29 March 2014

UNDER THE SKIN- Review

Under The Skin has taken ten years to make, and to look at the end result, it's not hard to see why financiers might have some qualms about greenlighting such a difficult story. True, it's based on an acclaimed novel by Michel Faber, and it features A-list star Scarlett Johansson, but it's also the most disturbing psychological horror I've seen in a long, long time, purely because it doesn't hold the audience's hand and lead them through at all.

It begins with a birthing sequence for an alien disguised as a young woman, who then dons the clothes of another dead girl. She then gets into a white transit van and drives around Glasgow, seducing and then dispatching men for a purpose that is never really explained. Because when you want to make a sci-fi horror for £8 million, it doesn't get much easier to portray an alien in a strange environment than to put Scarlett Johansson in the middle of Glasgow, but that's about the only easy choice the film makes.

28 March 2014

LABOR DAY- Review

Jason Reitman has consistently been either credited on or attached to some of the most interesting screenplays bobbing around Hollywood in recent years. Whether writing his own scripts, as with Thank You For Smoking and Up In The Air, or directing Diablo Cody's scripts, Juno and the criminally underrated Young Adult, I find myself really looking forward to his films.

While wildly inconsistent and off-kilter with Reitman's previous scripts, Labor Day isn't anywhere near the catastrophic combo-breaker that some reviews have described. Based on the acclaimed novel by Joyce Mansfield, the film follows 13-year-old Henry and his depressed, agoraphobic single mother Adele through a long weekend in 1987, over the five-day Labor Day period. When an escaped convict named Frank inveigles his way into their home, he brings each of them out of their shell, but also threatens to create a rift between them.

26 March 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER- Review

This is a spoiler-free review- however, I will include plot details from Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3 and other films in the Marvel cinematic universe that led up to this one.

Captain America: The First Avenger was my favourite film of 2011, and one that still holds up to repeat viewings. Joe Johnston's WW2 serial adventure just pushed all my movie buff buttons, and Chris Evans' Steve Rogers- a weak man with a strong moral compass, who is amplified by super-soldier serum rather than simply improved- is probably my favourite of the current screen superheroes.

In my book then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a lot to live up to, but I've been looking forward to it all the same. As we saw ever-so-briefly in The Avengers, Steve is experiencing something of a culture shock after a 70-year spell of being cryogenically frozen. He's literally a walking museum piece nowadays. But SHIELD still puts him to use on covert missions, and it's when he starts to question his paymasters that he, Black Widow and Nick Fury wind up on the hit-list of a legendary mercenary known only as the Winter Soldier.

25 March 2014

Poots & Paul- NEED FOR SPEED and A LONG WAY DOWN

It's probably just a coincidence that we've had two films that star Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots in the last fortnight, but it's a good enough reason to make this catch-up business slightly easier for myself. If nothing else, each film provides an opportunity for the two actors to nail their abiding skill-sets- Paul is a Pinkman-esque eternal screw-up with a heart of gold, and Poots is a wacky, adorable, but never annoying sprite.

Are the two films so similar? Well, Need For Speed is game publisher EA's first foray into film, and A Long Way Down is based on Nick Hornby's darkly comic novel about an anti-suicide pact, but both feature these two brilliant actors, and "Poots & Paul" sounds enough like a TV detective show  that I would watch, that it's irresistible to pair the two films with no other grounds for comparison whatsoever. Onwards!

24 March 2014

MUPPETS MOST WANTED- Review

There are few sequels to well-received movies that could get away with grabbing the audience's expectations by the horns in quite the way that Muppets Most Wanted does. As though anticipating some kind of indoor-running-of-the-bulls in cinemas after the success of 2012's pitch-perfect reboot, they even open with a self-deprecating number about the pitfalls of sequels, (and then made a note of that indoor-running-of-the-bulls thing for later.) Aaaand we're back.

With the difficulty of following the super-meta reunion well and truly lamp-shaded, director James Bobin leads on in much the same vein. The Muppets are wondering what to do now that they're enjoying "a moment" in the limelight, when they're approached by talent manager Dominic Badguy (pr: bad╦łgee/) with a pitch for a world tour. Kermit is reluctant to accept, and with good reason- it's all a ruse by the world's most dangerous frog, Constantine, to frame the Muppets for a global spree of robberies while posing as his more famous froggy doppleganger.

22 March 2014

THE ZERO THEOREM- Review

It's genuinely tough to know where to begin with this one, because as a film, The Zero Theorem is an inert and yet writhing mass of contradictions. It's deliberately paced, but it never really stops moving, and it's about a man trying to find the purpose of his task, which is to prove that there is no purpose in life and creation. The only thing you can definitely pin down is that it's a Terry Gilliam film, which should speak volumes about just how tough it is to pin down otherwise.

Set some time this century, the film stars Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, a programmer who has spent his days in superstitious expectation of a phone call that will clear up any confusion about his pesky existence. His pleas to go and work from home so that he'll be in when the phone rings are answered, when his boss hands him a mysterious and complex assignment to solve the titular equation, and prove that everything is equal to nothing.

13 March 2014

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE- Review

Zack Snyder's 300 launched a thousand internet memes from the instant its first trailer surfaced online, and the film itself went on to become a success with critics and bros alike. Having opted to direct Man Of Steel rather than return for this sequel, Snyder only takes a producer's credit on 300: Rise Of An Empire, while new director Noam Murro does his best to replicate the style that typified the first film, with mixed results.

Taking place before, during, and after the battle at Thermopylae, the sequel shifts focus to what's going on elsewhere in the Greco-Persian war. God-king Xerxes is still out to put down the uppity Greeks, with counsel (and arch-manipulation) from his naval commander, Artemisia. Elsewhere, Athenian commander Themistocles, seeking redemption for an earlier decisive action that exacerbated the conflict, tries to unite the armies of Greece in a coalition against Artemisia and the Persians, and shit gets real all over again.

12 March 2014

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE- Review

As I'm quite fond of repeating every time I review a new vampire movie, you can tell a lot from the way in which a writer/director has adapted the rules of being a vampire. In Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, vampires have to stay out of sunlight, and can be killed with a stake or wooden instrument through the heart, but laugh off superstitions about garlic and crossing a threshold without permission.

But this isn't a film about the adaptation or reverence towards those rites, but about the rules these particular vampires make for themselves. Adam and Eve are two vampires who have been in love for centuries, but they live at opposite sides of the globe, wiling their immortality away by indulging their respective passions. Eve collects books in Tangier, while suicidal Adam lives in Detroit, producing music and buying up vintage guitars. When the two reunite, each of them find their separate ways of life irrevocably changed.

10 March 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL- Review

I haven't been particularly inspired by recent cinema releases, which has left me with a bit of catching up to do in terms of viewing, but Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly good enough to get me writing. Anderson's idiosyncratic style is a bit hit-and-miss with me, ranging from the underrated The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, to the mealy and vastly overrated Fantastic Mr. Fox. But either way, there's no other director making films quite like his.

In storytelling terms, this one is built like a Russian doll, telling a story within a story within a story, across multiple decades. In the (fictional) Eastern European republic of Zubrowka, an old man called Zero Moustafa tells the story of the run-down Grand Budapest Hotel. It was once an institution, back when Zero first became a lobby boy, under the tutelage of the sophisticated hotel manager Gustave H. When the hotelier is falsely accused of murder in a feud over a valuable painting, Gustave and Zero go on an adventure to clear his name and try to save their own necks in the process.