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Chinese smog is choking my creativity, says film-maker

3 March 2013 8:58 AM, PST

Chen Kaige, who won Palme d'Or in 1993, says air pollution means he is 'unable to focus on my artistic creation'

Some say success is the enemy of creativity; others have blamed the pram in the hall. But one of China's best-known film directors has found a new culprit: smog.

"Cornered by the terrible weather, I have nowhere to go … I am unable to focus on my artistic creation," said Chen Kaige, who won the Palme d'Or for his 1993 film Farewell My Concubine.

His comments reflect growing public concern about China's environmental record, exacerbated by the severe air pollution in Beijing and other areas this winter, water pollution scandals and the government's refusal to release research on soil pollution.

Chen, 61, described the weather as weird, appalling and unbelievable, according to the state news agency Xinhua. He cited the death of a prized jujube tree two years ago as proof of Beijing's deteriorating environment, »

- Tania Branigan

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A-list stars support unique project to highlight need to educate girls

2 March 2013 4:11 PM, PST

The film Girl Rising has helped to highlight what aid workers have known for years: that educating young women helps them and their communities flourish and succeed

Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto are among the most watched women in the world. Now, with a handful of other stars, they have come together to tell the stories of nine unknown girls, all of whom struggled to acquire what should be a universal right: an education.

In a project launched to coincide with International Women's Day, the four actresses have been joined by Selena Gomez, Priyanka Chopra, Chloë Moretz, Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington and Alicia Keys. All have given time to make Girl Rising, which has its premiere in New York on Thursday.

The film, made by documentary director Richard E Robbins, began as an investigation into a fact universally acknowledged by international aid workers: that educating girls »

- Vanessa Thorpe

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Caesar Must Die – review

2 March 2013 4:07 PM, PST

The Taviani brothers' account of a prison production of Julius Caesar marks a profoundly moving return to form

Before the emergence of the Coens, the Farrellys, the Hugheses and the Wachowskis, there were the Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, born in Pisa in respectively 1931 and 1929, the sons of a lawyer jailed for his anti-fascist activities. Coming out of Italian neorealism and the French new wave, adapting works by Tolstoy and Pirandello and much influenced by Brecht, they emerged in the late 60s. Theirs was a humanist cinema that reached out socially and chronologically, from an aristocrat disillusioned with revolution in early 19th-century Lombardy to the idealistic inhabitants of a Tuscan village standing up against the Nazis in 1944.

The Tavianis' finest film perhaps is Padre Padrone, the true story of a boy escaping from hard-scrabble peasant life in present-day Sardinia to be educated during his military service on the mainland. The »

- Philip French

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Forget the Oscars, the European Press Prize was this week's best awards night

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

There were no black ties and no fawning, but an impressive number of entries that have changed the world for the better

The Oscars pull you up short. "Does anyone else find the wall-to-wall coverage repellent? Vapid fawning over celebrities masquerading as news," tweeted the Guardian's fulminator-in-chief, George Monbiot. Quite right. Too many designer dresses; too much hollow harrumphing over this year's presenter and off-colour jokes; too little honesty in an ocean of puff stuff. Plus a feeling, yet again, that Hollywood has made us all bit players in a media world where power – and markets and money – homogenise lives.

How did British actors get so good at American accents, even at playing iconic American presidents? Because that's where the paycheques are. Watch our TV stars beat the path to Beverly Hills. Why do some of the most dynamic on- and offline newspapers cross the Atlantic at a bound, so »

- Peter Preston

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Trailer Trash's Oscars diary from Hollywood

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

From being hugged by Shirley Bassey to sharing a fag with Juliette Lewis, Oscars night in La turns out to be one magic moment after another

Hollywood is all about moments. Everything is moments in these days of Twitter and Instagram. A moment is all we get, so actually Andy Warhol was pretty off-mark with that 15-minute thing. Outstay your moment nowadays and they play the Jaws music. The "jump the shark" moment, they call it out here.

