Monday 30 May 2016

Rams, Warcraft: The Beginning and The Nice Guys: Your Week In Film (May 30-June 5)

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are The Nice Guys

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

Monday 30th: Rams (VOD, DVD and Blu-ray) is an increasing rarity - a foreign language movie that performed well at the UK box office. Grímur Hákonarson's film is an Icelandic oddity, concerning two elderly and long-estranged brothers forced to put aside their differences when disease threatens their livelihoods as sheep farmers. At times bleakly funny, at others just plain bleak, this is a tragicomic character study that invites you to root for its sibling protagonists however unreasonable and cantankerous their behaviour. Ultimately, it's also rather touching. Darker still is The Club (DVD and Blu-ray), a Chilean drama from Pablo Larrain (No) about a group of disgraced priests and a nun, living out their days in a remote seaside town away from prying eyes. Their secluded existence comes under threat when a crisis counsellor is sent by the church to investigate an unfortunate incident. It's like Father Ted in Hell. Since launching in the UK last month, the Criterion Collection has focused solely on Hollywood so the release of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (Blu-ray) is much appreciated. Slow but rewarding, it's a gorgeous-looking but icy mystery drama telling the story of a young Italian socialite (the luminous Monica Vitti) who goes missing on a yachting trip in the Mediterranean. In her absence, her lover and best friend start to fall for each other...

Icelandic oddity Rams: Bleakly funny 

Our Brand Is Crisis (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) – a political satire starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton as warring election strategists in Bolivia – had terrible reviews and tanked at the box office. I shall probably regret seeking it out but will almost certainly do so anyway – Bullock and Thornton are difficult to resist, even in a film one critic accused of having "one of the worst and phoniest endings in movie history". Goosebumps (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) is, as the title suggests, based on the hugely successful line of children's 'horror' books by R.L. Stine. In this inventive, breathless and thoroughly enjoyable romp, Jack Black stars as a version of the author himself, besieged by every creature he's ever created when a bunch of local kids accidentally set them free from the locked volumes on his shelves. Rob Letterman's film owes a debt or two to the likes of Gremlins although never quite hits those kind of heights. It's bloody good family fun all the same and a perfect way of passing a boring half-term afternoon. To the multiplex now for Warcraft: The Beginning, which opens today. I know precisely nothing about the World Of Warcraft online video game it's based on but quite enjoyed the trailer (Orcs at war with humans) and Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon) is a safe pair of hands in the director's chair. If you like a bit of CGI-soaked epic fantasy, I suspect this may well be right up your street.

Orcs go to war with humans in Warcraft: The Beginning

Tuesday 31st: There seems to be a definite 'end of the world' flavour to today's TV movies. Melancholia (21:00, Sky Arts) is the Lars von Trier film for people who really don't like Lars von Trier films. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg are sisters, the former suffering from debilitating depression that leads her to sabotage every area of her life, including the relationship with her sibling and recent marriage. If that wasn't difficult enough to contend with, a rogue planet (the titular Melancholia) is on a potential collision course with Earth. The 2011 film
 showcases the Danish provocateur at his warmest and most humane. This is probably Von Trier's most accessible work while Dunst has never been better. Then there's 2012 (21:00, 5Star) in which John Cusack stars as a writer battling to get his family to safety when a series of solar storms set off a global catastrophe. It's all a bit clumsy and bombastic, to be honest, and you could probably say the same about Armageddon (12:20, Sky Action) but Michael Bay's big-budget killer-asteroid extravaganza is a lot more fun. Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler star.

Melancholia: LLars von Trier's most accessible film

Wednesday 1st: Lots of new stuff on Netflix UK today, including a couple of intriguing documentaries. Speed Sisters is about the Middle East's first all-women race car driving team. Based in Palestine, the five fearless females race on improvised tracks all over the West Bank. Meanwhile, The Propaganda Game sees filmmaker Álvaro Longoria touring North Korea in a bid to show us the 'real' country, perhaps one that is different to its negative depiction in the West.

Speed Sisters: The fast and the furious

Thursday 2nd: Thursdays are always a bit underwhelming for films on TV so please allow me to point you in the direction of a VOD treat. Subscription service MUBI are currently showing all three volumes of Miguel Gomes's Arabian Nights trilogy - The Restless One, The Desolate One and The Enchanted One. The Portuguese director adopts the structure of the famous Arabian Nights stories - a woman named Scheherazade spinning a series of tall tales to keep herself alive - and uses it to explore a modern-day Portugal hit by austerity and despair. It's an intriguing mix of the satirical, the polemical and the utterly bizarre. The Film Programme (16:00, BBC Radio 4) is jammed with good stuff this week. First up, presenter Francine Stock talks to writer/director Shane Black and producer Joel Silver about The Nice Guys (see Friday). Then director Louise Osmond and producer Rebecca O'Brien discuss Versus, their new documentary on director Ken Loach. No doubt anticipating the release of the aforementioned The Nice Guys, Film4 are showing 48 Hours (23:20) and its not-as-good sequel Another 48 Hours (01:15). Nick Nolte is a hard-nosed cop, Eddie Murphy a wise-cracking criminal, in one of those chalk-and-cheese buddy-movie team-up concoctions that Lethal Weapon ended up perfecting a few years down the line.

