Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Critical Week: I didn't do it!

Press screenings are slowly starting up again after the holidays, and of the four films I watched in the past week, two featured innocent men on the wrong side of the law. Poker Night stars Beau Mirchoff (above) as a rookie detective whose life takes a horrific twist after he's inducted into the elite cops' secret game. An interesting idea, but the story struggles to hold water amid over-stylised filmmaking and scene-chomping performances. Even wobblier is Taken 3, Liam Neeson's latest work-out as an action star. Everyone on-screen is solid, but the Besson/Kamen script is ludicrous and Olivier Megaton's direction leaves the action scenes incoherent.

The other two films were much more challenging. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) is one of cinema's all-time masterpieces, and now he has turned an unused 1975 interview into a new doc The Last of the Unjust, highlighting a side of the Holocaust we've never seen. Low-key and straightforward, it's far too long and academic, but utterly essential. And then there's the Mexican multi-strand drama Four Moons, a sensitive, strikingly honest exploration of four stages of life for men grappling with their own gay identities. The filmmaking is a bit simplistic, but the acting and themes are powerfully involving.

Otherwise I took in some TV, binge-watching to catch up on the current seasons of Scandal (a pure guilty pleasure), Arrow (ridiculous but addictive), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (corny but diverting) and The Walking Dead (starting to wear a bit thin). And then there's the Foo Fighter's doc series Sonic Highways, which inventively delves into the nature of music in society and how songs are written as Dave Grohl and crew travel around America recording songs in key cities. Fascinating, and surprisingly moving too. Plus of course the Christmas finale of Downton Abbey, which was a pure delight, for a change. For a film critic, television is like a great escape: I can actually watch something without working!

This coming week cranks up a bit more with screenings of Cate Blanchett's new film The Turning, Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in the delayed release of the Nigerian drama Black November, Stephen Daldry's Trash, Alex Garland's Ex Machina and the offbeat teen horror thriller It Follows.

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