In Cinemas Now
War Dogs (15.)
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Starring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak, JB Blanc and Bradley Cooper. 114 mins.
Warner Brothers can't see a good title without wanting to change it. So they buy a book called All You Need Is Kill, make a great sci-fi actioner out of it only to rename it Edge of Tomorrow and wonder why nobody went to see it. This black comedy about two stoner twenty something arms dealers who made a fortune procuring weapons for the US military used to be called Arms and The Dude, a cracking title which immediately grabbed your interest. It's atitle you will give a bit slack to. But the Bros had to change it, and not even to War Pigs which is what I keep calling it, because it seems like a better title, than the almost self-erasingly unmemorable War Dogs. Perhaps it is some kind of health and safety issue: the change was provoked by fears that a film starring a retubbed Hill and the least likeable member of the Fantastic Four cast would provoke a dangerous stampede of people in cinema foyers.
The Purge: Election Year (15.)
Directed by James DeMonaco.
Starring Frank Grillo, Elisabeth Mitchell, Mykeiti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel and Terry Serpico. 109 mins
Bernie Saunders doesn't make horror/ thrillers vaguely reminiscent of the films of John Carpenter, but if he did... I doubt he'd make The Purge: Election Year. But one of his less sophisticated supporters might well do – actually, he probably has. In its third installment the political themes implicit in the premise of an America run by the New Founding Fathers (NFF) which has an annual purge night where for 12 hours any crime can be committed with impunity, are brought bluntly but entertaining to the fore.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Starring Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Darío Grandinetti and Rossy de Palma. Spanish with subtitles. 99 mins
After his attempt to go back to the irreverent comedy of his younger days, I'm So Excited, turned out to be a little bit of a disaster, Pedro Almodovar's latest sees him address himself to his position as one of Europe's leading film makers. It's a serious, grown up effort, based on some short stories by Nobel prize winner Alice Munro, but with a streak of his usual irreverence. He seems to be reaching higher than he ever has before, but without rejecting where he came from. He's making great art, but he isn't out to make the audience suffer. For his characters though, it's a different matter.
David Brent: Life On The Road (15.)
Directed by Ricky Gervais.
Starring Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Jo Hartley, Tom Bennett and Andrew Brooke. 96 mins.
Ricky Gervais is not a loveable figure, and even though I've enjoyed a lot of his work I don't have anything invested in his success. His whole comic persona is based on him being smug, successful beyond merit and punchably annoying. Maybe, just maybe, I'd be happy to see him fall flat on his face. His great redeeming feature though is having created and played one of the all time great sitcom characters and if he knows anything, he knows how to play David Brent, possibly to a painful degree. And here he's gone and risked it all by putting his TV comic creation on the big screen, a move that even when it works never really works. (And after concluding the series so perfectly, too.) But, if he'd been lurking in the foyer afterwards I think I would've gone up to him and given him a hug and awkwardly fist pumped or some such silliness because he's gone and done it.
The Childhood of a Leader (15.)
Directed by Brady Corbet.
Starring Berenice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Yolande Moreau, Tom Sweet and Robert Pattinson. 115 mins. Partly subtitled.
This is a film that will doubtless exert a magnetic appeal to the word “pretentious” in reviews but from its first moment I felt myself rising gleefully to the challenge of this dimly lit, po-faced drama and went with it happily to it euphoric and deliriously bleak finale. It's a kind geo-political version of The Omen, set in the aftermath of the First World War; an American family temporarily settled in France find themselves disturbed and distressed by the outrageous tantrums of their young son and the film mirrors the personality of it's leading figure – stern, unrelenting, demanding and full of its own importance, but backed up be a malevolent self- assurance.
Lights Out (15.)
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Teresa Palmer, Mario Bello, Alexander DiPersia, Gabriel Bateman, Alicia Vela-Bailey and Billy Burke. 81 mins
The horror audience, which is devoted but prone to being faddy, seem to have largely eschewed gore in recent years for boo-made-you-jump thrills. Something in the zeitgeist has told them that little children being petrified by ghostly figures springing out of the shadows of dysfunctional family homes, or teenage girls trying to outpace inescapable curses, is more use to them than narratives of torture and dismemberment. Does that represents an outbreak of isolationist escapism or a facing up to stark reality?
