Robert Benton directs Barry Brown, Jeff Bridges and David Huddlestone in this revisionist western focusing on a group of Civil War draft dodging teens who head west in a gang.
A winning surprise this. One of those westerns that has the grit and heft of a lived in realistic representation of the old frontier but the quirk and mosaic like plot structure of myth and fantasy. All the episodes of the boys tramping around, getting into scrapes and falling apart have a melancholic edge and corruptive air that is both entertaining yet affecting. It is directed by the writer of Bonnie and Clyde and if you are a fan of that groundbreaking classic you’ll know what to expect here in its less lauded equal. Bridges has a fine old time as a de facto lead tearaway. A proto Han Solo with a clunky six shooter, he even gets his own Luke Skywalker to pal up with in the mannered but fascinating Brown. Trivia fans will even enjoy that the charismatic big bad who eventually emerges is played by The Big Lebowski himself. Huddlestone’s clipped, weary superiority was already with him in middle age. In fact, the whole highly pleasurable endeavour feels like a Coen Brothers movie that got lost in time somehow, made when they were adolescents.
Ben Younger directs Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart and Ciaran Hinds in this true story of a boxer who after a car accident refuses to have his spine fused and trains to re-enter the ring.
I’m a sucker for a good boxing flick and this one delivers enough toil and reach to satisfy. So the ring action is a bit scrappy (if anything it makes the short bursts of actual sport feel intimate and improvised) the drama has its own enticing energy. Younger manages to squeeze real juice from Teller, Eckhart and Hinds acting trinity of broken champion, drunk trainer and overbearing father. In fact the film is often at its best when celebrating the unlikeable arrogance that makes such working class characters break their limitations. It may not reinvent the wheel but it gives it a good fucking spin.
Mike Hodges directs Michael Caine, Ian Hendry and John Osborne in this bleak thriller about an enforcer who travels North back home to investigate his brother’s suspicious death.
I’m too close to Get Carter to be in any way reasonably critical of it. Even watching it after a few years off with my wife for her first time (and she’s not a fan of Caine) I just got seduced by its dank beauty and squalid pessimism. It sounds and looks and moves the way a great crime thriller should – like cheap whisky in a lipstick stained cut glass tumbler, catching the winter light before burning the throat. Nasty stuff full of shimmering refractions and sadness. The score by Roy Budd is brilliantly jazzy and mournful. Hodges matches his documentary background for capturing a milieu with the propulsive urgency of a born action director. All the cast land devestating blows as the how and the why tragically unfolds but Caine towers over all as the brute force bastard who keeps pulling at strings no one wants to see undone, not even him. He is just tremendous here and gets to actually do a bit of that acting he’s not half bad at given the chance. Perfection.
Jim Jarmusch directs Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani and Barry Shabaka Henly in this week in the life of a bus driver and secret poet who reaches a creative dilemma.
We have come full circle. Jarmusch all but invented the quirky indie film where the inconsequential is given considered, almost surreal attention. And for the last 20 years he has seemed keener on reappropriating his house style to genre pieces – rambling, poetic low budget films about hitmen, cowboys and vampires… rather than immigrants, tourists and taxi drivers. In the interim small town Americana became a genre in itself. Well acted, knowingly arch slice of life ensembles became the go to “indie blockbusters” for slumming it stars and studio owned boutique production houses wanting an easy success. The Station Agent, Juno, Lonesome Jim being the better examples of a more laser targeted evolution of Jarmusch’s early legacy. So here he eventually is, back on home turf and… it is all very pleasant and diverting. Nicely performed, with some fine time spent on the pleasures of an unambitious life, meditations on the inspirations for the creation of poetry and visual rhyming couplets (not all twins are related). In no way is Paterson life altering but Jarmusch’ low key dramerdy hits the same notes as a merely decent Hitchcock thriller or a lesser Wes Craven horror film can. It is just a good example of a likeable genre by someone who more than knows what they are doing.
Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell, James Caan and Zooey Deschanel in this drama about an illegal immigrant who flits from job to job while trying to connect with a father who was unaware of his existence, the cultural differences of his adopted family’s nation impede him.
We put the Christmas decorations up and watched Elf. A shameless Christmas film that manages to be merely OK and perfect at the same time.
Anthony Harvey directs George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward and Jack Gilford in this philosophical comedy romance about a man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor Watson who falls for him.
