Films around Cheltenham from 25 September

Well, things seem to have looked up a bit this week. One new film at The Roses in Tewkesbury and a handful at Cineworld in Cheltenham.

The Roses

The Roses has, at various points in the week, The Last Bus, Stillwater, and Our Ladies, all of which we already know about.

The new film is Wendy (2020), a contribution to the burgeoning filmography spun off from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The director is Benh Zeitlin, notable for is strange and to me rather beguiling environmental fable, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Creating Wendy seems to have been something of personal obsession for the director/writer, and it apparently displays all the visual extravagance and invention of the earlier film. Some of the critics, however, have been rather sniffy about it if not outright damning. The Guardian moaned that the children who go off on their own to have adventures are not at all like real modern children, who only want to play games on their phones, and that New York film directors should make more films about that. The complaint was that these are fantasy characters, leading a fantasy life of freedom and natural bliss. Duh! It’s cinema: and these are children. I’m not sure Jordan Hoffman knows much about either. I note, however, that he/she is won over by the end.

To be fair, the picture ends with quite an emotional thrill which, to my great surprise, I found sincerely moving. The tightly edited final sequence is an effective admixture of movie magic and it sends one out of Wendy with chills.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian

The Guildhall

Nothing to see here, or at least, nothing new.

The Sherborne


The Cineworlds 

In Cheltenham I’m pleased to say there are a few interesting bits and pieces before we arrive at the Big Event, the latest in a worn-out franchise starring an actor who really doesn’t want to be there. No Time to Die arrives everywhere on Thursday. I have a title for their next one: Good Time to Stop. But who knows, Daniel Craig’s swansong might be brilliant.

So, leaving aside reruns of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy from the early 2000s (which I slept through, when I was forced to take my small children), we have The Many Saints of Newark, Dune, Sweetheart, Tesciowie, The Alpinist and a one-off screening of Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.

Well, I’m not a box-set person but I have been working my way slowly through The Sopranos during the Covid/Lockdown era, and it is art: a masterpiece, preceding things like The Wire and Mad Men and a worthy successor to the BBC’s gems, like I Claudius, Jewel in the Crown and Our Friends in the North (where it all started for Craig).

The Many Saints of Newark is a prequel, telling us the backstory of the gangster boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), something that is only lightly sketched in the series. The hook is that it stars Gandolfini’s own son, Michael, as the young man, born into a life of crime and learning to take up the Italian Man’s Burden.

The trailer is absolutely horrible. Gandolfini Jr has the old man’s swagger and heft, but otherwise it looks to be an execrable cash-in, full of in-your-face gunplay and racial confict. Neither of those feature in the original. Nor were they a historical feature of the period in which the film is supposedly set. I might pirate it later. It’s what Tony would have wanted.

Dune is more interesting. Frank Herbert’s sprawling space-opera is one of those ‘unfilmable’ books that people want to keep taking a crack at, not least because it has an army of obsessive fans. David Lynch had a go in 1984, when he was in his pomp, casting Kyle MacLachlan and Sting, among others. The resulting epic was scorned by its potential audience. In 2000 there was a TV mini-series, with William Hurt. Next Alejandro Jodorowsky had a go, using the art of H.R. Giger, who effectively created modern sci-fi with his designs for Alien. There’s a good film about him failing to make the film: Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013).

The new version is by Denis Villefranche, the brilliant French-Canadian who made the unforgettable Incendies (2010). I’ve only seen the trailer, and it is being marketed as a clone of the desert-planet bits of Star Wars. I hope it’s better than that. Hollywood chews ’em up, and spits ’em out. Really, I’d like to have seen Bertolucci have a go. He was good with shifting sands and pitiless heat.

Sweetheart is a dreary Scottish film. Lesbian coming-of-age on a caravan site. The trailer, which is all I’ve seen, displays every cliche of this wearisome genre. Note to commissioning departments: enough already.

The Polish comedy Tesciowie looks much more fun. A marriage is called off, but the reception goes ahead anyway. From the trailer, it looks like a cousin of Nakache/Toledano’s riotous C’est la Vie (2017). My Polska friend Rita had a look at the trailer for me. She tells me it’s about Polish behaviour, ‘good and bad’. We’re going to see it this week.

The Alpinist (2021) is a documentary about Marc-André Leclerc, a crazed Canadian 23-year-old ‘free climber’. We see him hurtling up vertiginous rock faces without ropes or anything else, and learn a great deal about his ‘autistic’ (read: self-centred) personality, his relationship difficulties, and his heroic stupidity. I think I saw it a couple of years ago, although it is supposedly a new movie. I enjoyed it, but I have to say I’m sceptical about beautifuly shot, framed, edited, scripted and scored films about supposed mavericks with mental health issues. File under Supercrip.

I think it’s on Wednesday that there is the Oliver Sacks documentary, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life. Sacks was one of those medical genius/charlatan figures with whom we are all so in awe. I wrote about the film for Leslie Sheldon’s Cheltenham International Film Festival earlier this year, but then my access to the site ran out before I was able to watch it. Many of you will have experienced the same frustration. Anyway, in a spirit of waste-not, want-not, here’s what I said then:

An autobiographical documentary about the neurologist and literary lion, who maintained a career as a doctor and academic while producing best-selling books, including Awakenings (made into a feature with Robert de Niro and Robin Williams) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (later an opera by Michael Nyman). Sacks tells of his flight from a repressive London Jewish household to 1960s America, where he became a dedicated Californian sensualist, drug user and hipster, before settling down to his life’s work of studying neurological disorders, treating patients, and writing about both for a popular audience. Eccentric, troubled, and celibate for much of his life, he only addressed his own homosexuality in February 2015, eight months before his death, when he wrote the New York Times memoir article from which this film takes its title. The director is the brother of the celebrated documentarist Ken Burns.

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life won the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival Best of the Fest Audience Vote and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2019 Hamptons International Film Festival.

’…this documentary is a treasure trove full of interesting bits and pieces many of which could easily provide enough material for a film in their own right.’ – Jennie Kermode, Eye For Film.

’…a moving portrait of a man taking deep stock of his life with great satisfaction and verve.’ – Kevin Krust, The Los Angeles Times.

‘This warm and enjoyable portrait reflects Sacks’ compassionate nature as well as his courage.’ – Meredith Taylor, Filmuforia.

All the same stuff is on at Gloucester, more or less


It’s very pleasing to be able to add a new venue to my list. The Tivoli this week is showing The Many Saints of Newark, The Alpinist and No Time to Die. All are available much cheaper at Cineworld, so it depends how much you want to spend for ambience, soft seats, better projection on smaller screens and the opportunity to spend £7.90 on a plate of nachos. See my review of the cinema elsewhere.

Charlton King Film Society

Simon from Charlton Kings Film Society has given me this little bulletin. They are currently pushing on with the films left over from last year, just like Cheltenham Film Society.

First Man was shown last Friday, 17 September, at 19.45 the usual start time. There was a turnout of 31.

Two Days, One Night (The Dardennes Brothers and Marion Cotillard) is showing on 8 October.

Calvary (a brave choice in a Catholic Church JM) is showing on 29 October.

La Vie en Rose is showing on 19 November.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is being shown on 10 December.

More on these as they come round. If you want a film society in Charlton Kings, I suggest you rally round.

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