A Week In Film #607: Ending lockdown

Athlete A title screen
Athlete A
First a depressing tale of how for decades young American gymnasts were abused within the US Olympic training programme – emotionally by coaching staff, and sexually by team doctor Larry Nassar; then an uplifting tale of standing up and being survivors not ‘just’ victims. Strong documentary by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk.

Darkest Hour title screen
Darkest Hour
Can’t quite figure this out – biopic about Churchill narrowed down to his becoming Prime Minister through to Dunkirk. It’s all about him wrestling with his conscience, arguing with Halifax’s faction, and having imaginary sojourns to hear from The Common People. I mean it’s sort of well acted, in the sense that every actor appears to have chosen a tic or a speech impediment and stuck with it, but it does seem incredibly wedded to creating an ahistorical myth which is, in today’s climate particularly, perhaps not very helpful. Director Joe Wright previously did Hanna, which I rather enjoyed. Gary Oldman mumbles a lot as Winnie, Kristin Scott-Thomas is the most accomplished of the cast as Clemmie.

[All The Money In The World title screen]
All The Money In The World
Ridley Scott’s Spacey-erasing picture about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson Paul. Michelle Williams is pretty good as mother Gail, Mark Wahlberg is a security consultant brought in to negotiate with the ’Nrangheta kidnappers. Christopher Plummer is, of course, excellent as the billionaire douchebag. Nothing outstanding.

The Endless Game title screen
The Endless Game
Spy drama written and directed by Bryan Forbes, adapted from the novel by Bryan Forbes, featuring the wife of Bryan Forbes (Nanette Newman)…

Not truly terrible, but very slight, derivative (more than a hint of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and not a great use of a strong, mostly veteran, cast (Albert Finney, George Segal, Ian Holm, Anthony Quayle, Michael Edwin, John Standing, Kristin Scott-Thomas).

My Neighbour Totoro title screen
My Neighbor Totoro
God I love this film.

A Week In Film #606: Back on track

Hotel Transylvania 2 title screen
Hotel Transylvania 2
Nothing-special animated sequel, with Mavis now married to boyfriend Johnny, and with a son Dennis who shows no sign of vampirism, to the horror of his grandad Dracula. Genndy Tartakovsky directs a cast including Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, David Spade and Mel Brooks.

Skyscraper title screen
The Rock does Die Hard in Hong Kong. It’s silly and not that good, but Dwayne Johnson is certainly watchable.

Fierce Creatures title screen
Fierce Creatures
Cleese, Palin, Kline and Curtis re team but cannot recapture the magic of Wanda, in a tale about a zoo taken over by an Australian media magnate.

365 Days title screen
365 Days
That terrible Polish 50 Shades knock-off. Dull.

A Week In Film #605: Easy going

[The Fourth Protocol title screen]
The Fourth Protocol
Pretty decent Freddy Forsyth spy thriller adaptation. He’s no Le Carré, but there are pieces in play, and the performances are good. Pierce Brosnan is a Soviet illegal sent on a secret mission to Britain, Michael Caine is the MI5 spook trying to figure out what is going on. With Ned Beatty, Ray McAnally, Ian Richardson, Julian Glover, Michael Gough, Ronald Pickup and Joanna Cassidy, directed by John McKenzie.

The Russia House title screen
The Russia House
On third or fourth viewing, I have come to appreciate the slow grace of this minor Le Carré. It’s not fast-paced. The main characters are not spies, nor do they want to be. But this is a film about espionage. Sean Connery is an alcoholic book publisher with a penchant for Russia, who is drawn into an attempt by Western intelligence agencies to secure a manuscript proffered to him by a disillusioned scientist. Tom Stoppard delivers an excellent script, Fred Schepisi directs unfussily. Great cast includes Klaus Maria Brandauer, Roy Scheider, James Fox, David Threlfall, Michael Kitchen, Ken Russell and – as the personification of his Russophilia – Michelle Pfeiffer.

