Tuesday, September 17, 2019

BFI London Film Festival Short Film Reviews - Create Strand

Here are some quick takes on short films showing in the Create strand of this year's BFI London Film Festival.


#21XOXO is a wonderfully imaginative and scarily spot on satire on dating in the digital age. The animated short by Sine and Imge Ozbilge is really visually inventive, melding social media logos onto its protagonist, and showing in a last act twist how even when she flips to "real" video footage her self-image is mediated by this online distortion. Great 80s-style synth pop soundtrack too. Running time 9 minutes.

ALGO-RHYTHM is a 14 minute Senagalese hip-hop musical that bizarrely, wittily and completely speaks to life in Brexit Britain and Trump's America! It embodies social media in a slick hip-hop artist who boasts how he knows everything about us and can harvest our votes with the most subtle of methods. Like #21XOXO and SWATTED the director cleverly intersperses live action with graphically distorted cyber-visuals that suggest a disturbing mix between the real and the online.  The resulting film is like the funky imaginative PSA we all needed in 2015.



SWATTED is a really disturbing but brilliantly imagined 21 minute short about cyber-harassment in the online gaming world by Ismael Joffroy Chandoutis.  I had no idea what swatting was, but apparently it's when cyber bullies call the real world police with a fake threat in order to have a SWAT team break into and generally scare the shit out of their victims.  This strikes me as horrifically juvenile and such a waste of police time, as well as clearly traumatic to the victims. Chadoutis shows this phenomenon by inter-cutting chatroom dialogue as swat attacks are actually happening, with video game footage that seemingly depicts the attacks. However, rather than taking the footage as is from Grand Theft Auto, he kind of hollows it out into a creepy surreal wire-frame world. We also get voiceover from swatter victims.  The results are really beautifully imagined and surreal, and still so human and disturbing.  It's truly a profound and provocative piece showing real technical skill but also crucially the ability to balance that with deep emotion.

THE SASHA is a 20 minute film about the astronaut Charles Duke, who landed on the Moon with Apollo XVI and photographed its surface. Seeing all the old black and white photographs and colour video footage of the mission was an absolute treat. It makes the point that Duke failed to take a picture of the entire earth from space - an iconic photo taken during the next mission - however he WAS remembered for the family photo he left on the moon.  We also get some interesting stuff about the evolution of lunar photography.  But I could have really done without the pontificating narrator Tania Theodoru, especially about half way through the doc when it goes off into some kind of disquisition on the nature of the space. There's just a little too much indulgence in the final five minutes altogether, and I'm always nervous when directors (in this case Maria Molina Peiro) try to ascribe motive and reactions to people when they can't possibly know if that were the case.

Friday, September 06, 2019

GLORIA MUNDI - Venice Film Festival


GLORIA MUNDI is another in a long line of French social realist director Robert Guediguian's Marseille-set Marxist dramas. In this one, he's trying to tell us how modern life crushes the honest worker's hopes and dreams, leading them to crime out of desperation.  This is illustrated through the life of the family pictured. Mum is a cleaner, locked out of earning a wage because of a strike.  Dad is a bus driver, on suspended leave because he was caught using his mobile phone while driving. The elder daughter is a feckless millenial who can't hold down a job as a sales assistant.  The son-in-law is an Uber driver beaten up by conventional taxi drivers scared of the competition.  Ranged against these unfortunates is the younger half-sister and her husband - clearly depicted as front men of evil nasty capitalism. They run a pawn shop, and view their family as losers.  And entering the picture as a kind of catalyst to the story, are the elder sister's baby Gloria, and her ex-con grandad newly out of prison: a silent solemn presence.

The film is well-acted and despite its heavy-handed politics and an obvious plot worthy of a cheap British soap opera, it did hold my attention. There are a couple of set pieces that are truly affecting. One is a scene where the nasty capitalist daughter forces an obviously distressed Muslim woman to remove her veil in order to sell her toaster for five euros. That's nasty and powerful. I also really liked the depiction of the parents marriage - loving and secure, so secure that the dad and the ex-con can form a kind of friendship, jointly caring for their gran-daughter. 

The problem I had - apart from the obvious plotting and pretentious opening and closing scenes - was that the anti-capitalist message was badly executed.  These people are in trouble because they do stupid, sometimes illegal, stuff, and are rightly punished. Don't use your phone while driving - don't chat to your mum when you're meant to be working - don't start a fight.  And seeing the parents try and bail out their narcissistic irresponsible daughter again and again suggested to me that the message of the film was really to admonish Boomer parents from over-indulging their kids. 

GLORIA MUNDI has a running time of 106 minutes and had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

THE WEDDING GUEST


The title might suggest mawkish rom-com, but indie British director Michael Winterbottom's latest film is an imperfect but still compelling road-trip thriller set in Pakistan and India. It stars Dev Patel (HOTEL MUMBAI) as a British psycho-killer paid to abduct the British-Pakistani bride at her wedding.  The twist is that she's in on the heist, not wanting to be married off to a suitable boy.  In fact, the whole thing has been concocted by her and her unsuitable Indian boyfriend, whose family handily run a jewellery store. The joy of a film like this should be in the double-crosses and power-plays, and while we get some of that, it's never cleanly enough delineated or carried out with enough conviction. Radhika Apte - so fantastic in the Netflix series SACRED GAMES - is once again the scene stealer in this film, playing the victim who's actually far more capable and wily than she might at first appear.  This is quite an achievement given that so much of her character is slippery - and her motivations unclear. In fact, I am quite sure that my version of what happens is squarely prejudiced by my view that no sensible woman could fall for someone as monstrously psychotic as Dev Patel's character. Sadly, his character is far less well drawn.  How is it that this boy who can't speak any Asian languages and doesn't seem that competent with a gun, is nonetheless very comfortable wheeling and dealing cars, fake IDs, and ruthlessly killing people?  It just doesn't really hang together, and I didn't buy Patel as an assassin. This isn't because he can't act - it's because the script doesn't give him enough.  

Other than the performances I really enjoyed the cinematography and production choice of being in the midst of real Indian locales, with real Indian extras. For example, the sheer authenticity of having an actual Rajasthani jeweller in his shop - or the mobile phone seller - adds up to a film that really takes the time to situate us in a reality despite the high concept plot.

