Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Ryusuke Hamaguchi is riding quite the wave. This week’s four Oscar nominations for Drive My Car (currently available to rent through BFI Player) capped a year in which the Japanese writer-director’s two 2021 premieres were both fixtures on most best-of-the-year polls. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy now gets a UK release, nicely timed to capitalise on the Hamaguchi Oscar buzz. Three short stories make up this portmanteau anthology, all of them revolving around questions of fate and desire, and all told with Hamaguchi’s singularly compelling delicacy and emotional openness. The erotically-charged middle section is perhaps the best of the three, but each plays their part in this great director’s overarching vision. If you want to make a Hamaguchi weekend of it, his excellent 2018 romance Asako I & II is currently also streaming on BFI Player alongside his breakout masterwork Happy Hour (2015).
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 10.05pm
The career of vintage British filmmaker Roy Ward Baker is as fascinating as it is eclectic. A reliable genre practitioner who started work ferrying teas at Gainsborough Studios before quickly graduating to assistant director for the likes of Hitchcock, he’s best remembered today for his 1958 Titanic picture A Night to Remember. At the start of that decade, Baker had a brief Hollywood sojourn at 20th Century Fox, directing an against-type Marilyn Monroe in the underrated thriller Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) and Robert Ryan in this crackerjack survival adventure. Shot in Technicolor – and 3D – Inferno marries neo-western to elementally-charged noir, playing like a feature-length episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A mean-spirited tycoon is abandoned with a busted leg under a blistering Mojave sun, his wife and her lover having left him there to die. Ryan has vengeance on his mind, if he can just get out alive, while Baker enacts his commitment to peddling suspense-driven pure cinema across 83 stripped-to-the-bone minutes.
Death on the Nile (1978)
Where’s it on? Digital rental via Amazon, iTunes
Kenneth Branagh is currently so busy drumming up awards season love for his passion project Belfast (2021) that the long-delayed release of his second Agatha Christie adaptation has been relegated to an afterthought on his busy promotional schedule. With his Death on the Nile finally cruising into cinemas this week, and Rian Johnson’s sequel to Knives Out (2019) destined to hit Netflix this autumn, it looks like 2022 will see the whodunit back in sharply tailored fashion. Peter Ustinov’s run of Hercule Poirot mysteries are the perfect place to start for anyone looking to brush up on the genre’s all-star heyday. He made six between 1978 and 1988, starting with this lavish, riverbound inquisition. Spoiler-averse viewers looking to check out Kenny B’s take on the literary classic may want to skip the big reveal here, but why anyone would want to leave the house for Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot when you’ve got David Niven, Angela Lansbury and an imperious Bette Davis right here is a mystery even the great moustachioed Belgian might struggle to solve.
Legendary Weapons of China (1982)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Chang Cheh and Chia-Liang Liu were two of the finest filmmakers in the Shaw Brothers stable, and 88 Films is bringing a cult classic from each of them to Blu-ray this week. A remake of his superior 1971 film The Duel, Chang’s The Flag of Iron (1980) is a typically elegant tale of betrayal and revenge (natch) featuring everyone’s favourite mob: the Venoms. Made in the twilight years of the kung fu movie’s golden age, Legendary Weapons of China is a wuxia-adjacent barnstormer starring Liu himself. The title role, deservedly, goes to the endless arsenal of blades the writer-director-star finds himself at the pointy end of. There are few filmmakers – in Hong Kong or beyond – who can match Liu when it comes to action staging, and Legendary Weapons serves up one spectacular assault on the senses after another. Attempts to follow the bewildering plot are only going to end in tears, but just wait for the blitzkrieg of steel on steel that makes up the climactic showdown.
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Games of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Flee contains multitudes. It’s at once an animated documentary, a queer coming-of-age tale, and an intimate examination of the refugee experience. Nominated for three Oscars and two BAFTAs, having already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, it’s directed by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen. Interspersed with archive television footage from its protagonist’s native Afghanistan, it tells the true story of Amin, a young gay man on the brink of marriage who arrived in Denmark as an unaccompanied minor. Told through the interviews that form the backbone to the film, Amin’s is an extraordinary story – one of escape and harrowing persecution, brought to vivid and artful life through Rasmussen’s unique formal conceits. Hauntingly beautiful, and stylistically striking, it’s a devastating tale of human resilience.