Thursday, 17 August 2017

Critical Week: Don't panic


It's been one of my most eclectic weeks of the year as far as screenings go. And actually, most of these films were watched at home on screening links. The biggest film was the comedy romp Rough Night, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman on her hen night with a group of friends, having a Hangover-style adventure. It's sharp and nutty and not remotely original. And then there was this year's sequel Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, another cameo-packed barrage of inane action led by Ian Ziering and Tara Reid. Surprisingly, a new screenwriter has breathed some wit into this idiotic franchise.

More highbrow fare included Sally Potter's stylised The Party, a jagged black comedy with political edges and scene-stealing performances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Patricia Clarkson. Moon Dogs is a smart and endearing Scottish road movie about three misfits travelling from Shetland to Glasgow for darkly resonant reasons. Alex Barrett's London Symphony is an exquisite ode to the city with original music and black and white footage beautifully assembled to catch detail rather than the obvious sites. And The Daydreamer's Notebook is a moody collection of short films by Michael Saul, all of which centre rather pretentiously on light filtering through trees, but there's also a superb sense of nostalgia running through them.

Coming up this week, I'll be seeing Tom Cruise in American Made, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver in Logan Lucky, Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart in The Wilde Wedding, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River and the body-swap comedy Unleashed.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Critical Week: A question of trust

One of the more anticipated films screened to London press this week was Francois Ozon's Cannes entry L'Amant Double (The Double Lover), a slinky Hitchcockian thriller featuring lots of mirrored identities. It's a lot of fun. Also from France, Joachim Lafosse's After Love is a strikingly unsentimental drama about a a family going through a divorce, anchored by riveting performances from Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn.

More mainstream fare included Charlize Theron in the rather mindless action thriller Atomic Blonde, which is skilfully made but could have used either a more coherent plot, stronger characters or just a lot more silliness. Mark Strong and Jamie Bell anchor 6 Days, a forensic recreation of the Iranian embassy siege in London that's fascinating as it builds to a ripping final act, but never quite cracks the surface. Everything, Everything is a sappy teen romance that plays out pretty much as expected, but is elevated by actors Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. And Goon: The Last of the Enforcers is a sequel to the surprise comedy hit starring Sean William Scott as hockey player in Canada. Despite a terrific supporting cast, this follow-up completely misses the mark.

Perhaps the biggest movie this week was Al Gore's follow-up An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which traces the decade since his Oscar-winning climate change documentary. It's very well put together, and lucidly highlights the issues, but the biggest surprise is that it has a lot of positive things to say about what people and nations are doing to show respect to the planet and give hope for future generations.

Among other things, this coming week's press screenings include Idris Elba in The Dark Tower, Scarlett Johansson in Rough Night, Sally Potter's festival hit The Party, the coming-of-age British road trip Moon Dogs, and this year's episode, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Critical Week: The boys of summer

It's been another eclectic week for London-based film critics. One of the more intriguing films we watched was the Sundance award winner Beach Rats, a remarkably thoughtful, personal exploration of identity featuring a star-making performance from Harris Dickinson. At the other end of the cinematic spectrum is The Emoji Movie, an uneven animated comedy adventure that has its moments but isn't good enough to be memorable. Mothers cut loose in Fun Mom Dinner, which has a strong cast (Kate Aselton, Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Bridget Everett) and a nicely believable approach to outrageous antics, but is perhaps too similar to recent movies like Girls Trip.

Further afield, the effectively creepy Irish thriller Pilgrimage is given some oomph with the casting of Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage in its grisly 13th century tale of religious fervour. From Hungary, On Body and Soul is the involving, offbeat Berlin-winning romantic drama about a one-armed businessman and an obsessive-compulsive quality-control scientist. InSyriated explores a claustrophobic situation in Damascus in the style of a real-life horror movie we can't help but resonate with. Kept Boy is a rather awkward black comedy about a strained gay relationship. And I watched two documentaries to discuss on a TV chat show: Get Me Roger Stone is a chilling profile of the man who essentially created every Republican president from Nixon onwards (it's reviewed on the site), and then there's this one...


Warriors From the North
dir Nasib Farah, Soeren Steen Jespersen; with The Shadow, Abukar Nuur, Nasib Farah, Abdi Aziz, Mohamed Ali Omar, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed 
15/Den ****
This haunting, rather grim hour-long documentary skilfully avoids sensationalism as it explores the incendiary issue of young immigrants in Europe who are caught up in radicalisation. It's framed as the story of a young man who travelled to Somalia from Copenhagen, leaving his friend and father (Nuur) looking for him, which makes the film startlingly personal. The friend calls himself "The Shadow", and vividly describes how it feels to be an aimless youth drawn into the brotherhood of al-Shabab. His narration provides an angle we rarely hear behind the shouty, fear-based headlines. The filmmakers include horrific footage of bombings, as well as training films and suicide videos, plus another telling account from a British man (Omar) who went to Somalia but left al-Shabab when he saw that they were more interested in killing civilians than soldiers. The film is beautifully shot and edited, and taps vividly into the vulnerabilities of young migrants who are marginalised in society and singled out by police, making them easily manipulated into believing that their religion condones murder, which it doesn't.


Coming up this week, we have Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Jamie Bell in 6 Days, the hockey-antics sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the Tel Aviv drama In Between and the musical odyssey London Symphony.