Mike Leigh directs Alison Steadman, Tim Stern and Janine Duvitski in this television play about a middle class soirée hosted by an overconfident, domineering housewife.
Naked and Nuts in May aside, I’m not a big fan of Leigh. I find his sneering view of the working class difficult to chuckle at. This much beloved farce works for two reasons. Steadman’s hideously spot on tyrant in high street evening wear. And the amount of unspoken animosities and hinted at innuendos among the other guests. Just how did taciturn, grumpy Tony’s shirt get wet? Existential crisis with ice and a slice of lemon.
Wang Xiaoshuai directs Wang Jingchun, Yong Mei and Qi Xi in this epic drama following one couple’s tragedies during China’s era of One Child policy.
A superbly acted and richly textured family saga. The sense of period and place is evocative. The elliptical time structure wrong foots you and makes you actively engage with characters’ changes of fortunes. You find yourself second guessing your grasp of the plot and chastising yourself for cynically assuming the worst of the lead couple. Would make a good double bill with the decades spanning Ash is the Purest White.
John Herzfeld directs Danny Aiello, James Spader and Teri Hatcher in this freewheelin’ crime caper following the fallout from a bungled assassination.
Made during the big Pulp Fiction gold rush of mid 90s, this has very little but light entertainment to offer. It lacks Elmore Leonard’s wit, Scorsese’s bravura craft or QT’s eye for ensemble casting. The imposed quirkiness is very heavy handed. Various sub-plots shift from engaging to pointless, and the characters never are given enough breathing space to come alive. Aiello, Glenne Headley, Paul Mazursky and a very fresh faced Charlize Theron make the most out of what blanks they are armed with but if someone told you Jeff Daniels was only available for 48 hours of filming and they didn’t complete shooting his pages you’d believe them. Watchable, disposable.
Alfred Hitchcock directs Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Leo. G Carroll in this thriller where a frigid psychoanalyst and her murder suspect lover go on the run.
Dirty old Alfred gets a little too caught up with violently frustrated men and repressed beauties here. The set pieces and suspense are low volume. The stand-out is a Salvador Dali designed dream sequence full of visual crossword clues to the mystery’s solution. Fantastic to look at but unless there was an interval to muse on what you’ve just witnessed you’d never have a chance to unpick the pun imagery and resolve what happened and whodunnit.
Mark Rosman directs Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson and Janis Ward in this horror slasher where some dorm sisters kill their guardian moments before the last party of the year.
The characters are unlikeable and the kills come way too quick. Most of the deserving victims are bumped off with a hasty, tension-free impatience. The production does however look superior to nearly all of its peers. The flashback opening is an unspoken homage to Citizen Kane, there are crane shots and everything is impeccably lit… right up to the party finale that has the phantasmagorical colour scheme of a Bava or Argento. Prettiness does not a great chiller make though.
Spike Jonze directs Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in this Hollywood satire where Charlie Kaufman, meta-loving screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, agrees to adapt a non-fiction bestseller with no plot and drives himself into a frenzy over his self-doubt, inertia and paranoia.
All the worst feels poured into a cocktail shaker and mixed vigorously into a viciously funny concoction of frustrated humanity. Kaufman’s view of himself is self lacerating but recognisable. We don’t get many feature length presentations on chronic indecision. Yet most of us in life do idle in the middle lane, scared to take risks while wanting to stay authentic to some limiting idea of who we are. Kaufman even invents a twin brother for juxtaposition. Blundering, confident, likeable – Donald has no issues selling out, getting the girl or getting along. Watching Cage play off himself is one of the film’s true delights. The internalised genius and the extroverted achiever grating and caring and trampling over each other produces much of the film’s heart and humour. He’s wonderful in both roles – avoiding the delirious ham that has defined his 21st century career. Strong work too from Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and the unsung Cara Seymour. Adaptation. is a curious movie. It has it cake and eats it and then shows you the recipe for cake and then ices the pages of the cookery book with everything that is bad for you but delicious. As Charlie sweats and sighs over turning the literary prose about flowers, life and loneliness into something cinematic, we catch accomplished glimpses of a faithful conversion of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into big screen release. Then when formulaic and crowd pleasing Donald takes over the process, the final act warps into a rollercoaster of cliches, broken rules and excitement. Art is betrayed but we are entertained. It is a heady, acerbic experience. One final note: Adaptation has one of the best movie trailers ever – it utterly sells the tone and uniqueness of a non-traditional film without being particularly quirky itself.
Alejandra Márquez Abella directs Ilse Salas, Paulina Gaitan and Flavio Medina in this period satire from Mexico.
The Mexican Economic Crash of 1982 witnessed through the pampered eyes of one trophy wife. Her friends, her servants and her sanity begin to abandon her in that order. We linger over the decadent chic lifestyle and then watch the rot set in. A really attractive, wholemeal two hours.
Leonard Nimoy directs Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg in this Eighties smash comedy about three Manhattan bachelors struggling with the infant left on their doorstop.
Miami Sound Machine montage heavy and featuring more chest hair than a orangutan enclosure, this fizzy poppy gloss-fest is part of my movie loving DNA. Shame that digital resolution has now robbed us of the dead boy’s ghost urban legend.
Shane Black directs Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce and Gwyneth Paltrow in this superhero sequel where Tony Stark finds himself without his armoured suit of tricks while hunting down The Mandarin.
Now… this one holds up. Tonnes of fun. RDJ is vulnerable rather than smug, witty rather than overbearing. Black doesn’t just inject his usual caustic banter, Christmas setting and zigzag plotting but understands how to make Tony Stark work as a hero. The inhibition of having a genius in an exoskeleton with an app for every crisis is it gets very repetitive seeing that hero merely select the right defence system from inside a secure shell. Here we crack the star out of his tin can so we can savour quirky set pieces involving weaponless Iron Man, powerless Iron Man, DIY low tech Iron Man and ‘just a gauntlet and a boot’ Iron Man. And the director really cooks up quirky dynamics with each variation on this theme. So that by the epic finale when Stark and Co. are jumping from suit to suit hoping to land in the right one at exactly the right moment to stop the murderous bad guy it genuinely is exhilarating. Villian-wise, the now infamous Mandarin twist is clever clever but kind of overshadows Guy Pearce’s main threat – his spurned scientist genuinely seems immoral and unstoppable until the final moments but maybe needed a few more time-outs to register as more than serviceable. The opening act is a wobbly hangover of previous chapters but after IM3 jumps the rails of what you expect it to be, this hit proves itself as more a Shane Black movie than a Marvel one. An hour in and we are riding a breathless, good natured blast right up until the end credits (and beyond). This exceeds all other Stark-centred adventures.