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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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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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All Is Vanity

Director – Marcos Mereles – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 72m

*

A photographer, an intern, a model and a make-up artist unite for a photography shoot that goes horribly wrong – out in cinemas on Friday, October 14th

What went wrong, exactly,? asks the opening voice over. He’s referring to a day, a night and a day when a photographer (Sid Phoenix) with an unpaid intern (James Aroussi) in tow, a model (Isabelle Bonfrer) and a make-up artist (Rosie Steel) gather in a London studio to do a photographic fashion shoot for the All Is Vanity clothing brand. There’s a degree of tension and drama between the four. The photographer has the intern’s introductory letter on his phone and tells him he takes himself far too seriously: no-one wants to know his internal conflicts or motivation. He doesn’t have nice things to say about he model either, noting before she arrives that she can be a bit of a bitch.

It doesn’t bode well when she arrives late and holds up the shoot. The photographer likes the clothes and the décor in the studio that the brand has chosen, but doesn’t think the two work together. Something strange is going on because at one point the power goes off and the problem doesn’t appear to be blown fuses.… Read the rest

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See How They Run

Director – Tom George – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

**

A barely competent Inspector and a trainee WPC investigate a backstage murder at The Mousetrap in 1950s London’s theatreland – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

London West End, 1953. Following his involvement in a fight at a party to celebrate the hundredth performance of The Mousetrap at The Ambassadors Theatre, blacklisted Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), hired by John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) to make a film of the play, gets into fisticuffs with the play’s leading man Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) over the latter’s wife and co-star Sheila Sim (Pearl Shanda).

Later, Kopernick is murdered backstage by a mystery assailant. Perhaps it’s pertinent that Kopernick has ruffled numerous feathers in and around the production, not least foppish, English literary figure Mervyn Cocker Norris (David Oyelowo) who has been hired to write the script and despises everything Kopernick stands for, a feeling which proves in flashback to be mutual.

Thus begins a whodunit based around the world’s longest running play. The police are called in, with Commissioner Harold Scott (Tim Key) assigning alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and film buff and over-enthusiastic trainee WPC Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to the case.… Read the rest

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Nope

Director – Jordan Peele – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 130m

Overall **

The alien in the sky finale when the film finally dumps the other stuff *****

A black Muybridge model’s ranch-owning descendants and the survivor of a TV sitcom which turned into a bloodbath encounter a dangerous alien presence that attacks from the sky – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 12th

There appear to be three separate films here.

In one, a descendant of the black rider photographed in Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of a horse in motion, here historically repurposed as the first piece of moving film (which is debatable), is an old man OJ Haywood Sr. (Keith David) who dies in a bizarre accident on his ranch, where he runs a horse rental service for the motion picture business, leaving behind his children OJ (Dan Kaluuya from Judas And The Black Messiah, Shaka King, 2021; Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, 2018; Get Out, Jordan Peele, 2017) and Emerald (Keke Palmer from Lightyear, Angus MacLane, 2021; Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria, 2019). The bizarre accident may be related to the third plot. Or may not be.

In another, a wholesome family TV sitcom is shut down after its star chimpanzee goes on a rampage during the shooting of an episode, killing all members of the cast except the young boy Ricky Park (Jacob Kim) hiding under the table, who witnesses the animal being shot.… Read the rest

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Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… Read the rest

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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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The Deer King (Shika no Ou: Yuna to Yakusoku no Tabi, 鹿の王 ユナと約束の旅)

Directors – Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**

The conquerors of a foreign land succumb to a mysterious plague there – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 27th

This starts off with clearly epic intentions by throwing line after line of convoluted plot at the viewer in rapid fire, confusing intertitles. The kingdom of Aqifa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol until the Black Wolf Fever prevented Zol from entering Fire Horse Territory. Today, the Black Wolf Fever is believed a thing of the past. Okay, got that? If not, you’ll be in trouble because the narrative is all about Zolians, Aquafaese and wolves and while the images are often ravishingly beautiful to look at, visually arresting eye candy in background or character design is never enough of itself to propel the story forward.

It continues piling on plot information like this for about half an hour. To make matters worse, an insistent cod-Gaelic score is overlaid over the images much of the time, and it seems composed to draw attention to itself rather than advance the story in any way.

Aquafaese toil in a salt mine (someone happens to mention some time afterwards that the mineral being mined is salt, otherwise you wouldn’t know) under sadistic guards while in the depths wolves attack and infest the slave workers whose skin comes out in purple blotches before they die.… Read the rest

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Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Master Cheng (Mestari Cheng)

Director – Mika Kaurismäki – 2019 – Finland – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

A Chinese chef turns up at a restaurant in a remote Finnish village and impresses the locals with his cooking – charming romantic drama is out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A restaurant in a remote part of the Finnish countryside. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong from My Prince Edward, Norris Wang, 2019) and small boy Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) walk into the local restaurant where the former asks for Fongtron. The owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko) hasn’t heard of Fongtron and can’t help. He asks customers the same question, but they don’t know either. Cheng barely speaks Finnish, which scarcely helps. He doesn’t look like he’s going away, and when he asks if there’s a hotel, Sirkka points him towards a room that’s available. She attempts to feed the pair before closing up, but the mobile phone-obsessed Niu Niu won’t touch her Finnish sausage and mash.

And he’s not the only one: When a day or so later, a coachload of Chinese tourists turn up, they’re not very interested either. Cheng, sitting at a table, immediately springs to Sirkka’s aid and parleys with the Chinese.… Read the rest