Monday 1 August 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures and Sicario: Your Week In Film (August 1-7)

Super friends: BVS:DOJ is shambolic... in a good way

Monday 1st: Picking holes in the critically reviled Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) is about as difficult as picking holes in every other film made by director Zack Snyder. As one particularly acerbic critic had it, "[It's] a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it's being drowned in lava", and even though the film (which now comes as an 'Ultimate Edition' featuring 30 extra minutes) made almost a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, many of those who paid to see it didn't seem too keen either. But, here's the thing, whilst being no fan of Snyder's past work, I do have a genuine soft spot for BVS. Here are five reasons why...

1. The opening sequence is a flashback to the tumultuous finale of Man Of Steel, in which Superman and General Zod lay waste to Metropolis. Only this time it's seen from the perspective of the citizens in the buildings destroyed by their fight. It's here in this mini disaster movie within a movie that we first see Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), dodging huge chunks of falling debris in a bid to save his employees. As well as being a genuinely thrilling and clever way to kick off the film, it sets up the coming superhero conflict very nicely. 
2. On the subject of Affleck, he makes an impressive debut here as Batman. This Dark Knight is older, jaded and more ruthless than we've seen the character before (at least on film) and the decision to abandon Christian Bale's silly guttural 'Batman voice' is a good one, too. In fact, Affleck brings a real gravitas to the role.
3. Even better than Affleck is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. You can keep your Visions, Scarlet Witches and Black Panthers, hers is the most memorable superhero debut in years, a perfect blend of nobility, serenity and face-punching might.
4. Some of it is utterly eccentric, with dream sequences/visions/future plot points shoehorned haphazardly into the story so you're never quite sure what the heck is coming next. At a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe has got a bit too slick, machine-tooled and committee-led for its own good, it's refreshing to see a superhero blockbuster that is a bit ragged around the edges. Yes, BVS is shambolic - but in a good way.
5. BVS gives us a proper, classic Superman villain - and I'm not talking about Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). I won't give the game away by saying any more but the big punch-up at the end has a real sense of jeopardy (with good cause) and is worth the wait, despite some occasionally shonky CGI. 

I could write another list of things that BVS gets wrong (Superman, mainly) but I think the film has taken enough of a critical shellacking without me adding to it.

The Lex factor: Batman and Superman battle Luthor  

I was going to say you couldn't finder a starker contrast to BVS: DOJ than Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures (DVD) but maybe the late US photographer's homoerotic images aren't a million miles away from the leather-clad shenanigans on display in your average superhero movie. Regardless, this is a fascinating documentary chronicling the life and controversial career of Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989. As well as presenting an honest portrait of his many relationships (including with Patti Smith), Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's film expertly charts the increasing sophistication of his work. There was an awful lot more to the man than a dozen or so notorious S&M shots, including beautiful and intricate pictures of flowers, hundreds of commissioned portraits and even a TV ad or two. He was a very difficult person in many respects but also a fascinating and prolific one. I'm looking forward to seeing Sicario (Netflix UK) again. On first viewing last year I found it a real curate's egg - great soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and some bravura performances (most notably from Emily Blunt) but rather let down by its decision to turn a potentially fascinating exploration of the Mexican drug war into a bog-standard revenge thriller. Various critics spoke of its complexity and nuance but all I saw was a film keen to simplify a subject that is, quite frankly, beyond simplification. I like director Denis Villenueve (Incendies, Enemy) a lot, though, so am more than happy to give it a second chance. Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (Netflix UK) is a fake biopic of the Republican presidential candidate. Johnny Depp as Trump heads an all-star cast which also includes Alfred Molina, Patton Oswalt, Henry Winkler, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Lloyd and Kristen Schaal. At this point, surely Trump is a walking, talking parody of himself so I shall be interested to see how the Funny Or Die team behind the film tackle their subject.

American idiot: Trump gets the Funny Or Die treatment 

Tuesday 2nd: In Blades Of Glory (23:30, BBC1) Will Ferrell and Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder star as rival Olympic ice skaters forced to pair up when, after a brawl, they are stripped of their gold medals and banned from single competition. A lot of the humour is predicated on just how hilarious you find the idea of two men skating together in bright, tight-fitting spandex but it has its moments, helped enormously by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as oddball rival skate pair the Van Waldenbergs. Conan The Barbarian (23:10, Film4) gives us a slice of 'peak Arnie' from 1982, as Mr Schwarzenegger brings Robert E Howard's creation to sword-swinging, vengeance-craving life in John Milius's entertaining fantasy adventure.

