Saturday, 22 April 2017



The biggest mystery about this isn't why they called it Unforgettable, which is a gift of a title to snarky reviewers. Ignoring the fact that it's a fairly generic title that doesn't have much to do with the onscreen action (at least the 1996 Ray Liotta film was sort of about memory), it's like calling a film Impressive or Marvellous: unless your film is undeniably impressive or marvellous then you're giving your detractors an open goal. Rather, the question I left Milton Keynes Cineworld with was: what is that doing in cinemas instead of its natural homes on Netflix or the bargain DVD rack in Sainsbury's? Sure, it's got a generic title, because it's a generic movie. That doesn't mean it's a bad movie, but it's surprising just how not surprising it is.

This feels like a film that, if it were ever in cinemas, would have screened back in the early 1990s along with Deceived and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, although it's got very strong hints of the earlier Fatal Attraction. Former City whizz David (Geoff Stults) has given up the money life to settle down in California and open a brewery with new girlfriend Julia (Rosario Dawson) and his daughter. But his impossibly perfect ex Tessa (Katherine Heigl) isn't going to let him or the child go that easily, using Julia's traumatic past secrets to wreck the new relationship....

It's pleasingly female-led, with Heigl (probably best known for romantic comedies) giving good maniac, and there's some satisfyingly face-punching violence towards the end once she stops being creepy and sinister and degenerates into full-on screaming crazy. There's a nod to blaming it all on Tessa's own upbringing (Cheryl Ladd is the overcontrolling grandmother) but as the film goes on her actions are less those of a natural mother than a regular thriller villain, as she becomes more unhinged to the point where her plans have completely disintegrated. But there are no twists, no surprises, no unexpected moments, no final reveal that something else entirely was going on throughout, nothing. This scene, then this scene, then this scene. Watchable as a Friday night New On Netflix random selection ("because you liked Domestic Disturbance"), but weirdly unremarkable as a national cinema release.




There are two movies going on here: one a forbidden romance set against the backdrop (or back-projection screen) of Old Hollywood, the other a starry biopic of the later years (mostly 1959, bookended with scenes in 1964) of increasingly irrational billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. Either one would be interesting by itself, but the trouble is that they're oddly bolted together, with the conventional boy-meets-girl fluff taking ever more of a back seat to the antics of a cranky old goat surrounded by his closest employees getting steadily more frustrated by his ever more erratic behaviour by the day.

In truth Rules Don't Apply is more of a love triangle between driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich in his second Old Hollywood movie after Hail, Caesar!), fresh-off-the-bus aspiring contract player Marla Mabery (Lily Collins) and legendary industrialist and RKO studio boss Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty, also director, producer and screenwriter). Frank and Marla's relationship is forbidden not just by their own strict religious upbringing (and Marla's even stricter mother played by Annette Bening who really isn't in it enough) but by their employment contracts with Hughes, who's never even met them. Marla's pushy and insistent, though, finally getting her meeting and screen test, and more.... Meanwhile, Frank has to decide: does he want to make it on his own or stay within the Hughes empire at the cost of his dreams? Does he really want Marla or his seventh-grade sweetheart (Taissa Farmiga)?

In the second half of the movie, Hughes takes over, embodying Dennis Hopper's bad guy line from Speed that "poor people are crazy, I'm eccentric!". He won't meet the financiers whose loans his business needs, he holes up in hotel rooms and refuses to come out, he demands a truck full of one particular ice cream then demands a different flavour, he fires his minions for doing their jobs, he turns off the aircraft engines mid-flight. The trouble is that it's stated that "everyone's got a crush on Hughes" but aside from his billions there's no apparent reason why this version of HH would be so apparently attractive. Still, an array of familiar names and faces show up, some for only a scene and a couple of lines: Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Alex Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Paul Sorvino, Martin Sheen, Steve Coogan.

In the manner of Woody Allen (who could have easily done the period Hollywood romance stuff, but a lot funnier and sharper), Rules Don't Apply doesn't have a score of its own, instead using pop songs from the likes of Bobby Darin and Rosemary Clooney and, several times, Gustav Mahler's wonderfully miserable Adagietto, most famously used in Visconti's Death In Venice but probably tracked in here because the female lead's name is Marla (Marla, Mahler, geddit?). It's a bit of a mess, too long at 127 minutes and it seems curiously old-fashioned, but the period detail with the cars, decor and fashions makes up for the lack of easy afternoon's entertainment that was promised by the poster and the first third or so of the movie. Even though it's half an hour longer, I much preferred The Carpetbaggers.