THE WEDDING GUEST is rated R and has a running time of 96 minutes. The movie played Toronto 2019 and opened earlier this year in the USA. It is now on release in the UK in cinemas and on streaming services. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

THE AFTERMATH


James Kent (TESTAMENT OF YOUTH) returns to our screens with another earnest, deeply felt, beautifully staged, but ultimately un-engaging wartime drama. This time, we're in Hamburg in 1946 during the British occupation of the city they bombed. Jason Clarke - by far the best thing in this film - plays the only really fascinating character - a tight-lipped British officer, turned humane by his brutal experiences of war, struggling to communicate with his wife since the death of their son.  The wife is played by Keira Knightley taking a million steps back from her more challenging and interesting performance as COLETTE to play the kind of role she did before - very posh, very repressed, very superficial British woman. She acts out at her husband's coldness and grief by at first being hateful to the Germans she blames for her son's death, and then having an affair with one of them - the moody, soulful, pretty architect, now houseboy played by Alexander Skarsgard. I've commented before at how uncomfortable I feel when an affair with a third person merely exists to cause self-reflection and evolution for the protagonist. Skarsgard's character is used here in more way than one, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth at the film's resolution. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't believe it because the husband seemed to be operating on such a deeper plane of intelligence and profundity than his wife.  The result is a rather obvious, predictable film, with a hammy lead actress performance and a so-called passionate love affair at its centre than fails to catch fire. 

THE AFTERMATH is rated R and has a running time of 108 minutes. The film was released earlier this year and is now available to rent and own. 

TOLKIEN


As both a huge fan of test match cricket and Tolkien, it was a rare week to watch both THE EDGE and this biopic.  If the former was frustratingly tame, the latter didn't disappoint. In fact, it rather impressed as a study of a young smart, kind boy, orphaned at an early age, shamed into being the scholarship boy at an academically strong school, finding lifelong friends along the way, and ultimately both loves of his life - philology and his wife. We meet young Tolkien as an orphan, at a smart school in Birmingham, running with a super smart group of boys who must restrict their fantasy life of writing poetry or imagining worlds to their second life - the first aim is a profession.  The film beautifully captures the delicate class balancing act of the scholarship boy, living in a boarding house, courting the lodger's daughter.  He seems to take intellectual conversation for granted, casually cutting her off from discussion of Wagner when she desperately needs the outlet. We are subtly aware that the options for her - a similarly bright and talented woman - are slight because of her class and sex. As the boys move to university - Tolkien to Oxford - we discover that he nearly flunked out but was rescued by a philology don who allowed him to transfer courses of study.  I hadn't realised that this was the case, but thank goodness! But all too soon, war breaks out and the friendships of youth are tragically curtailed - whether by death or the traumas that estrange because they are unutterable.

All of this is sensitively and handsomely told, with Nicholas Hoult capturing both Tolkien's earnestness and his sense of child-like fun.  Lily Collins is superb in her few pivotal scenes, and together, this as her performance in LES MISERABLES show that she has real talent when challenged with good material. But best of all for the fans, we see everything that makes Lord of the Rings so unusual in fantasy literature. For here is an author who has actually fought in battle - knows the terror and fear of the jobbing ordinary soldier - the importance of camaraderie - and can describe the fear on the eve of battle.  It's not for nothing that Aragorn tells his men, scared at venturing into Mordor for the final battle, that there is no shame in turning back, that he understands their concern.  It's not for nothing that Frodo never recovers from his injuries - mental or physical - that his fellow friends always feel separate and unappreciated. So much of fantasy literature focuses on great heroes and high colours and banners. Tolkien focuses on the ordinary man, and this film shows why. 

I also enjoyed the film for the nostalgia it created in me. I suppose it's somewhat shocking to see how little things change, but I was also a scholarship girl at a private school, painfully aware of class privilege and the need to maintain one's financial aid.  I sat the same exams as Tolkien to get into Oxford and went to the college next door to his. The nervousness around college exams, the getting into trouble for seemingly petty violations, the mentoring by inspiring, exacting but eccentric dons - it all rang so true. And so thankfully did the establishment of lifelong friendships. It truly is a place out of time. 

TOLKIEN has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13.  It is available to rent and own. 

THE EDGE


Barney Douglas' documentary THE EDGE is an indispensable watch for ardent English test match cricket fans with impressive access to the main players in one of the most successful but also controversial period's in the team's history - its rise to top ranked test team in the 2009-2013 period and then the acrimonious fall out with its star player Kevin Pietersen. The problem it that the film never asks the difficult question of its interviewees, and allows them to set their own narrative. Perhaps this was the price of gaining access, but ultimately it makes for quite a frustrating viewing experience for those of us truly fascinated by the fracas, who've read all the autobiographies and followed by long-running psychodrama intimately.

So - for example - we have Jonathan Trott being hugely brave and honest, discussing his nervous breakdown during the 5-0 whitewash in Australia during Mitchell Johnson's epic series in 2013.  This is fantastic documentary stuff. But wouldn't it have been even more insightful and hard-hitting, had Douglas not asked Andy Flower (interviewed elsewhere) to talk about what he felt management did wrong in not picking up the signs of his mental stress earlier. I saw him in the hotel lobby the day before the match at the Gabba and as a manager myself, I would never have let him come into any form of work, the state he was in.

Or when Stuart Broad talks about turning to James Anderson and seeing Trott in despair - why not ask why they as senior players who'd played with him so much, hadn't done more. Or even pick up the accusations Kevin Pietersen made in his autobiography that they - with Swanny and others - had created a toxic bullying culture of younger players (and himself). Is it enough just to let Broady deny he made the KP parody account? Why not ask Strauss and Flower why more investigative action wasn't taken?  

Maybe when interviewing Monty Panesar, who speaks of stress eating alone in his room, they could've asked him - or Steve Finn - what is was like to be a young man in that dressing room,  or the dressing down you'd get if you dropped a catch. Why not interrogate further the idea, lightly alluded to, that Monty felt he'd become a figure of fun, not taken seriously by the crowds or his team-mates. 

And as for Kevin Pietersen, who likes to depict himself as a bullied outsider, why not ask why he feels he was singled out. After all, it was a cosmopolitan team - why not ask what he feels he did to contribute to that. Did he feel he deserved special treatment?

So the movie is good as far as it goes, and adds to the increasing voices of players telling their sides of the story.  But the inability to have the interviewees cross-examined, or even interact with each other on screen and debate some of the thornier issues, is a real problem.  

