Thursday, May 29, 2014


The movies of Michel Gondry have a kind of whimsical joy in making and doing - a kind of home-made gonzo cut out and paste feel that belies their deeply felt emotions and philosophical musings.  And MOOD INDIGO, his latest movie, is very much in that tradition of surreal, tragicomic, visually inventive joyousness - a movie that could only ever unmistakably have come from his imagination - that echoes all that is glorious in THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP.

Based on the French cult novel by Boris Vivan, the movie begins as a magical surreal love story with the earnest, generous and lovely Colin (Romain Duris - MOLIERE) wooing and winning the equally adorable Chloe (Audrey Tautou - COCO BEFORE CHANEL). At the same time, the apparently independently wealthy Colin lives a life of crazy cocktails, dance crazes and eccentric friends. He has apparently hired a high-powered lawyer (Omar Sy) as his chef and he's bankrolling his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) as he wooes his sweetheart Alise (Aïssa Maïga - BAMAKO). But as the movie progresses, the colour literally drains from this fairytale world of wind-up toys and stop-motion bubble-car chases.  Poor Chloe inhales a waterlilly seed that grows on her lungs and threatens her life. We start to see the sci-fi dystopian reality at the edges of this picture-postcard world. Some kind of strange war or maybe an environmental disaster overlaid with a wasting of money and dark addiction. 

The resulting film is hard to categorise, and I would imagine, hard to sell. Is it a light romantic comedy complete with its own trademark dance craze? Or is it a deeply depressing dirge? Can it be both whimsical music-box and profound comment on inner corruption?  Yes - triumphantly yes!  It's like Gilliam and Disney and Jean-Pierre Jeunet mixed together in a delightful, provocative confection - a film that is genuinely unique - and my film of the year to date. 

MOOD INDIGO has a running time of 131 minutes but the version I saw had a running time of 94 minutes and is rated 12A for moderate violence and nudity.

MOOD INDIGO was released earlier this year in Belgium and France. It opens this weekend in Hungary and the Netherlands. It opens on June 27th in Russia, on June 28th in Brazil, on July 5th in Poland, on July 18th in the Ukraine, on August 1st in Hong Kong, on August 2nd in Lithuania, on September 6th in Taiwan, on September 12th in Australia and Italy, on September 27th in Spain, on October 3rd in Germany, on October 5th in Japan, on October 24th in Greece, on October 25th in Finland, on November 7th in Denmark, on December 19th in Singapore, on December 20th in Sweden, on January 2nd 2015 in Portugal, on January 17th in Mexico, and on July 18th in the USA.


Oh dear. The poor women next to me was in floods of tears and actually apologised for crying to me when the lights went up.  This may well be a peculiar trait of the English: apologising for a visceral emotional reaction.  I rather gather that this has been the response of the majority of viewers of FRUITVALE STATION - the critically acclaimed debut feature from writer-director Ryan Coogler. He has evidently made a deeply-felt earnest and politically charged film, and audiences are responding in kind.  After all, who can't feel sorry for a charming, fallible, but loving son, boyfriend and father who, through no fault of his own, ends up getting shot by a policeman at the metro station that gives this film its title.  The real Oscar Grant didn't deserve to die.  But he also deserves a better film than this piece of emotionally manipulative hagiography.

Ryan Coogler's conceit is to give us the man on the day before he died, enlightening only with a flashback to his time in prison and his beef with a fellow prisoner.  We see Oscar as a loving if occasionally unfaithful boyfriend, raising his daughter Tatiana responsibly, and supported by a loving extended family. It's certainly a far cry from the cliche of young black men raised by single mothers, ditching their multiple baby-mamas and up to no good.  To be sure, he's done time, and he has a cowardice when admitting to his family and friends that he's lost his job, but deep down we know Oscar is a great guy.  Why? Because he helps a pregnant woman take a leak and cradles a dying dog.  The problem is that this is a whitewash. The incident with the dog just didn't happen, and other factors we should have known about aren't mentioned.  Most crucially, the way the movie wraps up leads the audience strongly to believe that Oscar was deliberately shot by a racist cop, when the truth could be that it was just an honest mistake. Who knows?  The point is that the film doesn't admit of an alternative narrative and in doing so becomes trite propaganda.

