Friday 27 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of March 20-22, 2015: 
1 (new) Home (U) **
2 (new) The Divergent Series: Insurgent (12A)
3 (1) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) **
4 (3) Focus (12A) **
5 (new) The Gunman (15)
6 (2) Run All Night (15) *** 
7 (4) Suite Française (15) **
8 (7) Still Alice (12A) *** 
9 (5) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
10 (new) Wild Card (15) **


My top five:   
1. Far From the Madding Crowd
2. My Name is Salt
3. X+Y
4. Wild Tales
5. Dior and I

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) Paddington (PG) ****
2 (1) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (12)
3 (2) The Imitation Game (12) ***
4 (new) Fury (15) **
5 (3) Mr. Turner (12) *****
6 (4) The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG) ***
7 (5) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
8 (7) The Equalizer (15)
9 (6) Nightcrawler (15) ***
10 (8) '71 (15) ***

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. Paddington
3. White Bird in a Blizzard
4. The Grandmaster
5. Pelo Malo

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. The French Connection [above] (Sunday, C4, 1.20am)
2. Rogue (Saturday, BBC1, 12.05am)
3. Looper (Saturday, BBC2, 9.05pm)
4. Step Brothers (Sunday, five, 10.50pm)
5. Wanted (Saturday, C4, 10.35pm)

On DVD: "The Grandmaster"

Wong Kar-wai spent years tinkering with The Grandmaster, and when he finally handed it in, he found producer Harvey Weinstein waiting with his blunted and overworked scissors, keen to deliver something ready for global consumption. Wong's biopic of Ip Man, the martial-arts legend who schooled Bruce Lee among others, has been beaten to the punch by a series of films starring Donnie Yen in the lead role - and while you might decry these sight unseen as no more than DTV knock-offs, those genre exercises actually attained a rare grace and poetry: they came to move their viewers, both literally and figuratively. The Grandmaster is a lavish elaboration on the same story: it's both martial-arts cinema deluxe, and - in the 108-minute cut which debuts on DVD next week - more than a little bit faffy.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fight scenes themselves, which repeatedly and obsessively wrap Yuen Wo-ping's choreography in layer upon layer of texture and styling. Wong may be the only director of martial arts to appear less interested in the kicks being landed than the shoes his fighters wear as they land them. (As with In the Mood for Love, Wong's 2000 landmark, The Grandmaster was costumed and edited by the same man, William Chang; it's an example of a film being tailored to accommodate its own fetishes.) The whole film, indeed, is caught up with ideas of style - most specifically, the diverse methods of combat practised by its principal players.

In an early sequence, Ip (Tony Leung) moves from room to room in the brothel he's been obliged to use as his academy, encountering in each a new challenger who sets about him with a recognisably different line of attack. Our man's wing chun - so elevated in those earlier Yen films - now starts to seem more meat-and-potatoes, no more than the briskest form of defence; it looks cool, because it apparently involves far less effort, but appears markedly less flamboyant than the fighting of everybody else Ip will find himself up against. There's a historical significance to the moment Wong's film is attempting to describe in such languid detail - it's one where these rival schools found themselves temporarily unified, in the battle against the invading Japanese - although it's been somewhat obscured, if not entirely betrayed, in the Weinstein cut. 

Perhaps we shouldn't bemoan the producer's involvement unduly: he's added explanatory title cards and identifying labels for key characters, which occasionally help the narrative snap into focus. It's also hard not to feel Weinstein had his work cut out for him the minute he took delivery of the print. The film as it stands is full of set-ups that peter out, threads that cannot be reattached: a tussle over succession, the brooding Ma Sen (Zhang Jin), an on-off quasi-romance with the wilful Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi). Wong sometimes appears as distractible as that genre warhorse Johnnie To, becoming bored with even his better ideas: how these characters link up isn't always clear, and they generally seem more preoccupied with their position in time than the film is. Ip spends this cut's second half off-screen, at which point the film threatens to become all gravy, no meat-and-potatoes.