Directed by Todd Solondz.
Starring Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts. 90 mins
The film industry is full of comedic inclined misanthropes but most of them manage to disguise their contempt for humanity and all its doings. Todd Solandz though wears his hate on his sleeve which is sort of admirable but hardly endearing. In the late 90s his dark opus Happiness (an ensemble comedy about masturbation, spree killing and paedophilia) seemed to suggest that he would be a major American alternative film maker but since then he's been beaten back into the margins. Wiener-dog isn't going to change that but it is funnier and more entertaining than you'd expect of such a sour world view.
The Shallows (15.)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge. 85 mins.
The Shallows is basically the opening skinny dip scene in Jaws made into a whole movie: a woman disrobes on a deserted beach and gets attacked by a shark. The woman here is Blake Lithely and we are encouraged to admire the length and slenderness of her limbs, even when one of them is going gangrenous after a shark bite. The admiration of desirable objects and locations is a fundamental component of the film. Normally American teenager get chopped up and traumatised in crummy backwoods cabins but Blake gets tormented on a beautiful, remote Mexican beach, free of any riff raff, and with all the best surfing equipment. At the start, the film flirts with a bit of found footage horror, but the footage is filmed on one of those GoPro camera.
Pete's Dragon (PG)
Directed by Pete Lowery.
Starring Oakes Fegly, Bryce Dallas Howerd, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley, Oona Lawrence and Robert Redford. 103 mins
When there are no more old favourites for Disney to remake, reboot or sequelize, then the ones you've forgotten or never heard of will be dug up and sent off to walk the earth again. In the last year they've given us new versions or installments of Star Wars, Alice, Jungle Book, Avengers, and Finding Nemo; this though sees them reach back into the darkest period of their history, the 70s/80s, when after Walt's death they spent a long time looking around for a direction. During these difficult years Spielberg twisted the knife in their failure by making the ultimate Disney film, E.T.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (15.)
Directed by Jake Szymanski.
Starring Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Sugar Lyn Beard and Stephen Root. 98 mins
Two bad girls pretend to be good girls to get a free holiday in Hawaii as the respectable wedding dates of two brothers, but once they get there can't keep the pretense up. Its trailer sets it up as bawdy, charmless, lowest common denominator gag fest but the film sabotages itself by being consistently funny and surprisingly entertaining.
Suicide Squad (15.)
Directed by David Ayer.
Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Cara Delevingne. 123 mins.
Here endeth the summer of meh, the summer of mildly disappointing or mildly enjoyable blockbusters, the summer when every choice between a two/ three star rating has been a coin toss, now concluding with this nothing special supervillain version of the Dirty Dozen. Let's put on a big smiley Joker face and admit that this is nowhere near funeral dirge that was Batman Vs Superman and if you are in a generous, forgiving mood you may quite enjoy it. Putting on a grumpy Killer Croc face you'd have to say that it is visually undistinguished, surprisingly small scale, not particularly funny and asks us to spend time with some of the dullest, least engaging comic book characters imaginable in a story that is both underdeveloped and badly told.
Up For Love (15.)
Directed by Laurent Tirard.
Starring Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cedric Kahn, Stephanie Papanian, Cesar Domboy and Edmonde Franchi. French with subtitles. 97 mins
Brought to its knees by industrial action and the National Front growing in popularity – is France still living in the 70s? On the evidence of this its sense of humour definitely seems stuck there. At the start of Up For Love, beautiful lawyer Diane (Efira) is waiting in a cafe for the man who has found her lost phone when Alexandre, a four foot seven inch version of Oscar winner Dujardin turns up and pops himself up on the chair opposite her. And that's the whole joke. The film even takes a pause waiting for audience hilarity to calm down.
Sweet Bean. (PG.)
Directed by Naomi Kawase.
Starring Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida, Miki Mizuno, Miu Takeuchi, Saki Takahashi. In Japanese with subtitles. 113 mins
An excessive interest in the preparation of food is said to be a sign of a civilisation in decline: Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Merryberry as the sous chefs of the apocalypse. The Japanese are equally obsessed with cooking, but unlike here where the proponent of sugar tax employ a profligate, bukkake approach to seasoning, the Japanese approach is about restraint and specialisation. Hara hachi bu says you eat till you are 80% full; chefs and restaurants concentrate on a single dish; sushi apprentices spend years mastering boiling the rice.