In terms of production values, this movie has come on leaps and bounds from Douglas' first effort, WARRIORS. The score in particular is superb as the animation inventive.  Both add energy to a film that's basically a bunch of talking heads, and in general you have to say that Douglas helps to make a complicated story concise and clear.  I could've done without Toby Jones somewhat hyperbolic narration though.

THE EDGE has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated 15 for strong language. It is available to rent and own on streaming services in the UK. 

A CURE FOR WELLNESS


A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a really fascinating, beautiful film full of references to films and novels that I love. And so, despite it being about 45 minutes too long for what is, in effect, just GET OUT for white folks, I can't help but have a soft spot for the film. It's directed by Gore Verbinski who made the amazing RANGO, and this film is similarly cine-literate.  We are highly aware that he loves Kubrick, and Thomas Mann, and Visconti, and Russian Ark, and dark fantasy horror from the likes of Lynch and Del Toro.  And as with all of those, it's deeply aware of the dark gothic medieval fairy tales that underpin all of our worst fears.  It's a film where every piece of art direction is meticulous and every framing choice an echo of an iconic forbear. 

The movie opens with a young American financier called Lockhart (Dale DeHaan) being sent to Europe to extract his company's errant CEO.  Instead of getting him out, he's involved in a weird car accident that results in him becoming an increasingly unwilling patient in the sanatorium. (Echoes of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain!) He's schmoozed by the chief physician, Volmer, played by a deliciously oleaginous and sinister Jason Isaacs with a hilariously perfect German accent. And he's fascinated by a young girl called Hannah (Mia Goth) who seems pre-naturally innocent. As the film unravels, Lockhart gets more bodily and mentally fragile, as he tries to understand why the bizarrely passive patients are ageing and desiccated despite taking "the cure". We get to predictably sinister and fantastic territory but it all takes so very long that I found myself wishing that the movie had had more discipline rather than trying to throw every single image and every single idea onto the screen. Nonetheless, it's a noble failure. A movie full of wondrous moments and cine-love, that just needed a more disciplined hand at the tiller. 

A CURE FOR WELLNESS is rated R and has a running time of 146 minutes. It was released in 2016 and is available to rent and own. 

THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN THE WALLS


THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is a surprisingly entertaining and warm-hearted children's fantasy film based on the book series by John Bellairs, iconically illustrated by Edward Gorey. It's brought to the screen, again surprisingly, by R-rated film director Eli Roth, displaying a soft centre in this funny, handsomely made film.  It stars Owen Vaccaro as young orphan in the 1950s who goes to live with his eccentric uncle (Jack Black) in the titular magical house. Lewis' Uncle Jonathan and his neighbour/best friend Mrs Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) teach young Lewis magic, with which he summons the ghost of his uncle's old enemy (Kyle MacLachlan). We then get a magical showdown that's really more about a profound lesson - that holding onto memories of our loved ones can go too far - that sometimes it's healthy to move forward. 

The resulting film is genuinely funny and as improbable as it may sound, I really loved the banter between Jack Black and Cate Blanchett!  The movie is also beautifully designed. The house is filled with so many uniquely designed clocks, victoriana and gothic furniture, as well as sofas that act like puppies, and garden topiary that throws up!  The costumes are gorgeous - particularly those of the always immaculately put together Mrs Zimmerman.  Most of all, despite all the crazy special effects, this really is a movie that has a lot of heart, and none of its whimsy is unused or superficial. Lewis' wordplay, his love of the word "indomitable" in particular - is ultimately profound. And watch out for that Magic Eight Ball. 

THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is rated PG and has a running time of 105 minutes. It is available to rent and own. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

GLORIA BELL


I absolutely loved everything about Sebastian Leilo's remake of his Chilean female-led drama, GLORIA. Julianne Moore give a characteristically strong, charismatic, nuanced performance in the titular role - playing a character rarely seen on screen - a middle-aged woman who is sex positive and living every inch of her life to its fullest. I applaud the messages of this film - that you can be a strong woman with a full life, who doesn't need but is open to a sexually and emotionally fulfilling relationship - and that it's better to walk away from something that is second best. And I am in admiration of both Moore and her lover, played by John Turturro, for being vulnerable enough to show what sex is actually like in one's middle-age, and the complications of relationships with grown children.  The talent behind the lens is just as impressive. Sebastian Leilo has a sure measure of pace, balancing lighter moments of expressive freedom with darker more intimate moments of sadness and self-doubt. The score, by Matthew Herbert, is stunning, combing traditionally orchestrated music with phenomenal electronic almost 80s sci-fi synth moments, let alone the wonderful disco music that Gloria loses herself too.  Finally, the cinematography from Natasha Braier is marvellous in capturing both with its use of colour, light and framing, the different moods that Gloria goes through - whether strong, suffering, free or constrained. This really is a tour de force and deserves to be seen as widely as possible. 

GLORIA BELL is rated R and has a running time of 102 minutes. The film played Toronto 2018 and was released earlier this year in the USA. It's just about still on release in the UK in cinemas and is available on streaming services. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

HOTEL MUMBAI


Anthony Maras' directorial debut, HOTEL MUMBAI, is a beautifully handled thriller focusing on the Taj Hotel during the 2008 Islamist terrorist attacks on Mumbai. As so many others, I watched the events unfurl in real time on the TV, and in general I think it's better to approach such topics in documentaries. Fictionalised attempts can feel cheap or exploitative. Which is not to say that this movie entirely avoids kitschy moments. There's a very heavy handed point made about how a Sikh can be mistaken for a muslim by a racist white posh woman.  There's an even worse O Captain My Captain moment when the staff of the ultra-luxe hotel volunteer to stay back and help the guests through the ordeal.  But other than those two very quick moments of cheap emotion, the movie actually handles itself with dignity, intelligence and empathy.

We begin as the terrorists come into Mumbai by boat, the soothing, seductive voice of their handler in their ears, telling them of the glory that awaits them, and how the infidels in Mumbai deserved no mercy.  His voice will be a persistent and sinister presence in the film, goaded the boys into atrocities, gloating at the overheard horror he has unleashed. It's chilling at the end of the film to learn that he's still at large.

We then see the train terminal attack reported on the news, and a particularly well constructed scene in the tourist cafe, so well choreographed as to be shocking, even when we know exactly what will happen.  But the majority of the action happens in the hotel. Ironically, it begins because the staff let in ordinary Mumbaikars fleeing the terror elsewhere in the city. The attackers come in with them.  

