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  • Prisoners

    Prisoners

    ★★★

    I only watched Prisoners so that I could get Denis Villeneuve into my Directors League, so I was never hugely looking forward to it. My instant suspicion of the more popular "serious" films on Letterboxd (Forrest Gump, Good Will Hunting, American History X) meant my expectations for it were never particularly high, and those expectations were barely surpassed.

    Hugh Jackman stars as father of two Keller Dover; he and his wife Grace (played by Maria Bello) spend a Thanksgiving with…

  • Sansho the Bailiff

    Sansho the Bailiff

    ★★★★★

    Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff has become an instant favourite of mine. I can't think of another narrative film I've seen this year that is so profoundly humane, so relentlessly absorbing and so beguilingly beautiful all at once.

    Its story is one of virtue tested by cruel fate. Zushiō is the son of a governor who is sent into exile. Before the governor leaves, he tells his son to always be merciful; "a man is not a human being without…

  • Goldfinger

    Goldfinger

    ★★★★

    Goldfinger is prime James Bond, capturing the essence of the franchise in all its tongue-in-cheek glory. It's a sleek package that moves along at a fine pace, never taking itself seriously while managing some highly effective thrills.

    Although no one comes to a Bond film for its plot, this is perhaps the only one I've seen where I can accurately describe the story. M cottons onto Auric Goldfinger (whom we've already seen cheating at cards), whose gold-smuggling outfit is making…

  • Koyaanisqatsi

    Koyaanisqatsi

    ★★★★

    "Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word that means "crazy life" or "life out of balance". If you watch the film that takes its title from the word, you get to see these definitions in motion. Director Godfrey Reggio's experimental documentary-cum-art installation works to capture the headlong rush of modern life in America as powered by technology and cast it into relief by juxtaposing it with the unchanging stoicism of nature. The film builds to an identifiable climax, with the pace of…

  • Taste of Cherry

    Taste of Cherry

    ★★★½

    Having seen two films directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian cinema's most revered figure, I feel somewhat guilty that I'm not as big a fan of him as so many others seem to be. Close-Up is a film that intrigued me, but the love for Taste of Cherry I find somewhat more confusing. Whereas for much of its duration I found it gripping, by the end I was half-inclined to agree with Roger Ebert's assessment of the film as "an emperor…

  • American History X

    American History X

    ★★½

    American History X is to neo-Nazism what Requiem for a Dream is to heroin addiction - in other words, a flashy but moralistic and thematically shallow film about an issue that demands a more subtle and penetrating approach.

    American History X has the edge on Requiem for a Dream by way of being less aloof, less dull and less visually frantic. Its feel is of a Hollywood film done up to look as much like La Haine as possible without…

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

    If Beale Street Could Talk

    ★★★★

    James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the most emotionally powerful books I can remember reading for quite a while, and since Barry Jenkins is behind the film adaptation, it's not much of a surprise that he does the novel full justice.

    What gives the book its potency is that while it contains an unavoidably compelling critique of the inequality of the American criminal justice system and of the rigid constraints the African American population has to…

  • The Irishman

    The Irishman

    ★★★★½

    Martin Scorsese has now directed six gangster films, but he hasn't made another film, let alone another gangster film, like The Irishman. Not only is it his biggest film in terms of length, it's also his most sombre and meditative (and considering his last film was Silence, that's saying something).

    What's also impressive is that he continues to be able to draw from real people and events for material. His subject this time round is Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran, who…

  • The Nutty Professor

    The Nutty Professor

    ★★★★

    Despite the fact that his films had broad commercial appeal, Jerry Lewis is hailed by many as a prime auteur, and The Nutty Professor explains why. Though I'm not quite prepared to dub it a flawless masterpiece, it's still a unique visual triumph as well as a successful showcase for Lewis as an actor and comedian.

    Mention of the film's title nowadays may sooner conjure thoughts of the 1996 Eddie Murphy remake, which I haven't seen and don't plan to.…

  • The Souvenir

    The Souvenir

    ★★★½

    Joanna Hogg has been working for decades, yet her breakout film is only now here, and although it's clicked with the critics, The Souvenir, if Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by, appears to have been dismissed out of hand by audiences. Which is a shame, because, while I'm not currently falling over myself to sing its praises, it undoubtedly deserves better.

    Inspired by Hogg's own life at film school in London in the 1980s, the film is centred on…

  • An American in Paris

    An American in Paris

    ★★★

    I wasn't expecting An American in Paris to be worse than I remembered it to be, but unfortunately it is. Its status in the 1950s as the very best that MGM's Freed Unit had to offer, even over Singin' in the Rain, seems more baffling with each passing year.

    Its plot sucks, quite frankly, and that's not even something I can say about Gigi. The central character, Jerry Mulligan, isn't especially likeable, and it's particularly unfortunate that he spends the…

  • Another Year

    Another Year

    ★★★★½

    I find it misleading that the director Mike Leigh is most often compared with is Ken Loach. The two directors may deal in the day-to-day lives of working Brits, but Loach does so at the service of left-wing agitprop, and he doesn't share Leigh's interest in nuances of character and performance. That, for me, makes Leigh the superior of the two; regardless of the distinctive milieu of his films, he uses his characters to make points that have a wider…