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. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING


I'm not sure if the sequel to the 2013 monsters vs robots gonzo action flick PACIFIC RIM was particularly "long-awaited" by anyone, especially when it became known that Guillermo del Toro had left the project to direct the Oscar-Winning THE SHAPE OF WATER.  Still, I rather enjoyed the loud gonzo silliness of the original and was mildly interesting in what the follow-up would be like despite its distinct lack of Idris Elba's hotness. The sad truth is that the sequel is a pretty humourless affair, with less of the carefree silliness of the original, and all to commercial a feel to it.  Directed by TV Hack Stephen S DeKnight of SPARTACUS fame, the film is efficient rather than joyous. And a final act twist that flatters the Chinese market is nakedly entrepreneurial. But the most disappointing part is the sheer lack of charisma from STAR WARS' John Boyega. He plays Stacker Pentecost's son, living in the shadow of his father's martyrdom and unwilling to step up to that responsibility Aragorn-stylee, until surprise surprise, humanity is once again under attack.  This film suggests that Bpyega's not yet capable of carrying a movie on his own but there is some fun to be had from Burn Gorman's camp self-conscious overly annunciated performance as the science-nerd Scotty who makes the tech work just in time. 

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is now available to rent and own.

BOOK CLUB


Bill Holderman's directorial debut and Erin Simms screenwriting debut comprises a rather gentle but pleasant rom-com aimed at the sixty-something market.   The conceit is that four long-time friends have a regular bookclub, and reading Fifty Shades of Grey re-awakens their interest in sex, dating and love.  Diane Keaton plays a people-pleasing grandma being bullied by her patronising kids into moving closer to them and away from her friends, not to mention a potential new love interest played by the still hot Andy Garcia.  Mary Steenburgen plays a married woman desperate to re-inject some sex into her otherwise happy marriage.  Candice Bergen takes the leap into online dating despite the knock to her self-esteem from her ex's twenty-something new fiancee. And Jane Fonda plays a successful businesswoman who finally allows herself to admit that she needs love in the form of Don Johnson.

It turns out that the issues plaguing sixty-something women are not that different from those affecting their younger counterparts - the inability to be vulnerable, balancing work and relationships, getting over an ex, getting over low self-esteem. As a result this movie was actually more relatable than I'd thought.  Moreover, from what I've seen from friends parents, their is an alarming tendency to co-opt one's parents lives and assume that they have nothing going on - and a need for the grandparents to reclaim their independence. 

The downside is that it also turns out that a sixty-something rom-com has also the same genre cliches as a twenty-something one - the meet cutes, the final act reconciliations.  But I feel that if you take this film for what it is, you'll enjoy the ride. 

BOOK CLUB has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated PG-13.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP



I'm so far behind on Marvel movies it's an embarrassment but I blame peak TV and the relentless churning out of these rather similar films.  In catching up I had all my worst fears confirmed with this ANT-MAN sequel.  Paul Rudd returns as the smart-ass superhero in the ant suit - a kind of cut rate IRON MAN or DEADPOOL.  Why do all superhero movies now have to have a wise-ass hero?  Evangeline Lily returns as his partner/romantic interest, THE WASP.  Both are working to rescue her mum slash Michael Douglas' ex-Shield scientist's wife, played by an almost scarily well preserved Michelle Pfeiffer, trapped in some super-magical alt-realm.  Problem is, there's an evil baddie woman after them - out for vengeance - and only magical mum can save her.   

What then follows is a movie that self-consciously tries to tug on our heart strings.  Isn't Paul Rudd cute playing a hands-on father?!  Isn't it so adorable how he co-parents with his lovely ex (Judy Greer) and her huggable hubby (Bobby Canavale)?!  Isn't it cute how Michael Douglas' scientist joshes his daughter and Antman about getting together. Isn't it entirely predictable that  Laurence Fishburne's evil villain scientist is actually rather decent and that magic-mum is gonna cure the vengeful baddie who isn't gonna be that bad after all?

In other words, this is a really banal anodyne film, film of try-hard goofy humour and self-conscious feel-good vibes. The action sequences are predictably CGI driven, dull and silly. That said, Paul Rudd is funny doing his Paul Rudd thing and Michael Pena as his side-kick is funny too.  Just not enough to justify a two-hour run-time.


ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has a running time of 118 minutes, is rated PG-13 and is available to rent and own.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN


Catching up on a few releases I missed last year and the first is MAMMA MIA! 2, the inevitable follow up to the phenomenally commercially successful ABBA jukebox musical turned movie. I must confess to a lot of fondness to the original with its top tier hits, performed with elan by the elder cast members - notably a very campy Meryl Streep, always superb Christine Baranski and Julie Walters.  The added surprise was that Amanda Seyfried, playing the young girl wondering which of her mother's one night stands was her real father - had a superb singing voice. It would take a cynic indeed to resist the original movie's charm.

Sadly the sequel doesn't quite live up to the original's infectious joy. Partly that's because a lot of the best songs have already been used up - so that the occasional hits seen here are diluted with some B grade material.  Partly it's because Lily James, playing the young Streep, just doesn't have a strong singing voice to compete with Seyfried - and neither competes with a last minute cameo from Cher as their mum/grandma.  Partly it's because all the young actors in the flashback scenes to Meryl Streep's wild years have to do impersonations of how their elderly versions would act and it's hugely constraining. So we have Lily James not acting as her character but impersonating Streep's exaggerated somewhat awkward dancing - and we have all three young men impersonating Firth, Skarsgard and Brosnan from the original film.  Of the three Harry Skinner does the best as Young Harry, perfectly imitating Firth's stilted delivery.  But a few fun impersonations and a stellar Cher cameo do not a movie make. You'd be better off the just watching the end credit performance of Super Trouper on youtube.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is available to rent and own. It has a running time of 1hr 54m and is rated PG.

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE


Zac Efron is absolutely perfect as US serial killer Ted Bundy - a man who appeared kinda ordinary looking on photos but whom so many women described as charismatic and handsome. That charisma and handsomeness lured them into a false sense of comfort, and at least 30, to death and dismemberment.  Not that we see much of that in a film that is superb in its period detail and at showing the charming side of Bundy, but shies away from showing what the judge in this case calls his utter lack of humanity. The result is a lopsided film that does a disservice to his victims and (of course, this matters far far far less) to the audience.  Yes, we DO need to see his charm, but we also need to see the horror. Perhaps the problem is that the film is based on the memoirs of his fiancée, so she wouldn't have known that stuff, but my goodness, the director Joe Berlinger sure does having directed the multi-part Netflix doc on Bundy. So why not work with Michael Werwie, the adaptor of those memoirs, to show the parallel story of Bundy's interiority.  Otherwise, the movie as it stands, feels odd, and the final scene confrontation between Bundy and his long-time fiancee feels unearned and fake. Similarly, director Berlinger could easily have contrasted the sunny, warm-toned courtroom scenes, presided over by an avuncular and wry John Malkovich with a more gritty, nasty reality - a reality that contrasts with and interrogates Bundy's psychopathic charm.  Sadly, all we're left with are some good performances in a misguided film.

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. It is on release in Netflix worldwide except the UK where it is available on Sky Cinema On Demand and in cinemas.  It played Sundance and Tribeca 2019. 

DONBASS


Sergey Loznitsa's DONBASS is a strange surreal examination of the Russian agitprop and invasion of east Ukraine in 2014. This might seem like a niche arthouse topic but given all our concern with potential fake news, bots, twitter accounts and whatnot influencing our elections in the West, the film has a horror show urgency to it. 

It opens with people running through town fleeing troops, but it turns out that they're extras being directed in a video shoot to create a fake news blast. This is the kind of maddening fakery that occurs throughout the film to create a feeling of sickening unmooring from the truth. Later on a rich businessman is shaken down by local troops.  He owns his car? Fine. Prove it by handing it over to the local militia to use for their war effort.  All of these short stories add up to a sense of Kafka-esque craziness.  But then, every once in a while, one of these crazy stories in interspersed with one of simple suffering and its jarring and all the more moving.  There's one particularly awful one where we're taken inside a small, dark, damp shelter housing many families. Our guide is a smart sparky kid proudly showing us his "room" - the upper bunk bed in a room full of many such beds, with damp trickling down the wall, and everyone dressed in multiple layers of clothes to keep warm.   The overall impact is brutal, provocative and compelling. This is must-watch cinema. 

