Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Critical Week: Your biggest fan

I caught up with one of my most-anticipated films of the year this week, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Not only am I an unapologetic Julianne Moore fan, but films by David Cronenberg have been thrilling and tormenting me since I started writing about movies (starting with Scanners and Videodrome). Maps to the Stars challenges audiences with a glamorous and gruesome trawl through Hollywood's inbred underbelly. Cannes Best Actress Moore is of course amazing, as is another favourite of mine, Olivia Williams. There are also offbeat, clever performances from Mia Wasikowska (above), Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird and John Cusack.

It was a busy week, as I got back up to speed after five days off. Big movies included Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua's slick but formulaic The Equalizer, loosely based on the 1980s TV series; the rather off-putting British posh-university drama The Riot Club, which has a terrific rising-star cast including Sam Claflin, Max Irons and Douglas Booth; and Claflin in rom-com mode opposite Lily Collins in Love, Rosie.

There were also two foreign films: the Brazilian drama The Way He Looks, which won the Teddy at Berlin, is an utterly charming coming-of-age movie expanded from the award-winning short I Don't Want to Go Back Alone; and Human Capital is a strikingly bold Italian film that kind of bungles its central theme but thrills with its twisty plot. And there were four docs: Filmed in Supermarionation is the lively and witty story of Gerry Anderson (best known for Thunderbirds); Born to Fly features the goosebump-inducing work of Elizabeth Streb's acrobatic dance/circus group; I'm a Porn Star gets up close and very personal in the gay adult-movie business; and Dick: The Documentary is pretty much what it says on the tin: a group of men photographed from the neck down as they talk about their, ahem, masculinity.

This coming week we have Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight with Colin Firth and Emma Stone; Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children with Adam Sandler and Emma Thompson; The Giver with Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges; the Pittsburgh comedy Not Cool; the Aussie horror movie The Babadook; the multiple-personality thriller The Scribbler; and the British painter documentary Hockney. We're also cranking up for the 58th London Film Festival, which runs 8-19 October - press screenings start next week.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Critical Week: There's no place like home

There's nothing like seeing a favourite film on the big screen where it belongs, and this week I got to revisit The Wizard of Oz remastered in Imax 3D. The film is as amazing (and as marvellously deranged) as ever, with an astonishing level of detail in the big-screen digital restoration. This is the way the film should be seen. Even the sepia prologue (with the heart-stopping Over the Rainbow, above) is spectacular.

London critics were also treated to screenings of the energetic and rather wonderful animated adventure The Boxtrolls; the well-acted and involving American ensemble drama About Alex, which is clearly channelling The Big Chill; Agyness Deyn in the artful and somewhat indulgent British drama Electricity; and the strikingly moving Venezuelan drama My Straight Son, which tackles almost too many huge issues but remains personal and resonant.

In the coming week, we'll be watching Denzel Washington in the Equalizer remake, Julianne Moore in David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, Sam Claflin in Love Rosie, the award-winning Brazilian drama The Way He Looks, Eric Cantona's erotic romp You and the Night, the Italian drama Human Capital, the Gerry Anderson documentary Filmed in Supermarionation, and the acrobatic doc Born to Fly.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Critical Week: Race against time

This post is rather late in the week for one simple reason: I was getting ready to go on holiday and forgot to add "blog" to my to-do list. Working as a freelance offers all kinds of freedoms and work satisfaction, but it also means that I don't get paid vacations; if I go away, I have to do all my work in advance for the time I'm gone. Otherwise I end up working when I should be lounging on a beach with friends!

Anyway, the big film the week before I left was If I Stay, screened very late to UK critics in the week of release. It's had fairly lacklustre reviews, but I thought it was a lot more realistic and involving than the summer's other teenage tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars. It's also just as manipulative emotionally and aimed almost exclusively at prepubescent girls. Leads Chloe Grace Moretz (above) and Jamie Blackley are both terrific.

Also before escaping from Britain, I caught up with Grand Piano, an intriguing, nicely shot and edited mystery-thriller with Elijah Wood; Jackhammer, a relentlessly idiotic male-stripper comedy featuring "where is he now" actor Jamie Kennedy; Luna, Dave McKean's mesmerisingly beautiful and utterly impenetrable British exploration of relationships and emotions; the meandering ensemble drama Turtle Hill, Brooklyn, which feels a bit stagey but has some strong characters; the four-part anthology Eroddity(s), which borders on soft porn but also touches on resonant themes and is actually rather sexy; and the essential documentary Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro, about an utterly normal loving family that breaks all the rules of what we call "normal".

The film I'm most looking forward to now that I'm back in London (after a week in southern France) is The Wizard of Oz remastered in Imax 3D.

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.