Film reviews 80: “The Jungle Book”, “10 Cloverfield Lane”, “Batman v Superman”, “The Son’s Room”, “Search Party”, “The Gift” and 25 others…

drifting clouds aki kaurismaki

This month: “Ashby”, “An Autumn Tale”, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, “Beyond the Lights” “Closet Monster”, “Couple in a Hole”, “Drifting Clouds” (pictured above), “Festival”, “Field of Dreams”, “The Gift”, “Hail, Caesar!”, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party”, “I Wish”, “The Jungle Book”, “Living is Easy With Eyes Closed”, “Midnight Special”, “Mr Nobody”, “My Night at Maud’s”, “Nasty Baby”, “Ne le dis à personne”, “Neighboring Sounds”, “Nobody Knows”, “The Pass”, “Queen and Country”, “Search Party”, “Sisters of the Plague”, “The Son’s Room”, “Still Walking”, “Summertime”, “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Tu dors, Nicole”.

Life is like The Wire. At first it’s a chore, but it gets good after 45 years. Elsewhere, I’ve written things such as an interview with Jeff Nichols, a jazz-enthused interview with Don Cheadle, a very long review of Hail, Caesar!, a look at The Brand New Testament and onscreen depictions of God, a POV look at Hardcore Henry and when cinema throws you into the action, a primer for the films of Hirokazu Koreeda and also my picks from this year’s BFI Flare. Oh yeah, and that time I interviewed Cate Blanchett.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

Ashby (2015) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Tony McNamara
Starring: Nat Wolff, Mickey Rourke, Emma Roberts, Sarah Silverman
“I’m studying their brains.”

ashby nat wolff emma roberts

A tonal misfire interspersing overwritten high-school snark (a romcom between Wolff and Roberts) with a teen idolisation of a neighbouring assassin (a non-com between Wolff and Rourke). The chasm between the twin stories is so vast, I’d be amazed if they weren’t separate scripts mashed together. Neither work, of course, but the hitman arc is especially baffling; when tears flow from Wolff’s eyes, you’ll wish his neighbour worked from home.

An Autumn Tale
(1998) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Éric Rohmer
Starring: Béatrice Romand, Marie Rivière, Alain Libolt
“If you want a woman for life, choose one straight away.”

autumn tale eric rohmer

Late Rohmer appeals much more to me than his early Moral Tales. Along with A Summer’s Tale, this lyrical love story and its camera movements are propelled by the impulsive energy of its characters.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(2016) – 4/10

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Diane Lane
“I’m not a woman; I’m a journalist.”

batman v superman dawn of justice ben affleck

Martha coincidences and Dropbox cameos aside, Snyder’s suckered punch of a sequel peaks in its opening minutes: Batffleck, at ground level, assessing the damage done from Man of Steel – not just the two-and-a-bit hours poured down the drain, but the carcass of buildings strewn across the floor; the wreckage is felt, not ignored.

Yet this is just a response to the complaints against Man of Steel, and the list of problems with Batman v Superman (confusing, humourless, no sense of why they’re fighting, shoehorning of characters for films we’ll be falling asleep during in 2019 etc) will lead to something similar in Justice League Part One: expect a comedy sketch before the pre-credits, perhaps a stand-up addressing each flaw, one by one, by email.

As for Jesse Eisenberg, his performance is both the worst and most interesting of the bunch. My hunch is he’s never seen a superhero film before and his wacky tics are what he assumes comic-book baddies do. And now he’s done it, I suppose it is what they do.

Beyond the Lights
(2015) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver
“What are you going to do with your 15 minutes?”

beyond the lights Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker

Kinda outrageous it didn’t get a wider UK release.

Closet Monster
(2016) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Stephen Dunn
Starring: Connor Jessup, Joanne Kelly, Aaron Abrams, Isabella Rossellini
“If you don’t hate your parents, you’ll eventually become them.”

closet monster stephen dunn connor jessop

Wrote about it here.

Couple in a Hole
(2016) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Tom Geens
Starring: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher
“We’re tough. We’re from Scotland.”

couple in a hole that guy from the thick of it

Doesn’t really go anywhere – which is the point. A Scottish couple grieve over their dead son by burying themselves in a forest in France. In a blanket fort of leaves, they wallow in sadness with a breeze against their unwashed faces. It’s beautiful, the sentiment and cinematography, and the landscape is redolent of a Grimm story gone wrong. But around the weirdness and top performances is an air of familiarity – in the central duo’s regression, they feel a bit one-note after an hour, and the developments are ludicrous.

Drifting Clouds
(1996) – 8/10

Original title: Kauas pilvet karkaavat
Director/Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Kati Outinen, Kari Väänänen, Markku Peltola
“Life is short and miserable. Be merry while you can. Waiter! Bring another bottle.”

drifting clouds aki kaurismaki 2

This is my life.

