Tuesday 4 March 2014

Critical Week: All rise

Yes, the big movie this week for critics was the sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, which isn't much of an improvement on the simplistic original film, but fans who like these kinds of effects-based romps (and screens full of almost naked men) will love it. A little further from the mainstream, Hair Brained is a young-genius-at-university comedy that has surprising depth, while Stephen Sommers' Odd Thomas is a quirky comedy-thriller that gets under the skin. There were also two animated features: Hayao Miyazaki's astounding Oscar-nominated animated biopic The Wind Rises, a proper movie with real characters and situations that makes Hollywood studios' formulaic animation and plotting look rather pathetic. And the Spanish animated feature Wrinkles is equally grown-up with its engaging story of pensioners bored with life in a nursing home.

It was also a week for documentaries, including the Oscar-winning Twenty Feet From Stardom, the fiercely uplifting story of iconic background singers that also takes an intriguing look at civil rights. Also Oscar-nominated, Dirty Wars takes a much gloomier look at America, revealing the dark truth about the president's black-ops programme. It's honest and razor sharp, never rabble-rousing and yet deeply depressing. Errol Morris' haunting The Unknown Known also delves into the halls of power as it interviews Donald Rumsfeld about his two controversial stints as defence secretary. And Bridegroom tells a staggeringly involving personal story that touches on America's current inequalities. Equally empowering but without being grim, Next Goal Wins follows the loveable but perpetually losing ragtag American Samoa football team to a historic first victory.

Sunday night's Oscars delivered no surprises (I only missed one prediction), even if most categories could have gone multiple ways. The ceremony itself was good fun, with Ellen's hilarious audience participation antics (serving pizza and taking this twitter-busting selfie) and some marvellously rambling thank yous (Jared Leto gave the best speech). But the "Heroes" theme didn't resonate at all, Will Smith was a strange let-down to present Best Picture (where was George Clooney when we needed him?), and aside from Pharrell's deliriously Happy opening number, the music was eerily downbeat, scraping the bottom of the barrel by dragging lovely Bette Midler out to sing her exhausted Wind Beneath My Wings. Otherwise, it was a great night, capped by Steve McQueen's jubilant, deserving triumph.

This coming week's screenings include Michael Fassbender in Frank, Viggo Mortensen in The Two Faces of January, Todd Sklar's black comedy Awful Nice, the festival favourite Cheap Thrills, the animated Zebra romp Khumba and the bio-doc The Punk Singer. Among other things...

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