Monday, 30 November 2009

Critical Week: I think I love you

Last week's big press screening in London was of Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic book Where the Wild Things Are, which proved to be an intriguing combination of the two men's imaginations. With Jonze's loose, free-spirited filmmaking and Sendak's darkly clever insights, it's the kind of film that feels a bit too strange on first viewing - but it will no doubt become a favourite in years to come.

I also saw Sandra Bullock's involving true drama The Blind Side, another great performance from Thomas Turgoose in the unsettling British drama The Scouting Book for Boys, and the offbeat but nicely original sci-fi animated 3D adventure Battle for Terra.

This slow stretch looks like it's coming to an end, as awards-consideration screenings start to get much busier over the coming weeks - along with regular press screenings for some of the big year-end blockbusters. Over the next seven days, we'll be seeing the Jeff Bridges Oscar-contending Crazy Heart, Michelle Monaghan's acclaimed performance in Trucker, the starry Hollywood remake of the Danish war drama Brothers, Robert DeNiro in Everybody's Fine, and a trio award-buzzy of British docs: Afghan Star, Only When I Dance and Mugabe and the White African.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Critical Week: No shirts required

OK, no one's hugely surprised at the massive success of the Twilight sequel New Moon - especially since they have so blatantly pandered to their pre-teen girl audience by having all of the boys continually remove their shirts and flex their abs. They finally showed it to the press a few days before its release, and while it's much soapier and mopier than the first film, it at least builds a great sense of moody atmosphere. And the third film is bound to be better simply because David Slade is directing it. But we'll have to wait until the summer to find out.

Also screened this past week were the colourful and cluttered Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Michael Moore's entertaining and blood-boiling Capitalism: A Love Story, the surprisingly involving biographical doc Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, and the surprisingly enjoyable Depeche Mode fan doc The Posters Came from the Walls.

This week I've got Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, Sandra Bullock in the true drama The Blind Side, Thomas Turgoose in the British drama The Scouting Book for Boys, and the 3D sci-fi animation Battle for Terra.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Critical Week: Push the button

It was another slow movie week for London critics - I only saw seven films. One of the biggies was Richard Kelly's new Donnie Darko-esque thriller The Box, with Cameron Diaz facing a moral dilemma about whether or not to push that button. Alas, Kelly dodges the morality fable to instead dive down another of his bizarro sci-fi rabbit holes. The result is fitfully entertaining but ultimately a little annoying.

The week's other major film was another disappointment: Mira Nair's biopic Amelia, starring Hilary Swank as aviation pioneer Amelia Earhardt, should have been a riveting story of a maverick who pushed every boundary she came up against. Instead, it's an earnest, worthy, way over-designed period piece that fails to give its strong cast material they can run with.

Last week I also saw the enjoyable animated sci-fi romp Planet 51, the riveting if a little dry Battlestar Galactica movie The Plan, the silly but ultimately charming holiday comedy Make the Yuletide Gay, the rather aloof Korean childhood drama Treeless Mountain, the entertaining philosophy doc Examined Life.

Next week looks just as light - things won't heat up until awards contenders start crowding the calendar (although I already caught a lot of them at film festivals this year). This week's films include the Twilight sequel New Moon, Michael Moore's new provocation Capitalism: A Love Story, the British rock-scene drama Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the British rock-fan doc The Posters Came From the Walls, the acclaimed drama The Stoning of Soraya M, the Eddie Izzard doc Believe, and I'm catching up with Percy Adlon's 1991 cult classic Salmonberries, just being released for the first time in the UK.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Critical week: Bump in the night

After weeks of hype, Paranormal Activity was finally screened to UK critics this past week. (One day they'll learn to show us films before the buzz starts so we have a better chance of actually enjoying them.) It's very cleverly made but, needless to say, it doesn't live up to to expectations, possibly because the now-familiar home-video thriller genre isn't new anymore. But there's also the fact that this film doesn't really set up suspense properly.

Much better was the independent drama Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. Despite that mouthful of a title, this is a lean, powerfully involving drama that really grapples with some big issues and features a wonderful performance from newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, plus very strong against-type roles for Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.

Also last week, we had John Malkovich in the searing South African drama Disgrace, the edgy chucklehead stag-night comedy I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and the clever 1960s French superspy spoof sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio.

After the rush of movies during the film festival season, this feels like a holiday. And this coming week even more sparse, with Hilary Swank in the aviatrix drama Amelia, Cameron Diaz in the thriller The Box, the animated sci-fi comedy Planet 51, the Korean drama Treeless Mountain and the education doc Examined Life.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Critical Week(s): Christmas is coming

Over the past two weeks during the London Film Festival, I still had to see all the normal film releases along with the festival things. And it's clear that the studios are preparing for the holiday season as usual, with such offerings as: Robert Zemeckis' eye-popping motion-capture animated version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, starring a very recognisable Jim Carrey as Scrooge, plus Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Robin Wright - plus 3D effects that are among the best I've ever seen. Rather less thrilling was the British comedy Nativity!, with a decent cast that includes Martin Freeman, Mark Wootton and Ashley Jensen but a script that's pretty much bereft of sense or humour until the rousing finale sends us out smiling.

Other movies screened to critics outside the festival included the enjoyable but lacklustre kids' thriller Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant; the thoroughly engaging all-star Tolstoy drama The Last Station, with Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy; the wacky blurred sexuality comedy Mr Right; the astonishingly good four-hour Japanese rom-com Love Exposure; and one of the most shamelessly raucous entertainments I've seen in ages in the world-destroying mega-disaster epic 2012. As for the Michael Jackson concert-rehearsal documentary This Is It, there were no press screenings at all, so we had to go buy a ticket - imagine that!