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.


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