Thursday, 25 January 2018

Critical Week: Size matters

There were two rather underwhelming sequels to see this past week, neither of which came with very high expectations. Kickboxer: Retaliation is the middle part of a rebooted trilogy starring Alain Moussi and the original star Jean-Claude Van Damme, plus assorted massive meatheads. It looks great, so it's a shame so little attention was paid to characters or story. And then there's the Maze Runner trilogy finale, The Death Cure, with its somewhat messy mythology and bland characters. The film has its moments, but never quite comes to life.

Two small British films at least tried something original. Lies We Tell is a rather choppy crime thriller set in Yorkshire starring a mopey Gabriel Byrne. And Gholam is a riveting, slow-burning London thriller starring the excellent Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini. Even further afield, I enjoyed seeing a big-screen press preview of the restored version of Ingmar Bergman's witty film of Mozart's The Magic Flute. And I watched all of the episodes for the snappy, clever web series Dropping the Soap, which is out soon on dvd. As the title suggests, it's a backstage soap opera spoof. And I also greatly enjoyed this doc, which I needed to see for awards voting purposes...

dir-scr Alexandra Dean; with Diane Kruger, Robert Osborne 17/US ****
Based around the discovery of a lost interview recorded on cassette tapes in 1990 when she was 76, this documentary traces the extraordinary journey of movie siren and brainy inventor Hedy Lamarr from her childhood in Austria to her reclusive old age in America. Along the way, she shared the screen with all of Hollywood's biggest stars as the most beautiful woman in movies. But she was always aware that no one took notice of her intelligence. "Any girl can look glamorous," she said famously. "All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." And now it emerges that Lamarr had a secret life of curiosity and scientific ambition, including a working friendship with Howard Hughes and conceiving the idea that would lead to modern communications systems like wifi and bluetooth (the US government never paid her for her patent, which the doc claims would amount to some $30bn today). She also built the first ski resort in Aspen, which was stolen from her by a vindictive ex-husband. Filmmaker Dean assembles this beautifully, using Lamarr's own voice and a wealth of footage and stills. It's a gripping film, packed with emotional kicks and an inspiring final message from Lamarr herself, reminding us that when the world treats us badly, we should give our best anyway.

Much of my time has been spend working on the impending Critics' Circle Film Awards on Sunday night - I'm the chair, so haven't had much spare time to catch up with press screenings. Maybe next week. I've got the Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon in the diary, as well as the Helen Mirren ghost story Winchester.

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