Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DOCTOR STRANGE


DOCTOR STRANGE is a patchwork quilt of a Marvel movie.  Pleasant enough to watch, but undeserving of a second view, in which almost every character, action sequence or funny line echoes another film, and the only originality comes not from the central character but from Tilda Swinton.  It's visually arresting but emotionally hollow mid-tier Marvel of a kind that - with a release calendar chock full of B-grade comic book characters -  I have become rather bored by. 

As with IRON MAN, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a rich materialistic egotistical genius brought low by a severe accident, who supplements his physical healing process with "super powers".   As with SHERLOCK, Strange has a perfect memory and a fondness for being right.  As with StarChild, Strange has a fondness for cheesy seventies hits.  Strange was a successful but cocky surgeon who texts while driving and ends up in an horrific car crash that renders his hands unfit for surgery.  In desperation, he journeys to Nepal where he finds a mystical Jedi Master, sorry, Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who puts him through a training regime straight out of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  I kid you not, there's even a "judge me by my size, do you" sequence. It turns out that, quelle surprise, Strange has a rare aptitude for astral projection and drawing energy from other dimensions of the multiverse to cast magic spells.  He even gets a cool gadget that allows his to reverse time.  (Do you think that will be significant?!) He also gets a HARRY POTTER style set of magical gadgets, including a sentient cloak that actually reminded me a bit of Terry Pratchett's luggage.  So armed, he goes off to fight the Ancient One's former pupil turned evil villain (Mads Mikkelsen) who wants to open Earth up to an eviller villain whose name sounds like Dormouse.  Oh yes, I forgot that Strange has an ex-girlfriend played by Rachel McAdams who's also a surgeon but she has nothing to do but simper.  He also has sidekicks at his zen school played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong who exist to show a moral centre and comic relief respectively. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

FREE FIRE - BFI LFF 2016 - Closing Night Gala - Day 12


Ben Wheatley's HIGH RISE may have been one of the most disappointing films of LFF2015 but his quick, scabrous shoot-em-up thriller FREE FIRE is a welcome return to form.  Moreover, after 12 days of melancholy art-house movies, it was the perfect palette cleanser and finale to this year's exceptionally good film festival. 

Short, sharp, cheap and nasty, the movie takes place almost entirely in a dingy warehouse some time in the 1970s.   Brie Larson plays the sole woman in the film and is presumably some kind of arms broker.  The buyers are two IRA terrorists played by Cillian Murphy and Wheatley alum Michael Smiley and the salesman are a South African (Sharlto Copley) and his enforcer (Armie Hammer).  Also present are associated side-kicks and half-wits played Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor and Babou Ceesay.  Basically, this is a bunch of scoundrels, where trust and intelligence are both in short supply. So when a junkie driver brings up an old beef with another moron, shots get fired and pretty soon we're in a full on seventy minute shoot out.  

SNOWDEN - BFI LFF 2016 - Day 12


Jyoti Kalyan reviews SNOWDEN:

If you have a basic understanding of Edward Snowden’s story, don’t expect to learn anything new by watching this dramatised version. Director Oliver Stone had everything to make this film thrilling by immersing audiences into the psyche of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt ), a high level intelligence contractor who leaks millions of classified documents on how the NSA illegally spy on individuals without their consent or knowledge. There were opportunities for gripping audiences by exploring the moral battles being fought by US Intelligence workers, shedding light on the secret yet ‘legal’ Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts or even uncovering the power and influence possessed by those within the hierarchy of these organisations. However, what we do get is a film that touches interesting points but provides no depth.

Stone’s ‘dramatisation’ seems to hit its crescendo within the first five minutes, where we see Snowden locking himself in a hotel room with three hand-picked journalists, ready to hand over the secret documents. But, from then on, it is flat and dragged out. The recurring theme that US Intelligence Agencies spy on all of us is portrayed through many long-winded examples that it begins to bore the audience. The inclusion of Snowden’s girlfriend adds no value and is all too predictable, especially when focusing on the impact his job has on their relationship. As far as casting is concerned, for me no one stand out in the slightest, and let’s not even begin to delve into what Nicolas Cage is doing playing a mentor to potential intelligence agents.

The film does however end with an actual clip of Edward Snowden, conducting a public interview to a large audience from his new home in Russia. For me, this was a rare scene where you could actually get to know the character and should have been longer!

One should not forget that an incredible story underpins this movie. It is the ultimate David vs. Goliath battle which could have captivated millions of cinema-goers around the world. It is a shame Oliver Stone’s representation doesn’t do Snowden justice. You might just find Wikipedia’s version a lot more fun !