DONBASS has a running time of 121 minutes. It played Cannes 2018 where Loznitsa won the Un Certain Regard directing prize.  It opened last weekend in the UK in cinemas and on streaming services. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

STEEL COUNTRY AKA A DARK PLACE


STEEL COUNTRY is a genuinely bad film, and all the worse for wasting the talent of lead actor Andrew Scott - the talent behind SHERLOCK's Moriarty and currently popular as the love interest in Phoebe Waller-Bridges' TV comedy FLEABAG.  A movie that should be a character-driven detective thriller becomes a boring, cliche-ridden murder without the mystery, pivoted on a performance hamstrung by a bad script and a strange choice of accent. 

Scott plays a rubbish collector is a poor American town with a learning disability and thus a slurring accent. He becomes obsessed with the disappearance and then death of a local boy and starts to literally tootle through people's rubbish to get to the truth.  We're meant to sympathise with him and hate the locals who are so prejudiced against this odd man that they think he did it. But the problem is that the character IS genuinely sinister. Just look at the way he obsesses over his Baby Mama, constructing a weird fantasy around her, refusing to acknowledge that she doesn't want him. I'd be applying for a restraining order stat.  

That said, the movie is beautifully shot by Marcel Zyskind, and builds towards a genuinely moving (if unsurprising) confrontation between our protagonist and the dead boy's mother.  Scott's genuine quality shines through here.  And we're about to move toward a rather emotionally satisfying conclusion until director  Simon Fellows (GOD THE FATHER) and debut screen-writer Brendan Higgins balls it up with an absurdly out of character, tonally jarring, and absurdly melodramatic ending. 

STEEL COUNTRY AKA A DARK PLACE has a running time of 89 minutes. It was released last week in the USA and is now available in the UK, in cinemas, and on streaming services. 

LORO


Paolo Sorrentino's latest film LORO (THEM) is a film about the obsequious corrupt parasites that tried to make money during the reign of the abominable Italian President Silvio Berlusconi.  Infamous for amassing a media empire, then using the presidency to protect himself from prosecution and taxes, Berlusconi was a glutton for money and sex.  Moreover, in many senses he was the precursor and pioneer for a new breed of businessman turned populist demagogue - with a line leading from him via Orban to Trump.  Accordingly, one might have expected an urgent and excoriating film treatment from Italy's premier arthouse film-maker, Paolo Sorrentino.  After all, Sorrentino has form!  His nonpareil take-down of Italian Prime Minister Andreotti, IL DIVO, is one of my all-time favourite films.  And his bizarre surreal TV series THE YOUNG POPE is a similar, if fantastical, take-down of the corruption in the Vatican and its links to contemporary Italian politics. 

Imagine, then, my disappointment in finding LORO to be a rather toothless affair. Worse still, baggy, directionless, dare I say it? Dull!  Maybe this is a result of the format that I watched - a still over-long 150 minute compression of what were originally two separate feature films released in Italy last year.  But that still doesn't excuse this highly disjointed, weird final product.

The film opens with its focus on a sleazy low-level businessman who wants to move into the orbit of "him".  He pimps out pretty much every woman he knows, including his partner, for advancement.  He courts one of Berlusconi's mistresses. And makes a final expensive gamble - filling a villa with prostitutes and drugs and dance music - hoping to tempt Berlusconi to this apparently all-summer long bunga bunga party.  This section is really dull. It feels like a succession of beautifully shot living tableaux, set to moronic dance music. Endless shots of scantily clad women.  At some point you ask yourself when the depiction of sexual exploitation is itself exploitative - when the depiction of vacuous people is itself vacuous. 

