Friday, March 28, 2014

Weekly Film Round-up – Friday 28th March, 2014

Film of the Week: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Total films seen so far this year: 97
Films seen in the last week: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (again), Muppets Most Wanted, The Borderlands, Dangerous Acts, The Fold, A Thousand Times Goodnight

Top 10 Films On Release This Week (as recommended by me) 

There are twelve new films out this week, though two of them (The Legend of Hercules and Almost Married) weren't screened for press and I didn't manage to see Leave The World Behind. Of the twelve new releases, a whopping six of them have made it into this week's Top Ten. They include: Marvel's superhero sequel (though it works as a stand-alone thriller) Captain America: The Winter Soldier, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to A Separation, The Past (starring The Artist's Bereniece Bejo and A Prophet's Tahar Rahim), Finnish documentary My Stuff, Muppet sequel Muppets Most Wanted, British found-footage horror The Borderlands and Oscar-winning backing singers documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. I will also put in good words for both Veronica Mars and The Zero Theorem, both of which are likely to disappear from their single venues very soon. A full round-up of this week's releases appears after the Top Ten below.

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel
2) Under the Skin
3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4) The Past
5) Starred Up
6) The Borderlands
7) Veronica Mars
8) Labour Day
9) My Stuff
10) 20 Feet From Stardom

This week's new releases in full:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 stars)

Hugely enjoyable sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, starring Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America, who teams up with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and mechanical-winged agent The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to take on mysterious assassin The Winter Soldier (identity a SPOILER) and a high-level conspiracy with a deadly master-plan. My review for The List is here.

The Past (4 stars)

French drama, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, starring Ali Mosaffa as an Iranian man who returns to France when his separated wife (Berenice Bejo) asks him for a divorce so she can move on with her new partner (Tahar Rahim). My review for ViewLondon is here.

My Stuff (four stars)

Finnish documentary directed by Petri Luukainen, who decides he has too much stuff in his life so he locks away every single one of his possessions in storage and restricts himself to retrieving just one item a day for a year. My ViewLondon review of it is here.

Bonus feature! Interview with My Stuff director Petri Luukainen: Interview with My Stuff director Petri Luukainnen.

Muppets Most Wanted (four stars)

Follow-up to 2011's hugely successful reboot The Muppets, in which Kermit and company face the tricky decision of what to do for the sequel. The opening song (”We're Doing A Sequel”) acknowledges the difficulty they're facing (“Everyone knows the sequel's never quite as good”) and so it proves, though there are more than enough gags, songs, celebrity cameos and general Muppet mayhem to keep fans happy. The plot (suggested during the aforementioned song) is that the Muppets embark on a World Tour after employing new manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). However, once they reach Berlin, Kermit is kidnapped and replaced by Constantine, the World's Most Dangerous Frog, who is working in cahoots with Dominic in a series of Da Vinci Code-style heists aimed at stealing the Crown Jewels. And once Constantine and Dominic have pulled off their first robbery, the Muppets find themselves under investigation by Sam the Eagle and Clouseau-like Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell). Meanwhile, Kermit is shipped off to a Russian gulag run by Nadya (Tina Fey) and ends up directing fellow prisoners Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo and Jemaine Clement in the annual Gulag Revue. With most of the same team from The Muppets on board (director James Bobin, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, songwriter Bret McKenzie), this does at least deliver the goods in terms of its high gag rate (both verbal and visual) and musical numbers – fans of Flight of the Conchords should note that the songs are even more Conchord-like this time round, with Interrogation Song and I'll Get You What You Want (Cocktaoo in Malibu) standing out as particular highlights. Similarly, Ty Burrell and Sam The Eagle make an enjoyable double act and there are lots of good throwaway jokes, such as a line about comedy heists never working, a subtle reference to the original Muppet movie sequel, 1981's The Great Muppet Caper. Things get trickier with Ricky Gervais, whose constant mugging and grimacing wears thin very quickly, while the constant stream of celebrity cameos is so ridiculous (many of them, like Tom Hiddleston and Saoirse Ronan, don't even have any lines) that you strongly suspect that's actually the joke. (That said, it's worth it for moments like “And now, Christoph Waltz dances the Waltz!”). On top of that, it's probably fair to say that the film is a little too long at 113 minutes and some of the gulag stuff could easily have been cut, as should a terrible CGI effect at the end of the film that reunites all the film's cameos.

