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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Breathless’, 22 July 2010

Breathless 
directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
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... like, in a reflective Godard movie rather than a darker or more dramatic one by Nicholas Ray or Michael Curtiz, or Mark Robson (the director of The Harder They Fall, the poster for which appears in Breathless and entrances Belmondo). Godard himself said he used to think of the film as being in the line of Scarface, but had come to see that it really ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, 30 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express 
directed by Kenneth Brannagh.
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... there a (fictional) man behind the moustache? Well, there is a director, who is also Branagh, and Michael Green, a thoughtful and inventive scriptwriter. They give shape and sense to a particular notion of Poirot. But it is Branagh’s acting that makes the notion work. I say this as a non-fan of his Shakespeare films (Hamlet, Henry V, Much Ado about ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Shape of Water’, 22 March 2018

... but all that seems to happen in this line is that the agent, Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon with fabulously nasty relish, tortures him with a cattle prod – and loses two fingers in the process. The creature is referred to as ‘the asset’, indeed ‘the most sensitive asset’ the facility has entertained, but this is wishful ...

Short Cuts

Michael Wood: Delete!, 24 September 2009

... I don’t know what it’s like at your end of the global village but I keep coming across extraordinary instances of evolutionary good cheer. The optimism doesn’t involve the theory of human origins or the longed for decline of the theology of intelligent design but the simpler assumption that adaptation is an ongoing success story. Human beings, it seems, are all right ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Blow-Up’, 18 May 2017

... I’ve​ gone off London this week,’ the central character announces in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), released in a new digital transfer by the Criterion Collection. A local antique dealer wants to get away, to Nepal maybe. When told that Nepal is all antiques, she says she thinks she’ll try Morocco. The film itself doesn’t seem to share these moods at all, it can’t get enough of the 1960s city, with its alleyways, shops, arcades, old red phone booths, a pot-smoking party in Chelsea and a club performance by the Yardbirds that is so authentic it looks like a flimsy parody of itself ...

No Room for Losers

Michael Wood: ‘Proust and his Banker’, 14 December 2017

Proust and His Banker: In Search of Time Squandered 
by Gian Balsamo.
South Carolina, 272 pp., £37.50, May 2017, 978 1 61117 736 7
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... The​ title of Gian Balsamo’s intriguing book is staid enough: Proust and His Banker. The subtitle – ‘In Search of Time Squandered’ – promises all kinds of adventures and invites us to toy with various riddles. When is an opportunity cost – a favourite term with Balsamo – not an opportunity cost? Perhaps when the opportunity turns out to be a disaster, or was never an opportunity in the first place ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Marlene Dietrich, 17 December 2020

... Ihad​ misremembered The Scarlet Empress (1934), one of the thirteen Marlene Dietrich movies currently showing at the BFI. Or rather, I remembered vividly its latter stages, when Dietrich, playing the future Catherine the Great, rides her horse up the steps of a palace dressed as a Cossack in white fur and uniform, and demonstrates a ruthless appetite for rule ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘One Night in Miami’, 18 February 2021

... There​ is plenty of angry talk in Regina King’s One Night in Miami – available on Amazon Prime and adapted from Kemp Powers’s play – but the cruellest remark is very discreet and goes unheard by the victim. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) is singing at the Copacabana in New York, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Rather than opening with one of his hits, he chooses a song he thinks appropriate to the venue ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Truth’, 13 August 2020

... Hirokazu​ kore-eda’s film The Truth, released in France in January and now available online, feels like a respectable weepie, a mother and daughter story, except that it keeps being hijacked. We quickly realise that the hijackers are the writer-director himself and film history, but we still have to decide what to make of it.Of course, any film in which a famous actress (Catherine Deneuve) plays a famous actress, and another famous actress (Juliette Binoche) plays her daughter – who is a screenwriter, in the business but out of the limelight – is going to have its meta moments ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Da 5 Bloods’, 2 July 2020

... Spike Lee’s​ Da 5 Bloods (on Netflix) is an extraordinary mixture: a swashbuckling pirate movie about buried gold and a shoot ’em up Western mysteriously transplanted to the East. But then where do the landmines come from? Oh yes, from the war film. Even with the lively incursions of other avatars, this is supposed to be one, or at least a film in which warriors visit an old battleground ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Dune’, 16 December 2021

... Abeginning​ is a very delicate time,’ we are told in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965), and again in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation. None of that ‘a long time ago’ stuff, especially since we’re not talking about the past. The action takes place in the first months of the year 10191. The year is also mentioned in Denis Villeneuve’s new version, which echoes Lynch’s visual style, or at least the visual tendencies of the earlier film: vast buildings, every meeting place a parade ground; flying machines that look like overgrown zeppelins; uniforms and marching that recall the Russian empire or the films of Leni Riefenstahl; battles composed of men crashing into each other, as in the Middle Ages or Chimes at Midnight ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Last Night In Soho’, 18 November 2021

... Ghosts​ and time travel don’t usually mix. In the one case, they visit us; in the other, we visit them. In Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, both things happen simultaneously. There is a satisfying dizziness to seeing a person from the present chased down the streets of the past by zombies that seem to exist in both tenses. Wright cultivated this confusion in an interview when he said that he could see the window of his heroine’s room from his London flat, and pretended to worry about filming ‘literally where I live ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Rebecca’, 20 July 2006

Rebecca 
directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
June 2006
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... is talking about, and it isn’t a dream at all, it’s a shifting picture of a dark and tangled wood. The supernatural powers are those of the camera, and the images begin to look like the portrait of the inside of a troubled mind, rather than the memory of a cherished place. And then the images begin to contradict the voice. ‘Time could not mar the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Upstream Colour’, 26 September 2013

Upstream Colour 
directed by Shane Carruth.
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... the scene funny, absurd and curiously touching. Kris and Jeff seem to have found a path out of the wood without actually knowing what a path (or a ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Prometheus’, 5 July 2012

Prometheus 
directed by Ridley Scott.
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... nothing.’ The suggestion is that nothing is just what an android needs, a mark of real class. Michael Fassbender plays David, the android, with terrific, elegant style, not as if he were Peter O’Toole but as if he liked Peter O’Toole – a fine distinction. His uniform makes him look like a prisoner rather than a servant, and the effect is that of one ...

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