It's only about an hour into the film that we meet Silvo, as played by the always charismatic Toni Servillo. The disappointment is that Silvio is shown in an almost sympathetic light. He's out of office and out of the good graces of his wife - showing a vulnerability that's disarming.  As the audience, we delight in him flexing his con artist muscles, persuading a random Italian housewife to buy a non-existent flat that she can't afford. THIS is the movie I wanted. A movie that explained Berlusconi's brilliance and charm and ruthlessness. But it's just that one scene.  Finally his wife breaks away and in this desperation he finally falls for the bait in the villa next door. But after so much moral corruption on show, he hardly seems worse than the rest of them. And maybe that's Sorrentino's point?  We get the President we deserve, resemble, need to enable us?

LORO has a running time of 150 minutes. It is currently available to watch in cinemas and on streaming services in the UK and Ireland.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

US


I loved loved loved Jordan Peele's horror-satire GET OUT.  Everybody did.  And we were all hot with anticipation for his new film, US, already allegorical in its title, expecting a damning indictment of contemporary US racial politics. What we get is a film that is visually interesting and full of cinematic references, but less tightly controlled and messaged than GET OUT, far less scary and far less funny.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's a noble failure. Because if a horror film can't scare me - a notorious wimp when it comes to this stuff - then it's a failure. And perhaps more importantly, it really fails for me as a politically provocative film. It feels as if Peele was throwing a few ideas against the wall - or maybe the film started out as saying one thing on the first draft but then  ended up being rewritten to try and say another on successive drafts - that it feels ill developed, or maybe over-developed.  Too many of its key visual images don't really go anywhere for me.

So let's wind it back.  The film begins with a flashback to mid-80s America where a young African American girl gets lots inside a funfair hall of mirrors and emerges never quite the same.  It's also the time when America is engaging in its ill feted "Hands Across America".  As someone contemporaneous with lead character, I only vaguely remembered this, and I wonder how far modern viewers will know or care about this apparently pivotal but to my mind ill-chosen metaphor. Fast forward to the current day.   The little girl has grown up to be the mum in a middle-class black family going on holiday to that same coastal resort. They appear to be the victims of a home invasion horror by a family of doppelgängers. Incompetent doppelgängers at that.  And then they realise that it's not just them but everyone in America. Because a bunch of "tethered" doppelgängers previously populating America's hidden underworld of prison cells and tunnels has staged a rebellion.  Of course there's a final act twist but when you figure out half way through who is and isn't getting killed quickly it's pretty obvious what that is. 

So here are some of the things that I thought the film might have been trying to say. At first I thought, maybe the doppelgängers are there to remind a gentrified black family about their roots and essential blackness rather than living a life of boating.  And then I thought, ok the trapped bunnies are slaves, and the tunnels are like the underground railroad. But then white people were being stalked too so I thought ok so not so much about racial politics? And then we got all this weird shit about "god invented this system and then ran away" and  I was like ok this is some Nietzchean god is dead everything is permitted shit. In the end I didn't really care. And I wasn't scared.

Have an idea. A good simple scary idea. And see it through.

US has a running time of 116 minutes and is rated R.  The movie played SXSW 2019 and is now on global release. 

VITA & VIRGINIA


VITA & VIRGINIA is a beautifully crafted film about the love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West that inspired the former's wonderful fictionalised fantastical biography Orlando, and the stunning film that launched Tilda Swinton's career. Indeed for many people, including myself, that film and the book may be our only knowledge of Vita, making this film a fascinating and unusual tale.  

The first thing to say about the film is that the script, based on her own stage play, by Eileen Atkins, is very good, and serves to describe why Vita was so fascinating and larger-than-life, and just how dangerous and transformative that love affair was to someone as mentally fragile and hyper-sensitive as Virginia. The film implies that the married Virginia was hitherto frigid and that the pansexual promiscuous Vita was her first successful lover.  They truly loved each other. But Vita simply does not have it in her to be in love with one person at a time, and this revelation ruins but then liberates Virginia.

The second thing to say is that the film looks marvellous, despite its presumably slim budget. Shooting on location at Knowle House helps, but so does the dreamy cinematography, the stunning wardrobe - particularly for Vita and her mother - contrasted with Isobel Waller-Bridge's anachronistic score. I loved just looking and hearing this film. I also loved director Chanya Button's attempts to lightly use CGI to take us inside Virginia's imaginative world.

