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Ian Freer

Ian Freer

Articles (5)

The best films of 2019 (you probably didn’t see)

The best films of 2019 (you probably didn’t see)

‘Avengers: Endgame’, ‘Joker’ and co ruled the box office but there were plenty of smaller gems that didn’t get the same airtime or budgets but offered quieter wonders. Here’s our pick of the indies and arthouse films that stood the test of time in 2019.

Classics Corner: William Friedkin talks ‘Sorcerer’

Classics Corner: William Friedkin talks ‘Sorcerer’

Why did you want to remake ‘The Wages of Fear’?‘I don’t consider it a remake. The characters are different, the situations are different, the beginning and the ending and maybe everything in between, with perhaps one exception, are different from [director Henri-Georges] Clouzot’s great movie. I thought the story by Georges Arnaud had a tremendous shelf life and it hadn’t been widely seen in America when it came out in the ’50s – and that was a butchered version. The whole ending of Clouzot’s film had been changed. I thought of it as a timeless story that could be filmed once again in a completely different set of circumstances.’ What did you respond to in the material?‘There is an overriding theme: four strangers having to co-operate in taking two loads of dynamite to put out an oil-well fire, which is clearly a metaphor for the world. Unless countries can find a way to co-operate, they will all blow up together. ‘Wages of Fear’ is a kind of metaphor for co-operation or destruction. That seemed to me to be a valid theme – even more so today.’ Is it true it started life as a small movie while you were waiting to direct the big budget ‘Devil’s Triangle’? ‘No, it started it life as the way it was intended to start life. Almost all of the stuff in it had not been done before. The essential events that make up the journey. What I did – what had not been done in the novel or Clouzot’s masterpiece – was [include] back stories for the four guys. It started life as the script that wa

Five Han mysteries we want ‘Solo’ to solve

Five Han mysteries we want ‘Solo’ to solve

1. How did Han get his go-it-alone surname?We know that Han is an orphan from the planet Corellia, who briefly tried to join the evil Empire but dropped out to find his childhood love, Qi’ra. But how did he earn that strangely specific surname? 2. How comes he speaks Chewbacca’s language?‘Solo’ reveals that our hero met his furry bestie Chewbacca in a mud fight, just like 1980s female wrestlers. But how did he became fluent in Shyriiwook, the Wookiee language? Did he take an online course or just pick it up between TIE Fighter attacks? 3. What’s the deal with Lando?Han has always been frenemies with fellow hustler Lando Calrissian – last seen played by Billy Dee Williams in ‘Return of the Jedi’ – though it’s a rivalry based mostly on who’s coolest. The correct answer, of course, is Lando – especially now with Donald Glover, aka hip hop star Childish Gambino, donning his cloak. A rumour that he raps ‘This Is Cloud City’ while stormtroopers quell a riot is sadly unfounded. 4. How did Solo get the Millennium Falcon?We know Han won his iconic spaceship from Lando in a card game. But how exactly did that showdown play out? The ship is in good nick in ‘Solo’: it has a nifty bar, walk-in wardrobes and pristine corridors. We know from the beaten-up Falcon of ‘Star Wars’ that this doesn’t last. Does Chewie throw a keg party? 5. What happened on the Kessel Run?For the uninitiated, that’s the hyperspace route used to smuggle narcotics from the spice mines of Kessel. (Best to just go w

The best films for kids this Easter

The best films for kids this Easter

At Easter there are only so many egg hunts and chocolate-eating sessions kids can take over one bank holiday. And while there are heaps of activities for kids happening, you can't go wrong with a trip to the movies. From pesky rabbits to battling superheroes, operatic fairy tales to time-travelling fantasy, this holiday there’s a bumper crop of new family-friendly film releases to keep kids of all ages occupied during the school break.  RECOMMENDED: Crack open the full guide to Easter in London

Six London locations with ‘Star Wars’ history

Six London locations with ‘Star Wars’ history

We scoured the galaxy – well, Greater London – for half a dozen locations that have helped make the ‘Star Wars’ franchise what it is. Pack your virtual Oyster card and join our tour de Force...