This is where the film really needs to weave together multiple strands, and it does so with aplomb. We have the front desk staff forced to call guests and make them let the terrorists into their rooms. We have the head chef and waiter (Anupam Kher and Dev Patel) guiding the guests into an exclusive and therefore well hidden VIP lounge.  We have Armie Hammer as an American tourist who has to get back to his suite to his baby and nanny.   And we have Jason Isaacs as a russian oligarch. Both of these men will become hostage targets. 

I thought this was an excellent film insofar as it was tense, well orchestrated but also even handed. We care about and spend as much time with the staff as with the western guests. We understand the pressures the cops are under.  And we even spend time with the terrorists while never crossing the line of making them sympathetic.  There's something so authentic and piercing about these guys who've never seen a flush toilet before, or tasted pizza, wreaking havoc in a luxury hotel - a world they are jealous of and feel excluded from - its sumptuous luxuries symbolic of the indulgences they claim to be against. And all the time, the evil voice, guiding them to murder. 

HOTEL MUMBAI is rated R and has a running time of 123 minutes. It played Toronto 2018 and opened in the USA in March 2019. It opens in the UK on September 27th.

SHAZAM!


SHAZAM! is one of the goofier of the seemingly endless parade of comic book adaptations that crosses our screens, and it's so asinine I could barely watch through to the end.  It begins with 40 minutes of tedious exposition before we get to meet the superhero. Apparently there's an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou in a thankless role) who hands out superpowers.  He tried giving them to the bad guy when he was a kid but then withdrew them causing his resentment. Said bad guys grows up to be Mark Strong in another thankless role. He's just another disposable bad guy, indistinguishable from the next.  Remember when bad guys were awesome like Jeremy Iron's Scar?  Right.   Anyway, the person who actually gets the good superpowers is an orphan called Billy. His superpowers involve being bullet proof, and stuff to do with electricity, and becoming a beefy adult played by Zachary Levi (THE MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL).  You then get the classic plot of guy goes through life-changing event, alienates all his friends, before third act redemption. Apparently this version is meant to be funny and moving because the friends in question are a bunch of unwanted kids. I thought the whole thing was hammy, predictable, dull and overlong. Didn't laugh once. Didn't care about any of the characters. Sad to hear there's going to be a sequel. 

SHAZAM! is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 132 minutes. 

KURSK: THE LAST MISSION aka THE COMMAND


In the wake of watching and obsessing over HBO's superb CHERNOBYL I thought I'd check out thew new film by Thomas Vinterberg - KURSK: THE LAST MISSION aka THE COMMAND.  As with Chernobyl, it's a tale of tragic loss of life in a Soviet/post Soviet system that is riddled with poor quality equipment, poor maintenance, bad decision making, cover ups, and honest working class men betrayed by their superiors.  In this case, the men are submariners running a test exercise in the Barents Sea. This may be 2000, over a decade after Chernobyl, but it's a similar story - an initial accident confounded by an unwillingness to do the right thing immediately. The Russians don't have rescue vessels of their own, having sold them for hard cash (they were taking rich tourists down to see the wreck of the Titanic.)  And when the British and the Norwegians offer help, the Russians refused at first - an unforgivable delay.

Vinterberg's film is a straightforward and earnest affair.  He does well at capturing the claustrophobia and camaraderie of the submarine and Matthias Schoenaerts (Vinterberg's FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD) is really superb as the charismatic protagonist. The film feels less authentic and more broad-stroke heroes and villains when it gets out of the submarine.  Max von Sydow is straightforwardly the bad guy as the Russian admiral who refuses help.  Colin Firth is straightforwardly decent and square-jawed as the British naval officer trying to help. It's a shame that the script doesn't quite allow for any convincing character building.

KURSK: THE LAST MISSION is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 117 minutes. It played Toronto 2018 and was released in the USA last month and in the UK this week.

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT - BFI London Film Festival 2018 - Day Five


One of the film's I really wanted to see at last year's BFI London Film Festival but couldn't fit in was Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen's THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT.  It stars Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård as super smart trader/techies who want to construct a straight-line pipe from New York to Kansas that will enable to trade milliseconds faster than their rival, played by Salma Hayek. The film's name thus comes from the tiny amount of time that can result in massive profits - the time taken for a hummingbird to flap its wings. 

The resulting film is really odd, even for someone like me who works in the City. It's a very slow build. Jesse Eisenberg does his thing of arrogant smart guy, and that's become dull.  Skarsgård by contrast is playing against type - from hunk to bald programmer - and isn't convincing at all. And Hayek's is the hammiest, silver-wigged boss since Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA.  And yet, as much as I really wouldn't recommend this film, by the time I rolled into the final half it did build up a certain manic energy and tension, seeing Eisenberg push himself physically over the edge, and Skarsgård pulling off double-crosses.  There's a point at which Eisenberg is waving a chainsaw. Did it jump the shark? I honestly don't know. By that point the movie was operating on such a plan of surreality - completely unbelievable and yet bizarrely compelling.  I still don't quite know what just happened here. 

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT has a running time of 111 minutes.  It is available to rent and own.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

THE DEAD DON'T DIE


THE DEAD DON'T DIE is an unashamedly indulgent movie who's success relies on the audience wanting to be in on the joke.  I went along for the ride and found it to be uproariously funny, silly, shaggy and joyful - and hands down one of my favourite films of 2019.  This isn't a film for those over-obsessed with tight-plotting, consistent pace or an aversion to jump the shark moments. But as I said, if you go with the silliness, there's a lot of fun to be had.

The film opens in small town USA, reminiscent of original Twin Peaks. There are some slow-witted nice cops, played by Bull Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny. And there's policing a dispute between Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) and MAGA-supporter Farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi).  There's pace is lackadaisical and their hearts decent.  It soon becomes apparent that polar fracking has caused the earth to move off its axis resulting in whacky daylight hours and a zombie apocalypse. The rest of the film sees how our heroes cope with the impending doom ("kill the head") - not to mention the newly arrived Scottish mortician with hardcore Samurai skills (Tilda Swinton). 

We get lots of references to George Romero, including an update on his consumerist satire, as zombies wonder round in desperate search of wifi.  We also get a hopeful message about how "the children are our future". But mostly this is a film of supreme visual comedy - a shot of Adam Driver pulling into a diner parkway in a tiny red convertible Smart car - a shot of Tilda Swinton applying 1980s New Romantic makeup to a corpse - or a re-animated Iggy Pop hunting for coffee.  

