New Releases: 30th March

INTERSTELLAR:

Christopher Nolan returns to form in quite stunning fashion after the bloated, overlong The Dark Knight Rises, that may well have made one think Hollywood’s biggest director had run out of ideas. But that is certainly not the case in this epic, philosophical adventure in the grandest old-school science fiction fashion. The earth is dying, and of course Matthew McConaughey is the man to save it. Nolan blends huge concepts and breathtaking set-pieces with the ease of a helmer at the top of his game. Buried here are also a string of fantastic supporting and cameo performances, some from Nolan regulars, some from stars you’d least expect. If you like your blockbusters to be more than just action, then definitely give yourself over to the emotional spectacle of Interstellar, one of last year’s best films.

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GET ON UP:

It was only a matter of time before the life story of James Brown was committed to the screen. One of music’s most notorious personalities, Brown is played here by Chadwick Boseman, whose star is sure to rise with his accomplished work here as the troubled singer. Tate Taylor, of The Help fame, directs and brings along Help alumni Octavia Spender and Viola Davis to add some hefty scene-chewing chops to the drama on show here. If you’re a fan of Brown’s music, there is plenty of that, and that is the main attraction here. Although the film gets a bit messy at times, it is directed with passion and the attention to period detail and excellent soundtrack should be enough to keep up interest throughout.

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ST. VINCENT:

Bill Murray has managed to carve himself a brand new image in film since 2000, mostly through collaborations with indie royalty like Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson, as an actor whose chief attribute is strong dramatic range rather than wry wit. Here he gets ample space to showcase both sides of his talent as an old drunk who would rather push people away than let them into his life. His chief companion is Naomi Watts’s Russian prostitute and stripper. When 12-year-old Oliver and his mother move in next door he finds himself a lucrative job babysitting. But what he sees merely as a way to earn money becomes a friendship across the age divide that brings him out of his shell. St. Vincent is warm, human comedy anchored by a really strong cast and a moving script.

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2:

If you were a fan of the first Horrible Bosses then I really can’t see too many ways in which this one could disappoint you. Was it really necessary to make this film? No, no it was not. Are there plenty of tasteless and offensive jokes on offer here? Yes. But Chris Pine especially is excellent and the three leads are all by now accomplished enough at this brand of humour to do it in their sleep. Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Aniston reprise their roles from the first time round, and while this is not quite the equal of the first film, there are some good jokes here and probably enough for you to go along with on a lazy evening.

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PENGUINS…:

Whether or not you enjoy this one kind of depends in large part on whether or not you are above the age of 7. If the answer to that question is yes, then this is likely too silly and light on character to be of much interest. If you are under said age, then this should be right up your alley. Also, what are you doing on a computer as a 7-year-old? Go play outside why don’t you! Live a little! I’m sorry. Anyway, this is great fun for the younger crowd, lots of colours and fast-paced dialogue that will remind everyone why the Penguins have taken on a life of their own since Madagascar. 

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GRANDMASTER:

If Wong Kar-Wai isn’t the most brilliant and compelling filmmaker of the last two decades, he’s certainly up there. This might not reach the dizzying heights of some of his finest, but the martial arts is breathtaking, the cinematography is utterly jaw-dropping and the character of Ip Man is given a more romantic and epic treatment than he is usually afforded. Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang, essentially Hong Kong and Chinese royalty these days, are an excellent set of leads that give plenty of substance to the sumptuous visuals and period detail on show here. This kind of gorgeous, thoughtful genre fair isn’t seen much these days in Hollywood, so leave it to a voice as singular as Wong’s to bring this kind of vision to life.

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PELO MALO:

This Paraguayan mother-son drama has been a hit on the international festival circuit and is a really moving story of how hard it can be to fit in. Junior is stuck with a head full of curly hair that he wants to have straightened so that in his yearbook photo he looks like the famous pop star that he idolizes. His unemployed mother Marta, a young widow, finds it increasingly hard to deal with her son’s fixation on his appearance. When her idea for an intervention to set an example for him doesn’t work out as well as she’d have liked, Junior must make a decision about who he really is.

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VEEP SEASON 3:

Hopefully you’re acquainted with the American cousin to Armando Ianucci’s The Thick of It, and the excellent third season is hardly news to you. But if you aren’t, get yourself on board with a political satire smarter and funnier than House of Cards by a mile. Finally, a vehicle that showcases the massive comedic talent of its star, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.