My mad weekend in La started when Harry Potter and Gandhi were on my flight out, or Daniel Radcliffe and Sir Ben Kingsley as it probably says on their passports. And at the Great British nominee party held by the ebullient consul-general Dame Barbara Hay, I had what I call a Marshall McLuhan moment, as in when, in Annie Hall, Woody Allen produces the great cultural theorist in a cinema queue to »

- Jason Solomons

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The Spirit of '45: 'The poverty was dreadful'

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Veterans of the 1945 general election explain how much Labour's victory meant

Eileen Thompson, 90, Southport, Merseyside: 'It tickled me that they had a run on false teeth'

"My father worked in cotton in Liverpool. He belonged to the union; he wanted justice for the working man. He used to take me down the docks to get the men organised, and they'd say, 'Here's Johnny and the kid.'

"The poverty was dreadful. In class, the teacher read out the register and if a child hadn't been in to school the day before, it was always for the same reason: they had stayed in bed while their mother washed their only set of clothes."

When Eileen was a nurse, her hospital in Liverpool was hit by two bombs.

"I always remember the second … it was on 3 May 1941. Babies born that day were killed with their mothers. Mr Grey, the surgeon, had not »

- Yvonne Roberts

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Mark Kermode's DVD round-up

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Argo; The Sapphires; Gambit; Stitches

As a sci-fi-loving child of the 60s and 70s, I believed that you could learn everything you needed to know about politics from watching the Planet of the Apes movies. Now, several decades later, it turns out that idea wasn't so crazy after all; indeed, on the evidence of Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning thriller Argo (2012, Warner, 15) it seems that the creators of rubbery fantasy flicks were at the cutting edge of international diplomacy and espionage all along.

Based on the once-secret, now declassified accounts of the CIA's response to the 1979 storming of the Us embassy in Iran, this stranger-than-fiction tale is a terrific hybrid of factual drama and fanciful invention, which slips nimbly between nail-biting Middle Eastern action and Player-style Hollywood satire. At the centre of it all is CIA agent Tony Mendez, played with beardy conviction by producer/director/star Affleck as the mastermind »

- Mark Kermode

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La Poison

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

(Sacha Guitry, 1951; Eureka!, PG)

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Directed by the prolific actor, screenwriter and playwright Sacha Guitry (1885-1957), a film-maker much admired by the Nouvelle Vague, La Poison is a calculatedly amoral black comedy set in an undistinguished, impoverished French village. He wrote it for Michel Simon (1895-1975), the plug-ugly, gravel-voiced, ungainly, infinitely expressive Swiss-born actor, France's Charles Laughton. Simon plays Paul Braconnier, unhappily married for 30 years to the noisome, charmless alcoholic, Blandine. Both are contemplating murder, Blandine using rat poison, Paul employing information craftily acquired from a lawyer celebrated for winning acquittal for murder suspects. It's a cleverly plotted film, wittily mocking the French legal system, conventional morality and horrors of small-town life. It was made at a time when divorce was almost unthinkable among the poor, and the guillotine was standard punishment for murder.

Simon's outrageously misogynistic Paul is a remarkable creation, »

- Philip French

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Rewind TV: Mary and Martha; Lightfields; Food Glorious Food; Heading Out – review

2 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

It's hard to feel charitable towards Richard Curtis's malaria drama. There was more bite in Simon Cowell's dog's dinner

Mary and Martha (BBC1) | iPlayer

Lightfields (ITV1) | ITVPlayer

Food Glorious Food (ITV1) | ITVPlayer

Heading Out (BBC2) | iPlayer

Drama in aid of a worthy cause is not always more a pleasure than a duty, and Richard Curtis's feature-length Mary and Martha – an early curtain-raiser for Red Nose Day – was no exception. If its aim was to draw attention to the thousands of African children who die needlessly each year from malaria, all I can say is, it felt like it. I hope that doesn't sound too uncharitable. But I would have been as happy with a decent documentary as with this glossy weepie about two mums – one American, one English – having the bad luck to have a beloved son bitten to death by a mosquito in Mozambique and then »

- Phil Hogan

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Arbitrage – review

2 March 2013 4:05 PM, PST

Richard Gere, a much undervalued actor, best employed when discovering sympathetic aspects of weak or dislikable people, gives one of his best performances in this business thriller as Robert Miller, ace hedge fund manager. At the age of 60, Miller has everything – a good-looking family, a trophy wife, a private jet, a reputation as a philanthropist, a billion dollars in the bank and a fine art collection on the wall. Unfortunately, a bad deal involving Russian copper has led him into debt and fraud, he supports a young mistress whose art gallery he's invested in, and very soon an Lapd detective (Tim Roth) is breathing down his neck over a crime even worse than his financial malfeasance.

