This month: “Attack the Block”, “Bad Words”, “Before Midnight”, “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset”, “Calvary”, “Captain America: Civil War”, “Crime and Punishment”, “Escape From Tomorrow”, “Everybody Wants Some!!”, “Goodbye to All That”, “Hannibal Takes Edinburgh”, “I’m Still Here”, “The Iron Giant”, “Louder than Bombs”, “Miles Ahead”, “Mustang”, “Rosetta”, “Special Correspondents”, “Stalker”, “Two for the Road” (pictured above), “What If” and “Zootropolis”.
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Attack the Block (2011) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost, Alex Esmail, Luke Treadaway
“It would have been OK to mug me if I didn’t live here? Is that how it works?”
A rewatch not because of Boyega saving a block of planets in Star Wars, but because I’ve been steadily working my way through Adam and Joe’s XFM and 6Music podcasts. Joe’s film interests seep in through resentment against what actually gets made (demonstrated in “Crap Commentary Corner”) or enthusiasm for what no longer gets made. And you wonder, how much time in the BBC studios he spent dreaming of directing movies – the show ended a few weeks after the release of Attack the Block.
Bad Words (2014) – 4/10
Director: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn
“It appears that the randomised word list was manipulated by you.”
Bateman excelled in The Gift as a bully who camouflaged his insecurities with a smooth chuckle, but here, in his directorial debut, he’s a flat-out misanthrope. He competes in a children’s spelling bee contest, using a loophole that he never finished 8th grade. What follows is swearing and casual racism. It’s tiring and one-note, and whatever boldness there is to admire is rescinded with a third-act redemption.
Before Sunrise (1995) – 9/10
Before Sunset (2004) – 8/10
Before Midnight (2013) – 7.5/10
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater (1, 2, 3), Kim Krizan (1), Ethan Hawke (2, 3), Julie Delpy (2, 3)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
“I don’t want to be a great story to tell.”
Before Sunrise improves with every watch. (The first time, about 10 years ago, it didn’t click and I gave away the DVD like a stranger wishing goodbye to a fellow passenger on a train.) Céline defines love as knowing everything about someone, right down to the story they person will tell in any situation. Perhaps leaving that person forever is honouring that belief, where, through ignorance, there will be nothing else to know.
The two sequels, while both fine and arguably more accomplished (in terms of being “thought out”), can’t capture the original’s magic – which is, of course, acknowledged by the characters themselves. I still had fun rewatching them to write about the car scenes for a feature.
Calvary (2014) – 7/10
Director/Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Domhnall Gleeson
“If you can’t talk to me, you should talk to someone.”
The IT Crowd was filmed in front of a live audience to maintain the jovial atmosphere of Father Ted. McDonagh’s poignant dramedy – an Irish priest in a rural village – has very little to do with Father Ted, which makes you wonder why I wrote that opening sentence. If anything, there’s a stronger connection with The IT Crowd, given the appearance of Chris O’Dowd and the flawed nature of Christianity being treated like a broken computer – there’s only so many times religion can be turned on and off again before it’s time to give up.
Gleeson adopts the main role with the calm vigour of someone who’s seen it all. Father James is, in effect, the local IT person who’s entrusted with everyone’s problems; he’s also first to receive the blame. His life is threatened by a child abuse victim who beleives revenge is more powerful when tackling an honest, noble man – and that is Gleeson’s accomplishment, forming a believable Jesus figure that’s neither dull nor someone from The IT Crowd.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) – 4/10
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd
“What’s your MO? What gets you out of bed?”
More an Avengers 2.5 than Captain America 3, this antidote to Batman v Superman draws its strengths from introducing new characters (Black Panther, Spider-Man, Tim from The Office) seamlessly and not via Dropbox. The feud is coherent (in that its stupidity doesn’t require further reading), the airport punch-up has some fun moments, but surrounding it is heavy plotting made worse by dreadful zingers – I hope Marissa Tomei was paid well, or at least got to punch Robert Downey Jr when the cameras stopped.
The focus point is whether these superheroes need government control. They’re multiplying in numbers and causing more damage as the time passes. Sounds a bit like the genre – should someone step in to stop them?
Crime and Punishment (1983) – 7/10
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Writers: Aki Kaurismäki, Pauli Pentti, Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel)
Starring: Markku Toikka, Aino Seppo, Esko Nikkari
“This doesn’t change anything – it just postpones the inevitable. Do not leave the city.”
“I read the interview book made by Truffaut and Hitchcock,” Kaurismäki told Jonathan Ross (I guess TV was better in those days). “Hitchcock said, ‘I’d never touch that book because it’s too difficult.’ I said, ‘I’ll show you, old man.’ And it was too difficult. Well, it’s my problem.”
