Film Review: 'Timbuktu'

★★★★☆
"Tire it, don't kill it," shouts a hunter to his party as they pursue a gazelle across the desert plain in a jeep. The men let off sporadic shots with the assault rifles they will later use to rip apart the sculptures and effigies that represent a culture their new Islamic regime is trying to suppress. Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu (2014) - getting a release after premièring at last year's Cannes - is a beautiful drama fuelled by a sense of urgent and righteous anger. But there's sadness here as well as hope. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives with his wife, Satima (Toulou Kiki), and their daughter, Toya (Layle Walet Mohamed), in the desert near a town which has been taken over by the Islamic police.
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Film Review: 'San Andreas'

★★☆☆☆
The disaster movie is the hallmark mainstay of the summer blockbuster. From its high point in the late 1990s with hits such as Independence Day (1996) and Armageddon (1998), nothing has traditionally drawn crowds more than the sight of familiar vistas being reduced to rubble. World events and the rise of superhero movies have meant they are less common these days, but one new entry in the genre is San Andreas (2015). Popular action star Dwayne Johnson takes the lead as Ray, a helicopter rescue pilot desperately trying to save his daughter (Alexandra Daddario), caught on the streets of San Francisco as it is ravaged by the worst earthquake in history.
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Film Review: 'Results'

★★★☆☆
Results (2015) - the fifth film from Andrew Bujalski, the director of 2013's Computer Chess - takes a while to find itself. Once it does, it's revealed to be a funny, well observed and quite touching adult romantic comedy about relationships and happiness, and how those concepts differs from one person to the next. Australian expat Trevor (Guy Pearce) is the proprietor of a downtown fitness store, complete with a small but adept team of personal trainers, one of which is Kat (Cobie Smulders). When newly rich dimwit Danny (Kevin Corrigan) turns up, they're tasked with putting him into shape - a task that has repercussions for all three of them.
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Film Review: 'Man Up'

★★☆☆☆
A forcedly feel-good British rom-com starring the quirkily charming Lake Bell and frenetic Simon Pegg as its screwball couple, Man Up (2015) falls surprisingly flat. Even the strained efforts of its talented lead actors fail to redeem the pitfalls of a woefully cheesy, unoriginal script and a wasted premise of mistaken identity on a first blind date. But if smugly stereotypical characters, cheap fellatio jokes, and Bridget Jonesy New Year's resolutions - "Put yourself out there, take chances, engage with life, get stronger thighs" - are your thing, you might enjoy this film. With her iconically toothy grin, unlucky-in-love Nancy (Bell) tricks the recently-scorned Jack (Pegg) into thinking he's met his internet-delivered mate.
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Film Review: 'The Goob'

★★★☆☆
It may be a stretch to proclaim The Goob (2014) as an 'East Anglian Gummo' but it certainly shares some similarities with Harmony Korine's debut. The flat and dusty Norfolk countryside setting is the type of landscape seldom represented in UK cinema, and there are moments when it feels like you're watching a US Midwestern counterpart. Liam Walpole as the titular figure also has the kind of striking otherworldly features that made the feral, cat-drowning buddies in Gummo so watchable (it's no surprise to learn he was offered a modelling contract after the film was completed). There's an appealingly enigmatic quality to both Goob and the film itself, which goes some way to making up for narrative shortcomings.
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Film Review: 'The Dead Lands'

★★★☆☆
There's much to be said for genre films that strip things back to their fundamental elements and hit the ground running, shorn of all contrivances and elaborate special effects. Whilst much is going on in Toa Fraser's The Dead Lands (2014), it is primarily a lean and undeniably brutal actioner that claims to be the first film to truly showcase Maori martial arts. This is the case to a certain extent; it forefronts bone-crunching combat as it follows a young warrior through dangerous territory. Though it can feel a little one-note as times, spectacular landscapes and a drop of mysticism elevate this slick tribal thriller that calls to mind Mel Gibson's heart-pounding Apocalypto (2006).
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Film Review: 'Danny Collins'

★★☆☆☆
"I was the real thing, once" claims Al Pacino's title character in new comic-drama, Danny Collins (2015). Oh, Al. He's playing a once-promising folk singer who has leveraged his talent against a bleach-blonde trophy girlfriend, a vacuous mansion, and a limitless supply of booze and drugs. Whilst this may be far from a personally biographic account of regret and wasted ability for its star, it will be hard for fans in the audience not to be painfully aware of the similarities in much of the actor's recent output. It's impossible not to project his crooning cringe-worthy No. 1 hit Sweet Baby Doll onto the "hoo-ha" bombast that equally drowned out Pacino's nuanced artistry.
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Film Review: 'The Connection'

