May December (2023)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
After a hiatus for dreamy fantasy Wonderstruck (2017), conspiracy drama Deep Water (2019) and prismatic artrock doc The Velvet Underground (2021), May December sees Todd Haynes returning to the kind of penetrating and provocative study of human behaviour and transgression that – from Safe (1995) to Carol (2015) – made his name. The drama turns on an age-gap affair between an older woman and an underage boy, and the furore it caused in the press. Twenty years later, Natalie Portman plays the actor who visits the once notorious woman (Julianne Moore) to meet the couple behind the headlines and flesh out her characterisation for a new film project.
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
In the same year their pairing generated the centrifugal force at the core of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak also appeared together in this much lighter and more sprightly proposition – a black-magic romance. Novak plays the owner of a Greenwich Village art shop who also happens to be a witch. Stewart is the neighbour she places a love spell on. There are shots of them in a clinch where the clothes, the Technicolor – it could almost be Vertigo… but Vertigo directed by the Hitchcock of Family Plot (1976), with more than a glint of mischief. It’s all set on Christmas Eve too, making it irresistible viewing for this time of year.
Doctor X (1932)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Made in 1932, just before the American censors clamped down on the kind of material that could be shown on screen, this delicious horror from Hungarian émigré director Michael Curtiz (later the director of Casablanca, Mildred Pierce and many other classics) centres on a journalist’s investigations into a spate of murders occurring under a full moon. Doctor X offers the gamut of bubbling test-tubes, crackpot experiments and ghoulish characters that you expect from early 30s horror. But it also manages a genuine sense of the uncanny in being one of the few (and last) sound films to be shot in the primitive two-colour Technicolor system. So the kind of plot we’re used to unfolding in crackly black and white, here appears in spectral greens and pinks.
Is There Anybody out There? (2023)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, and streaming on BFI Player
In its gentle, clear-sighted and thought-provoking way, Elsa Glendining’s film confronts us with lived experience to tackle our ableist assumptions. Born with short femurs and no hip joints, Glendining’s diary-like narrative follows her efforts to track down others who share her rare condition around the globe. In a loving partnership and a new mother in her twenties, Glendining has exceeded the expectations for her own happiness – despite her physical difference from everyone around her. Her condition might have been treated by limb-lengthening surgery and the climax of the film sees Glendining get an audience with the top US surgeon in this field – a showdown that raises plenty of questions about how such surgery reinforces the idea of what a ‘normal’ body should look like.
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Saturday, 22:05
Anniversaries have been celebrated for less watchable fare, so let’s call 30 years distance reason enough to tune in for this late-night broadcast of a prime 90s thriller. Nicole Kidman and Bill Pullman play the newlyweds with a nice Victorian pad in Massachusetts who rent a room to Alec Baldwin’s nefarious surgeon. Twisty and insidious, Harold Becker’s film sees Baldwin’s medic overstepping in disturbing, increasingly deranged manner – including in the operating theatre. Aaron Sorkin wrote the dialogue, and Anne Bancroft and George C. Scott add heft to the supporting cast. Watch out for a young Gwyneth Paltrow too.
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