The Borderlands (four stars)

Written and directed by Elliot Goldner, The Borderlands is a found-footage British horror (no, wait, come back, etc) set in a remote West Country village. Gordon Kennedy (best known as a comedic actor) plays world-weary Deacon, a Vatican investigator sent to look into claims of a miracle at a dilapidated mediaeval church. He's accompanied by blokey techie Gray (Ben Wheatley's collaborator Robin Hill, best known for his role in Down Terrace) and, eventually, by his sanctimonious boss Mark (Aidan McArdle). Gray's job is to set up recording equipment all over both the church and their base (a nearby house), as well as to ensure that all three men wear their camera headsets at all times, the footage presumably transmitting to a hard drive, hence the eventual finding of the footage. The script is excellent, successfully combining the scariest elements of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and The Descent without ever feeling derivative; there's also a darkly funny streak running throughout that's reminiscent of Wheatley's Kill List. The performances are equally good: Kennedy and Hill make an effective double act and their gradually softening relationship is nicely handled, while there's strong support from Luke Neal as troubled local vicar Father Crellick. Similarly, Goldner's direction is assured throughout, expertly building tension until its brilliantly creepy and frankly terrifying finale. Superb location work too.

20 Feet From Stardom (four stars)

Morgan Neville's Oscar-winning documentary focuses on the female backing singers to some of rock's greatest hits, from Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep Moutain High to The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter to David Bowie's Young Americans. Many of the singers have been a key factor in some of the most famous songs of all time, yet their contribution to rock history has gone largely unacknowledged (it's Merry Clayton who sings “Rape! Murder! Is just a shot away...” on Gimme Shelter, by the way, and the sequence with Mick Jagger recounting how he first heard her sing that is one of the highlights of the film). Neville's film includes candid interviews with the likes of Darlene Love, Táta Vega, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer and their stories are equally heart-warming and upsetting, since many of the women also tried and failed to find success as solo artists. This leads to a number of intriguing questions about talent, passion, the nature of the industry and finding your place as a musical artist – it's heart-breaking to hear Tata Vega (who sang with Madonna, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, among others) reveal how she's repeatedly turned away from auditions for being too fat or too old, for example. That said, the tone of the film is largely positive overall, celebrating both the women themselves and their extraordinary voices. Incidentally, this would make a great double-bill with Muscle Shoals, another excellent recent music doc that took a similar approach to the session musicians at the Muscle Shoals studio.

The Fold (three stars)

Low-budget British drama starring Catherine McCormack as Rebecca Ashton, a priest who moves to a small Cornish village with her teenage daughter Eloise (Dakota Blue Richards). Struggling to cope with the recent death of Eloise's older sister, Rebecca becomes fixated with improving the life of self-harming migrant worker Radka (Marina Stoimenova), who clearly reminds her of her lost daughter. However, Radka has emotional problems of her own. This is a superbly acted drama (McCormack is terrific as Rebecca) with a strong sense of place and well-meaning points to make about grief and obsession, though the conclusion is slightly underwhelming and Richard's character is curiously underwritten throughout. Worth seeing though.

Dangerous Acts Starring The Unstable Elements Of Belarus (three stars)

New York-based filmmaker Madeleine Sackler directs this urgent and moving documentary about the eight members of the underground Belarus Free Theatre troupe, who are dedicated to protesting against the dictatorship of “President” Alexander Lukashenko, despite the constant threat of arrest or police raids. Eventually, the members of the group leave the country and take their provocative act to Manhattan, via an award-winning show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with some members choosing to remain in exile while others return. This is an engaging film that's by turns moving, inspirational and genuinely shocking. There's also a touching cameo of sorts by Philip Seymour Hoffman at the end.

Afternoon Delight (four stars)

Enjoyable US comedy starring Kathryn Hahn as a frustrated wife and mother who hires a stripper (Juno Temple) as a live-in nanny. I agree with Jennie Tate's ViewLondon review of it here.

Also released:

Almost Married (not screened for press)
Leave The World Behind (not seen)
The Legend of Hercules (not screened for press)

There now follows the weekly plea to See Smaller Films First (#SSFF). If you are planning on seeing The Borderlands, My Stuff, The Past, The Fold, Dangerous Acts, Afternoon Delight or 20 Feet From Stardom this week, then please, please, please, PLEASE see them this weekend as smaller films need opening weekend support to survive and the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Muppets Most Wanted will be around for several weeks yet.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekly Film Round-up: Friday 21st March, 2014

Film of the Week: Starred Up

Total films seen so far this year: 91
Films seen in the last week: Oh! What a Lovely War, Battle Beyond the Stars (again), About Last Night, The Unknown Known

