Fascinating docu-blend telling the story of late playwright Andrea Dunbar, who lived in a low-income neighborhood. We also see scenes from her plays being performed in the park of this neighborhood in present day. And increasingly the story becomes about Dunbar’s daughter Lorraine, who appears to be following in her mom’s footsteps of hopeless addiction. And all this (except the outdoor performances) is told through actors lipsyncing the words of the real people. Beautifully staged and totally unique movie, though Katy got depressed by the death and drugs and abuse.

Lorraine and Lisa inside a childhood memory:

S. Tobias:

Though the synching is remarkably close to unnoticeable, the style takes some getting used to, mainly because The Arbor isn’t dramatized like films with actors generally are. The scenes are more like eerie tableaux where the “characters” tell their stories straight to the camera, wandering the haunted backdrop of Bradford’s Buttershaw Estate and other settings. This ingenious conceit, borrowed from Robin Soans’ 2000 play on Dunbar, called A State Affair, solves the longstanding problem of documentaries penned in by static talking heads.

N. Rapold in Film Comment:

What’s disorienting are the muted tones of the interviews, which were obviously not originally spoken with the intonation of a dramatic performance. This lends a curious low affect to the recounting of extraordinary incidents, and this disjunction, as well as Barnard’s hyper-immaculate RED photography, are a characteristic of other recent film work by artists such as Steve McQueen and Miranda July. As Lorraine becomes the central focus in the second half of the film, her matter-of-fact, downcast delivery becomes a drumbeat anticipating her inevitable downfall.

A long, complicated movie – Criterion summary:

The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, it is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence.

Blimp in WWI with John Laurie:

I wrote in 2006: “Oops, I thought this was a comedy. I’d somehow convinced myself that Powell makes comedies and I’m never right.”

At the beginning, the movie seems to be about fiery young soldier Spud, then he disappears for 2.5 hours while Candy goes into a “when I was your age” story. This threw me off the first time I saw the movie, as did Deborah Kerr’s various roles. Throwing me this time: Roger Livesey, handsome romantic lead of I Know Where I’m Going, so convincing as a blowhard old man.

Not covered by the summary above: Candy’s lifelong friendship with German soldier Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Candy provokes an international incident in the early 1900’s (during the Boer War) and gets himself into a duel with Theo, then they recover together, both in love with Deborah Kerr #1, who marries Theo. In WWI, Candy meets Deborah #2, a nurse, and marries her. And in WWII, Theo has moved to England and Deborah #3 is dating young Spud, is a favorite assistant of Candy’s for obvious reasons.

Deborah Kerr thinks highly of me:

No character in the film is named Col. Blimp – he was a political cartoon character, a blustery old officer who proclaims his dated ideas in a Turkish bath, the WWII version of Candy. The movie’s a bit long and rambling, but a total pleasure to watch, with color cinematography that is beyond excellent. One of my very favorites.

Duelist Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff:

Powell sounds soooo tired on the commentary.
On Kerr: “I got enthusiastic about her hats.”

Scorsese is more fun. I like when he appreciates the visual design while also saying that you don’t have to care about this stuff if you don’t want to:

Look at the use of red in the menus … These are things I kind of enjoy. I don’t say that as you’re watching the film you should be pointing out where the red is. I think you should just look at the movie and enjoy it, hopefully, and probably you shouldn’t be even listening to this narration, you should be watching the film.

The Village (1993, Mark Baker)

Fun story with a fairly minimal drawing style. Small town is hateful and suspicious of each other until they have something to unite around: imprisoning and hanging their falsely-accused neighbor. After a rooftop fight, he manages to escape into the woods with his lover. I dig the decorative swarm of ants who end up complicating the plot. This won a pile of awards, also oscar-nominated against winner The Wrong Trousers.


His Comedy (1994, Paul Bush)

More an art piece than a short story – the poetic voiceover does nothing for me, and I couldn’t make out any sort of narrative. Maybe something religious or mythological? Ah, it’s all Dante quotes, as I should’ve known from the title. Cool looking, though – everything composed of wavy lines, with some parts (motion of bird flocks, fire, bombings) that appear rotoscoped. I liked Bush’s later, twitchy Episodes from the Life of Jekyll and Hyde.


Dreamland Express (1982, David Anderson)

Sleepwalker finds a train in the woods and takes it for a ride. All manner of wonderous imagery ensues. One of those animations that reminds you how limited and straightforward most animations are. Glad I didn’t skip this after realizing it’s by the same guy who made Deadsy. Won a Bafta (interesting thing that year: Burden of Dreams won an award; Fitzcarraldo was nominated but lost).

Cafe Bar (1974, Alison De Vere)

Imaginative – couple sitting at a cafe table create and remove disguises, fight dinosaurs and minotaurs, turn into The Red Baron, trek across each other’s heads and ski down each other’s fronts. Looks like this was the first of a few essential animated films De Vere made.


