Sunday, 26 June 2016

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of June 17-19, 2016:
1 (new) The Conjuring 2 (15)
2 (1) Me Before You (12A) **
3 (new) Gods of Egypt (12A)
4 (2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (12A) *
5 (3) Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG) 
6 (6) The Nice Guys (15) ****
7 (5) X-Men: Apocalypse (12A)
8 (4) Warcraft: the Beginning (12A)
9 (7) The Boss (15)
10 (8) The Angry Birds Movie (U)


My top five:   
1. Poor Cow [above]
2. Remainder
3. Adult Life Skills
4. Elvis & Nixon
5. Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) 

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (4) Bridge of Spies (12) *****
2 (1) The Hateful Eight (18) **
3 (2) Spotlight (15) ***
4 (3) Dirty Grandpa (15)
5 (5) Room (15) ****
6 (8) In the Heart of the Sea (12) **
7 (new) Joy (12) **** 
8 (9) Suffragette (12) ***
9 (new) Sisters (15) **
10 (7) Bobby (PG)

My top five:  
1. Our Little Sister
2. Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach
3. Bone Tomahawk
4. The Seventh Fire
5. By the Sea

Top Ten Streaming:

1 (1) Tale of Tales (15) ***
2 (new) Remainder (15) ***
3 (new) Trumbo (15) **
4 (new) Adult Life Skills (15) ***
5 (2) Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (18) ***
6 (3) Embrace of the Serpent (12)
7 (9) Spotlight (15) ***
8 (10) Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach (12) ****
9 (new) The Seventh Fire (15) *** 
10 (5) Holding the Man (15) ***

(source: BFI)

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. L.A. Confidential (Saturday, BBC1, 11.20pm)
2. High Fidelity (Sunday, BBC1, 11.15pm)
3. Fallen (Friday, BBC1, 11.55pm)
4. Life of Pi (Saturday, C4, 8pm)
5. The Incredible Hulk (Saturday, ITV1, 2.20pm)

Saturday, 25 June 2016

"Tale of Tales" (MovieMail 17/06/16)

It’s become apparent, over the best part of the past decade, that the Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone has an eye, a nose and a taste for excess. His breakthrough work, 2008’s Gomorrah, exposed – in quasi-documentary fashion – the hold exerted by organised crime over one Sicilian housing estate, while establishing Garrone’s fondness for sprawling, multi-character frescoes. Frame by frame, you felt him succumbing to that excess in 2012’s Reality, a blaring state-of-the-Berlusconi-and-Big Brother-nation address that made Paolo Sorrentino’s recent output look quietist by comparison.

With his first English-language feature Tale of Tales, Garrone’s stretching his canvas further still, attempting to film at least some of the Pentamerone, the sprawling compendium of myths and legends assembled by the 17th century poet Giambattista Basile. Basile’s book set out the state of the Italian nation as it was circa the Middle Ages: it has a literary analogue in the work of the Brothers Grimm, and a cinematic one in Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, although Garrone displays a predilection for luscious, gory effects that mark his take as very much a product of the Marvel age.

So it is that we’re introduced to the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek, more imperious here than Hollywood has ever allowed her to be), who sees her husband succumb to a sea monster before raising an albinoid son who proves an even bigger nightmare; to the King of neighbouring Highhills (Toby Jones), who forsakes his daughter upon falling hard for his pet flea; and to the lusty King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel), introduced performing cunnilingus on two damsels simultaneously (who says men can’t multitask?), before finding himself unknowingly bewitched by a pair of crones.

The themes in these carefully selected strands – birth, death, courtship, parenthood, ageing – are as big as one might find in any better-known fairytale, yet Garrone maintains a playfully ironic tone throughout. Though he knows he has it within his playbox and his preferred post-production house to create wonders, our storyteller keeps his tongue firmly in cheek, alert to the fact that, in this day and age, it might be considered a little silly, even unseemly, for a grown man to be dealing with jugglers, ogres and other monsters.

This puckish quality certainly provides an alternative to the monolithic self-seriousness of the superhero movies we’re meant to take as gospel nowadays; the result is never less than diverting and occasionally transporting. But is Tale of Tales properly enchanting, as the best fairytales are? I’m not so sure. Garrone ensures his Tale barrels along; he’s dextrous indeed in weaving together competing narrative strands.

Yet the diverse postmodern texts the film recalls – The Princess Bride, P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, the Harry Potter series, Game of Thrones – realised that the spells they cast would amount to nothing if they didn’t stop their yarn-spinning long enough to allow sincere feeling to bleed into the material. Two hours of pastiche is both a lot and not enough to give an audience: the artificial colours and preservatives tend to wear off very quickly, leaving us to chew over something with a decidedly plasticky aftertaste.

Garrone can still dot his canvasses with choice moments, great faces, dazzling images: a Rossetti redhead awaking in a forest, a man walking a burning tightrope. Yet set Tale of Tales against the immersive, full-strength, hell-for-leather vision of medieval life unfurled in the recent Russian epic Hard to Be a God, a decades-in-the-making experience that permitted no sniggering irony whatsoever, and it begins to look a touch insubstantial, perhaps even childish: a novelty one might hand to a toddler, a comic strip on the back of a bubblegum wrapper.