What's frustrating is that even the free-floating scenes are tremendous: one extended dust-up on a snowy platform between Gong and Ma, the characters leaping out of and disappearing into the vast plumes of white smoke left behind by departing steam trains, suggests what might have happened if the Shaw brothers had turned their flying fists to adapting Anna Karenina. The whole project winds up in this way, both mesmerising and makeshift: a glimpse of an incredibly designed warrior costume that dazzles the eye - until you notice the sticky tape and string holding it all together, and the gaping holes that would render it something of a liability on the battlefield.

The Grandmaster is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Metrodome from Monday.

"Robot Overlords" (Guardian 27/03/15)

Robot Overlords ***
Dir: Jon Wright. With: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Geraldine James. 90 mins. Cert: 12A

Director Jon Wright here follows his enjoyable Irish monster movie Grabbers with what resembles a Children’s Film Foundation offering updated for the JJ Abrams era: we now get substantially better VFX, lashings of lens flare, and Roy Hudd as a kindly grandpa. The battlelines between the robots oppressing a Manx backwater and schoolmarm Gillian Anderson’s rebellious charges are economically established; only during the second-act runaround does it start to seem a little underpowered when set against its American competition. Still, it’s brisk enough, and Wright’s fondness for types sustains it: there are well-judged contributions from Ben Kingsley as a snippy collaborator and Tamer Hassan as the guvnor of a pub operating on permanent lockdown. Never less than amiable, and rather more spirited and non-conformist than the Transformers movies that have occupied multiplexes of late: the strategic deployment of a WW2 Spitfire suggests it may hold symbolic value for our newly confident industry. 

Robot Overlords is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

"Seventh Son" (Guardian 27/03/15)

Seventh Son **
Dir: Sergei Bodrov. With: Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Alicia Vikander. 102 mins. Cert: 12A

Every now and again, Hollywood relocates key talent to the wilds for the express purpose of spunking millions of dollars over a cliff. Here’s one such occasion: a 3D mock-epic in which beard-and-scenery-chewing witchhunter Jeff Bridges mentors third-choice chosen one Ben Barnes to slay shapeshifting dragon lady Julianne Moore. Director Sergei Bodrov opts for mindless overkill, stocking every Dante Ferretti-designed set with kung fu Tartars and vengeful Vishnus, and hoping we’ll be too psyched or numbed to notice the dubious white-blando-puts-minorities-to-the-sword subtext. It’s lively-daft, but you do find yourself wondering: all this expertise, and the best anybody could think to do with it was this

Seventh Son opens in cinemas nationwide today.

"Wild Tales" (Telegraph 27/03/15)

Wild Tales ***

Dir: Damián Szifron. With: Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Ricardo Darin. 15 cert, 122 min

Vengeance has powered countless movies over the years, but rarely can it have been given such a thorough – and thoroughly entertaining – showcase as it gets in Wild Tales, Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated portmanteau of tales from the dark side of human nature. The agenda is set in a short, sharp prologue, as a mid-air conversation between a music critic and a model leads to an entire passenger roster realising they’ve wronged the wrong guy; with the revelation nobody paid for their own ticket, the stomach promptly plummets several thousand feet. Adopt the brace position: we’re in for extreme turbulence.

On the ground, a waitress ponders whether to poison the customer who fleeced her parents, a flash motorist squares up to a middle-lane hogger, a wedding party unravels into bloody chaos after an infidelity accusation…: time and again, we’re left watching – sometimes horrified, most often amused – as people are pushed to the brink and beyond, and small lapses in self-control change the courses of multiple lives. You can be driving an Audi 3000 or wearing black tie – in this world, inner beast prowls dangerously close to civilised surface; when temperatures rise to jungle level, primal instinct takes over.

Szifron plays Looney Tunes variations on his theme. Each time, we know our vexed Wile E. Coyotes will pay for their pursuit of life’s blithe Road Runners, yet we’re never sure just what that payment will involve. Brained by an anvil? Blown to smithereens? We expect Ricardo Darín, Argentinian cinema’s Rock Steady Eddie, to stay cool, but even his workaholic engineer – left carless after a parking violation – finds himself worn down by the city’s byzantine regulations. Occasionally, the eruptions prove liberating; more commonly, these characters emerge bruised and bedraggled, if they emerge at all. No-one comes out of it looking good exactly.

