Friday, 28 February 2014

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office                 
for the weekend of February 21-23, 2014: 
                             
 
 
1 (1) The Lego Movie (U) **** 
2 (4) Mr. Peabody & Sherman (U)
3 (6) Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (U) **
4 (2) The Monuments Men (12A) **
5 (3) RoboCop (12A)
6 (5) The Wolf of Wall Street (18) **
7 (10) 12 Years a Slave (15) ****
8 (9) Dallas Buyers Club (15) ***
9 (7) Cuban Fury (15)
10 (re) Frozen (PG) **
 
(source: theguardian.com)

My top five:            
 
 
1. Funny Face
2. The Godfather Part II  
3. BAFTA Shorts 2014
4. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1  
5. The Lego Movie        
 
 

Top Ten DVD rentals: 
                             
 
 
1 (new) Captain Phillips (12) ****
2 (new) Turbo (U)
3 (7) Rush (15) **
4 (new) About Time (12) **
5 (new) Filth (18) ***
6 (new) Prisoners (15) 
7 (new) White House Down (12)
8 (new) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (12) **
9 (new) The Croods (U)
10 (1) The World's End (15) ****               

(source: moviemistakes.com/charts)
                             
 
 
My top five:                                
1. Gravity [above]
2. How to Survive a Plague    
3. Gloria      
4. Prince Avalanche      
5. Ain't Them Bodies Saints                                  
 
 

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:                                  
1. The Lady Vanishes (Saturday, BBC2, 1.10pm)
2. Grease (Sunday, C4, 4.25pm)
3. Vertigo (Sunday, BBC2, 1.55pm)
4. Beetlejuice (Sunday, five, 2.50pm)
5. The Fountain (Sunday, C4, 1am)

"Unforgiven" (The Guardian 28/02/14)


Unforgiven ***
Dir: Lee Sang-il. With: Ken Watanabe, Akira Emoto, Shiori Kutsuna. 135 mins. Cert: 15

The symmetry is irresistible. 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, made an international star of Clint Eastwood; now Eastwood’s valedictory 1992 Western has been remade by Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il. The tale of an ageing warrior (here Letters from Iwo Jima’s Ken Watanabe) who returns to the saddle to avenge a vicious attack on a prostitute translates fluently to the late samurai era, allowing Lee to refresh the action in pitting rusting swords against the emergent pistol. Narratively, it’s limited by a certain lack of surprises: if the territory’s new-ish, the characters are ported over unaltered from David Webb Peoples’ screenplay, and their interplay doesn’t yield any insights on the grim business of killing that Clint hadn’t already spat out. Still, it’s an enduring yarn, well told: a rare remake that functions independently, even as it reminds you – vividly, in places – of the original’s elegiac pleasures. 

Unforgiven opens in selected cinemas from today.

Friday, 21 February 2014

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office               
for the weekend of February 14-16, 2014: 
                             
 
1 (new) The Lego Movie (U) [above] ****
2 (new) The Monuments Men (12A) **
3 (2) RoboCop (12A)
4 (1) Mr. Peabody & Sherman (U)
5 (3) The Wolf of Wall Street (18) **
6 (new) Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (U) **
7 (new) Cuban Fury (15)
8 (new) Endless Love (12A) **
9 (4) Dallas Buyers Club (15) ***
10 (5) 12 Years a Slave (15) ****     

(source: theguardian.com)

My top five:            
 
1. The Godfather Part II
2. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
3. The Lego Movie  
4. The Armstrong Lie     
5. Nymphomaniac: Volume 2
     

 
Top Ten DVD rentals: 
                             
 
1 (new) The World's End (15) ****      
2 (2) The Wolverine (12)      
3 (1) The Great Gatsby (12) ***      
4 (new) The Heat (15) ***        
5 (8) Elysium (12) ***      
6 (3) Pacific Rim (12) **      
7 (new) Rush (15) **      
8 (new) Despicable Me 2 (U) ***       
9 (5) The Internship (12)      
10 (6) The Frozen Ground (15) ** 
     
 
(source: lovefilm.com)
                             
