Thursday, 31 August 2017

Venezia74: Come swim with me on Day 2

It's hot and sticky in Venice at the moment, and the forecast is for thunderstorms over the next few days. Still hot and sticky, but extra wet. And hopefully not flu-inducing as I dart in and out of air conditioned screening rooms. Here's what I saw on Thursday...

The Shape of Water
dir Guillermo del Toro; with Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins 17/US ****
Guillermo del Toro lets his imagination run wild with this engaging and also rather dark romantic adventure. It's a riot of clever production design, witty dialog and heartfelt emotion that carries the audience on a journey along with the vivid characters. The whimsical family-movie tone sits a bit oddly alongside the film's resolutely adult-oriented touches, but for grown-ups this is a fairy tale full of wonder.

dir-scr Lucrecia Martel; with Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Lola Duenas 17/Arg **.
This is a fairly difficult movie even by the standards of adventurous Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel. An existential odyssey based on the 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, it simply refuses to coalesce into any kind of sensible narrative as the title character's life becomes a swirling nightmare of bureaucracy and cross-cultural messiness. And that's actually the point. At least it's fascinating, beautifully shot and acted, and packed with witty satire.

The Insult
dir Ziad Doueiri; with Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha 17/Leb ***
A terrific personal Lebanese drama is somewhat swamped by much bigger issues, as filmmaker Ziad Doueiri floods the story with the complexities of the nation's history and politics. Everything in this film is important, but when they're all overlaid on top of a courtroom drama, it tips the balance away from the more resonant story of two men having a face-off over a deeply personal clash.

Human Flow
dir Ai Weiwei; with Ai Weiwei, Boris Cheshirkov 17/Ger ***.
At an epic two and a half hours, this documentary is a little exhausting to sit through. But the topic is hugely compelling for anyone who feels compassion about other people. It's a film about refugees, and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei cleverly uses a variety of cameras to visit camps around the world, capturing both the individual impact in specific stories and the global scale as millions are displaced around the world. Even without using voiceover narration, the amount of information in here is astonishing.

> Tomorrow's screening schedule includes Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in Our Souls at Night, Vince Vaughn in Brawl in Cell Block 99, Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete and Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Venezia74: Red carpet time on Day 1

The 74th Venice film festival kicked off today on the Lido with the world premiere of Alexander Payne's new comedy drama Downsizing (see below), and Payne was on the above red carpet along with stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig. Damon is still be around on Saturday for the world premiere of Suburbicon. It was a warm, summery day here today, and I spent most of it in cinemas, seeing four films....

dir Alexander Payne; with Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig 17/US ***
Alexander Payne eschews his usual organic style of storytelling for something more pointed and constructed. The premise is ingeniously conceived and thought out down to the (ahem!) smallest details, and as the plot develops a variety of big issues make themselves known. This may provide a connection to present-day issues, but it makes the film begin to feel rather pushy. And the ideas themselves become stronger than the narrative... FULL REVIEW >

First Reformed
dir-scr Paul Schrader; with Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried 17/US ***
Paul Schrader once again takes a provocative look at religion in America in this dark and twisty drama that has all kinds of repercussions from today's headlines, from climate change to extremism. Anchored by very strong performances, the film gets increasingly intense as it continues, implying in unmistakable ways that it's headed for something awful. Although Schrader himself seems unsure about where he wanted it to go.

Nico, 1988
dir-scr Susanna Nicchiarelli; with Trine Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair 17/Italy ****
This biopic about the final years of the iconic German-born musician-actress strikes an intriguing tone from the start, diving into the firsthand accounts of people who travelled with her around Europe. It feels remarkably personal, with a bold, gritty edge that echoes the intensity of both Nico's singing and Trine Dyrholm's thunderous performance. Some elements of the film feel a little undercooked, leaving the audience perhaps misled about the details. But it's an involving film packed with rivulets of emotion that pull the audience in.

The Devil and Father Amorth
dir William Friedkin; with William Friedkin, Gabriele Amorth 17/US ***.
Whether this is a documentary or a witty found-footage style thriller, it's a lot of fun. William Friedkin picks up on themes from his 1971 classic The Exorcist as he heads off to Rome to witness his first exorcism firsthand. What happens is freaky, but it's so hyped up by the tabloid-TV presentation and a gonzo horror score that it's impossible to take seriously. Still, it's fast-paced and gripping. You won't be able to look away, even thought you'll want to.

I'll be attempting to do this kind of post each day here - as my schedule allows. Meanwhile, I'm tweeting instant mini-reviews and instagramming photos. I'll also try to get the odd full review up on the site when I get a chance. But with four films per day, it may be tricky.

Everything here is a world premiere, by the way! Tomorrow: The Insult and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water...



Thursday, 24 August 2017

Critical Week: The need for speed

There were two late press screenings for London-based critics of movies coming out this week. Doug Liman's American Made is a lively odyssey starring Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise - no, as real-life smuggler Barry Seal, who got was running arms for the CIA and White House and drugs for the Colombian cartels in the 1980s. It's entertaining, but overwhelmed by Cruise's presence. Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky is a scruffy heist comedy with Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and a scene-stealing, against-type Daniel Craig. There's not much to it, but it's a lot of fun.

Rather more serious, Taylor Sheridan's Wind River stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in a mystery thriller set on a native American reservation in snowy Wyoming. It looks amazing and has a strong emotional kick. And then there's the goofy comedy Unleashed, which lacks discipline but has a certain charm as a dog and cat are transformed into their owner's idea of boyfriend material. Finally, Loving Vincent is the extraordinary Vincent van Gogh drama made using hand-painted animation. It looks simply dazzling, and features strong, recognisable performances from Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O'Dowd and Helen McCrory.