Save for one man – Szifron himself, for whom Wild Tales serves as a sharp-edged calling card: he pulls off intimate, knife-in-the-back character business as well as blowing stuff up in screenfilling set-pieces. (We see Darin demolishing cooling towers, but the whole project’s a supremely controlled explosion.) When the dust settles, you might question what it adds up to: an extended exercise in schadenfreude, perhaps, or possibly a valuable reminder, in this increasingly intemperate universe, of the benefits of keeping your fists in your pockets. Either way, while it’s boiling over, it’s satisfyingly snippy fun – the movie equivalent of cutting three inches off a cheating ex’s trousers.

Wild Tales opens in selected cinemas from today.

"The Face of an Angel" (Telegraph 27/03/15)

The Face of an Angel **

Dir: Michael Winterbottom. With: Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevingne, Daniel Bruhl, Genevieve Gaunt, Sai Bennett, Rosie Fellner, Valerio Mastrandrea. 15 cert, 101 min

In recent decades, Michael Winterbottom has emerged as among our most prolific and contradictory filmmakers. We know he’s drawn towards the pure sensation expressed in, say, 9 Songs (sex) and 24 Hour Party People (drugs, rock ‘n’ roll). At the same time, he’s prone to putting distancing layers between his characters and us; he may be British cinema’s pre-eminent postmodernist, as hard to pin down as the films themselves. His latest The Face of an Angel proves typically confounding: first announced as Winterbottom’s take on the Meredith Kercher case, it finally emerges as a film about a film about a vaguely familiar overseas murder.

Within this hall of mirrors, we catch glimpses of a glowing autoportrait in the questing form of Daniel Brühl’s Teutonically sincere director Thomas Lang, irresistible to hardened journo Kate Beckinsale and footloose student Cara Delevingne alike. The throughline in Paul Viragh’s script is Lang’s growing alienation from the hacks and bloggers gathering in Siena for the verdict: pointedly less heroic than the newsmen of Winterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo, these vultures hover over the corpse, and obsess about the accused’s wardrobe choices. Lang furrows his brow and sheds actual tears, but gets no closer to this truth than anybody else.

What’s around him descends into tail-chasing: we get classical references, movie-biz insider comedy (dimbulb execs suggesting Tina Fey as perfect for Lang’s project), fantasies, nightmares, screen-test footage of young actresses who’ve caught either director’s eye – notes for a film, rather than anything so conventional as a film itself. Winterbottom’s shapeshifting spontaneity has long seemed as much limitation as virtue, characteristic of a filmmaker unable or unwilling to commit to his own better ideas: here, you feel him hedging around his subject, less out of sensitivity than a constitutional evasiveness, an inability to formulate a clear line of argument.

As the film-within-the-film stalls in development hell, so too The Face of an Angel turns circles without really getting anywhere, the work of a filmmaker getting bogged down first in the vagaries of the modern media and the Italian criminal court system, then in his own personal and professional difficulties. His desire to keep the cameras rolling, and produce something to show for his troubles might have been honourable or admirable in other circumstances; here, it just leaves you mildly troubled that a film that started and ends with the name Meredith Kercher should have wound up being chiefly about Michael Winterbottom.

The Face of an Angel opens in selected cinemas from today.

Thursday 26 March 2015

1,001 Films: "Gimme Shelter" (1970)

At once a landmark documentary, and a deeply problematic one, Gimme Shelter starts out as a record of the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the US - a response, perhaps, to Don't Look Back, Pennebaker's 1967 film of Bob Dylan touring the UK - before pulling back to reveal we're no longer live on stage with Mick and the boys performing "Jumpin' Jack Flash", but mired in the edit suite with the three documentary makers (brothers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) at the tour's conclusion. The showmen of rock are hereby reduced to the passive position of spectators, looking at monitors and reacting to what's already happened: the fatal stabbing of a fan amid the chaos of Altamont by one of the Hell's Angels recruited as an ad hoc security detail for this concert in particular. It's the moment when this touring lark became much less of a gas, gas, gas; a moment that captures, in a few frames on a Steenbeck, the murderous madness of America as it entered the 1970s.

