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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home