★★★☆☆
While a fellow adaptation rather than a remake, The Connection (with the rather pleasing alternative title of La French in its homeland) will not escape comparisons with The French Connection (1971), William Friedkin's classic based on a different part of the same period. Nevertheless, there is plenty to distinguish this thriller, set in 1970s' Marseille. Two of France's heavyweight stars go head-to- head, with Jean Dujardin (in his first post-Oscar leading role) playing a Marseille police magistrate Pierre, whose pursuit of one of France's top drug dealers (Gilles Lellouche) pushes both men to the edge professionally and personally. Stylistically, director Cedric Jiminez hits all the desired targets.
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DVD Review: 'Testament of Youth'

★★★★☆
James Kent's magnificent feature debut Testament of Youth (2014), based on Vera Brittain's bestselling memoir about the First World War, is a real tearjerker that should move male and female audiences alike and appeal to fans of Joe Wright's Atonement (2007). Screenwriter Juliette Towhidi (Love, Rosie) focuses on Brittain's coming of age - from the rural idyll where she grew up, through the hallowed halls of Oxford, to the horrors of war - the loss she endured and the carnage she witnessed. All naturally led her down the path of pacifism. Vera (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina), is desperate to study at Oxford but her father (Dominic West) disapproves of her academic ambition.
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DVD Review: 'Polish Cinema Classics Vol.III'

★★★★☆
"Polish films are... boring..." claims Engineer Mamon in Marek Piwowski's The Cruise (1970), widely considered the country's original 'cult' film. A tongue-in-cheek microcosm of the Communist state in which it was produced, it sits perfectly within the third volume of Second Run's excellent Polish Cinema Classics series alongside Krzysztof Zanussi's Camouflage (1977) and Wojciech Marczewski's Shivers (1981). Both of the latter filmmakers were featured in Volume 2 of the series and whilst neither film here quite matches the defining masterworks produced previously, this is another impressive triptych that proves Mamon wrong and showcases three distinct approaches to challenging the social order.
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Blu-ray Review: 'Paper Moon'

★★★★☆
In LCD Soundsystem's Losing My Edge, James Murphy charts the history of alternative music and places himself at every key scene along the way ("I was there at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City") as a consolation for behind left behind by a scene in which he's no longer the nucleus. It's a hymn to the Almost Men of the arts in the twentieth century; the artists obsessed by the history of their media, but creatively daunted by the pedestal on which they placed it. Peter Bogdanovich was New Hollywood's almost man; the movement's chief cinephile, he understood cinema like few of the other "Movie Brats" (with the exception of Martin Scorsese, perhaps).
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DVD Review: 'The Interview'

★☆☆☆☆
Watching the completely feckless and puerile outing that is The Interview (2014) is to watch the death of a bromance. Seth Rogen and James Franco have worked together onscreen for nearly two decades. In that time, audiences have watched these two actors become a formidable comic duo, delivering some of the most screwball comedies in recent memory. With this latest outing, there's no shortage of idiocy and it rarely ever works. Perhaps the vain hope that audiences would continue to tolerate the mind-boggling lack of competence or construction of proper comedy is what drove Rogen and Franco to create The Interview.
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DVD Review: 'Gente de Bien'

★★★★☆
There are a number of key scenes in Columbian director Franco Lolli's superb Gente de Bien (2014) - a playful title that means both 'Decent People' and 'Well-off People' - where it feels like it was written as a sequel to Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948). The setting (Bogotá) and the language (Spanish) are immaterial to the notion that the neorealist classic is this French-Colombian co-production's spiritual cousin. The story of a working-class man and his son passing through an upper-class world (thanks to a kindly employer) is a beautifully observed tale about familial estrangement, the false consciousness of the class system and reconciliation between a parent and child that barely know each other.
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Blu-ray Review: 'Chaplin's Mutual Comedies'

★★★★★
Signing a contract with a distributor rather than a studio might appear to be a very modern course of action for a star to take. But Charles Chaplin, the pioneer that he was, did such a thing way back in 1916, when he signed up to make twelve comedy shorts for Mutual Film Corporation. The deal was an industry sensation. He became one of the highest paid industry talents in the world. Chaplin co-wrote, directed and starred in a dozen films that showed off the true birth of a movie-making genius. He had directed plenty of times before, for Keystone and Essanay, and very successfully, but this contract with Mutual foreshadowed the industry quip about the lunatics taking over the asylum.
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Kinoteka 2015: 'The Promised Land' review

