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Cinema Film round-up: January 9, 2020

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review El Topo, Uncut Gems, Seberg and The Runaways

El Topo (18)
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

THOSE cinema publicists who rely on carefully calculated media notoriety to sell “different” products must have hugged themselves with joy when facing the task of plugging Alejandro Jodorowsky’s seriously surreal, uniquely over-the-top Western when it was released in 1970.

50 years later El Topo — The Mole, unforgettably played by Jodorowsky — still startles. It keeps you wondering what will happen next and consistently leaves you astounded with its increasingly uncanny outcomes.

In it, a “badass cowboy” rides into the desert with his naked seven-year-old son, leaves the boy with monks and, with a woman he saves from sexual slavery, kills four gunmen before becoming the eponymous Mole, who helps deformed people tunnel out of the underworld environment where they’ve been trapped.

Trying to follow the plot is more likely to create a migraine than make narrative sense. But ignore the bizarre stuffed-to-the gills-and-beyond storyline and simply savour Jodorowsky’s unique cinematic visions.

They include an unforgettable shoot-out against a background populated by 300 (later dead) rabbits, devilish dwarfs ad libbing and an unforgettable climactic sequence, shot in what at first appears to be a cinematically traditional Western town but which soon segues into a series of wickedly vicious, memorably satirised Western film tropes.

Alan Frank

Uncut Gems (15)
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

ALMOST 10 years in the making, the Safdie brothers’ follow-up to their critically applauded Good Time has been worth the wait.

This crime drama is a non-stop heart-pounder. It stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a somewhat shady but charismatic New York City jeweller with a failing marriage and a serious gambling addiction which has left him hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and with deadly collectors at his door.

Looking for the next big bet and score, he feels his luck has finally turned when he gets his hands on a rare uncut rock of Ethiopian opals and discovers professional basketball star Kevin Garnett wants to buy it.

Performing here alongside many non-actors, Sandler is a force to be reckoned with as the motormouth and sweary Howie in his best role since Punch Drunk Love. It is his film and it shows that with the right material and direction he can be mesmerising and surprise us all with his acting prowess. His nightclub fight scene with a singer is a sight to behold.

Newcomer Garnett is also surprisingly good playing a version of himself, though Idina Menzel is somewhat wasted as Howie’s long-suffering wife.

The Safdie brothers prove once again that they are the masters of suspenseful and anxiety-inducing dramas and, certainly, this isn’t for those with a nervous disposition.

Maria Duarte

Seberg (15)
Directed by Benedict Andrews

J EDGAR HOOVER’S reprehensible Gestapo-style FBI confronted Hollywood in the late 1960s, when the agency targeted the married Hollywood star and French New Wave darling Jean Seberg.

Her initially well-intentioned liaison with noted Black Power activist Hakim Jamal — given a memorable characterisation by Anthony Mackie — segues into a “shocking” relationship that rapidly shifted from the political to the romantic-sexual when she meets Jamal on her return to Tinseltown from France to make a film with Clint Eastwood.

Before long, Seberg’s continuing status as an FBI surveillance target destroys her private life and her film career in director Benedict Andrews’s riveting thriller. It vividly brings to life Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel’s compelling fact-inspired screenplay and showcases a career-best performance by Kristen Stewart.

Her portrait of Seberg creates a woman with genuine emotional depth rather than the all-too-frequent “Look at me, I’m ACTING!” performances that tend to despoil too many films set in Hollywood.


The Runaways (12A)
Directed by Richard Heap

AFTER the sudden death of their father, three children go on the run with their two donkeys across the North Yorkshire moors in a tale that aspires to be a cross between Enid Blyton and The Railway Children.

Its problem is that it’s set in the harsh and gritty present day, so it is difficult to suspend disbelief as the kids go in search of their estranged mother (Tara Fitzgerald) with the animals in tow, while trying to avoid capture both by their evil uncle (Lee Boardman) just out of prison and social services.

But what keeps you watching is the engaging and heart-warming performances by Molly Windsor, Macy Shackleton and Rhys Connah as the siblings, along with the rapport they have with Mark Addy as their dad.

The glorious Yorkshire landscape looks absolutely stunning and never have the coastal town of Whitby and its surrounding areas looked so appealing.



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