(2005) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Annie Griffin
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Daniela Nardini, Stephen Mangan, Raquel Cassidy, Lucy Punch
“You’re saying you’re always miserable, but I’ve never noticed? Well, could you cheer up, please? This is about comedy.”

festival annie griffin steven mangan raquel cassidy edinburgh comedy

In an incestuous showbiz circuit, where everyone’s either sleeping or feuding with the other, Festival is like Funny People without the tawdry family storyline or self-congratulation. By which I mean Griffin’s script is brutal in its depiction of comedy careerism, presenting an elevator to the gallows-humour top without requiring talent – something we suspect of the Josh Widdicombes of the world.

Even Larry Sanders, in all its bitterness, presented its characters – even Hank – as having something. Here, in Scotland, one-person shows are attended by the one-person audiences they deserve, and an awards committee deem “tall women aren’t funny”. The overall structure may be more 10 podcasts in a blender than Griffin’s Short Cuts, and much of the laughs are only mined from cheap exaggeration, but the resentment and desperation ring true.

Field of Dreams
(1989) – 2/10

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Writers: Phil Alden Robinson, W.P. Kinsella (novel)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta
“Oh my God, you’re from the 60s. Back to the 60s! There’s no place for you in the future.”

field of dreams kevin costner

No idea how this has retained a place in pop culture for anything other than being a Mac & Me-style flop of baseball field proportions. Sure, it gave us Wayne’s World 2, but Wayne’s World 2 wasn’t that funny. I spent the entire time in utter disbelief, hearing a voice whispering, “If you turn it off, the next cringey bit of dialogue will never come.”

The Gift
(2015) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
“Turn on the lights.”

the gift rebecca hall jason bateman joel edgerton

The Blum factory pulls off a genuine jump scare with a horror-thriller that offers something intriguing, despite the generic title. Bateman moves away from his Mr Nice Guy persona, without adopting the desperate Mr Not-Nice Guy roles of Horrible Bosses and Bad Words. Once unwrapped, the story rarely turns where you expect it – which is a positive, until the end when it’s a case of “oh, you really shouldn’t have”.

Hail, Caesar!
(2016) – 7.5/10

Directors/Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson
“Would that it were so simple.”

hail caesar coen brothers channing tatum sailor dancing

With all-singing, all-dancing gusto, Hail, Caesar! is an explosive medley of the Coen brothers’ greatest hits: a madcap kidnapping, a cash-filled suitcase, genre pastiches, luckless losers, screwball one-liners, George Clooney with a dumb expression, and so on. It’s the filmmaking duo’s outright funniest since The Big Lebowski, but also deceptively light, sneaking in the notion of cinema as a worthy substitute for religion.

Wrote about it here.

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
(2016) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Stephen Cone
Starring: Cole Doman, Daniel Kyri, Pat Healy, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Nina Ganet, Zoe Tyson
“Christ teaches us to love everybody, whether they’re addicts, criminals or gay people

henry gamble's birthday party

Wrote about it here.

I Wish
(2011) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Kohki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Nene Otsuka, Joe Odagiri
“They’re too nice. I warned them to be careful about bank frauds.”

i wish Hirokazu Koreeda 2

Wrote about it here.

The Jungle Book
(2016) – 6/10

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Marks, Rudyard Kipling (novel)
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson
“I could get used to this.”

the jungle book 2016

Or so goes the final words from Baloo. Bob Odenkirk joked on a Comedy Bang Bang podcast that the ending of Breaking Bad would consist of this line, and chef Favreau has served it up from the mouth a sloth voiced by Bill Murray.

To an extent, we have to get used to this. Based on early box office figures, there’ll be a remake of Lion King on the way soon, and possibly a Jungle Book sequel – which will be delayed to avoid the other Jungle Book remake on its way. In other words, groundbreaking animation and the stories possible.

I foresee trouble up the river. When the CGI’s novelty wears out, a rickety tree branch of a script is left. None of the story beats hit. Frankly, it’s creepy for a bear and a panther to look after this ungrateful brat who prefers the company of wolves anyway. The nods to the original – the songs, particularly – truly grate, and the King Louie sequence is a baffling nod to… The Godfather? Apocalypse Now? Some sci-fi flick about giant monkeys?

But for now, the immersive special effects remind me of when Avatar came out. The visuals papered over the flaws, and overall there was enough “yay for nature” goodwill to stoke the red flower in audience’s hearts. Yet last week, a nation turned blue at the news Cameron will deliver four Avatar sequels. Enjoy The Jungle Book for now then.

