Thursday, 24 May 2018

Critical Week: A hot topic

It's been a busy week screening-wise, as I have packed in films in preparation for taking next week off. There was a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, one of my very favourite novels, although the film changes the plot and kind of loses the focus, despite strong performances from Michael B Jordan and Michael Shannon. And I managed to catch two screenings of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Han Solo origin movie, which ticks a lot of entertaining boxes to take the audience on a fun ride.

A little off the beaten path, Travis Mathew's evocative Discreet is a swirling experimental drama about past wounds, regrets and the pointlessness of revenge. Hooked is a slightly over-obvious drama about a young rentboy on a dangerous trajectory. Freelancers Anonymous is a refreshing if silly comedy about a woman trying to start over in a tough economy. And Astro is an amateurish sci-fi thriller with a couple of decent performances and laughably overserious dialog.

There were also three docs: The Fabulous Allan Carr is a lively and moving trip through the life of the iconic, life-loving but lonely producer of Grease; All the Wild Horses is a spectacularly shot trip across Mongolia on the world's longest horse race; and Arcadia uses a lot of amazing archival footage to try and say something odd about Britain's relationship with the land. And finally, I had a chance to catch the restored Yellow Submarine on the big screen as it gets a 50-year reissue. It's simply delightful - great animation and a thoroughly whimsical story.

I'm on holiday over the next week, so am avoiding films altogether! I return home just as the Sundance Film Festival: London kicks off, and will catch up with the anticipated horror Hereditary, Leave No Trace, Generation Wealth and Skate Kitchen, plus a programme of short films. Then the following week, it's time for Jurassic Park: Fallen World.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Shadows on the Stage: It's not about sex

F**king Men
by Joe DiPietro • dir Mark Barford
with Richard De Lisle, August Ohlsson, Liam Darby
King's Head Theatre, Islington • 16.May-2.Jun.18

Tony-winning playwright Joe DiPietro's provocatively titled play comes back to the King's Head Theatre, where it first premiered in 2009. Based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde (1897), it's a series of encounters between 10 characters, this time with a cast of three performing multiple roles. Ostensibly about sex, the play is actually an astute exploration of masculinity and culture, grappling with expectations, sexuality, monogamy and trust. It's a beautifully written piece that continually surprises the audience with its astute observations, never becoming preachy despite touching on pungent issues like relational fidelity, closeted celebrities, safe sex and HIV.

Each actor plays three or four roles, switching accents and attitudes so the audience can keep up. Scenes unfold as encounters between two men who discuss and negotiate the terms of sex between them - as a hooker and his john, as partners dealing with relationship issues, as a porn star and a phone-app hook-up, as a playwright and a big Hollywood actor, as a TV presenter and a rent boy. Most of these may end up with some sort of sexual activity, but the real point is that none of these men is quite sure of the rules of combat, as it were. All are a little deceptive even as they are yearning for a connection and hoping for something lasting.

All three actors are excellent. The veteran of the cast, De Lisle has appeared in previous productions and brings an easy authenticity to each role, shifting dramatically between characters without even needing to change costume. Newcomers Ohlsson and Darby both bring distinctive jolts of energy to the production in their various roles, revealing telling details that engage the audience even with more prickly characters. The way the scenes weave together into an overarching narrative is riveting, coming full circle to end on a note that's revelatory without having a specific message. But the play touches on so many deeply personal topics that each person in the audience will see him or herself on-stage while pondering issues that used to seem obvious.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Critical Week: Ladies who lunch

While many of my colleagues are in Cannes, I've been here in London catching up on lots of movies. Bigger titles included Book Club, which stars Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen as women who find new spark when they read Fifty Shades of Grey together. It's lazy but amiable enough. And then there was Deadpool 2, in which Ryan Reynolds reprises his irreverent superhero for another anarchic adventure. It's a lot better than the overrated first film, very funny but less smug and more complex.

Nicole Kidman goes enjoyably punk in John Cameron Mitchell's How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a punk sci-fi romance that's bursting with scruffy energy but struggles to maintain its oddball plot. The Sundance hit The Miseducation of Cameron Post stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a teen sent to gay therapy camp. It's strikingly realistic with terrific performances and an important theme. The American indie caper romp Carter & June is energetic but far too misogynistic for its own good. And the British indie thriller Welcome to Curiosity weaves a few plot strands together in ways that are colourful but ultimately flimsy.