Versus: Double Palme d'Or winner Ken Loach

Friday 3rd: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star as a pair of mismatched private detectives in The Nice Guys, which hits UK cinemas today. Shane Black's 1970s-set homage to buddy comedies of the past, including the likes of Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours (see Thursday), sees the pair stumble into a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the supposed suicide of a once-prominent female porn starRace is the real-life story of black athlete Jesse Owens who represented the USA in front of Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Stefan James is Owens and Jason Sudeikis his trainer. Versus: The Life And Films Of Ken Loach is certainly a very timely release, what with the British director of Kes and The Wind That Shakes The Barley having just walked away with the second Palme d'Or of his career at Cannes. That was for his latest film - I, Daniel Blake - which doesn't open here until later in the year. This documentary about his work and politics will more than do in the meantime though. If you're staying in, Sky Movies Premiere have not one but two recent(ish) comedy releases worth a look. Dope (11:45 and 22:05) is, basically, Boyz N The Hood with nerds and certainly a lot cleverer than it has been given credit for. Rick Famuyiwa's film plays with and comments on black stereotypes in movies while explaining why such stereotypes persist. It contains some genuinely very funny moments, too. Just as good is Spy (16:00 and 20:00) which, following Bridesmaids and The Heat, marked the third team up between director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy. July's Ghostbusters will be their fourth collaboration. You can read my full review from last year hereBen Bailey Smith and James King sit in for Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on Kermode And Mayo's Film Review (14:00, BBC Five 5). This week's guest is Sir Ben Kingsley, who talks about his new film Learning To Drive.

These Nice Guys don't finish last

Saturday 4th: Steve McQueen's 
12 Years A Slave (21:00, Channel 4) adapts the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington DC in 1841 and sold into slavery. It boasts a great script, terrific cast (Lupita Nyong'o the stand-out), stunning cinematography, and a story so jaw-dropping it'll take you a while to process it all. Director McQueen is a truly fearless filmmaker and his triple Oscar winner deserved every plaudit and award it got.

12 Years A Slave won the Best Picture Oscar

Sunday 5th: James Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda and Debbie Reynolds head an impressive cast in How The West Was Won (12:30, BBC Two), which follows three generations of a 19th Century American frontier family as they strive to survive through the gold rush, the Civil War and the building of the railways. A truly epic Western that I probably haven't seen since I was about 10 years old. Secret Voices Of Hollywood (21:00, BBC Four) is a fascinating documentary which lifts the lid on 'ghost singers', such as Marni Nixon and Betty Noyes, who provided the movie singing voices of screen legends such as Audrey Hepburn and Debbie Reynolds. They often worked with little or no credit while the actors and actresses they stood in for were not always best pleased about being replaced. You can see a clip here

How The West Was Won: A truly epic Western

The Last 5 Films I've Seen
1. The 400 Blows (1959): François Truffaut made his directorial debut with this heartbreaking drama about 14-year-old Antoine Doinel, a Paris schoolboy constantly in trouble with his parents, teachers and, ultimately, the law. Jean-Pierre Léaud, recently awarded an honorary Palme d'Or at Cannes, stars.
2. Masculin Féminin (1966): An older Léaud also features here, this time as a disillusioned young man who has just completed his national service. Jean-Luc Godard's snapshot of youth in 1960s Paris is a wild and winning concoction of pop, politics and sexuality.    
3. Eye In The Sky (2015): Incredibly tense examination of modern drone warfare, which is also surprisingly complex and refreshingly even-handed. Boasts terrific performances from Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, in his final screen role.
4. A Hologram For The King (2016): Tom Hanks is the down-on-his luck salesman trying to flog 3D conference equipment to the king of Saudi Arabia in a very likeable but ultimately pretty lightweight comedy/drama. 
5. Our Kind Of Traitor (2016): Gripping spy thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris as a holidaying London couple caught up with the Russian mafia and the British Secret Service. Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgård deliver the pick of the performances.

The 400 Blows was Truffaut's first film as director

UK box-office top 10
1. X-Men: Apocalypse R
2. Angry Birds
3. The Jungle Book R
4. Captain America: Civil War R
5. Bad Neighbours 2
6. A Hologram For The King R
7. Florence Foster Jenkins
8. Our Kind Of Traitor R
9. Secret Cinema: 28 Days Later
10. Thomas & Friends: The Great Race

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