Monday 14 November 2016

100 Streets, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Imperium: Your Week In Film (November 14-20)

Pretty vacant: Resurgence is full of forgettable new characters

The week's most noteworthy films in a variety of formats...

Following a week in which my gaze was fixed firmly on America's demoralising election, a film about smelly, sweaty, messed-up, magnificent old London Town is as welcome as a summer breeze. 100 Streets (in cinemas and on VOD) WWW uses the city as a backdrop to explore the lives of three main characters - Idris Elba's washed-up former rugby hero, Franz Drameh's frustrated young drug dealer, and Charlie Creed-Miles's salt-of-the-earth cabbie. The three live parallel existences in very different areas of the capital - from Elba's leafy Chelsea to Drameh's sink estate - but every now and then there's a bit of overlap, although perhaps not quite as much as I'd hoped there would be.

It is director Jim O'Hanlon's first feature, although he has a television CV as long as your arm, including Shameless, Coronation Street and Charlie Brooker's excellent detective spoof, A Touch Of Cloth. And he and writer Leon Butler have concocted a very likeable drama which boasts a great cast (also including Gemma Arterton, Ken Stott, and the underrated Kierston Wareing), a decent script and characters you actually care about (even Elba's appallingly-behaved man-child). One thing I often notice about films with numerous, distinct storylines is that there's always one that's head-and-shoulders more interesting than the others and you sort of groan when the action moves away from them. There's none of that here - all three strands are compelling, with supporting characters easily as interesting as the leads.

That said, it doesn't all work. Elba's storyline takes a very clumsy turn towards the end and, although it's encouraging that two of 100 Streets' leads are people of colour, it would be nice to see more British films in which no black character has any link to drugs, guns, gangs or, in this case, all three. Still, let's be positive, this is good stuff on the whole and I'm genuinely intrigued to see what both director and writer do next.

Streets of ire: Idris Elba is having a very bad day 

From the streets of the Smoke to outer space, but I think I'd rather endure the terror of a real alien invasion than have to sit through Independence Day: Resurgence (DVD, Blu-ray & VOD) W again. I saw 1996's original movie for the umpteenth time a few months back and, despite the dodgy ending and iffy dialogue, I loved the way it built the extra-terrestrial threat slowly but surely, as it introduced us to a cast of intriguing characters. It also boasted some smart, ahead-of-its-time FX work, and the scenes set at the Area 51 base are all terrific.

This unnecessary and inferior sequel, on the other hand, is an ungodly mess lacking any of the original's charm. Jeff Goldblum is as watchable as ever but there's a big Will Smith-sized hole here that the next generation of alien fighters (a collection of dullards you'd struggle to recall even with a death-ray to your head) never comes close to filling. Terrible films regularly do good box office but, I'm delighted to say, this wasn't one of them.

Deep cover: Radcliffe must prevent a terrorist outrage

There have been two notable movies featuring Daniel Radcliffe this year. One is the baffling and irritating Swiss Army Man, in which the former Harry Potter plays a corpse. The other is the vastly superior but rather more sober Imperium (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW. Guess which one got the most publicity?

Radcliffe is Nate Foster, a nerdy FBI agent who goes undercover in a bid to prevent a terrorist plot hatched by American neo-Nazis. Unusually for this type of film, Foster doesn't inveigle himself into the sieg-heilers' inner circle by being a badass prepared to break a few heads but by using his superior intellect and extensive research to say the right things at the right time. Brute force might hurt white supremacists, Imperium seems to suggest, but it takes guile and genuine smarts to properly take them down.

Toni Collette as Foster's ruthless FBI handler is reliably superb if somewhat under-utilised, while Radcliffe himself gives easily his most nuanced performance to date. Foster is by turns scared, frustrated and even conflicted and Radcliffe sells all of that most convincingly. It all adds up to an intelligent, impressively researched and realised crime thriller that is one part entertainment, another part wake-up call. Perhaps a sequel could see Radcliffe's character infiltrate Trump's cabinet.

Up in the air: Society falls apart in High-Rise

Finally, there's Ben Wheatley's High-Rise (from Friday, Amazon Prime Video) WW½. The Kill List director's take on the supposedly unfilmable JG Ballard novel is riotously entertaining but loses a bit of focus about halfway through. The movie's sumptuous design and game cast (including Tom Hiddleston at his most reptilian) make it worth seeking out though. Oh, and before I forget, set your PVRs for sci-fi classic Silent Running (Thursday morning, 02:00, Channel 4) WWWW, easily the best film you'll find on terrestrial TV this week. The tale of a botanist (Bruce Dern) battling to save his vast space-station greenhouse from destruction, it was the first movie I saw as a child that really hit me hard emotionally. I suspect it would have exactly the same effect now.

What I shall be watching this week: Still haven't got round to Arrival - Wednesday, for sure... and I like the look of Divines (from Friday, Netflix), Houda Benyamina's film about two young French girls going on a crime spree. It's been described as "part-gangster thriller, part-female buddy movie" and looks right up my street.

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

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