This weekend I am catching up on some screeners at home before heading off to Venice for the 74th edition of the film festival on the Lido. Films on offer there include Alexander Payne's Downsizing, Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, George Clooney's Suburbicon, Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water, Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete, S Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and many, many more. I'll be updating the blog regularly...

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Requisite Blog Photo: Feeling lucky, punk?

Bonus extra pic, with @maysamoncao and @ruhulabdin

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Critical Week: Don't panic

It's been one of my most eclectic weeks of the year as far as screenings go. And actually, most of these films were watched at home on screening links. The biggest film was the comedy romp Rough Night, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman on her hen night with a group of friends, having a Hangover-style adventure. It's sharp and nutty and not remotely original. And then there was this year's sequel Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, another cameo-packed barrage of inane action led by Ian Ziering and Tara Reid. Surprisingly, a new screenwriter has breathed some wit into this idiotic franchise.

More highbrow fare included Sally Potter's stylised The Party, a jagged black comedy with political edges and scene-stealing performances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Patricia Clarkson. Moon Dogs is a smart and endearing Scottish road movie about three misfits travelling from Shetland to Glasgow for darkly resonant reasons. Alex Barrett's London Symphony is an exquisite ode to the city with original music and black and white footage beautifully assembled to catch detail rather than the obvious sites. And The Daydreamer's Notebook is a moody collection of short films by Michael Saul, all of which centre rather pretentiously on light filtering through trees, but there's also a superb sense of nostalgia running through them.

Coming up this week, I'll be seeing Tom Cruise in American Made, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver in Logan Lucky, Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart in The Wilde Wedding, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River and the body-swap comedy Unleashed.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Critical Week: A question of trust

One of the more anticipated films screened to London press this week was Francois Ozon's Cannes entry L'Amant Double (The Double Lover), a slinky Hitchcockian thriller featuring lots of mirrored identities. It's a lot of fun. Also from France, Joachim Lafosse's After Love is a strikingly unsentimental drama about a a family going through a divorce, anchored by riveting performances from Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn.

More mainstream fare included Charlize Theron in the rather mindless action thriller Atomic Blonde, which is skilfully made but could have used either a more coherent plot, stronger characters or just a lot more silliness. Mark Strong and Jamie Bell anchor 6 Days, a forensic recreation of the Iranian embassy siege in London that's fascinating as it builds to a ripping final act, but never quite cracks the surface. Everything, Everything is a sappy teen romance that plays out pretty much as expected, but is elevated by actors Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. And Goon: The Last of the Enforcers is a sequel to the surprise comedy hit starring Sean William Scott as hockey player in Canada. Despite a terrific supporting cast, this follow-up completely misses the mark.

Perhaps the biggest movie this week was Al Gore's follow-up An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which traces the decade since his Oscar-winning climate change documentary. It's very well put together, and lucidly highlights the issues, but the biggest surprise is that it has a lot of positive things to say about what people and nations are doing to show respect to the planet and give hope for future generations.

Among other things, this coming week's press screenings include Idris Elba in The Dark Tower, Scarlett Johansson in Rough Night, Sally Potter's festival hit The Party, the coming-of-age British road trip Moon Dogs, and this year's episode, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Critical Week: The boys of summer

It's been another eclectic week for London-based film critics. One of the more intriguing films we watched was the Sundance award winner Beach Rats, a remarkably thoughtful, personal exploration of identity featuring a star-making performance from Harris Dickinson. At the other end of the cinematic spectrum is The Emoji Movie, an uneven animated comedy adventure that has its moments but isn't good enough to be memorable. Mothers cut loose in Fun Mom Dinner, which has a strong cast (Kate Aselton, Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Bridget Everett) and a nicely believable approach to outrageous antics, but is perhaps too similar to recent movies like Girls Trip.

Further afield, the effectively creepy Irish thriller Pilgrimage is given some oomph with the casting of Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage in its grisly 13th century tale of religious fervour. From Hungary, On Body and Soul is the involving, offbeat Berlin-winning romantic drama about a one-armed businessman and an obsessive-compulsive quality-control scientist. InSyriated explores a claustrophobic situation in Damascus in the style of a real-life horror movie we can't help but resonate with. Kept Boy is a rather awkward black comedy about a strained gay relationship. And I watched two documentaries to discuss on a TV chat show: Get Me Roger Stone is a chilling profile of the man who essentially created every Republican president from Nixon onwards (it's reviewed on the site), and then there's this one...

Warriors From the North
dir Nasib Farah, Soeren Steen Jespersen; with The Shadow, Abukar Nuur, Nasib Farah, Abdi Aziz, Mohamed Ali Omar, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed 
15/Den ****
This haunting, rather grim hour-long documentary skilfully avoids sensationalism as it explores the incendiary issue of young immigrants in Europe who are caught up in radicalisation. It's framed as the story of a young man who travelled to Somalia from Copenhagen, leaving his friend and father (Nuur) looking for him, which makes the film startlingly personal. The friend calls himself "The Shadow", and vividly describes how it feels to be an aimless youth drawn into the brotherhood of al-Shabab. His narration provides an angle we rarely hear behind the shouty, fear-based headlines. The filmmakers include horrific footage of bombings, as well as training films and suicide videos, plus another telling account from a British man (Omar) who went to Somalia but left al-Shabab when he saw that they were more interested in killing civilians than soldiers. The film is beautifully shot and edited, and taps vividly into the vulnerabilities of young migrants who are marginalised in society and singled out by police, making them easily manipulated into believing that their religion condones murder, which it doesn't.

Coming up this week, we have Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Jamie Bell in 6 Days, the hockey-antics sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the Tel Aviv drama In Between and the musical odyssey London Symphony.