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Living

Director – Oliver Hermanus – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 102m

*****

Diagnosed with stomach cancer and given only months to live, a bureaucrat searches for something – anything – to give purpose to his hitherto meaningless life in this remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiruout in UK cinemas on Friday, November 4th following its screenings in the BFI London Film Festival 2022, while Ikiru is on BFI Player subscription

For anyone who has had the privilege of seeing Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) it is a very strange thing to watch this remake of it. On the one hand, it is exactly the same film. It has the same plot. On the other, it is completely different. Both are set in the 1950s, the original in Japan and the new one in London.

At this point, I have to say that this remake sounded to me (until I’d seen it) like a very bad idea. Cinema is littered with great films that have been remade as shadows of their former selves. Generally speaking, most ideas like this are better left well alone. To make matters worse, this is a case of an established novelist writing a screenplay: producers love this because they see a bestselling author as having a reliable track record but, in fact, the skills required for writing a novel and a movie are very different indeed.… Read the rest

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Mother Night

Director – Keith Gordon – 1996 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

*****

In this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a former Nazi propagandist awaits trial in Israel for war crimes – retail VHS review from Home Entertainment, 1997

From his Israeli prison cell where he must compose his memoirs while awaiting trial for his war crimes in black and white, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte in a career-defining performance) recalls in colour flashback his rise to fame in wartime Berlin as a radio propaganda writer / broadcaster for the Third Reich, surviving that regime’s madness by devoting himself to actress wife Helga (Sheryl Lee) and their self-contained Nation Of Two.

Recruited from a park as an undercover American spy by raincoat‑wearing American top brass John Goodman (a small part, but likewise impressive), Campbell has to incorporate coded messages to the Allies in his broadcasts. In 1944, Helga dies. After the War, Campbell winds up alone in a seedy New York apartment where neighbours include fellow widower Alan Arkin and Auschwitz survivor‑turned‑doctor Ayre Gross.

When admiring right wing activists arrive at Campbell’s door, the tale (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) lurches even further into surrealism. Gordon’s direction is flawless throughout.… Read the rest

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Vortex

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 – 142m

*****

An elderly man struggles to care for his ailing wife who has dementia – out in cinemas on Friday, May 13th

Discounting the lengthy titles detailing among other things the various film clips and images used, this throws us a series of images in a pillarboxed 4:3 format with curved corners at the edges (suggesting a projected slide show or physical, analogue photographs mounted in an album) then the young Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose” loads irony into the proceedings: the rose is fresh and speaks to us of love, the singer young and yet to be ravaged by the passage of time. (It’s not mentioned here, but last year, Hardy announced she could no longer sing as a result of cancer treatments, which lends the video a certain poignancy today – even more so in the context of this film.)

Then the man we’ll call the father (Dario Argento, director of such Italian gialli as Suspiria, 1977; Tenebrae, 1982) waves through windows across a courtyard at the woman we’ll call the mother (Françoise Lebrun from The Mother And The Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973) and they meet up for a glass of wine on their balcony.… Read the rest

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Operation Mincemeat

Director – John Madden – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

*****

The British WW2 deception involving a corpse and fake documents to make Germany think the Allies are landing in Greece rather than Sicily – out in cinemas on Friday, April 15th

At the height of World War II, the Allies plan a mass landing at Sicily. They want the Germans to think it’s going to happen in Greece to reduce Allied casualties. In a Whitehall Admiralty basement operates the Twenty Committee, so-called after its initials XX (or double-cross) and its work managing double or triple agents (this work of the committee isn’t really alluded to in the film although a British triple agent appears later on and plays a fairly important part in the plot, which will include some racy if subtly understated physical sexual activity). On the floors above are top brass Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) and his assistant Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), the latter devouring novels and constantly bashing out prose on his typewriter in every spare moment.

The office in the basement itself is run with a rod of iron by the fearsome Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) while the Committee’s top man is Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a former Old Bailey lawyer whose friends believe to be in charge of naval supplies.… Read the rest

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Shirley

Director – Josephine Decker – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 107m

****

Notorious author Shirley Jackson and her professor husband are seen through the eyes of a young couple invited to stay in their house – in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, October 30th

The real life Shirley Jackson was an author who wrote fiction. She’s known to cinemagoers for the book The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) that was filmed twice for the movies as The Haunting, once brilliantly (Robert Wise, 1963) and once killed dead by an overabundance of gratuitous special effects (Jan de Bont, 1999) and more recently was turned into a Netflix TV series (Mike Flanagan, 2018). That book may not be mentioned here, but the piece of her writing that does get a mention is The Lottery, her notorious short story which appeared in 1948 in The New Yorker Magazine, where she published much of her fiction.

This new film adapts Susan Scarf Merrell’s comparatively recent, fictional book Shirley: A Novel (2016) in which she examines Shirley Jackson and her academic professor husband Stanley Edgar Hyman through the eyes of a young, pregnant woman who moves into their household along with her husband who is hoping to secure an assistant literature professor’s post at the local college in Bennington, Vermont under Stanley.… Read the rest