Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Bombast and bloat: the bread and butter of the superhero movie in 2016. Some, sporadically, sometimes choose to eschew these trends; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice embodies them, emulates them, wrings them dry. The film is dry - there's not a good laugh in it. There is so, so much in this film, and yet so little that we haven't all seen before. So what to say of such a film? That unrelenting bombast turns it into an exceptionally long, dull trailer, and that it is - whether for next year's first Justice League movie or for next year's Wonder Woman. If a trailer generates excitement, then Batman v Superman may be the most exciting film of the year, for what little time Gal Gadot appears on screen. Her character achieves about as much as either of the titular characters do: their mandate is to harumph at each other, and most everybody else, and to look like especially fuckable slabs of meat. Larry Fong's gloomy cinematography only makes this bleak, morally barren (yet entirely too thick to comment upon its burgeoning political streak) movie even grimmer, though it does frame Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill's bulging muscles in such a fashion as to make them appear all the more impossible not to want, even need to cling onto. Batman v Superman's homoeroticism is its MVP, though it's still leagues behind actual pornography, and thus even inferior to that (what isn't?!). Sleek, brutish set design by Patrick Tatopoulos and some fine work by the sound, stunt and composing teams elevate this expensive film's technical specs, though it's otherwise a soulless, thoughtless accomplishment. Bombast and bloat over 2 hours 30 minutes; 2 minutes 30 seconds, and this trailer just might have excited me.


Academy Award winning actor, mental health advocate and beloved star of film and TV, Patty Duke has died at age 69. She passed yesterday, the 29th of March 2016, from sepsis as the result of a ruptured intestine. One of the most popular American child performers of the 1960s, Duke's star rose suddenly when she won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in 1962's The Miracle Worker. This kicked off a long and varied career, mainly in TV; the eponymous star of The Patty Duke Show would earn nine Emmy nominations over the course of her career, winning three Primetime Emmy awards. Her personal life was often troubled - daughter to a depressed mother and an alcoholic father, she was exploited and abused by her adoptive guardians Ethel and John Ross. They stole most of the money she earned and got her hooked on various addictive substances, contributing to her drug addiction and alcoholism in later life. Also suffering anorexia as an adult, Duke was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982 at the late age of 35 - she dedicated much of her subsequent career to raising awareness about the issue, and was the first celebrity to publicly declare their bipolar diagnosis. Alongside The Miracle Worker, this most honourable of actors will be remembered for her roles in Valley of the Dolls, The Swarm, and a great deal of prominent TV credits, as well as her tenure as the President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988. Married four times, she is survived by her three children - actors Sean and Mackenzie Astin from her third marriage, and Kevin Pearce from her fourth to her widower Michael - and three grandchildren - Sean's daughters Ali, Elizabeth and Isabella.

Saturday, 26 March 2016


The inevitable return to his more modest roots yields the inevitable upturn in quality for John Carney, as this charming indie comedy-drama proves. Now, charming indie comedy-dramas are a dime a dozen, and, for all its spirit, Sing Street never truly tries to transcend its innate limitations, but these modest roots provide modest success. Principal to that success is the manner by which it is achieved - the warm, wry Irish wit and a terrific soundtrack are bottomless sources of the stuff, elevating the banal plot and even managing to inform its own success, serving as more creative expressions of its tropes and cliches than the dialogue-driven dramatic scenes do. And even then, Carney's adroit understanding of his setting engenders a more profound impact than those narrative cliches would otherwise - Sing Street is not just the Irish spirit, but an insight into Irish identity. And yet, these are all gains made on questionable ground, given the film's deficiencies. It's not just another charming indie comedy-drama by accident, but by design, and indeed by necessity, as transpires upon even the most casual analysis of its style and structure. There's thus a lack of ambition to Sing Street, one that makes its blinkered idealism seem rather quaint, though Carney alludes to an awareness in this regard, in a number of scenes whose ambiguous tone mitigates their supposedly celebratory content. And while the film may lack originality, it makes up for that in sheer skill - stylistically and musically both, Sing Street riffs on the good and the great. In the former, it's good enough. In the latter, it might even be great.