★★★★★
It has been sixty years since the release of Andrzej Wajda's first film, Generation (1955), and in that time he has directed over fifty more. 1975's The Promised Land, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Academy Awards, is one of his very best. That's no mean feat in a filmography brimming with social deconstruction and boasting riches like Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and Man of Marble (1977). Based on the novel of the same name by Nobel laureate Wladyslaw Reymont, Wajda's drama paints an absorbing portrait of late 19th century Poland, caught in the vice-like grip of commercialism.
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Kinoteka 2015: 'The Last Day of Summer' review

★★★★☆
Novelist turned filmmaker Tadeusz Konwicki excelled at crafting an atmosphere of the otherworldly on the screen. Though 1965's Jump may be more widely known and highly regarded, a similar milieu pervades The Last Day of Summer (1958), Konwici's first film behind the camera. Ostensibly a straightforward relationship drama far more in the social realist vein typical of Polish cinema at that time, it contains a lyrical quality that elevates an otherwise conventional allegory. It provides the lens through which to discover a poetry that from which a far less literal understanding of the film can transform it from littoral rhyme to deeply poignant ode.
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Kinoteka 2015: 'Austeria' review

★★★★☆
There's a moment of cinematic perfection around forty minutes into Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Austeria (1981). It's an instant of the kind of visual poetry that enlivens the medium in the viewer's mind and reminds us of the simple potency that film can have in the hands of a real master. A girl runs through a field, fleeing the sound of soldiers' gunshots. The picture is desaturated, like many films involving war; her dress is bright white against a sea of brown fronds in a clearly perishing crop. Suddenly she stops; she's been hit. And Kawalerowicz slowly turns the colour on to reveal a field of blood-red shrubbery, symbolically painted by her death. It's utterly chilling and incomprehensibly beautiful.
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Kinoteka 2015: 'Ashes and Diamonds' review

★★★★★
In 1956 there was a seismic political shift in Poland known variously as the Polish Thaw or Polish October. The Stalinist period ended and the entire country went through a process of comparable liberalisation that naturally extended to the filmmaking community. Free of the constraints placed upon the medium by the Soviet Union - which shackled both narrative opposition and formal experimentation - the likes of Andrzej Wajda were able to cast off their irons. With social realism no longer imposed as a matter of course, Wajda set about making the third feature in what is now referred to as his 'war trilogy'; the remarkable and deeply symbolic, Ashes and Diamonds (1958).
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Cannes 2015: 'Rams' review

★★★★☆
A story of filial rivalry in a remote valley in Iceland, Grímur Hákonarson's second narrative feature Rams (Hrútar, 2015) begins as an oddball comedy about sheep farming and grows slowly into a tale of elemental and moving power, deservingly winning the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes. The film focuses, and initially sides with, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), an unmarried solitary sheep farmer, whose affection for his flock is obvious and heartfelt, sniggering aside. Like a long term dog owner, he's even grown to resemble them with his woolly jumpers and woolly beard. He lives one hundred yards from Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), his elder brother with whom he hasn't exchanged a word for forty years.
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Cannes 2015: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' wins Palme d'Or

The results are in. The closing ceremony of the 68th edition of the Cannes film festival began more like the Oscars than the glamorous, abrupt ceremonies of old; with John C. Reilly scat-singing and a sense of anticipation with a field which was more open than previous years. Son of Saul was the Palme d'Or favourite with many critics, including this one, but in the end László Nemes had to settle for second prize - the Grand Prix - for his harrowing day-in-the-life of a Sonderkommando. Still, a remarkable achievement for a debut film which boldly sticks to its experimental approach and provides a horrifically immersive experience of the Holocaust at ground zero. However, it was French director Jacques Audiard who instead received the Palme d'Or for his social realist Tamil in Paris thriller, Dheepan.
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Cannes 2015: 'Dheepan', Palme d'Or

★★★☆☆
Following the impressive The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), the excellent A Prophet (2010) and the melodramatic Rust and Bone (2012), Jacques Audiard returns to Cannes with Dheepan (2015), a mix of Loachian social realism and Death Wish-style violent fantasy. This outsider in Paris tale begins with a Tamil freedom fighter burning the bodies of his dead comrades and throwing his uniform into the fire. Disillusioned with the war he adopts the identity of one of the dead men, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) and, with the help of the smuggler, recruits a young woman to pose as his wife (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and an orphaned child (Claudine Vinasithamby) to be their daughter.
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Cannes 2015: 'Son of Saul' review

