Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Critical Week: Seriously

The fallout from my holiday is still being felt on two fronts: First, I'm generally more relaxed than normal while facing the ongoing chaos of my daily schedule. Second, my daily schedule is that much more chaotic since I have additional deadlines, writing to catch up on, and a bit more madness since I am going away again (this time on a working trip) for two weeks soon.

But never mind, my first film-filled week back from holiday was an intriguing one, with a couple of summer blockbusters that were actually good for a change. Namely, The Dark Knight, which Christopher Nolan continues to spin into a thinking-person's action movie, with bleak situations and seriously complex characters. The other nice surprise was Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which Guillermo Del Toro pushes a whole lot further than the first film, with even more outrageous displays of pure imagination underscored by strong characters and lots of dry humour.

I also caught up with the disturbing, thought-provoking German drama The Wave; the not great but impossible to criticise documentary Blindsight, about blind Tibetan children climbing one of the Himalayas; the beautifully filmed but still lacklustre new version of Brideshead Revisited; and the only for extreme skiing fans doc Steep. On my own time, I also managed to watch two classic love stories on video, which come from polar extremes of the movie spectrum: David Lean's 1945 masterpiece Brief Encounter and Judd Apatow's 2007 crowd-pleaser Knocked Up.

This week is a much rougher ride, I suspect, with a vast array of dodgy comedies: Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder, Mike Myers' The Love Guru, Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Will Ferrell's Step Brothers and Emma Roberts' Wild Child. To provide a sense of balance and restore my faith in cinema, I have some acclaimed little films: Steve McQueen's Hunger, Mark Herman's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Sarah Silverman's Jesus Is Magic.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Critical Week: After the break

I'm back in London today after nine days in sunny France - visiting Bordeaux (home of the art cinema pictured here), Biarritz, Bayonne, San Sebastian, Pau and St Emilion, among other stops. It was a terrific time to lounge in the sunshine, enjoy local food and wine, celebrate the wedding of friends, and watch not one single movie.

But taking a vacation is always a risky proposition for a film critic, because when you book the trip you know you'll miss something big. I booked this holiday about eight months ago, and it wasn't until the day before I left that I realised that I would be missing all of the press screenings (plus a chance to interview the stars) for my most-anticipated film of the summer: The Dark Knight. I will now need to buy a ticket to see it on the day it opens in the UK (Thursday) and wait until the sold-out period ends in a week or so before I can see it on an Imax screen.

Other screenings I missed, in descending order of annoyance: Hellboy II, Baby Mama and The Love Guru. I should be able to catch up with these, if the distributors put on more screenings, but these things happen.

Meanwhile, the highlight of the week before I left was, oddly enough, the surprise appearance at the Get Smart screening on Friday 11th July of Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne (don't call him The Rock) Johnson and director Peter Segal t0 provide a rather entertaining introduction to the film, which wasn't too bad actually, as long as you understood that they were completely re-interpreting the source material.

Other films that week were Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3D, which was great, stupid fun (although I'm not sure how well it'd work without the 3D); Keira Knightley's new costume drama, The Duchess, which has a terrific plot and a fascinating performance from Ralph Fiennes; and the hysterically silly 1950s beach movie/serial killer satire Psycho Beach Party. There was also, appropriately, a veritable mini-fest of French films: the Liam Neeson thriller Taken, which is actually a typically enjoyable but far-fetched Luc Besson actioner; Jamel Debbouze in Agnes Jaoui's latest rambling drama Let's Talk About the Rain; the Kristin Scott Thomas stunner I've Loved You So Long; a reissue of Bruno Dumont's controversial and still-shocking La Vie de Jesus; and the Dardenne brothers' The Silence of Lorna (OK, this is technically Belgian).

Finally, this week sees a handful of hopefully promising offerings, including The X Files: I Want to Believe, Brideshead Revisited, Steep and festival favourites The Wave and Blindsight. I also hope to catch up with The Dark Knight and Baby Mama. Not that I expect any sympathy.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Critical Week: Here I go again

The last week was fairly normal for me - seven film screenings and one press conference, with all the associated deadlines and hours hunched in front of my computer. But the weather in London was also pretty spectacular, so also I tried to get outside as much as possible.

Most notable was the Mamma Mia press conference on Monday, attended by the entire cast (except for Julie Walters). Meryl Streep has long been atop my list of actors I've wanted to interview, and she certainly didn't disappoint - as in the film, she's a bundle of mischevious energy and raw talent. A nice birthday gift for me, eh?

Other films this week included The Rocker (Rainn Wilson channelling Jack Black), Gravitation (metrosexual manga), The Chaser (astonishing Korean thriller), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (British teen comedy), Swing Vote (Kevin Costner political comedy-drama), Meet Dave (Eddie Murphy alien romp) and, yes, Mamma Mia again at the world premiere engagement at the Odeon Leicester Square, complete with videotaped introduction from Benny & Bjorn and Pierce Brosnan and clips from the world premiere on Monday night.

The one other moment of surrealness last week was a photo shoot for an article in the Observer (due to run 13 July) on the state of critics. They have lumped me into the blogging group, and we gathered in front of the Tate Modern for a series of group photos that got increasingly surreal as they asked us to strike rather silly poses. I shudder to think which ones will appear in the paper. And I'm kind of glad I'll be on holiday next week when the article appears.

Films this week include: Let's Talk about the Rain, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (3D!), I've Loved You So Long, The Silence of Lorna, Taken, The Duchess, Get Smart and a remastered print of Kurosawa's Ikiru. More on those next week.

My plan is to do a roundup like this every week - so let me know what you think.