The Woman King
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s all-star, female-ensemble-made adventure epic tells a heavily mythologised story of the 19th-century west African kingdom of Dahomey and its praetorian guard of female warriors, led by Viola Davis’s Nanisca, who guard and counsel the king (John Boyega). “With its rape-revenge plotting, its improbable reunion of a long-estranged mother and daughter, its emancipating romance and its exploits of derring-do, The Woman King keeps reminding us that it is a myth,” writes Anton Bitel – indeed its empowered women are reminiscent of the all-female militia in Black Panther or the Amazon army in Wonder Woman, “making this a sort of superhero story avant la lettre set in an African past.”
After Blue (Dirty Paradise)
Writer-director Bertrand Mandico’s second feature “is set in the far future, where women live without men on a planet named After Blue – humanity having fled an unliveable earth only to discover that those without ovaries now suffer unsurvivable internal hair growth,” writes Ben Walters. “This brave new world has fostered a kind of lo-fi gyno-fascism, with hints of anti-scientific micro-nationalist eugenics underpinning a life of conformist pleasure-seeking, opposition to nomadism and alternative lifestyles, and the ostracisation or eradication of ‘bad seeds’… It’s a melange of spaceships, haircare and cowboys, framed as an escapist, eroticised mood piece in which cultural references meet lightly drawn, quixotically motivated characters. The result has the feel of a playground storytelling adventure game, leaving us at the whim of a bold, ingenious, somewhat childlike imagination.”
The Cordillera of Dreams
Concluding Chilean expat Patricio Guzmán’s geo-historical trilogy of his mother country – after his meditation on the Atacama desert and stars in Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and on the southern archipelago and ocean in The Pearl Button (2015) – The Cordillera of Dreams approaches the “immense spine” of mountains that surround the capital of Santiago and provide both “cultural landmark”, monument, mystery and silent witness, not least to Guzmán’s perennial subject, the traumas of the Pinochet dictatorship and, as Maria Delgado writes, its “imposition of a neoliberal ideology that conflated value with profit… The Cordillera of Dreams gives visibility to the unseen. This extraordinary, poetic, political work is a heartfelt corrective to a mode of being that intentionally turns away; it encourages the viewer to look deeply at things that have been erased, overlooked, or, like the Cordillera, taken for granted.”
Phillip Warnell’s hour-long experimental documentary films a Queens, New York thoroughfare from a high-window vantage point with jittery long-lens surveillance energy, but the woman we watch impose herself on a series of larger men with leading questions about their life stories (have they ever been driven to do something unthinkable?), Martha Wollner, is clearly casting her net for a role (Wollner is in fact a renowned casting director). Yet the encounters she elicits “are given with cheer, thought, even relief, most evidently in the case of Samir, a would-be life coach in a dark place; their encounter ends in a remedial, mic-muffling hug,” writes Nick Bradshaw. “Brusquely challenging in form, the film blurs boundaries, breaks down oppositions and takes its means as its end.”
The Ballad of Tam Lin
Roddy McDowall’s 1971 folk horror (aka The Devil’s Widow), his only directorial outing, stars Ava Gardner a mysterious and wealthy older woman who uses witchcraft to control a group of younger hippies, amongst them Ian McShane, Joanna Lumley and (Withnail & I director) Bruce Robinson. After a shaky start, wrote Tom Milne upon the film’s belated release, the film builds “a broodingly enigmatic sense of menace out of stray allusions and apparitions that hover without ever really being explained or over-exploited… Something of a curate’s egg, in other words, but a horror film very definitely to be seen.” A bounty of extras on this 45th release from BFI Flipside, including William Fowler and Vic Pratt’s audio commentary; introductions by Ian McShane, co-star Stephanie Beacham, and Roddy McDowall biographer David Del Valle; McDowall on Ava Gardner; Pentangle lead singer Jacqui McShee on making the film’s music; and short films from the BFI Archive about communal and alternative lifestyles in Devon and Scotland.
Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection vol.2
The Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon come to 4K Ultra HD disc in this second set of classic monsters from Universal’s mid-century horror prime.