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Holy Spider (Ankabut-e Moqaddas, عنکبوت مقدس)

Director – Ali Abassi – 2022 – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany – Cert. 18 – 116m

*****

An Iranian lady crime journalist poses as a prostitute in an attempt to uncover the identity of a serial killer justifying his killing spree in the name of Islam – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 20th and on MUBI from Friday, March 10th

2000. The Holy City of Mashhad, Iran. Leaving her small daughter at home, a woman goes out into the night. She changes into high heels in a lavatory then goes onto the streets to ply her trade as a prostitute. She tells a streetcrawler to “fuck off”. In any encounter with male sexuality, violence is never far away; in a frenzied coupling in an apartment littered with the awards of a successful entrepreneur, a client tells her, “I’m going to tear your pussy apart.”

Another man refuses to pay more than half for a blow job when police are seen near the car in which she’s performing the service, preventing him from climaxing. A further man asks her onto his bike, but later in the stairwell to his apartment she thinks she may have made a mistake and tries to excuse herself.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Holy Spider

In God’s name

Holy Spider
Directed by Ali Abassi
Certificate 18, 116 minutes
Released 20 January (UK cinemas), 10 March (MUBI)

The year 2000. The Holy City of Mashhad, Iran. Prostitutes are being targeted by a killer who is justifying his crimes with Islamic rhetoric. With the notable exception of her editor Sahrifi (Arash Ashtiani), the journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) investigating the case encounters sexism wherever she goes, and it’s hard not to draw parallels between these everyday attitudes of men towards most women and the atrocities being inflicted on a small number of them on the social margins.

A number of the killings are shown, in unpleasant detail, and are difficult to watch. (This film is an 18 for a reason.) [Read the full review at Reform magazine…]

[Read my longer review on this site…]

Holy Spider is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 20th and on MUBI from Friday, March 10th.

Trailer:

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more, excluding re-releases) 2022

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2022, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/22 and 31/12/22. Prior to 2020, I’d never included online releases (well, maybe the odd one or two as a special case) but that year saw the film distribution business turned upside down by COVID-19. The movie business is still changing, and the dust hasn’t yet settled.

This version excludes re-releases (Psycho, Paris, Texas and Pickpocket, not to mention the first six Bond movies, would top everything here). It has been an amazing year for re-releases including one or two incredible, old movies being released in the UK for the first time on Blu-ray. This is the year I get to rank all 25 Eon Bond movies, and why not? A link to that longer list will be added here in due course.

In addition to re-releases, this version also excludes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2022.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

No Bears (Khers Nist)

Director – Jafar Panahi – 2022 – Iran – Cert. 12a – 106m

*****

An Iranian film director banned from leaving his country rents a house close to the border with Turkey, in which country he is remotely directing a film – out in UK cinemas on Friday, November 11th following its screening in the BFI London Film Festival 2022

In a busy, metropolitian street somewhere in Iran, woman restaurateur Zara (Mina Kavani) is greeted by her partner Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei), who has secured a fake passport for her. She has only three days to use it before the passport, stolen from a tourist, is stopped. But she doesn’t want to travel outside the country without him: he is the only thing that makes her life bearable.

Then we realise we are watching a movie shoot not in Iran but in neighbouring Turkey. The director is Jafar Panahi (playing himself) and he is not allowed out of Iran, so he is renting a room in an Iranian village not far from the Turkish border and watching the shoot remotely via his computer. He’s been assured that the local internet reception is good, but it isn’t and keeps cutting out, making his job all but impossible, although his first assistant director, cast and crew are doing a good job of getting the shots in the can even when they don’t hear from him.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

No Bears (Khers Nist)

A repressive Islamist regime

No Bears
Directed by Jafar Panahi
Certificate 12a, 106 minutes
Released 11 November

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi (whose son Panar made the excellent road movie Hit the Road) has been in trouble with the country’s repressive Islamist regime for some time and earlier this year was given six years in prison. The campaign to #freejafarpanahi is worth our support, and this release is timely considering what is happening in Iran now.

In No Bears, Jafar plays a fictionalised version of himself, a film director not allowed to leave Iran… [read the full review at Reform magazine]

Read my alternative, longer review here.

No Bears is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, November 11th following its screening in the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

#freejafarpanahi

Trailer:

LFF 2022 Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Hit The Road (Jaddeh Khaki)

Director – Panah Panahi – 2021 – Iran – Cert. 12a – 93m

****

Four in a car. An Iranian family drive across Iran towards the Turkish border, for reasons that will only later become clear – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

A family of four – dad (Hassan Madjooni), mum (Pantea Panahiha), elder son (Amin Simiar), younger son (Rayan Sarlak) plus family dog Jessy – are driving across Iran towards the Turkish border. Actually, when we first meet them, they’ve stopped at a lay-by. That opening, combined with the title, doesn’t leave you in much doubt that this is going to be a road movie. We take an instant shining to the younger son, an irrepressible six-year-old who plays air piano on the keyboard drawn on the plaster cast around his sleeping father’s leg.