Top 10 Films On Release This Week (as recommended by me) 

There are twelve new films out this week, though one of them (The Robber) wasn't screened for press and I didn't manage to see G.B.F., Peter Gabriel Back to Front or Salvo. Of the twelve new releases, three of them have made it into this week's Top Ten. They include: David Mackenzie's British prison drama Starred Up (starring Jack O'Connell), Ivan Reitman's drama Labour Day (starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin) and Svengali, a charming British comedy starring Jonny Owen as a hopelessly optimistic wannabe music promoter. I will also put in a good word for both Errol Morris' The Unknown Known and French fashion designer biopic Yves Saint Laurent. I would also urge you to see Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem this week, as it had a terrible first week and is likely to disappear from cinemas very soon. A full round-up of this week's releases appears after the Top Ten below.

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel
2) Under the Skin
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) Starred Up
5) Stranger By The Lake
6) The Zero Theorem
7) Veronica Mars
8) Labour Day
9) The Lego Movie  
10) Svengali

This week's new releases in full:

Starred Up (four stars)

Gripping and sharply written British prison drama, directed by David Mackenzie and starring Jack O'Connell as a violent young offender transferred to an adult jail where his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn) is also incarcerated. ViewLondon review here.

Labour Day (four stars)

Emotionally engaging drama, directed by Jason Reitman and based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, starring Kate Winslet as a depressed single mother living with her 13 year-old son (Gattlin Griffith), who harbours a wounded fugitive (Josh Brolin) they meet in the supermarket. ViewLondon review here.

Svengali (three stars)

Enjoyable British comedy based on the cult Welsh internet series. Jonny Owen (who also wrote the screenplay and created the series) stars as warm-hearted Welshman Dixie, a wannabe music promoter who heads to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) in order to persuade the members of a band (Michael Socha, Dylan Edwards, Joel Fry and Curtis Thompson as The Premature Congratulations) he's seen on YouTube to let him become their manager. The film is a lot of fun, largely because Owen's Dixie is such an infectiously enthusiastic and effortlessly charming character. There's also palpable chemistry between Owen and McClure (chemistry that translated into their real-life relationship) and strong comic support from the likes of Michael Smiley, Matt Berry (very funny) and Martin Freeman, though your mileage may vary on Katy Brand's comedy Ukrainian landlady. In addition, the savvy script delivers lots of decent laughs and there's some commendably accurate location work to boot. Indeed, the only real problems are that a) the film cops out of letting us actually hear the band's music, and b) McClure's character is shunted offscreen for too long in the middle section.

About Last Night (three stars)

A remake of Edward Zwick's 1986 romantic drama, itself an adaptation of David Mamet's play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, although Mamet had no hand in the script. Kevin Hart plays inveterate woman-chaser Bernie, whose best friend Danny (Michael Ealy) reluctantly tags along as his wing-man during bar crawls, even though he's still not over his ex-girlfriend (Paula Patton). However, when Bernie has a second date with his latest conquest Joan (Regina Hall), Danny ends up bonding with Joan's introverted roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant) and the pair begin a relationship. As Danny and Debbie's relationship goes from strength to strength, Bernie and Joan's fizzles out and descends into bitter slanging matches whenever they're forced to hang out together. However, both Danny and Debbie start to wonder if they've moved too fast and the reappearance of Danny's ex threatens to split them apart. My tolerance for Kevin Hart's brand of motor-mouthed comedy is lower than most, but he's on moderately amusing form here and the film does throw out the occasionally amusing off-the-wall moment (chicken costume sex – is that a thing?). Similarly, Hall is good value and Patton's cameo is fun, but it's hard to care too much about Ealy and Bryant, as they're both rather mopey. On top of that, while the script retains the original film's Mametian commitment to foul-mouthed dialogue, the film-makers have made the curious decision to strip away the only thing anyone remembers the 1986 film for, notably the copious and explicit for the time sex scenes.

Yves Saint Laurent (three stars)

The first of two French biopics about the fashion designer, directed by Jalil Lespert. Beginning in 1958, with young Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) already making a name for himself under Christian Dior, the film chronicles his rise to fame and fortune, through setting up his own couture house and the establishment of his pret-a-porter collections. However, much of the film's focus is on Yves' relationship with Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who became his business partner and long-term boyfriend and was a loyal, supportive and patient presence throughout Yves battles with coke addiction, anxiety and depression. Niney and Gallienne are both superb and the film looks gorgeous, thanks to some stunning production design work and an obvious devotion to detail in the costume department. However, the film suffers somewhat because it ends up painting Yves as a largely unsympathetic character (Gallienne's character narrates the film), so the overriding impression is of Berge waiting until his lover is dead until he can properly tell his side of the story. Similarly, there are some frustrating gaps in the script – a bit of background on Yves' childhood and initial interest in fashion design wouldn't have gone amiss, for example, while the ending feels rather arbitrary.  

