Monday, 29 July 2013

Critical Week: How the other half lives

London critics got a chance to see one of the most anticipated films of the year: Elysium, by District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Sorry, comments are embargoed for two weeks. I'm also not allowed to talk about Jim Rash and Nat Faxon's The Way, Way Back, starring Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Allison Janney, or Roland Emmerich's White House Down, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. But there are lots of review online for both of those already. Guess what I thought.

Also screening in London this week were a handful of films that had their moments but ultimately didn't quite hold together: Brian DePalma's Love Crime remake Passion, the stylish British teen romp We Are the Freaks, the Brazilian melodramatic pastiche Prime Time Soap and Todd Verow's Maine-set gay thriller Tumbledown. On the other hand, Adam Sandler's Grown Ups 2 is aggressively unfunny and pointless.

Much better, the startlingly realistic Europa Report is a fiendishly clever approach to both sci-fi and horror that could have cult-hit value. The restored original cut of Michael Cimino's notorious1980 epic Heaven's Gate may be three and a half hours long, but this is magical filmmaking that shouldn't be missed. And finally, Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter took on iconic roles in the BBC biopic Burton and Taylor, which intriguingly limited its scope to the couple's final project acting together in 1983. Simple, but fascinating.

This coming week is bound to have as many surprises. I've got Julianne Moore in What Masie Knew, the teen-gods sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the final film in Ulrich Seidl's trilogy Paradise: Hope and the acclaimed festival film Foxfire. And I have several more review discs and online screeners calling my name as always.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Critical Week: Manly men in skirts

There were two memorable screenings in London this week, including Hammer of the Gods, the corny ancient-Britain 300/Braveheart romp, and Hugh Jackman's valiant attempt to revive the reputation of The Wolverine. Both films value chaotic action over plot or characterisation, and both also know that audiences love nothing more than gratuitous bare male torsos. Although at least Jackman himself turned up to introduce his film at the screening, eliciting crazed cheers from the crowd and laughter from director James Mangold and the screening's host Alex Zane, who couldn't get a word in edgeways.

We also had two action comedies this week: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy were a terrific double-act in the hilarious but over-violent buddy cop movie The Heat, while veterans Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich were back for more underdeveloped comical spy antics in RED 2. Much darker and more interesting, Only God Forgives stars Ryan Gosling as a hapless guy caught in a nasty spiral of revenge partly orchestrated by his mother Kristen Scott Thomas, who's on blinding form. And The Great Hip Hop Hoax documents the jaw-dropping true story of rappers Silibil n' Brains, who hit the big time when they claimed to be from California. But they were actually guys from Scotland. A terrific story.

This coming week we have Matt Damon in Neil Blomkamp's Elysium, the all-star comedy-drama The Way Way Back, the festival favourite Like Father Like Son, the Gilberto Gil doc Viramundo and Ferzan Ozpetek's A Magnificent Haunting.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Critical Week: Through the dangerzone

Speed was the name of the game at press screenings this week, as critics boarded Disney's Planes, the spin-off from Pixar's Cars movies; Ron Howard's Formula One drama Rush, about the rivalry-respect between 1970s champs James Hunt and Niki Lauda; Johnny Depp's latest wacky sidekick in The Lone Ranger, which is bloated but more fun than expected; and Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson in Michael Bay's Pain & Gain, an over-pumped comedy based on a true story of torture and murder (!).

Our pulses slowed a bit for the all-star sex-addiction comedy-drama Thanks for Sharing, with Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Tim Robbins and Alecia Moore (better known as Pink); the dark drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints, with Rooney Mara and Dane DeHaan; the warm, funny and extremely telling Saudi drama Wadjda; and two docs: the straightforward biographical Hawking and an exploration of privacy-erosion in Terms and Conditions May Apply. Finally, we were jolted back out of our seats by a horror double bill: Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the demonic possession chiller The Conjuring, and a family under siege by masked killers in You're Next.

Coming up this week: Hugh Jackman is The Wolverine (again), those all-star retired killers are back for RED 2, Sandra Bullock teams with Melissa McCarthy for The Heat, there's more muscled men in skirts in Hammer of the Gods, Ulrich Seidl closes out his trilogy with Paradise: Hope, The Great Hip Hop Hoax documents Scots pretending to be American rappers, And we get a look at a reissued-remastered version of the 1981 epic Heaven's Gate.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Festival Days: You've been papped!

The East End Film Festival winds up on Wednesday with its closing night gala screening of the biopic Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried (pictured) as the pornstar turned anti-porn crusader. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film has divided opinions due to its selective, doc-style approach, but it's still jarringly revelatory.

Other East End Film Fest titles I've caught up with include Ben Wheatley's brain-spinning 17th century Civil War odyssey A Field in England, which also opened in Britain on Friday (simultaneously released on DVD, VOD and screened on Film4). It's impossible to unpack, but is also unmissably insane. Any Day Now is a punchy drama about equality starring the superb Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt, managing to make a vitally important point without becoming an issue movie. Prospects is a loose, honest doc about two young British boxers trying to make it through the amateur system to get to the Olympics. It's superbly assembled and almost painfully involving. I also attended two world premieres: The Brightest Colours Make Grey is a low-budget London relationship drama that looks amazing on the big screen and benefits from a perhaps too-literate script. And Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas is also gorgeously shot. It's a lively road movie that scrambles issues of sexuality for its characters. Cast and crew members were on hand from both films for Q&As.

Outside of the festival things were just a bit more massive, starting with Guillermo Del Toro's entry in the robotic blockbuster genre Pacific Rim, which is expertly assembled but ultimate sinks due to its underwhelming script. A lot more fun will be had when Edgar Wright's The World's End opens the following week - a raucous reunion of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike, all creating memorable characters amid the blind-drunk chaos of an apocalyptic pub crawl.

This coming week, British critics finally get a look at Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger and Michael Bay's Pain & Gain, as well as Disney's Cars spin-off Planes, the Sundance winner Ain't Them Bodies Saints and the horror romp The Conjuring. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Festival Days: Where are we?

The East End Film Festival moves into its second week with a remarkably ambitious programme screening at cinemas all over East London. Highlights for me will be attending the world premieres of two British indies: Simon Savory's Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas (pictured) and Daniel Audritt's The Brightest Colours Make Grey. On Wednesday evening I caught up with Ben Wheatley's latest head trip A Field in England, which is every bit as mind-boggling as expected.

Meanwhile, the 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival  wrapped up over the weekend, and now I have the excitement of catching up with those films as they are released in the UK. I've managed to see one of them this week - Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring had a mixed reception at Cannes, and I can see why: it's probably a bit too timely and prescient for most critics. I found it a clever, insightful exploration of today's fame-driven youth culture.

Other films I've caught up with this week include the animated action-comedy Turbo, about a souped-up speedy snail (comments are embargoed on this one). Gerard Butler's surfing drama Chasing Mavericks is a blanded-down true story that at least features plenty of terrific surfing action. Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger's remarkable Blancanieves will struggle to overcome comparisons to The Artist (it's also silent, black and white) and Hollywood's two takes on Snow White last year. But this is a skilfully well-told story that's essential viewing due to its gorgeous emotional resonance. Renny Harlin's The Dyatlov Pass Incident will also suffer from comparisons to The Blair Witch Project. Despite a dodgy climax, this icy thriller is actually a better film, and it's based on a fascinating true mystery from 1959 Russia (plus added present-day fiction).

The next big movies screening to London critics will be Guillermo Del Toro's alien-invasion epic Pacific Rim and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's apocalyptic pub crawl comedy The World's End.