Any film is worth watching that gives us even one of those things. So yes, I get all the critics and I see the film's weaknesses but I just dont' care, because when it delivers it's absolutely hilarious!

THE DEAD DON'T DIE is rated R and has a running time of 104 minutes. The film played Cannes 2019 and was released in the USA in June. It opens in the UK on Friday.

Friday, June 21, 2019

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT


Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) returns to our screens with what is being marketed as a feel-good movie - BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. It's based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Mahmood, a second gen British-Pakistani growing up in the racially violent and economically distressed Luton of the 1980s.  If there's not enough to deal with outside the safety of his home, inside he has to deal with issues many second gen immigrants face - how to live an assimilated life, fulfilling one's own dreams, while still honouring the values and dreams of the first gen who sacrificed so much for our success. I say "our" because this is a milieu - and indeed a specific time and place - that I know very well. And I can say that the authenticity that Chadha and Mansoor capture in how our families spoke to each other and hoped and dreamed and were thwarted is spot on - and so close to the bone it provoked a really violent reaction in me.  I think that's because it's so rare to see any kind of explicit racial violence on screen that so clearly depicts the British history that we lived through that the film drove a moment of raw catharsis. So it wasn't feel good for me, but that's okay, because it's deep political conscience is really admirable and much needed.

That said, before the raw emotion overcame me, I have to say this really was and is a lovely and feel good film.  Firstly because Chadha and her production designers so beautifully capture small-town English towns of the 80s - including long-gone but much-lived shops like Athena and Our Price - all those fantastic clothes and songs - the ever-present Walkman headphones - and that specific joy of handing over your favourite cassette or VHS tape to a friend.  Because that's what happens in this film. Our protagonist Javed (Viveik Khalra - sympathetic and charismatic) is feeling miserable under the pressures at home and outside until his new friend Roops gives him a tape of the then unfashionable Bruce Springsteen. He wonders what an American rocker can say that's relevant to him until he listens to the lyrics and realises that working class angst is global, and that seeing your father's dreams crushed by economic reality is deeply relatable.  So the music in this film is superb and energetic before Springsteen makes an entrance but reaches another level when he does. The way in which Chadha uses CGI to superimpose the lyrics on scenes, or pivots action around an inspiring lyric is just superb. There's a lot of love and respect and understanding of Springsteen's work in there.

The film is also just straightforwardly funny - helped by some lovely cameos from comedians such as Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips (Char-DON-nay), Marcus Brigstock and Olivia Poulet.  My only criticism is that it could've more fully embraced its genre - at least for a central music scene that's full of joy and energy but could've been truly superb with a little more careful choreography.  But these are all small concerns. Because BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a truly lovely joyous film that masks a provocative and brutally honest heart about the immigrant experience.  It deserves to be seen as widely as possible. 

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Sundance 2019 and will be released in the UK on August 9th and in the USA on August 14th. 

DIEGO MARADONA


DIEGO MARADONA is the latest doc from Asif Kapadia - the film-maker behind the superb SENNA and AMY.  Once again he uses the same technique - curating a collage of previously unseen video and audio to give an overarching narrative about an icon's inner life.  He doesn't insert himself overtly into the doc in the way that Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore do - but his thesis is very present, conveyed through his editing and shaping of the material. In those prior docs, Kapadia created a villain - Alain Prost and Amy Winehouse's dad. In this one, he creates both hero and villain in Diego and Maradona - the charismatic super-talented slum kid who made good - and the cocky, cocaine-fuelled adulterer who imploded.  It's an effective duality but leaves other factors unexplored. Because Maradona's life - unlike Senna or Amy - allows us a window into two particular social issues which are as fascinating as he is. The first is the racism and classism of Italian society that allows northern football fans to call the Napoli fans black cholera-plagued scum. The second is the influence of the mafia on Napolese life.  These intersect in Maradona, because he was bought for a record sum by Napoli - the poorest club in the poorest town in Italy - bankrolled by the mafia who then courted Diego and gave him cocaine and women. They also intersect because Diego sympathised with Napoli and for a time embodied all its best hopes because he too had been called all the names, treated as scum, and could become their avatar.  I wanted to hear more about these issues and felt that Kapadia was either reluctant or unable to explore them further. And I feel that this is because he was over-concerned with using his treasure trove of unseen Napoli football footage, and remains resistant to using talking heads to provide social context.  The problem with this approach is that for all but the most ardent soccer fan, watching footage of 1980s seria A football isn't that interesting.  And second, that I left the doc wanting more - unsatisfied despite sitting through a 2 hour doc.  That said, it's still a film worth watching for the occasional flashes of Diego's charisma, and the joy of seeing him teach his daughter how to swear at the Juve fans. 

DIEGO MARADONA has a running time of 130 minutes. It played Cannes and Sheffield 2019. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in the USA on September 20th.

TAG


TAG is a superb film - great slapstick and verbal wit - wonderful spoofs of action movies - and a really genuinely warm heart.  It's based on a Wall Street Journal article about a bunch of grown men who have been playing a game of tag together since they were kids. Now grown-ups, every May is hunting season, and while all of them have been tagged one time or another, Jeff (Jeremy Renner) hasn't. So they band together to try and take him out at his wedding, although they aren't complete dickheads, so they don't actually want to ruin his wedding doing it. It's absolutely glorious seeing Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Jon Hamm take in pratfalls and stunts - they look like they're having the time of their life.  And Jeremy Renner is hilarious spoofing the super-serious inner monologue of an action hero trying to avoid being tagged. The visual humour has flair and the film just works! But what I really loved was the attempt to seriously interrogate where the line is between a fun game and obsessive competition, and what the value of friendship really is.  The ending of this film gives us a clear view on this, and it's deeply moving while never feeling cheap or manipulative.  I also love how the script - which could've just been another HANGOVER style bro comedy - managed to beef up the roles of the women - making them actual protagonists and deeply enmeshed in all of the moral questioning that occurs. Kudos to all involved!

TAG is rated R and has a running time of 100 minutes. It's available to rent and own. 

INCREDIBLES 2


The Incredible family is back, but out of work when the world turns against superheroes.  But have no fear! Superrich siblings appear offering Mrs I a job as a private sector superhero complete with PR rehabilitation plan.  When did anything in this world ever go wrong with American superrich siblings involved? So dad stays at home with kids - cue lots of jokes about how tough childcare is - especially when baby Jack Jack has superpowers too. And mum goes off to fight a newly emerged super villain called Screenslaver. No guesses as to who that turns out to be in real life.  