The central issue of Gimme Shelter is whether allowing the film's subjects into post-production comprises a legitimate tactic or something of a stitch-up on the part of the filmmakers. It's interesting that the Maysles and Zwerin separate out the Stones, presenting the fateful footage to one band member at a time, as though these were criminals being interrogated to see whether their alibis for the night in question matched up. What they - and we - see is, of course, horribly compelling, less a set building towards the big finale than a countdown to a disaster. Showbiz lawyer Melvin Belli bluffs his way through the early venue negotiations; the concert footage comes to resemble the dark side of Woodstock (released the same year, yet unfolding seemingly half a world away). Organised - in the loosest sense of that word - under the credo "let it happen", Altamont was fractious, with acid casualties staging pitched battles both on and off-stage even before Keith Richards struck up the opening chords of "Sympathy for the Devil".

The Maysles/Zwerin team take care to include a good deal of Stones music, perhaps to placate fans, because not even Godard (in 1968's One Plus One) put the band under this level of sustained scrutiny. As it plays out, how much the group were responsible for Altamont remains open to question: certainly Jagger cuts a pitiable figure on stage, suddenly removed of his swagger and murmuring "Sam, we need an ambulance... I don't know what the fuck I'm doing." (It is, if nothing else, a potent film about the limitations of rock stars, and the limitations of music to make the world a better place; it tears away several subsequent Band-Aids and confronts us with the ugly wounds no guitar riff can heal.) It shares with Don't Look Back an interest in just what it means to be in the eye of the storm and/or the camera, or in the middle of a crossfire hurricane, but - for all the electrifying content it gathers up and pores over - you do sense a long-disproved equation lurking somewhere behind it all: rock 'n' roll = damaging to our nation's youth. It's a brilliant film, made by squares.

Gimme Shelter is available on DVD through Warner Home Video.

Saturday 21 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of March 13-15, 2015: 
1 (1) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) **
2 (new) Run All Night (15) *** 
3 (2) Focus (12A) **
4 (new) Suite Française (15) **
5 (3) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
6 (4) Chappie (15) **
7 (8) Still Alice (12A) *** 
8 (5) Big Hero 6 (PG) ***
9 (7) Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) *
10 (6) Shaun the Sheep Movie (U) ***


My top five:   
1. Far From the Madding Crowd
2. My Name is Salt
3. X+Y
4. Maxine Peake as Hamlet
5. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (12)
2 (1) The Imitation Game (12) ***
3 (2) Mr. Turner (12) *****
4 (3) The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG) ***
5 (4) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
6 (5) Nightcrawler (15) ***
7 (7) The Equalizer (15)
8 (6) '71 (15) ***
9 (8) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12) **
10 (new) My Old Lady (12) **

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. Paddington [above]
3. White Bird in a Blizzard
4. Mea Culpa
5. La Maison de la Radio

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Glory (Friday, BBC2, 11.35pm)
2. Michael Collins (Saturday, BBC2, 12.25am)
3. Coogan's Bluff (Friday, ITV1, 11.40pm)
4. Twister (Sunday, ITV1, 4pm)
5. A Serious Man (Tuesday, BBC1, 11.35pm)

"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" (The Guardian 20/03/15)

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya ***
Dir: Isao Takahata. Animation with the voices of: Aki Asakura (original version), Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen (English dub). 137 mins. Cert: U

Princess Kaguya’s Oscar nod – in an animation field missing The Lego Movie – actually proves far less instructive than 2013’s inside-Ghibli doc The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, where a beleaguered Hayao Miyazaki pushed through The Wind Rises while stablemate Isao Takahata skulked off-screen, mired in production delays. The latter’s decade-in-the-planning take on a Japanese folk legend has a bounteous opening – a woodsman discovers a child in a bamboo shoot, and raises her as a princess – before a flat midsection that sees Kaguya wait around her palace for treasure-hunting suitors. Here, Takahata appears to press his own passivity and indecision onto his character; for a narrative about life’s transitory nature, it doesn’t half start to drag. Lush, hand-painted images offer plentiful consolation, but its beauty forms a gilded cage: up until the undeniably moving final movements, it just feels several shades too constrained to fully honour its heroine’s restless, questing spirit. 