Jason Bourne (12A.)
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Riz Ahmed and Vincent Cassel. 123 mins.
In Team America, Matt Damon was portrayed as a shallow imbecile who could only say his own name. Now, in an example perhaps of Self Fulfilling Parody, he has been persuaded to return to his defining role – a virtually mute killing machine with no real personality to speak of – and has been given just 25 lines to speak. Not even very elaborate lines either – no tricky adjectives or adverbs to deal with.
Barry Lyndon (PG.)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1975
Starring Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Leon Vitali, Murray Melvin, Leonard Rossiter, Hardy Kruger. 184 mins R/I
The poster for Kubrick's 1962 version of Nabokov's Lolita has one of the greatest film posters ever, and one of the best taglines, “How Did They Ever Make A Movie Of Lolita?” Over a decade later he adapted a lesser known work by Thackeray and an appropriate line for the poster might've been Why Did They Ever Make a Film Like Barry Lyndon? It is an exquisitely hued instrument of torture, designed to enrich the eye and deny pleasure. It's not an easy film to fall in love with, but your life will always be lacking a certain something until you have.
Author: The J.T. Leroy Story (15.)
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Featuring Laura Albert, Bruce Benderson, Dennis Cooper, Asia Argento, Panio Gianopoulos, Winona Ryder and Ira Silverberg. 100 mins
J.T. Leroy did a terrible thing, the worst thing you can do in 21st Century society – she upset celebrities. She did this by being an author who made stuff up, and in so doing invalidating their supportive, heartfelt, emotional guff. Laura Albert, an overweight American girl in her late twenties created the persona of 13 year old, drug addicted, son of a prostitute, gender confused kid, called J.T. Leroy, who spent his time at truck stops while mummy made some money.
The Killing$ of Tony Blair (12A.)
Directed by Sanne van der Bergh, Greg Ward.
Featuring George Galloway, Peter Oborne, Lauren Booth, Seamus Milne, Will Self, Noam Chomsky, Clare Short and Ken Livingstone. 92 mins
This crowd funded documentary presents us with a look at a despicable, self aggrandising, self deluding, hypocritical, traitorous, political opportunist who will suck up to anyone if he feels it is expedient. And that Tony Blair doesn't come out of it too well either.
The In-Laws (12A.)
Directed by Arthur Hiller. 1979.
Starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Richard Libertini, Nancy Dussault, James Hong, Ed Begley Jr and David Paymer. 103 mins. Released on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
The In-Laws is a film that I have been waiting to see for over three decades – not desperately, just on the backburner, but one day I had to see. I'm not quite sure how it put its hook in me, but the image of it being reviewed, lukewarmly, on Nationwide when it was released and them showing the “serpentine” scene had stuck in my head: plus the fact that Brando was such a fan of the film, he agreed to send up his Godfather performance in The Freshman, directed by writer Andrew Bergman. It has that reputation as a film that if you get it, you really get it.
They Might Be Giants (15.)
Directed by Anthony Harvey. 1971
Starring George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Gilford, Rue McClanahan and Lester Rawlins. 82 mins.
Or, alternatively, they might not. This cult movie from the early seventies is about a rich man who is convinced he is Sherlock Holmes (Scott) slowly trying to persuade his Doctor Watson, Mildred (Woodward) the psychiatrist who is supposed to certify him and allow his unscrupulous brother (Rawlins) to get his hands on his money, to become part of his delusional battle with Moriarty. The film has a loyal following, and inspired the You're-Not-The-Boss-Of-Me band of the same name, but I found it almost unbearable. The title is from Don Quixote and it's another paean to the innocent wonders of insanity, casting a severe paranoiac as a noble pursuer of a higher truth. In that it concerns a deluded man inspiring others to join him in a lofty noble quest through the not so lofty and noble streets of New York (early 70s New York, looking incredibly rundown) it is surely an inspiration for the Fisher King.
David Cronenberg's Early Works (15.)
Transfer (6mins)/ Out of The Drain (13 mins) /Stereo (62 mins)/ Crimes of The Future (62 mins.) 1966- 1970. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Videos.
