Despite the Falling Snow (2016)

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Winter is coming. So my thoughts naturally gravitate to films whose titles reflect grim weather. Political and otherwise … Shamim Sarif adapted his own Cold War novel which has a parallel narrative structure. In 1992 Alexander Ivanov or Sasha (Charles Dance) is living in NYC, a long-time exile from Russia where he was part of the political elite. His artist niece Lauren  (Rebecca Ferguson) lives with him, unaware of his past. Her portrait of her late aunt Katya stirs memories. Between 1959 and 1961 we learn of his romance (he’s played by Sam Reid) with Katya (also Ferguson) a Russian woman turned American agent who was using him for his access to arms secrets and who married him. She had sworn revenge on the Stalinist regime that saw her parents murdered. Her boyfriend Misha (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) helps her but then she really falls in love with Sasha and persuades him to defect with her … In 1992 Lauren wants to go to Moscow for an exhibition and a woman journalist Marina (Antje Traue) with whom she begins having sex is revealed to have a connection to her late aunt’s espionage activities, fully revealed when Sasha visits and Misha (Anthony Head) crawls out of the woodwork. Sasha learns what really happens to his lost love. This starts convincingly, with Sasha’s Cold War defection to the US, but overall the tension in the drama isn’t especially well handled and some of the intimate scenes are not put over well by the cast. Bizarrely, Dance and Head resemble the actors playing each other’s younger selves, which kills the drama. A promising story that seems like something from an entirely different age – until you start listening to the news.

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A Stolen Life (1946)

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What could possibly be better than a Bette Davis film? Why, a film with two Bette Davis performances, of course! And this, her first self-produced outing, is a compelling drama with that hoary Forties trope of the good twin/bad twin variety. Reserved artist Kate Bosworth (I know…) goes to visit her cousin Charlie Ruggles at the family’s enormous cottage getaway on Martha’s Vineyard only to fall for lighthouse keeper Glenn Ford, whom Davis ensured to cast. Their cosy dates are usurped by the visit of her identical twin Pat, a confident, glamorous and highly sexed character who masquerades as Kate, steals her beau, marries him and then dies in a boating accident with her twin, after which Kate pretends to be her and discovers the truth about her sister’s life …  This is a brilliant, Grade A melodrama, a blend of noir, horror and psychology, playing on Davis’ complex duality, all set on open seas, fog-shrouded cliffs, chi-chi Boston townhouses and an artist’s garret. Davis’ performance as her introverted Self and her own Other – rumoured to be based on professional nemesis Miriam Hopkins! – is captivating. This was technically a remake, the story having already been made in England before WW2, adapted from the source novel by Karel Benes with Elisabeth Bergner in the lead. But this is very much a Hollywood adaptation by Margaret Buell Wilder and the screenplay came from the practised hand of hit playwright and novelist Catherine Turney, a woman regularly hired by Warner Bros for the films of Davis and her other great rival, Joan Crawford. I’ve written an essay on the subject which you can find here:  http://www.offscreen.com/view/double_life_part1.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

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The great thing about this is:  the gang’s all here. With added baby for extra flavour. Five years on from saving NYC the Ghostbusters are in disgrace. Venkmann (Bill Murray) has a shonky psychic cable show while Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) are terrible kids’ entertainers and Spengler(Harold Ramis) has a real job in a lab. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) calls upon them when her kid (from the man she divorced after turning down Murray) displays some haunting behaviour. Add a supernatural sea of sludge sailing through the sewers – an existential despair on the part of city dwellers? – and a very driven diabolist (Peter MacNicol) keen to adopt said baby to channel the demonic Vigo of Carpathia and we have a paranormal debacle. It’s not great and some of the writing is lazy but the players all give it their best in this riff on the original. It’s zany, funny stuff and the baby’s great. Directed again by Ivan Reitman, with supersized slime.