Besieged 1998 ***


Almost certainly the last great film from writer Bernardo Bertolucci, Besieged is a far more modest affair than The Last Emperor, with the action largely confined to a beautiful Italian apartment in Rome. Shandurai (Thandi Newton) moves in, and becomes the object of the affections of British composer and pianist Kinsky (David Thewlis), but she rejects his advances. She’s more concerned about her African husband, who has been jailed by a dictator. Kinsky begins to release that his love for Shandurai goes beyond physical attraction, and attempts to change her mind about him with a grand gesture. Besieged is a simple film about complex romantic and political issues, well-performed and the work of a master film-maker whose minor work is more powerful than most director’s best.

Che! 1969 ***


One for the so-bad-its-good file, Richard Fleisher’s 1969 drama about Che Guevara (Omar Sharif) and his tortuous friendship with Fiedel Castro (Jack Palance, yes, really, Jack Palance) thoroughly deserves its reputation of a terrible film, but it does have considerable entertainment value. The presumable intent was to glorify Che and ridicule Castro, but the results are far too silly to have any political power. Sharif glowers like a fashion model and struggles to deal with long speeches about the nature of socialism, while Palance gives an astonishing performance as Castro. The Cuban leader famously survives several assassination attempts, of which Palance’s characterisation could be considered to be one. With huge spectacles, rolling eyes and a half-chewed cigar in his mouth, Palance gives one of the most memorable performances of his career, wildly out of his depth but lashing out at all around him. As a film, Che! is a bust, but as a demonstration of how political propaganda can backfire, it’s an interesting film politically in terms of its failure.

I Married A Witch 1942 ****


Rene Clair’s zippy comedy makes the most of its light-as-a feather premise. Frederick Match is Wallace Wooley, an aspiring politico who comes a cropper when a rescues a naked girl from a burning building. The girl is Jennifer (Veronica Lake), and she’s a witch, up to mischief to revenge damage done to her family by the Wooley’s back when in the days when a grudge led to a burning at the stake. Wooley falls for Jennifer, leaving an angry girlfriend (Susan Haywayd) in his wake. With support from Cecil Kellaway and Robert Benchley, Clair’s film is a brisk romp, peppered with funny situations and making light of the supernatural themes.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders 1970 ****


Writer/director Jaromil Jires concocted one of the most unusual horror/fantasy films ever with this visually stunning folk tale that evokes the spirit of Little Red Riding Hood. Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerova) goes to stay with her aging aunt (Helena Anyzova), who mysteriously seems to be getting younger. Valerie also finds many local men vying for her affections, from Orlik (Petr Kopriva) clad in John Lennon glasses and a straw boater, a creepy priest and a blue-faced constable. Ferrets and stolen earrings are also involved. As well as the perfect template for a costume party, Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a magical, knowing fairy-tale, with little outright horror, but instead offering a wide-eyed and sumptuous tour through Czech folk myths.


Limitless 2011 ***


Neil ‘The Illusionist’ Burger adapts Alan Glynn’s novel into a hokey but entertaining thriller with an original conceit. Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, an unsuccessful writer who discovers a stash of smart-drugs that give him an apparently unlimited intelligence boost. After cleaning his flat and writing a bestseller, Morra falls under the spell of guru Carl Van Loon (Robert de Niro), and ends up dodging hit-men amidst escalating political intrigue. Limitless gets more than a little silly before the end, but the visual trope that indicates Morra’s head-rush is intoxicating, and Cooper’s easy charm gets a thorough work-out but the increasingly unlikely plot-twists.

The Parallax View 1974 ***


Alan J Pakula’s conspiracy thriller cast Warren Beatty as reporter Joseph Frady, whose investigation of a senator’s assassination plunges him over-his head into corruption, brainwashing, and a plot adapted from a 1970 novel by Loren Singer. The mysterious Parallax Corporation is at the heart of the investigation, and the highlight of Pakula’s film is a ten minute brainwashing film in which a hypnotic series of potent images are juxtaposed onscreen, giving the view a first hand taste of what Beatty’s character is experiences. Torn from the headlines of the 1970’s The Parallax View’s suspicions about big business and politics still seem relevant today.

Figures in a Landscape 1971 *****


Two of the most fondly remembered British actors, Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell are the central pairing of Joseph Losey’s Figures in a Landscape, which justifies its title by frequently presenting them as stick-men on wide Panavision frames. On the run for unexplained reasons, pursued by un-named forces, Losey creates something of an experimental film, with dialogue of the expected elliptical quality from Harold Pinter. Shaw’s affinity with the latent menace of Pinter’s scripts worked well on-stage and in film (The Birthday Party), and McDowell matches him as an ideal foil. Focusing on specific visual elements and leaving the rest to debate proved too much pretention for audiences at the time, Losey and Pinter’s refusal to explain or define the situation they vividly describe now seems masterly, making Figures in A Landscape a film for the ages, not for 1970.

The Revolutionary 1970 ***


Jon Voight followed up Midnight Cowboy with this sober and politically of-its-time drama, set in suburban London and following the progress of an aspiring revolutionary. Voight dons spectacles and trench-coat to play A, a man sickened by the capitalist system, who decides to rebel through such subversive gestures as removing his trousers in a meeting, or by taking over a pawnshop and returning the contents to the needy. A’s flirtation with work lead him to meet such improbable ordinary British working types as Robert Duval, and to a dalliance with the pretty daughter of a bourgeois oppressor. Paul William’[s film is unusually serious in its contemplation of raging against the capitalist machine, leading to an ambiguous ending, but The Revolutionary manages a solid portrait of an angry, disempowered young man.

Rosebud 1975 ***


Director Otto Preminger’s star was on the wane by the mid-seventies, with debacles like Hurry Sundown and Skidoo following on from classics like Laura and Exodus. But 1975 thriller Rosebud has an unusual premise, as terrorists board a yacht and kidnap a group of teenage girls who fathers are rich industrialists. Rosebod has an even more unusual hero in a milk-drinking reporter (Peter O’Toole) who is engaged to track the terrorists down, with the clues pointing to British Muslim (Sir Richard Attenborough). Preminger’s film takes its time to meander through some local colour, but the final raid sequence is ingeniously thought out, and the geo-political landscape of 1975 will seem familiar to modern audiences. Early roles for Isabelle Huppert, Kim Cattrall and Dr Who companion Lalla Ward complete the garnish for this neglected film.

Sorcerer 1977 *****


With The French Connection and The Exorcist under his belt, William Friedkin was a front-runner in 70’s cinema, but the failure of Sorcerer, a big-budget version of French thriller The Wages of Fear, set his career back several notches. The troubled production is well detailed in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, but the result has its adherents. After a lengthy 40 minute sequence setting up the backstories of the men charges with driving trucks of nitro-glycerine through dangerous South American countryside, Sorcerer settles down to a long, hard drive, with considerable tension derives from the obstacles set in the way of the delivery. Steve McQueen turned it down, but Roy Scheider provides a strong centre, and the on-location footage still sets a high-water mark for gutsy cinematic action.