Okay. So what if we were to approach this film as fiction and ignore any attempt at veracity, how does it work as pure drama? The opening shot of found footage showing a young man brutally treated on a metro platform is powerful and throws us into the action.  The opening scenes of the movie give us a character sketch of his relationship with his girlfriend that is deft and interesting. But then, as he roams around for the day getting ready for his mother's birthday party the movie loses pace and interest. We are marking time, hungry for character development.  The set piece confrontation at the metro station is brilliantly tense and horrific, if one can draw oneself back into the film, but just as you think "this is a tremendous movie" it descends into hackneyed E.R. territory and then into its politically simplistic ending.  So, a movie that doesn't quite cohere - that doesn't quite convince - hanging on the shoulders of a masterful set piece. A tremendous waste.

FRUITVALE STATION has a running time of 87 minutes and has been rated R in the USA and is rated 15 for strong language, violence, and injury detail.

FRUITVALE STATION played Sundance 2013 where it won both the Best Drama and Audience Award and Cannes where it won the Un Certain Regard - Avenir award. It also won the Independent Spirit Best First Feature Award. It opened last year in the USA, Singapore, Greece and Turkey and opened earlier this year in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, South Korea, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Germany. It opens in the UK and Ireland on June 6th.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


An excruciating confession for a cinephile: I've never seen the iconic original Godzilla movie nor any of its sequels. I may have watched Roland Emmerich's Matthew Broderick-starring remake but I've blanked it out of my memory. So I come to this new GODZILLA with few expectations and little knowledge.  What did I get? A movie that impressed me with its moody visuals and overwhelming soundtrack & sound design - a movie dripping with first-rate character actors and earnest good intentions.  But, sad to report, it's also a movie that just left me cold  - that landed like the proverbial dead fish on the screen.  And when you start to really pick it apart, you realise that underneath all that gorgeous production design what you have is a pretty hackneyed and muddled script with cardboard cut-out characters and less courage than it might have done.

So here's the story.  An earthquake hits a Japanese nuclear plant (too soon?) and a young kid loses his scientist mother (Juliette Binoche - earnest cameo).  Fast forward twenty odd years and that kid's now an army bomb disposal expert (Aaron Johnson) sceptical of his father's belief that it wasn't an earthquake at all.  He follows his dad (Bryan Cranston with hair!) to the original site, witnesses the monster first hand, and returns to the USA via Hawaii in the wake of its attacks. Caught up in the military response he colludes in a plan to lure the monster with a nuke, off which it apparently feeds. But of course, it's not so simple. Because that monster is itself being hunted by another larger foe- Godzilla himself. 

I love the idea that Godzilla is not the key threat and the twist in the tail that only the Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) at first perceives.  I also like the way in which the screenwriters, Max Borenstein and David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES) try to respect the original timeline of the Godzilla movies and create a kind of continuity.  But I hate pretty much everything else that has to do with story.  The way that each generation of men has to have a picture perfect family with a cute kid. How we know the good guys are good guys because they are good fathers. How the hero's wife (Elizabeth Olsen) has nothing to do but look concerned and cry.  How actors as good as Sally Hawkins get lost in the chaos.  If the movie had had any balls whatsoever, someone in that family nut wouldn't have made it.  There's just a complete lack of relief from good people looking earnest and trying their damnedest to help out. Even the bloody monster isn't exempt.

All of which is a crying shame because the young British director Gareth Edwards (MONSTERS)  has made a quite stunning leap from micro-budget creature-features into the big time with a confident and visually wondrous palette in GODZILLA. I guess it's just a shame that his movie didn't have some of the wit of PACIFIC RIM because it sure as hell has the 2-D characters.

GODZILLA has a running time of 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in the UK.

