Monthly Archives: March 2020

A Week In Film #594: Decent haul

The Big Short title screen
The Big Short
Adam McKay’s entertaining and depressing drama about the Great Recession and how the American subprime mortgage scandal initiated it all. A film which gives us outsider capitalist antiheroes, but which also aims to show the effects of capitalism when capitalists go capitalistic, so, go figure. But yes, entertaining. With Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock et al.

Ocean’s Twelve title screen
Ocean’s Twelve
Not as fun as the first, but still has its moments – this time the team are facing a double hit, from the authorities and from a self-regarding European thief (Vincent Cassel). Some nice meta moments, like when Tess, played by Julia Roberts, has to pretend to be Julia Roberts, as part of a con – right up to and including when she unexpectedly bumps into Bruce Willis (played by Bruce Willis), only to be exposed as not Julia Roberts. The usual cast is boosted by Catherine Zeta-Jones as a driven Europe agent.

The Operative title screen
The Operative
A woman (Diane Kruger) recruited as a Mossad spy disappears; the bosses pull in her erstwhile cover officer (Martin Freeman) to try and find out where she is and what her intentions are. In time we learn just what it is they are all frightened off.

Based on Yiftach Reicher-Atir’s novel המורה לאנגלית AKA The English Teacher, writer-director Yuval Adler manages a taut, lean thriller, which chooses not to go all FLASH! BANG! WALLOP! on us, but instead presents a very truthful-feeling portrait of motivations and drives. Kruger and Freeman are both excellent, as is Cas Anvar, as the unwitting target of her mission brief. I particularly liked the nerve-jarring ending, in which neither the obvious nor what is inevitable when the obvious doesn’t happen happens. It is neatly untidy in this way.

[Montana title screen]
Strangely dud mashup of Leon and Hummingbird from Shank’s Mo Ali. Lars Mikkelsen is a former Serb assassin who teams up in east London with a streetwise young drug courier (McKell David) in order to get vengeance on the many who betrayed him. Most of the film is given over to implausibly training sessions and ridiculously long fight scenes . Ashley Walters is given little to do. Zlatko Buric (Pusher’s Milo) is wasted. The sub-plot about bent coppers (Brad Moore and Rocky Marshall) never goes anywhere. The action scenes are let down by unforgiving slow cuts and embarrassingly unfinished digital FX. The script is slack, there’s no characterisation, and it has the pace of a diabetic septuagenarian in a Bugs Bunny costume trying to run a marathon.

[The Interview (2014) title screen]
The Interview (2014)
The stoner comedy that provoked a cyber war, with tabloid TV host James Franco and his producer buddy Seth Rogen somehow in North Korea for a spy mission. Randall Park is the misunderstood Jucheist Supreme Leader. Written and directed by Rogen and long-time creative partner Evan Goldberg. Really not great, but definitely not terrible (on a technical level, at least).

A Week In Film #593: My Corona

The Hamburg Cell title screen
The Hamburg Cell
Thoughtful, respectable dramatisation of the lead-up to the al Qaida attacks of September 2001, from the recruitment of Ziad Jarrah (and focusing mainly on him), through to the boarding of the plot’s members onto the planes which they intended to weaponise. Directed by Antonia Bird from a script by Ronan Bennett (Top Boy) and documentarian Alice Perman, drawing heavily on the 9/11 Commission’s report.

Hot Pursuit (1987) title screen
Hot Pursuit (1987)
Teen frolics from Steven Lisberger (Animalympics, Tron, Slipstream), with John Cusack trying to catch up with his girlfriend’s family for a dream summer vacation in the Caribbean after nearly having to stay for resits at his prep school. Very much a junior version of those 80s yuppie quest movies, with more than a few questionable characterisations. A movie I definitely remember seeing a bit of but never finishing, a long long time ago.

Wendy Gazelle plays his girlfriend, Robert Loggia is a Hemingway-esque sailor, Ben Stiller a creepy luxury yacht captain, Ben Stiller a suspicious traveller, and Keith David a local who helps our hapless hero. Very mediocre at best.

Kursk: The Last Mission title screen
Kursk: The Last Mission
Pretty decent take on the 2000 accident that took a Russian nuclear sub to the bottom of the ocean, and the flawed rescue efforts that left it there. Matthias Schoenaerts is solid as an experienced seaman who does his best to keep his crew mates working together and hopeful even when they are almost certainly doomed. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who also did the firstDogme95 film Festen, and Jagten. Bit parts for Max von Sydow, Léa Seydoux and Colin Firth.

Jaws title screen
Spielberg, Scheider, Dreyfuss, Shaw, and an inventively shot fake shark.

