Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Critical Week: A food and film love-in

It doesn't get much more luvvie than this: Oprah Winfrey producing a movie starring Helen Mirren that's all about delicious-looking French and Indian food. The Hundred-Foot Journey is already out in America, while British critics have only just had their first screenings, smartly accompanied by a seriously amazing spread of snacks, starters and mains from Patak's. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the film is as glossy and warm as expected, but a sharp Steven Knight script helps maintain a hint of an edge. It also makes the audience ravenously hungry. Be warned.

The biggest film we saw this week was Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, screened to the press just a couple of days before it opened. It's evoking the same polarised responses as the first film. After nine years the technology might not seem as fresh, but the addition of 3D and a more darkly emotion-based story help. The best film of the week, easily, was the Dardenne brothers' Two Days One Night, starring Marion Cotillard as a woman put into a seriously difficult position. There was also the British mock-doc United We Fall, about a fictional Manchester United squad, although without real players or football footage it's tricky to imagine who the audience will be.

Finally, I caught up with two more FrightFest films, both British horror movies. The Mirror is a lively found-footage thriller about a haunted mirror, while Xmoor is a grisly freakout set over one fateful night on Exmoor. Full reviews of these and a few other FrightFest films can be found HERE.

This coming week is a short one, so I only have a few screenings in the diary. But I'm also going on holiday for the following week, so have several things to see before I can leave - including the animated adventure The Boxtrolls, Elijah Wood and John Cusack in Grand Piano, the American ensemble comedy About Alex, the indie comedy-drama Turtle Hill Brooklyn, the British drama Luna, the gay drama anthology ErOddity(s), the Donald Trump doc A Dangerous Game, and the offbeat family doc Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Critical Week: Groovy baby

One of the more anticipated films of the year is Jimi: All Is By My Side, a biopic about Jimi Hendrix written and directed by 12 Years a Slave writer John Ridley. The film actually premiered in Toronto last year (alongside 12 Years a Slave), but it was only shown to the UK press this past week. It's bold approach is bound to get an intriguing response when it opens, and not just because the then-25 Hendrix is played by 40-year-old Andre Benjamin.

The other big-name film screened this week was A Walk Among the Tombstones, a gritty mystery thriller starring Liam Neeson an Dan Stevens (comments are embargoed for now). We also caught up with two more festival films: Mr Turner is Mike Leigh's astonishingly fresh and inventive painter biopic starring the Cannes-winner Timothy Spall, and '71 is an episodic but riveting Northern Ireland thriller that's also the latest in Jack O'Connell's full-on assault on cinema, following Starred Up and preceding Angelina Jolie's Unbroken.

With London's FrightFest coming this weekend, there have also been a few horror movies to watch. Life After Beth is a superb comical twist on the zombie genre starring Aubrey Plaza as a teen who doesn't know that she's come back from the dead. Allelulia is a chillingly involving take on the Lonely Hearts Killers from Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz starring Lola Duenas and Laurent Lucas. And Found is an unnerving and oddly moving hybrid between the coming-of-age and slasher horror genres. Finally, as part of the terrific Dennis Hopper photographic exhibition at the Royal Academy, we had a chance to catch one of his films on the big screen. So I of course chose his lesser-known The Last Movie (1971), a crazed collage set among a film crew shooting a Western in Peru. It's challenging and seriously worth a look for cinephiles.

This coming week we have a very late screening of Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Marion Cotillard in the Dardenne brothers' Two Days One Night, Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey, the British football movie United We Fall and more horror in The Mirror, among other things.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Critical Week: How many fingers am I holding up?

The big screening for London critics this week was Luc Besson's deranged sci-fi thriller Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who accesses rather a lot more than the usual 10 percent of her brain. It's utterly bonkers, but a lot of fun. Other big titles included The Inbetweeners 2, sequel to the box-office busting 2011 movie based on the British TV series. This one's more cinematic but not as funny or charming. And it's made even more cash this past weekend than the original. Blood Ties stars Clive Owen and Billy Crudup as brothers on opposite sides of the law. It's a rather dry remake of the overheated 2008 French thriller Rivals. And Hector and the Search for Happiness stars Simon Pegg in an Eat Pray Love-style quest for meaning in life. Even an all-star supporting cast including the fabulous Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette and Christopher Plumber can't rescue this one.

Off the beaten path, we also had the gonzo comedy horror of All Cheerleaders Die, the beautifully made Dutch coming-of-age drama Boys, plus two involving docs: Ballet Boys follows a group of young dancers in Norway, while Still the Enemy Within offers miners the chance to have their say about the events of Britain's notorious 1984 strikes.

This coming week, we have Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones, Andre Benjamin in Jimi: All Is By My Side, Jack O'Connell in '71, the horror thriller Alleluia, and a chance to revisit Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie in conjunction with an exhibition of his photographs at the Royal Society of Arts.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Critical Week: 88 miles per hour

The big event this past week was the opening night of Secret Cinema presents Back to the Future, a fabulously immersive event being held in London until 31st August. Audience gets to experience life in 1955 Hill Valley including the events of the classic 1985 film as it's projected in a vast outdoor cinema. My review is HERE.

As for regular releases, our biggest screening was for The Expendables 3, the latest in Sylvester Stallone's meathead action franchise. Sly was also in town with costars Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz and Wesley Snipes to chat with the press before the film's premiere. We also caught up with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in the gritty but sometimes too-slow burning Aussie thriller The Rover, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in Bong Joon-ho's ambitious and inventively bonkers post-apocalyptic action thriller Snowpiercer (still without a UK release date), and the not-too-long awaited spoof disaster sequel Sharknado 2: The Second One, which is livened up by a string of cameos as the freak weather system arrives in New York (hopefully the next stop will be London).