The Unknown Known (three stars)

Director Errol Morris won a Best Documentary Oscar for 2003's The Fog of War, in which he interviewed former US Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara, eliciting illuminating and fascinating commentary on World War II, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam and so on. The Unknown Known attempts the same trick with Donald Rumsfeld, but it's neither as engaging nor as satisfying, largely because Morris gives his subject too easy a ride in person, preferring to score his points by intercutting video evidence that contradicts what Rumsfeld is saying (e.g. Rumsfeld declares no-one in the Bush administration ever hinted that Saddam Hussein was implicated in 9/11 and then Morris cuts to Rumseld indicating exactly that at a press conference). The film uses Rumsfeld's multitude of internal memos (or, as he calls them, “snowflakes”) as a jumping off point for discussions on 9/11, the Iraq War, the targeting of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib and a number of other subjects, but Rumsfeld barely scratches the surface of what's already part of the official record and Morris never forces him to dig any deeper. That said, the section of the film on Rumsfeld's early life and career is interesting (1960s / 1970s Rumsfeld bears an uncanny resemblance to Mad Men's Don Draper), particularly his time under Nixon (with uncanny prescience he got out just before the Watergate scandal broke and there's a Nixon tape where Nixon and his cronies discuss whether Rumsfeld would be prepared to “go down with the ship”), as well as the thwarting of his obvious ambition to become President, when Reagan chose Bush over Rumsfeld as his running mate in 1980. Overall, Rumsfeld comes across as a likeable, intelligent and often charming presence, but you can't shake the feeling that that's a carefully constructed facade that Morris fails to crack.

The Machine (two stars)

Low budget British sci-fi thriller starring Toby Stephens as a military robot designer whose assistant Ava (Caity Lotz) becomes the model for a new form of artificial intelligence. Despite strong performances and an admirable use of its limited financial resources (almost the entire film takes place in concrete bunkers), this never really came together for me. As an actor, Stephens is so cold and emotionless that he might as well be playing one of the robots, though Lotz is good value in her dual roles as Ava and Robot Ava. There are also some nice allusions to films like Blade Runner and Metropolis, but the limited setting eventually becomes claustrophobic and I found the whole thing frustratingly repetitive in places. That said, it's definitely worth a look if you like that sort of thing and it will be interesting to see what writer-director Caradog W. James comes up with when someone hands him a bigger budget.

A Long Way Down (one star)

Comedy, adapted from the 2005 novel by Nick Hornby, starring Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul and Toni Collette as four strangers who meet at a famous London suicide spot and make a pact to support each other. One of the worst films of the year. ViewLondon review here.

Also released:

Peter Gabriel Back to Front (not seen)
The Robber (not seen)
Salvo (not seen)
G.B.F. (not seen)

There now follows the weekly plea to See Smaller Films First (#SSFF). If you are planning on seeing Svengali, The Unknown Known, Yves Saint Laurent, The Machine, The Robber, Salvo, GBF or Peter Gabriel Back To Front this week, then please, please, please, PLEASE see them this weekend as smaller films need opening weekend support to survive and the likes of Under the Skin and Need for Speed will be around for several weeks.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Weekly Film Round-up: Friday 14th March, 2014

Film of the Week: Under the Skin (review below)

Total films seen so far this year: 87
Films seen in the last week: Need For Speed (3D), Back to the Garden, The Two Faces of January, Under the Skin (again), Veronica Mars, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Belle, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Frank

Top 10 Films On Release This Week (as recommended by me) 

There are ten new films out this week, though one of them (Ironclad 2: Battle for Blood) wasn't screened for press and I didn't manage to see Plot for Peace. A full round-up of this week's releases appears after the Top Ten below. Of the ten new releases, three of them have made it into the Top Ten. They include: Jonathan Glazer's mysterious and hypnotic Under the Skin (which is unlike anything you'll see all year), Terry Gilliam's sci-fi drama The Zero Theorem (which has had bafflingly little publicity compared to Under the Skin) and the big screen revival of girl detective TV show Veronica Mars, which is also available to download from today. I'll also put in a good word for Katell Quillévéré's Suzanne and Irish comedy The Stag.