A bit of a rogue, this one: mum and dad have left their mobile phones at home as instructed, but six has brought his with him (he denies it, but the ringtone is a giveaway: it turns out he’s hidden it in his underwear and we should probably be thankful the director didn’t make this film in Odorama). Mum takes the phone away and buries it, but later on in the journey, he’s trying to buy another one.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Story Of Looking

Director – Mark Cousins – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 87m

****

A highly personal film essay on the importance and significance of our visual senses – out in cinemas and on rental on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 17th

This opens with archive interview footage of musician Ray Charles, blind since losing his sight in childhood, asked about whether he’d like to have sight back. He says no – he’s already seen the things he needs to see and can picture them – the stars, his mother. And when he hears the news, there are a lot of things he frankly is glad he can’t see, and feels sorry for all the people who can. Pushed as to whether he’d like to be able to see for just one day, he’d less sure, responding with a guarded “maybe”.

This footage appears to be a touchstone for film-maker Cousins, who constantly refers back to it in this film essay. Another pertinent, recurring image is a man standing on a row of chimney pots. If we could see through his eyes, what would we see?

Cousins has spent a life looking at things, firstly as a human being with a visual leaning, then later on professionally as a film maker.… Read the rest

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Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 美女と液体人間) and Battle In Outer Space (Uchu Daisenso, 宇宙大戦争)

The H Man

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1958 – Japan – Cert. X – 86m

Battle in Outer Space

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1959 – Japan – Cert. U – 90m

Alongside the standalone release of Mothra (1961) comes a double bill of two more Toho science fiction movies directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya: , The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959). The Toho studio is associated more with monster movies than any other genre, notably Godzilla (1954) and Mothra. The superior entries in this cycle tend to be the ones they directed, including the initial 1954 film which ticked all the right boxes to prove a massive success.

When no-one at Toho was quite sure what had made Godzilla work, the pair collaborated on a number of different SF films before everything came together on Mothra. The H Man is a monster film dressed up in gangster trappings while Battle in Outer Space is an epic with space stations, flying saucers, rocket ships, an alien moon base and alien mind control… [read more]

Over at All The Anime, I review Eureka!’s Ishiro Honda double bill Blu-ray.

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Coup 53

Director – Taghi Amirani – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 120m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 21st

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. Film available to view at https://coup53.com/

A documentary begun in 2009 interviewing many people who died before the film’s completion some ten years later, this covers the 1953 coup in Iran backed by President Eisenhower in the US and Prime Minister Churchill in the UK which replaced Iran’s democratically elected, left-wing Prime Minister Mossadegh with the Shah. The UK has never officially acknowledged its role in this coup.

Amirani’s researches lead him to a basement of documents held by Mossadech’s grandson in Paris comprising archive material from the Granada TV 1985 End Of Empire documentary series, for which he is gets access to the rushes from the BFI. Iran was included because it had been controlled by British interests for so long (because of its oil reserves). Amirani’s editor, helping pull all this together, is the legendary Walter Murch (Gimme Shelter / 1970, The Conversation / 1974, Apocalypse Now / 1979, The English Patient / 1996).

The name which keeps coming up in Amirani’s research is that of Norman Darbyshire who reportedly asked for his interview footage to be removed from the film following a pre-transmission screening at the BBC.… Read the rest

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Ava

Director – Sadaf Foroughi – 2017 – Iran – 102m

** 1/2

Available on VoD from Friday, August 21st

Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is a schoolgirl studying music – against the wishes of her parents, particularly her straight-laced and conservative mother Bahar (Bahar Noohian) who thinks music isn’t a real job and her daughter should consider a career that pays. Bahar is a hospital doctor and her husband Vahid (Vahid Aghapoor) is a freelance architect.

By way of a prank, Ava makes a bet with her friends and classmates Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi) and Shirin (Sarah Alimoradi) that she can get a date with Nima (Houman Hoursan) who is currently dating another classmate Yasi (Mona Ghiasi). Her mother hates the fact that Ava and Melody are best friends and spend a lot of time together, not least because Melody’s mum is a single parent.

Meanwhile, Bahar recounts a difficult hospital shift where a girl was found screaming wandering at night although she can’t bring herself to use words as explicit as “pregnancy” or “abortion”. This recent experience is in the back of her mind when she discovers one Saturday that Ava is not round at Melody’s but somewhere else. (Ava is spending time with Nima and misses the bus to get back.)… Read the rest