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is now screening in selected cinemas, in both dubbed and subtitled prints.

"Wild Card" (The Guardian 20/03/15)

Wild Card **
Dir: Simon West. With: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Hope Davis. 92 mins. Cert: 15

This should have confirmed Jason Statham’s upward career mobility: it’s fabled screenwriter William Goldman’s second big-screen pass at his own novel Heat, which sees The Stath, assuming a sometime Burt Reynolds role as a Vegas gambler who falls foul of the Mob, trading lines (if not blows) with a half-dozen or so legit performers. It emerges, alas, as a compromise, hedging its bets between cheery, characterful Ocean’s-ish caper and brute-force beat-‘em-up; we’re offered traces of both, and yet not enough of either to satisfy. Notable faces (Sofia Vergara, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche) vanish without trace, and Our Jase struggles with Goldman’s distinctly American, hard-boiled dialogue. Pity. 

Wild Card is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

"Home" (Telegraph 20/03/15)

Home **

Dir: Tim Johnson. Animation with the voices of: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Jones. U cert, 94 min

Disney’s Big Hero 6 may have pipped DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 at this year’s Oscars, yet the latter studio has arguably displayed greater consistency of late, smart gagwriting buoying even their holiday filler (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar) above a rising tide of 3D product. What, then, happened with new release Home? It has a fun-sounding premise (an alien invasion of Earth), and a veteran director in Tim Johnson (Antz, Over the Hedge), and still makes for a most underwhelming matinee. Perhaps everyone was saving themselves for the forthcoming Minions; savvier parents may consider doing likewise.

Its single best joke flies by early, with the revelation that Oh (voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons), head coward of chameleonic aliens the Boov, is so named for the disappointed reaction his presence engenders. There’s a zappiness about the invasion itself, which relocates humanity to massive ballpools in Australia: the kind of subjugation any fan of sun and fun might abide. It’s Oh who spoils the party, CC-ing a birthday evite to the entire galaxy, and thereby alerting the Boov’s mortal enemies to their whereabouts; subsequently exiled, he encounters the one human left behind – Tip (Rihanna), a young Barbadian seeking her mom.

Tip’s quest is template, and not invulnerable to sentiment; where the Penguins spin-off pursued big, stupid bellylaughs, Home is clearly aiming for U-rated cute. Yet it never gets its lines of approach right. The characterisation’s slightly off, for one: with his cinnamon-bun ears and wheedling voice, the shapeshifting Oh’s a cross between Lena Dunham and Jar Jar Binks – an acquired taste, to say the least. And while Tip provides another step forward for onscreen representation, bum-flashing popstrel Rihanna makes a curious choice as innocent; she has, however, tossed several filler songs into those montages by which Johnson strives to plug the copious narrative gaps.

The animators keep it busy and colourful without ever seducing the eye: even a set-piece involving an inverted Eiffel Tower passes without generating a truly memorable image. Mostly, Home resembles that standardised fodder now routinely pitched at easily distracted youngsters: all but indistinguishable from the already bargain-binned Planet 51 and Escape from Planet Earth, it shrivels when set against DreamWorks’ own Monsters vs. Aliens from 2009. Animation has become a crowded field, and perhaps we shouldn’t always expect something out of this world, but this underdeveloped offering barely lifts itself off the drawing board. It’s very, very… oh.

Home is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

"A Second Chance" (Telegraph 20/03/15)

A Second Chance **

Dir: Susanne Bier. With: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ulrich Thomsen, May Andersen, Thomas Bo Larsen. 15 cert, 102 min

The pairing of director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen have formed an arthouse mainstay for over a decade, but their run may be nearing an end: taking a break from their usual brooding melodramas resulted in 2012’s sunnily insubstantial Love is All You Need, while Bier crashed flying solo over Hollywood with last year’s ill-fated Serena. At their best – in 2002’s Open Hearts, say – the Bier-Jensen films display a heightened sensitivity to the myriad ways modern lives intersect. At their worst, they can seem like everything Bier’s fellow Dane Lars von Trier mocks them for: penny-dreadful scenarios presenting ludicrous contrivances in the beigest manner imaginable.

