Thursday 8 October 2015

Review overload!

A dozen short reviews of films I've seen in the last couple of weeks - ranked from best to worst (although there isn't a single stinker among them). I've seen 116 of the many hundreds of movies released in UK cinemas in 2015 and am hoping to reach 150 by the end of the year... 

Love & Mercy
(director: Bill Pohlad)
Bravura biopic of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, concentrating on two crucial periods of his life. Paul Dano plays the songwriter as a young man at the height of his musical powers (Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations) but teetering on the brink of mental illness, while John Cusack is the older Wilson, under the perfidious spell of Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), a quack psychologist who took his money and cut him off from his family. Love & Mercy boasts superb performances (Dano has to get an Oscar nod), smart storytelling (the two strands are beautifully weaved together) while the music is, of course, simply gorgeous.
Rating: WWWW
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 16

A Syrian Love Story
(director: Sean Armitage)
Bruising but timely documentary from British filmmaker Armitage chronicling the lives of a Syrian family - Amer, Ragdha and their three sons - as they flee to France after suffering under the oppressive Assad regime. The film is both uplifting and heartbreaking, as elation at Ragdha's release from prison (she had written a book critical of the regime) soon gives way to pain and disillusion as her marriage to Amer starts to unravel. Refusing to offer any easy answers to Syria's myriad problems, Armitage's film shows how oppression seeps into every single area of a person's life - even a seemingly rock-solid marriage isn't safe from it.
Rating: WWWW
In cinemas and on BFI player now

Catch Me Daddy
(director: Matthew Wolfe)
Atmospheric and brutal British 'honour killing' drama about a young couple on the run on the Yorkshire Moors from the girl's vengeful father. First-time director Wolfe blends elements of social realism, thriller and the western (The Searchers has been mentioned as an influence) to great effect while newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is a revelation as Laila. Be warned, though, this is anything but an easy watch.
Rating: WWWW
Available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

The Martian
(director: Ridley Scott)
Sci-fi blockbuster starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars when a manned mission to the planet goes tits up. It's MacGyver in space, it's Cast Away meets Apollo 13, and although the final 20 minutes strain credulity and Damon's character never seems bothered enough by his predicament, I enjoyed it a lot more than other recent SF blockbusters such as Gravity or Interstellar.
Rating: WWW
In cinemas now

The Goob
(director: Guy Myhill)
Gloomy coming-of-age drama set in the Norfolk Fens and focused on the titular Goob (Liam Walpole), a teenage boy struggling to come to terms with not only impending adulthood but also the behaviour of his step-dad, a deeply unpleasant bully played to evil-eyed perfection by Sean Harris. Writer/director Myhill conjures a potent but dispiriting vision of what it is to be young and trapped by poverty and circumstance.
Rating: WWW
Available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

The Reunion
(director: Anna Odell)
Clever film-within-a-film from provocative Swedish artist Odell. In real life, the director (who also writes and stars) wasn't invited to her high school reunion so the first half is a fictionalised account of what might have happened if she had attended (short answer: nothing good). In the second half, she recreates interviews she conducted with former class-mates - many of whom had tormented her - after showing them the film and recording their reactions. Beneath the art-project posturing, there's a powerful film with plenty to say about bullying, betrayal and the horrors of high school.
Rating: WWW
Available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

(director: Abel Ferrara)
Ferrara (Driller Killer) dials back the histrionics after last year's gloriously over-the-top Welcome To New York with this sober, elegaic sort-of-biopic of late Italian filmmaker, writer and intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe). It focuses on the last day of the Salo director's life (it isn't a spoiler to say he was murdered in 1975) as he writes, eats with friends and family, is interviewed for a newspaper article, discusses a new film project and, ultimately, is led to his doom after picking up a rentboy. Ferrara also visualises scenes from both Pasolini's novel in progress and what would have been his next movie in a film that sidesteps hagiography to reveal a complicated man full of contradictions but with a huge cultural contribution still to make. Dafoe - despite his American accent - is terrific.
Rating: WWW
In cinemas and on VOD now, and released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 26

(director: Justin Kurzel)
The last 20 minutes are probably the most visually stunning of any film I've seen all year as Birnam Wood does indeed come to Dunsinane and Michael Fassbender's Macbeth (pictured at the top of the page) faces off against his nemesis Macduff. Elsewhere, Snowtown director Kurzel's adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Scottish play' is a broodingly gothic, brutal and nightmarish affair, buoyed by suitably intense performances from Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Kurzel has an interesting take on the central character - he isn't just an ambitious monster spurred on by a pushy wife - but a battle-weary warrior unhinged by the death of his young son. It's a nice twist but one that fails to humanise the character as much as the director would clearly like it to. 
Rating: WWW
In cinemas now

The Emperor's New Clothes
(director: Michael Winterbottom)
Comedian-turned-activist Russell Brand shines a light on the 2008 financial crisis and asks, not unreasonably, why the bankers who caused the crash got away with it scot-free. It's enjoyable, rabble-rousing stuff for the most part, and Brand is an articulate, passionate narrator who clearly loves people, but I couldn't shake the feeling Michael Moore and Mark Thomas not only did this stuff first but did it rather better. 
Rating: WWW
Available on DVD and Amazon Prime Video

(director: Olivier Nakache)
Likeable drama chronicling the travails of the titular Senegalese immigrant (Omar Sy) as he battles to stay in France while slowly but surely falling for Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the charity worker helping him with his case. Some of the plotting is a bit clunky and at two hours Samba goes on a bit, but the film nevertheless boasts some fine moments, especially when shining a light on the hand-to-mouth experience of immigrants in France. Both leads (Gainsbourg is a criminally underrated actress), as well as the film's supporting cast, are excellent.
Rating: WWW
Available now on DVD and VOD

(director: Andrew Bujalski)
Off-beat and deceptively clever romantic comedy starring Guy Pearce (The Rover) and Cobie Smulders (Avengers: Age Of Ultron) as Trevor and Kat, personal trainers and former 'fuck buddies' whose relationship is put back under the spotlight with the arrival of wealthy depressive Danny (Kevin Corrigan). In truth, Corrigan - a perfect storm of self-loathing and emasculated manhood - steals the show while the two leads - for all their skills as actors and comic performers - never quite convince as a couple. It's a shame because writer/director Bujalski's film is, for the most part, charming and funny while offering an interesting spin on a tired genre.
Rating: WW
Available now on DVD and VOD

Mia Madre
(director: Nanni Morretti)
Nanni Moretti might be one of Italy's most celebrated directors but this semi-autobiographical drama about a filmmaker emotionally unraveling as her mother's health deteriorates is a bit of a slog. Mia Madre (My Mother) has some perceptive things to say about grief and mortality, and John Turturro works overtime to lighten the mood, but overall this is a ponderous piece of work that is easy to admire but difficult to like.
Rating: WW
In cinemas and on VOD now


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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