Saturday, 6 January 2018

Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)

Picking up the story some time afterwards, with the bear now settled in with the Brown family, this is a rare example of a sequel which not only justifies its existence as more than just exploitation of the success of its predecessor, but actually outdoes it in every way. It helps that the set-up has now been got out of the way and so there is free rein to expand each character when it feels apposite, while chucking in as many scenes of hilarious pandemonium as the structure can take. Hugh Grant, coming in as the villain, a vain has-been actor now after hidden treasure, is also an absolute hoot and many other beloved faces of British comedy drama chip in to good effect too. It's just as accessible to adults as children, and although there is, once again, the obligatory manic chase at the end, when taken as a whole it's truly warm and charming, not to mention very funny.


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Miranda (Marc Munden, 2015)

One of those low-budget pieces where English filmmakers, hopeful of an international audience, shoehorn in a few big names, in this case Christina Ricci, John Hurt and Kyle MacLachlan, Miranda centres on John Simm's innocent librarian, who falls in love with Ricci's mysterious Yank. She turns out to have quite another real history involving large-scale property fraud, but with this basically being a romantic comedy, he's undeterred and pursues her all the way to a happy ending through encounters with her nutjob mark, MacLachlan as a pervy banker. It's flimsy stuff and really tries far too hard to be off-centre, with Ricci also highly unconvincing as a femme fatale, but at least the dialogue has enough wit about it to provide some relief.


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)

I've given this a miss for decades now, knowing that the overly-venerated hack De Palma was at the helm, and it seems to have been with good reason. He rips off his idol Hitchcock shamelessly yet again, besides taking the plot, with additions from Coppola's The Conversation, from Antonioni's Blow-Up, and the fact that the title blatantly acknowledges the debt does not make it an hommage to the latter.
John Travolta plays a sound engineer who witnesses the assassination of a presidential candidate and is then first persuaded by political forces to drop the matter, and then pursued by more sinister forces to the same end. It looks pretty, thanks to veteran cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and that's about it. The progression of the story is hackneyed, the director's regular filmic tricks such as split focus over-used, the soundtrack dreadful in its lack of appropriacy and cheesiness and the female co-lead, who Travolta tries to protect, too stupid to live. That critics like Roger Ebert have elevated this to the pinnacles of perfection tells you everything you need to know to distrust anything they ever say too.


Monday, 1 January 2018

Biancanieves (Pablo Berger, 2012)

This unorthodox retelling of the story of Snow White, which owes far more to the dark undercurrents of the Brothers Grimm fairytale than any subsequent Disneyfied bastardisations, had the colossal misfortune of entering production when The Artist hit the festivals to everyone's surprise and then swept away all resistance to the idea of a black and white, silent film shot in the cinematic environment of today. This is a great pity, because it has just as much merit as the runaway success of Hazanavicius's film, making as full use of the visual medium to convey content and nuance with an Eisensteinian deftness, and also constantly throwing in unexpected twists to the tale. The setting, transposed to the bullfighting world of Andalucia in the 1920s, at first bemuses utterly but then the pieces begin to slot into place and it becomes truly captivating, fully sustaining its two hours until an equivocal and startling ending.


Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015)

The biopic of the Irish-American gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger, focusing on his rise to the top of the organised crime heap in Boston in the '70s, aided by the FBI's turning a blind eye to his activities in exchange for supposedly informing on his rivals, is a relentlessly grim and violent tale which derives its rhythm from a "fuck" count that easily hits the hundreds. It's territory that we have seen countless times before in Mafia films, of course, but the factual nature of the story lends it a potency above most of its fictional counterparts and almost allows it to dodge charges of exploitation. This in itself wouldn't be enough, for all the film's ingenuous desire to have us see what machinations allow evil to flourish, but Johnny Depp's portrayal of the sociopathic mobster is a tour de force, easily the best thing he's done in years and a transformation from all his other characters that needs to be seen to be believed, and not just because of ice blue eyed-make-up and voice alterations. You'd be hard pushed to find any villain as terrifying in any horror film; there's never a feeling of security at any point when he's on screen, always liable to break out into violence at the drop of a hat.


Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)

Three brothers undertake a train journey across India to find themselves, as is the standard agenda for travellers to the subcontinent. Of course, with this being a Wes Anderson film, any such motives are to be taken lightly and likely to be derailed by all manner of random incidents. The performances of the cast, with Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman as the brothers and a host of cameos from other regular collaborators, are as tongue-in-cheek and facially expressive as the wilfully idiosyncratic plot requires and they make for an amiable entourage, albeit that this time the storyline is even more frivolous than usual and doesn't really go anywhere at all. Still, it's hard to dislike Anderson's output, even when it just meanders like this: the touch is light and the ambience is warm, and that alone is no easy thing to do.


In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Alex Holdridge, 2007)

A 29-year-old jobless slacker is persuaded by his friends to place a personal ad in the hope that he might nit have to spend New Year alone. The date that results from this, with strong echoes of Linklater's Before Sunrise, duly involves a lot of talking about life. And then more talking about life, with whimsical overtones all the way through and a few escapades connected to the woman's possessive ex, and a bittersweet ending to cap it off. This kind of stuff goes down a storm in U.S. indie circles and with the waffling intellectual French tendency too, but less well so if you actually look for substance in a film. Nor does it help that the male lead, as clear a projection of the filmmaker himself as you can imagine, is terminally wet and his 'strong' female counterpart utterly insufferable, at least at the outset. It means well and is mildly amusing in places, but has all the sense of purpose of its diffident main protagonist. Also see Frances Ha.