★★★★★
Hungarian director László Nemes' debut film Son of Saul (2015) is a stunning and aptly horrifying close-up view of the Holocaust and must be a favourite to pick up a prize at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. Géza Röhrig plays Saul, a Sonderkommando: a Jewish prisoner tasked with the dirty job of the death camps. The squads take the new arrivals off the trains into the changing rooms with promises of hot coffee and gainful employment. "We need carpenters, we need handymen,- they yell as they help the prisoners undress and lead them into the showers, after which food is promised. They stand to the side while the screams begin and the long noise of many people dying.
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Cannes 2015: 'The Assassin' review

★★★★☆
After a long and troubled production history, Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin (2015) has arrived in Cannes and it has to be one of the most beautifully shot films of the competition so far. Like the Barry Lyndon of martial arts movies, every shot has been composed, lit and executed with such care and attention by Hou and his cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing that The Assassin is totally absorbing in its spectacle, from the meticulous details of the interiors to the astonishing, breathtaking locations, from forests and waterfalls, to mountainsides and in one unforgettable moment cliff tops. The story is a dense affair that even with a pre-title explanation will leave many scratching their heads.
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Cannes 2015: 'Measure of a Man' review

★★★☆☆
A drama about a dignified man struggling to make ends meet minus the usual tragedy, histrionics and melodrama, Stéphane Brizé's The Measure of a Man (La Loi du Marché, 2015) provides an insight into the life of a working-class guy at the sharp end of the economic crisis. Made redundant from his job in the factory, Thierry (Vincent Lindon) has just come back from a course teaching him to operate a crane, only to find no one will give him a job if he doesn't already have on site experience. He calmly expresses his complaint at the job centre, criticising them for not telling the other attenders of the course that it would be effectively useless for them.
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Cannes 2015: 'The Lobster' review

★★★★☆
Award-winning Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster (2015), entering the hotly contested race for this year's coveted Palme d'Or, is an absurdist comedy set in a world in which being single is forbidden. Colin Farrell plays David, an architect who - on separating from his partner - is taken to a hotel where, along with other singles, he must find a partner or be transformed into an animal of his choosing. He chooses the titular lobster. The singles spend their time at the hotel undergoing almost punitive social mixing, uncomfortable small talk and watching staff-led vignettes on the benefits of being a couple (the Heimlich maneuver being a particularly strong argument). They also go hunting for loners.
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Cannes 2015: 'Mon Roi' review

★★☆☆☆
Mon Roi (My King, 2015) is a colourful yet clichéd relationship drama from French actor and director Maïwenn, playing today in competition at Cannes and representing one of several homegrown efforts. Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot), a successful lawyer, is skiing when she has a bad accident, breaking her leg. There's a suspicion that she might have unconsciously caused the accident herself: "It might be pop psychology" says the hospital therapist, but it won't be the last. Sent to recuperate at a clinic by the sea, here Tony reflects on an old relationship with Giorgio (Vincent Cassel). As she begins to recover her mobility with difficulty and pain, she plays out the whole of her relationship in chronological order.
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Cannes 2015: 'Carol' review

★★★★☆
The selection for this year's Cannes Film Festival seemed to suggest that gritty reality was back on the cards, with a surprise piece of social realism screening on opening night. Todd Haynes' first feature in seven years feels like an overwhelming retaliation to all that. Beautifully adapted from Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt, Carol (2015) is a stunning wash of complimentary colours, yearning chords, production design and melodrama. The story begins in New York at the end of 1952, a time of uncertainty in the USA. The Second World War was over, the consumerist age had yet to come. It was a mood that helped establish the House of Un-American Activities and see the rise of film noir.
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Cannes 2015: 'Chronic' review

★★★☆☆
Following his brutal depiction of high school bullying in After Lucia (2012), Mexican director Michel Franco returns to Cannes in competition with Chronic (2015), a slowburning drama about a committed nurse caring for terminally ill patients. In one of the best performances of recent years, Tim Roth stars as David, the palliative care nurse who takes his duties very seriously and perhaps oversteps the bounds. Franco's style favours the long drawn out take, the stillness of waiting for something to happen, his camera moving infrequently. And this austerity serves the subject as David himself carefully moves and manipulates his patients for their comfort and ease.
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Cannes 2015: 'Valley of Love' review

★★☆☆☆
Two legends of French cinema arrived on the Cannes Croisette today, with Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert starring as fictionalised versions of themselves in Guillaume Nicloux's meditation on family, death and forgiveness, Valley of Love (2015). Gerard (Depardieu) and Isabelle (Huppert) are two actors who were married had a son and were swiftly divorced. Their estranged son committed suicide a few months ago but left them both letters instructing them to meet up in Death Valley and to go through a pre-arranged itinerary of tourist spots, where Michael (their deceased son) promises he will reappear. They dutifully set about the trip but their bickering begins almost immediately.
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Cannes 2015: 'Macbeth' review