This is a gleaming movie about a man with his back to the wall, facing disgrace on several fronts and the possibility of exchanging his Armani suit for prison garb. Can he get off the hook? »

- Philip French

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Broken City – review

2 March 2013 4:04 PM, PST

Allen Hughes's first solo outing after years of co-directing with his twin brother, Albert, is a smooth thriller that might be called "Chinatown East". Mark Wahlberg plays former New York cop turned private eye Billy Taggart, who's hired to follow and get the goods on the mayor's wife. Much like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, he's taken for a ride and finds himself embroiled in big time municipal corruption. It's moderately enjoyable, well acted and both complicated and simplistic. Like all New York thrillers, it's notable for helicopter shots of Manhattan that make the city look ravishing by day and glitteringly sinister by night.

ThrillerMark WahlbergPhilip French

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- Philip French

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The Bay – review

2 March 2013 4:03 PM, PST

Barry Levinson has written and/or directed a number of films set in his native Baltimore (Diner, Tin Men and Avalon among them), and he's returned to the Maryland coast to make this superior example of that hackneyed sub-genre, the found-footage horror movie. The title refers to Chesapeake Bay, site of an ecological disaster that destroys most of the several hundred inhabitants of a small holiday resort on 4 July 2009, for which irresponsible farmers and a complacent, politically motivated mayor are to blame. All that remains is a federally suppressed documentary, recording the terrible events that began some weeks before and were attributed to a shark.

The tension is well enough sustained, the horrors build steadily, the eco message is familiar. The film is a variant on Jaws, an influence it signals by calling the despicable mayor Stockman, the name of both the complacent mayor and his brother, the honourable ecological whistle-blower, »

- Philip French

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D – review

2 March 2013 4:03 PM, PST

It's difficult to know the audience for whom this revisionist 3D adaptation of the Grimm Brothers fairytale is made. In this version Hansel and Gretel were left by their parents in a Bavarian forest to save them from witches and grew up to be foul-mouthed witch hunters using anachronistic weapons and waterboarding in pursuit of their quarry. One suspects that, seriously or tongue in cheek, it's really about the "war against terror" and that Hansel and Gretel are the CIA and the witches belong to al-Qaida.

The obscene language (eg "whatever you do, don't eat the fucking candy") and extreme violence, quite a lot of it directed against women, make it unsuitable for children, something recognised by a 15 certificate. Maybe it's so-called young adults the makers are after.

Action and adventurePhilip French

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- Philip French

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Safe Haven – review

2 March 2013 4:03 PM, PST

The Swedish moviemaker Lasse Hallström was brought to Hollywood following the success of the funny, moving, deeply honest My Life As a Dog. But for 20 years he's largely devoted himself to increasingly glossy, romantic crowd-pleasers, the serious exception being his version of John Irving's novel The Cider House Rules. Safe Haven, his second adaptation of a bestselling weepie by Nicholas Sparks, is an almost unendurably sentimental tale of a young woman in flight from an abusive relationship in New England who finds Mr Right at a cosy little seaport in South Carolina. He's a handsome widower with two small children, one adorable, the other in need of a mother's love, and the idyll is broken and mended on 4 July. At the beginning there's a certain suspense, and there's also for those who like it, and obviously many do, a generous helping of divine intervention.