Listings and reviews (10)

Damascus Cover

Damascus Cover

2 out of 5 stars

There are a lot of potentially interesting movies hiding inside ‘Damascus Cover’, based on Howard Kaplan’s 1977 novel, but unfortunately, none of them comes close to fruition. Part espionage thriller, part action flick, part character study of a man consumed by the spy life, Daniel Zelik Berk’s film doesn’t deliver the compelling subterfuge, political complexities, high-octane set-pieces or human dimensions to satisfy. Instead, it’s a mechanical retread of familiar spy tropes that does little to surprise or grip. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is undercover Israeli agent Ari Ben-Zion, who undertakes a dangerous mission in Syria, smuggling a chemical weapons scientist and his family out of Damascus. Posing as German carpet salesman Hans Hoffman, his sortie takes in Jürgen Prochnow’s former Nazi, a mysterious figure called ‘The Angel’ and USA Today photojournalist Kim (Olivia Thirlby) who reminds him of a life beyond deception. Cue double crosses, close calls and third-act reveals that shock no one. Still, the rugs are pretty. In lieu of elegant depictions of spycraft, ‘Damascus Cover’ serves up a hodge-podge of tired espionage tics from tin-eared dialogue (‘Follow that white car!’) to clichéd Middle Eastern musical cues to the well-worn idea of an undercover agent who doesn’t know who he is anymore. When it comes to the action, there is little bravura (or budget): the shoot-outs underpowered, the fistfights sub ‘Bourne’. John Hurt, in his final role, adds an elegiac note as Ari’s Mossad

Spitfire

Spitfire

3 out of 5 stars

A biography of the iconic fighter plane, ‘Spitfire’ mixes interviews with the last surviving pilots, remastered archive footage and beautifully shot, if over-used, footage of a Spitfire in flight. It’s traditional in form – Charles Dance delivers Stentorian commentary 101 – and adds little new to the story but it gets by on the powerful, touching, funny reminiscences from the pilots themselves. ‘Spitfire’ starts a biography of a machine, tracing its journey from designer’s RJ Mitchell drawing board (an icon of British resistance, it interestingly had design influences from Germany), but soon gets caught up in a retelling of the Battle of Britain itself. Cue Churchill speeches, things being pushed around on maps and people mentioning ‘the Hun’ a lot. A section detailing the plane’s role in North Africa feels different – the wing-mounted footage is exhilarating – but mostly the film delivers a familiar sortie into WWII documentary territory. ‘Spitfire’ is at its best when it gives the stage to the pilots, at once self-deprecatory (‘Being shot down didn’t appeal to me’) and honest (‘I can’t help it. I enjoyed it’). It also shines a light on the female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary who flew the planes up and down the country between airfields, at one point touchingly granting 100-year-old Mary Wilkins the chance to fly in a Spitfire again. It does little to puncture the mythology surrounding the plane – we don’t hear from Luftwaffe pilots who faced it – but on the centena

Mario

Mario

4 out of 5 stars

You don’t need Gary Lineker and a fancy graphic to tell you there are no openly gay top-flight footballers in the world right now. The pressures that might inform the decision to keep schtum are acutely etched in ‘Mario’, a conventional but engaging Swiss-German drama that’s as engrossing as it is timely. Golden-boy striker Mario (Max Hubacher) is the captain of a Swiss U21 team in which every player is jostling for a first-team place. These tensions are intensified with the arrival of another forward (Aaron Altaras) who is assigned digs with Mario. Of course, their initial antipathy transforms over pizza and PlayStation into attraction, then affection. Director Marcel Gisler takes his time building the connection, which pays off when their relationship is blown into the open by a jealous teammate. Here the film becomes even more absorbing, the ramifications of the relationship examined through the prism of the club, agents, family, friends and, most importantly, the couple themselves. The themes of love versus career are well-worn, but Gisler’s attention to detail and the winning chemistry between the leads draws you into the story. It’s also a rare big-screen film that mounts football scenes credibly, eschewing slow-motion bicycle kicks for something you might see on a Saturday afternoon at Charlton. But, you know, more exciting. 

Racer and the Jailbird

Racer and the Jailbird

2 out of 5 stars

‘Amour noir’ is Flemish director Michaël R Roskam’s description of ‘Racer and the Jailbird’. A heady cocktail of crime, passion and miserable Belgian weather, it initially fizzes on the back of its charismatic leads, Roskam regular Matthias Schoenaerts (‘Bullhead’, ‘The Drop’) and ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ breakout star Adèle Exarchopoulos, yet falls fail of the law of diminishing returns. Divided into three separate episodes, it’s a movie that relies on its central pairing’s chemistry and Schoenarts and Exarchopoulos have it in spades. He is Gigi, a career criminal masquerading as an importer/exporter. She is Bibi, a race-car driver who comes third in touring car meetings. The setup draws obvious parallels between the thrill of crime and the need for speed as the pair become intensely entangled, Gigi refusing to tell Bibi the truth about his nefarious activities. Roskam also breaks out two exhilarating robbery sequences straight out of the Michael Mann playbook, the second an audacious hold up involving a lorry dropped from a bridge. But when Gigi gets caught for the latter (the spoiler is in the title) the film loses its main assets, chiefly cool crime scenes and the heat between Schoenarts and Exarchopoulos, morphing into a lacklustre bride-of-a-convict movie. If that wasn’t bad enough, the final third swerves into another genre altogether that stretches credulity to breaking point. What started as something as sexy and gripping ends up strangely melancholic and sentime