Friday, 25 March 2016


Capitalism reconstructed in J. G. Ballard's High-Rise, and deconstructed in Ben Wheatley's. There's so much to savour in this film that one can't help but desire merely the chance to do so; there's so much to scrap too, which is to say that there's just too much in general. High-Rise is forty floors' worth of economics, politics and philosophical pontification, established with promise, presented with puerile gusto. An intelligent collage of metaphors serving one greater than all of them, the film is at its strongest when content with being solid, not spectacular. Early developments set their sights on spectacle indeed, but when Wheatley reaches his destination and lets his creative side loose, the looseness swallows up the whole tower block, and it all comes crashing down. He displays a greater focus here than in previous features, at least in the moment - seemingly invigorated by the enhanced production values, themselves contributing to a rather more meta-phor in the context of his career. That focus is absent, however, from High-Rise as a whole; the breakdown of form here reflects the breakdown of society in the film, but when so much of genuine intellectual worth has been committed to, and when Wheatley's arch, wry tone continually suggests that he's actually attempting to comment upon something, to communicate something of equal worth, this breakdown is thus far too unregulated. It's the freest free market of filmmaking, whose sheer monotony (the film runs way past its welcome, making zero progress as it does so) is thereby the most potent proclamation against it in the whole film.

Thursday, 24 March 2016


An undeniable, inescapable tragedy, perpetrated on foreign soil by criminals of alien ideology. It turns one's outlook inward, inspires resentment and reflection among others, and influences an escalation of the unavoidable antagonism in any war of politics or principle. Jim: The James Foley Story identifies the grief experienced in the aftermath of such tragedy, and observes the benevolent insularity of thought that arises from it on so public a stage, though without the insight to comment upon it. Thus, it becomes affected by it, transforming it into insidious solipsism, and a sensitive, earnest documentary turns preachy and narrow-minded. An attempt to tell conflict journalist James Foley's story - namely that of his imprisonment and eventual murder at the hands of Daesh - in accessible, familiar terms that might more readily cue the desired emotional responses, Jim: The James Foley Story is wholly lacking in structural or stylistic ingenuity, though it is handsomely produced. As such, it requires some sense of drive or innovation in its content, and though its emotive components may bear some moderate effect, the unwitting ignorance of Brian Oakes' presentation nullifies their impact, and engenders only cynicism in the objective viewer. This is an apolitical film about inherently political matters, and what few nods it makes in the direction of politics are wholly unintentional, and even latently offensive. All Oakes has to at best maintain, at worst regain interest is our sympathy, in light of the film's foregone conclusion and dearth of imagination. It's a fine tribute to James Foley, though, to this one young, attractive, heterosexual, Caucasian, American cismale, in a conflict that has ravaged the Middle East. It's a tragedy for sure, but small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016


After an excellent response from critics and audiences both at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Roadside Attractions are pursuing a confident release strategy in the US for Love & Friendship, booking it in for a lucrative limited opening on the 13th of May. It's prime film-going season, even for arthouse product, and could result in the kind of performance that sees Whit Stillman's Jane Austen adaptation develop a solid reputation come awards season later in the year. A UK release is scheduled for shortly after, on the 27th of May, and an Irish release on the 2nd of September.


The marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane was designed with the express intention of manipulating the audience's expectations, based upon their perceptions of this film's predecessor, 2008's Cloverfield. That's all very well until the lights go down and the eyes go up on this new beast, but were your expectations that it'd operate in much the same way as the marketing, only on its own terms? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a most manipulative film, but in a fun and, crucially rewarding manner, and its manipulations are largely self-contained, for the first two acts or so. It posits suggestions that may or may not harbour meanings, asks questions that may or may not go answered, floats ideas which it sees to fruition, though of what nature is consistently uncertain. With smart, incisive character building from both actors and screenwriters, 10 Cloverfield Lane convinces you to care about the route it takes to dissipating the tension - a route that necessitates an inevitable escalation of that tension. Director Dan Trachtenberg toys with sound effects and focus ranges for intensification, but the premier source of atmosphere comes from the basic premise of these three figures, varyingly volatile, trustworthy and mysterious, inhabiting the same sealed space. Yes, there's mystery to this film, in spite of its aforementioned predecessor - it's resolved to keep you guessing about so much, to turn the tables at a moment's notice, or to leave them unturned just as you thought you'd worked it out, that you can't help but wonder where its eventual destination will be. It's easy to malign the film's final act, then, so indebted to common conventions, but it's the only logical conclusion to this franchise's story, and to this film's.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016


