Frida (2002)

I like you this way – you’re easier to keep up with. Young Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) is a rambunctious teenager who lives riotously and has an active sex life with her teenage boyfriend Alejandro (Diego Luna). When a tram accident lays her up with potentially life-threatening and crippling injuries she fights back and during all the months encased in plaster discovers a talent for painting, beginning with self-portraits. When she tries to interest people in her paintings she seeks out Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) whom she taunted as a student. Despite his womanising ways she falls for him and they begin an affair which his wife knows about. They end up living in an apartment above hers. Rivera continues to sleep with his models and Frida paints and her surrealist work attracts attention. In New York in 1934 where Diego has been commissioned to create a mural for Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) his work is censored and both he and Frida have affairs with Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) and Frida suffers a heartbreaking miscarriage. Back in Mexico her sister Cristina (Mia Maestro) becomes his assistant and Frida finds them in bed together. She returns to her parents’ home and descends into alcoholism. After meeting Diego again at a Day of the Dead celebration he introduces her to Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) who falls for her when he moves into her house when he is granted political asylum and Frida leaves for Paris when Trotksy’s wife finds out. She returns to Mexico and Diego asks for a divorce then Trotsky is murdered … I should never have put you in a room with him. Adapted by Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava & Anna Thomas (and Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton, uncredited) from the 1983 book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera, this is a beautiful, reverential and somewhat stolid biopic despite the talents, the artistry and the protagonist herself, memorably played by Hayek (who shepherded the production) especially as a teenager. However the episodic nature contrives to mitigate against momentum in this cosmopolitan tale, despite the wonderful aesthetic embellishments – with scenes melting out of Kahlo’s paintings, animations bringing still lifes to fast-moving existence and the use of costume as signifier. As is so often the case in these historical stories, it seems the people around the main character are more interesting and the circumstances more stimulating – and here it’s Diego Rivera who controls the narrative: Frida’s life and fate are basically a reaction to him and that both unbalances the characters and tilts the story in a different direction than it wants to go. It really succeeds as a portrait of a country in a kind of turmoil and exercising fascination for artists, bohemians and the international left. It’s not a failure but more a near miss that ironically really comes to life in the music scenes when Hayek is singing those mournful Mexican songs that make the hairs stand up in thrall to the passions this woman conjures. Beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto and there’s a wonderful score by Elliot Goldenthal. Directed by theatre great Julie Taymor. A communist generous enough to pay off our mortgage

Miss Juneteenth (2020)

A crown don’t make some magical life where all your dreams come true. Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious fourteen-year old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) for the Miss Juneteenth pageant a scholarship programme for black girls in Fort Worth, Texas to commemorate the day in 1865 when slaves found out they had actually been freed two years earlier. She has an on-off relationship with her mechanic husband Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson) who lives apart from the family but occasionally hooks up with Turq despite the efforts of local funeral director Bacon (Akron Watson) to woo her as he’s been attempting since their teens; her pastor mother (Lori Hayes) is an alcoholic from whom she’s mostly estranged; and her life serving rowdy locals in a bar-restaurant seems hopeless. She is pinning everything on Kai making it through the pageant process to ensure her future – the future she herself messed up. Kai however is only interested in dancing and wants to do it competitively and take the alternate route through life and her mother’s destiny is one she wants to avoid then Ronnie gets put in jail after a fishing expedition goes wrong, money is short and Turq has to dream differently … Not only will you represent your beautiful selves but our history as well. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, this takes a cliched setting – single mother, deadbeat dad, endless money troubles – and upends all expectations by subtle writing and performing, especially by Beharie. This isn’t just about a stage mother – it’s about race and society and changing your destiny. It also has an historical basis which is easily threaded through the story in which disappointments seem interminable and family seem to permanently let you down. The upbeat twist ending suggests that sometimes daughters know best, the very antithesis of Mildred Pierce in this uplifting tale of empowerment and sisterhood. Executive produced by David Lowery. Was I a good mother?