[Rampage title screen]
Modern King Kong, based on an 80s coin-op game, with Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris and Malin Åkerman. Candy floss for the eyes, if that, from Brad Peyton.

A Week In Film #604: SECOND IN A ROW!!!

2036 Origin Unknown title screen
2036 Origin Unknown
Bit leaden but also it does try to be a bit different – a British SF movie which draws on 2001’s monolith but then expands into different philosophical territory. Given where it ends up, director Hasraf Dulull imbues it with a remarkable sense of optimism. Katee Sackhoff plays a Mars probe mission controller duelling with an artificial intelligence as they try to figure out what happened to an earlier, failed mission.

The Life Of Of David Gale title screen
The Life Of Of David Gale
A tawdry legal thriller with ideas of grandiosity. Keven Spacey is an anti-death penalty legal professor who ends up on death row convicted of a brutal murder; Kate Winslet is a journalist granted a last interview. You can kind of guess where we are going with this. Cast is rounded off by Gabriel Mann (the preppy CIA staffer from a couple of the Bourne flicks, Melissa McCarthy in an early role, Laura Linney and Leon Rippy (Tom Nuttall in Deadwood). Directed by Alan Parker.

The First Purge title screen
The First Purge
Okay, so I quite liked the original as a stand-alone, low budget horror movie. I kind of felt the follow ups were needless attempts at building a franchise, with diminishing returns. But with instalment this I see not a slide in quality or shrunken ambition, but instead a realignment of how the creator (James DeMonaco – scripting but not directing this time) intends to present his message. With each picture we are further away from the yuppie horror of the original, and closer to a well-realised, class conscious, genre-savvy series. Definite hints of Assault On Precinct 13. A well-tuned cast of rising actors, including Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade, well supported by more experienced talent like Lauren Vélez, Steve Harris and Marisa Tomei. Rotimi Paul has a scenery-chewing spot as a nightmarish predator.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom title screen
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I rather slept-watched through this – definitely did not have the excitement of the preceding reboot, though the final dinosaurs-run-amok scene did go someway to raising energy levels. Written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, directed by JA Bayona. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprise their lead roles, but there are too many new faces trying to take the movie in different directions, typically in ways that are just ciphers for characters in the original three (plus BD Wong and Jeff Goldblum turning up just confuses things).

Ted title screen
Man-child (Mark Wahlberg) whose best friend since boyhood is a (now utterly debauched, foul-mouthed) living teddy bear finds it hard to commit to adult life or grown up relationships. Something happens, he has to step up to the plate, will he win back his gal, etc. Plenty in this Seth McFarlane button-presser to criticise, but it still made me laugh. Nice bit of meta-play around Sam Jones. Mila Kunis does not get a lot to do besides Be The Girlfriend.

A Week In Film #603: ALL NEW! ALL NEW!!!

[Red Lights title screen]
Red Lights
Silly twist but some solid moments, as a pair of parapsychological debunker (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy) investigate a returned, long dormant self-professed psychic (Robert De Niro). Directed and written by Rodrigo Cortés, cast includes Toby Jones and Elizabeth Olsen.

The Lion King title screen
The Lion King (1994)
Circle of life etc. Nice Disney Renaissance business.

6 Underground title screen
6 Underground
Given the notices, and the bare fact this is Michael Bay, really expected it to be much shitter than it was. But Ryan Reynolds anchors it well as a mysterious dude bringing together an international team to secretly take out dictators. Absolutely reactionary, occidentalist guff in many respects, but executed with panache and élan. Oh, and superb action sequences. With Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy and Dave Franco.

Aftermath title screen
Subdued, unflashy drama with Arnold Schwarzenegger trying some of that acting malarkey. He’s a working shlub who in a moment loses his family, then spends an age futilely trying to seek meaning and closure in that loss. Scoot McNairy is a working shlub who spends an age destroying himself after a single moment comes to define him. From director Elliott Lester (who gave us the ambitious, flawed crime drama Blitz) and screenwriter Javier Gullón.