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel
2) Under the Skin
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) The Wolf of Wall Street
5) Stranger By The Lake
6) The Zero Theorem
7) Veronica Mars
8) Dallas Buyers Club
9) The Lego Movie
10) 300: Rise of an Empire

This week's new releases in full:

Under the Skin (five stars)

Jonathan Glazer's haunting and hypnotic sci-fi thriller, based on the novel by Michael Faber, starring Scarlett Johansson as a mysterious alien seductress preying upon men as she cruises the streets of Glasgow in a white van. Review on ViewLondon here.

The Zero Theorem (four stars)

Sci-fi drama directed by Terry Gilliam and set in a distant, tech-obsessed future, starring Christoph Waltz as a depressed number-cruncher tasked with discovering the meaning of existence. A return to at least mid-level form for Gilliam, I'm saying. ViewLondon review here.

Veronica Mars (four stars)

Writer-director Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell's ' Kickstarter-funded big screen revival of their cancelled-after-three-seasons girl detective TV show is a hugely enjoyable thriller that will delight fans of the series without alienating newcomers. Picking up in the present day rather than forcing the no-longer-teenage cast to pretend it's still 2007, the film sees Veronica (Bell) returning to her hometown of Neptune, California when ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) is accused of murder. The script is knowing and witty (there are several enjoyable in-jokes and references if you're a fan of the show), capturing the TV show's high school noir appeal while still delivering a satisfying mystery. The cast are terrific too, with pretty much everyone from the TV show making a reappearance in some capacity or other, as well as a couple of enjoyable cameos it would be unfair to spoil here. My personal favourite moment: a rather sweet shout-out to the 1970s Nancy Drew TV show that only a small handful of people are likely to spot. As much as I would love the film to achieve box-office success, it's only fair to say that it does play like a feature-length episode and as such, will lose nothing on the small screen, which should work out well for Warner Bros, as it's being simultaneously released on digital platforms.

The Rocket (four stars)

Enjoyable coming-of-age tale from writer-director Kim Mordaunt, set in rural Laos, where ten year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) and his family are forced to leave their village to make way for an electricity-generating dam. Ahlo's problems don't end there, as he's also dogged by bad luck, which his superstitious grandmother is convinced is the result of a curse after Ahlo's twin brother died at birth. When he meets fellow refugee Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her James Brown-loving Uncle Purple (Thep Phongam), Ahlo finds a new purpose in his life and sets out to win the cash prize offered for a homemade rocket-launching contest, providing his lifelong bad luck streak doesn't get him blown up in the process. This is a shade darker than the usual feelgood fare, which adds an engaging level of tension and unpredictability throughout. In addition, the setting and characters are refreshingly original and Mordaunt gets great performances from his young non-professional cast.

Suzanne (four stars)

French drama directed by Katell Quillévéré. I agree with Jennie Tate's ViewLondon review of it here.

The Stag (three stars)

Enjoyable Irish comedy about a stag-do. My ViewLondon review is here. Interview with star Peter McDonald here.

Need For Speed (three stars)

Scott Waugh's videogame adaptation is utter nonsense from beginning to end, but it delivers a decent amount of fun and, I have to say, I found it less bloated (even at 130 minutes) and self-satisfied than the recent entries in the Fast & Furious franchise. Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, a petrolhead who participates in illegal races for cash. When he finds himself embroiled in a vicious rivalry with leather-clad millionaire Dino (Dominic Cooper), a tragedy ensues, leaving Tobey doing jail time for the time-honoured Crime He Did Not Commit. Upon his release he hooks up with British car expert Julia (Imogen Poots, who also co-stars with Paul in next week's truly dreadful A Long Way Down) and his team of assistants (one of whom, weirdly, bears a strong resemblance to Dominic Cooper) and challenges Dino in a winner-takes-all street race run by eccentric billionaire Monarch (Michael Keaton). The plot makes no sense whatsoever (e.g. Monarch is supposedly anonymous, yet broadcasts the race from a webcam where you clearly see his face; Tobey's conviction suggests he must have hired the world's worst legal team, etc) and some of the supporting cast are extremely annoying (Scott Mescudi's Benny in particular), but Paul makes a solid lead and Poots is a lot of fun as Julia, delivering a performance that is better than the film really deserves. On top of that, with the exception of the badly directed first competition (where you can't tell where anyone is in relation to each other), the racing sequences are decently paced and deliver the requisite thrills, with Waugh doing a good job of ensuring that they're not too repetitive. That said, they do rather scrape the barrel a bit when it comes to excuses for action sequences, most notably in a ridiculous scene where they have to refuel while on the move in order to “save time”, so everyone risks their lives instead of taking five minutes to stop at a petrol station. Okay, strictly speaking, this is a two-and-a-half rather than a three, but I always round up, so three it is.

