Sunday 30 November 2014

Afterthought hours: "Hello Carter"

There's some discrepancy between Hello Carter's opening titles - pulsating grime score, sweeping helicopter shots of London by night - and the film that follows them, which turns out to be a cosily blokish sitcom pilot with a handful of capable actors knocking around inside. Writer-director Anthony Wilcox is going for an After Hours vibe, breaking down a long night in the life of Charlie Cox's recently dumped and dispossessed Carter into a series of rather too convenient encounters: first, at an unsuccessful job interview, with secretary and somewhat inevitable love interest Jodie Whitaker (again markedly better than the script), then - in an utterly contrived sequence on the Tube - with American guest star Paul Schneider, who really needs to make amends with David Gordon Green and the Parks & Rec producers, if this is what's now coming his way. (For some reason, he winds up wearing somebody else's baby in a papoose, a sight gag established in 2003's Old School and subsequently worn thin through repetition in the Hangover movies and every other bargain-bin comedy.) The capital is effectively shown off - if nothing else, it'll provide at least a couple of good-looking clips for a Film London showreel - and Cox makes for a decent, Cusacky Everyman, but he's a patsy at the mercy of plotting that forces far too much makeshift material upon him. Wilcox even futzes the final reconnection with tricks and gimmicks.

Hello Carter opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

Friday 28 November 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of November 21-23, 2014: 
1 (new) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (12A)
2 (2) The Imitation Game (12A) ***
3 (1) Interstellar (12A) **
4 (3) Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?! (U)
5 (4) Mr. Turner (12A) *****
6 (7) The Book of Life (U) ***
7 (5) The Drop (15) **
8 (new) Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Met Opera (U)
9 (8) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A) **
10 (6) Gone Girl (18) **


My top five:   
1. 2001: a Space Odyssey [above]
2. Paddington
3. Life Itself  
4. Stations of the Cross
5. The Homesman 

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) Guardians of the Galaxy (12) **
2 (1) Transformers: Age of Extinction (12)
3 (2) Maleficent (PG) *** 
4 (3) Bad Neighbours (15)
5 (5) Monty Python: (Mostly) Live (15)
6 (9) Earth to Echo (PG) ***
7 (6) Seve (PG)
8 (4) Pudsey the Dog: the Movie (U)
9 (8) Rio 2 (U) **
10 (10) The House of Magic (U)

My top five:  
1. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
2. Ida
3. The Golden Dream
4. Finding Vivian Maier
5. The Inbetweeners 2

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Comfort and Joy (Friday, BBC2, 12.25am)
2. Skeletons (Tuesday, BBC1, 12.10am)
3. Coogan's Bluff (Saturday, ITV1, 12.15am)
4. We Own the Night (Friday, ITV1, 11.15pm)
5. The Expendables 2 (Sunday, five, 9pm)

"Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno" (The Guardian 28/11/14)

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno **
Dir: Keishi Ohtomo. With: Takeru Sato, Emi Takei, Tatsuya Fujiwara. 138 mins. Cert: 15

Japan’s biggest live-action hit of 2014, this samurai sequel is – like so many Western blockbusters – an 80-minute B-picture stifled under another hour’s worth of expensive production design. Backroom staffers clearly worked overtime housing the countless superfluous characters separating our androgynous hero from his flame-grilled nemesis, yet while the period recreation is unarguably lavish, all this flagrant expansionism achieves is to reroute us from the swordplay we’ve paid to see. It isn’t added VFM, rather wasted time: a shameless cliffhanger sets up a third instalment, when – with a few brisk strokes of the accountant’s pen and the editor’s blade – the story really should have been resolved here. 

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Dr. Cabbie" (The Guardian 28/11/14)

Dr. Cabbie *
Dir: Jean-Francois Pouliot. With: Vinay Virmani, Adrianne Palicki, Kunal Nayyar. 101 mins. Cert: 15

Produced by Bollywood megastar Salman Khan, this shambolic East-meets-West proposition boils down its potentially dramatic set-up – just-qualified Delhi medic arrives in Canada, winds up driving a big yellow surgery – to a confounding mix of crude soap and unreconstructed smut: you abandon hope the minute someone has to swallow a condom and pretend it’s bubblegum. The slipshod tone is set by an early, wacky near-miscarriage (“Push the baby back in!”) and sustained into a final act that sees the waitress love interest turn lawyer to defend our hero from the racist politico whose child she’s been carrying. This nonsense isn’t worth the fare. 