We also had the strained, not-so-rude comedy Behaving Badly starring Nat Wolff and Selena Gomez; the involving and nicely acted inspirational drama 4 Minute Mile starring Richard Jenkins and gifted newcomer Kelly Blatz; the astonishingly bold French drama My Name is Hmmm...; and the fascinating epic architectural documentary Cathedrals of Culture.

This coming week there are screenings of the Brit-com sequel The Inbetweeners 2 (the day it opens), Scarlett Johansson in the action romp Lucy, Simon Pegg in Hector and the Search for Happiness, Clive Owen in Blood Ties, horror movie Found, dance doc Ballet Boys and British miners' strike documentary Still the Enemy Within.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Wolverine attacks!

To tie in with Guardians of the Galaxy, Morph Costumes gave me a chance to test out one of their suits and then offer two Shadows readers the chance to win one for themselves. When the Wolverine costume arrived, I dutifully put it on to see if it lives up to the promises in the advertising copy. 

Amazingly, these photos of me in the suit look pretty cool, not too far from the promotional artwork (below). This is surprising because I generally don't look great in spandex of any kind. But the suit has all kinds of manly contours drawn onto it.

It also covers every single inch of the body, which makes operating things like a smart phone rather tricky (although you can). The main issue is that it's very difficult to see anything. The bit covering the face is rather a lot like having ladies' stockings stretched over your head, bankrobber style. It smashes your features and clings so tightly that even blinking is a bit tricky. Sight is also rather limited, like seeing everything through a dark fog.

But it would be a great costume to wear to a party (eating is impossible, drinking would be messy). There's also a pouch for a smart phone, which will light up the belt buckle and create the illusion of Wolverine claws on a camera screen (other suits have their own tricks).

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Shadows partnered with Morph Costumes to give readers the chance to win one of the most advanced pieces of costume engineering known to man. Congratulations to Angel in Shoreham-by-Sea and Paul in Whiteley - we're sure they'll look great in their Spider-man and Deadpool costumes, plus their custom added superpowers of chainsaw arms and telepathy, respectively.

For more information, follow Morph Costumes on TWITTER or FACEBOOK. Marvel Morph Costumes include: WolverineSpider-ManCaptain AmericaIron Man and Deadpool.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Critical Week: Eek! A mouse!

London critics caught up this week with the clever black comedy Life of Crime, based on an Elmore Leonard novel and starring Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def). It's offbeat and very funny, but not quite as hilarious as the week's biggest movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, a riotously entertaining sidestep in the Marvel universe that may be the comic studio's best film yet.

Other high-profile films this week included Dwayne Johnson and Brett Ratner's new take on Hercules, a surprisingly enjoyable adventure that's a lot smarter than it looks. One of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances lifts the slow-burning political thriller A Most Wanted Man into something rather amazing. And random cast members from a range of the previous four films are back for Step Up: All In, another corny story punctuated by great dance numbers.

Further afield, we had the terrific small-town drama Tiger Orange, about estranged brothers who both happen to be gay. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is a riveting documentary about a shocking event from the early 1930s. You'll want to read more about it, and hopefully someone will make a dramatic thriller. And Al Pacino offered two movies: Salome is his film of his recent staging of the scandalous Oscar Wilde play, while Wilde Salome documents the process of doing the play and film, as well as tracing Wilde's life. The mesmerising staging of Salome is oddly stilted and over-the-top at the same time, with Jessica Chastain riveting in the title role. The doc is even more interesting, a bit padded out but packed with remarkable observations.

This coming week we'll be subjected to Sylvester Stallone and crew in The Expendables III, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in The Rover, Nat Wolff and Selena Gomez in Behaving Badly, the indie drama 4 Minute Mile, Leo Leigh's ping pong hustler doc Fact or Fiction, the episodic architectural doc Cathedrals of Culture, Agnes B's road movie My Name is Hmmm, and Secret Cinema's immersive Back to the Future event.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Critical Week: High school blues

This week's most impressive debut came from Gia Coppola (Francis' granddaughter), adapting James Franco's internalised short story collection Palo Alto. A strikingly honest exploration of teen life, it also features a star-making lead performance from Jack Kilmer (Val's son) alongside Emma Roberts (pictured), Nat Wolff and Franco himself. The other two big movies shown to London critics this week were colon-wielding sequels. The Purge: Anarchy carries on the lawful carnage one year later from the opposite economical perspective, which drains the premise of the irony that made the first film work so well. And Planes: Fire & Rescue is actually an improvement, a better-written and occasionally enjoyable romp that's still marred by that ropey "World of Cars" premise.

Off the beaten path we had a fearless Gerard Depardieu as a shameless womanising politician in Abel Ferrara's controversial and superbly outrageous Welcome to New York; the charming but cheesy gay romantic comedy Love or Whatever; the edgy but somewhat familiar Danish youth drama Northwest; and two documentaries: Nick Cave's artful, fiercely inventive and vaguely pretentious 20,000 Days on Earth and Charlie Lyne's enjoyable romp through a decade of teen movies in Beyond Clueless.

In the coming week, we'll be catching up with the summer's big Marvel blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, Dwayne Johnson as Hercules, Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime, Colin Firth in A Most Wanted Man, the next in the neverending franchise Step Up: All In, the indie sibling drama Tiger Orange, and Al Pacino's take on Oscar Wilde's Salome, plus the making-of doc Wild Salome.