A Week In Film #530: Here we are again

[The Revenant title screen]
The Revenant
Well built drama about the travails of fur trader Hugh Glass in the frozen expanses around the upper Missouri in early nineteenth century America. Excellent cast – DiCaprio, Hardy, Gleeson, Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson – and excellent crew, led by director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

[My Cousin Vinny title screen]
My Cousin Vinny
Fun-filled fish-out-of-water comedy from Jonathan Lynn (scripted by Dale Launer). New York goombah type Joe Pesci desperately trys to bring his community college law education up to speed with the wily ways of a small town Alabama court, where his cousin and his cousin’s friend (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) face a murder rap thanks to a perfect storm of circumstantial evidence and misunderstanding. Plenty of things going on, great supporting cast – Marisa Tomei as Pesci’s brash hairdresser/mechanic girlfriend, Fred Gwynee as a weary judge, Lane Smith a good ole boy prosecutor.

[Free Fire title screen]
Free Fire
Another imaginative genre-stretcher from Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, oozing with enthusiasm, even if it doesn’t quite land the perfect punch. A bunch of dodgy types meet up in a warehouse for a distinctly not-exactly-legal arms deal; then it all kicks off. The limitations of the form are obvious – once the shooting starts it is much of a muchness. But there’s a decent troupe of players (Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Cooper, Michael Smiley, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Client, Noah Taylor), and everyone throws in their all.

[Ghost Stories title screen]
Ghost Stories
Nice little old fashioned portmanteau horror from Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson (based on their stage show), with three interlinked spooky tales – a security guard trapped in a haunted old asylum, a teenager who runs over the Devil, and a soulless rich man beset by a poltergeist. Proficient chills and spills. With Paul Whitehouse, Nicholas Burns, Martin Freeman, and Nyman himself as the protagonist of the connecting narrative.

[Home Alone title screen]
Home Alone
YOU FILTHY ANIMALS!

[The Captive title screen]
The Captive
Emotionally flat, frustratingly fractured potboiler about an abductor of children (Kevin Durand), the parents of one of his victims (Mireille Enos and Ryan Reynolds), and the pair of cops (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) searching for him. Muddled and overblown from Atom Egoyan.

[The Loft title screen]
The Loft
One of those saucy Euro erotic thrillers where Hollywood took a sniff, liked the smell, and offered the director (Erik Van Rooy in this instance) the opportunity of remaking it for the American audience. Architect Karl Urban and three married pals (Wentworth Miller, James Marsden, Eric Stonestreet) secretly share an upscale shagpad in a newly built apartment block. All is going swimmingly until they find a dead woman in there chained to the bed. Silly, full of potholes and less than pleasant characters, but totally watchable.

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A Week In Film #529: Resolutions at the ready

[ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay? title screen]
ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay?
Lacklustre doc on the unsolved murder of the Run DMC founding member.

[The Lego Movie title screen]
The Lego Movie
Thoroughly enjoyable madness, with a CGI animation of a fully-fleshed out universe populated by a plastic building toy range come to life and zipping in and out of other cultural franchises (DC, Star Wars) as well as meatspace stuff and yet still making more sense and serving up more enjoyment to the audience than most ‘serious’ films. Top voice cast, top ideas, top direction by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

[The Lego Batman Movie title screen]
The Lego Batman Movie
Nice little sidequel/spin-off of the above, with Will Ferrell firming up his perfectly pitched Dark Knight, this time under direction from Chris McKay.

[The Lego Ninjago Movie title screen]
The Lego Ninjago Movie
I totally have a soft spot for the silly Ninjago/Spinjitzu telly show; here it gets a nice feature length outing in the slipstream of its bigger sibling. Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan.

[Tony title screen]
Tony
Impeccable low budget, high ambition serial killer shenanigans, in a very recognisable, grimy-but-not-cartoonishly hell-like London. A family affair, with Gerard Johnson the writer-director; his brother-in-law Peter Ferdinando totally believable as the sad-sack protagonist, not all there and trying so hard to reach people, to make human connections, but never quite making it; and his brother Matt (The The) Johnson providing a mesmerising score. All the better for not imposing resolution on the story.

[Shock And Awe title screen]
Shock And Awe
So-so, bit worthy and old fashioned ‘this is how it happened’ drama, describing how all through the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq – and after it – a group of journalists at the Knight Ridder news agency doggedly challenged the claims made by the Bush administration of collusion between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, which formed the pretext for war. Rob Reiner directs and stars, alongside Woody Harrelson, James Marsden (the dude with the cheeks like a baby’s slapped arse) and Jessica Biel.