[Inside Out title screen]
Inside Out
Thoughtful Pixar animation, with a quintet of emotions facing a major quest in order to protect their human host, a vibrant young girl by the name of Riley whose family has relocated to San Francisco, triggering her journey into adolescence. Accomplished direction by Peter Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) from a script co-written with Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley.

A Week In Film #602: Ratchet

[My Spy title screen]
My Spy
Droll mash-up of things like The Spy Next Door and Kindergarten Cop, with hydrant-necked probationary CIA operator Dave Bautista surveilling unaware relatives of a sketchy arms dealer, and ending up being blackmailed into teaching her how to be a spy, Leon-style, by the nine-year old daughter (Chloe Coleman). Kristen Schaal is the ditzy tech support, Parisa Fitz-Henley the hot widowed mom. Effectively directed by hack Peter Legal (a Naked Gun here, a Nutty Professor sequel there, a TV show adaptation like Get Smart, a remake like The Longest Yard).

[21 Bridges title screen]
21 Bridges
Not great, not terrible thriller about cop killers and police corruption in New York, with poker-straight detective Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) in a race against time. Boseman is good, cast includes JK Simmons, Keith David, Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch and Sienna Miller, directed by TV dude Brian Kirk.

Extraction (2020) title screen
Extraction (2020)
Very mediocre actioner, with Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary-with-a-death wish trying to get a kid he’s been contracted to rescue from kidnappers to safety. Some potentially nice story elements are squandered, the action is neither narratively satisfying nor technically unique, and there’s a bad taste in this whole crew of white dudes shooting up Bangladesh.

Directed by Sam Hargrave, from a script by MCU directors the Russo brothers, for whom he has been a long-time stunt coordinator, and based on a comic book, apparently. Best bits are Rudhraksh Jaiswal as the security chief of the kidnaped boy’s father, Golshifteh Faranhani as the mercs’ boss, and Priyanshu Painyuli as the drug kingpin who sets the whole train of events moving.

[Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey title screen]
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Pete Hewitt’s San Dimas sequel doesn’t hit the heights of the original, but it does have Winter and Reeves being adorable, George Carlin earning some good money, Joss Ackland as the bad guy, and William Sadler as Death.

[Life Of The Party title screen]
Life Of The Party
Wafer-thin but enjoyable non-rom com from Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy. She’s a middle-aged mom dumped by her dick husband (Matt Walsh) just as their daughter enrols at college – leading inevitably to her deciding to go back to school. High jinks ensue, etc. Warm cast – Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Jessie Ennis, Adria Arjona, Maya Rudolph, Damon Jones, Heidi Gardner, Jimmy O Yang, Luke Benward, Julie Bowen – makes it a pleasant if not ground-breaking experience.

The Lovebirds title screen
The Lovebirds
Really rather enjoyed this, with Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae going through a bit of a rough patch in their relationship, before a bizarre turn of events throws them into a near-Hitchcockian drama. Directed by Michael Showalter from a script by Aaron Adams and Brendan Gail.

Sicario: Day Of The Soldado title screen
Sicario: Day Of The Soldado
Doesn’t bear up so well second time round – the more reactionary aspects feel less excusable the way the world has gone since its release.

A Week In Film #601: Two n00bs and a shit stick

[Tarzan (1999) title screen]
Tarzan (1999)
Pleasant Disney animation, decent voice cast (Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Brian Blessed, Nigel Hawthorne, Glenn Close, Lance Henriksen), directed by Kevin Lima (102 Dalmatians) and Chris Buck (both Frozen movies).

Blue Streak title screen
Blue Streak
Martin Lawrence as a jewel thief who impersonates a cop to try and retrieve a jewel he stashed on an unbuilt police station two years previously. Moderately diverting with massive plot holes and a nice bit part for Dave Chappelle. Written by Stephen Carpenter, directed by two-time collaborator Les Mayfield.

1917 title screen
Really did deserve the hype IMO. Sam Mendes blindsides us with exactly what will transpire. Yes, there are historical liberties. But the emotional, visceral power is undeniable. Beautifully shot and peerlessly orchestrated. Excellent casting surrounds young ingenues (George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman) with solid stalwarts (Mark Strong, Colin Firth) and actors not long ago in that position themselves (Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays). Big shout out to Roger Deakins, still got that lighting cameraman magic.