Manipulation (1991, Daniel Greaves)

Covered this before in an Oscar-winning shorts roundup, but rewatching with much nicer picture quality. Generic dude is drawn by animator then discarded, but the dude becomes sentient, plays with drops of ink, worries about his 2D nature. Animator torments the dude for a while until he explodes with rage, becoming freed from his paper prison. It’s fully wonderful. Looks like Greaves put out a new short, Mr. Plastimime, since last time I watched this, playing last year’s Edinburgh fest.


Little Wolf (1992, An Vrombaut)

The littlest wolf in a sheep-hunting wolf parade gets himself stuck on the moon. The others try to get him down while the sheep interferes. I especially liked the “doyyng-doyyng” sound effects. The director is Belgian, has lately been making animated kids’ TV series. According to her website, she likes giraffes very much.


Oozat (1992, Darren Walsh)

I love stop-motion with human actors. Here they’ve got replaceable facemasks with different expressions. Dude meets some guys, drinks with them at the pub, shows a different face to the lady sitting next to him, eventually mixing up his faces. I think Walsh is the creator of Angry Kid, the red-haired Aardman stop-motion hooligan I used to see… somewhere. MTV? Cartoon Network? And he worked on a Black Mirror episode I haven’t watched yet.


Deadsy (1990, David Anderson)

I think Deadsy was a disturbed young man who became a rock star then a transsexual, his story told through beat-poem narration and a mishmash of animation techniques. Not my favorite. Writer/narrator Russell Hoban was a prolific sci-fi and childrens book author… not sure what happened to Anderson.


The Sandman (1991, Paul Berry)

Timburtonian stop-motion. Kid goes to bed and a moon-faced birdman stalks into his room and steals his eyeballs to feed to baby birdmen. Cool and creepy. Based on a tale of Hoffmann. You wouldn’t think this story had been adapted for film ten times, but according to IMDB you would be wrong. Oscar-nominated the year Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won. Unsurprisingly, Berry was later an animator on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

An unusual affair/despair story in that it felt less judgemental of the married woman than most of these. I suppose you could double-feature it with Carol, another beautifully-shot, woman-led affair/despair period drama made by a gay man.

Rachel Weisz is married to rich, older lawyer Simon Beale (of Orlando), is at the end of a formerly-passionate affair with Beale’s club buddy Loki, a hot young pilot who can’t handle settling down now that the action has ended. Rachel contemplates suicide by train and by gas, gets reluctant acceptance by her patient husband, doesn’t actually kill herself (though playwright Terence Rattigan based the story on his lover’s suicide).

Adam Cook:

Although Davies cleverly blends timelines and uses novel scene transitions the film is still, by and large, dogged by the static nature of its source material … The performances, particularly from a never better Rachel Weisz, are all magnificent. They manage to be both heightened and restrained, something only Davies manages to achieve in his work.

Shot by Florian Hoffmeister (Mortdecai, The Prisoner remake). The play has been filmed a few times before. A 1990’s version with Penelope Wilton, Colin Firth and Ian Holm sounds promising. Vivien Leigh starred in a 1950’s Anatole Litvak film. And a strange 1999 version has Samuel L. Jackson getting eaten by a shark.

It says a lot about the tone of your movie when Burial is your theme music – beautiful but fragmented vocals overlaid on a sprawling, complicated song structure. The original song even opens with the dialogue “excuse me, I’m lost.”

I learned a new word: Wahhabism. Movie gives a history lesson on Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, then leads into the present debacle, which seems even more hopeless after watching this. Combo of staged material with rough outtakes from news footage and who knows what else. Afghanistan is compared to the planet Solaris. None of our leaders are any good at leading. Everyone is hugely corrupt.

The movie goes for long stretches without voiceover or titles – a new approach for Curtis – though not as long as the Bitter Lake trailer would suggest.

Worst part: Afghani government officials are super corrupt. Local police force become evil militias, suppressing the people. British troops don’t know this, arrive in town offering to help the local police. Townspeople say oh great, more oppression, and attack British troops, who assume they’re Taliban and bomb the shit out of them. Eventually, fighting factions realize British troops think anyone hostile to them is Taliban, start telling the Brits that people they dislike are Taliban, basically using the Brits as hit men.

The woman Julia Roberts played in Charlie Wilson’s War:

Or Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead, or The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue – all good titles, but I’m going with the name on the Anchor Bay box that used to stare at me from the shelves, unenticing with its generic cover art. Turns out it’s quite a good zombie movie, tense and well-photographed. It’s just like Night of the Living Dead but with a couple extra locations (incl. Manchester Morgue), but the hidden social message in this one is that cops are just the worst. They’re bad at their jobs, abusive, intolerant, and finally cold-blooded murderers.

