The Man Who Killed Don Quixote 2018 ****

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99 cents is the humble rental price for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film so long awaited that other films have been made about how long it was taking; Lost In La Mancha details an earlier flurry of activity that failed to get Cervantes famous story onto the big screen. It has not been lost on Gilliam that spending thirty years attempting to tell the story of a man who famously titled at windmills has a poignancy all of its own, so finally watching The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a strange experience; it’s initially hard to separate the film’s making from the story. The vibe is very 1989 in terms of a magic–realist narrative; An advertising executive Tony Grisoni (Adam Driver) slips back in time and finds himself in the company of the legend Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce). Rewrites have allowed Gilliam to embrace the meta elements here; while shooting a commercial featuring the character of Don Quixote, Grisoni unearths his own student film on the same subject, and sets out to visit the locations, only to find the actor he cast is now living as the character. The production difficulties, which were not surprisingly many and diverse, have been detailed elsewhere; what’s on screen may not have the full sweep and scope of what the director imagined, but it looks pretty good, and evokes exactly the right spirit for a modern Cervantes adaptation. What Gilliam has not compromised is that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a text that the audience can get lost in, alongside the main character, over a 132 minute running time, and it’s almost certain that the same overwhelming effect would be what was intended when production started in 1989. Driver does well with a tricky role, Pryce is imperious as Quixote, and the episodic narrative blends scenes from the original text with some nice commentary. Trickling out unannounced on home streaming services may not be what Gilliam dreamed of, but fans of Gilliam, Monty Python and Cervantes will want to buy this one for a dollar or more; it’s a magical mystery tour mixing past and present, fact and fiction, film and literature, and the pleasurable experience of watching it snatches a secret success from the jaws of well-publicised failure.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QNM5C4F?camp=1789&creativeASIN=B07QNM5C4F&ie=UTF8&linkCode=xm2&tag=justwatch09-20

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JT LeRoy 2018 ****

JT_LEROY_ONE_SHEET-1There’s plenty of films about hoaxes; the nature of a disguise works well in cinema. Savannah Knoop was the young girl who appeared in public as the reclusive author of three autobiographical works; as with other hoaxes, it did not end well, and she published a memoir explaining what she did and why. That memoir is now the subject of a sophisticated film by writer/director Justin Kelly, who manages to avoid any tabloid trashiness, yet still manages to evoke the personal, private horror of a private arrangement that explodes in the public eye. Sister of Geoff (Jim Strugess), Savannah (Kristen Stewart) arrives in San Francisco only to fall under the spell of his girlfriend Laura (Laura Dern). Laura has had literary success as JT Leroy, but needs someone to attend book-signings and literary events. With a blond wig and glasses, Savannah fits the bill, but once an actress (Diane Kruger) is wowed by Laura’s phone-sex skills, a mooted movie-version of LeRoy’s second book threatens to bring a spotlight that shines too brightly for the conspirators to hide from. That Kruger’s character Eva iseemsbased on Asia Argento (whose LeRoy adaptation The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things premiered at Cannes) adds the further layer of notoriety; if nothing else, Kelly’s film illustrates William Goldman’s film industry maxim that nobody knows anything. Eva is presented in a very negative way, offering sex in return for the rights to the book, and then moving onto another relationship once they are secured.’ I made this film for you,’ Eva shrieks, while both Laura and Savannah come out of Kelly’s film with some bonds of friendship intact. Most films about the media have a tin ear; JT LeRoy feels painfully real, not least because Stewart is a great, vulnerable lead, but also because Dern oozes self-assuredness, not least when she’s playing Speedy, an invented personal manager and fixer for LeRoy whose strangulated English accent and colourful wig brings to mind perennial British media non-entity Janet Street Porter.

JT LeRoy is in UK  Cinemas and Digital from 16th August 2019.