SNOWDEN has a running time of 134 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Toronto and London 2016.  The movie opened earlier this year in Israel, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Sweden, Turkey, the USA, Vietnam, Brazil, Germany, Croatia, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Denmark and Norway.  It opened earlier in October in Spain. It opens in Spain on October 7th, in France on November 2nd, in Greece on November 3rd, in Belgium on November 9th, in Poland on November 11th and in Italy on December 1st. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

CHI-RAQ - BFI LFF 2016 - Day 11


CHI-RAQ is Spike Lee’s most vivid, audacious and successful film since MALCOLM X. It’s a tour-de-force adaptation of Aristophanes Lysistrata set amidst the gang violence of contemporary Chicago - a place with a deal toll higher than that of US forces in the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Both that play and this film posit a world in which the women are so sick of war that they impose a ban on sex until the men make peace. Lee keeps the plays basic plot structure and somehow manages to balance the tonal shifts between raucous sex comedy and domestic tragedy with such confidence and success it makes the head spin to think of it. And so we have Samuel L Jackson cast as the narrator, dressed as a Harlem pimp, complete with cane and crocodile shoes, delivering rhyming couplets with such charisma, panache and, as appropriate, anger, as to make this almost a career-best performance. (It’s edged out for me by DJANGO UNCHAINED). And we have the Trojans and Greeks recast as rival gangs run by Wesley Snipes as Cyclops (a sadly relatively slight role) and Nick Cannon as Demetrius, the most recalcitrant gang member and lover to the modern-day Lysistrata - an outstanding and award-worthy performance by Teyonah Parris. Now wouldn’t that be something? If the Academy overlooked the more conventional dramatic performances that beg for nominations - Amy Adams in ARRIVAL I’m looking at you - in favour of something as balls-out brave, funny, and strong as this role? And while, we’re on the subject of adulation - how about awards for Spike Lee and screenwriter Kevin Willmott in what has to be one of the most intelligent and verbally dexterous modern day adaptations of an ancient text. To the point where I can’t wait to get a copy of the screenplay and indulge in all the in-jokes and clever rhymes I missed in the film because they were coming so fast. To be honest, there’s nothing to criticise in this film. Perhaps it could be a bit shorter in its middle section. But I can forgive a film almost anything if it features THE WIRE’s Senator Clay Davies uttering an on-screen personal best “sheeeeeet”. Thank god for Spike Lee still making films this visually compelling, intelligent, angry and emotional. How much more effective and entertaining to have John Cusack’s priest tell us that “mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow” than watching Ava Duvernay’s dry documentary, 13th. And how angry-making that it took a year for this film to be shown in the UK. If #BlackLivesMatter, can someone - anyone - get this film out there, NOW!

CHI-RAQ has a running time of 127 minutes. The movie was released earlier this year in the USA and played Berlin, Toronto and London 2016. It will be released in the UK on December 2nd.

IT'S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD - BFI LFF 2016 - Day 11


ITS ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is the least Dolanesque of all of Xavier Dolan’s films. Rather than a three hour epic of melodrama, often with extreme mummy issues and queer themes, set to an 80s synth-pop soundtrack, we get a relatively taught if no less histrionic 90 minute chamber drama. This is because the film is based on a stage play rather than Dolan’s own musings. The film stars Gaspar Ulliel as a famous author returning home to his estranged family after a 12 year absence to tell them he’s dying. But as the family bicker and fight and make-up over lunch, the tension mounts as to whether he’s actually going to do the deed. We sense that his tongue-tied sister-in-law (Marion Cotillard) actually figures out his news early on and tries to facilitate him telling at least his elder brother (Vincent Cassel). And it may be that the elder brother also figures it out near the end and tries to protect their little sister (Lea Seydoux) from the news. The mother (Natalie Baye) meanwhile - gloriously larger than life in typical Dolanesque form - seems to be utterly in the dark. 

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - BFI LFF 2016 - Day 11


It appears that Tom Ford's sophomore film is controversial - with people either in love with it or damning it as dull and potentially misogynistic.  My view is that it's neither excellent nor terrible, but something far more unforgivable - boring.

Amy Adams stars as Susan - a bored rich Los Angeles art gallery owner who is growing cynical about her perfect life and the pretentious art she surrounds herself with.  Abandoned by her philandering fraudulent husband (Armie Hammer - barely used), she starts reading a manuscript of a novel her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) has written.  She basically left him because he was a romantic loser, and the novel he writes is essentially about an emasculated man who fails to protect his wife (Isla Fisher) and child from some violent slack-jawed yokels (Aaron Taylor-Johnson included).  I suspect that the point of this B-grade revenge plot is to prove that in life as in fiction, the husband was basically weak, but kind of over-came it, depending on what you make of the ending.