Monday, December 28, 2015


DADDY'S HOME is a comedy from the writers and director of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2. It contains the same kind of raucous verbal humour and physical pratfalls.  Will Ferrell stars as Brad Whitaker - a decent man and earnest stepfather of two kids.  The problems start when their biological father Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) shows up.  He's more charismatic and popular, even though he actually doesn't have the integrity or care to be a good parent.  At least Brad's wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) understands Brad's pain - she was also sick of being the strict parent when married to Dusty.  

The narrative arc is pretty predictable.  The childish father is obviously going to be redeemed but essentially leave the newly blended family in tact.  And in a set up for a sequel, we see Dusty meet the biological dad of his own stepkid by the end of the film.  Still, we don't come to a movie like this for innovative narrative structure.  What makes it work is the verbal and physical comedy and the genuine heart.  Will Ferrell really sells the roll of the loveable geeky stepdad and the budding bromance between Brad and Dusty by the end of the film is kind of sweet. The end may be a little too on the nose for some, but at least you've had more than a few laughs along the away.  

DADDY'S HOME has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie is on release in the UK, Canada, Cambodia, Pakistan, the USA, Australia and Ireland. It opens later in December in New Zealand, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and goes on global release in January.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


SOUTHPAW is an earnest but risibly cliched and over-acted boxing drama written by Kurt Sutter (SONS OF ANARCHY) and directed by Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY).  The movie starts Jake Gyllenhaal in a typically intense, hyper-realistic portrayal of a working-class kid turned successful boxing champion.  He's married to the love of his life (Rachel McAdams) and has a young daughter which is all so far so ROCKY. But pretty soon, his wife is caught up in a shooting and dies in one of those over-scored over-dramatic moments that will serve as the lynchpin for the rest of the film, in which our broken hero tries to resurrect his career and win back his daughter from the evil social services. His flashy manager (50 Cent - actually ok as an actor) having left him, our hero winds up begging a wizened old boxing manager played by Forrest Whitaker to train him.  Because as in ROCKY, the best training is low-rent, austere hard work on the worn-out mats of a back-street gym.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Peggy Guggenheim was a remarkable woman. Born to the monied American industrialists in the late nineteenth century, her father died on the Titanic and left her a rich woman, although not as rich as her family.  She left for Paris and plunged herself into the bohemian world of artists. She married a sculptor who gave her two children but was physically abusive and adulterous. They divorced in 1928 and she went on to the great flowering of her life, where she took many many lovers, and began to buy very very ground-breaking art. She was an early champion of Duchamp and Man Ray and married Max Ernst.  The war delayed her plans for a permanent museum in Paris but after world war two she settled in Venice and amassed the collection that now defines her - containing important works by Miro, Brancusi, Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte and most importantly bringing US artists to Europe, not least in supporting Jackson Pollock.  What's even more astonishing is that she did all this with no formal artistic education or support:  just good taste, a willingness to plunge in and back herself.  The she loved art and artists and had the means to indulge her passion for clever, unique conversation and lovers. And to this day one of the most delightful things that one and do is to walk around her former Palazzo in Venice and see the artworks in situ and get a feel for the life that she led.

This new documentary is an absolute delight! Lisa Immordino Vreeland brilliantly combines documentary photos, vintage interviews, stills of artworks and talking head interviews with her relatives and famous art critics.  But most importantly we get the voice of Peggy herself in a long-lost audio interview she gave just before she died. This enables us to get a great sense of the woman:  her personal travails, her insecurities, her authentic and deep love of art and artists.  We hear how she was seen as something of a dilettante at first, and maybe still by some of the sniffier set. But one cannot deny the quality of the collection she amassed. More importantly she seems to have been a quite fearless woman in some respects, despite her insecurities. She not only lived a life unconstrained by petty bourgeois constraints but when the crunch came she was instrumental not just in buying up all the great art that the Louvre thought not fit for saving when the Nazis entered Paris, but she got the artists themselves out of Paris to safety.  Her second marriage to Max Ernst a case in point.  It is for such courage that Guggenheim is a great woman rather than just a great collector and patron of the arts, and this film is a worthwhile and handsomely made testament to that. 

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated 15.  The film played Tribeca 2015 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Denmark on January 21st, in Italy on March 14th and in Sweden on April 1st. 


Director Paul McGuigan (TV's Sherlock & Luke Cage) and screenwriter Max Landis (AMERICAN ULTRA) have attempted to do for the Frankenstein story what Guy Ritchie did for SHERLOCK HOLMES.  The resulting film is a partial success.  A grimy/glamorous Victorian London is beautifully recreated and photogaphed by DP Fabian Wagner (JUSTICE LEAGUE) and the acting from the two leads - James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe - gives the rather hokey story some emotional heft.  But the story is obviously hokey and whether you ultimately enjoy the film depends on how far you're willing to be be swept away by the production design and acting and ignore the rather weak attempts to broaden out the backstory of the Frankenstein legend and the fact that neither the script nor the delivery have the crackling wit that enlivened the SHERLOCK HOLMES reboot and winked at its more ludicrous excesses. In Max Landis' take, Frankenstein (McAvoy) is trying to recreate life because of his guilt in causing the death of his brother and to win back the respect of his father (Charles Dance.)  Radcliffe  plays his sidekick Igor. In this version, Igor is a circus clown rescued by Frankenstein - his back drained of pus in one of the movie's more absurd scenes - and given a Victorian extreme makeover.  The relationship is put under strain by Igor's greater moral qualms about resurrecting life and his love affair with Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay.  All of which has the makings of a proper tragic drama, in the manner of Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein film, but both director and writer want to make something more kinetic and funny, which mixed success.  