 
My top five:                              
1. How to Survive a Plague  
2. Gloria    
3. Prince Avalanche    
4. Ain't Them Bodies Saints    
5. Captain Phillips
                            

 
Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:                                
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Friday, BBC2, 11.05pm)
2. There Will Be Blood (Saturday, BBC2, 10.45pm)
3. Cop Land (Saturday, C4, 11.55pm)
4. Borat (Friday, C4, 12.20am)
5. Of Time and the City (Sunday, BBC2, 11.30pm)

"Stalingrad" (The Guardian 21/02/14)


Stalingrad **
Dir: Fyodor Bondarchuk. With: Mariya Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina, Pyotr Fedorov, Thomas Kretschmann. 131 mins. Cert: 15

This long-haul, Russian-language WW2 drama deploys a curious bookending device – involving Russian rescue workers hauling Germans from the rubble of Fukushima – to frame an equally bizarre main event: a part-recreation of the grimness of the siege of Stalingrad using the same 3D we're more accustomed to from the likes of, say, The Lego Movie. The perverse spectacle (child-torching, prostitute-stripping, endless flying ash) offered as compensation for some indistinct characterisation gets muffled by this format’s limited light capacity: those few scenes not choked with self-importance instead succumb to a greyly macho fug of war. The subtext – Russia endures, flexes muscles anew – doubtless makes it President Putin’s pick of the week, but someone should really take him to see the Lego film. 

Stalingrad opens in selected cinemas from today.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

For what it's worth...



Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office             
for the weekend of February 7-9, 2014: 
                         
 
 
1 (new) Mr. Peabody & Sherman (U)
2 (new) RoboCop (12A)
3 (1) The Wolf of Wall Street (18) **
4 (new) Dallas Buyers Club (15) ***
5 (2) 12 Years a Slave (15) ****
6 (5) Frozen (PG) **
7 (3) That Awkward Moment (15)
8 (6) Lone Survivor (15) ***  
9 (8) American Hustle (15) ****
10 (new) Rusalka: Met Opera (uncertificated)
   
(source: theguardian.com)

My top five:        
 
 
1. The Lego Movie
2. Journal de France    
3. The Armstrong Lie    
4. Her
5. Dallas Buyers Club
 
 
 

Top Ten DVD rentals: 
                         
 
 
1 (new) The World's End (15) ****    
2 (2) The Wolverine (12)    
3 (1) The Great Gatsby (12) ***    
4 (new) The Heat (15) ***      
5 (8) Elysium (12) ***    
6 (3) Pacific Rim (12) **    
7 (new) Rush (15) **    
8 (new) Despicable Me 2 (U) ***     
9 (5) The Internship (12)    
10 (6) The Frozen Ground (15) ** 
 
 
 
(source: lovefilm.com)
                         
 
 
My top five:                            
1. How to Survive a Plague
2. Gloria  
3. Prince Avalanche  
4. Ain't Them Bodies Saints  
5. Captain Phillips
                        
 
 

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:                              
1. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead [above] (Saturday, C4, 12.55am)
2. The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (Friday, C4, 11.20pm)
3. The Color of Money (Thursday, BBC1, 11.35pm)
4. The Notorious Bettie Page (Saturday, BBC2, 11.30pm)
5. Synecdoche, New York (Friday, BBC2, 11.05pm)

"The Lego Movie" (The Guardian 14/02/14)


The Lego Movie ****
Dirs: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. With the voices of: Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Charlie Day. 100 mins. Cert: U

An unexpected joy. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the nutty professors behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, have picked up the pieces that might have made for a throwaway brand-expansion exercise – hey, Smurfs movies – and instead fashioned a work of unbridled imagination, apt to delight sociologists, stoners and six-year-olds alike. Lego logic has been respected in the assembling of its meticulous yet changeable and spontaneous-seeming universes; our humble everyman hero progresses from guileless construction drone to revolutionary Master Builder (very Joseph Campbell) in cherishably jerky motions. Countless pauseworthy flourishes should send DVD presales rocketing, yet the zappiness generates as many drolly satirical gags, finessed by the voice cast’s sitcom-sharpened timing. It doesn’t think outside the box so much as operate on another astral plain entirely, yet even at its craziest, the film retains a tactile, DIY-ish charm: it may be the closest any American animation has come to emulating the ludic spirit of Aardman or Adam & Joe. 