Their latest A Second Chance means to signify a creative rebirth – babies feature prominently – yet it founders in negotiating a meeting of two very diverse households. Here, the council flat of junkies Tristan and Sanne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas and May Andersen), shooting up before their faeces-smeared infant; there, the fairylit rural idyll in which conscientious cop Andreas and wife Anna (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Maria Bonnevie) are raising their own newborn. Worlds collide via a naggingly unpersuasive switcheroo: when the prince’s son expires one night, he elects to disregard official procedure and swap with the pauper. What, possibly, could go wrong?

As elsewhere in the Bier canon, raw-nerve acting helps sustain the dramatic high-wire act for a while: we’re so struck by the emotions playing across these actors’ faces that we don’t notice their stumbling feet. There’s something compelling in Bonnevie’s grief at being deprived of the last item of soft furnishing required to complete her ideal home; likewise, in watching Coster-Waldau – nowadays most often cast as stock-Hollywood handsome (Game of Thrones) – feeling his granite-hewn jawline subside under the strain of maintaining this equilibrium. Yet that strain increasingly owes less to reality than Jensen’s flagrant manipulation.

If this were black comedy – with Andreas established as an obvious loose cannon – we’d maybe play along, but Bier’s reaching for sincerity: the sketchy rationale offered for the cop’s actions is the soapy-romantic one that he’s trying to spare his beloved from self-sacrifice – a line that threatens to make patsies out of everyone, including the audience. Some of the ambience sticks – a lake laps ominously at a twilit shore – and does nothing to diminish Bier’s reputation as among our most sensitive storytellers. Yet this tale, more mechanical than human, is finally beyond her skillset: it required ruthless tinkering, not the softly-softly approach.

A Second Chance is now playing in selected cinemas.

Sunday 15 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of March 6-8, 2015: 
1 (1) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) **
2 (3) Focus (12A) **
3 (2) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
4 (new) Chappie (15) **
5 (4) Big Hero 6 (PG) ***
6 (5) Shaun the Sheep Movie (U) ***
7 (6) Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) *
8 (new) Still Alice (12A) *** 
9 (new) Unfinished Business (15) **
10 (8) It Follows (15) ****


My top five:   
1. The Sound of Music
2. Far From the Madding Crowd
3. My Name is Salt
4. X+Y
5. Lou! [above]

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) The Imitation Game (12) ***
2 (1) Mr. Turner (12) *****
3 (new) The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG) ***
4 (5) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
5 (2) Nightcrawler (15) ***
6 (new) '71 (15) ***
7 (4) The Equalizer (15)
8 (3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12) **
9 (new) Lucy (12) **
10 (6) The Babadook (15) ****

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. White Bird in a Blizzard
3. The Skeleton Twins
4. '71
5. The Imitation Game

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Outbreak (Monday, five, 10.50pm)
2. North West Frontier (Saturday, BBC2, 1.25pm)
3. True Lies (Saturday, C4, 11.30pm)
4. Control (Wednesday, C4, 12.55am)
5. Hitch (Saturday, five, 12.30pm)

"Far From The Madding Crowd" (DT 13/03/15)

Far From the Madding Crowd ****

Dir: John Schlesinger. Starring: Julie Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, Prunella Ransome, Freddie Jones. U cert, 168 min

This will be a big year for the wispier of our two Tom Hardys. An all-new Far From the Madding Crowd, directed by Dogme graduate Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan – calls upon us in May; by way of a refresher – or spoiler – this week sees MGM’s 1967 adaptation reissued in a new print. Back then, some observers saw John Schlesinger’s film, emerging in the year of Bonnie and Clyde and Godard’s Week-End, amid growing discontent on the streets of Europe, as further proof of British cinema’s tendency to retreat under layers of period clothing at times of social unrest. Once again, they said, we were operating in our own picturesque little world.