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed
(2013) – 4/10

Director/Writer: David Trueba
Starring: Javier Cámara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer
“You can’t live in fear. You’re young. You need to change things.”

living is easy with eyes closed Javier Cámara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer john lennon the beatles car road trip spain david trueba

Spain, 1966. A Spanish English teacher (the guy is Spanish, but teaches English to Spanish students) picks up two young hitchhikers on his way to track down John Lennon for a reason too stupid to explain. The light-hearted, hang-out charm is infectious for the first half, then stumbles. Some stuff about Franco aside, the problem might be in how Cámara’s “baldy” takes charge of the trip, like hanging out for too long with your teacher – the initial conversation can be fun, even illuminating, but after a while it’s suffocating.

Midnight Special
(2016) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard
“You have no clue what you’re dealing with, do you?”

midnight special adam driver jeff nichols

Here’s my interview with Jeff Nichols.

Mr. Nobody
(2009) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Jack Van Dormael
Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Roby Regbo
“In chess, it’s called Zugzwang, when the only viable move is to not move.”

mr nobody jared leto

I’m torn over Mr Nobody, a ridiculously ambitious, OTT interpretation of the “many worlds theory”. Operating as Sliding Doors on cocaine and LSD, Dormael’s sci-fi posits Leto as Nemo Nobody, the last living human in 2092; in horrifically misjudged ageing makeup, Nemo recalls his various lives, each sprung out of various crossroads in life.

Thewhat if?” motif is taken to the max, with the drama’s overblown nature unveiling life’s infinite possibilities. Throw together in a blender, each alternate timeline is linked with match-cuts and greenscreen trickery in the style of Cloud Atlas, yet, miraculously, it’s still possible to follow. A digestible mess that’s far less of a slog than The Fountain, even if it’s susceptible to sentimentality and the sense you’re watching a music director’s clip reel.

My Night at Maud’s
(1969) – 6/10

Original title: Ma nuit chez Maud
Director/Writer: Éric Rohmer
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, François Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault
“Women always raise my moral values.”

my night at maud's eric rohmer Jean-Louis Trintignant, François Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault

Much of Rohmer’s third entry in the Six Moral Tales series is like being trapped at the end  of a party with two people who won’t shut up – their inebriated conversations rambles over self-interests of philosophy, maths and love, not allowing anyone else to stick in a boot or word. After verbally tying his laces, Trintignant is left to ponder over two women: Maud is a smart Protestant with a daughter and clean home; and then there’s the blonde Catholic from church who he decides within frames will be his wife. The frisson is in the few conversational gaps, where thoughts are obscured by endless mewing about Pascal and whatever book the characters stumbled upon the night before.

Nasty Baby
(2016) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Sebastián Silva
Starring: Sebastián Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimple
“Maybe there’s a reason it hasn’t happened yet.”

nasty baby Sebastián Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimple

At best, it’s the freewheeling comedy of Crystal Fairy, and at worse it’s Magic Magic.

Ne le dis à personne
(2006) – 5/10

English title: Tell No One
Director: Guillaume Canet
Writers: Guillaume Canet, Philippe Lefebvre, Harlan Coben (novel)
Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Kristin Scott Thomas
“You tried the passwords?”

Ne le dis à personne tell no one François Cluzet Guillaume Canet

A man tries to clear his name of the crime he didn’t commit – murdering his wife – before he’s thrown in prison. Which is entertaining enough, particularly a motorway-crossing foot chase. As for the final act, the explanation – not as outlandish as expected, to be fair – is somewhat disappointing, exposing the thriller as more a guessing game than anything else. Though there’s plenty of running, the pace could have picked up a bit .

Neighboring Sounds
(2012) – 4.5/10

Original title: O Soma o Redor
Director/Writer: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Starring: Irandhir Santos, Gustavo Jahn, Maeve Jinkings
“Lu, how sad. Love you.”

neighbouring neighboring sounds O Soma o Redor Kleber Mendonça Filho

Sorry. There’s much to admire in a Brazilian Short Cuts confined to a small block; in its perimeter, where double padlocks aren’t enough, a team of security guards are a unnecessary luxury and protective cushion. Dogs bark, washing machines whir, you look at the time to see how much is left. Still, it’s technically assured and lensed by the same DP of Casa Grande, a more riveting alternative.

Nobody Knows
(2004) – 8/10

Original title: Dare mo Shiranai
Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Yūya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimura
“Someday, let’s get on and go see the airplanes.”

nobody knows Hirokazu Koreeda

A nightmarish Plato’s Cave in which the inhabitants can see the planes flying at a distance, but obediently remain in the shadows. Wrote about it here.

The Pass
(2016) – 7/10

Director: Ben A. Williams
Writer: John Donnelly
Starring: Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrillis
“You think you’re Roberto fucking Carlos. Hit the target as much, too.”

the pass 2016 Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene ben williams film gay footballers

Wrote about it here.