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Poster of the Day: The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Gay-Divorcee-RKO--1934Danish Poster by Erik Fredriksen (source: 50 Watts) for the Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their second film together (plus an early appearance by Betty Grable).

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“CHANCE IS THE FOOL’S NAME FOR FATE”

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New Releases: 23rd March

THE DROP:

James Gandolfini’s final appearance in a feature film is only one reason to put this taut, muscular thriller on your must-watch list. Gandolfini cuts a weary figure, overmatched by more ambitious and ruthless criminal elements around him, as the owner of a local bar that functions as a drop-off point for mob payments. Tom Hardy leads the cast as Bob, a quiet man who tends bar and prefers plain speaking and avoiding confrontation. When Bob finds an abandoned puppy in a garbage bin, it’s the start of a tentative romantic entanglement with the beautiful Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Of course, unstable ex-flames and violent gangs complicate everything for our protagonists as The Drop builds to a brilliant and brutal conclusion. This is old-school, low-key genre fair, backed up by flashes of frightening tension and an emotional set of performances from three excellent leads. A fitting tribute to the late and very great Jimmy Gandolfini.

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WINTER SLEEP:

Last year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is becoming one of Europe’s premier auteurs. At a sizzling 196 minutes, don’t expect this one to fly by, but you will be more than rewarded for your perseverance by this emotional masterwork. A man, his wife and his sister hole up for the winter in his hotel. That is the simple, Reader’s Digest-version of the plot. This simple set-up allows these people to really become fully-fledged human beings and develop both themselves and their relationships in ways that film rarely manages to achieve (part of the reason for this being you need a 196-minute film to do this). So, if you’ve got the time, this is a film that really deserves to be seen, for its ambition, its emotional weight and its flawed, delicate human core.

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PADDINGTON:

This is one of those films that just had no right to be this good. Everything about Paddington yells feel-good-moneymaking-fluff and yet, this is a film full of sincerity, humour and fun. An impressive cast of British character players (and the lump of botox that was once Nicole Kidman) brings this magical tale of a beloved character to life. And don’t be put off if, like me, you find the Harry Potter films and the like completely insufferable – there is plenty here to distinguish this as a piece of filmmaking with heart. Fun for the kids, naturally, but more than that a film capable of holding the attention of everyone in the family, this is perfect for any evening of light, feel-good entertainment. And hey, anything to bring Paddington to a new generation.

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THIRD PERSON:

Okay, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced. I think Paul Haggis’s Crash is likely on my list of 10 most-hated films of all time, and so when I came to this one I found it hard to keep an open mind. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. This pseudo-Woody Allen series of interlocking love stories that tell the beginning, middle and end of relationships is middle of the road enough that I feel I don’t need to expend the effort required to show hatred. It’s middle-of-the-road stuff, not too bad, definitely not too good, just…meh. One of those movies where you get the feeling everyone in the impressive cast did it because of everyone else in the impressive cast and no one really stopped to think ‘Are we making a good movie?’ Anyway, harmless but forgetful, Paul Haggis’s brand of desperate profundity is perhaps losing a bit of commercial edge.

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HOMESMAN:

Tommy Lee Jones’s directorial chops get ample showcase here, but it’s Hilary Swank who totally owns this film. Her performance really deserved more attention during the awards season, but, alas she will have to settle for acclaim from the discerning denizens of Video City. She plays a farm woman who saves the life of Jones’s claim-jumper and convinces him to help her escort three insane women to an asylum some distance away. Both leads get to do some real scenery-chewing and are a fantastic match for each other throughout this thoughtful, character-driven western that really gives one the sense that Jones, by this point, is just doing what he loves best. One would love to see him directing more, going on this and 2007’s magnificent The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. But for now, this is strong stuff that showcases the best of Swank, a supremely gifted actress who is sometimes unduly forgotten.

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MEA CULPA:

Tough policemen investigating tougher criminals having their strings pulled by even tougher Eastern European baddies. That’s this fast-paced policier in a nutshell. And that’s kind of all there is to say. A solid genre entry in the proud tradition of French crime cinema, there’s little here that won’t satisfy fans of a good thriller to make a couple of hours on the couch fly by in an instant. If narrative plausibility or dramatic resonance are essential for you, maybe skip this. But if a good car chase, some loud whizz-bang action sequences and zingy cops-n-robbers street-talk is the kind of old-fashioned stuff you’re into, jump right in.