Back to the Garden (two stars)

Director Jon Sanders' follow-up to 2012's Late September is a dismal British drama about a group of sixty-something friends reuniting to commemorate the death of an inspirational theatre director. With a script largely improvised by the cast, it has the occasional moment (notably in some candid relections on death and loss), but none of the characters feel like real people, or at least, like real people you can actually care about and the end result is rather underwhelming.

Plot for Peace (not seen)

Ironclad 2: Battle for Blood (not screened for press)

There now follows the weekly plea to See Smaller Films First (#SSFF). If you are planning on seeing The Rocket, Suzanne, Back to the Garden or Plot for Peace this week (and arguably Veronica Mars and The Zero Theorem too, though they have Warner Bros and Sony behind them respectively), then please, please, please, PLEASE see them this weekend as smaller films need opening weekend support to survive and the likes of Under the Skin and Need for Speed will both be around for several weeks.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Weekly Film Round-up – Friday 7th March, 2014

Film of the Week: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Total films seen so far this year: 78
Films seen in the last week: The Lunchbox, Before The Winter Chill, Calvary, Zero Charisma, The Red Robin, Metalhead, Black Angel (short, not counted in total), Love Is The Perfect Crime, Proxy, Unforgiven, A Street in Palermo, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, The Scribbler, Mary Queen of Scots, Concussion, 300: Rise of an Empire, Bullet, L'Eclisse, The Invisible War, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

Top 10 Films On Release This Week (as recommended by me) 

There are six new films out this week (seven if you count Bollywood releases, nine if you also count rereleases), though two of them were not screened for press, so I haven't seen either Paranoia or Escape From Planet Earth. Also, it's worth noting that The Invisible War isn't actually released until Tuesday. Anyway, of those six new films, three of them have made it into the top ten. They include: Wes Anderson's wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel (see review link below), harrowing documentary The Invisible War, about rape in the US military and 300: Rise of an Empire (aka 302: 300 On Boats), the sequel to Zack Snyder's 2007 hit 300. A full round-up of this week's releases appears after the Top Ten below.

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel
2) Inside Llewyn Davis
3) The Wolf of Wall Street
4) Stranger By The Lake
5) American Hustle
6) Dallas Buyers Club
7) The Lego Movie
8) The Invisible War
9) Her
10) 300: Rise of an Empire

This week's new releases in full:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (five stars)

Wes Anderson's wonderful new comedy. Review on ViewLondon here.

300: Rise of an Empire (three stars)

Reviewed for The List. Link to follow. Short version: a lot more fun than the first film, thanks to a fantastically bonkers performance from Eva Green. Only slight problem: you end up siding with Eva Green over the rather boring Greeks. Also, more films should open with a shot of a dead Gerard Butler, if you ask me.

Bullet (one star)

Trashy Danny Trejo action thriller, will be on DVD by Monday. Reviewed for The List here.

The Invisible War (four stars)

Powerfully emotional, RAGE-inducing documentary exposing the epidemic of rape in the military. Director Kirby Dick makes a strong point early on by including a montage of heart-breaking accounts of rape from dozens of interviewed victims and establishing a grim pattern: the victim involved was proud to wear the uniform, thought of her fellow soldiers / Marines / coast guards etc as brothers, was raped by a fellow officer or superior and then was somehow blamed for the attack while the assailant went unpunished. (On at least two occasions, a victim incredulously states that they were charged with adultery, even though they weren't married and their rapist was). The statistics are genuinely shocking (some 20% of female veterans have reported being raped while enlisted and that's just the ones who report it) and the accounts are deeply upsetting, not least because it's obvious just how deeply the experience has affected their lives (many of the women experience PTSD on a higher level than soldiers returning from Iraq). Indeed, the only real problem with the film is that it doesn't seek to address the causes, though it does expose the jaw-dropping inadequacy of the “rape prevention” strategies currently employed by the military, in scenes that would be laugh-out-loud funny if they weren't so utterly depressing.

Paranoia (not seen)

Escape From Planet Earth (not seen)

Normally at this point I would do the time-honoured plea to See Smaller Films First (#SSFF), but the only applicable release this week is The Invisible War, which isn't out until Tuesday anyway. So I'll save that for next week.