Scarlet Thread (1951)

An East End spiv. A 1950s wide boy with cinema accent. Petty thief Freddie(Laurence Harvey) likes to talk jive in an American accent in London’s Soho where he hangs out trying to impress the ladies. He joins forces with suave gangster Marcon (Sydney Tafler) to commit a jewel heist in the University town of Cambridge with (Harry Fowler) driving their getaway car. But loses his never, fires his gun and the victim, an elderly man gets dragged away in the car. When the men are chased through the streets of Cambridge by students they take refuge in the garden of the Master’s house and are greeted by his daughter Josephine (Kathleen Byron) who takes them for graduates and invites them in. Marcon introduces himself as an old student – Aubrey Bellingham – and passes himself off to a visiting vicar but Josephine’s romantic interest Shaw (Arthur Hill) is suspicious and then her aunt (Renee Kelly ) arrives – the woman the men ran into as they escaped their pursuers. And womanising Freddie then takes a fancy to Josephine, then it transpires the man he shot was her father – and the radio news reports the man has died … This university is packed with young men who talk in inverted commas. Lewis Gilbert’s early noirish film provides a great opportunity to see a callow pulpy youthful Laurence Harvey, learning which side of his face was more photogenic and doing the old cheap romance thing with (bizarrely enough) charismatic Byron, she of Black Narcissus with the crazy lipsticked mouth – and the clue to his real British identity recalls that film. How bizarre it is to see these gangsters come a cropper in the rarefied setting of Cambridge University, chased by students in flapping gowns. There’s some genuinely interesting cinematography by Geoffrey Faithfull – over the shoulder tracking behind Tafler (Gilbert’s brother-in-law) and Harvey after the heist goes wrong; point of view shots in the getaway car piloted by Harry Fowler alongside a policeman on a motorbike making good use of the rear view mirror as he sweats at the wheel. The contrast between these surprising crims and the fish out of water setting is jarring but also pleasing, the early Soho scenes with Dora Bryan and the presentation of Harvey as spiv quite fascinating. Not great but it is has its moments, not least when Harvey’s mask (and fake American accent) slips and Tafler’s act as the ancient graduate is very convincing. Adapted by A.R. Rawlinson and Moie Charles from their play. You dance too well. It makes me think of all the women you’ve danced with

Evil Under the Sun (1982)

Even in those days, she could always throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us… and wider. Private detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) goes to an exclusive island that is frequented by the rich and famous. Fabulous actress Arlena Stuart (Diana Rigg) has alienated her latest husband Kenneth Marshall’s (Denis Quilley) young daughter (Emily Hone); is in an adulterous relationship with married gadfly Patrick Redfern (Nicolas Clay) whose jealous wife Christine (Jane Birkin) doesn’t even want to go out in the sun; and she is probably the culprit over a very valuable jewel stolen from her former husband Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakeley) that Poirot was hired to locate by the insurance company when he presented them with a fake. Gossip columnist Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) can’t get Arlena to sign off on a tell-all biography; while theatre producers Odell Gardener (James Mason) and his wife Myra (Sylvia Miles) lost their shirts when Arlena walked off their last stage show with a fake medical cert. The hotel’s proprietress, failed actress and former rival Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) meanwhile is still brooding over their comparative successes and her isolation from the world of showbiz. When Arlena is found murdered everyone has an alibi. Except Poirot … I have a big fat motive but no alibi. Adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel by Anthony Shaffer (with uncredited work by Barry Sandler) this takes a decidedly camp approach to the material, aided and abetted by wonderfully playful costuming, classic Cole Porter songs (arranged by John Lanchbery) and an exotic location in the Adriatic in contrast with the original’s island off Devon. It plays fast and loose with the content replacing the original’s dialogue with some very amusing wisecracks and barbed exchanges, viz. Rigg’s comment about her awkward teenage stepdaughter, She runs like a dromedary with dropsy. It’s not Christie but it is funny. Ustinov had replaced Albert Finney (from Murder on the Orient Express) in the preceding adaptation Death on the Nile and delivers a different variety of flamboyance with all kinds of nice touches and humour. It gathers itself back into the author’s original mode for the last half hour with everything accounted for in a very pleasing conclusion. Great fun. Directed by Guy Hamilton in Majorca and shot beautifully by Christopher Challis. You mean nobody did it. MM #3100