[Bird Box title screen]
Bird Box
The big Netflix post apocalyptic thriller which seemed just a bit too close to the premise of the relatively recently released A Quiet Place, with Sandra Bullock trying to get to a possible sanctuary with her partner and children amidst a world where sight has become a dangerous encumbrance. Absolutely fine stuff from Susanne Bier, with a nice cast (Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, Tom Hollander), just the ring of an 80s/90s Stephen King TV movie.

[Thunderball title screen]
Thunderball
The first Bond I ever saw, I think – staying up late with my dad to watch it on ITV I think – and TBH the plot never really stuck. But it’s got great moments, even if we have it to thank for the franchise’s obsession with really fucking long underwater combat scenes.

[You Only Live Twice title screen]
You Only Live Twice
Used to really love this one, but for some reason wasn’t feeling it so much this time, despite the BOND DIES! Hook, and Roald Dahl’s dark humour, and the peerless villain’s-lair-assault set-piece.

[Rise Of The Guardians title screen]
Rise Of The Guardians
Recommended by a work colleague – DreamWorks CG animated comedy about a crew of universal childhood fantasy characters (Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Sandman) who reluctantly take on the rather rubbish Jack Frost as they battle against the dastardly Pitch Black in a battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s kids. But frankly rather lacklustre. Strong voice cast (Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine) is squandered. Directed by Peter Ramsey.

A Week In Film #528: Stockings out

[Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man title screen]
Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man
Terrible would-be screwball/buddy comedy about a pair of wisecracking dickheads (Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke) teaming up to avenge a friend murdered by evil zzzz. From the Simon Wincer, the genius who also gave us D.A.R.Y.L., Operation Dumbo Drop and The Phantom.

[War Dogs title screen]
War Dogs
Unsatisfying torn-from-the-headlines arms trade bullshit, sort of Lord Of War by way of The Wolf Of Wall Street, with Todd Phillips, better known for frat pack fare like Old School and Starsky & Hutch, handling things efficiently. With Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in the lead roles.

[Operation Chromite title screen]
Operation Chromite
Korean War business, with an elite team of southerners infiltrating deep behind northern lines to glean intelligence and spread misinformation ahead of an imminent invasion. Interesting story, some strong set piece action sequences, but a bit too hung ho and noisy. From John H Lee Jae-Han.

[The Hard Way title screen]
The Hard Way
Michael J Fox plays against type/satirises himself as a spoiled Hollywood star who wants to take on grittier roles and so hangs out with hangdog New York street detective James Woods amidst a serial killer’s ongoing murderous campaign. Some great interplay between the leads. Directed by John Badham.

[Jack Frost title screen]
Jack Frost
Bar band journeyman Michael Keaton neglects his family, dies but is reborn as a snowman, tries to make amends, or something. Mawkish, sentimental, trite dross, but somehow still has moments of connection. Troy Miller – who did the rather amusing Bob Odenkirk/David Cross HBO show Mr Show spin-off movie Run Ronnie Run! – directs.

A Week In Film #527: Strong

[Bankier Van Het Verzet AKA The Resistance Banker title screen]
Bankier Van Het Verzet AKA The Resistance Banker
Excellent wartime drama about the Dutch resistance and its meticulously-organised financial underwriting operation run by loose cannon banker Wally van Hall (fine, twinkly-eyed performance by Barry Atsma). Tense, interesting stuff from Joram Lürsen.

[Zulu title screen]
Zulu
THOUSANDS OF ‘EM!

[Four Lions title screen]
Four Lions
Haven’t seen it since first watching it, and boy is it powerful – stupid, silly, nonsensical, gut-wrenching, angry, confused… Chris Morris’ (Armstrong/Bain-assisted) suicide bomber comedy spews up a rainbow of different feelings. Top cast – Riz Ahmed, Preeya Kalidas, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Arsher Ali and Adeel Akhtar, plus great little turns and cameos from the likes of Craig Parkinson, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Darren Boyd and, um, Benedict Cumberbatch.

[The Infiltrator title screen]
The Infiltrator
Interesting subject (US Customs officer goes deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s organisation), less than interesting treatment. Strong cast (Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt), and the direction by Brad Furman is hardly amateurish. Just doesn’t gel.

[Threads title screen]
Threads
FUCKING. HELL. Not the original documentary-style nuclear armageddon horror-drama (that’d be Peter Watkins’ long-banned The War Game), but definitely the best. The most powerful. The most affecting. Written by Barry Kes Hines, directed by Mick The Ascent Of Man.