Edie

Edie

3 out of 5 stars

If you’ve ever wanted to see Sheila Hancock neck a can of Strongbow, ‘Edie’ is the film for you. Another entry into the profitable Brit subgenre of OAPs-find-a-new-lease-of-life, Simon Hunter’s film is marred by contrivance and predictability but gets by on a feel for life’s missed opportunities, a good heart and a strong central performance by Hancock as a woman finally realising her taste for adventure. The set-up is delivered effectively: after her controlling husband dies, Edie is packed off to a care home by her equally controlling daughter. But rather than spend her time flower-arranging, she heads off on a dream expedition to climb Mount Suilven in Scotland. At this point, ‘Edie’ segues into an odd-couple relationship picture as the roaming pensioner literally bumps into Jonny (Kevin Guthrie) who – happily for Edie and conveniently for the plot – runs the area’s biggest camping shop. What follows is training montages, comedy slipping-in-mud, whimsical bike-riding, falling outs and reconciliations, all leading to a dramatic final-reel ascent of the mountain. The writing is heavy-handed (Jonny keeps reminding us how inspiring it all is) and there’s little in the way of adventurous filmmaking (it overplays the manifold helicopter shots to the extent it might have been sponsored by the Highlands tourist board). But there is nice chemistry between the central pair; and as you’d expect, Hancock owns it: Edie is a character who doesn’t beg to be liked – when she drops an F-bo

That Good Night

That Good Night

3 out of 5 stars

‘That Good Night’ is built around the very last lead performance of John Hurt. Filmed after his own cancer diagnosis in 2015, the story of a dying writer refusing to ‘rage against the dying of the light’ has the air of a 92-minute long goodbye. If the film itself doesn’t match up to Hurt’s towering talents, it is still an enjoyable portrait of the final days of a world-class misanthrope. Hurt is Ralph Maitland, a terminally ill Bafta-winning screenwriter, living in Portugal, who just wants to die. Refusing to tell his patient, much-younger wife Anna (Sofia Helin, Saga in ‘The Bridge’) the gravity of his latest diagnosis, Ralph looks to get his affairs in order, summoning his estranged son Michael (Max Brown) to make amends. When Michael arrives with girlfriend Cassie (Erin Richards) in tow, what follows is world-weary Ralph hurling insults (Hurt is brilliantly toxic in a dinner argument) and forcing everyone to breaking point. The best scenes in the movie see Ralph visited by a mysterious stranger in a white suit (Charles Dance, who seems to have spent three-quarters of his career in linen togs). The Visitor, as he is billed in the credits, may be from a secret euthanasia society. Or he may be the angel of death. Either way, the pair mull over questions of mortality in philosophical chats. Above and beyond the debates, it is just a joy to listen to two of the great voices in English acting: Dance’s deep, velvety tones; Hurt’s booze-and-fags rasp. Played out mostly on a vill

Un lugar tranquilo

Un lugar tranquilo

4 out of 5 stars

És com 'Alien', remodelada per la fantasia críptica del guardià d’una biblioteca. L’actor i director John Krasinski ens serveix una història sorprenent, amb una premissa enginyosa: en un futur pròxim, postapocalíptic, una família ha de sobreviure en una casa on el més mínim soroll desperta uns monstres mortals. Els diàlegs són mínims, el silenci imperant, i els personatges es comuniquen mitjançant el contacte visual, els xiuxiuejos i un llenguatge de signes que se subtitula. Un lugar tranquilo fa ús d’un cinema pur i audaç en què les imatges i el so s’alien per espantar l’espectador. Krasinski ens ofereix molt poca informació sobre els orígens d’aquestes criatures abominables que ronden per la casa. Tot és misteriós. La càmera es queda al costat de la família –la mare (Emily Blunt), el pare (el mateix Krasinski), el fill (Noah Jupe) i la filla (Millicent Simmonds), que és sorda, i que per tant no pot sentir els monstres quan s’acosten–, que les passa magres. És gairebé una obra de cambra, ambientada en un espai tancat, que juga amb les petites coses per infondre terror: un clau que surt de dins del seu forat, un soterrani que s’inunda i una fugida camp a través que recorda les corredisses de Jurassic Park. Les lògiques d’aquest món són una ciència precisa. Els monstres no et poden sentir si t’amagues sota una cascada, però en canvi les parets de la casa no són un impediment per a les seves oïdes. Krasinski i Blunt, marit i muller en la vida real, aporten realisme amb les seve