What I didn't love - and what ultimately drew me out of the picture - was the way in which Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton as Virginia and Vita respectively used very arch period English accents for their roles. It felt so studied and performative and rehearsed that maybe a more naturalistic upper class English accent might have been less intrusive.  Given that the director went for a radical use of music I was surprised she didn't give her actresses notes to be more naturalistic here too.

The result of feeling somewhat alienated from my lead actresses is that I was far more drawn to the other characters. Isabella Rossellini is absolutely magnificent as Vita's society matron mother - conveying with a withering look more contempt than a screen can hold!  More seriously, I found the two cuckolded husbands far more fascinating than their wives.  Peter Ferdinando (HIGH RISE) was just unbelievably sympathetic as Leonard Woolf - the  marvellously supportive husband who just wants to keep Virginia safe - from herself as well as Vita - to enable her writing - and to make her happy.  And the most fascinating character of all is Rupert Penry-Jones' Harold Nicolson - the bisexual diplomat who loved his wife enough to give her her sexual freedom (as he also demanded) so long as she only loved him. It's an absolutely tragic portrait of a modern relationship in which love is not conditional on sexual but emotional fidelity. 

VITA & VIRGINIA has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated 12A for modest sex, sex references and nudity. It played Toronto 2018 and opened the BFI FLARE Film Festival 2019. It opens in the UK and Ireland on July 12th.

BENJAMIN


BENJAMIN is an autobiographical romantic dramedy from writer-director and British comedian Simon Amstell.  Set in contemporary London, the title character is one-time feted young film director filled with anxiety about his second feature, and too scared to receive the love that young singer Noah is offering.  It's a strange mix of awkward British dating and soft satire on the media types the cling onto the indie art scene.  I found the rom-com bizarrely uninteresting. Maybe this is because Colin Morgan (most recently seen as Bosie to Rupert Everett's Wilde in THE HAPPY PRINCE) gives a very low-key performance.  So much so that in early scenes the combination of his Northern Irish accent, anxious mumbling, and the background noise of the nightclub scene meant I was struggling to follow what was happening.  In fact that this sort of indifferent lighting and direction stretches to the rest of this presumably very low budget film.  On the other side of the romance Phenix Brossard's Noah is similarly a bit of a one-tone fantasy waif. In the words of Benjamin's best friend Stephen (a scene stealing Joel Fry - Game of Thrones' Hizdahr), Benjamin just likes boys who are "well lit and weak".  If that's not your thing, this may not be your thing.  And so the movie wends its way along its slight running time at a slow ambling pace.  There's an attempt at satire, mostly in a cameo from Game of Thrones' Ellie Kendrick as a dancer.  It's funny but it's no Nathan Barley.  All in all, this film is highly missable. 

BENJAMIN has a running time of 85 minutes and is rated 15 for very strong language and drug use.  The film played the BFI London Film Festival 2018 and is now on release in cinemas and on demand in the UK and Ireland.

Monday, March 11, 2019

CAPTAIN MARVEL


CAPTAIN MARVEL is a game of two halves. I found the first half of the film utterly tedious, failing to fire with its buddy comedy and alien politics, but the second half to be really moving and powerful and wonderful.

The film starts with Brie Larson (ROOM) playing a human with superpowers and amnesia, being trained by a beefed-up Jude Law to fight as part of a Kree special forces unit against their hated Skrull enemy.  She crashes to earth sometime in the mid 1990s - well before the events of the current Marvel series - and tries to uncover the mystery of how she got her powers with the help of a friendly government agent called Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and her old best friend Marie Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).  Turns out she was a kick-ass fighter pilot called Carol Danvers working for an inspirational woman called Mar-Vell (Annette Bening) who - turns out - was an alien who invented the original tesseract - a kind of super-energy source McGuffin that has wound its way through these films. And so Danvers and her sidekicks have to protect the tesseract from - they think  - the evil terrorist Skrull - especially their leader Talos played by Ben Mendelsohn in full evil villain guise.

Like I said - the first hour of this film seemed pretty tedious to me. I don't really engage with CGI filled alien planet fight scenes, especially when I don't care about either side. I also didn't really care about the early scenes on 1990s Earth other than some pop tune nostalgia.  I could see that the directors wanted to create a kind of buddy movie road-trip odd-couple comedy between Carol and Fury but I just didn't respond to it. I could see Samuel L Jackson trying to be funny but didn't laugh - and it didn't feel like anyone else in the cinema was laughing either. 