The resulting film is visually witty and of course the domestic duty role reversal throws up a lot of good gags. But I couldn't help but feel that this sequel lacked a little elan and all felt a bit predictable and blah.  The animation is of course superb and the design wonderful but animated films have moved on since the original and this film just hasn't.  In a world where the cutting edge of animated design and wit is defined by SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE - this film seems rather old-fashioned - stuck in time 14 years ago when it was pioneering. Does this sort of middle-age middle-class humour about old-fashioned men struggled to take care of a kid really feel relevant anymore?

INCREDIBLES 2 is available to rent and own.  It has a running time of 118 minutes and is rated PG.

PUZZLE


PUZZLE is worse than banal, it teeters on the offensive.  The banality begins with the slow-moving uninteresting tale of a middle-age housewife who lives as a martyr tending to her family.  In her spare time she does jigsaw puzzles and soon teams up with a glamorous exotic Indian millionaire to train for a competition.  Naturally - predictably - they end up falling for each other, and the affair gives her the confidence to demand a more equitable share of labour around the house and for her sons to take control of their lives. But in the end she drops out of the competition and her affair and returns to her now reformed family. And what of the Indian puzzler who enables this renaissance? He's cast off casually having done his part. The whole thing struck me as very dodgy and unconvincing. I get why she would be fascinated by him but not what he would see in her. Every now and then the script those in a line where he says she's beautiful, but they never have a conversation that shows a spark, and the two actors - Kelly Macdonald and Irrfhan Khan - have no chemistry. The resulting film is just too dull, and then dodgy, for words. It's the racial equivalent of films that creative manic pixie dream girls whose only purpose is to prompt a character reversal in a man, or that create wise old black women whose only purpose is to enlighten the young white protagonist. Enough already.

PUZZLE is rated R and has a 103 minute run time. It played Sundance 2018 and is now available to rent and own.  

HOTEL ARTEMIS


In which Jodie Foster plays an old lady with a thick Noo Yawk accent who runs a secret hospital for the criminal underworld. In heavy make-up, with a shuffling gait, trying to keep the peace among warring thugs, she impresses with a truly immersive performance - her toughness matched by genuine melancholy at the death of her son.  The delicate equilibrium in which she lives is disturbed when Zachary Quinto (STAR TREK) brings in his mortally wounded father, Jeff Goldblum, violating the Nurse's strict code and dredging up painful events from her past. It also unleashes nastiness among her guests, including Sofia Boutela and THIS IS US' Sterling K Brown.

HOTEL ARTEMIS is the first directorial feature from Drew Pierce - the guy who wrote IRON MAN 3 - and as one would expect from that it's witty and high concept. The production design of the antiquated hotel is really beautiful and the cinematography from Chung-Hoon Chung gives it a suitably ominous claustrophobic feel.  I love the near future setting and delicate hints at sci-fi, but this film is best viewed as a nasty little drama of claustrophobic conflict, with the real suspense around who'll be the last man or woman standing.   It's a clever, captivating film - to be sure by the end I didn't really care who was left alive - but I really want to see what Drew Pierce does next. 

HOTEL ARTEMIS is rated R and has a running time of 94 minutes. The movie is available to rent and own.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS



LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS is a rather earnest and ultimately rather charming documentary about the former front-man of one of the 1990 supergroups, Oasis.  It picks up as the group splits, thanks to increasingly violent and still on-going fighting between Liam and his brother Noel, and the documentary never really recovers from the absence of Noel's point of view, and Oasis' tracks.  We then move to the start and collapse of Liam's follow-up band Beady Eye and onto his eventual solo career. It's kind of touching to see how much Liam just sees himself as a rock-band front-man - he never considers anything else or just giving up. He's genuinely shocked and winded when his brother pulls the plug on Oasis. And there's even something admirable in the fact that he managed to pull himself out of addiction and recommit to music, thanks to the love of a good woman -his now wife/manager.  The sincerity of his desire to just play music for his fans is touching and there's something credible about him that bands like Coldplay will just never have.  He's still just rocking up to concerts in a parka with some loud guitars and his snarling singing style trying to give kids a good time. Good on him - genuinely. How many super famous rock musicians have anything like this kind of self-awareness and happy ending?  I had found the first half a bit dull but was ultimately won over by Liam's charm! Just seeing him rail against PG Tips while on a tour bus with his kids is funny and lovely.  Would that all rockstars managed to achieved this kind of balance.

LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS has a running time of 85 minutes and is currently on release in the UK on screens and streaming services. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

A VIGILANTE


While BOOKSMART is getting all the hype, Olivia Wilde stars in a taut beautiful revenge thriller that's quietly slipped onto our screens.  A VIGILANTE is the debut feature from writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson, and is pretty much carried by Wilde who plays Sadie, a domestic abuse victim turned violent vigilante.  

In the present day, scenes alternate between Sadie quietly, meticulously, threatening abusers with violence to get them to leave their victims alone - and Sadie working on herself - whether training in spartan hotel rooms, or attending victim support groups. Both scenes have their own weight.  There's an impressive authenticity and realism in how Sadie prepares for her missions, training herself in make-up and disguise on youtube videos.  The score is particularly effective in giving her missions a workmanlike, unglamorous, but deadly serious vibe.  And then in the quiet more reflective moments, whether alone or in group therapy, the film has a quiet, simple power of authentic suffering.  Daggar-Nickson avoids anything showy - she just lets her camera focus on these women as they tell their awful stories in a straightforward, heart-breaking way.  

A VIGILANTE is then - a superb debut - and even moreso because it manages to get the balance just right. It doesn't shy away from showing violence, and its impact, but never feels gratuitous or exploitative. And while it purports to show that vengeance is a solution, it also has Sadie tell the women that they need to find a new support group when they leave - the violence gives them a chance, but it isn't actually a long-term sustainable solution.

A VIGILANTE is rated R and has a running time of 91 minutes. It played SXSW last year and was released in the USA earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK, including being available to rent on Sky. 

