Monday 29 February 2016

Spotlight, Brooklyn and Cannibal Holocaust: Your week in film (Feb 29-Mar 6)

Spotlight: Tom McCarthy's drama was a shock winner at the Oscars 

TV, Radio, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and cinema picks for the next seven days...

But first a word or two about the Oscars
I enjoyed The Revenant but was glad it didn't win the Best Picture Oscar. Yes, it's a beautiful-looking film with a couple of superb dramatic set-pieces but, ultimately, is really just another half-decent Western revenge tale. Or, to be less kind, what it all boils to is two men with silly accents (Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy) wrestling in the snow. Alejandro Iñárritu's film deserved its award for cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki's third Oscar win in a row) but that's about it. 

Eventual Best Picture champion Spotlight is The Revenant's polar opposite  a low-key film with no directorial flashiness, action set-pieces or melodrama. The film's plot journalists investigating the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston – is front and centre at all times. Even the excellent ensemble cast in Tom McCarthy's movie (including Supporting Actor nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams) are granted little external life outside of their quest to chase down witnesses and pour over information sources. It's a fascinating film and one happy to take its time in showing the Boston Globe writers methodically and forensically building their jigsaw of evidence. However, despite its many qualities, Spotlight still seems like an odd favourite. Simply put, the film's problem is that it isn't very 'cinematic', reminding me more of a quality TV drama than an Oscar-winning movie. In fact, it might just be the most understated Best Picture winner ever.

Now, if you're thinking all these sour grapes are just my way of saying "Mad Max: Fury Road was robbed", then you'd be right. I'm delighted director George Miller and his team won six technical Oscars though. But that was the least the film deserved...

On with this week's picks...

Monday February 29th: 
Saoirse Ronan is fantastic in Brooklyn (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD), director John Crowley's beautifully written (by Nick Hornby) and acted adaptation of Colm Tóibín's 1950s-set novel. As Ellis, Ronan is a young immigrant relocating from her quiet Irish village to the hustle and bustle of the titular New York borough. There, she meets and falls for an easygoing Italian plumber but is soon recalled on urgent family business. Back on home soil, Ellis's new life, priorities and future are all suddenly thrown up into the air, especially when a potential new suitor makes himself known. She faces a huge choice  which way will she leap? The plot is simplicity itself but the themes and emotions are big. Elsewhere, Takashi Miike's notorious J-horror Audition (BR and Dual Format Steelbook) gets the swanky reissue treatment.

Brooklyn is beautifully written and acted (trailer)

Tuesday March 1st: Despite being nearly 40 years old, Cannibal Holocaust (Mubi) still bites great big bloody lumps out of recent cannibal-flavoured offerings such as Bone Tomahawk and The Green Inferno. It might be sleazy, nasty, gratuitous, and thoroughly reprehensible (the killing of several animals in the film is real), but Ruggero Deodato's infamous 1980 film is cleverer and, in many ways, far less reactionary than its clumsy imitators. Of course, it also pretty much invented the 'found footage' storytelling technique now widely seen in dodgy horror flicks the world over. But please don't hold that against it. Film 2016 (23:45, BBC1) ends its latest seven-episode run tonight with Claudia Winkleman, Danny Leigh and guest Tim Robey casting their critical gaze over the week's new releases. The show – which must cost peanuts to produce – is treated pretty shabbily by the Beeb; moved around the schedules willy-nilly and only broadcast for a few weeks at a time either side of the new year. More positively, Peter Sellars is Inspector Clouseau in the very funny The Return of the Pink Panther (Netflix). Swine bird!

Cannibal Holocaust: Sleazy, nasty, gratuitous (trailer)

Wednesday March 2nd: Dallas Buyers Club (Amazon Prime) is one of those rare 'Oscar bait' movies that is actually pretty good. Set in the 1980s and based on a true story, Matthew McConaughey plays AIDS patient Ron Woodroof who, frustrated at the lack of effective medication available to him and fellow sufferers in the US, takes matters into his own hands. A powerful drama. David Cronenberg's bravura body horror remake The Fly (22:00, Syfy), released in 1986, has frequently been described as an AIDS allegory and it's easy to see why. Scientist Jeff Goldblum conducts an experiment into matter transportation that goes horribly wrong, commencing a process that slowly but surely ravages both his mind and body. Inside Llewyn Davis (21:00, Film4) stars Oscar Isaac as the struggling musician of the title in one of my favourite Coen Brothers films. Abject failure is rarely this entertaining. 