A murder mystery party where there’s no food, no party, and only a matter a matter of time before the culprit gives in to his bleeding conscience. Kaurismäki’s debut finds extra humour in the absurdity of Dostoyevsky’s 600-page novel (I’ve read it – the middle 400 pages are kinda dull), balancing general weirdness with the machinations of classic European literature. Two systems – one legal, one personal – at odds with the other, surrendering to the empathy of a female witness chucking the cards into the bin. Maybe I’ve misunderstood it all, but I’m sure of one thing: every mention of Rahikainen instead of Raskolnikov is oddly amusing.
Escape From Tomorrow (2013) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Randy Moore
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez
“You told Elliott I look like Emily Dickinson?”
“But I like Emily Dickinson.”
Yes, yes, it was all filmed undercover at Disneyworld, but is there any other reason to catch Escape From Tomorrow? Not really. For all the inappropriately nightmarish qualities brought by the theme park, the less-than-average script is aimless and repetitive, as if the amateur filmmaking team had their ideas confiscated upon entry.
For all of the concept’s originality, the scenario’s been carried out to dystopian precision in Westworld and its subsequent parody in The Simpsons with Itchy and Scratchy Land. Jim (Abramsohn) takes his family to the enclosed country of long queues and rides fronted by familiar faces. However, he’s more preoccupied by two French girls in shorts, plus a rumour that the Disney princesses are actually discrete prostitutes.
The surreal scenarios add up, more out of repetition than anything to do with character. If Jim is meant to be losing his mind, the actor needs to be more human to start with. Strangely, for all the internet chatter about the location, the best scene is a dream sequence probably not even shot at Disneyworld. Like an actual Disneyworld ride, it’s a 90-minute queue for a disappointing thrill that leaves you empty-handed.
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – 8.5/10
Director/Writer: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman
“You’ve got a foot in the door? This guy’s got a dick in the door.”
Wrote about it here!!
Goodbye to All That (2015) – 5/10
Director/Writer: Angus MacLachlan
Starring: Paul Schneider, Melanie Lynskey, Anna Camp, Heather Graham
Schneider was there for David Gordon Green’s first two (and best) films, before disappearing. Same applies with the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation. What’s up with this guy and splitting from long-term partners as they reach their peak?
His mopey character, Otto Wall, is in a similar rut. After achieving everything he wants in life – a wife, a daughter, a career, a surname that foreshadows the film’s symbolism – his wife (Lynskey) divorces him via a marriage counsellor. What’s Otto oughta do? Facebook stalk his wife and former girlfriends, before drunkenly trawling the internet for one-night stands, apparently
Schneider’s charming awkwardness chimes with the amateurish nature of the film’s production. However, unlike MacLachlan’s work on Junebug, the threadbare story is packed with sex scenes that may as well be comedy sketches. One jarring example is Debbie Spangler (Camp), a Christian sexpot who yells her name at all opportunities, as if a SNL character, and carries around sex toys for predictably plotted punch lines.
Still, the core trio – Schneider, Lynskey and whoever plays the kid – possess an emotional edge from a much better dramedy that should have been made. When Lysnkey’s antagonist isn’t made out to be a one-dimensional hate figure, there’s real sadness between a married couple at stalemate and a few sentences from using their daughter for emotional blackmail. They’re not just battling for custody – it’s ammunition for future arguments.
Hannibal Takes Edinburgh (2016) – 6.5/10
Director: Ryan Ferguson
Starring: Hannibal Buress
“I really just wanna go home, listen to my sets, and watch Cougar Town.”
Documenting a 2012 28-date tour during the Fringe, this Netflix film takes an outsider’s perspective – it’s draining to do the same show day after day – that doesn’t get promoted during BBC interviews. We see snippets of Hannibal delivering gags on what was then BBC7, but behind the scenes he’s stuck in a flat where the toilet and the bathroom are in different rooms. (He complains about this frequently, though I contend it’s better to have them separate if you have guests who takes lengthy showers.)
I’m Still Here (2010) – 1/10
Director: Casey Affleck
Writers: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix
Starring: “Joaquin Phoenix”
“I think he’s pretty pissed that Diddy still hasn’t called.”
Joaquin couldn’t keep up the act for 9 minutes without breaking character on Letterman, so I’ve no idea why he stretched it out a year – as summarised by a doc supposedly lampooning fame, but without wit or bite. It’s sad enough that Joaquin took a year off acting for this – and then you discover Ebert fell for it.
The Iron Giant (1999) – 5/10
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Tim McCanlies, Ted Hughes (book)
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr.
“I am not a gun.”
Does this really make people cry?
Louder Than Bombs (2016) – 8/10
Director: Joachim Trier
Writers: Joachim Trier. Eskil Vogt
Starring: Devin Druid, Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert
With a title name-checking The Smiths, Louder than Bombs has a touch of Morrissey to its balance of self-pity and cathartic humour. The gloomy subject of grief should be a drag, but Norwegian director Joachim Trier (yes, he’s related to Lars von) ensures the drama is musical, surreal and swirling with delirious energy.
Wrote about it here.
Miles Ahead (2016) – 7/10
Director: Don Cheadle
Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg
“Don’t call my music jazz. It’s social music.”
Wrote about it here.
