Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Week In Film #380: Mediocrity

Cop title screen
Cop
Hardcore, misanthropic take on a James Ellroy novel, with James Woods perfectly cast as a shitbag LA cop on the trail of a serial killer. No classic, and with a very silly climax, but worth a spin.

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Target
Dull ‘my dad was a spy’ picture with Gene Hackman and son Matt Dillon chasing around Europe looking for kidnapped mom Gayle Hunnicutt. Definitely not Arthur Penn’s finest work.

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Under Suspicion
Very stagey one, this – cops Morgan Freeman and Thomas Jane try and browbeat rich asshole tax lawyer Gene Hackman to admit he’s a pervey killer. Some commendable performances but doesn’t really go anywhere. Monica Bellucci could have had more to do. Confidently helmed with occasional artistic flourishes by otherwise journeyman director Stephen Hopkins.

A Week In Film #379: ALL NEW (even the old ones)

Company Business title screen
Company Business
Less than the sum of its parts, with ex-CIA guy Gene Hackman babysitting captured KGB mole Mikhail Baryshnikov to a prisoner exchange; it doesn’t go off happily. Not Nicholas Meyer’s best work.

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Fury
Angry tank man Brad Pitt leads his men (Shia Laboeuf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and newbie Logan Lerman) into action against SS panzers late in WW2. Solid big budget genre stuff from David Ayer.

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John Wick
Widowed ex-hitman Keanu Reeves take on some bad guys. Stylish and CGI-resistant action thriller from Chad Stahelski and David Leith.

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Spotlight
Old fashioned newspapermen-fighting-for-justice tales, but with management buy-outs and constant cut-backs. With Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber, directed by Tom McCarthy.

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Pompeii
Rather boring historical disaster movie – sort of Titanic with lava. Kit Harington and Emily Browning are the cross-class romantics, Adele Akinnuoye-Agbalje the noble gladiator, Kiefer Sutherland the Roman baddie. Directed by Paul WS Anderson.

A Week In Film #378: Bigger

Sicario title screen
Sicario
Denis Villeneuve’s grindingly, unrelentingly pessimistic drug war thriller, with Emily Blunt as the FBI patsy brought along for the ride by spooks Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro.

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Spooks: The Greater Good
TV spin-off which looks good, and pitches the tone better than the series, but still has the vibe of Enid Blyton trying to write a George Smiley story.

Kit Harington is the protagonist, a bitter former Security Service officer reeled back in by MI5 bosses for one last job – to locate his old section head Harry (Peter Firth), who has gone missing, apparently under a cloud.

Some nice set-pieces, but too glossy and derivative to be truly engaging. Directed by series creator Bharat Nalluri.

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Narrow Margin (1990)
Gene Hackman is perfect as the deputy DA chasing down Anne Archer, a woman he presumes to be a gangster’s moll, who witnessed a gangland slaying. He needs to escort her to LA to tstify before a grand jury; the bad guys have other ideas. Great chase movie from Peter Hyams, who beefs up the original noir story on which it’s based.

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The Rover
Sort of a heightened realist version of Mad Max, with Guy Pearce as a taciturn man pursuing the criminals who stole his car in a post-global economic crash Australia.

Written and directed by David Michôd, with Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy (Halt And Catch Fire), David Field, Tawanda Manyimo, Anthony Hayes (The Square, Animal Kingdom) and Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel).

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Power
Had the chance of being up there with The Parallax View and The Conversation and Klute, but never quite makes it. Richard Gere is successful reputation management expert at a PR firm, advising politicians and military dictators and powerful corporations on how to win public support. His involvement with a sketchy senatorial candidate leads him to start questioning his own behaviour and success. Mid-table action from Sidney Lumet.

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’71
French director Yann Demange’s first big screen effort – after UK TV like Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set and the Top Boy series – is a confident and accomplished effort, perhaps helped by his distance from the subject matter. We’re in Belfast, 1971, stranded in the unfamiliar streets of a hostile city along with young English squaddie Jack O’Connell, after a riot separates him from his unit.

Whilst the main string of the film is about his efforts to get safely back to barracks, the parallel story of a hidden, dirty war (made flesh by Sean Harris and his MRF counter-gang) is as nail-biting; and by having the emotional, character-driven element running alongside the based-on-true-events conspiracy thriller element, there is a wholeness and a depth to the story which too many movies fail to offer.

Strong support from the likes of Killian Scott, Barry Keoghan and Charlie Murphy (all Love/Hate alumni), Sean Harris (Red Riding), Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders) and others make this a visceral ride.

A Week In Film #377: ALL NEW!

Bridge Of Spies title screen
Bridge Of Spies
Spielberg promises more than he delivers in a tale about a small-town lawyer representing first a Soviet spy and then a pair of Americans held behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s of the Cold War. Can’t fault Tom Hanks in the lead, or Mark Rylance as the inscrutable Red under the Bed; but it’s a very average melodrama, just executed with well above-average skill.

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Blackhat
I gave it a go – it’s Michael Mann does cyber warfare – it’s pants. TRON did it better. Mostly feels like a knock-off mid-Moore period Bond adventure with all the pointless globetrotting and hardware and nonsense. Hacker-out-on-parole Chris Hemsworth frowns a lot.

American Sniper title screen
American Sniper
Both viscerally compelling and intellectually obnoxious – Bradley Cooper is excellent as the Christian crusader with a telescopic sight, Eastwood makes the audience complicit in some pretty grim beliefs, and Sienna Miller has a crack at the film’s only major female part.

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Spectre
Fairly pedestrian New Model Bondage, but one which does at least aim at providing an overarching narrative to the reboot series – and an accurate aim at that. Plus some big set piece explosions, knuckle-splitting fist fights, Qish autistickery, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, Christophe Waltz as an effortlessly evil villain, et al.

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Les Salauds AKA Bastards
Took my breath away. Had a crack because of the presence of leather-faced hangdog Vincent Lindon, whom I enjoyed in the Hollywoodish thriller Mea Culpa.

It’s all set up to be a pretty standard genre piece – revenge thriller, chase movie, les bourgeois sexy etc – but then never fully goes there. Instead it’s just, well, grim. Writer/director Claire Denis is definitely someone whose work I shall investigate now.

Soundtrack was by Stuart Staples (Tindersticks), and greatly helped add to the tense atmosphere, which in visuals and audio and tone and refusal to give easy closure, brought to mind Hyena.

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Slow West
Fine nuevo-revisionist Western from John Maclean (formerly a musician in The Beta Band), with gun-for-hire Michael Fassbender guiding young Scots emigré Kodi Smit-McPhee across a dangerous frontier America in search of his unrequited love, Rose. Pitch perfect from cast to pace to visuals to audio.

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Montage Of Heck
Enjoyable, eye-opening, humanising biography of the Nirvana frontman, assembled by director Brett Morgan from the super-8, video and audio recordings of friends and family, plus Cobain’s own artwork specially animated for the screen.