Monday 18 July 2016

The Witch, Les Combattants and Star Trek Beyond: Your Week In Film (July 18-24)

Seduction of the innocent: The Witch is a perfect slow-burn horror

Monday 18th: There's only one place to start this week and that is with The Witch (VOD, DVD and Blu-ray). Robert Eggers' debut feature – my favourite film of the year so far – is a masterful exercise in slow-burn horror which sees a 17th century Puritan family (including Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie) battling demons within and without. Exhaustively researched, unsettling and filled to the brim with palpable dread, The Witch is about as far removed from formulaic multiplex 'jump scares' as it is possible to get. Its oppressive tone reminded me of Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man  the kind of film where you know something horrible is coming and meet its eventual arrival with a weird mix of glee and profound apprehension. Ben Wheatley's adaptation of JG Ballard's black-hearted but bleakly satirical 1975 novel High-Rise (VOD, DVD and Blu-ray) is riotously entertaining but, unlike its source material, loses focus about halfway through. It chronicles the collapse of order within a swanky London tower block, complete with more death, destruction and depravity than you can shake a stick at. It isn't really about class war (everyone in the high-rise is comfortably middle class), nor is it a 'yuppie Lord Of The Flies' (no one is trapped or stranded anywhere). It's more about alienation and isolation  the high-rise's well-to-do inhabitants shut themselves away from regular society and are progressively dehumanised as a result. The ubiquitous Tom Hiddleston stars along with Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller. You’d be hard pressed to find a more unusual or satisfying modern love story than the one contained in Les Combattants (23:15, Film4), a sweet, funny, clever and occasionally spiky French film from debutant director Thomas Cailley. Arnaud (Kévin Azaïs) is bored, restless and unfulfilled, and life as a carpenter in a small coastal town isn’t helping any. Escape arrives in the form of Madeleine (Adèle Haenel), a feisty, serious but peculiar young woman convinced some terrible environmental apocalypse is waiting in the wings for which she must be ready. To improve her survival skills, Madeleine signs up for a two-week army boot camp and the smitten Arnaud tags along. Neither is truly prepared for what awaits them there...

Modern love: Les Combattants is sweet and satisfying

Tuesday 19th: White Bird In A Blizzard (18:10 and 01:30, Sky Cinema Premiere) is a criminally-underrated coming of age/missing person drama which boasts a sharp script and terrific performances from Shailene Woodley and Eva Green. Perhaps not quite as essential as director Gregg Araki's wonderful Mysterious Skin but certainly in the same ballpark. In Videodrome (12:50, Horror Channel) the great Canadian director David Cronenberg gives a masterclass in both body horror and blade-sharp satire. James Woods stars as the owner of an extreme cable TV channel, Blondie's Debbie Harry plays his doomed girlfriend. Long live the new flesh!

Girlhood: Shailene Woodley comes of age in White Bird

Wednesday 20th: Danny Leigh has recently launched Film Now: What The Hell Happened?, a series of six video essays on the BBC website. The series is dedicated to the cinema of the 21st century (so far) and, in its first installment, Leigh looks at the way in which Film itself is referenced in contemporary movies, expertly tying together his thoughts on the likes of Mulholland DriveHoly Motors and The Act Of Killing. The second essay focuses on Money, specifically modern cinema's reaction to the crash of 2008, using Margin CallThe Wolf Of Wall Street and Spring Breakers as his reference points. Leigh - who you will know from Film 2016  is a perceptive and original voice in British movie criticism and he's on top form here. Future weeks promise explorations of Sex, Death and Digital. You'll find the series  which has received scant publicity from the Beeb - here. Tangerines (22:00, Sky Cinema Premiere) is an Oscar-nominated pacifist drama set during the 1992-93 Abkhazia conflict when the Georgian government, separatist forces, and Russia were embroiled in a bitter war. Ivo and Margus  farmers who have remained behind in their otherwise-deserted rural village to harvest a crop of the titular fruit  are caught in the crossfire when two bands of warring soldiers clash. The pair take in two of the wounded men  one from each side  and hope they can be nursed back to health and persuaded not to kill each other. Nicely written and acted, uplifting and heartbreaking. Although the likes of The Avengers and Captain America seem to get all the headlines and coverage, X-Men: Days of Future Past (Netflix UK) is one of the better superhero films of the last few years. This time Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his team send Hugh Jackman's Wolverine back through time to prevent the destruction of mutant-kind at the hands of monstrous giant robots called Sentinels. Evan Peters' debut as Quicksilver is one of many highlights.