Dr. Cabbie opens in cinemas nationwide today.

Saturday 22 November 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of November 14-16, 2014: 
1 (1) Interstellar (12A) **
2 (new) The Imitation Game (12A) ***
3 (new) Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?! (U)
4 (2) Mr. Turner (12A) *****
5 (new) The Drop (15) **
6 (4) Gone Girl (18) **
7 (6) The Book of Life (U) ***
8 (3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A) **
9 (5) Fury (15) **
10 (7) Ouija (15) ** 


My top five:   
1. Life Itself  
2. The Homesman [above]
3. Get on Up
4. Winter Sleep
5. What We Do in the Shadows

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) Transformers: Age of Extinction (12)
2 (1) Maleficent (PG) *** 
3 (7) Bad Neighbours (15)
4 (5) Pudsey the Dog: the Movie (U)
5 (4) Monty Python: (Mostly) Live (15) 
6 (6) Seve (PG)
7 (10) Begin Again (15) *** 
8 (9) Rio 2 (U) **
9 (new) Earth to Echo (PG) ***
10 (new) The House of Magic (U)

My top five:  
1. Ida
2. The Golden Dream
3. Finding Vivian Maier
4. 22 Jump Street
5. The Purge: Anarchy

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. JFK (Saturday, C4, 12.20am)
2. Minority Report (Saturday, BBC2, 11.30pm)
3. The Green Hornet (Sunday, five, 9pm)
4. 30 Days of Night (Friday, C4, 11.40pm)
5. Moon (Sunday, BBC2, 11.30pm)

Saturday 15 November 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of November 7-9, 2014: 
1 (new) Interstellar (12A) **
2 (7) Mr. Turner (12A) *****
3 (1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A) **
4 (4) Gone Girl (18) **
5 (3) Fury (15) **
6 (5) The Book of Life (U) ***
7 (2) Ouija (15) ** 
8 (6) Nightcrawler (15) ***
9 (8) The Maze Runner (12A)
10 (9) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (PG) **


My top five:   
1. Mr. Turner
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
3. Life Itself [above]
4. Leviathan
5. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (1) Maleficent (PG) *** 
2 (2) The Lego Movie (U) ****
3 (3) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12)
4 (new) Monty Python: (Mostly) Live (15)
5 (new) Pudsey the Dog: the Movie (U)
6 (4) Seve (PG)
7 (5) Bad Neighbours (15)
8 (6) Road (PG) ***
9 (8) Rio 2 (U) **
10 (new) Begin Again (15) *** 

My top five:  
1. The Golden Dream
2. Finding Vivian Maier
3. 22 Jump Street
4. The Purge: Anarchy
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Dog Day Afternoon (Wednesday, ITV1, 2.30am)
2. The Painted Veil (Tuesday, BBC1, 11.50pm)
3. Chronicle (Saturday, C4, 10pm)
4. Down Terrace (Saturday, BBC2, 12.15am)
5. Dumb and Dumber (Sunday, five, 5.25pm)

On demand: "Virunga"

The documentary Virunga opens by recounting the sorry backstory of 20th century Congo - a woeful tale of colonial exploitation, crushing dictatorship and, eventually, civil war. Some light becomes visible around 2006, with the country's first democratic elections for forty years, but the bulk of the film will demonstrate how these green shoots of hope were comprehensively trampled when renewed fighting broke out on a spectacular battlefront: the vast Virunga National Park in the west of the country. 

Initial explorations are at pains to point out how the area has long been sustained by a delicate ecosystem: we could be watching a nature doc, were we not so aware of the dark clouds passing over this particular landscape. In recent years, tourism has put much-needed money in the pockets of the locals - and with its abundant natural beauty and varied wildlife, it's clear Virunga has a good deal to show off. The park's gorilla orphanage scoops up the babies of those creatures picked off by poachers, and nurses them until they're old enough to be returned to the wild; local fishermen ply their trade on the well-stocked Lake Edward.

