Honeymoon (Dir, Leigh Janiak, 2014) 2.5/5*
Hmm. If I’m honest, I chose to watch this because I knew Harry Treadaway was going to be in it. Now, that is no guarantee of quality, of course, but if there is such a thing as hedging your bets, than that is as valid as anything. I’d enjoyed Fish Tank and Control enough to know that he would provide a decent performance. What I knew about Rose Leslie, well, Game of Thrones just about says it all, despite, hand on heart, never remembering her ever having been in it (I only watched the first season which may explain this ignorance, I don’t know). And Honeymoon doesn’t start auspiciously, though it is notable by the cliches. Wood, cabin, no internet or cellphone access. Young, happy newlyweds, in love. Isn’t everything in the world just so bloody perfect? Typical then, and quietly satisfying for the cynics, that something truly horrible is bound to happen to them. Think you’ve seen this before? Well, you haven’t, but you very nearly have. Thankfully, Janiak skirts away from the expected almost as quickly as the characters arrive on the trip to celebrate their wedded bliss, and you might not expect what is presented before you. There are nods to other films of the genre which you will most likely recognise and the slow-burn plot with a lack of discernible predictability is not only refreshing, but surprising too, given that we could rightly have expected something much less considered. The performances from both Leslie and Treadaway are very good and the script thankfully avoids the opportunity for too much anarchy in the woods. The tiny budget and the tiny cast list probably help with the intended feelings of claustrophobia and the paranoia and eventual menace is always tantalisingly close to the surface, threatening to boil over into something that never, thankfully, arrives. Engaging to an extent, the characters are probably not that endearing to begin with, so feeling for their plight may be a little tricky, but nevertheless, kudos to the cast and crew for trying something out of the ordinary that will keep you interested, which is no mean feat. A nice surprise may be overstating its value and tone somewhat, but regardless, this is still a pleasing find, with an admittedly aggravating ending.
Paddington (Dir, Paul King, 2014) 3/5*
As an example of targeted marketing, Paul King’s partly animated adventure of a young Peruvian bear’s arrival in London couldn’t really be hailed as a success. Why? Well, I know Paddington from being a young child myself. I am not unique in this respect, as he was a popular staple of many young children’s entertainment diet in the 1970’s. When I heard of its impending cinematic release, I slumped, thinking that this is just one more example of my childhood being ripped to shreds for the purposes of ugly corporate profit. It just wouldn’t be the same, the cgi would kill the charm and magic of the original television series and the wit and verve of Bond’s writing just wouldn’t fit in a modern, less innocent age. I avoided the trailer and was in no hurry to see the film at all. When it landed on my desk, I thought of the BAFTAs and decided to check it out. And yes, whilst it is undeniably fun and rooted in British sensibilities and tone, it still definitely feels like a standalone venture. The performances from the whole cast are fine, with Hugh Bonneville probably the highlight. The special effects on Paddington himself are often very surprising albeit occasionally a bit twee. I wondered beforehand about the PG rating, curious as to what it was about the film that stopped it from being the ‘U’ I honestly expected it to be and given the BBFC definition, I can (I suppose) agree that under eights may find the odd scene a little harrowing. In all, its pretty harmless stuff that is inspired by but does not ape the original source material. It raises a couple of laughs, but really not as funny as it might/should have been, given the cast. And Nicole Kidman? Wow!
Son Of A Gun (Dir, Julius Avery, 2015) 3.5/5*
Two appearances from Alicia Vikander in as many weeks, and they really couldn’t be farther removed. First as Ava in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and now here, playing Tasha, someone altogether more human. The story of young mans incarceration threatens to go all ‘Starred Up’ on us early on, but the meat of this sandwich doesn’t involve being locked up for long. When our hero(?) JR (Brendan Thwaites) meets Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) in prison, he not only benefits to the tune of a very well connected protector, but also an employer upon his release. His first job when out of prison is to break Brendan out with the help of Brendan’s network of nefarious rogues. What follows is sometimes a brutal, harsh, yet glamorous existence that appears to provide enough fringe benefits to turn a young mans’ head. Honour amongst thieves is questioned and the double-crossing is both exciting and thrilling and you’re never quite sure if anybody actually trusts anybody else, which makes for a compelling finale. Altogether, some excellent performances by the whole cast, with an intriguing and surprisingly rounded performance from McGregor as ultimate bad guy but possibly retaining a heart of gold. Ultimately satisfying with drama and tension throughout, this is worth a watch if you appreciate a gritty, edge of the seat, project.
The Book Of Life (Dir, Jorge R. Gutiérrez, 2014) 2.5/5*
Other worldliness has long been a thing for Guillermo Del Toro and you can see his influence here on the style and direction of Gutierrez. Garish palettes and inventive world creations are the order of the day, and without the vivid, eclectic imaginations at work here, this could easily have driven audiences away, not being the most accessible of tales, particularly for the very young and the casual movie-goer that may not take to the animated story of a young bullfighter trying to win the love of his childhood sweetheart in the face of machinations of others more powerful than he can possibly imagine, for nothing more than a bet. Trading Places? Well, partly yes, but there is as much Dante’s Inferno hinted at here, with our hero being forced to travel through unusual, bewildering and mesmerising worlds in order to achieve his goals. There are songs, dancing, comedy and a liberal dash of adventure, but just how close you get to the characters is questionable. If anything, the story could bear to be a little more warm and less, well, snappy is probably the best way to describe the feel of the whole thing. It looks sumptuous, to be sure, and the animation is as unusual as the creators could make it, but perhaps it just requires a little more heart to warm the audience fully.