Tale of Tales is now playing in selected cinemas, and streaming on the BFI Player.

Friday, 24 June 2016

"Remainder" (Guardian 24/06/16)

Remainder ***
Dir: Omer Fast. With: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Arsher Ali. 103 mins. Cert: 15

Video artist Omer Fast’s adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s 2001 novel is a coolly ambiguous offering from the swelling cinema-does-memory file. Tom Sturridge’s shifty blank emerges from a freak accident with amnesia and a seven-figure payout that permits him to reconstruct some small corner of his identity; he does this not with tattoos or Post-It notes, rather by restaging events using actual people and places. (Painstakingly rehearsing a bank robbery, he resembles Philip Seymour Hoffman’s writer-cum-worldbuilder in Synecdoche, New York.) Fast lends this process distinctive textures and atmosphere, achieving a heightened reality by working on recognisable London streets: we’re surely watching a form of gentrification, as plummy white male Sturridge snaffles property so as to regain control over his surroundings. It’s clever but chilly, leaving the protagonist’s motivation (intentionally?) fuzzy: if what he’s doing fascinates, his reasons for doing it can seem a touch opaque. An assured headscratcher, nevertheless, full of ideas and images guaranteed to lodge somewhere in your cranium.

Remainder is now playing in selected cinemas.

"Crazy About Tiffany's" (Guardian 24/06/16)

Crazy about Tiffany’s **
Dir: Matthew Miele. With: Jessica Biel, Katie Couric, Fran Lebowitz, Baz Luhrmann. 86 mins. Cert: 15

This is effectively a ninety-minute ad for a superstore: it could have been Wild about Wilko were that estimable outlet shipping shiny stones to the 1% instead of marked-down scourers to the rest of us. Inevitably, it’s a blue-chip, high-end promo, recruiting Jessica Biel and Baz Luhrmann to gush about the Manhattan jewellers’ elaborate brooches. Still, amid its slick melding of sparkly bits from 2009’s Bride Wars, relentless “Moon River” and input from solitary hitmakers Deep Blue Something, little is allowed to puncture the prevailing air of self-congratulation for enabling two centuries of conspicuous consumption. No 2016 release will be further out of step with the times. 

Crazy About Tiffany's is now playing in selected cinemas.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of June 10-12, 2016:
1 (3) Me Before You (12A) **
2 (2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (12A) *
3 (4) Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG) 
4 (1) Warcraft: the Beginning (12A)
5 (5X-Men: Apocalypse (12A)
6 (6) The Nice Guys (15) ****
7 (new) The Boss (15)
8 (7) The Angry Birds Movie (U)
9 (new) Mother's Day (12A)
10 (8) The Jungle Book (PG) **


My top five:   
1 (3) The Hateful Eight (18) **
2 (2) Spotlight (15) ***
3 (4) Dirty Grandpa (15)
4 (5) Bridge of Spies (12) *****
5 (6) Room (15) ****
6 (7) SPECTRE (12) ***
7 (9) Bobby (PG)
8 (new) In the Heart of the Sea (12) **    
9 (10) Suffragette (12) ***
10 (new) Steve Jobs (15) ***   

My top five:  
1. Our Little Sister
2. Bone Tomahawk
3. By the Sea
4. Truman
5. Evolution 

Top Ten Streaming:

1 (new) Tale of Tales (15) ***
2 (1) Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (18) ***
3 (4) Embrace of the Serpent (12)
4 (new) Cemetery of Splendour (12)
5 (2) Holding the Man (15) ***
6 (new) The Violators (15)
7 (new) Evolution (15) ***
8 (6) The Assassin (15) ***
9 (5) Spotlight (15) *** 
10 (3) Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach (12) ****

(source: BFI)

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Independence Day [above] (Saturday, C4, 8pm)
2. Silent Souls (Saturday, BBC2, 1.45am)
3. The Hunted (Saturday, BBC1, 12.05am)
4. Blue Valentine (Wednesday, C4, 1.30am)
5. Blind (Thursday, C4, 1.05am)

"Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)" (Guardian 17/06/16)

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) ***
Dir: Eva Husson. With: Marilyn Lima, Daisy Broom, Finnegan Oldfield, Lorenzo Lefebvre. 98 mins. Cert: 18

That self-correcting title, balancing aggressive come-on with wistful parenthesis, is about right. French writer-director Eva Husson here issues a dreamy-tender cautionary tale, unfolding over one long, sticky summer, in which merry high-schoolers pair off to poke one another, online and IRL; it’s all fun and games until the onset of syphilis. As her teens retreat into one lad’s unparented pad – oblivious to external events, like the In the Realm of the Senses lovers – Husson carefully situates their experiments within a wider, natural context: this filmmaker’s light, sweet touch is such she can even venture a funny subplot involving the school hamster without straying into urban legend territory. Satisfaction may depend on your desire to spend 90 minutes around blankly suggestible hormoneheads, but Husson – more forgiving Hansen-Løve than forbidding Breillat – nudges them and us both towards a healthier understanding of what our bits do: for her, blossoming sexuality isn’t necessarily a crisis, just a season we pass through. 