Dallas Buyers Club is superior Oscar bait (trailer)

Thursday March 3rd: Presenter Antonia Quirke talks 1950s communism with Joel and Ethan Coen on The Film Programme (BBC Radio 4, 16:00). The brothers' latest comedy – Hail, Caesar! – is the highlight of this week's cinema releases and is out tomorrow. Olympus Has Fallen (21:00, Channel 5) sees secret service agent Gerard Butler battling North Korean terrorists who have taken over the White House. A sequel London Has Fallen – is also in cinemas from tomorrow. Your best bet movie-wise today, though, is Michael Mann's classy adaptation of The Last Of The Mohicans (21:00, Spike), starring Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye (not that one). 

The Coens are back with Hail, Caesar! (trailer)

Friday March 4th: Apart from the aforementioned Hail, Caesar! and London Has Fallen, this week's cinema releases include a couple of horrors, one intriguing (Goodnight Mommy), one rather less so (The Other Side Of The Door), an interesting-looking documentary (Hitchcock/Truffaut), and Cate Blanchett/Robert Redford drama Truth that, like Spotlight, puts journalists at the centre of proceedings. James Vanderbilt's film tells the true story of 'Rathergate' during the lead up to the 2004 US presidential election. Veteran CBS newsreader Dan Rather (Redford) and the channel's head of news Mary Mapes (Blanchett) ran a story exposing how then-president George W Bush had used his father's connections to avoid being drafted in the Vietnam war. The tsunami of controversy that followed the broadcast saw them both lose their jobs. I shall look out for it when it appears on DVD in a few months time because its chances of reaching my local Odeon are zero.

The Truth is out there for Cate Blanchett (trailer)

Saturday March 5th: Lots of movies on terrestrial TV tonight but nothing you'd take home to meet your mum. Seven Psychopaths (23:40, Channel 4) is another black comedy from Martin McDonagh, the writer/director who gave us the splendidly profane In Bruges. Despite a fine cast, including Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it isn't a patch on the earlier film. Even less fun is The Bourne Legacy (21:00, Channel 4), which sees Jeremy Renner supplant Matt Damon as the secret agent series' focus with little success. His character isn't even named Bourne, for god's sake. Never Say Never Again (23:20, ITV) is the remake of Thunderball which marked Sean Connery's return as James Bond after 12 years away. Suffice to say, the 1965 version  which also starred Connery  is substantially better. Al Pacino and Colin Farrell star in CIA thriller The Recruit (23:50, BBC1), a film so unmemorable I'd completely forgotten it even existed until now.

Sean Connery returns as James Bond (trailer)

Sunday March 6th: American Hustle (21:00, Channel 4) isn't David O'Russell's best film (I still reckon 1999's Three Kings holds that title) but it is enormous fun. The '70s crime caper sees con-man Christian Bale and partner Amy Adams forced to work for the FBI by loose-cannon agent Bradley Cooper. O'Russell merges drama and comedy to good effect and revels in the period setting. But Jennifer Lawrence steals the show. Obviously. Set in 1960, The German Doctor (21:00, BBC4) tells the true story of an Argentine family's encounter with fugitive Nazi Dr Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz 'Angel of Death'. Without realising his true identity they entrust the care of their sick daughter, Lilith, to the man. It's every bit as chilling and discomfiting as you'd expect. 

Jennifer Lawrence lights up American Hustle (trailer)

The last five films I've seen, from best to worst...
1. Taxi Tehran: Jafar Panahi is banned from making movies by the Iranian authorities but finds increasingly clever ways around that limitation. This time he drives a cab around Tehran and films the passengers he encounters. Some of it is clearly staged, but that doesn't detract from what is a fascinating, funny and eye-opening experience.
2. Chronic: Tim Roth's best performance in years lights up this odd and disturbing tale of a palliative care nurse who gets too close to his patients.
3. Trumbo: Solid biopic of 1950s Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Spartacus), who was blacklisted and jailed for being a communist. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is on fine form.
4. Nina Forever: Bizarre British horror about a man whose girlfriend returns from the dead every time he has sex with his new lover. Underneath the blood and craziness, there's a rather clever meditation on grief.
5.Triple 9: Overcooked heist thriller which boasts a great cast (Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor) but suffers from an overabundance of plot twists. 

UK box office top 10
1. Deadpool R
2. Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip
3. How To Be Single
4. Goosebumps R
5. Dad's Army
6. Triple 9
7. Zoolander 2
8. The Revenant R
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
10. Spotlight R

R = Recommended


  1. When Fury Road came out, everyone was saying it was brilliant -- fair enough, because it is -- so I was a bit surprised to see many of the same critics expressing shock and indignation that it been nominated for any awards at all. Bloody turncoats.

  2. I was surprised it got 10 nominations but only because the Academy are so unimaginative and set in their ways. I thought it was the best film of the eight nominated by a considerable distance - it was certainly the most imaginative and 'cinematic'. But, for once, I actually liked all the films that were nominated - not a bad one amongst them.