Mustang (2016) – 7/10
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Writers: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour
Starring: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan
“Let’s go get lemonade”
Ergüven’s directorial debut – a coming-of-age escape thriller set in Istanbul – is an eye-opener in its almost slasher fairytale approach to five daughters awaiting arranged marriages. In a conservative household, the sisters aren’t allowed outside, and the viewer is left like the aunt: witnessing the horror and unable to intervene. For such an ugly scenario, the film is shot beautifully, to the extent its dreaminess and floating voiceover somewhat undercuts the drama. But the performances are excellent and bring out the characters’ naturalness, that these are young girls imprisoned by a man at war with biology and reason.
Rosetta (1999) – 7/10
Directors/Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Anne Yernaux
“I wanted you to drown.”
So good that Belgium changed a law regarding young people’s wages, or something like that. The Dardennes ring in their signature “over the shoulder” shot by following Rosetta (Dequenne), a 17-year-old already acquainted with life’s hardships. Stuck on a trailer park with an alcoholic mother, she searches for a job and is battered by a system structured to hold her back. The viewer trudges behind her and, through the camera angle, feels terrible for not offering a hand.
Special Correspondents (2016) – 2.5/10
Director: Ricky Gervais
Writers: Ricky Gervais, Simon Michael (original film), Jacques Labib (original film)
Starring: Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais, Kelly McDonald, Vera Farmiga
“We seem to be walking to Manhattan.”
Last year, not only did Gervais write, direct and star in Derek, his David Brent film and Special Correspondents (as well as the few thousand tweets), he did so without sharing the workload with Stephen Merchant. David Brent: Life on the Road will offer some insight into the Gervais/Merchant dynamic, but his Netflix deal – likely full creative control – has exposed his limitations even further.
Forget how Netflix categorises Special Correspondents. It’s a satire without bite, a comedy with few jokes, a film shot through a beige lens, a romance signified through indirect coffee purchases, and a flimsy drama shaped by “tell not show” dialogue. “I’m pathetic,” Gervais says. “She really likes you,” Bana tells him.” In The Office and Extras, there was an autobiographical link between where Gervais was with his career; any surprise his latest project is about a guy (literally at one point) phoning it in?
Stalker (1979) – 8/10
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers: Arkadi Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
Starring: Alexander Kaidanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko
“It will drown you in knapsacks.”
Downtrodden, kicked in the face, left with a stinging bruise above the eye. Such is life, perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be a monotone of suffering that’s occasionally livened up by new ways of suffering. That’s because of “the room”: a hard-to-find room that grants its visitors what they desire. Except instead of rubbing a magic lamp, the dreamlike location is protected by a murky piece of greenery called “the zone”.
A writer and professor hedge their bets and hire a “stalker”, the only kind of person who can guide civilians through “the zone”. Once there, the sepia cinematography brightens to a deserted landscape, full of grass, trees and what looks like nuclear waste. It’s unclear what the dangers are, with the “stalker” carefully throwing objects mid-air to determine which angle to take a next step. Like religion, the rules and practices are nonsensical to outsiders, but offer some hope of finding an impossible endpoint.
Like Westworld, it’s apparent that you might be better off not knowing your deep desires. Sometimes the journey and anticipation add up to more than the final product. Not that that can be said about Stalker, which is as powerful as Solaris in finding existential anguish in large open spaces.
Two for the Road (1967) – 7/10
Director: Stanley Donen
Writer: Frederic Raphael
Starring: Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn, William Daniels, Eleanor Bron
“You just want me to become a beautiful memory – the sooner, the better.”
A long-term relationship is split into separate tracks, shuffled, and re-ordered with ironic juxtapositions: the “it was a mistake” that precedes the “will you marry me”. a mixtape with a purpose.
What If (2013) – 1.5/10
Director: Michael Dowse
Writers: Elan Mastai, TJ Dawe (play), Michael Rinaldi (play)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis
“I can’t believe you have a husband. You’re weirding me out.”
Originally titled The F Word, Dowse’s kooky romcom plays upon the “what if?” scenario of two friends whose mutual attraction is thwarted by the woman having a boyfriend. In this case, it’s Radcliffe and Kazan as two unfunny irritants with so little chemistry, the distance between them is distracting. Part of that is intentional – Driver and Davis are the impulsive couple for juxtaposition – but the nagging question is what if there were better jokes, better characters and a better premise. So much of this film is like nails on a chalkboard, from the cutesy animation, the whitest ensemble possible, to Radcliffe’s Garden State smugness.
Zootroplis (2016) – 5/10
Directors: Bryon Howard, Rich Moore
Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong
“Oh, there’s a ‘them’, now?”
The world of Zootopia is mapped out like a real zoo: the animals are signalled by cute signposts and any cruelties are hidden from the posters. The semi-smart family comedy has a touch of Inside Out in its mathematical approach to famous voices, mild peril and an inkling of a wider lesson for children. It’s Zootopia in the US, Zootropolis in the UK. For me, it’s a bit Zoo-whatever.