Intermission! – Cinema Sins – The Fifth Element!!
Mortdecai (Dir, David Koepp, 2015) 3/5*
Divisive (adjective) – tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people. The fiftieth (yes, you read that right) film I’ve seen this year comes in the form of a Terry Thomas-esque romp starring Johnny Depp as Charlie Mortdecai, debonair art dealer and incorrigible rogue, who is forced by necessity (see MI5) to recover and deliver a painting that has fallen into the wrong hands. Unless you actually live under a rock, you will already be more than aware of Depp’s ability and penchant for the portrayal of more glamorous, ebullient characters and Mortdecai is certainly no exception. Whether he is as appealing as some of his other creations, well, that is something else entirely. And that largely depends on who you are. I’ve heard as many people mention how much they disliked the film as others who have positively gushed over its very existence. What can’t be argued is that the script is, frankly, glorious. The words put into the mouths of these characters are plummy and gorgeously considered so much, that you may end up taking more from this by what is heard than what is seen. The more cynical amongst you may well consider this a step backwards as Mortdecai seems to be something of a relic of a bygone era and quite, quite repellent. This is true, but we also need to ask ourselves that if this wasn’t such a great performance, would we have felt so repelled by him? Additionally, this is something of a romp. It never quite reaches farce, but threatens to go close (he does end up with his trousers round his ankles at least once) on occasion, which personally would have put me off completely. Interestingly enough, there is a cameo from Paul Whitehouse here and many will have already been put in mind of at least one of his own creations even before you see him on screen, but we can be sure that this is not accidental, so close does Depp come to plagiarising him. In all, this is great fun throughout and this is Depp’s film, without doubt. Great support from Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow and a brilliant performance from Paul Bettany as Jock the man-servant, make this an often funny, always engaging experience. Like Marmite, however, your enjoyment will stand or fall on your appreciation of Mortdecai and Depp’s portrayal. Love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to fall in the middle in this regard.
Days And Nights (Dir, Christian Camargo, 2014) 1.5/5*
There’s a point in the song ‘Done’ by The Band Perry which pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about Days And Nights. It occurs at precisely three minutes in and goes something like this – “urghh!” This is meant to, I’m sure, pronounce the singers’ exasperation with their lot and the wish that they could change it, seeing as how they are completely tired of putting up with it. Ipso facto, not feeling overly patient and with regard to gladly suffering fools? Well, no. Not going to do it. Based on Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, this requires fully formed and rounded characters from the outset and most cinema audiences will have trouble engaging with the ones offered here. You could rightly call this a ‘slog’ and it appears that the people that will get the most out of this are the performers themselves. It’s an actors piece, to be sure, if only for the fact that actors themselves may be the only people to really appreciate it. I am not one. So logic therefore dictates I will not appreciate it as much. This doesn’t lessen the performances, only my understanding of the plot and the motivations of the characters themselves. As an artistic piece, I am sure it has credit and value, but I am looking for more than merely acting chops. I am after a story I can comprehend, to be entertained, to relate to (even tangentially) and appreciate. Hmm, well, let’s not hold our collective breath, shall we?
Wild Card (Dir, Simon West, 2015) 1.5/5*
Never threatening to tax your gray matter too harshly, Simon West re-unites here with Jason Statham in a story of a Las Vegas bodyguard with an accompanying gambling addiction, a good heart and a short fuse. As an action adventure, it occasionally rewards the viewer with scenes that impress in a fisticuffs type fashion, although they are few and far between. I counted two real fight scenes in an hour and a half, which if you like that type of thing, feels like short change. Statham wanders about looking pensive, like one of Danny Dyer’s wet dreams. This is pretty formulaic stuff, with Statham leading the charge of verbally challenged grunts and even Milo whatshisface from Heroes playing a villain (yes, really). Given the fact that The Gambler is here right now doing the rounds with mostly good responses, you have to feel sorry for Statham and West, because given that they are both remakes involving gambling addiction, this lacks just about everything that the Mark Wahlberg project revels in. The Gambler is cool, well written and well delivered. This, just isn’t.
Two Night Stand (Dir, Max Nichols, 2014) 3.5/5*
Arriving here in the UK in about four weeks is Max Nichols’ Two Night Stand, a romantic comedy that, after Whiplash, I was much more interested in seeing than I was before, seeing as it stars Miles Teller. You’ll already know I wasn’t a big fan of his before ‘that drumming movie’, but have since found a new, albeit tentative, admiration for his work. And I was suitably rewarded for taking a punt. This intimate, delightfully constructed play-on-film takes place in one apartment almost in its entirety. Concerning itself with the blossoming relationship of Megan (Analeigh Tipton) and Alec (Teller), a pair of strangers thrown together initially by lust and then by snow, as they are forced to spend a couple of nights together when the weather takes a turn for the worse. As romantic comedies go, this avoids becoming too cliched and cheesy, retaining a quality script and admirable performances throughout, particularly from Tipton, who is both sweet and funny throughout. The characters are well realised through some impressive writing which many will find both identifiable and realistic.Thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.
Song of the Week – It’s Ellie Goulding and Love Me Like You Do from Fifty Shades of Grey.
Well, that’s all folks for another week. Thanks as always for turning up and reading my gibberish. Looking at next weeks’ schedule, top of the bunch for finger-pointing scrutiny will, of course, be the new Wachowski siblings project, Jupiter Ascending. Will it be as bloody awful as everyone has said? We’ll see. That and an amply proportioned dollop of supporting features are promised. So see you then.
Love and slop