Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark Kermode has carved out a career in print, radio, and television based entirely on the belief that The Exorcist is the greatest movie ever made and that the Pirates of the Caribbean films should be buried in a very deep hole where they can never bother anyone ever again.
We all have films that we love to hate and that we love to rant about. There are few that rant more concisely and cuttingly than trusted ...
What’s a hatchet job? Why is it more dangerous to praise than to criticise? And why did Mark Kermode get banned from a press screening?...
Mark Kermode on the internet and being on the receiving end of bad reviews
Are you looking for trenchant opinion, historical analysis, personal prejudice and acerbic humour on films old and new from Observer...
For decades, the backbone of film criticism has been the hatchet job – the entertaining trashing of a film by professional reviewers, seen by many as cynical snobs. But with the arrival of the internet, have the critics finally fallen under the axe? With movie posters now just as likely to be adorned by Twitter quotes as fusty reviewer recommendations, has the rise of enthusiastic amateurism sounded the death knell of a profession? Are the democratic opportunities of the internet...
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Park Chan-wook refashions Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith into a perverse psychodrama that wrongfoots you at every turn
There are giddy pleasures to be found in this rip-roaringly ripe erotic thriller/melodrama from Oldboy director Park Chan-wook. Inspired by Sarah Waters’s 2002 novel Fingersmith, The Handmaiden is a playfully provocative tale of seduction, desire and deceit. Slyly undermining stereotypes of fall guys and femmes fatales (this is more Bound than Basic Instinct), Park’s film takes great delight in wrong-footing its audience, peeling away layers of mesmerising misdirection with delicious cinematic sleight of hand. As the serpentine narrative spirals back and forth upon itself, we witness the same events from multiple perspectives, each one more revealing than the last.
In Waters’s novel (adapted as a BBC mini-series in 2005), an accomplished pickpocket is plucked from a Dickensian den to work in an upmarket home where she plays a key role in a scheme to separate a young heiress from her fortune. Park transfers the story from Victorian England to 1930s Korea under Japanese colonial rule. Here, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is enlisted by elegant conman “Count” Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to serve at the home of Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee).
Ridiculous male spectators are left frantically fanning their red faces and squirming awkwardly in their seats
Related: Sarah Waters: ‘The Handmaiden turns pornography into a spectacle – but it's true to my novel'
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Julia Ducournau’s debut feature about a young woman’s emerging taste for human flesh is an exhilarating blend of horror, humour and heartbreak
This exhilarating French-Belgian debut from writer/director Julia Ducournau is a feast for ravenous cinephiles, an extreme yet intimate tale of identity crises that blends Cronenbergian body horror with humour and heartbreak as it sinks its teeth deep into the sins of the flesh.
When a young woman arrives at veterinary college, her primary desire is to fit in, to follow in the footsteps of a proud family tradition. But when rookie hazing rituals force her to taste forbidden fruit (specifically, raw rabbit liver), the devout vegetarian discovers previously suppressed appetites. One minute she’s a strait-laced, straight-A student, the next she’s drooling at the sight of a freshly severed finger and lusting after the tempting torso of her muscular room-mate. What follows is a cross between Claire Denis’s taboo-breaking Euro-shocker Trouble Every Day and the deadpan cannibal drama We Are What We Are (both Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican original and Jim Mickle’s US remake). Described by the director as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”, Raw is a gleefully Grimm 21st-century fairytale, subversively told from within the walls of a brutalist gingerbread house.
It’s no surprise that Ducournau cites Carlos Saura’s kaleidoscopic Cria Cuervos as an inspirational text
Ben Wheatley’s delirious 70s-set shootout comedy is packed with wide collars, punchy visuals and explosive dialogue
After the high-concept gloss of their terrific JG Ballard adaptation, High-Rise, film-making partners-in-crime Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump go back to their grungy roots with a very different vision of the dystopian 1970s. In a deserted Boston warehouse, a gaggle of variously incompetent weapons buyers and sellers take random real-time potshots at each other after a volatile arms deal falls apart. Less an extended riff on the final standoff from Reservoir Dogs than an absurdist expansion of the close-range gunfight from The Naked Gun 2½, Free Fire is a delirious descent into choreographed chaos. As an exercise in stripping away narrative in favour of “pure cinema” sensation, it’s breathtakingly bold; the ne plus ultra of nihilistic screen showdowns. In terms of slapstick comedy it combines a silent movie visual sensibility with a Looney Tunes symphony of cacophonous ricochets and recoils – “Ba-Ding-Dang-BONG!”
