Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Critical Week: Moonshine boys

John Hillcoat's neo-Western led the charge for London-based critics with press screening of his Cannes hit Lawless, a 1930s bootlegging drama featuring screen-shredding performances from Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman, plus a decent turn from Shia LaBeouf and another meaty role for Jessica Chastain. We also finally caught up with Disney-Pixar's terrific new adventure Brave, featuring an unusually strong female protagonist and gorgeous Scottish landcapes. And we also saw Dax Shepard's energetic action rom-com Hit & Run, with he wrote and co-directed as well as starring alongside Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper and Tom Arnold.

Less mainstream screenings included two genre-bending low-budget films: the emotionally potent British drama My Brother the Devil, and the intriguingly offbeat American rom-com Shut Up and Kiss Me. There were three docs: the astonishingly animated "untrue" story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman in A Liar's Autobiography, a more standard bio-doc from obviously family-approved sources in I Am Bruce Lee, and Chris Paine's intriguingly people-centric sequel Revenge of the Electric Car. Finally, I finally caught up with Luis Buñuel's surreal 1972 classic The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which is not only pure genius, but looks great after a digital restoration for its 40th birthday.

This coming week we have Meryl Streep in Hope Springs, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Hysteria, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush, Dakota Fanning in Now Is Good, the British music-scene ensemble rom-com Turbulence and the year's most anticipated film, Chris Nolan's final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

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S H A D O W S   O N   T H E   T U B E
I'm only watching three television shows at the moment... 

  • Episodes finished its second series with a bit of a wimper. This season wasn't nearly as sharp as the first, although it had its moments, and is still watchable thanks to engaging performances, mainly from Tamsin Grieg, Matt LeBlanc and a sometimes slightly too-clownish Stephen Mangan. If they return for a third series, let's hope the writing gets much edgier. And that they replace that awful opening title sequence.
  • True Blood is charging ahead in its fifth year, throwing as much madness at the screen as possible. The whole premise is a bit stale now, but it's still hugely entertaining thanks to the beautiful, often naked cast members. It's also becoming fun to try to guess which new supernatural being will be introduced next - this week's "fire demon" was pretty hilarious, in a grisly sort of way. And while we always knew they'd being back Russell, his reappearance draws a genuine chill of dread, which is rare for TV.
  • The Newsroom is typical Aaron Sorkin: smart dialog that's deeply overwritten but thoroughly enthralling. The show kind of cheats by being set a couple of years in the past, where it can merrily revise news-reporting history with the same kind of wish-fulfilment that The West Wing provided about the White House. While the backstage melodrama is kind of corny, the newscast scenes are genuinely thrilling. And this week's appearance from Jane Fonda was simply fantastic.

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