Past Imperfect: The X-Men travel back in time  

Thursday 21st: In The Film Programme (16:00, BBC Radio 4) Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins reveal why they took the plunge with the sequel to the 2003 hit Finding Nemo. The New Girlfriend – from French director 
François Ozon – was my favourite film of last year and Potiche (01:35, Film4), one of his earlier movies, is pretty damn good too. Set in the 1970s, it sees Catherine Deneuve – the Potiche or 'trophy wife' of the title – take the reins of the family umbrella manufacturing business when her greedy, philandering husband is hospitalised after being kidnapped by furious employees. She makes a great success of it but her ex-lover (Gérard Depardieu as the town's left-wing Mayor) and fast-recovering hubby ensure things run far from smoothly. Ozon fills his films with so many ideas, themes and smart little touches, you never know what's coming next. This is about romance, marriage, ageing, loyalty, feminism, missed opportunities and capitalism. Deneuve even brings the house down with a song – C'est Beau La Vie (Life Is Beautiful) – at the end.

The good wife: Catherine Deneuve in Potiche

Friday 22nd: I'd forgotten just how much I'd enjoyed JJ Abrams' reboot of Star Trek until I happened to catch it on TV again the other night. It manages to pay fulsome homage to the mythic status of the original show, whilst striking out in a completely fresh and intriguing new direction. To my mind, it's one of the finest blockbusters of the last decade and far preferable to the same director's muddled Star Wars refit. I only mention all this because Star Trek Beyond – the third instalment of the new franchise – is in cinemas from today. Co-written by Simon Pegg (Scotty in the new films) and directed by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious), it sees Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the gang taking on Idris Elba's ruthless space villain Krall. Hopefully the recent and very untimely death of Anton Yelchin (Chekov) won't cast too much of a pall over proceedings. Also hitting the multiplex today is Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG. If the critics are to be believed, the nastier, darker stuff from the author's original tale has been toned down considerably which is a great shame. The excellent Mark Rylance plays the Big Friendly Giant of the title which is reason enough to check it out though. Chico & Rita (12:30, BBC2) is a gorgeous animation set in 1940s Havana about the passionate romance between pianist Chico and singer Rita. My only gripe is its flagrant rewriting of history: apparently everything in Cuba was just hunky dory until that nasty old communist Fidel Castro turned up and ruined everything. I've written about Paul Verhoeven's terrific Total Recall (22:40, ITV) several times before so this is just a heads up really. I hope we get the Dutch director's new film, Elle (starring Isabelle Hupert), sometime before the end of the year. Online subscription service MUBI continues its Nicolas Winding Refn season with Only God Forgives, which sees the Danish director re-team with Drive star Ryan Gosling. It's a revenge film of sorts – high on style, low on dialogue – that works its way through a series of themes, including honour, masculinity and Oedipal rage. In other words, it's NWR at his most divisive. Kermode And Mayo's Film Review (14:00, BBC Radio 5 Live) is back to its proper day and time after several weeks of sports-related interruptions. No idea who their guest is this week though.

Risky Enterprise: The crew return in Star Trek Beyond 

Saturday 23rd: I'm rather hoping Ryan Reynolds' popular turn as Deadpool might get a few more eyeballs across Mississippi Grind (Amazon Prime Video). It's an atmospheric comedy/drama about a pair of gambling addicts on a road trip to a big poker game. Reynolds acquits himself well here but it's Ben Mendelsohn – a dishevelled study in quiet desperation – who really impresses. Toy Story (17:15, BBC1) is Pixar perfection from beginning to end – a truly great film about friendship, imagination and childhood. Beautifully animated, perfectly cast (Tom Hanks the standout), funny, melancholic – I could go on. Grease (17:55, Channel 4) sees John Travolta's Alpha Arsehole and his gang of bullyng shits conspire with their female counterparts to turn poor Olivia Newton John into the sort of shameless hussy who, get this, wears leather trousers and smokes cigarettes. The songs are good though, especially that one about the car especially for cats ('You know that I ain't braggin', she's a real pussy wagon, Greased Lightning!'). Later on, Andrew Garfield makes an impressive debut as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man (19:45, ITV), teenage dirtbags Jay, Simon, Neil and Will go on holiday in The Inbetweeners Movie (22:00, Channel 4) and Denzel Washington lights up Spike Lee siege drama Inside Man (22:35, ITV).

Long shot: Mendelsohn & Reynolds in Mississippi Grind

Sunday 24th: Your best TV bets today couldn't be more different. Finding Nemo (17:30, Channel 4) probably isn't quite in the same league as Pixar's best work (The Incredibles, the Toy Story trilogy) but it has charm by the bucketload and plenty of laughs. Ellen Degeneres steals the show as Dory, the blue tang with a short-term memory loss problem. A sequel dedicated to her character (Finding Dory) opens in the UK next week. In stark contrast is American Psycho (21:00, Horror Channel), Mary Haron's endlessly quotable, frequently hilarious and gloriously blood-splattered adaptation of the infamous Bret Easton Ellis novel. Christian Bale is all too believable as yuppie 'serial killer' Patrick Bateman.

All killer no filler: Christian Bale in American Psycho

UK box office top 10
1. The Secret Life Of Pets
2. The Legend Of Tarzan
3. Now You See Me 2
4. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
5. Central Intelligence
6. Sultan
7. Independence Day: Resurgence 
8. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case
9. The Neon Demon
10. Me Before You

All information correct at time of publication

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