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Aka WW84. Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think. As a young girl, immortal Amazon demi-goddess and princess Diana (Lily Aspell) competes in an athletic competition on Themyscira Island against older Amazons. She falls from her horse, misses a stage, and is disqualified after trying to take a shortcut. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) who is general of the Amazon army lecture her on the importance of truth. In 1984 adult Diana (Gal Gadot) works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. She specialises in the culture of ancient Mediterranean civilisations and studies languages for fun. She continues to fight crime as Wonder Woman, albeit while trying to maintain some anonymity, rescuing people from a botched jewellery heist in a local mall. Diana meets new co-worker, gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) an insecure woman who idolises Diana and tries to befriend her. Aspiring businessman and charismatic TV huckster Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) visits the museum to try to acquire a mysterious Dreamstone which grants wishes to anyone who touches it. It is one of the artifacts found as part of the black market the jewellery store engages in and both of the women unwittingly use it for their own desires: Diana wants to be reunited with her dead WW1 pilot lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); while Barbara wants to be like Diana. She gets a makeover at a local boutique and Lord turns up at a Smithsonian gala and manipulates her in order to retrieve the stone. Once it’s in his possession he wishes to become its embodiment and gains its power to grant wishes, while also able to take whatever he desires from others: he’s been selling shares in oil without striking it yet and in a matter of days becomes a powerful and influential global figure leaving chaos and destruction in his wake. Barbara, Diana and Steve try to investigate the Dreamstone’s power further, and discover it was created by the God of Treachery and Mischief; the stone grants a user their wish but takes their most cherished possession in return, and the only way to reverse the condition is by renouncing their wish, or destroying the stone itself. Steve realises that his existence comes at the cost of Diana’s power. Both Diana and Barbara are unwilling to renounce their wishes, and try to figure out another solution. Maxwell, upon learning from the U.S. President (Stuart Milligan) of a satellite broadcast system that can transmit signals globally, decides to use it to communicate to the entire world, offering to grant their wishes. Barbara/Cheetah joins forces with Maxwell to prevent Diana from harming him. Steve convinces Diana to let him go and renounce her wish so that she can regain her strength and save the world. She returns home and dons the armour of the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria, then heads to the broadcast station and battles Barbara, who has made another wish with Maxwell to become an apex predator, transforming her into a cheetah-woman. After defeating Barbara, Diana confronts Maxwell and uses her Lasso of Truth to communicate with the world … Does everybody parachute now? What a great welcome this film deserves: a charming, heartfelt feminist superhero sequel with a message of peace, love and understanding – but not before the world comes close to annihilation. Adapted from William Moulton Marston’s DC Comics character with a screenplay by director Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, this starts out very well but tellingly goes straight from a prehistoric setpiece into an Eighties mall sequence and the first half hour is fantastic. Then … there’s character development when the klutzy Barbara arrives and her transformation to Cheetah takes its sweet time while odious businessman Lord is also introduced with his own backstory. The wheels don’t come off, exactly. The scenes are fractionally overlong and the two villain stories don’t mesh precisely with excursions into politics (the Middle East and a bit of an anti-Irish scene in London) which then escalates when Lord introduces himself to the US President (Reagan himself though he’s unnamed) at the height of the Star Wars policy (and we don’t mean sci fi movies). The winged one then learns the beauty of flight from her reincarnated boyfriend; while Barbara becomes more feline and vicious, an apex predator as she puts it. And Lord gets greedy while alienating his little son. So there are three somewhat diverging narrative threads. This is a structural flaw in an otherwise rather wonderful story. An exhilarating pair of back to back introductory setpieces followed by a Superman tribute that is exceedingly pleasant but doesn’t capitalise on all the characters’ considerable potential, this is a half hour too long (like all superhero outings) with scenes that need to be cut and political commentary that doesn’t sit quite right. Some of the jokes about the Eighties (in Pine’s scenes) get a little lost (directing or editing issues?) but the costuming is on the money and given that Diana lives in the Watergate Complex it’s a little surprising more wasn’t made of this or that it wasn’t set a decade earlier. Otherwise DC is nicely established in terms of geography and obviously it’s plundered for story. There are jokes that land rather well, like the Ponzi scheme; and when Steve gets into a modern aeroplane and Diana suddenly remembers that radar exists. In effect, this is a movie about the conflict in using your powers – there is a time and a place and it’s not always appropriate to get what you want because there are consequences and making a choice implies potentially terrible consequences and sometimes loss of life. It also engages with rape culture, sexism and the dangers of TV, taking down cheap salesmen and televangelists. Witty, moralistic and humane this has everything you want in a superhero movie and it looks beautiful courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Jensen and production designer Aline Bonetto. There’s a neat coda in the end credits. And how nice is it that the late great Dawn Steel’s daughter Rebecca Steel Roven is a producer alongside her father Charles Roven? You go Gal! You’ve always had everything while people like me have had nothing. Well now it’s my turn. Get used to it

