Sunday, 17 June 2018

Avril et le Monde Truqué (Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci, 2015)

April and the Extraordinary World takes its cue from the copious and varied French comic book/graphic novel culture, in which science fiction is a large component. The genre has not had a great history of translating successfully to the big screen, as evidenced by the recent Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but the decision here to stick to animation rather than live action proves a judicious one, allowing a cavalcade of sumptuous backdrops of a sooty steampunk Paris.
The scenario begins with an interesting premise; a 1940s still stuck with coal and steam instead of oil and electricity, as well as perpetual war between a repressive imperial France and the United States, and follows its set-up through quite conscientiously with abundant incidental detail. Less interesting is the adventure plot, with a plucky young heroine seeking her parents and a solution to her grandfather's great and secret experiment, accompanied by her talking cat. It all goes completely bonkers along the way, but at least it stays well away from cuteness; one can only imagine how unwatchable an end product would have resulted if this outline had been handed over to an anime studio.


Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Party (Sally Potter, 2017)

The intermittently-directing Sally Potter, still best remembered for Orlando 25 years earlier, brings together a bunch of veteran thesp chums for a concise affair involving a ton of secrets emerging at a party to celebrate Kristin Scott Thomas's ascension to a shadow-ministerial position. It's fundamentally a black comedy, with strong echoes of Abigail's Party except without a single dominating socially paranoid monster, more a collection of navel-gazing middle-aged middle-class individuals with more subtle flaws. At an hour and ten minutes, it can hardly be said to overstay its welcome, but aside from the divertingly fine cast which also includes the likes of Timothy Spall and Bruno Ganz and some choice lines given to them, neither does it leave much to digest besides an overall air of social unease.


Monday, 11 June 2018

En man som heter Ove (Hannes Holm, 2015)

A Man Called Ove centres around a recently widowed man who's also then forced into early retirement, and sets about trying to join his departed wife. He then fails at every varied suicide attempt, in a manner strongly echoing Jean-Pierre Leaud in Kaurismäki's I Hired a Contract Killer. So, this is a black comedy in the Scandinavian mould, but since it's also primarily in the rapidly-growing genre of fiction to do with the elderly not being allowed to go out quietly, from The Bucket List onwards, positivity creeps in very soon through his persistently cheery neighbours and his rather amusingly misanthropic and curmudgeonly ways are blunted. Thankfully, this wasn't Hollywood, since he's still allowed to retain some of his grumpy essence and hence the conclusion never becomes too cloyingly sentimental, so it remains a pleasant, unpatronising experience as a whole. That said, apparently it is being remade with Tom Hanks in the role. God help us.


Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)

On to movie 18 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and after going for the female empowerment angle with Wonder Woman, it's time for the black vote. This proved very successful at the box office and with critics too, but once the novelty of a hero from an African kingdom more technologically advanced than any other on Earth and an almost all-black cast wears off, the plot is strictly off the shelf and the themes - a hero who must prove himself worthy and cast aside self-doubt, and a villain with a semi-justified chip on his shoulder (who, in the style of all unimaginative superhero match-ups, has exactly the same powers as the hero for their final showdown) - so tired they're threadbare. As for the Africa aspect, the kingdom of Wakanda is a mish-mash of anything vaguely African enough to satisfy a Western audience as bona fide, with tribal dancing and rhinos, and the principal cast is actually mostly composed of American and English actors competing for the title of least embarrassing generic accent. It's got the FX and pacy action of course, but that really is a given for the MCU series. Bah.


Saturday, 12 May 2018

Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, 2017)

Soderbergh is clearly well and truly out of his notions of premature retirement by now, and it's just as well as he is, with plenty more in the pipeline and this rollicking piece, where Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play hick brothers planning a heist, this time not to do with a bank, but instead stealing the gambling proceeds of a NASCAR track. This being a compound of Soderbergh's wry slant on things and the modern heist formula, they of course turn out to be overconfident and dice with bungling the whole job at several junctures, of which there are dizzyingly many. It's not as much of a flashy parade of setpieces as its natural predecessors, the Ocean's Eleven films, but taken out that of that frame of reference, well in the upper quality echelons of the genre in terms of smartness and lightness of execution. Daniel Craig provides able comic support as an expert safe cracker, his mouth fumbling alarmingly with a southern accent, and overall the tone is effortlessly breezy. The director's break seems to have made sense.


Friday, 11 May 2018

The Founder (John Lee Hancock, 2016)

The story of how the McDonald's empire arose from one outlet in California run by a pair of brothers, The Founder benefits from the decision to give the role of Ray Kroc, the itinerant salesman who approaches the brothers in the 1950s to develop their business to Michael Keaton, who can do persuasive sloganeering and wheedling in his sleep. This is exactly what the role requires, as Kroc's natural capitalist opportunist sees the brothers' intransigence when he repeatedly tries to convince them to compromise for the sake of financial gain as carte blanche for him to act as he pleases with their brand, first rapidly creating a chain of franchises and then taking over completely. In other words, the title of the film really refers to Kroc as the founder of the empire, rather than the actual founders of the first restaurant. His machinations are the dramatic driving force of the story, and while that doesn't leave for much else of a human dimension, it's surprisingly entertaining given the potentially dry subject matter.


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

A loner janitor in Boston is called to his small coastal home town upon the death of his brother, to discover that he has been appointed the guardian of his teenage nephew in the will. It's immediately apparent that he left the town years before under a cloud, and the root cause for that unfolds through flashbacks and encounters with the locals.
He's very damaged goods, alternating between being sullenly withdrawn and abruptly violent, and Casey Affleck conveys the dichotomy credibly. The relationship with his nephew, who's outwardly cocksure, seeming to take his father's death in his stride, while being inwardly very brittle, is also affectingly portrayed. It never lapses into the formula of inevitable healing or bonding between clashing males and different generations: they remain co-passengers on a road of sorrow. The script is also confident enough in its emotional substance that it even allows humour to exist where it occurs naturally, without any danger of this trivialising the key theme. There is a flaw in that not only the protagonists but the film itself almost suffocate under the weight of their suppressed grief, leading to a lack of tonality, but it still deserves the plaudits it garnered for its fundamental truthfulness.