Sunday 14 August 2016

The Last 5 Films I've Seen

Sing when you're winning: John Carney's '80s-set film is a real joy

1. Sing Street (2016) John Hughes meets Roddy Doyle in writer/director John Carney's joyous tale of love, escape and music set in '80s Dublin. The wonderfully named Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is Conor, a smitten teenager who forms a band purely so he can spend time with aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton). But his feelings for her bring out the pop star in him and it isn't long before the titular band are improving in leaps and bounds, finding their own identity, making videos, and even dreaming of the big time. There's so much warmth and wit here, and so much about Carney's screenplay that rings true, that it would take me all day to list its merits. Additionally, the young leads are terrific, ably abetted by Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jack Reynor as Conor's dysfunctional family. One gripe? The rest of the band disappear well into the background after being introduced early on, which is a shame as they are interesting characters in their own right. It's a small criticism, though, for a film that quickly outstrips any suggestion it's just an exercise in cheesy '80s nostalgia (although even that element is fun) and one that left me with a great big smile on my face. Rating: WWWW

Model behaviour: Lucy Boynton lights up Sing Street

2. The Bronze (2015) If Sing Street is about youthful optimism and having the talent to take on the world, then The Bronze deals with its flipside - the frustration and bitterness of shattered dreams. Melissa Rauch has been the best thing about The Big Bang Theory for a while now and she enjoys herself here as Hope Ann Gregory, a former gymnast who – against all odds – won an Olympic bronze medal back in the day. Her career ended by injury, she's now a thieving, foul-mouthed has-been who clings for dear life to her small-town hero status, only agreeing to train a young gymnastic prodigy after a letter from her late coach promises a big cash prize for doing so. Yes, it's Eastbound & Down with a female lead but ultimately Bryan Buckley's film (co-written by Rauch with her husband) is a lot warmer than HBO's misanthropic sitcom. Gregory may be a nasty piece of work but there are reasons for her perma-scowl - Danny McBride's Kenny Powers, on the other hand, was really just an obnoxious arsehole. Beneath the abrasiveness, there's a palpable melancholy to Rauch's character - she has allowed her life's one success to totally define her, the old USA Olympic training top she wears a constant reminder of her inability to move on. But this is a story of redemption, above all else, and while the film could have done with a few more moments as laugh-out-loud funny as its much-discussed and improbably athletic sex scene, The Bronze is ultimately more Nadia Comaneci than 
Dong FangxiaoRating: WWW

Rauch and roll: Melissa is solid gold in The Bronze  

3. The Brand New Testament (2015) God lives in Brussels with a wife, who he bullies, and a young daughter - Ea (Pili Groyne) - who has grown to hate the appalling way he treats humanity. Breaking into his vast computer room, she releases the 'death dates' of everyone on Earth and runs away to assemble a team of six new apostles with a plan to "rewrite the world". Apoplectic, God (Benoît Poelvoorde) gives chase. Jaco Van Dormael's gleefully provocative film is a magical realist satire that has religion firmly in its sights. This supreme being is a capricious monster who visits torment on his creations both because he can and because he enjoys it. It's hardly an original notion but Van Dormael interrogates his subject with black humour both sharp and surreal, so the various twists and turns never feel hackneyed or dogmatic. Each of the new apostle's stories are served up as vignettes as Ea visits each one in turn, the strangest of which sees Catherine Deneuve's unfulfilled wife commencing a passionate affair with a circus gorilla. Bound to drive conservatives mad, Le Tout Nouveau Testament (it's original French title) is a rich, off-kilter call to arms full of optimism and imagination. Rating: WWW

Gorilla warfare: God under fire in Brand New Testament

4. Disorder (2015) Matthias Schoenaerts is Vincent, a soldier suffering with PTSD who, between missions, gets a job as a private security guard for Jessie (Inglourious Basterds' Diane Kruger), the glamorous wife of a troubled arms dealer in over his head with some very nasty people. When the husband is arrested while travelling abroad, Vincent suspects his charge and her young son are in danger. Is he right or merely paranoid? Take a wild guess. Whilst we've seen this kind of set-up before in The Bodyguard and Someone To Watch Over Me, Disorder stands out because it keeps the obvious attraction between Vincent and Jessie firmly on the back burner and concentrates instead on building an atmosphere of unease punctuated by the occasional burst of flinch-inducing brutality. I don't recoil like everyone else seems to when Schoenaerts steps out of his Bullhead comfort zone to tackle less physical roles in A Little Chaos or The Danish Girl, but he's best as an arse-kicking taciturn lump and certainly doesn't disappoint here. Some critics have tried to sell Disorder as a kind of psychological thriller but that's only half right. Alice Winocour's film is certainly thrilling (taut and stripped back, too) but whether PTSD-impaired Vincent is imagining the threat to Jessie and her son isn't something that is left hanging for long. You know exactly where the story is heading but it is none the weaker for that. If anything, Disorder is really an exploration of violence - its rank ugliness and occasional necessity. Rating: WWW

Welcome to the punch: Schoenaerts takes no prisoners

5. Suicide Squad (2016) The stuff I actually liked about Suicide Squad can be dealt with in short order: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis and Jared Leto, the latter adding much needed danger and unpredictability to proceedings every time his Joker (a punk-rock Al Capone) put in an appearance. The problem with the rest of David Ayer's film is that it's a bog-standard s̶u̶p̶e̶r̶h̶e̶r̶o̶ super-villain flick when its trailers promised something spikier and cooler. I expected Nirvana and got Nickelback. The problems start to mount in an interminable first 20 minutes as some of the characters are clumsily introduced, complete with their own somewhat on-the-nose 'entrance music' (Sympathy For The Devil for government black ops bad ass Davis, You Don't Own Me for Robbie's Harley Quinn). That feeling of clunkiness hangs around and sticks to the film like glue. It affects the main villain (the Scarlet Witch's dull goth sister), various plot strands (one character is introduced purely to be killed off 10 minutes later), the CG (ugly, unconvincing) and at least a couple of the team themselves (Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang contributes nothing, Karen Fukuhara's Katana little more). When Leto pops up it's like he's reminding us what we could have had – Ben Affleck's Batman (who gets a cameo here) duking it out with Mr J and Harley in a gangster-packed Gotham. That's a film I'd have wanted to see. This one? Not so much. Rating: W½

Worst. Heroes. Ever? Pretty much, yes.

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

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