history

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

February 8, 2014
'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' (2013)
Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela

There is a special tone reserved for the bio-pic of some major historical figure. Such films tend to be stately, respectful, almost in awe of their subject. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a textbook example of the genre. Despite the obligatory disclaimer that it will show us the hero as we have never seen … More


Elvis at 21

February 8, 2014
On train, New York to Memphis July 4, 1956 © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved, NPG

In 1956 the United States had plenty to think about. World War II lingered in popular memory; the Cold War was in full swing; and in Montgomery Alabama, black citizens were boycotting the local buses in one of the first great campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. But the subject causing consternation in the mass … More


12 Years a Slave

February 1, 2014
Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave', 2013

It used to be commonplace for directors to cut their teeth in the theatre before moving on to the cinema. In the future it seems likely there will be more directors who begin their careers at art school making videos and installations before progressing to full-length features. Steve McQueen is currently the most prominent example … More


Twenty Feet from Stardom

November 23, 2013
Lisa Fischer in the film "Twenty Feet From Stardom," directed by Morgan Neville.       NYTCREDIT: Graham Willoughby/Sundance Film Festival

One of the features of world cinema over the past decade has been the resurgence of the feature-length documentary. Two outstanding new examples are getting theatrical releases this week: 20 Feet From Stardom, which looks at the careers of some of the leading back-up singers in popular music; and Blackfish, which examines the lives of … More


The Act of Killing & Rush

October 5, 2013
Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 2.08.15 PM

There are limits to a social conscience. When a film has attracted every possible superlative it takes on the status of a must-see event, but after about ten minutes you know The Act of Killing will be both sickening and unforgettable. As one deadpan horror follows another in an interminable procession, many viewers will decide … More


Farewell My Queen & Fast and Furious 6

June 8, 2013
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Everyone knows the story of doomed, frivolous Marie Antoinette whose life of pampered luxury was ended by the guillotine. The Queen’s personality was established in filmmakers’ minds by Stefan Zweig’s best-selling biography of 1932, subtitled The Portrait of an Average Woman, and she has never been allowed to deviate too far from that model. Among … More


NO & The Company You Keep

April 20, 2013
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In old episodes of Get Smart, it was not uncommon for Secret Agent 86 to wish that some villain had used his powers “for niceness instead of evil”. No is the movie that applies this wishful thought to the advertising industry. It is 1988, in Chile. The military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet has been … More


Hyde Park on Hudson & Silence in the House of God

March 30, 2013
Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 6.06.08 PM

Hard on the heels of Lincoln comes another movie about a great American President. But if Steven Spielberg seemed to be sending a message to Barack Obama about being steadfast and determined, it’s hard to know what Richard Michell is telling us about Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. Allowing for its Spielbergisms, … More


Lincoln & Elles

February 9, 2013
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It’s impossible to watch Lincoln without thinking how little, and how much, American politics has changed since the days of the Civil War. The same ramshackle cast of opportunists, ideologues, yes men and non-entities sits in the House of Representatives, but nowadays the radical thrust comes from the right not the left. The radicals of … More


Zero Dark Thirty & The Impossible

February 2, 2013
Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 11.37.39 PM

Zero Dark Thirty arrives at our cinemas with a readymade controversy: “Should director, Kathryn Bigelow, and scriptwriter, Mark Boal, have included the scenes of the CIA torturing prisoners?” Although it was driven home by the scandal of Abu Ghraib, surely noobdy will be surprised to learn the Americans practised torture. Indeed, it would have been … More