★★★★☆
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes - namely Snowtown director Justin Kurzel's visually inventive take on the Scottish play Macbeth (2015), starring Michael Fassbender as the murderous Thane and Marion Cotillard as his Lady. Scotland is in the grip of civil war and the survival of King Duncan's (David Thewlis) reign depends on a final battle with the loyal Macbeth commanding his troops. The battle is bloody and brutal but with a stylised 300-like aesthetic of slow motion interlaced with bloody detail. Banquo (the ever excellent Paddy Considine) and Macbeth meet up with the weird sisters - four rather than three here - and are gifted/cursed with their fatal prophecies.
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Cannes 2015: 'The Little Prince' review

★★☆☆☆
On 30 December 1935, aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, along with his copilot, crashed in the Sahara desert while trying to break a speed record. Although they survived the crash, the ordeal had only begun and several days of dehydration, scorching heat, and subsequent hallucinations were undergone in the desert before they were rescued by a Bedouin tribesman. The trauma became the inciting incident for the writing of one of the 20th century's most beloved novellas. The Little Prince (2015) tells the tale of a young boy who greets a stranded airman in the Sahara - poor André Prévot (the copilot) doesn't get a mention - and tells him tales of his adventures on his home planet.
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Cannes 2015: 'Dope' review

★★★★☆
Fresh from a successful bow at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Rick Famuyiwa's Dope (2015) hit the Director's Fortnight sidebar at Cannes to resounding praise from the critical circuit. It's a hip-hop remix of the kind of high school comedy that John Hughes cut his teeth on in the Eighties; a Ferris Beuller's Day Off in Inglewood, if you will. Three friends - our hero Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori, last seen as the bell hop in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel) - have all the usual problems of young kids at school: fitting in with their peers, being bullied and struggling to keep their grades up.
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Cannes 2015: 'Alias María' review

★★★☆☆
Showing in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes, Colombian director José Luis Rugeles' sophomore effort Alias María (2015) is a tense thriller about a child soldier's attempt to survive war and pregnancy in the jungle. Deep in the Colombian bush a group of freedom fighters are given their regular check up by the doctor. A young kid from the village is fascinated by the guns and despite his mother's best efforts is recruited. Meanwhile, 13-year-old María (Karen Torres) waits to see the doctor, certain that she is pregnant and will need an abortion. The soldiers are told sternly by the doctor that the condom "is sacred. Let's not litter the jungle with babies".
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Cannes 2015: 'Love' review

★★★☆☆
Trailing poster-fuelled controversy and its French director's reputation as an arch provocateur, Gaspar Noé's NSFW 3D erotica Love (2015) was the most midnight of midnight movies at Cannes this year. The film tells the tale of a love affair played out by the only two twentysomethings in the western hemisphere without tattoos. Electra (Aomi Muyock) is a Parisian artist, who's sometimes heavy-handed with the ol' recreationals. Murphy (Karl Glusman) is the American film student who pontificates unconvincingly about what Noé thinks about cinema and falls desperately for Electra. Despite his ardour, the boy is flesh and blood and so tends to stray and is undone by man's old foe - pregnancy.
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Cannes 2015: 'Youth' review

★★★☆☆
Paolo Sorrentino's Youth (2015), his latest meditation on aging, memory and mortality, premièred at Cannes in competition today to assorted cheers and boos. This review is going to fall somewhere between the two. Retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is spending his holiday undergoing a variety of health treatments in a spa resort in the Swiss Alps, along with his old friend and film director Mick (Harvey Keitel), his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a Hollywood actor preparing for a new role in a German film. In the evening the world's most elegant pub band plays covers on a revolving stage which is eminently suitable for a striking opening shot.
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Cannes 2015: 'Mountains May Depart' review

★★★☆☆
Following his well-regarded A Touch of Sin (2013), which played in Cannes a couple of years ago, Jia Zhang-ke is back in competition with a new three-part drama, Mountains May Depart (2015). Each section takes on a different period in time starting in 1999. China is moving toward the new millennium with confidence and optimism - ironically underlined by a group dancing to the pumped-up strains of The Pet Shop Boys singing The Pet Shop Boys' Go West. This is before the popularity of widescreen televisions, and so the first section takes place in the old box pan-and-scan 4:3 ratio. Two friends Liang (Liang Jingdong) and Jingsheng (Zhang Yi) vie for the affections of Tao (Jia's wife Zhao Tao).
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