Zombie Prime:

They stay at The Owl Hotel. Pet owl:

Shaky start as George (Ray Lovelock of Queens of Evil and Oh, Grandmother’s Dead) meets Edna (Cristina Galbo of The House That Screamed and The School That Couldn’t Scream) when she runs over his motorcycle, then they squabble over where she’s going to drive them. Good enough dubbing, better than any Italian movie. But these two aren’t very exciting. Fortunately, they agree to visit her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre of Jesus Franco’s Dracula) and Katie’s husband Martin (Jose Lifante, a desk clerk in Dagon), who hate each other and live near the field where some jerk scientists are pumping radiation into the ground to keep pests away from crops, which also turns babies and the recently-deceased into violent killers.

Martin’s hobby is taking photographs of his naked, afraid, drugged-out wife and hanging them around the house:

Our heroes, trapped in the morgue with the only decent cop, PC Craig:

Martin is crushed to death by a wandering zombie, and enter Sgt. Aldo Massasso (of The Suspicious Death of a Minor), who immediately blames the wife because she’s a heroin addict and has her locked up in hospital. The movie’s zombie mythology gets weird, as we’re told zombies can’t be photographed, and “they transmit life to each other through the blood of the living.” Martin eventually resurrects and kills his wife, but the movie is mostly focused on biker George’s attempts to escape zombies and tell the damned scientists to turn off their machine, and the Sarge’s attempts to arrest George and Edna, who he’s now telling everyone are satanists. In the end George is screaming towards a zombie-infested hospital in a stolen police car pursued by bigot cops to rescue the woman who wrecked his motorcycle and ruined his weekend, and I’m wondering why he bothers. Then Katie is infected and set aflame, and George is shot by the cops (have I mentioned Night of the Living Dead lately?).

Things don’t end well for PC Craig:

Nor for Edna:

Jorge Grau previously made Violent Blood Bath and The Legend of Blood Castle. Cinematographer Francisco Sempere also shot Blind Man’s Bluff and Death Will Have Your Eyes. Cowritten by Sandro Continenza (Crimes of the Black Cat, Hercules and the Captive Women) and Marcello Coscia (Virgin Killer, Tex and the Lord of the Deep).

Can’t figure out why this was made – straightforward haunted-house murder story with predictable twists, feeling at times like a remake of The Devil’s Backbone minus the evocative wartime setting. One character sees ghosts that lead her to the truth behind some murders, ghosts have similar look to the earlier film, phantom blood emanating from cracked-china holes in their translucent faces. But it’s undeniably a beautiful film, sumptuously designed with gorgeous candlelight and shadows and snowy mist, falling leaves, costumes, big creepy crumbling house, and so on. Nice iris-out effects complete the period look. Definitely good to see Guillermo returning to his gothic-horror roots – an enjoyable film to soak in, leaving me satisfied without that post-Martian malaise.

Mia Wasikowska has become a fave of scary/creepy movies (Stoker, The Double), plays a bookish New Yorker with rich dad Jim Beaver (TV’s Deadwood and Supernatural). Incestuous baron siblings Loki (Mia’s Only Lovers Left Alive costar) and Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Interstellar) are in town raising funds for their clay-excavation machine. Loki marries Mia and takes her home to England where she discovers he does this a lot, and the bodies/ghosts of his previous rich-girl wives are buried in red clay pools in the basement. Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam is Mia’s friend from home who comes to her rescue. Did I mention that Jessica Chastain is an axe murderer? That’s something you don’t expect.

Aging couple has run a close-knit drug operation for many years. The week after patriarch Bill and emotionally unstable son Karl get out of jail, Karl finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and Bill shakes up his friends, ends up killing most of them, trying to determine if someone ratted. Low-key movie with nice gradual escalation into ultra-violence. Cowriter Robin Hill plays Karl, his dad Robert Hill plays his dad, his wife Kerry Peacock plays his girlfriend and the great Julia Deakin (Marsha from Spaced) is his mom. Good supporting cast including Wheatley regular Michael Smiley and Tony Way (Edge of Tomorrow, Nine Inch Nails-shirted guy in Dragon Tattoo).

Twisty ending as Karl and gf kill the parents and make their escape. A family and friends affair – Wheatley and Robin say on the commentary that it was even shot in Robin’s parents’ house. They say the concept was to write a dark drama then cast funny people in it (there’s a fair bit of improv in the dialogue).

I guess I’ve seen all Wheatley’s films until High-Rise comes out in a few months. He also wrote for Time Trumpet, directed special-effects sketch show The Wrong Door and some episodes of drug-dealer comedy Ideal. Robin Hill edited Poldark, which I think Katy was watching downstairs while I watched this.