Operation Amsterdam (1958)

Gentlemen, the noise you can hear is the German Army. Summer 1940. British army officer Major Dillon (Tony Britton) leads a dangerous commando-style raid with diamond dealer Jan Smit (Peter Finch) and expert Walter Keyser (Alexander Knox) to Amsterdam to prevent valuable industrial diamonds falling into the hands of the invading Germans. When they reach port Jan stops Anna (Eva Bartok) from driving her car into the water after she realises she’s put her Jewish fiance’s parents on to a small craft just bombed by the Nazis. He persuades her to take them to Amsterdam where he asks his father Johan (Malcolm Keen) to get his colleagues to allow them bring their jewels to London for safe keeping by the British Government. While the men enter negotiations, Anna pays a visit to Colonel Janssen (John Le Mesurier) and informs on her latest acquaintances, promising to monitor them and she returns to the men as they attempt to plan an expedition to crack a safe and avoid setting off an alarm. They play cat and mouse with the Dutch Army, never sure of who’s collaborating with the invading forces … We’re trying to beat the clock and the Germans. Every second counts. From the opening voiceover informing us that this incident doesn’t even exist in wartime records through the nailbiting heist scene in the bank, this is a documentary-style race against time WW2 drama with a possible femme fatale, fifth columnists and Nazis breathing down the necks of our men on a mission. And they still need permission to board the boat home. Bureaucracy has no respect for heroes. Finch is as good as he ever is as the dashing, daring Dutchman and the late Britton has the role of his career – he finds out just how hard it is to kill a German soldier along the canals, sweat bedevilling him as his eyes dart around seeking safe harbour. And you never know where you are with Bartok – she’s convincing as the woman under pressure. And wouldn’t you know it there’s Melvyn Hayes to help them save the day. An intriguing premise from David E.Walker’s novel Adventure in Diamonds adapted by John Eldridge and director Michael McCarthy. Nicely shot by Reginald Wyer (with second unit work by Sidney Hayers) in a near-empty Amsterdam where hidden ears are always cocked for the rat-a-tat of gunfire as the Germans approach. We’ve all had a busy day

Miranda (1948)