Apollo 11 title screen
Apollo 11
Todd Douglas Miller’s innovative documentary about the first successful boots-on-the-Moon space mission, assembled solely from archive footage, without voiceover. Both relaxing and tense.

White Boy title screen
White Boy
Interesting documentary by Shawn Tech about a Detroit kid recruited by the FBI as an informant, who ended up banged up for 30+ years on drugs charges.

The Coldest Game title screen
The Coldest Game
Odd, disjointed, but pleasantly not same-old same-old – a Cold War thriller pitched around a chess match being played in Warsaw between an American and a Russian at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Convoluted, at times confusing, interesting and different. Directed by Łukasz Kośmicki, starring Bill Pullman (a last minute replacement for William Hurt, who had to withdraw due to injury once filming had already started), Robert Więckiewicz, Lotte Verbeek and Aleksey Serebryakov.

A Week In Film #592: Storm breaks

Spenser Confidential title screen
Spenser Confidential
Lack-lustre framed cop comes out of prison and becomes private eye business, which somehow manages to body swerve the slightest possibility of hitting any noir notes, and seems to strive for the tone of a late 80s TV movie. Not Mark Wahlberg at his best, and with little to stimulate interest in future installments. A shame, because it’s directed by long-time collaborator Peter Berg, who usually it fairly reliable, and there’s plenty of juice in the supporting cast (Winston Duke, Iliza Schlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Alan Arkin, Marc Maron).

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World title screen
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Edgar Wright nails the intelligent, fun comic book movie before it was fashionable.

I Am Patrick Swayze title screen
I Am Patrick Swayze
Soppy, melodramatic but interesting documentary about the alcoholic dancing actor cowboy dude.

Fighting With My Family title screen
Fighting With My Family
Really wanted to enjoy this more than I did but ultimately it felt like a film made about a situation which had been cynically engineered so that it could be made into a movie. But still, quite fun, and nice cast (Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn) assembled by director Stephen Marchant for a story about a Goth Midlands teenager recruited to a glossy WWE pro wrestling training programme.

A Week In Film #591: The Quietening

Where’s My Roy Cohn? title screen
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
Tight, old-fashioned documentary from Matt Tyrnauer about the hubristic, venal, hypocritical lawyer who made his name first as a prosecutor embroiled in securing the deaths of the Rosenbergs, before a long career doing shitty things for shitty people. The why now? Angle is covered by tying him to the rise of Donald Trump as a property gimp.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi title screen
13 Hours
I don’t know why – it is Michael Bay, after all – but it’s a viscerally effective movie with strong performances.

A Week In Film #590: Portents

An Ungentlemanly Act title screen
An Ungentlemanly Act
Stuart Urban’s sabre-rattling yet witty and ultimately downbeat take on the Argentine invasion of the Falklands. Bob Peck as Marine garrison commander Mike Norman, and Ian Richardson as island governor Rex Hunt, are amongst the thoroughly competent cast. Other familiar faces are early appearances by Marc Warren (Hunt’s son) and Aidan Gillen (as a Royal Marine).

The Falklands Play title screen
The Falklands Play
Straight-forward television adaptation of Ian Curteis’ play about the lead-up to the Falklands War (which had had a long and tortuous history), focusing on discussions and debates among the Tory Cabinet, with Margaret Lodge as Thatcher. Neither as cringeily jingoistic as it might have been, nor as objectively critical as it should have been, there are some decent turns from older actors, including gravel-voiced Michael Cochrane from The Archers as Nicholas Ridley, and John Standing as Willie Whitelaw. Colin Stinton plays Al Haig as comic straight man. Directed by Michael Samuels.

True Crime title screen
True Crime
Really rather dull thriller directed and starring Clint Eastwood, about a washed-out New York newspaperman relocated to Oakland where through a serious of coincidences he ends up working against the clock (HE DIES AT MIDNIGHT!) to save the life of a Death Row prisoner whose guilt in the murder of a shop cashier he has come to doubt. Adapted from a novel by Andrew Klavan, who is seemingly rather a dick.

A terrible mash-up of all too familiar clichés and over-cooked tropes, with spartan story mechanics and barely an attempt to create anything special or intriguing or unique. In the plus column we have James Woods (definitely a dick, but a talented one) in a bit-part as Eastwood’s editor. Isaiah Washington, as the condemned man, and LisaGay Hamilton, as his wife, seem like they are performing in entirely a different movie to everyone else – a heartfelt, meaningful, decent film.

Iron Man title screen
Iron Man
Jon Favreau’s franchise-launching superhero movie, with Robert Downey Jnr as everyone’s favourite quip-mongering death-dealer. Unlike many of the subsequent MCU entries, it is at least pretty straightforward to follow, though not without bits that drag.