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NO GOOD DEED:

Ah, Idris, this is not the way to back up the horde of your fans clamoring for you to take up the 007 mantle. Woman lets man come in and use her phone. He turns out to be less-than-wonderful and terrorizes her for the rest of the film. Derivative, not particularly engaging, but nevertheless featuring two talented actors who do their best, this is one for the ‘I’ve come in at 9.45pm and everything else is out but damn it I need a film’ pile. If general London life wasn’t enough to already have you totally distrustful of any and all strangers and resistant to acts of human kindness, this film might just tip you over the edge. Outside of Idris Elba’s gorgeous face and melodious baritone there’s little to draw you in here. On to the next, Idris, we’ll get rid of that pesky Daniel Craig, you’ll see…

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posted by Dave.

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Damaging Goods: Seven Films that Destroyed Their Directors’ Careers

We’ve all heard those stories of debut films that catapult their filmmakers to instant success. Think Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Clerks, American Beauty, etc. But what about those times when a film ends up costing its helmers everything? Here’s a look at a few films, some of them masterful, some awful, that had profound effects on the careers of those that brought them to life. Spanning 80 years, let’s look at them in chronological order.

1. L’Atalante (1934) – directed by Jean Vigo

The earliest film on this list is arguably the greatest of them all. Jean Vigo’s masterpiece of beautiful and tragic romance cost him not only his career, but his life. Vigo was already ill with tuberculosis when he began work on what was to be his only feature film. As it takes place on a barge, travelling the Seine, conditions were cold and often wet and Vigo’s health deteriorated to the point that he directed while bedridden for large portions of the shoot. Refusing to compromise on his vision, he insisted on finishing his work. After shooting his health never recovered and he died at the age of 29, before the final cut was completed by his faithful editor. L’Atalante is one of those films that manages to somehow define cinema itself while one watches it. It is rough, naturalistic and unsentimental but somehow dreamlike, lyrical and emotional. A glorious film that makes us wonder what else this great voice might have produced.

2. Peeping Tom (1960) – directed by Michael Powell

Michael Powell, of legendary Powell and Pressburger fame, found his career destroyed (certainly in Britain) by the immensely controversial release of his psychosexual thriller Peeping Tom. Calls for the films to be banned and destroyed were not uncommon, even from professional critics, and although the film is now understood as a brazen masterwork, at the time its story of a troubled protagonist who films his own murders of beautiful women before watching them back was altogether too much for the British public. Filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (whose editor Thelma Schoonmaker is Powell’s widow) and critics such as Roger Ebert have championed the film as a singular achievement. But for Powell, who had brought gloss and erotic prestige to a remarkable string of films in the 40s and 50s, this was a commercial and critical failure from which he was never to recover, directing only 3 more theatrical releases in the remaining 30 years of his life.

3. Playtime (1967) – directed by Jacques Tati

Continuing the theme of unappreciated genius, this is one of my favourite films ever. Tati spent 3 years making this, his magnum opus, for which he built several blocks of his version of Paris in order to be able to move freely and stage things as he’d like, along with its own power plant. This was nicknamed “Tativille” and, coupled with his insistence on shooting with 70mm film and stereophonic sound, made production an arduous process. Budget overruns made financial success an imperative and when the film came out it didn’t come close to recouping its cost. Tati insisted it only be screened in cinema’s with 70mm capabilities and audiences resented his relegation of his signature character, Hulot, to a supporting role. Although this failure is said to have haunted Tati both professionally and personally for the rest of his life, Playtime is an utterly astonishing film. Its scope is unbelievably ambitious and its jokes are complex visual structures that reward multiple viewings, which also reveal the powerful social critique Tati wove into the benign comedy.

