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Man of the West

Director: Anthony Mann Starring: Gary Cooper, Julie London Released: 23 Mar Certificate: 12

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This late-career Western from Anthony Mann doesn’t quite stand shoulder to shoulder with his classics of the genre (The Naked Spur, Winchester ’73), but Man of the West does showcase the director’s prowess in balancing light and dark, both literally and metaphorically. The tale is pretty standard Western fare, with a reformed outlaw (Gary Cooper) getting robbed on his way to hire a schoolteacher and being sucked back into his criminal ways when he stumbles across his old gang in hiding. Cooper’s performance may be a little formulaic at times but the same cannot be said of the superb Lee J. Cobb, whose drunken gang leader is a master class in bitterness. Shot in CinemaScope, it also has a scenic grandeur that’s finely captured on this new transfer. Despite its flaws, Man of the West remains a must-have for Western buffs; also included is a 15-minute documentary narrated by noted film historian Douglas Pye. [Chris High]

Maidan

Director: Sergei Loznitsa Released: 13 Apr Certificate: E

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Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan is a film that achieves a visceral sense of immediacy by keeping its distance. Shooting from judiciously chosen vantage points, the director presents us with images of the 2013 Ukraine revolution, capturing the protestors as they gather in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, build barricades, sing and make speeches and, finally, fight and die for their cause. Shot in a series of static takes, Loznitsa gives us little context to elucidate what we are seeing, instead allowing us time to let our eyes scan the packed frame and finding telling details – if you can settle into its methodical rhythm then it grows into an immersive and rewarding experience. There’s one scene in which Loznitsa’s camera moves under duress (a moment comparable to Medium Cool’s “Look out, Haskell – it’s real!” incident) but for the most part the director simply presents this conflict in the clearest terms possible, and asks us to bear witness. [Philip Concannon]

Wild River

Director: Elia Kazan Starring: Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick Released: Out now Certificate: PG

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Elia Kazan didn’t want Montgomery Clift for Wild River – even delaying in the hope of luring Brando – but the troubled star gives a moving performance in this undervalued masterwork. He’s the Tennessee official sent to procure the last piece of land required for the damming of the river, but he gets drawn into a battle of wills with a stubborn matriarch (Van Fleet) while falling for her widowed daughter (Remick). Kazan’s control of the film’s emotional register is absolute, and Paul Osborn’s skilfully constructed screenplay questions the value of ‘progress’ if things of longstanding value have to be sacrificed in its name. It’s an expansive work, distinguished by exceptional location photography, but, as ever, his focus is on complex interpersonal relationships. The thorny battle between Clift and the formidable Van Fleet is compelling, but Remick gradually emerges as Wild River ’s greatest asset. [Philip Concannon]

Pictures of the Old World

Pride

White Bird in a Blizzard

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Director: Dušan Hanák Starring: Released: Out now Certificate: E Dušan Hanák’s award-winning documentary, available with English subtitles for the first time, examines the lives of elderly villagers in northern Slovakia, each of them out of step with the modern world. Taking inspiration from photographer Martin Martincek’s striking portraits, he returns to the subjects and gives them an opportunity to talk about their experiences, their faith and their view of the world. Flowing between staged photography and candid interview footage, he both preserves the concept of them as living pieces of art and transcends the format by resisting easy sentimentality and labels. Hanák presents them simply as they are: human, with all their complications and contradictions. Given that they’re living in extreme poverty, much of it is heartbreaking but there’s an undeniable warmth and sensitivity to Hanák’s approach. At a little over 60 minutes it’s over too quickly, but the villagers’ stories are fascinating and beautifully presented. An exceptional work. [Scott McKellar]

March 2015

Director: Matthew Warchus Starring: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay Released: 2 Mar Certificate: 15 Doing for the LGBT community what The Help did for African Americans, Pride conspires toward a feel-good conclusion by affirming the human spirit’s tenacity in the face of bigotry. Like the aforementioned civil rights crowd-pleaser, however, it’s guilty of sanitising the struggles to which it pays its respects. Director Matthew Warchus, the man who brought Ghost: The Musical to Broadway, is adept at manipulating his audience’s emotions. We cheer as Dominic West’s gay bookshop proprietor wins over homophobes with flamboyant dance moves and curse the men who subject his partner to a hate crime, but these are merely kneejerk responses. The unlikely union forged between homosexuals and striking miners during the 80s is interesting enough to withstand Warchus’s paint-by-numbers filmmaking, but to have talent of Bill Nighy’s and Paddy Considine’s calibre go to waste in twodimensional supporting roles lends this sassy hit an air of missed opportunity. [Lewis Porteous]

DVD

Director: Gregg Araki Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green Released: 6 Mar Certificate: 15 Closer in spirit to his Mysterious Skin than The Doom Generation, White Bird in a Blizzard sees Gregg Araki adapting a Laura Kasischke novel and applying his trademark gifts for depicting both the sweet and the sour of adolescence. Beginning in the late 80s, it sees 17-year-old Kat (Woodley) going through a sexual awakening while reckoning with the sudden disappearance of her mother, Eve, which follows years of increasingly strange behaviour towards both her husband (Meloni) and Kat. Eve is played, predominantly in flashback, by Eva Green on an acting register suggesting Faye Dunaway dropped into a Douglas Sirk melodrama, but not always as compelling as that sounds. Woodley leaves a better impression, but, like Kat describes her stoner boyfriend, what’s behind the surface of Araki’s film is just more surface. Little of its psychological explorations hold great weight and its mystery elements are fumbled by Araki’s louder directorial instincts. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Review

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The Skinny Northwest March 2015  

The Skinny Northwest is Liverpool and Manchester's leading entertainment and listings magazine

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