A Week In Film #526: Jingley bells

[Unforgiven title screen]
Unforgiven
Clint Eastwood’s last western as a director, his first since 1985’s Pale Rider, and one of only four. As ever, pretty downbeat, no happy ending, and a whole lotta messed up people.

[Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House title screen]
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House
Liam Neeson as the top Fed who became Bob Woodward’s Deep Throat and helped take down Nixon. Rather pedestrian biopic from Peter Lansesmann.

[Syriana title screen]
Syriana
Clooney as a Bob Baer-like CIA officer is the highlight of this Traffic-like compendium of interrelated stories around western interference in the Middle East, directed very effectively by Stephen Gaghan.

[The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs title screen]
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Bros western anthology; unfortunately I fell asleep somewhere between very early on and mid-way, so I haven’t a scooby.

[Elf title screen]
Elf
Better-than-I-expected Christmas fare from Jon Favreau, with Will Ferrell as a human brought up as an elf, and now in search of his real family. With James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen and Peter Dinklage.

A Week In Film #525: In ’n’ Out

[Gangs Of New York title screen]
Gangs Of New York
Scorsese’s misfiring would-be historical epic, which never assumes the scale it needs.

[The Lady Vanishes (2013) title screen]
The Lady Vanishes (2013)
Pretty decent Beeb take on the interwar train-bound potboiler The Wheel Spins, which Hitchcock adapted as his last pre-Hollywood movie. Tuppence Middleton makes an excellent petulant, chauvinistic English flapper caught adrift in a Mitteleuropan conspiracy. Good support from Tom Hughes, Keeley Hawes, Julian Rhind-Tutt et al.

[Escape To Victory title screen]
Escape To Victory
Hardly John Huston’s best, no one’s buying Sly as a goalie, and Michael Caine does not look convincing as a former West Ham player-turned-PoW, but still it’s enjoyable. Poor old Tony Lewis, though. VICTOIRE!

[A Quiet Place title screen]
A Quiet Place
Strong stuff from writer-director-actor John Krasinski – a near future post-apocalypse horror, set in a massively depopulated world where super fast, incredibly sound-sensitive monsters wreak havoc on humanity. Krasinski, real life wife Emily Blunt and child actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe all put in impressive work. Some genuine jumps and chills, all without being a gorfest.

[Se7en title screen]
Se7en
Fincher-Nine Inch Nails-“Farkin’ pigs, man”-plastic shavings-rain-cardboard box.

[The Goonies title screen]
The Goonies
One of those I’m-sure-I-remember-it-being-better movies from the 80s, and sure, it sags somewhat once we’re into the caverns, but still got charm.

[Arthur Christmas title screen]
Arthur Christmas
Better than I expected it would be, an Aardman/American co-production, with three generations of Father Christmas pulling in different directions (traditional vs futuristic, kid-focused vs overall accomplishment). Pretty funny, with voices supplied by Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and James McAvoy.

A Week In Film #524: Peaking duck

[State Of Play title screen]
State Of Play
So-so Hollywood retooling of Paul Abbott’s mini-series about newspaper reporters and politicians and a violent death setting off a chain reaction of interconnected events. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, with Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren holding up the journalistic end of things, and Ben Affleck and Jeff Daniels on the congressional side. Some decent enough moments, but no heart of its own, and largely comprising a patchwork of familiar tropes.

[Nativity! title screen]
Nativity!
Debbie Isitt’s seasonal family movie is wafer-thin, but still thoroughly enjoyable, with uptight teacher Martin Freeman mugging his way through everything in a Freemanly way, whilst Marc Wootton bounces off the walls as man-child classroom assistant Mr Poppy, and assorted Real Life Kids say all sorts of Things Real Kids Say. Jason Watkins puts in a good turn as a rival school’s nativity impresario.

[Inception title screen]
Inception
Chris Nolan’s brain-melting action SF thriller made for a very tasty filling in between slices of his Batman, and still stands the test of time, so long as you don’t try and think about it too much and just let yourself be immersed. Awesome Hans Zimmer score, and normally I find him turgid.

[Tango & Cash title screen]
Tango & Cash
One of those eighties muscle Mary buddy action comedies that I remembering seeing video cases and posters for, but never actually watching. TBH I wasn’t missing much, apart from a muddled, messy, confused film that doesn’t know whether it wants to be serious or funny, dark or light. With Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell as chalk-and-cheese LA detectives stitched up by a drug lord, backed up by decent character actors like Geoffrey Lewis and Brion James, and directed variously by Andrei Konchalovsky, Albert Magnoli and Peter MacDonald.