MAUDIE


MAUDIE is a biopic of an apparently famous folk artist made by director Aisling White and written by Sherry White. It stars Sally Hawkins as a woman who is severely arthritic and infantilised by her family, escaping to menial labour for a fisherman (Ethan Hawke) who abuses her.  She self-medicates with chain-smoking and painting, has the luck to be talent-spotted by a rich socialite and achieves a measure of fame and financial independence.  This shift in power naturally impacts the dynamic with her now husband, who becomes almost sheepish in the latter half of the film, and genuinely tries to help Maudie achieve some kind of emotional closure as her health deteriorates.  

The movie is well enough made and well acted and I know one should never criticise the choice of a film's subject but how well that subject was treated. All I know is that it may be possible to make a super interesting film about Maud Lewis but this wasn't it. I found myself at a distance from the characters, admiring their acting, without ever really feeling their emotions or actually caring about what happened to them.  The whole thing just fell earnest and Oscar-baity and frankly dull. 

MAUDIE has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film is available to rent and own.

SERENITY


And so the McConaughaissance crests its wave with this awkwardly shit thriller from British writer-director Steven Knight (LOCKE, PEAKY BLINDERS).  McConaughey plays a washed up fisherman/tour guide for rich tourists on a paradise tropical island with a trademark wise loyal sidekick played by Djimon Hounsou.  All goes tits up when his ex-wife turns up begging him to kill her new abusive husband for the sake of their son.  The key issue is that earnest sweet princess-next-door Anne Hathaway sucks at playing a femme fatale, and there is zero chemistry between her and McC.  You wade through an hour of this awfulness and then the plot gets a bit twisty and momentarily interesting, except that you can't shake the feeling that this would all have been handled with more wit, brevity and horror in a BLACK MIRROR episode. 

Avoid at all costs. 

SERENITY is rated R and has a running time of 106 minutes. It is now available to rent and own.

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE


Rachel Lear's and Robin Blotnick (THE HAND THAT FEEDS) re-unite for another socially conscious documentary, following a crop of young radical liberal candidates for US public office, including the now incredibly famous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The film won the audience award at Sundance 2019, timing its release fortuitously for the upswing of optimism around a new crop of diverse progressive entrants to Congress, lining itself up for a May 1st Netflix release.  

The film itself is a tightly edited, dynamic and compelling tale of how to start a fight-back after the shock 2016 presidential election result.  We follow a handful of hopefuls trying to challenge good ole boy incumbents who seem shocked that anyone would have the temerity to challenge them.  While I - like many others I'm sure - came to the film to find out more about "AOC" - a woman who seems to have shifted Democratic environmental policy with a tweet - I stayed for a genuinely moving tale about what it takes to campaign at grassroots level. One forgets how - even in this social media age - people still have to go knocking door to door, listening to their voters, husting and canvassing. It's somehow reassuring to know that the basic mechanics of politics are still what they were in the eighteenth century.  Of course, I knew AOC won, and that was still uplifting. But I hadn't heard of the other candidates and was genuinely surprised at how on-edge I was as the results began to come in.  

So this doc works perfectly on two levels - first as pure thrilling entertainment - but hopefully also inspiring people of whatever political views to get engaged, pick up that clipboard, listen to people and get into politics. 

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE is rated PG and has a running time of 86 minutes. It is available on Netflix.

Monday, May 13, 2019

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM


This film is utterly without merit, joy, wonder or intelligence  It is a shameless cash-in on a tired franchise, without any of the majesty of the original.  Even worse, it teases us with memories of that film with an early cameo from Jeff Goldblum and a late cameo from BD Wong. Worst of all, it wastes the talents of arthouse director J A Bayona, who made the exceptional A MONSTER CALLS

In this new instalment, a few years after the dinos go bonkers on Isla Nubar, a volcano threatens to make them all extinct again. Goldblum's rational scientist argues for this but reformed park exec Bryce Dallas Howard now wants to rescue them as living creatures deserving of our help. In doing so she enlists the help of ex-lover and dino handler Chris Pratt, and is funded by James Cromwell's dying billionaire and ex partner of the park's original founder.  Of course, the moral of this series was always that the real monsters weren't the killer dinos but the evil capitalist bastards who sought to exploit them. And so it goes with this non-surprising plot-twist.

The whole thing is over-loud, over-long, emotionally involving and lacking in intelligence. Avoid.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is rated 12A and has a running time of 128 minutes.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

ARCTIC


Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely gripping as the protagonist in debut feature director Joe Penna's austere and impressive ARCTIC. This lean film begins in media res, with a downed pilot hunting for fish and eking out at existence in his crashed plane. The pilot seems capable and self-reliant but all the same one wonders at his mental rather than physical health.   The pilot's hand is forced when another plane crashes and its horrifically wounded pilot clearly cannot survive without proper medical health.  And so he makes the heroic decision to drag her to the coast and hopefully rescue, through extreme cold, over crevasses, in the path of a polar bear, and at great risk to his own survival.  Through it all we get the same moral quandaries thrown up for real in Kevin MacDonald's superb doc TOUCHING THE VOID.  Should Mikkelsen's character abandon the injured woman to save himself? How much of a risk is worth taking to survive? Do you risk everything to maybe be seen?

The film stands on Mikkelsen's deeply humane performance and the beautiful cinematography from DP Tomas Orn Tomasson shot on location in Iceland.  We also get a beautiful score by Joseph Trapanese (THE GREATEST SHOWMAN) - utterly essential in a film where the characters barely speak.  The result is an austere film that nonetheless is deeply moving and provocative. At once full of almost impossible questions and the majesty of nature but also deeply personal.

ARTIC has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Cannes 2018 and is now on release in the UK in cinemas and on demand. 

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN comes to our screens with an impeccable pedigree.  It's director, Marc Forster, has previously explored the inner lives of iconic British children's authors with FINDING NEVERLAND. And its screenwriters have both written and directed award-winning films - whether Alex Ross Perry with HER SMELL or Tom McCarthy with SPOTLIGHT.  It also stars three charismatic British actors - Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife; and Mark Gatiss as his venal boss.  And the animation is really lovely - the characters of Winnie The Pooh are fluffy and cuddly and voiced by actors that truly bring them to life!  

And yet, despite all this, the movie just fails to spark interest or emotion.  Maybe its because the opening scenes of a work-worn middle-aged Christopher Robin take so long to establish. Maybe it's because we only see Christopher returning Pooh to the Hundred Acre Wood and having fun with all his childhood friends about an hour in. Maybe it's because even when his daughter meets the animals there still doesn't seem to be any real sense of joy in the film.  And without that, all we really have is a rehash of the story of MARY POPPINS. So, sadly, this is one to avoid. 