Yet there is trouble in this paradise, sparked by the recent discovery of oil reserves under this very same body of water. The question of land exploitation rears its head once again with the arrival of the British company SOCO, who've acquired mining rights through a variety of means, some as stealthy as the fracking bigshots documented in Josh Fox's Gasland: their preferred tactic is to roll up in town, and then approach cash-strapped communities and individuals - including, in this case, figures within the Virunga administration - with promises of schools, jobs and money. It's classic divide and conquer.

For his part, director Orlando von Einsiedel adopts multiple lines of inquiry, as befits a story as complex as this: you sense he'd mike up the bugs and herons, if they had useful information to give. In the early stages, we're often out on patrol with the park rangers, seeing for ourselves how poachers are being deployed as - it's alleged - an advance party, with the aim of destabilising the park. (The idea is that wiping out the animals will leave the park's administration with nothing to defend: in the film's most indelible image, the rangers encounter the carcass of an elephant, tipped up on its side like a car abandoned by joyriders.)

In the second half, however, von Einsiedel piggybacks on the work of French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby, whose work takes her in closer to key SOCO figures, using a hidden camera to record these neo-colonialists' attitudes: let's just say these haven't changed appreciably since the early days of the last century. As a young woman among rapacious men, Gouby offers one of the film's many models of heroism; the staff at the gorilla orphanage, touchingly devoted to their charges even as shells begin to fall outside their door, offer another; then there's Prince Emmanuel de Merode, who occupies a tricky post-colonial position as the aristocratic Belgian appointed to oversee park management.

Virunga makes something truly stirring from the sight of this embattled yet devoted civil servant attempting to rally his staff during the daily rollcall, reminding them they're here to serve the wildlife, not the encroaching business interests. By the final reel, with the fighting between Government troops and the M23 rebels getting too close for comfort, everybody - not least von Einsiedel himself - is obliged to duck and scurry into the wilds, leaving us with a vivid sense that the patch of land de Merode's men are trying to defend is getting smaller and smaller with every passing hour: in cinematic terms, the closing act is practically a negative image of Zulu, with the encircled natives battling to hold out against teeth-baring white folk.

As chaos finally breaks out, von Einsiedel clings to - and makes very shrewd use of - the nature he finds around him: each cut to one or another of the orphanage's terrified gorillas serves to reduce the evolutionary distance between them and us. By the closing minutes of this punchy, energising documentary, with the park under siege on several fronts, we would appear to have more in common with these once affectionate, now shellshocked primates than we might with any of the dead-eyed mercenaries muscling in on their territory.

Virunga is now streaming on Netflix.

Saturday 8 November 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of October 31-November 2, 2014: 
1 (2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A) **
2 (new) Ouija (15) **
3 (1) Fury (15) **
4 (3) Gone Girl (18) **
5 (4) The Book of Life (U) ***
6 (new) Nightcrawler (15) ***
7 (new) Mr. Turner (12A) *****
8 (5) The Maze Runner (12A)
9 (7) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (PG) **
10 (6) Annabelle (15) **


My top five:   
1. Mr. Turner
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
3. Leviathan
4. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
5. The Overnighters

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (1) Maleficent (PG) *** 
2 (2) The Lego Movie (U) ****
3 (3) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12)
4 (4) Seve (PG)
5 (new) Bad Neighbours (15)
6 (6) Road (PG) ***
7 (5) Walking on Sunshine (12)
8 (7) Rio 2 (U) **
9 (new) Chef (15)
10 (9) Postman Pat: The Movie (U) **

My top five:  
1. The Golden Dream
2. Finding Vivian Maier
3. Two Days, One Night
4. 20,000 Days on Earth
5. Moebius

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Psycho [above] (Friday, C4, 11.40pm)
2. Walkabout (Saturday, BBC2, 12.15am)
3. Michael Collins (Friday, BBC2, 12.40am)
4. Lootera (Wednesday, C4, 1.25am)
5. The Notorious Bettie Page (Wednesday, BBC1, 12.05am)