GODZILLA is on release in the USA, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden,  the UAE, Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, the UK, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Montenegro, Macedonia, Mexico, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Serbia, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, Thailand, Ukraine, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, India, Indonesia, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Panama, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Taiwan, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, South Africa, Afghanistan, Fiji, Liechtenstein, Bangladesh, Iran and Trinidad and Tobago. It opens on May 22nd in Cambodia and Pakistan;  and on June 13th in China and on July 25th in Japan.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Based on a lesser known novel of pyscho-sexual thriller writer Patricia Highsmith, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is a satisfying psychological study, though sometimes dull.  

Essentially a two-hander, the story picks up in 1960s Athens, with the dashing Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) hiring the shifty ex-pat Yank Rydel (Oscar Isaac) as a tour guide.  The couple are evidently in love, though she is attracted to the openly admiring younger man.  Accordingly, when Rydal stumbles upon Chester covering up the murder of a detective sent to recover the money he swindled, Rydal offers his services as getaway guide to Crete while they wait for their new passports. Is it the money that attracts him?  It's certainly a step up from skimming cash from naive young tourists (Daisy Bevan looking spookily like an echo of her mother Joely Richardson).  Or does he genuinely care for the ditzy Colette?  Or, this being Patricia Highsmith, is something altogether more murky, half-glimpsed and fascinating at play?  

For Rydal has, what we can only put bluntly, "daddy issues", and it is patrician swindler Chester with whom he is ultimately infatuated in a kind of Oedipal obsession wherein he has to refashion his failed family life through a love-hate relationship with her father-nemesis. It is when exploring this deeper similarity - the two faces of failure, covetousness and fallibility - that the movie really becomes something memorable and insightful - and where we see Viggo Mortensen give one of his finest performances.  Sadly however, after the glamour of the first act of the movie, it lulls into tediousness punctuated by occasional violence in its second act on Crete, making it hard work to stay put until the magnificent final act.  

Overall, then, a handsome looking film with a superb denoument - well-cast, beautifully clothed, and filmed on location in Athens, Crete and Istanbul.  First time feature director but well-known screenwriter Hossein Amini deftly handles - and arguably improves - the source material, but somehow never quite overcomes the lack of pace in the Crete scenes. 

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK for infrequent strong language, moderate violence & scenes of smoking The movie played Berlin 2014 and will be released in the UK, Ireland and Turkey on May 16th; in Germany on May 29th; in New Zealand on June 12th; in Spain on June 13th; in the USA on June 17th; in France on June 18th; in Greece on June 19th; in the Netherlands on June 26th; in Belgium on June 30th; in Lithuania on August 1st and in the USA on October 3rd.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I pity my poor friend who'd cracked a rib in a booze related accident and then had to sit through BAD NEIGBOURS laughing her head off but hurting every time she did so. Because this movie is balls-out hilarious - but all the more impressive for the genuine insight it gives into the insecurities and pitfalls of college life and the struggle to accept ageing. 

The movie tells the story of cute young couple called Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), still thinking of themselves as cool and struggling to accept life as suburban parents with a baby and a mortgage.  At first, the couple thing they can play cool and so appease the fraternity boys who've moved in next door, but an early morning call to the police unleashes all out war - Mac and Kelly on one side and Teddy (Zak Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) on the other.    This takes the form of pranks, sabotage, infiltrating drunken parties and sowing discord - all played out as fifty percent Judd Apatow gross-out comedy and fifty percent Harmony Korine SPRING BREAK-style drugs, sex and alcohol. 

I know, I know. As a good politically correct adult I shouldn't find jokes about waxing pubes, pent-up breast-feeding and getting baked so funny, but I did. And I defy anybody to watch the airbag scene and not laugh out loud.  But the real charm of this film is seeing Mac and Kelly come to terms with being old.  Something my peer group can certainly relate to.  And as for the college kids, I thought the film made a brave attempt to show the real life consequences of partying to hard.  And to it's credit, I never felt like the film was trying to have its cake and eat it. Rather, it was bittersweet to see recovering addict Zac Efron muse on a youth spent going at it too hard, and the wisdom thereby accrued.  