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie is on global release.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is an extraordinarily handsome spy film that a little bit Bond, a little bit MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and a little bit OCEAN'S ELEVEN. It's stylish, slick and elegant but boy is it joyless too.  This Guy Ritchie directed franchise reboot has none of the wit or imagination of his SHERLOCK HOLMES series.  And where Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law are a truly memorable and charismatic double-act, this movie severely lacks any kid of chemistry between the leads.

The movie is set in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.  Two secret agents, Solo and Kuryakin - one American and one Soviet - come together to save the world from an evil Nazi millionaire couple intent on acquiring their own bomb.  To do so, they have abducted a German scientist, and so our secret agents team up with his daughter, Gaby, who also happens to be very, very good looking.  And I'm not joking. This movie has a very Zoolander vibe to it. Every scene looks like a spread from Mr Porter.  It's not just that Henry Cavill (SUPERMAN) and Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER) are very, very good looking as Solo and Kuryakin, but they have been styled to within an inch of their lives and then draped decorously over the cityscapes of luxurious European cities like an advert for aftershave.  And Alicia Vikander gets the full sixties make-over, complete with bouffant hair, go-go boots and Jackie O sunglasses. It's hard to take proceedings too seriously after all that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


TRUE STORY is essentially a two-hander between often-time comedic collaborators James Franco and Jonah Hill.  In this film, they try their hand at a straight psychological drama with limited effect.  Hill plays real-life New York Times journalist Michael Finkel who was sacked in the early 1990s for falsifying sources on a story.  Per Finkel/Hill he was doing so to enhance an important ethical story for the greater good.  The result is that Finkel is washed up until a murderer on the lam decides to appropriate his identity in order, in turns out, to lure him into a relationship. And this forms the body of the film. We see James Franco play Christian Longo, accused of killing his family, give up pieces of that story to Finkel in exchange for advice on how to better write his testimony.

Prisoner/journalist stories of this kind have the capacity to be quite spectacular, and at their apex - Capote and In Cold Blood - have the ability to ask frightening questions about how far each side needs the other and is complicit in the other's crimes.  How far does Finkel let Longo manipulate him because he needs the story that resurrects his career? This sort of material requires great skill on the part of both actors - we need to see and feel layers of motivation and ambiguity.  I'm afraid that I just didn't get that from either actor here.  Moreover, and this must be more down to the screenwriter and first-time feature director Rupert Goold - the pacing felt sluggish and the movie overall lacking in tension.  So overall, there's very little here to attract an audience either on the big screen or on DVD.

TRUE STORY has a running time of 99 minutes and is rated R. It played Sundance 2015 and was released earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Spain, the UK, Ireland, Germany and France.  It is now available to rent and own.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


TRAINWRECK is just like every other Judd Apatow comedy. There's a character who's essentially a loveable gorgeous person but because of various issues has an infantile attachment to booze, weed and the sofa, so much so that said character almost loses the love of their life. But after a final act come to Jesus moment, wises up, realises that it's just fine to admit you want a conventional married life with kids and a mortgage and goes ahead and gets those things.  Because make no mistake, despite the frank sexual content, Judd Apatow comedies are very socially conservative, as well as being very formulaic and occasionally very funny.  The only difference in the case of TRAINWRECK is that the immature character is a woman - as written and played by Amy Schumer. She's the one who's getting drunk and having one night stands, and feels weird when her boyfriend says he loves her for the first time. And the guys in the movie - including a brilliantly cast LeBron James - are the ones who aren't afraid to talk about their feelings and are generous in bed and want to get married.  That the movie is formulaic doesn't matter because it's still brilliantly written and acted. It's laugh-out-loud funny, it's not afraid to take its lead character to some dark places, and there's real chemistry between the romantic leads.  

Monday, December 07, 2015


ANT-MAN.  Gotta admit, not a massive comic book fan, never heard of him.  But, seeing how great Marvel have been in reviving properties and having loved GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY despite no prior knowledge of the characters, I had high hopes. And with Paul Rudd cast in the lead role, I was expecting a similarly fun-filled, effects heavy action movie. But no. While ANT-MAN is certainly full of special effects and enhances and extends the Marvel Universe, it's the most unmemorable entry in the franchise. This is actually quite an achievement given that it stars Michael Douglas who retains his charisma.  But the problem is that the movie just isn't funny  - and in not being funny it wastes Paul Rudd. Worse still, the movie isn't interesting. It feels like it's being played exactly by the book with nothing new, nothing subversive, no real chemistry between any of the characters.  All of this made sense when I recalled that ANT-MAN was originally meant to be written and directed by Edgar Wright - a script that Joss Whedon called the best Marvel movie ever.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Greta Gerwig - the writer and star of MISTRESS AMERICA - has fashioned a career as a writer and actress playing variations on a certain theme.  In we start with Whit Stillman's fantastic DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, Gerwig played a character called Violet that should've been insufferable - an arrogant, supremely confidence college student intent on making everybody's life better with her brand of wisdom. And yet there was something so knowingly absurd about her confidence that she became endearing, and I adored the movie.  Then we got FRANCES HA,  directed by Noah Baumbach, where Gerwig played a similarly eccentric twenty-something girl, but this time so indulged and flaky that I found her irritating beyond endurance.  Now we get Gerwig as Brooke Cardinas, the heroine of MISTRESS AMERICA, also directed by Baumbach.  She combines the arrogance of Violet with the flakiness and self-delusion of Frances, but somehow the result is a perfectly nuanced and captivating character, and a movie of real substance as well as wit.