4. Heaven’s Gate (1980) – directed by Michael Cimino

Fresh of 1978’s Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter, Cimino set out to make one of the most ambitious westerns ever. Budgets ballooned and studio execs interfered and the end result was a colossal mess, a muddled saga of economic power struggles. Cimino’s dictatorial demeanour on-set and his wanton cruelty to animals were just the tip of the iceberg as the film ran four times over-budget and weeks over-schedule. Upon release, this film was such a critical and commercial failure that not only did Cimino’s career nosedive (having been one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars) but his studio, United Artists, collapsed. So if you’re looking for who to thank for the current Hollywood model of studio power over directors – look no further. Recent re-edits of Heaven’s Gate have seen it reappraised as a lost masterpiece but, while I’m as big a supporter of an epic Marxist western as anyone, a great film this is not. Willem Dafoe’s film debut can only go so far to make up for the lost hours of my life…

5. One from the Heart (1982) – directed by Francis Ford Coppola

My favourite artist is Tom Waits, who contributed the soundtrack to this one. Terri Garr was also unreasonably attractive. Neither of those things can mitigate the disaster of this one. Coppola had come off the legendary shoot of Apocalypse Now and one can only assume his truly unbelievable run of 1970s filmmaking had burnt him out because this tale of love lost and regained is a real mess. It is almost hard to believe just how relentlessly brilliant Coppola was in the 70s because post-One from the Heart, which left him in massive debt and forced him to close his studio Zoetrope Studios, you can count on one hand the good films he’s made (here they are: The Outsiders, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Godfather Part III if we forget the first two and the fact that by Coppola’s own admission debt from One from the Heart forced him to direct it at all). I think it’s fair to say that this massive miscalculation signalled the end of one of cinema’s great voices.

(I have to interject here, just to say, I thought Tetro (2009) was pretty inspired – moody, beautiful, mysterious and strangely magical.  – Dixie)

6. Donnie Darko (2001) – directed by Richard Kelly

This one is a little different. Sometimes, a film can be destructive by bringing about success that hasn’t been earned. Who hasn’t seen this film? Who doesn’t love it? It’s brilliant, warped, funny, oh-so-dark and all the more brilliant for being a debut work. That Kelly was able to successfully manage a $4.5m budget on his first try is impressive. But when success like this comes round and studios give you carte blanche to bring them another hit…let’s just say that if Pulp Fiction is one end of this spectrum, Southland Tales is the other. Tales is a spectacularly awful film, all misanthropic jock posing and directorial arrogance. It is a complete mess, a poster-child for why all artists need an editor, and bombed massively in both critical and financial senses. Its craziness is counteracted only by Kelly’s third and most recent feature, The Box, starring blandest-leading-duo-of-2009 Cameron Diaz and James Marsden and a creepy Frank Langella. Both of these subsequent films underwhelmed hugely and it remains to be seen if Kelly truly did use up his brilliance on one gem of a film or if he plans to mature and bring us more.

7. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – directed by Stephen Norrington

It is one of cinema’s tragedies that this turd, which manages to ruin both a magnificent graphic novel series and a slew of literary heroes for future generations, will also go down as Sean Connery’s final film. Blade director Norrington has not directed a film since and seems to have nothing on the horizon, which is just as well if this is any indication of his future cinematic offerings. Like a Victorian Expendables, this is all macho bombast and wafer-thin plot and seems designed to introduce a dazzling array of characters with no point save future installments that, thanks to its magnificent tanking, will never come to be (hopefully). I think it’s better for everyone out there if all involved with this one just take some time away from making films – a lifetime should do the trick.

posted by Dave.

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New Releases: 16th March

HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PT.1:

The latest part-one-of-two-movies-split-up-from-one-book-for-a-reason-that-is-totally-not-money is here! The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was last year’s most commercially-successful film, and no doubt it will continue that trend on DVD release. The film is quite a bold tonal shift from the first two, and essentially sets up a civil war narrative that will be concluded in the final film. The drama here is definitely more adult and this is an ambitious film for a YA audience. The ensemble cast is, as usual, excellent (even Josh Hutcherson), and there is the novelty of seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen performance to rope those who might not usually go for such fare. More war drama than teen adventure, this one is definitely worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite equal the brilliant second film in the franchise.

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MY OLD LADY:

New-Yorker travels to Paris after inheriting a massive home from his estranged father. Maggie Smith lives there, and she doesn’t want to leave. This is, in a nutshell, the plot to My Old Lady, potentially the winner of this year’s Most-Airbrushed-Poster award (those actors on the poster are 67, 54 and 80 – they don’t look like that!). My stock review for this sort of film is that it’s enjoyable, if unmemorable, but it’s buoyed by a wonderful cast, who do all they can, in particular Kline and Smith, to elevate the material. An ingenious conceit that sets up the battle between Kline’s protagonist and crotchety-old-lady-for-hire Maggie Smith’s crotchety old lady hints at an intelligence the film doesn’t quite carry through. But this is a touching and enjoyable little film that can’t do anyone any harm. I’ll revisit it when I’m 60, and thus the target demographic.

