Annabelle: Creation (2017)

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David F. Sandberg directs Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman and Anthony LaPaglia in this prequel to the prequel of The Conjuring’s subplot; this time orphaned girls uncover the demonic doll in her creator’s farmhouse.

Creepy and well acted, this is miles better than the other Annabelle prequel yet still lacks the rollercoaster relentlessness and star power of the core The Conjuring flicks. Acceptable for a couple of keen rural setting shocks and some taut dread-building throughout, this should just about sate horror aficionados.

5

 

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

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Brad Furman directs Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe and Marisa Tomei in this courtroom thriller about an amoral defence attorney who picks up a client he soon wishes he hadn’t. 

Gritty and gorgeous but never all that gripping. A fine cast and a strong concept is leaned on a little too heavily for the sake of hurried storytelling. At one point William H Macy taps out of the film as an exposition spouter, only for Bryan Cranston to tag in for the same purpose the very next scene. While it is all very watchable, the rush through the bullet point plot never gives you that satisfying set piece or memorable face off that would justify all the machinations.

6

Belle De Jour (1967)

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Luis Buñuel directs Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel and Michel Piccoli in this allegorical drama about a repressed Parisian housewife who starts working in a brothel.

A film made to celebrate, lightly degrade and examine Deneuve’s fragile, ethereal beauty.  Fantasies and flashback explore why she is so outwardly repressed. Exquisite framing and costumes accentuate why that is so desirable. The reverie of an extended dirty dream pulsates throughout Buñuel’s direction. And as the forced drama and humiliation escalate towards the finale, we are never truly sure whether we are awake in a tragedy or still glossed over and blissed out in her twisted sexual fantasia. It is all gently transgressive, persuasively attacking class and gender politics without ever losing its charm and beauty. What is in that jolly chinaman’s decorative box? What are the consequences? This nicely contrasts with Deneuve’s recent The Midwife where she plays a character with few societal reservations.

9

 

Atomic Blonde (2017)

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David Leitch directs Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella in this hyperstyilsed Cold War thriller about sexy double agents and the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Let down only by a plot that somehow manages to be overly complicated yet also wholly predictable everything else chimes together nicely. It has sexy action to match a John Wick or a Kingsman. It has sexy sex scenes. Sexy eighties fashion. Sexy eighties remix soundtrack. Sexy eighties cold neon lighting. And considering Charlize, when framed by all these elements, is the epitome of sexy, it proves to be a perfect vehicle for her. A perfect vehicle is something this hard working star is rarely gifted with by Hollywood, and therefore its mere efficient existence increases the endeavour’s overall likability.

7

GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)

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Brett Whitcomb directs Mountain Fiji,  Matilda the Hun and Little Egypt in this documentary revisiting the surprise hit Eighties sports phenomenon. 

Diverting more as the obvious inspiration for the brilliant new Netflix show with Alison Brie and Marc Maron than as a piece of quality filmmaking in its own right. The permitted content is colourful but limited and the manipulation to form the standard exposé narrative and emotional arc are blatant. As a DVD extra for the new show or a fan friendly celebration of the nostalgic original it is watchable enough.

5

 

Spirited Away (2001)

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Hayao Miyazaki directs Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino and Mari Natsuki in this animated fantasy about an out of time girl who finds herself working in a bathhouse for spirits. 

Episodic but compellingly beautiful. The sense of scale in the densely populated design work and the positive ethics emphasised in the narrative give this a wholesome and quality focussed heft. As journeys to “otherworlds” go this is engrossing and inventive, matching the magic of Disney and far exceeding the animation gold standard’s maturity.

8

Movie of the Week: Goodfellas (1990)

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Martin Scorsese directs Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci in this gangster drama spanning the life of one true life mafia wiseguy. 

The sheer breathless verve and fetishisation of criminal consumerism shoves us forcefully through this fascinating life story. Pushing you along so fast and so hard that three hours feels like 90 minutes. Endless rewatches spoil you with new details. Ray Liotta’s take on Henry Hill, as he goes from neighbourhood kid parking goombahs Caddys to desperate snitch, is a tapestry of criminality evolving. Scorsese thumps us through the years through keen soundtrack choices (revolutionary at the time) and a keener eye for fashion. Interestingly, real world news events are pointedly never ever even glimpsed, these criminals are in their own world untouched by JFK, moon landings or ‘Nam. Forrest Gump this ain’t. You live their life, not the history books ‘prescribed’ significant events of the period. In the first half we are inveigled into the world of the mob. We are swept to the front table of the club by the steadicam wizardry, we are let in on the codes, nicknames and shared humour of the killers, we are Lorraine Bracco (brilliant here) being handed a bloody pistol and stuffing it into our knickers. Then the DVD disc flips (too much movie for one side alone) and we get coked up, sweaty and paranoid darting around town trying to get the score settled. Scorsese sells us the life then kills it right there in front of us, a prepossessing Liotta manages to make us care even when it becomes clear he is just as corrupt and as immoral as the more open psychos he introduced us to. The scene where Jimmy Conway beckons Karen Hill into a dark warehouse side door bristles with threat. It is one of cinema’s most terrifying moments. Movie perfection, all in, all out.

10

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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David O. Russell directs Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro in this romantic comedy about two broken individuals with mental health issues coming together to win a dance competition. 

This really works, proving to be sweetly unguarded in its characters’ mania and completely feelgood in its “this going to be utter car crash” big dance comp finale. Jennifer Lawrence and Jacki Weaver are excellent as always but Russell impressively manages to wring out likeable and detailed performances from Cooper, post-1996 DeNiro and even Chris Tucker. Who else can say that? It is just winning to see a director aiming for the acerbic bleakness and witty sparkle of Billy Wilder’s heyday rather than dipping toward the vapid sheen of a Kate Hudson / Katherine Heigl vehicle when making a romcom.

8

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

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Luc Beeson directs Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne and Clive Owen in this space adventure about two future cops trying to protect a little, multicolour gem producing beastie who links to an intergalactic genocide.

Oh, I wanted this to be better. I wanted it to be great. The opening montage presenting the century spanning creation of an alien multiculture to David Bowie is mind blowing. The introduction of pearl and coral based planet is an eye popping work of art. A sting operation in a multidimensional shopping mall is quite frankly warped brilliance. But then we have 90 minutes left and all that visual invention and  unique oomph gets lost in boring and weirdly slapdash episodic ‘adventures’. Culminating in a cheap Eighties TV shoot out.  By then you have given up. You are left cold and shivering by the dullness and disappointment . The surreal sight of Rihanna as a shapeshifting stripper and blank star Delevingne in the universe’s biggest hat can’t get you back on board. A waste.

4

The Big Sick (2017)

Film Review The Big Sick

Michael Showalter directs Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano in this romantic comedy about a Pakistani comedian whose white ex falls into a coma before he can realise he wants to be with her despite family objections.

Neither Splash or Honeymoon in Vegas are perfect romantic comedies. They both suffer from “fake obstacles” thrown into the mix to create drama. But they come from a period where romcoms were a monthly occurrence on the release schedule. The Big Sick feels like a rarity, a reunion with an old friend. But it doesn’t work. It aches of an Apatow hangover, you know what I mean. Often more interested in Nanjiani’s stand-up career than his romances, it is way too distracted to seduce. The falling out that separates the lead couple happens in an instance after months together. People genuinely in love don’t break up in one scene. And when Ray Romano and Holly Hunter turn up as the waiting room parents they steal the film. Not quite a positive as you are left wanting to see more of the old hands repairing their marriage rather than the unbelievable people not be horrible to each other. There are enough laughs and manipulative bits to make it watchable. Just not very likeable.

5