Call Me By Your Name (2017)


Luca Guadagnino directs Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg  in this Eighties set romance between a holidaying teen and an American grad student. 

A very beautiful, relaxed movie. But essentially it boils down to rich people with rich people’s problems. I’m not entirely sure they even have problems here. I popped out to grab a Coke at the midway point, came back and asked my wife “Have they fucked yet?” knowing full well that the film was a bit of a prick tease and they wouldn’t have. I guess, like last year’s ridiculously overhyped Moonlight, this type of arthouse experience is a sorta Rorschach Test. It is a vacant piece of lushness that the viewer has to bring their own engagement and connections to. I’m a vacant husk though. All I bring is a desire to entertained by more than posh aesthetics. I need more than surface even if it is as sumptuous as this sheeny shiny surface is. All three key male performances are well essayed, Stuhlbarg  knocks his final monologue right out of the park and slam bang into poor old Oscar’s Best Supporting eye. And there is good use of the evergreen Psychdelic Furs track, Love My Way.


Dolores Claiborne (1995)


Taylor Hackford directs Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Plummer in this Stephen King mystery where are an estranged daughter finds herself reconnecting with her mother while the local police look into a murder the older lady is prime suspect in.

A potboiler, character based adaptation of King’s investigation of three women and two deaths separated by decades and secrets. The performances are universally solid, the direction unnecessarily inventive but it all pans out a little too neatly, too tritely and without the expected blood that King’s brand was a golden promise of back then.


Zootropolis (2016)


Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush direct Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba in this animated buddy cop movie where a rookie rabbit and a hustling fox investigate a conspiracy in a city where animals of all sizes and instincts cohabit peacefully. 

A pleasant surprise. An action comedy movie for kids with strong chemistry between the mismatched leads and a Looney Tunes-esque sense of scale and surrealism to the action spectacle.


The Death of Stalin (2017)


Armando Iannucci directs Steve  Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Palin in this black political farce surrounding the infighting that followed the death of the USSR’s key dictator.

Iannucci has a distinct house style. Ambitious but uncertain middle managers bullying each other into jaded compromises. Here with the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s darkest period, where an ill timed insult could result in disappearances rather than a press release, it adds a compelling acerbic edge to the banter and backstabbing. If you are a fan of The Thick of It or In the Loop you must already be on board, but the ensemble assembled here, with an exasperated Buscemi and a bullish Jason Issac’s leading the way, is something else. A real class act and this year’s funniest comedy.


Escape to Victory (1981)


John Huston directs Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pele in this World War II set Nazis versus Prisoners of War football match “bank holiday afternoon classic.”

Like Scarface or The Matrix this is a favourite movie of people who don’t really like movies. The equivalent of someone saying Genesis or Coldplay is their favourite band. It is lacklustre but inoffensive. Any real terms stakes established are obliterated by the cop out happy ending. Yeah, just let em wander out among the crowd. No bullets fired. I’m pretty sure the Nazis were a bit more brutal and efficient than that, even Bank Holiday Movie Nazis. Aside from Pele, I’m not even sure the footie on display is even all that good. A Sunday League The Great Escape. As such my overly generous sentiment after enduring this again is that it is nice they are trying to match the Premier League but you wouldn’t go out of your way to watch it.


Goin’ South (1978)


Jack Nicholson directs himself, Mary Steenburgen and Christopher Lloyd in this revisionist western set romantic comedy about a condemned scoundrel who is given the choice of the noose or marrying a local spinster. 

Relaxed ambling fun. Directionless and lacking any depth, were it not for the fact that Nicholson has assembled quite the roster of alternative talent to don dirty sou’westers and spit tobacco around the mismatched couple. John Belushi! Danny Devito! Veronica Cartwright! Wow-ee, if only it weren’t a disposable little oddity and had a tad more ambition to entertain. For Jack completists only, of which I count myself one.


Scarface (1983)


Brian DePalma directs Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer in this Cuban immigrant / Miami coke trafficker update of the 1930’s Howard Hawks gangster classic. 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you aren’t a wannabe rapper or a bedsit weed dealer then this Scarface is a bit dull a lot of the time. It is 90 minutes of plot stretched out to nearly 3 hours with a lot of extra white, a little tit, some juicy dismemberment and Pacino’s most incoherent and first truly indulgent performance. We aren’t in full on HOO-HA territory just yet but he certainly isn’t interested in subtle or complex, even at this early point. There is a garish spaced out charm to it all and DePalma bungs in a few of his experimental set pieces to keep us buffs dazzled. But it is too fucking long. Like a cokehead at a party it rambles loudly and obnoxiously and repetitively in your ear for twice the time any sensible person would. Say goodbye to my lengthy friend.


Happy Death Day (2017)


Christopher B. Landon directs Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard and Ruby Modine in this horror comedy about a self-centred sorority girl who keeps waking up on the same morning to face the baby face masked slasher who will kill her.

So knowingly Groundhog Day meets Scream you sometimes wish it would scribble just a little outside of the lines of its easy slam dunk concept. It never really edges off into unexpected territory and worse yet is wholly self satisfied with being amusing and twisted rather laugh out loud funny or truly terrifying. Having said that, for a paint by numbers job the colouring in is vibrant and complete. The mystery element works a treat, it is guessble but not painfully obvious. Happy Death Day acts as an eye catching showcase for lead Jennifer Rothe, who surely must now be on every casting agents’ number 2 button speed dial – for when they can’t get through to Emma Roberts. Likewise Israel Broussard gives Tom Everett Scott a run for his money in the Young Tom Hanks race. Because Tom Everett Scott must now be older and less boyishly charming than the original Tom Hanks. And the killer’s Baby Face mask is a welcome and fun new addition to the hall of fame for slasher flick iconography.


The Villainess (2017)


Jung Byung-gil directs Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-Kyun and Kim Seo-Hyung in this action thriller about a deadly trained assassin with a past so murky even her government handlers are not sure of her hidden motivations. 

Dangerous spectacle lovers, this is all your Christmasses come at once. The Villainess chucks in go-pro corridor fights that last longer than most Netflix binge sets, colourful axe rumbles that move from motorbike to car bonnet to bus, and stuntwork that will bruise you even if you sit in the back row. The framing device though is a very convoluted complication of the simple Nikita storyline. Overly bogged down, it lacks Kill Bill’s confident elegance or Besson’s own restrained neatness. It means you eventually begin to disconnect from the twists and turns as you wait impatiently for the next round of showstopping kicks and crunches.


Universal Soldier (1992)


Roland Emmerich directs Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Ally Walker in this sci-fi actioner about Vietnam casualties of war resurrected to become super human zombie soldiers. 

What was a throwaway bit of beefcake Terminator 2 rip off cash-in back then, has aged remarkably well 25 years down the line. The location shoot helps to add a sheen of rare quality, as do career best turns from a nasty Lundgren and keenly cynical Ally Walker (she should have had a better career). The action is big and sustained and there are nascent traces of the excess that came with Independence Day and Godzilla from Emmerich… but here, at least, excesses on a tight, executive controlled budget. It proves to be quite the R rated thrill ride in this anemic age of invincible superheroes. You’d never see Loki turn up with a bracelet of severed ears around his neck or enjoy Ego the Living Planet lob grenades at a bus racing along the edge of the Grand Canyon or watch Thanos get churned up in a combine harvester. “You’re discharged, sarge.” There’s even a joke about the Muscles from Brussels accent. “What accent?”