Capping off awards season 2015-16, late and sans fanfare as per, the Chlotrudis Society has announced its award winners for last year, with Spotlight matching its feat at the Oscars by winning here too. It does so with a mere two other nominations - Original Screenplay and Ensemble Cast - and no other wins, while Sean Baker's Tangerine claims three awards. Check out Chlotrudis' nominations at this link, and their awards choices below:

Best Movie

Best Director
Todd Haynes (Carol)

Best Actor
Christopher Abbott (James White)

Best Actress
Karidja Toure (Girlhood)

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

Best Supporting Actress
Cynthia Nixon (James White)

Best Original Screenplay
Damian Szifron (Wild Tales)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Emma Donoghue - based on her novel (Room)

Best Cinematography
Sean Baker and Radium Cheung (Tangerine)

Best Editing
Julien Lacheray (Girlhood)

Best Production Design
Pater Sparrow (The Duke of Burgundy)

Best Use of Music in a Film
Matthew Smith (Tangerine)

Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast

Best Documentary
Call Me Lucky

Buried Treasure Award


Modern times are upon us, and the movies are catching up. Zootopia uses its sense of social responsibility not as an accoutrement to the action, nor as pithy pandering to a subset of its demographic, but as an integral component within its narrative and thematic thrusts. It's not merely a film about acceptance and tolerance, it actively is acceptance and tolerance in film form, a piece of promotional material for the values it upholds itself. And no, you may not need to hear it, nor read about it, but consider the impact that a sense of social responsibility could have in a film when its demographic is children: Zootopia is an educational work whether it intends to be or not, and it's most satisfying to see its filmmakers embrace this responsibility. Indeed, they not only embrace it but enrich it, shading it not only with sweetness but with incisiveness too - Zootopia understands the dangers of prejudice and stereotyping whilst also appreciating the legitimacy of their inception in the mind (subjectively speaking). As in real life, the villains here are doing the wrong things for what they believe are the right reasons. Such intelligence aside, though it informs the majority of this film's content, Zootopia is otherwise constituted of a half-decent detective plot, a prosaic aesthetic, and a generally strong but spotty sense of humour. It doesn't even appear to attempt to translate its noble thematic concerns into equally commendable artistic intent - surely a missed opportunity, if not disastrously so.

Monday, 21 March 2016


A charming and rather captivating anime from Hosoda Mamoru, The Boy and the Beast may break no new ground even within animation filmmaking, never mind filmmaking as a whole, but it makes up all it lacks in sheer spirit. And what a treat to witness such keen genre filmmaking, this being a rare action comedy in that it is suffused with artful compositions, and an acute mastery of a wide range of tones. Hosoda is not merely hip to the necessities of nailing the action sequences - which he does with aplomb, exploiting the spatial dynamics of these scenes to thrilling effect - or the comedy - again, handled with surety. The Boy and the Beast is a beautiful film, whose artistic prowess stretches far beyond its visuals, as seductive as they may be. It's a modest enterprise (as fully-formed as it is, Hosoda's world-building is in the same leagues as many children's anime TV productions), but one from which the maximum dramatic and artistic potential has been mined. The film takes an unexpected swerve - narratively, tonally, even visually - heading into the home stretch, which serves as a new source of inspiration for Hosoda. The last half hour expands upon the good work done before, and transforms it into great work, worthy of inclusion on any list of the finest film anime. Though the film loses some respect (from this writer, at least) for its near-total absence of prominent female characters. Nevertheless, for what it is, The Boy and the Beast is as watchable as it is commendable in its construction.

