Blackkklansman 2018 ****


Spike Lee’s best film in a couple of decades is a true-life story that’s both weird and wonderful; the story of a black policemen who infiltrates the white enclave of the Klu Klux Klan, Lee’s film would be unbelievable if it didn’t happen to be based on a factual account by ex-cop Ron Stallworth. Played by John David Washington, Stallworth is tired of getting the wrong end of the stick at Colorado Springs Police Department and calls up the KKK membership drive. Stallworth needs a white face to complete his ruse, and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is prepared to be his other half. Once the men get close to the Grand Duke (Topher Grace), they discover a bomb plot that makes their cover story all the more risky. While Blackkklansman exaggerates Stallworth’s story for dramatic effect, Lee’s film is a gripping ride, with Washington and Driver both engaging, and the audience’s lack of knowledge about how the story concludes creating considerable tension. A final coda using sobering newsreel footage from Charlottesville hammers the message home, and Blackkklansman takes no prisoners in demonstrating how right-wing ideology can create moral danger.

Inherent Vice 2014 ***


Like an episode of The Rockford Files directed by surrealist master Alexandro Joderowsky, PT Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s book makes a good fist of bringing a very tricky narrative to life. In a performance along the same tracks as Elliot Gould’s shambling Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry Doc Sportello, a detective on the trails of the Golden Dragon crime ring in 1970’s California, running across oddballs including Reece Witherspoon as a socialite, Martin Short as a perverted dentist and Josh Brolin as a policeman who moonlight as an actor and goes spectacularly off the rails when Sportello dodges a series of lethal situations. As wonderfully all-over-the-place as its hero, Inherent Vice is arrestingly slow, atmospheric in counter-culture detail and will induce meltdowns for anyone looking for a good story, briskly told. A running joke in which Sportello’s notes are revealed as amusingly deficient quickly drops the hint that the fun is in the salty details, not what they add up to.

Super 8 2011 ***


A refreshing alternative to the usual summer popcorn movies, Super 8 harks back to the 80’s style of Gremlins or The Goonies, as a group of children with a penchant for making home-movies discover an alien presence which has escaped from a government train which derails near their town. Writer/director JJ Abrams does a nice job in conjuring up the feel of 1979, and the scenes in which the kids create their own movie are lovingly done, with the final result playing engagingly over the final credits. Kyle Chandler also does nice work as an investigating cop, and while the final confrontation with the alien goes on too long, Abrams manages to pull out a few emotive plot-points that stop it from becoming a CGI-fest. Super 8 is a charming and light-hearted blockbuster for a age when bombast has become the norm.

Secret Disco Revolution 2012 ***


Writer and director Jamie Kastner scours through the sparkling dumpster of archive disco footage and pulls together a slight but fascinating picture of the era, a time when music was hot stuff and clubs were pumping out a vibrant, glitzy sound that made an indelible cultural mark before fading away into other genres. With interview subjects from Thelma Houston to a reluctant Village People, who seem rather suspicious of the film-maker’s motives, the artists seems far less enamoured of the period that the scholars who Kastner enlists to tell the story; their high-brow theories seem at odds with the rather more practical experiences of music industry veterans. Secret Disco Revolution works best as a cinematic juke-box, showcasing a number of notable disco hits, and a few rarities that should have fans of the era reaching for their Spotify playlists.

American Hustle 2013 *****


What The Sting was to the 70’s David O Russell’s American Hustle is to the 21st century; a delightful period throwback depicting the colourful lives of hustlers pulling elaborate cons on each other with style. Everyone involved seems to be having fun; Christian Bale done a toupee and expands his girth as Irving, a low-rent con artist who gets ideas above his station when he hooks up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams); their ability to shed their personalities for the good of the con is beautifully marked down when they canoodle in a dry-cleaners as a parade of different outfits fly by. FBI agent Richie De Maso (Bradley Cooper) steps in to involve them with the Abscam scheme, in which a fake Sheik is uses to entrap local politicians including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and American Hustle makes a great job of keeping the audience guessing who is fooling who. The minor characters are a joy, with Louis CK, Michael Pena and Jennifer Lawrence all in explosive form; the Oscars may not be big on comedy, but for pure entertainment value, American Hustle was the best film of 2013.

Uranium Conspiracy 1978 ***


Gianfranco Baldanello and Menahem Golan directed this forgotten but undeniably proficient espionage drama from 1978, with Fabio Testi as Renzo, hot on the trail of a missing Uranium shipment. Accompanied by a music score that sounds like Daft Punk in places, Uranium Conspiracy rises to a spectacular car and speedboat chase around Amsterdam that’s as good as Puppet on A Chain, and there’s great locations, washed out photography, some neat plot twists and an oddly downbeat ending to make this something of a find for fans of Euro-thrillers. Any film that features speedboats smashing through entire houses deserves marks for trying.

Silent Running 1973 ****

Silent Running poster

The effects guru behind Kubrick’s 2001, Douglas Turnbull’s directorial career stalled with his quicky sci-fi drama Brainstorm, but he managed to create a highly influential cult offering with 1973’s Silent Running. With Earth dying, the remaining flora and Fauna have been placed in a huge spaceship/greenhouse, with hippy curator Bruce Dern and his crew responsible for maintaining its survival. When orders come to abandon the ship, Dern battles his other crewmembers only to find himself tending the garden alone, with the help of his three robotic helpers, Huey, Dewey and Louis. Played by midgets in boxes, the personality of these three robots makes up for Dern’s studied lack of charisma, and Silent Running makes a strong ecological point, while also capturing the loneliness of outer space years before Gravity.