This week’s “lost” classic is a warm, emotionally intelligent and consistently charming experience. If you appreciate the good intentions of films like The Fisher King or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (their dealings with love, loss, mental health and reality) then this feels like the forgotten foundation for their explorations and success. George C Scott puts in a typically commited shift and impresses as always, while the rest of the cast are plucked from sitcoms and children’s classic bringing an inherent screwball innocence. The entire endeavour has the broadness and likeability of a vintage family comedy, the characters are to a man distinctly wacky and the set pieces low key yet enthusiastic. But hidden amongst all this soft, accessible energy is an engagingly smart and affecting adult piece that will stay in your thoughts long after more “serious” attempts have spent their “important” loads. I get the feeling I’ve just found a new favourite.
Amma Asante directs David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike and Jack Davenport in this true story of an African prince who marries a white Londoner but risks his nation’s sovereignty with the Empire by doing so.
A fascinating fact based story well told, though a certain heavyhanded worthiness slows things down in the second half. Pike and Oyelowo’s London courtship is the highlight as they get satisfying screentime together here and chime exceedingly well with each other, so when the political machinations in Africa eventually take centre stage the film loses its heart a little. Handsome enough Sunday teatime fare.
Robert Zemeckis directs Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris in this wartime romantic thriller about two spies who fall for each other only to discover one might be a double agent.
Here we go, gang! A glossy modern day crack at a Notorious or a Casablanca, full of surprising violence and glimpses of sex and drugs, that manages to nearly always marry the intimate with the epic. The confident experimental sweep with which Zemeckis tells his tale of desert trysts, Blitz intrigue and resistance detecting manages to out Spielberg Spielberg (Zemeckis really has been delivering on that promise throughout his career). The balls out opening shot of Pitt floating down into the North African desert exposes an experienced storyteller who is just going to take it to the edge and do pirouettes for two magnificent hours. Now, it is fair to say the pace shifts about a bit and current audiences may not care for the moments that lean heavily on starpower. But who cares about their immature needs? Cotillard manages to pump blood and guts into a role that could consumed with being merely enigmatic, and there’s a reason Pitt is the closest we have to an old school movie star of the Gary Cooper or Montgomery Clift brand. Every flinch and twitch of his ageing yet smoothly golden face feels like a tale in itself, he is one of those actors who you are so drawn to watching he needs to do very little externally to win you over. And whether it is listening to frustrating exposition in vintage knitwear or calmly taking on a tank singlehandedly, that coiled minimalism is electrifying here. The set dressers and costume designers match the high bar that the pairing of possibly the two most beautiful people currently in Hollywood sets, with a cornucopia of faded primary colours and worn but soft textures enveloping the eyes at every scene change. A whole gateau of movie magic – it is fair to say I pretty much loved every slice of this.
Renny Harlin directs Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville and Fan Bingbing in this tale of a Hong Kong cop who needs to get a yankee gambler across borders from Siberia to back home with 72 hours.
A poor man’s Midnight Run that outstays its welcome by a good half an hour… yet having said that… Jackie and Knoxville have a great chemistry that makes it difficult to dismiss. And why shouldn’t they work well together? A pair of past it but beloved B-Movie stars who made their names mixing risky stunts with broad comedy, I wouldn’t mind seeing them reunited in something a little tighter that hits the same notes as this does when it makes a concerted effort. Some of the earlier action sequences have a daft chaos and some neat visual jokes (the Russian dolls fight is a treat). Fan Bingbing is easy on the eye, as are the globetrotting locations. All in all forgettable but comfortable.
Tyler Shields directs Abigail Breslin, Alexander Ludwig and Wes Bentley in this tale of young lady raised and trained to turn the tables on a group of male slashers.
A nice little concept, made on the cheap (all though the director clearly embraces this, almost celebrating the artificiality of the sets). The kind of movie that exists only in it own little world, so that unbelievable logic or behaviour can be overlooked by the generous viewer, just like the fake trees and secret base that quite clearly is a late night car park structure. Breslin and Bentley have a nice dynamic (think Batman Begins if Bruce Wayne had a teenage crush on Ra’s al Ghul… and who is to say he didn’t?). Once we are let loose into the woods the stalk and slash sequences go for invention rather than tension, and yet somehow end up repetitive. A diverting throwaway horror, that had the potential to be even more given the central conceit and decent acting talent, you could still do a lot worse at this murky end of the genre.