The Lego Movie is in cinemas nationwide.

"Endless Love" (The Guardian 14/02/14)




Endless Love **
Dir: Shana Feste. With: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood. 103 min. Cert: 12A

Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel first inspired a downbeat Brooke Shields vehicle, remembered solely for its sappy Lionel Richie/Diana Ross title song; it’s now been redressed by Gossip Girl’s producers as a glossy, Nicholas Sparks-ish wallow. Scruffy, bum-chinned plank Alex Pettyfer is its improbably noble blue-collar dreamboat; Gabriella Wilde the uptown girl he woos, to her overprotective pop’s chagrin. A certain doofy sincerity – all fairylights and lakeside kisses – and Wilde’s nervy, natural responses keep matters semi-watchable. As a romance, though, it’s literally by-the-book, poring at needless length over pages liberally flecked with bullshit, and thereby giving another generation of sleepover guests some very skewed ideas about their male contemporaries.

Endless Love is in cinemas nationwide.

"Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy" (The Guardian 14/02/14)


Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy **
Dir: Peggy Holmes. With the voices of: Tom Hiddleston, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Mae Whitman. 78 mins. Cert: U

This latest in the series that began as euphemistically termed “DVD exclusives” before 3D made it theatrically profitable strives to merge Neverland with another Disney franchise by pitting Tinker Bell against a flying Jacqueline Sparrow. The girl-power swashbuckling that follows might be cheering if it went beyond sixty minutes, or could offer anything more than smoothly indifferent animation and a new Natasha Bedingfield song. Business concerns sit close to the surface throughout, unmasked by much in the way of artistry: one image of its heroines hovering around a conveyor belt, stuffing pixie dust into jars, encapsulates something of the series entire, and Disney’s apparently ceaseless ability to industrialise magic.

Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy is in cinemas nationwide.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Shia LaBeouf: is there genius in his madness?


Transformation is rarely as smooth as the movies make out. Turning a nerd into a cool cat requires hours in wardrobe, no matter that any on-screen makeover might take a minute; shifting trucks into giant robots demands weeks, often months, of pixel-wrangling. And these changes are wrought behind closed doors: effectuating such transformations while in the public eye has long proven doubly difficult. Macauley Culkin, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes: the child actors who became tabloid fodder are legion. With Shia LaBeouf, star of two controversial new releases and countless recent off-screen brouhahas, the passage from teen idol to leading man has been scarcely less turbulent.

In Berlin this past weekend to promote Nymphomaniac, a two-volume adult odyssey in which he dons a curious mock-English accent and removes his clothes, LaBeouf walked out of a press conference after repeating Eric Cantona’s epigram about sardines and seagulls; at that evening’s premiere, he posed for photographers with a paper bag inked with the words “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” over his head. Even for someone who’d just worked with Lars von Trier, this was eccentric behaviour. What brings one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars to start covering their face, and mouthing the utterances of footballers?

To say LaBeouf has come a long way is an understatement. Born in 1986, he first came to prominence as the smart-mouthed hero of the Disney Channel show Even Stevens; he won a Daytime Emmy in 2003, the year he hit the big screen with the successful family romp Holes. Plain-sailing career progression belied off-camera struggles, however. LaBeouf’s parents – a ballerina and a Vietnam veteran battling dependency issues – separated early in his childhood. Son took care of father, paying him to stay clean as his legal guardian on the Even Stevens set, shuttling him to AA meetings at the close of shooting.

By 2010, after running around in Michael Bay’s Transformers films and the Indiana Jones reboot, LaBeouf was being heralded by Forbes as the world’s most bankable star, pipping Daniel Radcliffe and Johnny Depp. Yet, though successful, the movies, plainly, weren’t great: with maturity came growing doubts about this easy money, and what to do with himself once he’d ensured his security, and that of his loved ones, for life. There were drunken brawls, arrests for loitering, car wrecks both figurative and literal. “The hardest thing… is dealing with all this idle time,” he confessed in a 2011 Details profile. “That’s when I get into trouble.”