There were also two films from Mexico: A Place to Be is a sensitive fact-based drama that explores immigration issues from unexpected angles, while Boy Undone is a gripping amnesia thriller with a romantic emotional core. And there were also two star-packed docs: in McKellen: Playing the Part, Ian McKellen recounts his life and career with honesty and insight, while 50 Years Legal features a range of noted figures (including McKellen of course) talking about the history of gay rights in Britain.

The big screening this coming week is, of course, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Looking forward to that. Also in the diary: Travis Mathews' drama Discreet, the street-life doc Hooked, Paul Wright's collage doc Arcadia, the film producer doc The Fabulous Alan Carr, the Mongol Derby doc All the Wild Horses and a restoration of The Beatles' animated romp Yellow Submarine.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Critical Week: Fight fire with fire

Since I'm not in Cannes with many of my fellow critics, I'm still catching up on screenings of films opening in cinemas at the moment. At least we're having Cannes-like weather in London! This week we had a very late press screening (just the night before it opens) for Breaking In, the home-invasion thriller starring Gabrielle Union as a tough-minded mother who isn't about to let a gang of violent thieves harm her children. This gender flip is very cool, and sharply played too, even if the script is rather standard fare.

Also rather standard, the British comedy Swimming With Men echoes The Full Monty in its story of a group of middle-aged men dealing with their issues as they form a male synchronised swimming team. The cast is so good that it makes it worth a look. And the American comedy Dating My Mother is somewhat awkward, but has a refreshing honesty to it.

There were also three documentaries. The first two have a showbiz slant: Filmworker is that riveting story of a British actor who gave up his career to be Stanley Kubrick's assistant for 30 years, and Always at the Carlyle is a star-packed look at the iconically elegant New York hotel. The third doc was something altogether different: Path of Blood uses acquired footage of Saudi security services battling local al Qaeda cells, including video seized from them. It's shocking, heart-pounding, eye-opening and, even though it's hard to watch, utterly essential.

Coming up this next week, we have press screenings of Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, Diane Keaton in Book Club, Sundance hit The Miseducation of Cameron Post, British thriller Welcome to Curiosity and the Mexican drama Boy Undone. I also plan to buy a ticket to see John Cameron Mitchell's How to Talk To Girls at Parties, as its distributor never let me know about screenings even though I asked. (Another distributor didn't screen Melissa McCarthy's Life of the Party for critics at all, but I don't feel the need to seek that one out.)

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Critical Week: On a mission

We don't get many big-screen premieres for TV series, but The New Legends of Monkey threw a bash for us, screening the first four half-hour episodes of this cheeky fantasy romp from New Zealand. It's thoroughly cheesy, but also a lot of fun, packed with sarcastic wit and bonkers plot twists. I now feel the need to find the remaining six episodes on Netflix.

Back to cinema releases, this week saw screenings for Andrew Niccol's new film Anon, a noir-style mystery set in an imaginative futuristic setting.  it stars Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried. Anything is a thoughtful, clever drama starring John Carroll Lynch who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a cross-dressing Matt Bomer when he moves to Hollywood. And Born Guilty gives a welcome lead role to Rosanna Arquette, but the film is a bit too shrill to properly engage.

Further afield, Gehenna: Where Death Lives is a cheesy horror movie about a group of property developers who stumble into a scary underground maze of tunnels. Well, more yucky than scary. The Misandrists is another gonzo Euro-drama from Bruce LaBruce, railing against the patriarchy. It's blackly funny and sharply pointed, but pretty nutty. The documentary That Summer explores gorgeous footage from 1972 Long Island, including sequences featuring Big and Little Edie before the Maysles shot Grey Gardens. And Boys on Film 18: Heroes is the latest collection of queer shorts from Peccadillo, featuring quite a few great little films.

Coming up this week, we have Nicole Kidman in How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Gabrielle Union in Breaking In, Rob Brydon in Swimming With Men, the British doc 50 Years Legal, and the star-packed doc Always at the Carlyle.