Monday 15 August 2016

Eye In The Sky, Men & Chicken, and David Brent: Life On The Road: Your Week In Film (August 15-21)

Game of drones: Eye In The Sky is a gripping, real-time thriller

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

Monday 15th: Eye In The Sky (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) utterly gripped me from first to last (and I say that as the kind of pacifist pinko who is no fan of the military). Helen Mirren is Colonel Katherine Powell, the commander of an operation to combat an extremist threat in Kenya but her mission goes from capture to kill when it becomes clear the terrorists are planning an imminent attack. However, the appearance of a young girl selling bread in the strike zone complicates matters and leads to an escalating international row involving politicians, drone pilots, covert agents, and military brass. Played out in real time, Gavin Hood's film is an incredibly tense examination of modern drone warfare, which is also surprisingly complex and refreshingly even-handed (especially coming in the wake of 2014's clumsily liberal Good Kill, which even Ethan Hawke couldn't save). Eye also boasts terrific performances from Mirren and, in his final screen role, the late Alan Rickman. If you're looking for something a little more peculiar, you could do a lot worse than Men & Chicken (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD), a Danish black comedy which stars Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik as brothers who, following their father's death, seek out and attempt to connect with the family they never knew they had. Bizarre, hilarious and disturbing in equal measure, it's Monty Python meets The Island Of Doctor Moreau. If I hadn't already sat through Evolution, Anders Thomas Jensen's film would be the strangest thing I've seen all year. The kids are still on their summer break so stick 'em in front of Megamind (Netflix UK), an enjoyable animated superhero romp which cleverly flips the script so the titular bad-guy is forced into doing good for the first time in his life. The voice cast is impressive - Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, David Cross, Brad Pitt - and it's a bloody sight better than the similarly-themed Suicide Squad.  
Chicken fun: Mikkelsen stars in a bizarre black comedy 

Tuesday 16th: Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, Creed (Netflix UK) goes the 'requel' route. Ryan Coogler's film is part Rocky sequel, part reboot, and at times borrows wholesale from the original 1976 picture and its various follow-ups. That said, it's a definite cut above other recent boxing flicks, such as last year's Jake Gyllenhaal-starring Southpaw, while Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone have genuine chemistry. I wrote a fairly exhaustive review of the film when it hit UK cinemas in January, and you can read it here. In The Naked Gun (22:00, ITV4), the late Leslie Nielsen is Frank Drebin, a detective so hopeless he makes Inspector Clouseau look like Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure I don't have to tell you this big-screen adaptation of Police Squad! is a hoot as Drebin battles to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen. Nice Beaver!

Kiss, kiss, bang, bang: Leslie Nielsen is Frank Drebin

Wednesday 17th: A Man for All Seasons (Netflix UK) charts the breakdown of the relationship between Henry VIII and his chancellor Thomas More, following the king's decision to break with Catholicism so he can divorce and remarry. Devoutly religious, More resigns his post and hopes to live out his days away from Henry's machinations. But the monarch won't hear of it and pushes More to give his public approval to the king's plans - something his former chancellor is not prepared to do. Released in 1966, Fred Zinneman's film won six Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director) and featured one of cinema's finest dramatic performances - Paul Scofield as More himself. Black Souls (01:10, Film4), Francesco Munzi's atmospheric Italian-French crime noir, is about the Sicilian mob but, with its mostly rural setting and melancholy vibe, eschews the dirty glamour of many Mafia movies. Instead, it focuses on a cast of rich, complex characters, a simple but gripping story in which the stakes and violence grow bigger and scarier as the film proceeds, and a truly heart-stopping denouement. In other words, it's a hidden gem that Film4 has seen fit to bury midweek at a ridiculous time of day. Set your Tivo/Sky+ box - you won't be disappointed.

Mob rule: Black Souls is a hidden gem

Thursday 18th: I always laugh when I recall the name of Tina Turner's character in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Amazon Prime Video): Aunty Entity. Aunty bloody Entity. Fortunately, such silliness doesn't spoil what is a rousing finale to George Miller's original trilogy of MM films. Set around 15 years after Mad Max 2, this time Mel Gibson is battling to liberate a place called Bartertown from Aunty's vice-like grip. Max's punch up with the monstrous Blaster in the Thunderdome arena and a cracking desert chase are the highlights. And, despite the ridiculous moniker, Turner isn't bad either. In The Film Programme (16:00, BBC Radio Four), poet Don Paterson continues his series on great speeches in movie history with Rutger Hauer's philosophical monologue in Blade Runner. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..." 

Under the Dome: Mad Max brings the thunder 

Friday 19th I'm not the biggest fan of Ricky Gervais. He peaked early with The Office and it's been a case of diminishing returns ever since, culminating in the abysmal Special Correspondents earlier this year which he wrote and directed. David Brent: Life On The Road (cinemas) sees the funnyman (who was compared, absurdly, to Woody Allen in The Observer recently) return to his most famous creation, now working as a sales rep while touring with his band, Foregone Conclusion. The trailers look promising enough, although it's just more of the same, isn't it? Brent says something outrageous/inappropriate and the people around him look incredulously at the camera. Still, comedy careers have been built on considerably less (I'm looking at you, Jack Whitehall) so let's hope this is a return to form. Ridley Scott's The Martian (Sky Cinema Premiere/NOW TV) stars Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars when a manned mission to the red 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 smartypants botanist never seems quite bothered enough by his predicament, it's a great deal of fun. 

Road warrior: Brent's back and as insufferable as ever 

Saturday 20th: Julie Walters narrates There's Something About Romcoms (21:00, Channel 4), a celebration of the "rich and varied history" of the titular movie sub-genre featuring contributions from the likes of Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant, Richard Curtis, Rupert Everett and Stephen Merchant. I shall probably tune in to see what they have to say about Nora Ephron/Rob Reiner's sublime When Harry Met Sally but suspect the rest (Bridget Jones, Four Weddings etc) might prove a bit of a slog. Elsewhere today, you'll find a couple of fine biopics: Richard Attenborough's epic, multiple-Oscar-winning Gandhi (13:05, Movie Mix) stars Ben Kingsley as the eponymous freedom fighter who, using non-violent means, led his country to independence from the British, while Salma Hayek is controversial Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, in Frida (17:00, amc).

Prize fighter: Gandhi won eight Oscars

Sunday 21st: Argo (Amazon Prime Video) is one of those Best Picture Oscar winners that should never have got within a million miles of the big prize (see also Crash, The King's Speech, Titanic... I could go on at length). Based on what is actually a fascinating true story, it sees Ben Affleck's CIA man team up with Alan Arkin's movie producer to concoct an outlandish, Hollywood-inspired plan to rescue a group of American hostages who'd fled the US embassy in Iran at the height of the country's 1979 revolution. Affleck's film (he also directs) takes some serious liberties with the truth and its depiction of the Iranian people is lamentable. But, if you can forgive its many shortcomings, there's an entertaining, occasionally thrilling movie in there somewhere. On terrestrial TV, there's Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (23:00, BBC2) which stars Andy Serkis as the late, great musician, and The Grey (23:00, Channel 4), a wolf-bothering survival thriller starring Liam Neeson.

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