Reading LaBeouf’s uncommonly candid interviews, you realise three things. First, that he must be a nightmare for PRs; second, that he’s funnier and more interesting in person than the movies have thus far allowed him to be; and thirdly that, like many performers, he finds echoes of family on set. “My director is my god, my rock, my mother, my father, my lover, my brother, my enemy,” he blurted in 2012. This can generate its own problems, of course. Relations with Steven Spielberg, a sometime mentor, cooled after LaBeouf ventured the (not wholly misinformed) opinion they “dropped the ball” on Indy 4.

With Bay, matters proved more combative. While filming the third Transformers, LaBeouf was preparing for a less robotic scene by listening to Feist’s downtempo number “Brandy Alexander”. A furious Bay ripped out the actor’s headphones and cranked up the Dark Knight score instead. It was a conflict of diverging sensibilities; the 24-year-old star had outgrown his 46-year-old director. LaBeouf moved on, griping that the studios “give you the money, then… come to the set and stick a finger up your ass for five months." Bay has since shot Transformers 4, with the Irish actor Jack Reynor installed as co-lead.

If there is any real downside to being young, photogenic and paid $15m on a regular basis, this is it. Hollywood has come to regard the likes of LaBeouf as disposable freelancers: cheap relative to more established stars, there to fill space between the explosions the summer audience really wants to see. (Few went to Transformers because it was “a Shia LaBeouf movie”.) The actor understood this better than anybody: “There’s this coming-of-age thing that’s happening… I have these yearnings to do different things." Warren Beatty, another performer compelled to prove he wasn’t just a pretty face, was cited as an inspiration.

Aggressively pushing his boundaries, LaBeouf began going toe-to-toe with notorious directorial taskmasters and proven acting heavyweights. He brawled with Tom Hardy while shooting 2011’s Lawless, and clashed with Alec Baldwin during rehearsals for the Broadway play Orphans. He travelled to Romania and dropped acid, spooking co-star Rupert Grint, during the filming of this week’s grungy, violent thriller Charlie Countryman, and prepared for Nymphomaniac by stripping in the promo for Sigur Rós’s “Fjögur Píanó”, a delicate episode of physical theatre almost certainly absent from the Michael Bay playlist.

Writing and directing his own short, howardcantour.com, allowed the suddenly over-exposed actor to assert some further creative control; early Cannes reviews suggested it was a confident debut. Trouble began when the film emerged online late last year, allowing many to note its direct and uncredited lifts from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Justin M. Damiano. Caught in a Twitter storm, LaBeouf gave varyingly sincere responses, including the offer of a skywritten apology, before insisting this wasn’t plagiarism but “performance art” – pleading the Joaquin Phoenix defence, as it were. (Phoenix enacted a similar meltdown while filming 2009’s I’m Still Here.)

Whether this is art or merely next-gen Hollywood acting-up, LaBeouf has committed to it. He’s published an online manifesto (metamodernism.org), and even touted a performance piece to gallerists, in which he invited visitors to take a Clowes anthology to his contrite form. (There are similarities to Marina Abramović’s 1974 piece Rhythm 0.) Look at the Berlin footage, and you’ll see the actor carefully replicates the dramatic gulp of water Cantona took between phrases back in 1995; his paper mask’s mantra is one LaBeouf has insistently Tweeted – thereby repeating himself – since announcing his retirement from public life in January.

Something’s going on here, and it may be that von Trier – equally persecuted and prankish, enthusiastic compiler of manifestos – has replaced Spielberg as LaBeouf’s mentor, and given his charge constructive ways of filling all that idle time: if not original ideas, exactly, then at least some knowledge of a world beyond sequels. (Better to replay others for sport than repeat yourself at the behest of Hollywood paymasters, perhaps.) Channelling Beckett, point seven of the Metamodernist manifesto insists “Error breeds sense”. We must wait to see what emerges once this particular pupal stage is completed, and the paper bag comes off. 

A version of this article ran on today's Telegraph film website. The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday; Nymphomaniac: Volumes 1 and 2 open in selected cinemas on February 22.