There’s a dreadful shortage of men below sea. With his wife Clare (Googie Withers) uninterested in fishing, Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) goes on holiday in Cornwall.  There he snags mermaid Miranda Trewella (Glynis Johns) and is pulled into the water. She keeps him prisoner in her underwater cavern and only lets him go after he agrees to show her London. He disguises her as an invalid patient in a wheelchair and takes her to his flat for a month-long stay. Clare reluctantly agrees to the arrangement, but gets him to hire someone to look after their house guest and he selects Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford) for the eccentric nature that previously caused him to get rid of her and takes her into his confidence. To Paul’s relief, Carey is delighted to be working for a mermaid as she always believed they exist. Miranda’s seductive nature earns her the admiration of not only Paul, but also his chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson), as well as Nigel (John McCallum), the artist fiancé of Clare’s friend and upstairs neighbour Isobel (Sonia Holm) arousing the jealousy of the women in their lives. Clare starts to follow her instincts and starts reading up on her suspicions. Nigel breaks off his engagement, but then he and Charles discover that Miranda has been flirting with both of them ….  You’ve hated me ever since I set tail in this house. The delightful Johns has fun as the beguiling mermaid who insinuates herself into the life of a doctor living quite the de luxe life in his well appointed London apartment with his lovely wife Withers. And then she drives every man mad with desire. There are lovely moments when she can’t help herself – snacking on the goldfish straight from the bowl, scarfing cockles at the fish market and depriving a sea lion of his lunch on a trip to the zoo. Witty and surprising, this wastes no time in introducing Johns – two minutes – and once she fishes Paul out of the water and into her cave she wastes no time in telling him she had to throw the last two men back because their legs were too short. She has a disarming way of critiquing men’s physiques to their face. Withers plays opposite offscreen husband McCallum while the redoubtable Rutherford has an amusing scene in a museum with a mummy and off-screen husband Stringer Davis. Witty, charming fluff with Johns as bewitching as ever as the flirty fish out of water and some timely references including the novel Forever Amber – which plants the suggestive conclusion. Adapted from his play by Peter Blackmore with additional dialogue by Denis Waldock, this was produced by Betty Box and directed by Ken Annakin. Tail by Dunlop. There is a sequel, made 6 years later, Mad About Men. If you ask me there’s something very fishy about this case

Krull (1983)

I came to find a king and I find a boy instead. On the planet of Krull, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and a fellowship of  motley companions – a bunch of bandits, brigands and criminals led by Torquil (Alun Armstrong) – embark on a journey to save his bride, Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) who is destined to become Queen. She has been kidnapped by an army of alien invaders led by the Beast, endangering the union of their respective kingdoms. Before he can rescue his betrothed from the citadel, he must locate a mystical weapon known as the Glaive which alone can slay the Beast … Good fighters make bad husbands. The Hero’s Journey as I live and breathe with a proper mission, terrific sidekicks and some actual monstrosity. Startling production design, beautiful pastoral vistas and a truly dastardly villain combine with nutty humour to create a pleasing fairy tale fantasy quest, all heroics and horrible sacrifice. David Battley is very amusing as Ergo, who consistently messes up his gift for turning people into animals by turning into them himself. Liam Neeson has a great supporting role as axe-wielding Kegan, one of the brigands, with ‘seven or eight’ wives one of whom he woos with the immortal line, Now look, petal. Faithful is my middle name! Anthony (who was dubbed to sound mature) spends much of the story in a scary tunnel dealing with the Beast’s doubles while that very pretty boy Marshall is off having his adventures with the guys, as you do. There’s lots of derring-do, loyal acts and effects galore in this Dungeons and Dragons homage. One of the bandits, who include Robbie Coltrane and Todd Carty, is played by Bronco McLoughlin, the legendary Irish stuntman who died last year. The stunning score is by James Horner. Charming as anything, this was written by Stanford Sherman and directed by Peter Yates. Power is fleeting. Love is eternal

King Rat (1965)