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is now playing in selected cinemas.

Hollywood knights: "The Nice Guys"

At this perilously late stage in the multiplex game, with screens one through twelve turned over to snot-nosed fanboys, The Nice Guys feels like the kind of bone we might well be grateful for having been thrown our way. This is one of writer-director Shane Black's salty-snarky non-franchise offerings, a film that, from its first pitch meetings, was simply never intended to carry the PG-13 or 12A rating by which latter-day studio executives hope to conquer the world. By way of a show of intent - and a flagrant come-on to those self-same male execs - the film opens, in the Los Angeles of 1977, with a naked porn star ploughing her sports car into a kid's bedroom in the middle of the night. The mangled vehicle, the unclothed chick: here is the sex and death elided from 95% of modern American movies, shamelessly placed upfront and unapologetically pushed into the viewer's (horrified? delighted? amused?) face. Something has changed for the better in Black, however: the kid's first response, upon seeing the woman of his dreams exposed before him, is to remove his jacket and lay it over the dead girl's form. This corrective note of chivalry won't be the film's last.

The task of working out how this damsel in distress got here falls to two private investigators who - in a typically clever-clever Black conceit - don't at first realise they're following one another's tails. Jackson Healy, the older and heavier of the two, is a divorced loner whose signature move is to punch anybody he's questioning in the face before they've had time to dissemble; his resemblance to a gone-to-seed version of L.A. Confidential's lean, mean fighting machine Bud White is only boosted by the fact he's played by the very same Russell Crowe. The widowed Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is more boyish and successful with it - Healy expresses barely concealed envy when he arrives on his colleague's spacious front porch - but he's a bit of a lush, something of a pushover, and timid about dirtying his hands in ways Healy isn't. Though they make a strong team in the hunt for a missing girl who knew the deceased, Black senses how the pair's game of cherchez la femme might well be understood as compensation for having apparently been abandoned by all the other women in the world. Save one: March's pre-teen daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who sometimes seems to have more smarts and common sense than her two male guardians combined.

As in the recent Aussie genre piece These Final Hours, Rice is here to represent that form of right-thinking innocence that demands protecting from earthly predators, and there are plenty of those in The Nice Guys: Healy and March's investigations will bring them into often bruising contact with porn producers, Mob hitmen and knowingly negligent representatives of Big Auto. That they're willing to take on these forces - all the while standing up whenever a lady enters the room - marks the two main characters as knights errant in the long tradition of Tinseltown flatfoots, from Bogart's Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe through Nicholson's JJ Gittes to Joaquin Phoenix's Doc Sportello in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. Set against that last, conspicuously fuzzy endeavour, The Nice Guys can't help but appear relatively clean- and clear-cut. Where Doc really did seem alone in his inquiries, and too heartbroken (and too zonked) to do anything much to rectify that sorry situation, Black offers another of his buddy-buddy scenarios, albeit one that offers the pleasure of watching two very different icons of modern movie masculinity bounce off one another.

Literally so, in the case of a pratfalling Gosling: Black has realised that, however ripped and buff this actor may be, he's far more convincing - and actually far more charming - when he's getting smacked around than he ever could be dishing out the beatings. (I'd take The Nice Guys over the mirthless posturing of Drive and Only God Forgives every time.) Crowe, every bit the old pro, breezes along in second gear next to him, although he makes unexpectedly touching an anecdote Healy tells about confronting an armed man in a diner, working towards a wistful punchline ("Just for a moment, I felt useful again") which his dozing partner never gets to hear. Certainly, The Nice Guys operates in a markedly more reflective key than Black's earlier slambangs (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Kiss Goodnight): it's centred entirely on men out of time who find themselves still trying to do the right thing, or something like the right thing, in a city and a time of increasingly dubious entertainments. I wonder how much this script spoke to these actors, beyond its showy toplayer of knowing chatter.

Both, clearly, are stars seeking to do something beyond the realms of franchise cinema: keener to work within characters rather than bodysuits, to speak dialogue rather than exposition by the yard, in films that feel unforced rather than machine-tooled, and which have the curiosity to explore their cityscapes, rather than simply smashing the shit out of them for a final act. The Anderson film The Nice Guys most resembles isn't, finally, Inherent Vice but Boogie Nights, with its overarching vision of porn being transformed from a mom-and-pop business into something more cutthroat. Black and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot summon a smoggy look that both connects with the plot and suggests a moment burning itself out in plain sight; the end-of-an-era atmos is enough to make one wonder whether The Nice Guys isn't itself something of a last gasp - a temporary holdout against the inevitability that every multiplex release will soon be a dispatch from either the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. Catching up with it at a late show, with not a texting teen to be seen, wasn't just a thoroughly enjoyable experience; it felt, in some small way, like an act of cultural resistance.

The Nice Guys is now playing in cinemas nationwide.