Watching the early work of David Cronenberg it struck me that most artistic careers are ultimately a pathway of decline. One starts with a sense of limitless ability; a sure and certain sense of your own genius; which gradually drops away until you slide down to a more realistic assessment of your abilities. The early films of the man who would go on to make Shivers, Rabid, Videodrome, The Fly, Crash and A History of Violence, are precious affairs full of the fantasies of adolescent pretensions and counter culture affectations. But he got enough from the experience to stick with this film making lark and within half a decade and he had found himself reduced to the level of exploitation horror film maker, a level from which he really would make great art.
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. 1972
Starring Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Juri Jarvet, Nikolay Grinko and Anatoliy Solonitsyn. In Russian with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray from Curzon Artificial Eye. 166 mins.
Solaris is a landmark science fiction movie that is terrible science fiction. Tarkovsky’s first film in colour (well, mostly in colour) is full of that rich, lush imagery that would become his trademark. Give him trees, water and fire to film and it's magical; spaceships and rockets utterly defeat him.
Becoming Zlatan. (12A.)
Directed by Magnus Gertten and Fredrik Gertten.
Featuring Zlatan Ibrahmovic Leo Beenhakker, Hasse Borg, Fabio Capello, David Endt and Mido Ahmed Hossam Hussain. Out on DVD and digital download from Studiocanal. 96 mins.
The title is surely ironic. Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahmovic is many things – gifted, arrogant and on his very, very, very best days arguably the world's third best player – but he is rarely becoming. A Steven Seagal look-alike, he clumps around the pitch, rarely moving at a speed fast enough to get his ponytail to anything above half mast, looking vaguely dismissive of all the huffing and puffing going on around him.
A Kind Of Loving (12A.)
Directed by John Schlesinger. 1962
Starring Alan Bates, June Ritchie, Thora Hird, Bert Palmer, Malcolm Patton, Gwen Nelson, Pat Keen, David Mahlowe, Jack Smethurst and James Bolam. Black and White. Released on Blu-ray/ DVD and EST by Studicanal as part of their Vintage Classics collection. 107 mins
Vic Brown, as portrayed by Alan Bates, has a lot more going for him than most of the northern protagonists in the black and white, working class, kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s: he has a happy home life and a decent job working as draftsman at a factory. Rather than being trapped by his environment, he looks to have a decent future ahead of him. But when he starts to pursue the pretty young typist Ingrid (Ritchie) he buying himself a one way ticket to Thora Hird.
Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1964.
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and Peter Bull. Black and white. 95 mins. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
In the old days, when it came to the end of the world, everything was so much simpler, and so much quicker. One, swift thermonuclear exchange and we'd have been done for. Obviously this would have been a bad thing but it would have been a bit of a show, and you'd like to think the rest of universe might have been mildly impressed by both the spectacle and the sheer bloody mindedness of it all. It's both chilling and wondrous to think that the world may have ended a few years before I was born, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now the world faces any number of excruciating, long winded and epically banal paths to extermination.
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. 1975
Starring Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskya. Partly black and white. In Russian with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Curzon Artificial Eye. 107 mins.
A cinematic poet isn't really something to be. The movies disdain poetry – it's one of the things I love about them. The humble page indulges them but the cinema is ruthless with them, and will expose any chancer with highfaluting notions of the lyrical or poetic, no matter how small the budget. Many have tried, almost all have failed: a cinematic poet isn't really something to be because whatever you try, the films of Andrey Tarkovsky are going to dwarf them, and none of them will dwarf your efforts quite as much as Mirror (or sometimes The Mirror), a plot less, loosely autobiographical, free flowing book of memories. It's a tiny epic, trying to encapsulate not just a person's whole life but also that of Russian itself in the Twentieth century
Absolute Beginners (12.)
Directed by Julian Temple.