Reuben, Reuben 1983 ****

reubenWhy do some truly great films fall into neglect? Reuben, Reuben is a perfect case in point. Tom Conti won an Oscar nomination for best actor in 1983 for his performance as a drunken poet, with Dylan Thomas a clear inspiration. The screenplay, adapted from a novel by noted humourist Peter De Vries and then a play called Spofford, is by Julius J Epstein, who wrote everything from Casablanca to Cross of Iron, and that was also Oscar nominated as one of the five best adapted scripts of the year. It was the first film of Top Gun star Kelly McGillis. And it’s a funny, sweet and yet harsh and original story about excess and survival that’s not dated in any way. And yet there’s no Criterion Collection revival, nor even a spot on Amazon or iTunes, just a rare DVD or Blu Ray that, at twenty bucks a piece, won’t ensnare many casual viewers. The reputation of Robert Ellis Miller, director of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and this, was practically zero when he died in 2017, and that’s a shame for anyone with career highlights like this. Conti is ideal as Gowan McGland, a Scottish poet in suburban American, seducing women, drinking excessively, generally mooching off everyone and unaware that his behaviour is leading to a sticky end, and not one that he can possibly imagine. The problem is more than sex or alcohol addiction. Like Ray Milland in The Man With X Ray Eyes, McGland’s problem is that he sees too much; his wit pulls people towards him, but then pushes them away. It’s a tragic-comedy of the highest order, and it’s well-past high time something was done about restoring the reputation of Reuben, Reuben, which takes its title from the old song, and from the last line of dialogue in a devastating, surprising final scene.

The Little Hours 2017 ****

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Aubrey Plaza’s role in Park and Recreation could have set her up in a rut; her dour demeanour and caustic attitude inspired countless memes, but ran the risk of making Plaza something on a one-trick pony. Thankfully her film work has established that she’s anything but. Films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Ingrid Goes West show a diverse range, but her role as producer and star in writer/director Jeff Baene’s The Little Hours suggests there’s more to come. Based on The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, it’s a medieval comedy which covers some of the same ground as Pasolini’s celebrated film, and has a similarly improvised style. The Little Hours features naughty nuns, randy mutes, and all sorts getting into amorous and sexual escapades in the Italian countryside. Plaza seems to have brought her client book from her Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre days, with comic icons Nick Offerman, Dave Franco, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser amongst a very recognisable cast. The results are generally charming and occasionally hilarious; Reilly has a great scene discussing sin, and Fred Armisen has a brilliant cameo as a scolding Bishop.

The Happy Prince 2018 ***

princeThe Happy Prince is a thoughtful look at the last years of Oscar Wilde, with Rupert Everett clearly relishing the chance to immerse himself in the role to the point of unrecognisability. It’s generally known that Wilde lay in the gutter in his post-gaol period and looked at the stars, and The Happy Prince doesn’t spare us the details of Wilde’s rather desperate life-style in France and Italy. Grasping for money, paying for sex with minors, unwilling to write and ripping everyone off whenever he can, his genius is only glimpsed in fleeting moments, but the film generally avoids sentimentality. Colin Firth and Tom Wilkinson are amongst the support, but it’s clearly a labour of love for writer/director and star Everett, who looks worryingly like Marlon Brando in his death-throes and is well worth seeing in this demanding role.

The Natural 1984 ***

Alongside Out of Africa, The Natural represents the last significant entries in Robert Redford’s career as a top movie star. Later to reinvent himself as a guru of indie-film-making via Sundance, Redford was smart enough to forge a career when audiences were no longer blown away by his golden boy looks. But in his heyday, he was happy to trade on them, and this adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s novel is a serious-minded baseball story that elevates Roy Hobbs (Redford) to near Messianic-levels. Glenn Close plays his sweet girlfriend, Barbara Hershey is a predictably dark femme fatale, and Robert Duvall dispenses homilies. The problem with The Natural is that for all the sumptuous period detail evoked by Barry Levinson’s direction, the feel-good ending, straight out of a late Rocky movie, is completely at odd with the book’s conclusion, and takes the King Arthur theme far too literally. With a magic bat called Wonderboy instead of Excalibur, The Natural is a literate and intelligent film that sells-out at the crucial moment.

Orlando 1992 ***

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Sally Potter is one of Britain’s most original and underrated film-makers, her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a gender-bending spectacle that’s crammed full of sociological wit and wisdom. With a time span of over 400 years, Orlando (Tilda Swinton) never ages from the 16th century to the modern day, changing sex from male to female in the process. The casting of Quentin Crisp and Queen Elizabeth I adds to the studied eccentricity; goodness knows what Billy Zane thought he was making, but he’s actually quite good as a paramour. The influence of Derek Jarman is obvious, but Potter’s hard-to-find film is worth seeking out for students of literature, poetry and sexual politics alike.