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THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY:

Those quotes on the poster: very accurate. Aaron Swartz, who took his own life aged just 26, was one of the great internet prodigies of our age. And here is a film that sucks you deep into the murky world that took over his life when his own quest for personal liberty and social justice found the wrong targets and trapped him in a legal nightmare for the last 2 years of his life. This is one of those stories that is hard to think of as actually being true, so removed is it from the realm of what those of us with ordinary brain capacity think about daily. But, like last year’s Ed Snowden doc Citizenfour, this will shock you with its journey of someone dedicated to making sure people are not being taken advantage of by those that run the technology designed to improve our lives. This is strong, emotional and gripping stuff.

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MARIUS:

Right now Daniel Auteuil can kind of do whatever the hell he wants and he knows people will see his slice-of-life French dramedies. It’s a foolproof business model, that’s for sure. It is not, unfortunately, a foolproof model for making a good film. Marcel Pagnol, one of the great French writers, directed a trilogy based on these stories himself in the 1930s and 40s, and I would advise people to seek out those crackling, vital pieces of filmmaking instead of these. The romance here is between beautiful people, but come on, this is France, every romance is between beautiful people. Of course, if you are a fan of Auteuil and aforementioned business model, perhaps you will find something here that I did not.

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FANNY:

The second part in Auteuil’s Pagnol trilogy (we patiently await a third, Cesar), Fanny is a definite improvement on the first film. The drama here is weightier, the story angled more towards a story of single mother Fanny and her divided love for Marius and her son, which prompts her to do things that may destroy the lovers’ hopes for happiness. Here one can tell that Auteuil is more actor than director, as the performances impress, but the drama, which is sincere but soapy, does not. Still, this is clearly a passion project of his and if you take in part one and two, who’s to say the final installment won’t make it all worth it.

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WHEN THE GAME STANDS STILL:

One-time movie Jesus, Jim Caviezel, is back with another set of miracles. This time, it’s the true story of a high school football coach who carried his team from unknown status to the greatest team in the history of that sport. Let’s start with the good things: the story is quite incredible, that’s for sure, and the football sequences are solidly crafted. The less good stuff would be everything else. For those that love their football dramas, may I direct you to Remember the Titans (aka That Film We Were Made to Watch in High School P.E.). There is a lot of cliche around in this one, and while not unwatchable, this is one of those stories that perhaps deserved a more sophisticated directorial touch than it got.

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HORNS:

Critics were a little harsh on this one, I feel. Yes, it’s completely muddled tonally and, yes, the script sounds like it was written through a protracted session of ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ but it offers some great set-pieces, an out-of-the-box idea and a really wonderful lead performance from Daniel Radcliffe, who seems as committed as ever to shake off the boy-wizard mantle. Indeed, it’s Radcliffe that makes all of this work, as a man accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend who awakes to find horns having sprouted from his head and some rather nifty paranormal abilities. A useful comparison might be Dogma, though Horns has none of the sophistication and vicious humour that film had. If you can overlook some cosmetic flaws and have fun with it, this is an ambitious horror-comedy that works on several levels, and Radcliffe is quite brilliant.

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DISCONNECT:

I’m not entirely sure why this one has taken more than 2 years since its release to come out on British DVD, but let’s just be happy that it has. Disconnect  is about a group of people looking for some kind of connection in this technological jungle we live in. If you fell asleep reading that previous sentence (and have woken up on a bus to Croydon thinking “Who am I? And how did I get here?”) have no fear. Although this one gets quite didactic, and although there is some very heavy-handed ‘THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOMENT’ content, the performances more than make up for it, and the drama underneath all the schmaltz is actually quite powerful. Those that like their dramas ensemble-cast and emotionally meaty, do check this one out (as well as the director’s previous (documentary) effort, Murderball).