Starring Eddie O' Connell, Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, James Fox, Lionel Blair, Bruce Payne. 108 mins. 30th Anniversary edition, out on DVD from Second Sight from Monday 25th
The film Absolute Beginners has nothing much to offer but what it does have is a David Bowie title track that is truly remarkable; a song so purely uplifting that, even after three decades, when you hear it strike up with “Bub, bub, bah ooh” a part of you still believes that maybe, just maybe, Ab Beg might be worth one more go. The song can fly over mountains and laugh at the ocean; the film couldn't be trusted to find the frother on a cappuccino machine. It's a terrible, terrible, terrible film; virtually unwatchable but almost admirable. The British film industry has never lacked for puffed up chancers making foolhardy disasters, but in a land filled with mediocrity Absolute Beginners has a scope and ambition that is admirable. A gleaming, empty head musical about Soho in the late 50s, the first stirring on youth culture and the Notting Hill race riots, it's like a Cliff Richard film with pretensions; a Summer Holiday that thinks it is On The Road.
Andrei Rublev (15.)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring Anatoli Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Grinko, Nikolai Sergeyev, Irma Raush, Nikolai Burlyayev. 183 mins. A new digitally restored print, out on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand from Curzon Artificial Eye.
Andrei Rublev is a three hour, black and white, Russian film about a 15th century icon painter, made half a century ago. I'm going to tell you that this is one of the greatest films ever made and you're going to read this and think that you don't care what I, or Richard Linklater, or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, or the Sight and Sound Asleep Hot 100 list say: how can a three hour, black and white, Russian film about a 15th century icon painter be one of the all time greats?
I have two answers.
Directed by Charles Kaufman and Duke Johnson.
Starring David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. 90 mins
Normally any artist whose work is described as “surreal” will be also be reckoned to be obscure, mysterious, perplexing. Charlie Kaufman is one of the strangest, most bizarrely inventive voices in American cinema – a tunnel into John Malkovich's head; a machine for erasing sad memories – but his films are entirely straightforward. Typically his scripts create enormous, surreal labyrinths for audiences to puzzle their way through, but they always take you directly towards the human heart. The arrangements may be as arcane and elaborate as Brian Wilson in his “Smile” period, but beneath it all he's just a pained singer songwriter, strumming acoustically and singing about his pain.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Elisabeth Moss and Jeremy Irons. 112 mins.
High Rise is yesterday's dystopian vision today. J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel imagines a 40 storey tower block populated by the middle to upper classes where life quickly degenerates into hedonism and then barbarism as the different floors battle against each other for resources and power. The lower floors are led by ruffian documentary maker Wilder (Evans), the upper floors by the architect of the tower Royal (Irons) and somewhere in the middle is Lang (Hiddleston) a doctor who is trying to avoid any alignments.
10 Cloverfield Lane (15)
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr and John Goodman. 103 mins.
“Please, no spoilers,” the man from Paramount requested of reviewers as we went in and that seems entirely reasonable. This is a film so secretive that one of its mysteries is whether it is actually any kind of a sequel to Cloverfield, the 2008 Godzilla-in-the-style-of-Blair Witch hit.
The Wicked Lady (18.)
Directed by Michael Winner. 1983
Starring Faye Dunaway, Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Denholm Elliott, Glynis Barber, Oliver Tobias, Joan Hickson and Prunella Scales. 99 mins. Uncensored version out on DVD from Second Sight Films.
Though his enormous celebrity, his Winner's Dinners and calm down dear it's a commercial did wonders in obscuring the fact, never let it be forgotten that Michael Winner was a bad film director. Not bad in the sense that one objects to his mise-en-scene, or believe his symbolism to be overly contrived; no, not even bad in the sense that his films were morally repugnant and could drain you of all faith in humanity and leave you a dried out husk. (They were and they did, but that's largely incidental.) They were bad in the sense of being inept, being amateurish, being hard to believe he had ever done this before in his life.
Ivan's Childhood (12A.)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
Starring Nikolai Burlyayev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy Zharikov, Stepan Krylov and Valentina Malyavina. 1963. In Black and White. Russian with Subtitles. 93 mins. A new digitally restored print, out on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand from Curzon Artificial Eye.
The beginning is generally very good place to start; with the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky it may also be a very good place to stop. At least for some viewers. In the six films that followed his debut Tarkovsky established himself as the dictionary definition of slow, difficult, foreign assault course art house cinema. Brilliant slow, difficult, foreign assault course art house cinema, mind you, but not easy watches. Ivan's Childhood is by anybody's measure a great film, accessible to anyone prepared to read subtitles, a moving story of innocence lost during wartime that is beautiful to behold and readily comprehensible.