Where the film began to ignite for me was in its second half, broadly where we get a major plot twist regarding one of the characters. This allows that character to actually become the one driving the witty deadpan humour and the heart of the second half of the film.  I also really loved the relationship between Carol and Marie - which also takes place in the second half of the film. In fact, you could easily have played it as a gay relationship co-parenting a child, and I wonder if this film will achieve cult status on that level.  

Finally, its in the second half of the film that a lot of the feminist groundwork done in the first half pays off - it's where we see Captain Marvel as a hero who's main skill is obstinacy in the face of bigotry. She doesn't need a wise male mentor to give her advice or permission. She doesn't have a crisis of confidence. And she doesn't have a love interest (male or female apparently).  She just gets the job done, no mess, no fuss. This is refreshing in its straightforward empowerment but does make Captain Marvel a fairly unengaging superhero. She's the strong smart ethically grounded woman who basically never does anything wrong, never has any doubts, and doesn't really need her friends. Accordingly, it's no surprise that the MVP of this film is a cat. 

CAPTAIN MARVEL has a running time of 124 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is on global release. 

GREEN BOOK


I started watching GREEN BOOK minded not to like it. Sure, I think both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are fine actors, and I love biopics. But I had been awed by Spike Lee's BLACKKKLANSMAN and swayed by articles arguing that GREEN BOOK's more old-fashioned anodyne depiction of 1960s race relations was regressive and worse still potentially racist. How could the story of an incredibly talented African-American musician be centred on the story of his white driver?  Wasn't this just another tale of a white person coming to enlightenment at the expense of a wise black side-kick?  Wasn't this THE HELP, or DRIVING MISS DAISY?  All of this criticism was heightened when GREEN BOOK surprisingly won Best Picture at the Oscars, ahead of BLACKKKLANSMAN, THE FAVOURITE or even ROMA. Wasn't this just another example of the Oscars proving themselves to be old fashioned and out of touch?

Well yes and no. Is GREEN BOOK better than the BLACKKKLANSMAN? Clearly not. That is a movie that balances comedy and righteous anger with such perfection and fury that it sears the imagination.  But GREEN BOOK *is* a handsomely made, more delicate film, that in its suspiciously easy rhythm hides a rather subversive look not just at race relations but also homophobia. It's beautifully acted and constructed, incredibly watchable, and really quite lovely.  

Mortensen plays real life Italian-American nightclub bouncer and all-round swaggering macho-man, Tony Lip. (Interestingly the real life Tony turned up as an actor in THE SOPRANOS many years later.) Down on his financial luck, he takes a job chauffering Dr Donald Shirley (Ali) on a tour of the deep south.  It is made very clear to Tony that he's not being hired for his driving skills - Shirley's management expect racial violence in the South and need Tony's muscle. And so what develops is a really lovely and convincing odd-couple buddy road movie. Tony's rough, crude manner is contrasted with Shirley's courteous, gentlemanlike manner.   Over time, Tony becomes less racist, although it seems like he was already rather pragmatic on the issue of homosexuality.  

I rather like the delicate way in which profound issues are handled.  The risks attendant on Shirley's homosexuality are handled in a single scene, and seeing Ali cowering naked in a bathhouse conveys so much so swiftly.  I also like the way in which Shirley's conflicted position vis a vis his own race is portrayed: like Nina Simone he is more comfortable in the world of classical music but forced to play popular music because that's what the market expects of him.  Moreover, Shirley defies all racial stereotypes much to Tony's disappointment, but also earning him the mistrust of his fellow African Americans. I even like the way in which the movie shows the differing styles of racism across America.  It may have been more explicit in the South - with bars on entrances, where you can eat, where you can sleep, whether you can be out after dark. But that doesn't mean that the north is a nirvana.  The subversive racism - the epithets, the subtle refusing to drink from a black man's cup - it's all still there. 

GREEN BOOK is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 130 minutes. The movie is on global release.