Friday, 18 March 2016


Miike Takashi appears to abandon all semblance of traditional technique in what may actually be among his most technically accomplished films to date. Yakuza Apocalypse is everything it promises to be, and yet so much less - not necessarily in effect, but instead in style. Miike is astute and restrained in his deployment of the myriad genres he mashes together here, that when they launch their irresistible lure upon him, he willfully succumbs and allows them to take over his better instincts. His sense serves his sensibilities well, though its immediate appeal is diluted by the lack of time he assigns to it, despite no lack of effort; his wild creativity is largely fuelled by immediate appeal alone, and Miike's craft in constructing the more outrageous aspects of a truly outrageous film perhaps even conquers that in its quieter moments. And so Yakuza Apocalypse is a most contradictory film, and fittingly so, given the recklessness with which this plethora of styles is strung together. Its patience is admirable, its energy affable; their juxtaposition at once enhances each element and deflates its impact. That energy doesn't abate even as the runtime extends ever further, though yours might just, and the usual qualms around gender politics that come with most genre filmmaking are present and incorrect - this is a brazenly unpolished film, and integrally so. But its unyielding commitment to silliness, and its willingness to make full usage of this attribute at all times and at any cost, makes Yakuza Apocalypse well worth the watch.

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Oh, great! Just what we need! Another education in self-reflection, another social satire lesson, another meta mindfuck designed not to enhance the audience's intelligence and perceptiveness, but to prove just how intelligent and perceptive the filmmakers are. "Look! We acknowledge the baselessness, the reductiveness, the shallowness of our society! And now we're making fun of it, of ourselves! How innovative! How alternative!" Dear white people, heterosexual people, 30-50-year-old people, middle-class people, cisgender people... dear the filmmakers of Aaaaaaaah!: it's all very well that you appreciate the depth of your own cultural stagnation, but no amount of self-awareness, no level of commentary, no matter how quirky, is actually going to make a difference toward changing it. I don't care for your half-cooked concepts - they're largely senseless, and their effect entirely wears off 10 minutes in. I don't care for your envelope-pushing - it's all been done before, and the bizarre mix of prudishness and prurience only exposes your own sensitivities as being as integral to the society you mock as all of those elements at which you sneer. I don't care for your low-budget stylings - I know they're affectations, not necessities, and you don't present them with any particular insight into their application, thus rendering their artistic value void. I don't care for how much you purport to care. Your film is of negligible worth as a reflection upon anyone but yourselves, and the quasi-cool irony in this is much too hackneyed to harbour any genuine intellectual import. I don't care for your film. One less chicken joke and you'd have lost this last half star.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


A marvellous drama, suffused with deep sensitivity and performed with great skill. Next to Her may have little to say as a feature, but it provides a lot to comment upon, not least the quality of the filmmaking from all principal players. The film is fiction, but expressed with a level of detail and intimate understanding that betrays its true nature as truth - lead actor Liron Ben-Shlush based her screenplay on her own experiences, and the result is this challenging, likely cathartic expression of hard-hitting emotion. In emphasising the judgemental attitudes harboured by its characters, even at their most discriminating, and in even encouraging a similar stance in its audience, Next to Her reaps considerable rewards in revealing such prejudgements as unreliable; this is an acutely compassionate film, and Ben-Shlush's screenplay is a perfect example of how emotional perceptiveness can elevate even the most timeworn scenarios. Her partner, Asaf Korman, directs with appropriate restraint, allowing the intensity of the drama to emerge naturally, and indulging in the occasional mild stylistic flourish to make it more palatable. A narrative revelation toward the end requires such a careful touch - with the focus gently placed upon each character's individual reactions to situations, as opposed to their actions, a complete emotional picture is painted, and thus each of these situations feels authentic, no matter what they contain. This is a remarkable piece of work from a most promising group of artists.

Monday, 14 March 2016


A good idea is only good for so long. It needs sustenance, replenishment, if intended to yield rewards past its natural expiry date. And so the Kung Fu Panda franchise withers on, accepting an ever-diminishing yield, predicated upon the eternal supply of artistic worth promised by that one good idea. It fuelled the first film, and held the second one up; now, it serves as an excuse for Kung Fu Panda 3, an excuse that looks ever more tired the longer it lingers around. This film rather seems to have its fate accepted from its very first scene, proceeding to skip swiftly through a straightforward plot with an emphasis on comedy, not creativity. The film's animators possess a lovely way with colour, for example, but are prone to overloading it; vibrant flashes of editing invention here and there may momentarily enliven the film, but they're sparingly employed, and largely only stylistic hangovers from the first Kung Fu Panda. We're otherwise on animation autopilot, with interest maintained mainly by the family-friendly fast pace (smartly skimming over the thematic and narrative familiarity) and a moderate comedic hit rate. The ambition behind that good idea has been buried beneath the desperation to merely keep it alive, and there's no sign of the replenishment necessary to provide Kung Fu Panda 3 with the vitality and the singularity it needs; the very same features of which the 2008 original serves as a beacon for the American industry.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