Still, how picturesque – and what a world. From the opening 360-degree pan over a desolate hillside, cinematographer Nic Roeg – that pre-eminent movie alchemist, yet to go Walkabout – transforms Hardy’s Wessex into a landscape both tangible and mystical, its vistas encompassing both abject desolation (shepherd Alan Bates watching his flock plummet over a cliff, a still-staggering image of loss) and stirring fecundity (Terence Stamp wooing Julie Christie in fields green enough to make Teletubbyland seem dull). Everything in this extraordinary evocation of island life is seasonal; these folk, their affections and fortunes, shift with the winds and tides.

Credit Schlesinger and screenwriter Frederic Raphael, then, for maintaining such a precise bearing on the personalities that define Hardy’s central love quadrangle. As Peter Finch’s landowner Boldwood dines alone, plagued by a ticking clock, you can audibly hear a man moving closer to death – whether his own, or someone else’s. Stamp proceeds from dashing blade to dastardly highwayman with a prowling panther’s grace, while contemporary filmmakers would surely make disastrous attempts to punch up Gabriel Oak’s quiet decency: Schlesinger wisely allowed Bates to take root in the background, projecting an appreciable sturdiness.

It’s typical of the film’s radical resistance to the swoony melodrama governing previous literary adaptations: Schlesinger grounds everybody in the mud, such that Christie’s increasingly self-reliant Bathsheba now seems a very modern gal, no more fool or victim than any of the men swarming about her. If it’s a little boxy – though never as chocolate-boxy as, say, Doctor Zhivago – its themes, images and ideas continue to be unpacked by today’s period directors, and this restoration permits their organic beauty to live and breathe anew. The Vinterberg variation will be going some to be as hardy – or, indeed, as thoroughly, richly Hardy – as this perennial.

Far From the Madding Crowd is now playing in selected cinemas.

"Run All Night" (Guardian 13/03/15)

Run All Night ***
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra. With: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Genesis Rodriguez. 114 mins. Cert: 15

Liam Neeson’s Global Punching Roadshow rolls on. This New York layover – overseen by Non-Stop’s Jaume Collet-Serra – improves upon the star’s recent engagements: unlike the Taken sequels, it’s never caught cutting around the asswhupping you’ve paid to see, and it grounds all its beatdowns in appreciably supple character business. While doing a dusk-till-dawn shepherding job on an estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) who’s witnessed a Mob hit, Neeson’s boozy, washed-up former hitman faces off at regular intervals against heavyweight thesps (Ed Harris, Vincent d’Onofrio, Nick Nolte) who actually appear up for earning their paycheques. Swooping CG scene transitions add a needless touch of Google Maps-era flash to fundamentally retro material, but Collet-Serra stages pulse-elevating car chases and bar brawls, and weaves in pleasing, connoisseurial local detail: a simultaneous ice-hockey derby provides Big Liam with one ingenious avenue of escape, while the Irish-American Christmas setting pays off with a taproom shootout scored to “Fairytale of New York”. 

Run All Night is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Friday 6 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of February 27-March 1, 2015: 
1 (new) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A)
2 (1) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
3 (new) Focus (12A) **
4 (2) Big Hero 6 (PG) ***
5 (3) Shaun the Sheep Movie (U) ***
6 (4) Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) *
7 (new) The Boy Next Door (15) **
8 (new) It Follows (15) **** 
9 (5) The Wedding Ringer (15) *
10 (8) The Theory of Everything (12A) ***


My top five:   
1. Kill the Messenger
2. Dreamcatcher
3. White Bird in a Blizzard [above]
4. White God
5. It Follows 

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) Mr. Turner (12) *****
2 (new) Nightcrawler (15) ***
3 (1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12) **
4 (2) The Equalizer (15)
5 (3) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
6 (re) The Babadook (15) ****
7 (new) Love, Rosie (12) *
8 (5) How to Train Your Dragon 2 (U) ***
9 (6) A Walk Among the Tombstones (15) **
10 (10) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12) *** 

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. '71
3. The Imitation Game
4. Nightcrawler
5. Pride

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. The Fugitive (Monday, five, 11pm)
2. In Which We Serve (Saturday, BBC2, 1.10pm)
3. Play Misty for Me (Saturday, ITV1, 11.15pm)
4. Good Vibrations (Saturday, BBC2, 10.30pm)
5. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (Sunday, five, 11.15pm)