Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Critical Week: Queens of the jungle

A few big Hollywood movies screened for the London press over the past week, including Snatched, the mother-daughter kidnapping romp starring Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer. It's silly enough to be a guilty pleasure, but could have been a lot more. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron lead the charge in the goofy action-comedy movie version of the iconic TV series Baywatch. And Charlie Hunnam takes the lead in Guy Ritchie's entertaining and somewhat rushed approach to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper struggles to elevate the terrorism thriller Stratton above B-movie status. Much better were a couple of foreign movies: from China, I Am Not Madame Bovary is a fiendishly clever exploration of social connection and darker motivations, while Machines is a riveting, relevant, gorgeously shot documentary about workers in an Indian fabric factory.

Coming up this next week, while many London-based critics have decamped to the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival, we will catch up with Johnny Depp's fifth turn as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge (aka Dead Men Tell No Tales), Chris Evans' drama Gifted, the Scottish biopic Tommy's Honour, the animated adventure Monster Island, the Mexican rom-com Wild Awakening and the shorts compilation Boys on Film 16: Possession.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Critical Week: Just chilling

Press screenings are starting to crank up again after an early-May lull, perhaps because so many big movies are coming up. Although it's likely to quiet down when most London-based journalists (not me, thankfully) decamp to Cannes 17-28 May.

I enjoyed catching up with the Sundance hit The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani's autobiographical comedy, which cleverly depicts multi-cultural America with its awesome ensemble cast. The indie road comedy Folk Hero & Funny Guy was also enjoyable, starring the superb Wyatt Russell and Alex Karpovsky as childhood pals with a surprisingly complex relationship. But of course this week's biggest movie was Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott's skilfully made sequel/prequel, which plays out almost like a reimagining of his original 1979 sci-fi horror classic. It's uneven, but entertainingly scary.

A bit further afield, the British-made drama Interlude in Prague focusses on some lusty intrigue for Mozart as he wrote Don Giovanni. It's very nicely shot on location, and the story is involving if a bit dry. Spark is a lively animated adventure with an all-star voice cast, but the animation isn't quite up to big studio standards. Eric Stoltz makes his feature directing debut with Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk, a sharply observed comedy-drama that tackles some big themes (religion! sex!) without flinching. And Tomcat starts out as a gentle relationship drama before morphing into something dark and boldly disturbing, which is perhaps unsurprising since it's an Austrian film.

Blockbusters begin arriving over the next week, including the Baywatch movie, Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the Schumer-Hawn adventure Snatched, plus the acclaimed Chinese drama I Am Not Madame Bovary and the documentary Machines.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Critical Week: Scary monsters

It's a third short week this spring here in Britain, so there have been fewer than usual screenings. But I did manage to catch up with Colossal, the genre-defying movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. It's funny, scary, harrowing and very well-made. And then there was Sleepless, an almost painfully predictable cop thriller livened up by an adept cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney and Scoot McNairy.

A hybrid crime thriller and arthouse drama, Away is a small British drama starring Timothy Spall and Juno Temple as two desperate people who meet in Blackpool. It's nicely shot and acted, but jarringly edited. And Last Men in Aleppo is the prize-winning documentary about the White Helmets, rescue workers in war-torn Syria. Skilfully shot on the ground during the fighting, it's utterly devastating to watch, and urgently important.

Screenings coming up this week include Ridley Scott's Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant, the comedy The Big Sick, the action movie Stratton, the road movie Folk Hero & Funny Guy, the period drama Interlude in Prague and the animated adventure Spark.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Critical Week: Into the night

Screenings continue to slow down in the run-up to Cannes. But there are things we need to see! It was great to watch Tye Sheridan continues to prove himself as an actor with the lead role in Detour. It's a clever, tricky thriller with an inventively fractured narrative. Of course the big movie this week was the highly anticipated sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, which reunites the team for a bigger adventure that lacks the free-spirited tone of the original but is still a lot of fun.

From Scotland, Whisky Galore is a remake of the 1949 classic about residents of a remote island who lay claim to the cargo of a wrecked ship during WWII. It's a gentle comedy, amusing but never very exciting. Further afield, Slack Bay is an oddly comical period romp from controversy-courting filmmaker Bruno Dumont. It stars Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini in an enjoyably farcical story involving snobbery, crime and religion. Much darker, The Student is a Russian drama about a teen who becomes a Christian fundamentalist and begins manipulating everyone in his school. It's chilling and very sharp. And from Greece, Suntan follows a shy middle-aged doctor who falls headlong into the hedonistic summer tourist season. It's well-made and involving, but a little too pointed.

Oddly, I have no screenings in the diary over the next seven days. It's the long weekend this month in London, and things always go quiet at this time of year (call it pre-Cannes gloom). I do have screeners to watch at home, and we are awaiting word of press screenings for the soon-arriving Alien: Covenant, Snatched and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, among others.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Critical Week: Yes, mother

London-based critics had two traumatic female-centred dramas this week to consider. First up was the trashy melodramatic thriller Unforgettable, featuring a wonderfully nasty mother-daughter relationship between Katherine Heigl and Cheryl Ladd (above), plus Rosario Dawson as the innocent woman caught in the mayhem. Terrible, but a lot of fun. Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin star in a remake of My Cousin Rachel, based on the Daphne Du Maurier novel about a suspicious 19th century woman who might be manipulating her way into a fortune. (Comments on the film itself are embargoed until closer to the release date in June.)

A little further afield, this week I was able to catch up with Werner Herzog's strangely offbeat drama Salt and Fire, about corporate greed and natural disasters in Bolivia. It has an intriguing central role for Michael Shannon, and at least gets you thinking. And then there's the documentary David Lynch: The Art Life, tracing the iconic filmmaker's pre-cinematic inspiration in his own words, with some added slightly overwrought filmmaking from the trio of directors who made this doc.

This coming week we have screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, the acclaimed Russian film The Student and something called Detour. I also have quite a few screener discs to catch up on.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Critical Week: Man's best friend

Press screenings went to the dogs, literally, this week as critics were invited to bring their pets to the screening of A Dog's Purpose. They were surprisingly alert audience members, actually. And the humans enjoyed it too, especially since it wasn't the expected schmaltz-fest. Louder thrills were had at the Imax press screening of The Fate of the Furious (or Fast & Furious 8, as it's known in the UK). Loud and flashy, funny and preposterous, it's exactly what you expect from this franchise: mindless entertainment.

Off the beaten path, there was the sensitive, resonant indie drama Bwoy, starring Anthony Rapp as a married man in New York who gets into an internet relationship with a guy in Jamaica; the cleverly inventive true story The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, about a Finnish boxer trying to balance romance with his career; and Nick Broomfield's strikingly well-made documentary Whitney: 'Can I Be Me', which has its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this month.

It's a very short week ahead (with a four-day weekend in it!), so there are only a few films in the diary at the moment, including Rachel Weisz in My Cousin Rachel, Katherine Heigl in Unforgettable and Michael Shannon in Salt and Fire. Happy Easter!