So this is what we've come to. I count 19 Young Adult films to date, with Allegiant the 19th, and the third in this franchise. I see one opportunity for progression after another, and a select few films that have even attempted to capitalise upon those opportunities. I see nothing but dwindling despondency in these Divergent Series films, dying sparks not of life but of some strained sense of it, as though a dystopian future holds as little hope for its lifestyle as it does for the present day's depictions of it. And so Allegiant blunders on, seemingly determined to scrape by on the bare minimum, not just resigned to its mediocrity but somehow dedicated to it. This is a brave, if not bright, new world - where's the invention? Where's the imagination? The innovative elements are humdrum, while the humdrum elements are notably more notable - films like Allegiant would be so much more quotable (for the wrong reasons, naturally) were they not so numerous. For all that franchises like this may strive for futuristic flair and faux-revolutionary political portent, they're remarkably unconcerned with the process of courting these qualities. Allegiant is yet another YA film to expend far more effort on emulating not only the worst of its own sub-genre but the worst of just about every other: action, drama, sci-fi, romance, comedy - all mauled by the heinousness of the joint creative approach behind these risible films. Indeed, this one may be more indebted to its obvious inspirations than its own predecessors, utterly failing to build upon their narrative groundwork (as scant as it was) in any meaningful manner. The third of a planned four films in the Divergent Series, and the third to finish on a curious note of completion - may it be the first (and final) to capitalise on that.

Friday, 11 March 2016


Arguably the most legendary of all production designers, Sir Ken Adam, has died. He passed at age 95 on the 10th of March 2016, after a highly distinguished tenure at the top of his field of filmmaking. The Berlin-born Klaus Hugo Adam emigrated to the UK with his family in 1934 and studied there; though his architecture studies weren't put to use in the exact area of work they'd been cultivated for, they were exploited for greater purpose, as Adam went on to serve as the foremost production designer in world cinema for over 40 years. On only his third credit as an art director or production designer, the Oscar Best Picture winning Around the World in Eighty Days, Adam received his first Academy Award nomination, despite going uncredited on the film - it was the first of five nominations including two wins. Among other accolades over the course of Adam's career were two BAFTAs from nine nominations, two London Critics Circle awards, and two special awards from the Art Directors Guild. But more impressive still is his filmography, and a mere glance at it is proof of his inimitable genius for design: seven James Bond films including Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon, and other titles including The Ipcress File, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sleuth, Addams Family Values and The Madness of King George. Having completed his final film project in 2001, he dedicated his entire body of work to the Deutsche Kinemathek in 2012. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Maria Letitzia, and will be massively missed.


When an old text, set for adaptation to the screen, has maintained its relevance, its vitality, its healthy stock of inspiration over the years since its creation, the temptation is often to produce a dry, straightforward adaptation. Not so with Hitchcock/Truffaut, a film already suffused with the history of cinema, and intent upon dwelling on that past only as tribute, and as its own source of inspiration for the future. A discussion between two of the all-time great filmmakers was enough for Francois Truffaut's book, and enough for today's filmmakers, who appear here in impressive number to proffer their interpretations of it. Their contributions are enough for director Kent Jones, when added to the material from the book, thereby securing the theory established by Truffaut and his brethren that Alfred Hitchcock's mastery was unrivalled, his influence undying. Hitchcock/Truffaut the film is thus immensely engrossing, expounding upon the technique of the former director in a level of detail that the book could never hope to achieve (and with yet further analysis, courtesy of informed voices like Olivier Assayas, David Fincher and Kurosawa Kiyoshi), and too upon the technique of the latter. Jones appreciates both the essentiality of his source text and the inadequacy of it through a dry, straightforward adaptation - in commenting upon both its contents and its creation, he creates his own text for tomorrow's crop of cinephiles. Not only enlightening, Hitchcock/Truffaut is also most entertaining, as editor Rachel Reichman selects the choicest cuts from Hitchcock's back catalogue, shaping a new work out of old ones, both for analytical and pleasurable purposes. This year, Hitchcock/Truffaut turns 50; here's to 50 years from now, and the ever-enduring legacy of true genius.

