Where’s it on? Netflix
Shot in silvery digital black and white, David Fincher’s first film since Gone Girl (2014) has all the hallmarks of a passion project. It’s based on a screenplay written by his father, journalist Jack Fincher, which Fincher junior originally intended to film back in the late 90s. With the backing of Netflix, it now arrives as one of the major auteur releases of the depleted 2020 calendar, albeit one that pushes the work of the screenwriter – both Fincher’s dad and his subject, Citizen Kane scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz – into the foreground. Gary Oldman plays the booze-soaked Hollywood writer, holed up at a desert retreat in 1940 while he writes the William Randolph Hearst-inspired tale of power and the press that Orson Welles would then transform into what is still one of the biggest cinematic rushes going. Gesturing towards Kane’s own intricate flashback structure, Mank flits back and forth between Mankiewicz in his bolthole and episodes in the 1930s in which the writer came to know Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) at the top tables of Hollywood’s studio system.
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Columbia Noir Volume 1
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
If Mank inspires a deep dive into the riches of Hollywood’s golden age, you could do far worse than getting your hands on this volume of 6 film noirs from the vaults of Columbia Studios. Arriving at the tail end of Noirvember, Indicator’s box set is a reminder that no matter how many great noirs you’ve seen, there are always more gems to overturn. The big draws here include Don Siegel’s fantastic The Lineup (1958), a cop thriller with a heroin-smuggling angle that makes superb use of locations across San Francisco. Down the coast in Malibu, Drive a Crooked Road (1954) stars Mickey Rooney as a shy petrolhead who gets duped into becoming a getaway driver on a bank heist. Meanwhile, Phil Karlson’s 5 against the House (1955) – an influence on Casino (1995) and the Ocean’s 11 films – sees a bunch of college students trying to rip off a Nevada casino. Your average explorer of classic noir might see 60 or 70 films before coming to titles like these, such are the riches of this seam. Equally, though, you could start here and get happily drunk on the noir style very quickly.
County Lines (2019)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide and BFI Player
This unflinching British drama was originally scheduled to hit cinemas back in the spring, but now lands for a postponed release just as cinemas are reopening again. It’s the debut feature from Henry Blake, who draws on his own experiences working in a pupil referral unit to expose the underground world of ‘county lines’ – countrywide criminal networks that groom children as drug mules. At its centre is 14-year-old Tyler, played by newcomer Conrad Khan. He’s been excluded from school for fighting when he meets an older boy, a role model, who wins him over with his cool confidence and ready access to cars and money. Before long, Tyler has been coerced into making solo train journeys across the country, taking concealed drugs one way, then cash all the way back. County Lines is a frank and upsetting exposé of real-life exploitation, a lifting of the lid that delivers its punches in gripping semi-thriller form. The British social realist tradition of Ken Loach and Alan Clarke is the obvious touchstone, so it’s interesting to read that Blake and his Swedish cinematographer Sverre Sørdal had a pair of Russian influences more in mind: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (2017) and Elem Klimov’s harrowing Second World War nightmare Come and See (1985).
Where’s it on? online for the 18th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival
There’s a different kind of youth coercion going on in Shivers, a Polish coming-of-age story that won the Silver Bear at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival but was banned by the Communist government in Poland, effectively putting the brakes on the career of its director, Wojciech Marczewski, for years to come. Set in mid-1950s Poland, it details the insidious political education of a teenager who, following the arrest of his father, is sent to a re-education camp in order to be modelled into an ideal Communist. For modern viewers, there are trace echoes here of Jojo Rabbit (2019) – in the scout uniforms and even the resemblance of the young protagonists. But there’s not a jot of Taika Waititi whimsy in Shivers. Very far from it. Marczewski uses high-pitched drones, discombobulating editing and haunting, symbolic imagery (pigeons struggling against windows, water dripping down the portraits of Communist figureheads, papers blowing over train tracks) to modulate a bone-chilling atmosphere of unease. Shivers is one of 3 classics of Polish cinema – alongside The Cruise (1970) and Krzysztof Zanussi’s Camouflage (1977) – that are streaming online until the end of the weekend as part of this year’s Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. They’re also available on Second Run’s DVD set Polish Cinema Classics Volume 3.
System Crasher (2019)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
The kid isn’t alright in this ferocious German drama either. Nine-year-old Bernadette, known as ‘Benni’, is the titular ‘system crasher’, a child so aggressive and unruly that she tests the limits of Germany’s social care networks. Young Helena Zengel plays the blonde-haired maelstrom who proves too much for a chain of exasperated youth workers. Benni only wants to go back to live with her mother, but her mum can’t cope with her either, so the child is passed from post to post, screaming, lashing out and spurning all best efforts to help her, until one key worker seems to make a breakthrough. Nora Fingscheidt’s debut film is a scalding experience that proved something of a sensation on release in Germany, picking up a prize at Berlin before going on to sweep the German Film Awards. It’s a ruthlessly unsentimental depiction of delinquency and child sociopathy that you watch through your fingers, so it’s testament to Zengel’s formidable, snarling turn that the vulnerable humanity at Benni’s core is never in doubt.