Why are you so different? American Corporal King (George Segal) is a fast-talking wheeler-dealer stuck in Changi, a squalid Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore, a place so awful there is no need for walls because there is no means of escape and nowhere to go. Mired with some very proper British officers including Flight Lieutenant RAF officer Peter Marlowe (James Fox) whom he employs as a translator, as well as some Australian inmates, he  barters for everything. That includes medicine to save Marlowe’s arm from but it’s not clear why he has done so.  He has a different kind of relationship with the more obviously lower class First Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay) who has contempt for him but no evidence and has his own dilemma when he realises Colonel Jones (Gerald Sim) has been stealing food supplies. He reports the matter to Colonel Smedley-Taylor (John Mills) who advises him to forget about it and assumes his silence is consent to promotion. Meanwhile King is breeding rats and persuading the guards it’s mouse-deer meat. Everyone is in a quandary when a diamond comes into the camp and the issue of who is on the side of the prisoners, the guards or the officers, decides the issue at least temporarily and then King’s own position is called into question … When do I have to kiss thee in the arse? James Clavell was a POW in Malaysia and his 1963 novel was based on his own experiences but for the cinemagoer it would have seemed as if Stalag 17 had been fused with The Bridge on the River Kwai with Segal in the Holden role of the cunning spiv who really has a heart of gold (sort of) and Guinness’ treacherous misanthrope undertaken by a combination of British officers too blinkered by class and self-involved to even know when they’re eating a poor soldier’s dog. The various sub-plots, character rivalries and efforts at one-upmanship make this a broader, tougher work delving into the thorny depths of psychology and it’s wonderfully captured by Burnett Guffey’s photography – the screen seems to be bathed in the very sweat of these wretched starving men. The cultural differences are clarified when the war finally ends and Changi is liberated:  the officer asks why all the Brits are in rags and shell shocked while Segal has evidently taken good care of himself. Therein lieth the plot – the individual who rises above his circumstances, rescues people and enables their revenge. Perhaps the Biblical lesson is that no man shall profit in his own land because at the end of the day no good turn goes unpunished. There are nice supporting roles for James Donald, Patrick O’Neal, Denholm Elliott, John Standing, Geoffrey Bayldon and Richard Dawson who turns up at the conclusion. Written and directed by Bryan Forbes whose voice we hear on the radio broadcast while the immersive score is by John Barry.  The war will be over. Then you’ll get yours

The Secret Place (1957)

What you haven’t got you can’t lose. In East London 14-year old Freddie Haywood (Michael Brooke) has a crush on kiosk attendant Molly Wilson (Belinda Lee) who is engaged to Gerry Carter (Ronald Lewis). Gerry is a member of a criminal gang working from a car dealership where Molly’s brother Mike (David McCallum) also works. Gerry, Mike and their friend, Steve (Michael Gwynn) are planning a diamond robbery and need a policeman’s uniform. Molly asks Freddie to borrow the uniform of his policeman father (Geoffrey Keen) without telling him why. After the robbery of a jewellers in Hatton Garden, Gerry hides the diamonds inside Molly’s record player. Not knowing this, Molly gives the player to Freddie as a thank you gift. Freddie discovers the diamonds and the gang go after him to retrieve them… You men. Always taken in by a pretty face. Film editor Clive Donner made his directing debut with this startling film noir. It’s an incredible portrait of a good-natured teen’s misplaced admiration (or love) for the local beauty who’s in with a bad ‘un and dreams of escape, symbolised by the posh apartment he’s chosen for them to live in when they cash in. The potent setting of post-war London in ruins plants the conclusion in an early wide shot with scaffolding in the background – it forms the setting for the fantastic penultimate scenes, beautifully set up by cinematographer Ernest Steward. Tragic beauty Lee is terrific and Lewis is typically impressive as the gangster – how awful that he died by suicide at the age of just 53. But it’s Brooke as the youngster you’ll really remember:  this was in fact his last screen appearance, he later trained in law and was called to the Bar, renowned for obtaining compensation from the NHS for haemophiliacs who received blood transfusions contaminated with HIV. He died in 2014. Written by Linette Perry – her sole screenplay – this is a true British cult classic. You never know what goes on in a child’s heart really