Friday, 14 April 2017



What's it all about, eh? Life? Really, what does it mean, what's it all for? What's the point of it? What's the point of anything? What is love? What can we be? Who are we underneath? Why? Indeed, why not? Answers to the great insoluble posers (and indeed poseurs) of our time to Terrence Malick, who here invites us to ponder at great and unnecessary length on such eternal headscratchers as love, sex, success, money, God, family, happiness, marriage, regret and Antonio Banderas. What's it all about? Don't ask me, I only watched it.

Knight Of Cups isn't much in the way of plot, narrative or incident, being mainly concerned with top screenwriter Christian Bale musing on these great philosophical abstractions that have plagued mankind since before the war at least. We never see him type a single word, but he must be fantastically successful because he's got a terrific Los Angeles apartment (with an ocean view!), and by the look of it his deadlines are incredibly distant because he spends all his time wandering along the beach, going to parties, wandering about in the desert and blathering nonsensically to a succession of impossibly glamorous women who blather as much as he does. Banderas turns up at a party, prattles about raspberries and strawberries, and doesn't show up in the rest of the film. Imogen Poots turns up, prattles for a bit and then disappears. Cate Blanchett (as his ex) turns up, prattles for a bit and then disappears. Teresa Palmer turns up, prattles for a bit and then disappears. Brian Dennehy (as his Dad) turns up, prattles, disappears, comes back, prattles a bit more, and then disappears. Natalie Portman turns up, prattles....

This all goes on for two hours: two hours in which nothing happens except a bunch of shallow, empty people try and make sense of where their lives have gone wrong. And even when things do actually happen - a mugging, an earthquake - they're immediately dropped and never mentioned again. Normally this would be utterly intolerable, but the film's sole saving grace is that it is magnificently, magnificently photographed. Los Angeles at night, the beach, the desert, strip clubs, Las Vegas, apartments, all the beautiful people: everything looks utterly wonderful. It's the people who make it such a chore to wade through: cut them all out, put some mellow ambient tones on the soundtrack and you've got a lovely relaxing screensaver. As it is, it's industrial strength piffle and not worth the TWO HOURS it takes to stodge through to its conclusion.


Monday, 10 April 2017



This is shaping up to be one of those movies that's more notable for the Outrage! and Fury! generated by its casting decisions than for its actual merits as a film. Should an actress as demonstrably white as Scarlett Johansson be cast in a role that was originally Asian, specifically Japanese, in the original comicbook source and 1995 animated version (full disclosure: neither of which I'm familiar with)? Every so often the whitewashing controversy surfaces again, be it Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange or Gerard Butler as an Ancient Egyptian deity in Gods Of Egypt, and while no-one appears to be going as far as Mickey Rooney's "hilarious" Japanese in Breakfast At Tiffany's (a characterisation that makes Benny Hill's forays into racial stereotype look like models of cultural sensitivity), the question remains of how far you can actually go with it. Should only British actors play Richard III? Should only Danes play Hamlet? Ridley Scott's justifications for casting Christian Bale rather than "Mohammed So-and-so" in Exodus: Gods And Kings were incredibly badly phrased, but was he reflecting studio reluctance to spend hundreds of millions on a film with an unfamiliar star, or the audiences who are unlikely to bother seeing it, thus making it a bad investment?

The real pity is that the star casting in Ghost In The Shell is ultimately going to be the most memorable thing about it: it's an oddly drab, murky movie which, for all the eye-popping visuals and action sequences is curiously joyless. Sometime in the near future, when humans can be augmented with any number of cybernetic implants, Mira (Johansson) has been thoroughly converted into a cyborg superagent in the anti-terrorism unit, and her team is up against a superhacker (Michael Pitt) with his own superaugmented abilities. But Mira's mind is glitching, as the deleted memories of her pre-conversion past are starting to surface...