Thursday, 10 March 2016


Unadorned Korean pulp. There's something quite appealing in absorbing a movie like Coin Locker Girl, allowing oneself to succumb to the simple pleasures of a context-free, largely surprise-free narrative, one that fills up the whole film, placing substance definitively above style. There's also something quite deflating in it, in the acknowledgement that what substance there is here isn't enough, and one yearns for some form of artistic expression amid the smart performances and predictable plot. Coin Locker Girl is a modest film, a small-scale noir suffused with lightness both of tone and of aesthetic, its only stylistic tendencies toward a distinctly modern dearth of them. It's uncomplicated, and unconcerned with the potential pressures of added complications - is it more or less admirable, more or less ambitious when attributed to a first time filmmaker? Han Jun Hee displays a fine handle on all that he turns his hand to, staging violent encounters with adequate verve, and exhibiting a flair for memorable imagery without excessive strain - a flair that he ought to develop further. Whether his achievement in apparent restraint is a sign of a strong sensibility or a sign of a lack of capability is beside the point. Han's film seeks to exist outside of unnecessary analyses of its contents; so too, perhaps, should his technique. If that leaves the professional (or amateur) analyst in a vague state of befuddlement, so be it. Coin Locker Girl is unadorned pulp in its essence, and maybe that's all it needs to be.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


It's taken an age for Koreeda Hirokazu's Our Little Sister to make the normally swifter journey from Official Competition at Cannes to UK and Ireland theatrical distribution. But here's the trailer for territories in the British Isles, announcing its impending arrival both in cinemas and on demand on the 15th of April. The film has been warmly received by critics, if not entirely as enthusiastically as other recent Koreeda works.


The sequel to the sequel will not be 'Lahore Has Fallen'. The sequel will not exist, should reason prevail, not least since if it follows the trajectory of quality within this non-franchise to date, it would be literally worthless. The campy craziness of Olympus Has Fallen has been replaced with a further excess of jingoism masquerading as heroism in London Has Fallen - as unsurprising as it is unwelcome, and blatantly inappropriate, given that a plot structured around the rescue of the American president in a film where 19 other world leaders have been murdered and the British capital has been decimated seems like an obvious misappropriation of energy. The presence of black actors in the ensemble doesn't help to ease the passing of this film's caustic racism - they're accepted only by virtue of their assimilation into a white-dominated cultural scheme, feted for their suspicion of people of other nationalities and ethnicities. London Has Fallen is a gun-toting, flag-waving salute to white, heterosexual, macho American brutality, insensitivity and supposed superiority, even more so than its predecessor, and even less excusable as such. Babak Najafi's single-shot trick in the action sequences is an unsuccessful attempt at distracting attention from the monotony of relentless gunfire and the moral toxicity that's fuelling it; it's an even less successful attempt at distracting from Gerard Butler's stunt double though. Najafi will reclaim my respect when he gets 'Lahore Has Fallen' greenlit. Not that I'll see it anyway. This is one of the worst films I've sat through.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016


A featherweight farce from the Coen brothers that seems to spite its own best qualities, Hail, Caesar! is a most dysfunctional feature - remarkably so, and regrettably so. It burgeons over with inspiration, such that Ethan and Joel almost appear afraid of the potential consequences of relenting to the demands of any one particular component, and proceed instead to waffle on with something else. There's trepidation to their approach here, papered over with political intrigue that's second nature to these boys, and whose aggressive intellectualism only reconfigures the rest of the film's flippancy as fluff. And yet Hail, Caesar! thrives on this dichotomous side to its character, procuring strange suspense at each juncture, whether the film will veer right or left, good or bad, dead funny or deadly serious. The skill in the screenplay shows up in superb characterisations from a brilliant ensemble, relishing their withering one-liners with flair as fleet-footed as Channing Tatum, whose choreographed sequence is among the film's finest. And there's plenty more to find in Hail, Caesar!, from a wondrous recreation of an old aquatic picture, to virtually every single scene featuring the excellent Alden Ehrenreich, harnessing a level of comedic motivation he's never before even had the chance to hint at. Ehrenreich and his co-stars keep the film afloat, as the Coens themselves threaten to sink it - even their most permissible impulses, such as the studio sheen of the visual scheme, or the inherent ephemerality of the concept, don't quite fit together as flush as they surely should. Hail, Caesar! fully intends to be disposable; it's a slight, but certain disappointment that it's as easy to dispose of as this.