A Week In Film #600: Sixth century

[Planes: Fire & Rescue title screen]
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Dire, surplus-to-requirement sequel to the unnecessary sidequel to Planes, which itself was hardly the animated movie of the millennium. He most notable thing about it appears to be that it was directed by someone with the rather unusual name of ‘Bobs Gannaway’.

Midnight Run title screen
Midnight Run
Nice, easy-going odd couple crime drama/comedy from Martin Brest (direction) and George Gallo (script), with uptight bounty hunter De Niro chasing after crafty bail-jumping accountant Charles Grodin.

The Last Thing He Wanted title screen
The Last Thing He Wanted
An interesting premise – a journalist covering the Reagan administration’s shady actions in Central America gets caught up in an arms dealing plot – but things get muddy very quickly, and not in an artistically useful way. Some nice touches but ultimately too flawed to commend. Directed by Dee Rees, with an excellent cast (Anne Hathaway, Rosie Perez, Edi Gathegi, Willen Dafoe, Toby Jones, Ben Affleck), script by Rees and Marcos Villalobos.

Night Hunter title screen
Night Hunter
Feature debut for director David Raymond, and it’s a derivative, thinks-it’s-better-than-it-is genre flick masquerading as a classy psychological horror. But it’s not all bad – yes, it features Ben Kingsley, but there are also more understated performances from the likes of Henry Cavill. Not another Se7en – maybe a Thr3e.

A Week In Film #599: Strange choices

[101 Dalmatians (1996) title screen]
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Pretty sure I’ve not seen this since catching it in the cinema first time around. Sort of holds up, pretty enjoyable as a mindless ‘family film’. Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil doesn’t so much chew up scenery, as perform the function of a human version of the woodchipper at the end of Fargo. Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams make a decent pair of henchmen.

Planes title screen
The shitter variant follow up to [I]Cars[/I], with DisneyToon providing the animation rather than Pixar, and Dane Cook the voice of the protagonist instead of Owen Wilson. Says it all, really.

Jennifer Eight title screen
Jennifer 8
Ended up watching this again, like the second time in a year or something, when I’ve watched it maybe 3? 4 times ever? And it’s not like I think it’s a great film. Full of flaws so it is. And Andy Garcia. Oh well.

A Week In Film #598: Clattering

The Eagle Has Landed title screen
The Eagle Has Landed
Rollicking WW2 adventure, with John Sturges directing a Tom Mankiewicz script based on the Jack Higgins novel, about a secret plot to assassinate Churchill in England. Michael Caine is the ‘good German’ tasked with carrying out the mission, Sven-Bertil Taube his second-in-command, Donald Sutherland the affable Irishman on the ground, Jean Marsh a tragic spy, Jenny Agutter a precocious Land Girl, Larry Hagman and Treat Williams a pair of very different American soldiers…

K19: The Widowmaker title screen
K-19: The Widowmaker
Kathryn Bigelow’s stab at a claustrophobic Cold War submarine thriller, and it’s not bad. Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson lead the cast, decent back-up from the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Donald Sumpter, Lex Shrapnel, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and other.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure title screen
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Warm-hearted not-as-dumb-as-it-seems fun, with Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves delivering enjoyable performances over a very silly plot directed by Stephen Herek and written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.

Minions title screen
Pointless Despicable Me sidequel from co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, written by Brian Lynch. Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney and Steve Coogan supply the voices.

Escape From Pretoria title screen
Escape From Pretoria
Decent true life gaol break movie focused on a pair of (white) ANC activists, Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber), who in 1979 made a daring break from prison having been given long sentences for a non-violent campaign against the racist apartheid South African regime. Plenty of familiar tropes, but also grit and passion in the performances. With Ian Hart, Mark Leonard Winter and Grant Piro. Directed and co-written by Francis Annan.