So, all in all, a movie that should appeal equally to teens and thirty somethings - both grossly funny and insightful.  What's not to love?

BAD NEIGHBOURS aka NEIGHBORS has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK for very strong language, drug use, strong sex, crude sex references and nudity.

BAD NEIGHBOURS is on release in the USA, UK, Ireland, Egypt, the Philippines, UAE, Australia, Switzrland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Croatia, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Thailand, Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Panama,  Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Taiwan and Vietnam. It opens on May 13th in Cambodia; on May 15th in Hungary and Macedonia; on May 16th in Romania; on May 29th in the Czech Republic, Peru and Russia; on June 5th in South Korea and Ukraine; on June 19th in Brazil and Italy; on June 25th in Finland; on July 3rd in Denmark; on July 4th in Colombia and Mexico; on July 18th in South Africa; on July 23rd in Belgium and France; on July 25th in Finland and Norway; on August 7th in Chile and on August 14th in Argentina.


THE OTHER WOMAN is basically a remake of the teen revenge comedy JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE for the forty-something set.  Cameron Diaz plays a power lawyer called Carly who's met a guy so perfect she wants to introduce him to her dad (Don Johnson).  But when Carly discovers that Mark (Nikolai Coster-Waldau - GAME OF THONES) is married to ditzy squeaky stay-at-home wife  Kate (Leslie Mann - THIS IS FORTY) the two women strike up an unlikely friendship.  But what starts of as Carly helping Kate to get a decent divorce settlement plan turns into a full on revenge-plot when they realise that Mark is also dating hot model Kate Upton, and using his wife to front a series of dodgy off-shore companies with which he's defrauding his clients.

When the movie works it works best as a buddy comedy and there's a genuine if cliched connection between the cynical Carly and the flakey Kate.   Carly comments once or twice that she doesn't quite know what skill-set Kate Upton's character is bringing to the revenge plot and I'd have to agree - this seems like stunt casting at its most pointless and vapid.  By contrast, I was pleasantly surprised by Nicki Minaj as Carly's secretary - she actually delivered her lines with some sass.  The real problem with the film is Nikolai Coster-Waldau. He's certainly good-looking and charming enough to convince as a thieving lothario, but he really cannot do physical comedy and this script demands that of him again and again.  It's just awkward.  If done well, a simple comedy based on a much-worn concept can still be fun.  But mis-casting is the fatal flaw of THE OTHER WOMAN.

THE OTHER WOMAN has a running time of 109 minutes and is rated PG-13.  THE OTHER WOMAN is on global release.

Friday, May 02, 2014


Yeah so we all know the deal with Spidey, no?  He's was bitten by a mutant spider and got spidey-powers with which he solves minor league crime in New York City.  In this reboot sequel he's played by Andrew Garfield as a mumbling charismatic nerd which is just about perfect.  He's in love with Gwen Stacey but thinks they shouldn't date because he might put her in danger - foreshadowing anyone?  Meanwhile his friend Harry Osborn is dying of a genetic disease and wants to inject himself with Spidey-blood to save his life. Because that will go well. Meanwhile, Harry's employee, a nerd played by Jamie Foxx, has had a massive electric shock that has turned him into, you guessed it, Elektro!

Everything about this Sony produced sequel feels second-rate when compared to Marvel comic book movies.  It's not that it's bad. In fact, it's a lot better than the Tobey Maguire movies. For a start it has an amazing cast - everyone just feels more committed and acting their pants off - just compare Dale deHaan as Harry Osborn with James Franco, who looked bored and embarrassed to even be in a comic book movie.  It's just that it feels a bit mechanical - a bit Tab A into Slot B.  The effects are all big and glossy but left me uninvolved.   The only reason to watch this movie is the Gwen-Peter relationship which really is heartfelt.  And that suggests to me that what you need to do is wait for this film to come out on DVD and then fast forward through the action sequences.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 142 minutes.  The movie is on global release.