Saturday, 5 March 2016


Cast aside expectations - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny may bear the title of Ang Lee's 2000 classic, but the two films are alike only in immaterial matters. Yuen Woo Ping's new film is no classic, but it succeeds at what it sets out for itself, never bringing shame upon the Crouching Tiger brand, nor upon its own achievements. Set somewhere between the artsy poeticism of its predecessor and the blusterous bombast of Yuen's other work as director, Sword of Destiny's purpose becomes defined less by its place in the history of martial arts movies, more by the place of martial arts within this movie. Yuen the director leaves the film to flounder, full of cumbersome dialogue delivered by non-native tongues; Yuen the choreographer is on typically fine form, crafting sequences of true ingenuity, executed with skill, performed with a thrilling combination of grace and fury. It's in these sequences, for which the remainder of Sword of Destiny essentially functions as pretty preparation, that one observes a master at work - cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel is at a loss to capture the beauty of Yuen's artistry, but much as the film may not pay adequate tribute to it, it's there nonetheless, and detectable if one wishes to detect it. An epic story told in the minute movements of man-to-man combat, set against awesome backdrops, both in location and in history: now does that not sound like a Crouching Tiger movie to you?

Friday, 4 March 2016


Billy Ray's Secret in Their Eyes isn't a bad idea, much as the concept of Hollywood remakes of foreign films is often defined as such. The 2009 original is a good film, you see, though much of what made it so good has been jettisoned in transit; the result isn't a bad idea, it's a bad film. A star vehicle in essence, the purpose of this twisty plot, set over two time periods, has gotten buried under a preoccupation with serving those stars; would that as much effort had been put into the script as the hairstyles. That plot is pure pulp, but it's pulp that insists upon being taken seriously, and a combination of buddy cop movie quips and soap opera histrionics undermine this requirement. It's inherently interesting, though equally implausible when presented this way, and the essential link between event and outcome, action and reaction, the mechanics of the plot and its effect upon the characters is lost. Ray lifts a number of sequences directly from Juan Jose Campanella's film, but to consistently diminished returns; he alters some major plot details in a minor fashion, diluting a particularly potent one that gives the ending distinctly less sting. The political context feels arbitrarily added, despite drawing directly from a similar one in Campanella's film. But remember: this is a star vehicle, and lead performers Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts are faultless. They carry you through, even as you know it's not their responsibility to.

Thursday, 3 March 2016


Michel Franco doubles down on the formalism with Chronic, his needlessly spare and unsympathetic depiction of the lonely life of a care nurse whose troublesome character may be exacting a troubling influence on his work. Or is it the other way around? Franco indulged in a few nods toward Michael Haneke's work in his last film, After Lucia; this new film feels less like a respectful tribute than a silly, shallow case of appropriation. Here is a filmmaker who obviously cares about framing, editing and the process of provoking thought in the viewer's mind, that the true stage of his films' action is not on the screen but within one's head; why, then, are Chronic's carefully composed shots so banal, why is the editing so seemingly arbitrary, why does Franco insist on provoking thought as much as pre-empting it? His thirst for catharsis flies in the face of the stony rigour he exerts elsewhere, exposing it to be less an essential structural component of Chronic, more a stylistic whim with a direct debt to Haneke. That you do think at all, and that there is some evidence of effort here - these combine with Tim Roth's unduly sensitive performance to bequeath this surface-deep exercise in affected artsiness some sense of purpose, some level of depth. Roth's isn't the only good performance, and the film is undeniably moving - Franco is a master of emotion, yet seems bent upon manipulating his mastery with technical prowess he doesn't possess. And then there's that ending...