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is rated PG and has a running time of 107 minutes.  It is now available to rent and own.

PETER RABBIT


There's no meta humour in PETER RABBIT that will appeal to adults - no smart-arse wise-cracking pop-culture snark.  This live-action animation combo is a very old-fashioned slapstick comedy with a warm heart, earnest and charming in equal measure.  

The film opens with Beatrix Potter's iconic mischievous rabbits - Peter (James Corden), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton Tail (Daisy Ridley) and Benjamin (Colin Moody) poaching scrumptious carrots from Mr McGregor's garden before escaping to his neighbour the lovely Bea's house.  When McGregor senior dies, Peter thinks he's victorious and can move back into the house once occupied by his beloved parents. The only problem is that Mr McGregor's nephew (Domnhall Gleeson) moves in and falls for Bea (Rose Byrne). Of course,  the OCD neat-freak McGregor Jr can't admit he hates the rabbits for fear of losing Bea, so the two sides engage in a covert slapstick war that's a bit like Home Alone with the rabbits as Macauley Culkin and McGregor as the trespasser. 

The resulting film is predictable and hokey but nonetheless beautifully animated, heart-warming and genuinely fun.  

PETER RABBIT has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is available to rent and own.

WINE COUNTRY


What an absolute shame! With so much female talent in front of and behind the lens, I was expecting great things from Amy Poehler's directorial debut. But sadly, her story of a bunch of middle-aged women taking a holiday in Napa is dull and humourless, despite a script penned by, and many actresses from, the SNL stable. Poehler stars as the highly strung organiser of the weekend break in a beautiful house owned by Tina Fey's weirdly unemotional owner.  Both she and the ladies' husbands warn that the girls are bound to fall out and - in a sadly predictable and gender-stereotypical way - they do.  So while we get some moments of drunken bonding we also get plenty of passive-aggressive quibbling.  It all reaches its nadir when drunken Maya Rudolph sings in a wine bar and when poor Jason Schwartzman is forced to play a thinly written earnest chef cum driver.  There's really nothing new original or funny here.  Frankly, if you want to watch authentic, funny and moving depictions of female friendship you'd be better off watching the superb adult animated comedy TUCA AND BERTIE, also released on Netflix this weekend. 

WINE COUNTRY has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated R.  It was released on May 10th on Netflix. 

THE 15:17 TO PARIS


Remember back in 2015 when that terrorist nutter tried to cause chaos on a high speed train to Paris, but an Englishman a Frenchman and some Americans took him out?  Well, Clint Eastwood has made a film about the attack, taking the interesting angle of looking at how the three Americans grew up, in order to cast some light on why they took that courageous decision to have a go.  Eastwood is even more experimental - shockingly so - in that he casts the three real life men - Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone - to play themselves. The result is a film that is disarmingly simple, direct, authentic and surprisingly affecting. 

As the film opens we see the three men as kids, getting into scrapes at school, being split up as one leaves for school in another town.  You get the feeling that they're just normal boys, albeit boys brought up with strong mothers and for one of them at least strong faith and a strong sense of (military) service.  There's a kind of simplicity to their basic human decency and - at the same time - their almost moronic banality. They sound like most twenty something friends, when they're ordering beers and food in a Dutch bar with a raging hangover. To be sure they can't act - but that's kind of the point. That extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people.  But not all ordinary people react in the way these boys did.  Military training helps. Knowing your way around a gun probably does help, as much I hate to say it. And having strong moral values that compel you to insert yourself into the situation probably helps.

To be sure, Eastwood's brand of folksy patriotism and family values will grate on some viewers. I found myself having to detach myself for the allegory that could be made to a kind of interventionist military pro-gun policy.  But it's hard to be cynical when faced with such common decency and bravery. And as much as I was irritated by the lack of focus given to the French and British men who also fought back, I guess that's just the nature of the beast. And after all, Eastwood does give the final most emotional speech to a real life Francois Hollande. And I honestly did shed a tear when he spoke about humanity countering terror. 


THE 15:17 TO PARIS is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 94 minutes. It is available to rent and own.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD


For a very long film, CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD has a lot of characters with very few lines, and even less to do.  There's the troubling casting of a pretty Asian woman as a mysterious but almost mute Nagini.  There's Ezra Miller (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) as the troubled, mysterious but almost mute Credence.  Even the lead character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) says little except in a cryptically shy mumble, his eyes shyly averted from his interlocutor's face and yet somehow aimed at their boobs. 

For a very long film, CRIMES OF GRINDEWALD also seems rather rushed and haphazard.  Scenes end in a jarring manner, mashed up against the next one. There's a feeling that things are happening in between that have been left on the editors floor.  Things that would help us understand what the frack is going on.  It's been quite some time since I've had to google the ending of a film to figure out what just happened, but I had to with this film on two counts!

So what's actually going on? There's a powerfully magically destructive kid called Credence. He may be able to take out Dumbledore (Jude Law).  Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is a kind of fascist anti-muggle bastard who's escaped prison and now wants to manipulate Credence into helping him take out Dumbledore.  It's not clear why Grindelwald can't go after Dumbledore directly. But maybe it's for the same reason that Dumbledore has to use his proxy - Scamander - to go after Grindelwald - because the two have a blood oath not to attack each other. Apparently this is because they used to be gay lovers. I know this because of the interwebs, rather than from anything the film might helpfully tell me.

What the movie actually consists of is a bunch of different characters wandering around Paris trying to find each other.  This is all very dull. What makes the movie worth watching are two things - first the absolutely ravishing costume and production design evoking an inter-war Paris - and the occasional moments of emotional impact - mostly revolving around the character of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz.)  Leta is, like Credence, filled with self-hate and conflict. She's an old school friend of Newt, engaged to his elder brother, anxious about some childhood guilt, and flirting with joining Grindelwald.  By contrast, the less I had to watch Redmayne's Scamander - a bag of cliched tics and mumbles - the better. And his purported love interest - played by Katherine Waterston - is a charisma vacuum.  Dan Fogler is far more engaging as the muggle comedy sidekick but is criminally underused. And as for his lover, Tina Goldstein (Alison Sudol channelling Marilyn's breathy high-pitched voice), it's not clear why she would react to not being allowed to marry a muggle by following a fascist who wants to enslave muggles.

Not much of this movie makes sense.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 134 minutes. It is available to rent and own.