom involves no greater strain than, say, that required to pick up a free cake sample outside a coffee shop, back when such things were a possibility. Maintaining such lightness of touch is a skill; the resultant film should prove a tonic wherever you are in your lifecycle.

Baby Done will be available to rent from Friday.

Monday 18 January 2021

Men and motors: "Archive"

Archive is a movie only a born tinkerer could make, bolted together as it has been from scraps and offcuts of more immediately prominent SF movies. Nothing has been reinvented in this process, exactly, but it runs enough current across its circuit boards to get up and running, and generates enough juice to keep itself going where several not dissimilar, higher-profile projects have gone haywire or packed up altogether. The tinkerer-in-chief is Gavin Rothery, previously a VFX supervisor on Duncan Jones's Moon, and he's emerged from his shed with a riff on the lonely-spaceman subgenre. Theo James, bedecked with specs (ergo: brainy) and stubble (ergo: hunky, mind), is George, an engineer found circling a modernist retreat in the snowy forests of future-Japan, where he's been dispatched by his employers to develop a response to a background security crisis. He has assistance in this task, in the form of two robot helpers who resemble, respectively, one of the Silent Running droids and Kryten from Red Dwarf; in a throwback touch that immediately endeared Archive to this viewer, these are played by performers in robot outfits. Yet George is distracted by an ongoing pet project: constructing a sleek, A.I.-enabled android as a repository for the spirit of his wife Jules (Stacy Martin), with whom he shares increasingly distant videocalls. As we join him, he's halfway there, with the android suspended, as yet legless, from a ceiling-mounted harness. Archive is almost too slick and wipe-clean to acknowledge the fact - in the Before Times, we'd have described it as "multiplex-ready" - but it is, on some essential level, a film about a dude building himself a sex robot.

Rothery, thankfully, has grander designs - including, perhaps, building himself a lasting career in high-end sci-fi. As a debut feature, Archive amply demonstrates its maker's ability to take a modest budget (although picked up by Universal for release, it was shot independently, in the forests of Hungary) and ensure every penny is on screen, put towards the creation of a convincingly busy universe. And there's a lot going on here; Rothery's best decision was to give himself the space he needs to dissect his own ideas. He works hard early on to suggest that George's computer-controlled fortress - a forward projection of Bluebeard's castle, or Du Maurier's Manderlay - has rooms and wings beyond those communal areas the camera initially scans. Occasional forays into the protagonist's headspace, meanwhile, indicate that George - whose light facial scarring isn't explained for some while - has hidden, either untapped or suppressed memories; some of these result in passing nightmares while we wait for the film's masterplan to be revealed. As if all that wasn't enough, on a ground level, those lumbering robo-prototypes, on which our protagonist once lavished such care and attention, are becoming jealous of their high-definition, far more sculpted, thoroughly aerodynamic "sister". As with much of the best SF, its core lies within earthly reach: we're watching a story about a man struggling to manage his relationships, and coming to realise the damage that follows from putting women into boxes.

Once he's established this stronghold, and its chief resident's psyche, as having weakspots, Rothery submits them to a sustained probing of his own - another process, and one that could have seemed inelegant, were it not for the assured pace of the storytelling, and the visual polish being applied at every stage. (Rothery also served an apprenticeship in various art departments; it shows.) Laurie Rose, one of our finest cinematographers (Sightseers, London Spy, Summerland), lends the exteriors a wintry beauty commensurate with the chill of a cautionary tale, and he and Rothery make the robotics - whether analogue, CG or acted - a source of genuine fascination. (To some extent, they've fashioned an entire movie out of the opening sequence of Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin, a crashlanded UFO of a film that still seems as dense with ideas and ripe for reappropriation as it did on first release.) What's crucial to its success is the balance Rothery strikes between the organic and the man-made; I whisper this quietly, given the prevailing critical orthodoxy, but I felt he did a far better job of that than Alex Garland did in the course of 2014's thematically adjacent Ex Machina. Between the gadgetry here, there lurks such eminent human interest as a flashback that develops from the sight of the flesh-and-blood Martin devouring a doughnut, and you'll be able to see for yourself why that might linger long in anybody's memory. (Especially once you realise where that scene is heading.) As Rothery correctly realises, those grace notes would take a lifetime of tinkering to replicate.

Archive is now available to rent via Prime Video.

On demand: "Pieces of a Woman"

If you've heard one thing by now about Pieces of a Woman, the Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó's English-language debut, it's that the film's opening half-hour hangs heavy over everything that follows. Here is the streaming era's Saving Private Ryan. Unto the breach, then: in a well-furnished apartment in Boston, a young couple watch powerlessly as their carefully scheduled home-birthing arrangements go incrementally awry. It seems ominous, for starters, that the male half of the couple, Sean, should be embodied by a typically bristling Shia LaBeouf; we sense there's only so much comfort and reassurance he can provide to partner Martha (Vanessa Kirby). With their chosen midwife overseeing a difficult labour elsewhere - though surely it wouldn't be this complicated - the pair have been assigned a back-up, Eva (Molly Parker), who appears nurturing and attentive. But - and this is a big but - Eva seems just a fraction too surprised by every development: the accelerating speed of the contractions, the drops of blood Martha leaves behind when she exits the bathtub, the child's ghostly heartbeats, the way the newborn comes out pink but rapidly - dismayingly - turns blue. It's a girl; and thereafter, alas, everybody must revert to the past tense. By the time the title appears on screen at the end of this long, unbroken sequence, formalising the rupture of a life, a heart and a relationship, Mundruczó and his regular screenwriter Kata Wéber have shown exactly why they call it labour. Set against this, reclaiming a heavily fortified beach from the Nazis seems almost a walk in the park. They've also delineated the kind of worst case scenario that should make for great, piercing drama. What if all that labour was finally fruitless?