DramaRomancePhilip French

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- Philip French

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Hi-so – review

2 March 2013 4:03 PM, PST

The title of Aditya Assarat's confident second feature is apparently somewhat sneering Thai slang for "high society" in the junior branch of which the film's wealthy young hero, Ananda, spends his time after returning from his studies in America. In the first half of an elaborately patterned, symbol-laden picture he's playing the lead in a movie about an amnesiac staggering around in the wake of the tsunami. He's also engaged in a waning affair with a Chinese-American girl, who's followed him from the States, speaks no Thai and sees him becoming increasingly remote. In the second half, the film is being prepared for release. Ananda is now having an affair with a provincial girl working with the production company, who speaks no English and doesn't get on with his rich, Us-educated playboy friends. Alienation and its near-anagram Antonioni come to mind, and it's all rather familiar but well done. »

- Philip French

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Sleep Tight – review

2 March 2013 4:02 PM, PST

Jaume Balagueró directed [Rec], a highly effective horror film largely confined to a block of gloomy Barcelona flats plagued by carnivorous zombies. His new movie, Sleep Tight, is a psychological thriller set in a slightly superior but shabby art nouveau apartment house, also in Barcelona, which is at the mercy of an embittered concierge, César Marcos (Luis Tosar), a sad psychopath on the brink of middle age. César has it in for the world and especially the tenants he's supposed to be helping, and the picture is a frightening study of unmotivated malevolence. The person who most trusts him is the attractive, cheerful Clara (Marta Etura), and she becomes his principal victim in a campaign even nastier than the one Iago launches against Othello or the one used to destroy the innocent Gérard Depardieu in Jean de Florette. An unrelievedly nightmarish film.

HorrorThrillerPhilip French

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- Philip French

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Stoker – review

2 March 2013 4:02 PM, PST

This wild, watchable, relatively brief, deeply annoying thriller is the disappointing American debut of the gifted Korean film-maker Park Chan-wook, rightly celebrated for his trilogy of clever psychological thrillers Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. A smirking, would-be charismatic Matthew Goode comes into a rich family's home in rural Tennessee composed largely of British actors wearing ill-fitting American accents. He's there after a long absence for his brother's funeral and is always referred to as Uncle Charlie, an invitation to identify him with Joseph Cotten's charming psychopathic murderer in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. The film is over-emphatic in every way – images that hit you in the face, dialogue that digs you in the ribs, rapid flashbacks designed to unhinge, and obtrusive music including two piano duets by Philip Glass.

ThrillerPhilip French

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- Philip French

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The Gospel According to St Matthew – review

2 March 2013 4:01 PM, PST

Put very briefly, this austere, realistic, literal adaptation of the first gospel (made in 1964 by the great gay communist poet and film-maker who was murdered 38 years ago) is the cinema's most impressive biblical movie to date. It's being revived in cinemas in a new print and is part of a BFI South Bank's Pasolini retrospective.

DramaWorld cinemaPhilip French

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- Philip French

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The Spirit of '45: where did it go?

2 March 2013 8:00 AM, PST

Director Ken Loach's new film revisits the year that Britons turned to socialism – and ushered in the NHS, public ownership and the concept of public (not private) good. We trace the spirit of '45 and speak to some who remember the dawn of a new life

Ray Davies, robust, articulate and dignified, aged 83, veteran campaigner, a Labour councillor in Caerphilly for 50 years, sits in a Spanish civil war beret and recalls the time, in 1945, when he was 15 and had already worked two years underground in Welsh mines.

"In those days, it wasn't safety that came first, it was coal," he says. "We were in the pit and the message came down – 'Labour's won by a landslide!' Tough, hard miners had tears streaking down their faces, black with dust. They said, 'Ray, this is what we've dreamed about all our lives. Public control of the railways and mines and banks, »

- Yvonne Roberts

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Cinekink festival celebrates a very un-American view of sex on film | Zoe Margolis

2 March 2013 6:01 AM, PST

This year's festival, the 10th, showcases and celebrates films that encourage a positive depiction of sexuality and kink

America is a country filled with contradictions. It enthusiastically embraces the commercialisation of sex in the billion-dollar mass-produced pornography industry, yet still views sex and sexuality through a puritanical and oppressive lens; some states have such antiquated sex laws that even swinging (consensual partner swapping) is outlawed. Using sex as a commodity – for example, the sexist advertising of a web domain company broadcast to millions during the Superbowl – just seems to reinforce the capitalist American Dream, but apparently regular consenting adults still require government interference in their sex lives.

Where access to abortion varies from state to state; where women can be refused the birth control pill and emergency contraception by a pharmacist – or even a cashier at Walmart – who objects to it on "moral" grounds; where misogyny and sexist objectification coexist »

- Zoe Margolis

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