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WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD:

There is something fascinating that happens with the work of director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation) – even when, as in the case of this film, he somewhat mangles the plot he is working with and ends up with a bit of a mess, as he does here, his films manage to become even more engaging and hypnotic. It is inexplicably to the advantage of White Bird in a Blizzard that it never quite neatly straddles its twin tales of thriller and sexual awakening, because this is what makes it such a good watch. You’ll have to see it to know what I mean. Shailene Woodley continues to be brilliant, as she always is, and Eva Green is suitably beautiful and enigmatic. This story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and confronting of her mother’s mysterious disappearance promises nothing if not a unique experience.

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SKELETON TWINS:

It seems to be a theme this week that the films to arrive are good-but-not-great dramas with strong performances, and this is no different. You would be forgiven for thinking that Skeleton Twins is a comedy, based on the two leads. Although Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are two of today’s premier comic talents, this is decidedly darker, more mature fare for both of them, though there is a smattering of lighthearted comedy too. As two estranged siblings who attempt suicide on the same day, these two convey a deep, complicated relationship with elegance and a welcome lack of sentimentality. Definitely recommended, if ever there was a film not to judge by its cover (and leads), this would be it. Watch and ye shall be rewarded with some slight but sincere dramedy driven by two excellent actors.

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SPIRAL SEASON 5:

Do I really need to convince anyone to watch Spiral? No? Good. If you’re unfamiliar (which I doubt applies to any customers of Video City), may I refer you to the lovely Simon, who will no doubt have you convinced to start from Season 1 in about 10 seconds. If you are familiar, well, you know what to do.

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BROADCHURCH SEASON 2:

Broadchurch was one of the smash hits of the last TV season, and this is a wonderful case of more of the same. Conceived as a trilogy originally, the stories of Detectives Hardy and Miller are taken to new, emotional and thrilling places. There’s a bit of a dip in the middle of the second series, but it starts and ends very strongly and- actually, why am I writing this, go and take out Season 2. Unless you haven’t seen Season 1, then by God go and take that out instead. Just watch it people, this is great TV, end of.

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Posted by Dave

The Brilliance of Mel Brooks

Mel-Brooks-SpaceballsSo, Mel Brooks is coming to London – March 22nd, Prince of Wales Theatre – for his first ever one-man show in the UK, at the age of nearly 89. Brooks is one of the last of the great American comedians, and yet his true brilliance is often overlooked, mostly due to his own unwillingness to affect any kind of pretentiousness – what’s important to him is the laugh, and there have always been plenty of those.

mel liveA useful comparison here would be Woody Allen, who approaches his own 80th birthday similarly determined to keep working prolifically. Apart from the obvious ethnic comparison, with both emerging from a tradition of Jewish comedy, both have built their comedy through a sophisticated reverence for classical literature, theatre and philosophy. It is impossible to truly love these two filmmakers without a certain amount of education, in order to unpack their references and ideas. But where Allen has always seen himself as an artist, and openly resented the implication that he is a comedian, Mel Brooks has never wanted to be anything else – there’s nothing he loves more than getting a good laugh, and he will do anything, no matter how crude, to get it. It is never surprising to have a joke about Kafka followed by a fart joke, and never less than hysterically funny.

MPW-38022Both of course act in their own films, but Allen has constantly taken the lead in his, reflecting his idea of himself as a tortured romantic. Only once, in Silent Movie, has Brooks played the lead, despite his obvious talent as a performer. He prefers to steal the show with outlandish cameos that often crystallize his films’ core attitudes and ideas beautifully – from merchandise-obsessed Yoghurt in Star Wars-parody Spaceballs to incompetent, prejudiced bureaucrat LePetomaine in Blazing Saddles (a second cameo as a Yiddish Native American is also a treat). This is quiet evidence not only of his comic timing but also his ability as a writer, razor-sharp and well-honed.