That question is at once weighty, delicate and tragically common, and I'm not so sure the film comes up with worthy (or even especially convincing) responses. Its remaining ninety minutes are given over to the picking-up of pieces, laid out month by month, carrying us and the characters from the greyest and iciest of winters into the renewal of spring. (And already, you may sense one of the problems here: the symbolism is too obvious. Everything's upfront.) The set-up is fraught with dramatic possibilities: a localised fraying of nerves, leaving everybody bruised and hypersensitive, and Martha in particular unable to turn into a shop or street containing children without wanting to flee in the opposite direction. That feels truthful. But more broadly Pieces needed actors capable of transmitting and amplifying this dreadful lived experience, and instead it runs into an ongoing issue within the contemporary American cinema: it's stuck with a generation of performers who've barely known sacrifice or loss, and thus have very little to draw upon when it comes to recreating those conditions for the purposes of drama. We're watching adult material that's been handed over to kids. For much of Pieces, I found myself wondering whether said material would have found more persuasive expression closer to the filmmakers' own homeland. Maybe it wouldn't, maybe it'd just make it less sexy and saleable - Netflix snapped up this version after it premiered at last year's Venice festival - but a lined and lived-in Eastern European face or two might equally have given the film a gravity this glossier endeavour struck me as sorely lacking in.

Kirby - the movie's big awards hope - is capable enough, but she's acting through a daze for much of the film, and landed with some Heavily Symbolic Business involving apples that is only there to seed an eye-rollingly corny final image. (I put it to those colleagues who've mitigated that this image is the only element that detracts from an overall dramatic severity: nope, it's integral to the design.) LaBeouf, meanwhile, confirms himself as among the most erratic performers currently working; no-one, not even an acclaimed arthouse director, can snap him out of his bullshit. He was very good last year playing different varieties of gruff asshole in The Peanut Butter Falcon and Honey Boy; here, he takes a character surely written as a loving man buffeted by misfortune, and plays him as... another gruff asshole. Oddly - and this is a sign of a film with no idea where its own strengths lie - Pieces picks up dramatically once the central relationship is sundered forever, and Mundruczó and Wéber set out to resolve the matter of Parker's midwife, accused of criminal negligence: here, at least, the vague naturalism takes some form, albeit the hackneyed form of the courtroom drama. In the meantime, all that's left on screen are gestures towards profundity, rather than profundity itself: keeping the cameras rolling during an unhappy attempt at make-up sex, and a family dinner to which Sean's mistress (Sarah Snook) just happens to have been invited, getting Ellen Burstyn (as Martha's mother) agitated enough to throw in a Holocaust reference that comes out of nowhere and leads to nothing. In all these cases, the refusal to call cut doesn't generate depth; it merely confirms the film's strange inability to cut deep. (It's as though it stunned itself with that prologue.) Mundruczó and Wéber glide over the surface of an unhappy situation; what Pieces of a Woman finally suggests is Cassavetes redone as affectless content.

Pieces of a Woman is now streaming on Netflix.

Friday 15 January 2021

For what it's worth...

My top ten streaming picks (for the week beginning January 15, 2021):

1. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (uncertificated) ***** (Curzon)
2 (new) Archive (15) **** (Prime Video)
3 (new) Dear Comrades (12A) **** (Curzon)
4. Un Film Dramatique (uncertificated) **** (MUBI)
5. David Byrne's American Utopia (12A) **** (Prime Video)
6. Cold Meridian (uncertificated) **** (MUBI)
7 (new) About Some Meaningless Events (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
8 (new) MLK/FBI (12) *** (Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player, Dogwoof on Demand)
9. Ham on Rye (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)
10. The Basilisks (uncertificated) *** (MUBI)

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (2) The New Mutants (15)
2 (1) Tenet (12) **
3 (new) Bill & Ted Face the Music (PG)
4 (3Roald Dahl's The Witches (PG)
5 (14) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (12)
6 (5) Spider-Man: Far from Home (12) ***
7 (6) Bad Boys for Life (15) ***
8 (7) Little Women (U) ****
9 (9) Jumanji: The Next Level (PG)
10 (35) The Greatest Showman (PG)

My top five: 
1. Shirley

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. All the President's Men [above] (Sunday, BBC1, 12.05am)
2. True Lies (Saturday, C4, 11.20pm)
3. Foxcatcher (Saturday, BBC1, 12.30am)
4. A Hard Day's Night (Saturday, BBC2, 2.05am)
5. 99 Homes (Saturday, BBC2, 10.20pm)