The dense, bewildering cityscape with its giant advertising logos and bright coloured lights all over the place obviously recalls Blade Runner, though the robots starting to turn human and act on their own instincts harks back even to Westworld (Mira's was supposed to be a "clean brain", according to one line from the trailer that I didn't notice in the film itself). But this seems to be much less interested in what it means to be human and much more of a vehicle for Scarlett Johansson to leap around in her flesh-coloured cyborg suit that's absolutely not supposed to look like she's spending half the film naked, no sir. And given the substantial amount of leaping about, it really should be a lot more enjoyable.

Sure it's good looking with its immersive, detailed future. The action sequences are decent enough, there's some fun to be had from Takeshi Kitano and his weird hair, and they even throw in a giant mechanical spider towards the end, just because. It doesn't have any real emotional connection, and there's not enough to make you care whether Mira discovers how she became a cyborg in the first place. So it's a mixed bag: a superbly designed world but strangely, surprisingly unexciting things happening there. It's watchable enough, but there's the nagging sense throughout that it's not as enjoyable as it should be (certainly less fun than Lucy, for example), and it just didn't knock me sideways the way Blade Runner did. But few things do.


Saturday, 8 April 2017



Whose sparklingly bright idea was it to take a piece of innocuous late-1970s network fluff that played ITV at 7pm on a Saturday evening, and reboot it as a 15-rated frenzy of knob jokes, masturbation jokes, poo jokes and sex jokes, wrapped up with lots of of shooty violence and swearing? Not to suggest my inner Mary Whitehouse is stirring again, but it's like relaunching Last Of The Summer Wine and making Foggy an obese nudist and giving Compo a crystal meth habit. You're kind of betraying whatever it was that made the original show famous more than thirty years ago. Sure, you could argue that the awkwardly-capitalised CHiPs hasn't been a thing since about a fortnight after it was cancelled, less of a thing than The Dukes Of Hazzard ever was, but it's highly unlikely that a big-screen Chips is going to make it a thing once more.

In updating Chips from family-friendly primetime twaddle to grown-up action comedy (difficult to claim it as grown-up when the bulk of the humour struggles to escape the level of "poo willy bum knickers"), it's ended up as a shooty, shouty Lethal Weapon rip but without the wit, character or energy. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard, who also wrote and directed so it's really his fault) is now a former motocross stunt biker and colossal arsehole who thinks he needs to prove himself as a California Highway Patrol officer to stop his wife from leaving him. His hugely (and justifiably) reluctant partner Poncharello (Michael Pena) is now an undercover FBI agent tracking down a gang of corrupt cops, but constantly distracted by [1] Baker's inability to stay still and shut up and [2] women in yoga pants. (I just googled them and.... meh, to be honest. Whatever blows your skirt up.)

It's less Lethal Weapon (mismatched cops, full-throttle action ensues) and more Police Academy (morons join the police force, hilarity ensues) - or more accurately a Police Academy sequel, as the first Police Academy was actually perfectly good raucous fun. It honestly feels as though the makers had never sat through an actual episode of CHiPs; certainly there's no sense of love or affection for the source material. So why bother? This isn't any fun at all: I didn't laugh once during the whole running time, instead rolling my eyes at the ceiling as if to say "Really?". And I do still laugh at stuff sometimes, so I know it isn't just me, but there's absolutely nothing here.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017



Full disclosure at the outset: my hopes were not high for this one. For whatever reason, I've not clicked with any of Ben Wheatley's films thus far: the most entertaining was Sightseers, but the critical responses to High-Rise, Kill List and A Field In England literally made no sense to me. (He's also directed a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, a show whose increasingly abominable writing finally forced me to walk away from it when even the pantomime idiocies of the Sylvester McCoy era couldn't). This isn't necessarily a bad thing: not connecting with a particular film-maker is like not finding a particular standup funny or not liking a particular band, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but when so many people you know and trust tell you he/she/it/they is/are wonderful you start to wonder if the fault lies with you, when the reality there is no more "fault" in not liking Ben Wheatley movies than there is "fault" in not liking walnut whips. The defence, such as it is, rests.