Brooks’ films break the fourth wall extensively, pointing out their own flaws and bizarre natures as often as they tear into their respective subjects. This meta-textual fascination, coupled with his own preoccupations with the entertainment industry, male neurosis and an almost tragi-comically absurd view of power and the ‘way the world works’ so to speak, have been examined repeatedly over the course of a near-50 year career behind the camera and have formed a filmography deceptively rich in ideas about many things, particularly films and how we watch them.

anigif_original-grid-image-8866-1377790641-18anigif_original-grid-image-8866-1377790643-22He also had, to my mind, one of the great years for any director in memory. In 1974 he directed two films, both potentially his masterwork: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Comedy dates, it’s true. Things are rarely as funny 40 years on, times and attitudes having changed. But Saddles is a film that seems to get funnier by the day. And not just funnier, but edgier. It is impossible to imagine this film being made today, its satire is far too biting, too painful, too irreverent and too unconcerned with political correctness. In a way Tarantino surely dreams of, Brooks manages to entirely escape his whiteness and create a truly radical film (having Richard Pryor as a co-writer surely helped) that challenges us more and more.

young-frankenstein-posterAnd back-to-back with this he wrote and directed Young Frankenstein, one of the most visually and technically sophisticated comedies ever. A pitch-perfect spoof of Universal monster movies, this also features Gene Wilder’s finest performance, as nebbish scientist Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced, Fronk-en-steen). Possibly the only time Brooks allows himself to hint at his hidden artistry, Young Frankenstein is as beautiful and measured as it is gut-bustingly funny.

walk this wayFor someone who won an Academy Award for his debut film (1968’s The Producers), Brooks has been underappreciated as an artist. Rather he has been loved for his shtick, which is all very well. But now, in his old age, his presence as someone with a wealth of experience, of stories, and of a refreshingly un-selfconscious attitude toward his work and himself, is something to be treasured. And with this shift comes a renewed appreciation of his singular talent as, truly, one of the funniest men to ever have made his mark on entertainment. To listen to Brooks talk nowadays is to hear true love for film and for comedy.

This may well be the only time Brooks plays his show in the UK, but we’re lucky to have him at all. From showbiz takedown The Producers, to the Hitchcockian comedy/thriller High Anxiety, to his two masterpieces of ’74, all the way to his more recent successes on Broadway, Mel Brooks has always been a comedic risk-taker, a confident directorial voice and, the closer one looks, quite possibly a comedic genius, who conceals a stunning aesthetic and referential sophistication beneath an aura of slapstick, vaudevillian gags.

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posted by Dave.

Favourite Scenes: Ed Harris, giving it beans…

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giphy (5)Never mind the Pollock (2000) – Ed Harris plays art-punk, Jackson Pollock with a power-house performance, directed by himself (he was briefly hospitalised during filming – clearly, from too many beans).

New Releases: 9th March

IMITATION GAME:

Okay, let’s open this up with a caveat: this is a hard review to write, because my opinion of this film seems to go against the grain. So I’ll write this review as though I am not me, and rather am some other person who found literally anything good about this steaming pile of- (see, that’s what I mean). Ubiquitous piece of thinking-woman’s totty, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the genius mathematician and codebreaker who kinda helped win WWII before being viciously turned against by HM Government for his secret homosexuality. Eight inexplicable Oscar nominations later (somehow more than the almost infinitely superior Theory of Everything) I hope you all are able to love this film more than me. No doubt you will. Now, to end off, here is a list of films that people involved here were much better in: Cumberbatch (Parade’s End), Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go), Mark Strong (literally anything, by now he just plays Mark Strong), Charles Dance (Ali G Indahouse – he’s in it, seriously, go look for yourself). Director Morten Tyldum, who has given me endless career encouragement by achieveing an Oscar nomination for this “superb” film, also produces much much better work in Scandi noir Headhunters. No doubt this will be a smash hit in-store, I look forward to angry rebuttals to this review.

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GEOGRAPHY CLUB:

Geography Club is that rare film that feels so admirable in its dramatic goals one is tempted to forgive any shortcomings on the side of filmmaking. Here is the story of a group of secretly gay teens who naturally don’t want anyone in their high school finding out about their secret. So they form the titular club, thinking that no one in their right mind would join, ensuring they get a private space to be who they are (I mean, Geography Club sounds like exactly the kind of thing I’d have joined in high school – work hard, play hard AM I RIGHT?). Some touching performances that feel quite honest and unforced are definitely the attraction here. This is easy watching, managing to address a serious topic in a way that doesn’t feel heavy or depressing. Definitely give it a go.