Queen and Country
(2015) – 5/10

Director/Writer: John Boorman
Starring: Callum Turner, Vanessa Kirby, David Thewlis
“Look at the way she stopped onto the boat. It’s not easy.”

queen and country callum turner vanessa kirby john boorman

A bit better than Hope and Glory, I guess.

Search Party
(2015) – 1/10

Director: Scot Armstrong
Writers: Scot Armstrong, Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller
Starring: T.J. Miller, Adam Pally, Thomas Middleditch
“You’re in Mexico or Mexico?”

search party thomas middleditch

If the essence of comedy is timing, then wretched comedies like Search Party are down to timing the schedules of TV actors during their off-seasons. Cast members from Silicon Valley, Community, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23, The Mindy Project and others just don’t have the luxury Louis CK had when he postponed a series for Blue Jasmine and American Hustle.

The story follows The Hangover formula of dumb men encountering women who are sex freaks and/or shrill bores. When a wedding is paused due to an emotional outburst, the groom, Nardo (Middleditch), wakes up naked with a hangover in Mexico. Cue zany antics barely held together by dodgy greenscreen and line readings I’m convinced are deliberately undersold (as if they want the viewers to know they also disapprove, and that they’re above a film in which a standard joke involves confusing Mexicans with Spaniards).

Funnily enough (not the film), director Scot Armstrong co-wrote The Hangover 2, which shamelessly rehashed its predecessor. It may just be that Search Party is built up of rejected lines from that ghastly franchise, which is enough to give a sober person a hangover.

Sisters of the Plague
(2016) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Jorge Torres-Torres
Starring: Isolde Chae-Lawrence, Josephine Decker, Eva Dorrepaal

sisters of the plague josephine decker

A dull drama whereby the horror elements are amateurishly introduced by postproduction software.

The Son’s Room
(2001) – 7.5/10

Original title: La stanza del figlio
Director/Writer: Nanni Moretti
Starring: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca
“When he’s silent, you don’t feel awkward.”

the son's room nanni moretti laura morante jasmine trinca giuseppe sanfelice 2

Moving and manipulative, Moretti’s “dead son” drama is beautifully acted with a tightknit family hanging together after tragedy. At its best, the film plays on the “ifs” and “buts” of a father who wishes he could turn back time, effectively playing detective with his own selfless schedule. Still, he’s not to blame; the bourgeois parents and daughter are depicted as near-perfect – perhaps too much – but even a near-perfect family struggle with loss.

A subplot that’s a bit on the nose is Moretti’s gig as a psychiatrist; he grieves in silence while patients drone on about their problems. To an extent, Moretti separates real (his) and fake (theirs) problems, which sits uneasily with the rest of the narrative, but allows a sombre performance as he refuses to let his patients know of his suffering. (A wink at fans of Caro Diario, perhaps.) An unexpected detour ends the film on poetic bittersweet note.

Still Walking
(2008) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, You
“He didn’t even get his conjunctions right.”

still walking

Wrote about it here.

(2016) – 7/10

Director: Catherine Corsini
Writers: Catherine Corsini, Laurette Polmanss
Starring: Cécile de France, Izïa Higelin, Noémie Lvovsky
“A woman’s body is not a car.”

summertime Catherine Corsini Cécile de France, Izïa Higelin

Wrote about it here.

10 Cloverfield Lane
(2016) – 7/10

Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr
“Santa Claus?”

10 cloverfield lane Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Everything in 10 Cloverfield Lane returns to have some significance, from the title to odd bits of conversation, apart from – as far as I can tell, anyway – the missing jigsaw pieces. Nope, can’t see any significance there. Anyway, there’s a monster at play here. Is it John Goodman? Is it the people readily spoiling it on social media? No, it’s the inevitable sequel in four years’ time. Savour it while you can by reading nothing in advance, unless it’s this paragraph which has zero information or insight.

Tu Dors, Nicole
(2015) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Stéphane Lafleur
Starring: Julianne Côté, Marc-André Grondin
“Don’t you find everything sounds different at night, as if everything slows down?”

tu dors nicole Stéphane Lafleur Julianne Côté

Shot on 35mm, with a sleeping pill and an eerie, silky black-and-white look, Lafleur’s deadpan comedy is a midnight movie – by which I mean it’ll probably make more sense watched alone at night to fall into its slumberous rhythms. That’s not to say it’s slow or ever less than watchable – it literally has its own house band.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.  Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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1 Response to Film reviews 80: “The Jungle Book”, “10 Cloverfield Lane”, “Batman v Superman”, “The Son’s Room”, “Search Party”, “The Gift” and 25 others…

  1. Pingback: Kenicky’s 2016 film roundup | HALF A CANYON FILM BLOG: A traffic jam when you're already a plate

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