Free Fire is, hurrah, a lot better. Maybe because it doesn't have that nonsensical social allegory going on (High-Rise made no sense on any level at all), opting instead for a simple B-movie shoot-em-up scenario in which colourful, amusing (and distinct) characters fire guns at each other. It's some time in the 1970s (to judge from the cars, the clothes and the 8-track cartridge of John Denver) and Cillian Murphy is looking to buy guns for the IRA from dealer Sharlto Copley in a deal put together by Brie Larson. The groups meet up to make the exchange in an abandoned umbrella factory, but two of the low-level goons have unresolved business of their own and it suddenly escalates to an all-out Last Man Standing war between everybody....

It doesn't have the literary importance and significance of High-Rise (adapted from a notoriously unfilmable JG Ballard novel) and it doesn't have any of the Media Studies coursework artiness of A Field In England. What it does have is a straightforward set-up with a small starry cast in one well-used location (and apparently taking place in real time), and which is over in a crisp 90 minutes including credits. And considering it's set overnight in a derelict factory, it's well photographed and you're never lost for what's going on and who's where. It's also fun: zingy, sweary one-liners that come from character rather than the joke book, a solid lineup of character performers (Michael Smiley is probably Man Of The Match) having a great time with the 70s costumes and hair. The setting does obviously bring Tarantino to mind, and Reservoir Dogs in particular (rather moreso than the works of Martin Scorsese who acted as executive producer here), but Free Fire has a much softer and more likeable feel to it.

Against that: it's hard to care very much when Team A are international arms dealers and Team B are supplying the IRA. And to be honest the relentless shooting gets a tad wearisome from time to time, even in a film that's basically the length of a Carry On film. Yet, for some unaccountable reasons, I find I'm thinking of it more favourable than I did while I was actually watching it. I still don't think it's a Great Film and I still don't get Ben Wheatley as a master of cinema, but I can say that it's the film of his that I've most enjoyed and had the most fun with.




I don't generally do comedy. Even limited exposure to the senseless shouting of Will Ferrell, or the stoner/slacker dudery of Seth Rogen, has left the idea of modern mainstream American dimwit comedy entirely moribund and ghastly, even given my tin humerus for things that [1] are clearly meant to be hilariously funny and [2] lots of people hoot themselves hoarse at. Still, it's always good to poke your head round the door from time to time to see if things have picked up, be it the dreaded found-footage horror genre (at the last inspection, they hadn't) or, in this instance, the knuckle-headed high concept festival of mirth and japery that isn't Fist Fight.

Nope, things haven't improved here either, with a film as witless, charmless and utterly infantile as you couldn't imagine. It's the last day of the academic year at the roughest inner city high school in town, with many of the already demoralised staff fearing for their jobs in the face of budget cuts and the students celebrating the end of their education by pranking everybody and everything in sight. Small wonder that ball of anger history teacher Ice Cube snaps and smashes a desk with a fireaxe; less reasonable is his challenging hapless English teacher Charlie Day to a fist fight in the car park after school, like they're twelve.

There might possibly be some mileage (or inchage, anyway) in the idea of a high school where the grown-ups revert to a pre-teen state of stupidity while the students look on in bewilderment and disappointment. But that doesn't work when the kids behave like imbeciles and the staff behave like even bigger imbeciles: the film just passes straight through the event horizon of imbecility into a imbecile black hole that leads to an alternative universe made entirely of imbecilium. Sure, there's a shoehorned hint of social comment about how teachers should be valued and respected in an education system that's more interested in slashing costs and firing experienced staff to boost private corporate revenue, but it's lost in the stupidity, the inappropriate teacher-student sex fantasies, the perpetual comedy gold of drugs and masturbation, the inclusion of Tracy Morgan and a scene in which Day and his daughter perform a sweary rap song to win her talent show, because absolutely nothing on Earth or anywhere else is as intrinsically hilarious as a ten-year old girl repeatedly singing the line "Bitch I Don't Give A F*** About You".

Because that's what we've come to. Look, it's clearly not funny (there was some audible giggling from the back row of Screen 6, but no apparent reason for it), it makes absolutely no sense on any level and there isn't even any suggestion that this seemed like a good idea when they started it. It's not actively offensive, it's just offensively stupid and, like an entirely redundant simile, we could probably manage without it. My fault, my ticket - it's my own time I wasted.