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71:

Yann Demange (Top Boy) continues to forge a reputation as a young director to watch on these fair isles. ’71 really is supremely gripping, moving effortlessly between a powerful political humanism and compelling action-thriller moments. Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) plays a young British soldier who finds himself beaten, disoriented and targeted by the IRA when he is left behind by his unit is Troubles-era Belfast (I mean, I say “Troubles-era”, the title is really quite specific). O’Connell, who displayed huge maturity in last year’s excellent prison-drama Starred Up, once again proves a charismatic and hard-edged lead capable of both emotional range and tough-as-nails man-acting. This is meaty British filmmaking of the top order.

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OUIJA:

Sometimes I just think “If only the characters in horror movies had ever watched a horror movie, none of this demonic tomfoolery would be occuring.” This is EXACTLY that kind of film. Debbie dies, and her best friend Laine decides (as you do) that the best way to get in touch with her is through a Ouija board. No one apparently suggests with enough insistence that this is a really bad idea (either because it’s just a piece of wood if you’re a non-believer, or because it’s just really stupid if you are a believer – or because you don’t want any unfortunate accidents if you’re a Belieber, which, strangely, no one in these films ever is). Of course, rather than communing with the spirit of their dead friend, the gormless set of unfeasibly pretty protagonists unleash a demonic spirit. Shenanigans ensue. Screams are uttered. Needless showers in public places are no doubt had. Tons of money is made by the producers.

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STANDBY:

There really isn’t very much I could tell you about Standby that you could not immediately glean from a DVD box. The story is a very familiar romantic set-up that really requires that we pretend we’ve never seen it before in a million different versions. Having said that, it’s charming Irishness and moments of wit perhaps do enough to elevate it into the realms of watchability. There is no ambition here to distance the film from those countless other versions of the selfsame story, and Standby seems quite all right to be exactly what you expect. So if you and your significant other can’t agree on a movie, and really just need an excuse to get Chinese takeaway and vegetate in front of a film that you can mutually heckle from the couch and slightly regret watching later, this last-night-to-save-a-failed-first-love-while-they-travel-through-a-city-sparkling-with-romantic-energy rom-com might just float your boat.

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EASTERN BOYS:

When the middle-aged, bourgeois Daniel approaches a boyishly handsome Ukrainian who calls himself Marek for a date, he learns the young man is willing to do anything for some cash. The film is an erotic drama that traces the complex development of a relationship intended only as cash-for-sex, but that takes both men in a direction they entirely did not expect, both materially and personally. This a love story told with delicate, deft direction and two sensitive lead performances that make the viewer care deeply for these two men as we figure out what their relationship means along with them. Eastern Boys is all the more interesting for being told in four parts, essentially four very different short films.

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HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY:

Finally, the staff at Video City can escape the trauma of having to tearfully answer “No” when ten customers a day ask for this film (usually a fun game where we’re asked for “You know that film with Helen Mirren, and she’s like French and, um, there’s an Indian restaurant, you know that one?”). As you all are no doubt aware, the film pits a displaced Indian chef against the owner of a competing restaurant just 100 feet away in a quaint French town (which is apparently where one goes when one is a refugee – let no one say social realism is dead!). When she realises he has genuine self-taught talent in the kitchen, she decides to take him under her wing. Naturally there is romance, wonderful ethnic mixing of the Frenchest kind (don’t talk about Untouchables being racist, don’t talk about Untouchables being racist, don’t talk about Untouch- okay I’m good) and naturally lots of food. This is a light, fluffy pastry of a film that is sure to delight anyone who has been patiently waiting for it. Now good luck forgetting the Indian dad is the guy who pulled the dude’s heart out in the second Indiana Jones.

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Posted by Dave

Soaring Spectacle: 10 Reasons to Watch Wings (1927)

Nitrate Diva

sterBig budget movies from any era typically don’t do much for me. Give me snappy dialogue and recycled sets over earthquakes and casts of thousands any day.

There are, however, a few exceptions to my dislike of big bottom lines… and William Wellman’s Wings, which cost a whopping $2 million to make, is exceptional in almost every way.

The story focuses on two young men who enlist as combat pilots during World War I: middle class, happy-go-lucky Jack (Buddy Rogers) and wealthy, contemplative David (Richard Arlen), both of whom love the same woman (Jobyna Ralston). The fact that neither man is in love with Clara Bow as Mary, Jack’s vivacious neighbor, taxes my suspension of disbelief, but the plot all makes sense in the end.

As Jack and David train and join the fight, they form an unlikely friendship, a mutual loyalty that will be put to the ultimate…

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