Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow Cruise

Released 2014. Directed by Doug Liman. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth. Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton.

Aren’t we getting tired of my reminding you that I reveal plot spoilers in these things? It’s like I’m repeating myself day after day after day…

I had low expectations of Edge of Tomorrow. After Knight and Day, I was wondering whether Tom Cruise should give up the action movies. He’s getting on, after all. I’d seen the trailer and sarcastically summed up the premise as Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers meets D-Day from Saving Private Ryan. I was anticipating two hours of unintelligible nonsense with Cruise’s face glued over it in the hope I wouldn’t notice. It looked so… stupid.

I’m so glad to say that I needn’t have worried. While my sarcastic description is absolutely correct, I didn’t realise that there was a good version of that mashup to be made. Edge of Tomorrow is creative. It’s funny. It’s energetic. It eschews darkness and introspection – it’s constantly on the move, doing new things. In some ways it’s a real throwback to the way it used to be done before Christopher Nolan showed up with his grumpy Batman. This is what action movies should be like.

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Godzilla

Released 2014. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Screenplay by Max Borenstein. Story by David Callaham. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston.

The first thing you have to do is see this on the most enormous screen you can find. The second thing you have to do is come back here and agree with me about why you were utterly thrilled and only a little disappointed.

There are two possibilities. Either that I make the wrong demands of blockbusters, or that it doesn’t matter what my demands are because my expectations are so low that I end up pathetically satisfied with whatever I get. I say this because I appear to be the only member of my entire circle of friends and acquaintances who liked Godzilla, and surely they can’t all be wrong?

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Pompeii

Released 2014. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. Screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson. Starring Kit Harington, Emily Browning and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje.

There’s really no spoiling this movie, but I suppose you shouldn’t read on to find out exactly how everybody dies in a giant volcano eruption if you want to see it first.

There’s something to be said for seeing a film under the influence. Not of chemicals (well, not necessarily), but of happiness and a lightness of heart. The two and a half hours preceding my viewing of Pompeii included a relaxing walk along a canal, a curious goat curry at an exciting new restaurant called Turtle Bay, five brightly-coloured alcoholic beverages (including one that I don’t even remember drinking but am assured that I did), and the astonishing news that my beloved Birmingham City FC had dramatically escaped relegation to Football League One with a last-gasp equaliser at Bolton. The day was sunny, my company effervescent. I was, you could say, in a state of light delirium.

Light delirium, it turns out, is precisely the state in which to place oneself before seeing Pompeii.

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Locke

Released 2014. Written and directed by Steven Knight. Starring Tom Hardy.

There are plot spoilers here, although they are locked behind the first paragraph. Get it? Locked. Locke-d. Locke is the name of the film. Forget it.

There’s a breed of film that likes to restrict itself. It uses a single very concise location, or one main one with very few excursions elsewhere; it tells its story in real time, or near-real time; it features very few actors (often only one), who appear throughout. Of this breed, there are two flavours. There are the interesting ones, such as Buried and Rope; then there are the extraordinarily silly ones, such as Phone Booth and Devil. (Sometimes, I admit, you will come across a film that straddles this distinction, and that film is Carnage.) No matter what their variations on the theme, these films all have one thing in common, which is that I love them unconditionally. Imposing limits on oneself is a reliable recipe for something fun or intriguing – these films are laboratory experiments designed to discover what is possible to achieve despite confinement, and they’re always playful. Locke, set entirely within a car driven by Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) from Birmingham to London, is a member of the interesting group: it’s slow, careful, visually rich and utterly engrossing.

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Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Released 2014. Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Screenplay by Walter Campbell, based on “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber. Starring Scarlett Johansson.

Under the Skin is film of a type that is predictably disappointing. It’s beautiful, methodical and curious, and absolutely impenetrable. It’s of a type that is legitimised by people who express distaste for tentpole releases, saying that films shouldn’t tell simply tell the audience everything they have to offer; that as a viewer, I need to be putting in the work to extract meaning. Indeed, I agree with this. It’s the intensity with which that opinion is held that I find problematic, because it ends up allowing wilfully opaque films to evade criticism – it’s as though they’re so difficult to understand, they must be saying something meaningful, even though you haven’t a clue what it is. This is the case with Under the Skin, a film that is utterly unyielding to interpretation. The overall experience is frustrating, though enticing.

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The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate Assange and Daniel

Released 2013. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay by Josh Singer, based on “Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Like Harding. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.

Sadly I couldn’t help myself from leaking a plot spoiler or two.

I love impersonations. A good one is witty and charming; a great one can be transformative. Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Julian Assange, the controversial founder of whistleblowing epicentre Wikileaks, is utterly remarkable, and undoubtedly the biggest virtue of The Fifth Estate. Thanks to his white hair, he bears a certain physical resemblance to the Australian troublemaker (although he remains unmistakeably Cumberbatch), he crucially nails the lilt peculiar to Assange’s voice, and has a decent go of translating a trait particular to those who are elusive, shadowy and unknowable: elusive, shadowy unknowability. His Assange is always slightly unpredictable, his actions not characterised by deceit but never far away from it. It’s probably the only sensible way to access the character, and therefore might be an obvious choice, but Cumberbatch’s portrayal is of such quality that one is forced to look elsewhere for the reason his performance has (perhaps aptly) slipped under the radar of cultural impact and awards consideration. That reason is director Bill Condon, who is doing an impersonation of his own.

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This Is Not a Film

Released 2012. Directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi.

When René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe and gave it the caption, ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe,’ he was making a smart and humorous artistic statement: this is a representation of a pipe using paint, not an actual pipe. When, however, following a banal sequence of shots depicting Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s morning routine, the words “This Is Not a Film” appear on the cinema screen, the effect is very different. Despite the allusion to Magritte’s painting, these words connote something more aggressive. Panahi is making a political assertion, not a joke. His twenty-year ban on directing films, and six-year prison sentence, make this title defiant and powerful. On the one hand, it introduces the tricky question of what the boundaries of the medium of film are; on the other, it aggressively challenges the authorities that threaten his career and life.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

Released 2014. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay by Terence Winter, based on the book of the same name by Jordan Belfort. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie.

As ever, the ending of this film is discussed here, as are other things you might not want revealed. So really you should just go and see it, because it’s absolutely brilliant, then come back and read this.

There’s a moment in The Wolf of Wall Street that made my heart briefly stop. In the three hours of fabulously kinetic pandemonium, it might be easy to ignore, but it struck me deeply. Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, is under investigation by the SEC and FBI, who are interviewing its senior management. It’s predictable that these executives will be uncooperative, but the first time one of them uttered the phrase, “I do not recall”, I sat bolt upright. “I do not recall.” Those four words define the untouchable safety in which the world’s most powerful people live, and the impotence of the legal and judicial systems in attempting to investigate their wrongdoing. The US is most familiar with them with regards to the 2008 financial crisis and collapse of several financial institutions; those in the UK will have vivid memories of its repeated use by the newspaper industry in deflecting questions about its ethical and legal misconduct. Those four words are the catchphrase of the rich and powerful when caught, a magic incantation that disappears severe repercussions. Their use in The Wolf of Wall Street made me realise, for the first time, that these people are real.

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Her

Released 2014. Written and directed by Spike Jonze. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams.

Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, is a curious film. It’s intriguing, smart, heartfelt and, for the most part, engrossing. It’s off-kilter and quirky in just the right way. But as a satire, it didn’t have much to say. As a drama, it failed to move me. And it really loses its way towards the end.

But before we get to that, I want to talk about what there is to like about Her. And there’s a lot to like.

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