Un lugar tranquilo

Un lugar tranquilo

4 out of 5 stars

Es como 'Alien', remodelada por la fantasía críptica del guardián de una biblioteca. El actor y director John Krasinski nos sirve una historia sorprendente, con una premisa ingeniosa: en un futuro próximo, postapocalíptico, una familia debe sobrevivir en una casa donde el más mínimo ruido despierta unos monstruos mortales. Los diálogos son mínimos, el silencio imperante, y los personajes se comunican mediante el contacto visual, los susurros y un lenguaje de signos que se subtitula. 'Un lugar tranquilo' hace uso de un cine puro y audaz en el que las imágenes y el sonido se alían para asustar al espectador. Krasinski nos ofrece muy poca información sobre los orígenes de estas criaturas abominables que rondan por la casa. Todo es misterioso. La cámara se queda al lado de la familia –la madre (Emily Blunt), el padre (el mismo Krasinski), el hijo (Noah Jupe) y la hija (Millicent Simmonds), que es sorda, y que por lo tanto no puede oir a los monstruos cuando se acercan–, que las pasa canutas. Es casi una obra de cámara, ambientada en un espacio cerrado, que juega con las pequeñas cosas para infundir terror: un clavo que sale de dentro de su agujero, un sótano que se inunda y una fuga campo a través que recuerda las carreras de 'Jurassic Park'. Las lógicas de este mundo son una ciencia precisa. Los monstruos no te pueden oir si te escondes bajo una cascada, pero en cambio las paredes de la casa no son un impedimento. Krasinski y Blunt, marido y mujer en la vida real, aportan realis

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

4 out of 5 stars

‘A Quiet Place’ is like ‘Aliens’ retooled as a militant librarian’s fantasy. Actor-director John Krasinski’s relentless shocker thrives on a nifty premise: in a post-apocalyptic near future, a family must survive in a world where the slightest sound brings out deadly monsters. With minimal dialogue – characters communicate by (subtitled) sign language, eye contact and whispers – ‘A Quiet Place’ is pure, bold cinema, its images and creepy sounds working together to scare the bejesus out of you. Save for some late-in-the-day news headlines, Krasinski admirably gives us little backstory for the monsters. Instead, mum (Emily Blunt), dad (Krasinski), son (Noah Jupe) and daughter (Millicent Simmonds), whose deafness means she can’t hear the beasties coming, are just shoved through the mill. Nerve-shredding set pieces revolve around a nail sticking out of a stair, a flooding basement and a ‘Jurassic Park’-like run through a field. All done with ruthless brio. The rules of this world are fast and loose, so the monsters can’t hear over waterfalls but can listen through walls. It’s a neat allegory for the challenges of parenting in a crazy world. The family dynamics lack nuance, but real-life husband and wife Krasinski and Blunt bring poignancy, the CG beasties are striking and the film pulses with ideas. It all adds up to a monster movie to shout about. Or maybe not. 

Félicité

Félicité

4 out of 5 stars

Surprising, unsentimental and vibrant, ‘Félicité’ is a film of two halves. The first is almost a race-against-time thriller. Singer and single mother Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya), scratching out a hardscrabble life in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has to find 700,000 Congolese dollars to pay for her teenage son Samo’s (Gaetan Claudia) operation following a grievous motorbike accident. Doing a Marion Cotillard in ‘Two Days, One Night’, the proud Félicité traverses the poverty-stricken city begging for the cash, tapping up peers, exes, a parent and a mob boss. It’s a languid but compelling journey often played out on Beya’s amazing face: she conveys so much by doing so little. The second, less engrossing half charts Félicité’s tentative relationship with good guy-bad drunk Tabu (a sweet, boisterous Papi Mpaka) but broadens out to include Samo’s rehabilitation, dream-like sequences in a forest and a documentary look at Kinshasa street life, making understated points about stunted economic and gender politics. It never really ties its disparate elements together but still showcases Franco-Senegalese director Alain Gomis’ fluid style, at once naturalistic but flecked with poetic notes, a terrific eclectic soundtrack (from Kasai Allstars’ infectious African pop to Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt) and a stellar debut from Beya, nuanced, complex and steadfast. In a cinematic landscape dominated by superheroes, Félicité, just by keeping going in the

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