Continuing their genre-bending experiments, Wheatley and co-writer/editor Jump return to themes familiar from their earlier work – men behaving like children; people trapped in confined spaces; the insane consequences of violence. Gleefully, they set Cillian Murphy’s IRA bagman Chris and Sharlto Copley’s South African gun-runner Vernon at odds, thanks to an explosive feud between Sam Riley’s black-eyed degenerate Stevo and Jack Reynor’s hot-headed, shaggy-haired Harry. Caught in the crossfire are Brie Larson’s deal-maker Justine, Armie Hammer’s suave Ord and Michael Smiley’s increasingly pissed-off Frank, with Patrick Bergin’s Howie sniping from the rafters and Babou Ceesay’s Martin taking one in the head. “I’m not dead,” explains the ex-Black Panther. “I’m just regrouping…”
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Sônia Braga is outstanding as a woman refusing to be forced out of her Recife apartment in this powerful Brazilian satire
A performance of tremendous wit, vitality and lusty defiance by Sônia Braga drives Brazilian film-maker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s remarkable second feature. A portrait of a 65-year-old woman refusing to be bullied out of her seafront apartment by developers, Aquarius is both a powerful celebration of its independent heroine and a scathing satire on institutional corruption. Like the writer/director’s fable-inflected 2004 short Vinil Verde, it is a film fascinated by the magical power of scratchy old records, of mother-daughter bonds, of transformational living spaces. And as with his first feature, Neighbouring Sounds, it presents a community haunted by artefacts of the past and the architecture of change, social and personal conflicts seamlessly intertwined.
Retired music critic Clara (Braga) lives in the 1940s-built Aquarius apartment block in upmarket Recife. The beach lifeguards are affectionately reverential towards local VIP “Dona Clara”, while a newspaper interviewer notes her old-school love of “physical media” – of vinyl albums that contain a “message in a bottle”. But Clara’s days of happiness are under threat from developers, led by selfie-snapping Diego (Humberto Carrão), who is intent on tearing down the past and building a “new Aquarius” where the old one “used to exist” (“The building exists now,” Clara tells Diego. “You’re leaning on it!”). Soon she is the only tenant left in a ghost building, prey to the developers’ covert harassment – from orgiastic parties in the apartment above to shit in the stairwells, bonfires in the car park and worse. Like her home, Clara is under siege from a new generation of entrepreneurial termites, lending an edge of horror to the drama, a tangible sense of creeping dread.
The camera stays as close as a devoted lover, captivated by Braga’s miraculously expressive face
Related: Sônia Braga: ‘The Oscars only have four spaces for best actress – one is always reserved for Meryl Streep’
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Women are sinking their teeth ever deeper into horror. We chart their rise and talk to directors Ana Lily Amirpour, Julia Ducournau and Karyn Kusama
There’s a moment in French film-maker Julia Ducournau’s prize-winning feature debut Raw in which a young vegetarian (ethereally played by Garance Marillier) finds herself unexpectedly ravenous at the sight of a severed finger. It’s a deliciously horrifying vignette, squirm-inducingly squishy, yet somehow bizarrely sensual. Like Claire Denis’s controversial 2001 shocker Trouble Every Day, Raw takes an intimate approach to the taboo subject of cannibalism, sinking its teeth into the sins of the flesh. As all great horror films should, it touches a nerve – simultaneously repelling and seducing its audience, sucking us in and spitting us out.
For horror fans, Raw is the latest in an encouraging wave of genre-bending movies which have twisted familiar tropes to new and unsettling ends. At the end of 2015, my yearly Observer list of the 10 best films released in UK cinemas featured both Carol Morley’s eerie The Falling and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, an electrifying Iranian-American vampire western which writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour described as being the love-child of Sergio Leone and David Lynch, with Nosferatu as a babysitter. In 2014, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook had been my pick of the year – a spine-chilling fantasia which drew on folk tales and silent film techniques as it subtly unpicked the grief and paranoia of a single mother, habitually projecting her fears onto her lonely child.