Wednesday, 2 March 2016


Pixar looks to bounce back from the underperformance of last year's The Good Dinosaur with Finding Dory - the sequel to one of their most popular films, 2003's Finding Nemo. With the exceptional popularity of their other film from last year, Inside Out, still in the minds of audiences, however, this film ought to have no problem in hitting high numbers at the box office when it's released in the US on the 17th of June. UK release date will be the 29th of July.


Loving Vincent is a Polish-British animation about the life of Vincent van Gogh. Kickstarter raise€5,000,000 for the production of the film, which is the world's first ever full-length painted feature. The voice cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Aidan Turner, Helen McCrory, Douglas Booth and Chris O'Dowd. No release dates have been announced yet; this is the first trailer for the film.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016


This is not a lesson in how to not take offence. This is a lesson in how to take offence, a challenge to a viewer with certain sensitivities, a work of low art with aspirations to strive higher, but compulsions to aim ever lower. Grimsby starts out as a parody of a certain type of person - one not used to taking offence at all, though strengthened by a cultural aversion toward dealing it out to them - but ends up securing sympathy for this person only by denigrating others. No material should be off limits in comedy, but there's a level of respect that needs to exist, to mitigate the inevitable disrespect, and Grimsby never acquires it, settling instead for taking easy potshots at easy targets. It's a wasted opportunity to roast a target that's infinitely riper, and rawer, though not an entirely wasted one: as aforementioned, Grimsby opens with silly satire squared upon a more fruitful subject - the white English football hooligan. It's more fruitful precisely because of the respect that the film otherwise lacks, a respect that is detected early on, though only explicitly stated once everyone else has been skewered. The film is tasteless throughout, and initially yields enormous comedic value from its relentless vulgarity - Sacha Baron Cohen and co-writers Peter Baynham and Phil Johnston have the art of broad, coarse British humour down; would that their intentions were as laudable as their comedic technique. And would that director Louis Leterrier had the art of action filmmaking down too - you might imagine he would have by now, though you'd have imagined wrong. Gay men take cover, and take offence - it's about all you can do - and everyone else brace yourselves. Grimsby is a bumpy ride, a challenge to overcome, an effort to sift through the shit in search of the good stuff. It's here indeed, though in underwhelming quantity, and that's just not good enough.


Academy Award winning actor George Kennedy has died. He had been living with lung cancer, and was age 91 at the time of his death, on the 28th of February, in Middleton, Idaho. Kennedy was a popular star of both small screen and big screen; mere years after his TV debut in 1959 and his film debut in 1960, with an uncredited part in Spartacus, Kennedy was an Oscar winner for his supporting role in 1967's Cool Hand Luke. He starred in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Flight of the Phoenix, Airport, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Death on the Nile and The Naked Gun over a career that spanned over 50 years and seven decades in the industry. He was married four times, and had six children, including four from adoption. In 1991, Kennedy was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for contributions to motion pictures. Recently seen in a small but pivotal role in 2014's The Gambler, this inimitable actor will be much missed by audiences worldwide.


Softly does it! Craig Gillespie's gentle, sensitive take on a small-scale disaster movie produces an odd blend: old-fashioned character drama meets tense set-piece-strewn thriller. Set in the 1950s, The Finest Hours attempts to recreate the style and tone of films of that era, rather than simply recreating the time period. It's in this regard that its blend of genres comes quite neatly together - it's a high-stakes drama and a low-key thriller by design, and thus aligns nicely with the type of film it emulates. Old-fashioned is the key term, and it's this virtue that carries The Finest Hours; there's a sense of aesthetic purity to Gillespie's stately mise-en-scene, articulated too in Carter Burwell's score, that communicates the simple, earnest emotions of a simpler, more earnest time with ease and effectiveness. The Finest Hours is patient, affable filmmaking, but in offending no-one, does it particularly appeal to anyone? There's enough questionable cargo here to sink the whole ship were it in the wrong hands - it's as cliched as it is collected, as hoary as it is honourable. And, in its deference to a bygone style of filmmaking, there's very little that's actually new or exciting about The Finest Hours, a deficiency that's potentially disastrous for a disaster movie. Good, then, that Craig Gillespie's hands are not the wrong ones, and they steer this ship softly to safety, keeping it relatively safe all along, alas. Its greatest achievement is that it survives at all, and it's a consistently admirable achievement throughout.