Skate expectations: Blades Of Glory brings the funny

Wednesday 3rd: The Accused (00:30, Channel 4) is not easy to watch. Jonathan Kaplan's powerful and harrowing 1988 film stars Jody Foster as a waitress who is gang raped by a group of men in a bar one night. Although Foster's character had taken drugs and was behaving provocatively, prosecutor Kelly McGillis sets out to bring the three rapists - as well as those that encouraged them - to justice. Nearly 30 years on, it is astounding and depressing that we are still having the same arguments about sexual consent and no meaning no. 
Thursday 4th: Antonia Quirke presents The Film Programme (16:00, BBC Radio 4) with guest Alex Cox talking about his 1986 biopic of punk icon Sid Vicious - Sid And Nancy - which is about to get a 30th anniversary cinema re-release. And, in a new series, award-winning poet Don Paterson talks us through some of the greatest speeches in cinema history, beginning with Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. He coulda been a contender, apparently. Wild At Heart (22:15, Sky Cinema Select) is David Lynch's darkly entertaining slice of Southern gothic starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as lovers on the run from the latter's deranged mother (Diane Ladd) and the gang of killers she's sent after her daughter. Willem Dafoe steals the film from under the lot of them, though, as the deranged and dangerous Bobby Peru. After 2004's bloody awful I Heart Huckabees, I avoided David O Russell's films for years but was drawn back in by The Fighter (01:20, Film4), the director's biopic of professional light-welterweight boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Eklund was a fighter of some renown himself but an addiction to crack put paid to his career and sent him to prison. Eventually freed, he tries to inveigle himself back into his brother's life but there is inevitable conflict. Yes, it's a boxing film and we all know how those usually play out (strife and heartache give way to redemption and victory) but Russell's film boasts some fine performances (Wahlberg has rarely been better) with the sparring siblings' fractious relationship particularly well handled. 

Hunted: Cage and Dern are on the run in Wild At Heart

Friday 5th: I've written quite enough about comic-book movies for one week so I'll only mention Suicide Squad in passing. David Ayer's film about a gang of super-villains being forced by the US government to undertake dangerous black ops missions in return for clemency hits cinemas today. Margot Robbie and Will Smith star. The aforementioned Sid And Nancy gets a limited theatrical re-release to mark its 30th anniversary. In one of his defining roles, Gary Oldman plays Sid Vicious, Chloe Webb is Nancy Spungeon. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (14:30 and 20:00, Sky Cinema Premiere/NOW TV) is a lot better than you'll have heard. Guy Ritchie's reboot of the 1960s TV spy show stars Henry Cavill as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as his KGB opposite number Ilya Kuryakin. Rarely has the Cold War been so much fun or looked so stylish. Edith Bowman and Robbie Collin sit in for the usual hosts on Kermode And Mayo's Film Review (14:00, BBC Radio 5 Live).

Blonde ambition: Alex Cox's Sid And Nancy

Saturday 6th: Is it just me or does Skyfall (20:00, ITV) seem to be on telly rather a lot lately? Not that I mind as it's my favourite of the Daniel Craig-starring Bonds. This time 007 has to confront M's past as well as his own when MI6 comes under attack from Javier Bardem's mysterious bad guy. We have JJ Abrams's Super 8 (21:00, Channel 4) to thank for the current vogue for all things '80s. As someone who thought Midnight Special had its moments but fell apart in its final third, and gave up on Stranger Things after three episodes, I'd much rather watch the original films (E.T., Stand By Me, Close Encounters) than these lukewarm homages to Mssrs Spielberg and King. I was going to talk a bit about Super 8's plot but am struggling to remember a single thing about it. There's a monster and some kids on bikes, I think. Trance (23:15, Channel 4) is a bonkers Danny Boyle heist thriller starring James McAvoy and featuring Rosario Dawson's shaved vagina as part of the plot (I'm not joking). The late, great Christopher Lee is Dracula (02:10, BBC2) in the 1958 Hammer horror. Online subscription service MUBI is this week showcasing a short season of films by US director Kelly Reichardt. From tonight, you can see her 2010 alt-western Meek's Cutoff, starring the excellent Michelle Williams.

Hair-raising: Danny Boyle heist movie, Trance

Sunday 7th: Today boasts a triple whammy of classic movies. Very recently back in cinemas, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (11:25, TCM) sees Irish rogue Ryan O'Neal embarking on a series of 'misfortunes and disasters', as he battles his way from nothing to become part of the English aristocracy. Then there's The Third Man (13:00, BBC2), a cracking British spy thriller set in shadowy post-war Vienna, directed by Carole Reed and starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. John Ford western The Searchers (15:00, TCM) stars John Wayne as a Civil War veteran out to rescue his niece from a Native American tribe (I suspect some of the attitudes on display may not have aged well). If you're more into modern movies, there's Crimson Peak (14:20, Sky Cinema Hits). One part ghost story, one part gothic romance, it isn't one of Guillermo Del Toro's best films but it is gorgeous to look at. As is Japanese animation, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya (15:30, Film4).

UK box office top 10
1. The BFG
2. Star Trek Beyond
3. Ghostbusters R
4. The Secret Life Of Pets
5. Secret Cinema: Dirty Dancing
6. The Legend Of Tarzan R
7. Ice Age: Collision Course
8. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
9. Now You See Me 2 
10. Central Intelligence

R = Recommended

All information correct at time of publication


  1. Christian Bale's voice for Batman wasn't silly it was the voice Batman has in the comics. This is how Batman's voice is described in comics not a robot-like thing.

  2. I've always imagined Batman's voice to be a calm, icy monotone. Michael Keaton's was closer but he sounded a little too much like Clint Eastwood. Bale sounds like he's auditioning for a 'Macho Man' Randy Savage biopic!