Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Guest - review

I had never seen Dan Stevens in anything before. Not even his most famous role as a member of the Abbey which just shows that I am not Downton with the kids.

I imagine however that it will be difficult to avoid him over the next few years as his role (and pitch-perfect American accent) in The Guest is likely to propel him to stardom and certainly get offered all the roles that Ryan Gosling would get before his break from acting.

The Guest, with its plot of a soldier who returns from a mission to check on and help the family of a fallen comrade but might not be everything he seems has the makings of a modern take on the 80's genre movies but to say which genres would be spoiling the fun as the film veers off into completely unexpected (but entirely welcome) directions.

There are hints along the way (the opening title font, the synth score, the mention of a location that will ultimately serve as the host for its demented climax) but what sells it is Stevens' ice-cold but charming performance that puts the audience on his side and has it rooting for him all the way, even if he may not be exactly what he says he is.

It might not find its ideal audience at the cinema but this is a Grindhouse-classic in the making that will become a very welcome house Guest on DVD in years to come.

5 stars

Monday, 8 September 2014

Pride - review

Pride is based on the true story of a group called LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) who did exactly that during the 1984 strike by raising money for a Welsh mining town that was suffering at that time.

The film packs a lot into its 120 minute running time.

There is the main thread which looks at the similarities and differences between the two groups and their persecution at the hands of the government and media at that time and how they must overcome any feelings of prejudice to join together.

It also features several subplots for its large ensemble cast which include:

Closeted young man forced to come out to unapproving parents, a return to home in Wales for reconciliation with parent not seen in 15 years, dealing with a potential HIV/AIDS diagnosis, getting a close-knit small town to accept outsiders, a mother learning to make more of herself in terms of employment, etc, etc.

It is difficult for each individual story to get the screen time and closure it needs but most of them are given the appropriate weight due to fantastic ensemble acting from the Pride of Britain including Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Andrew Scott, George Mackay and Ben Schnetzer.

There is not a weak link in the chain which is exactly what you need in a fight against enemies such as politicians, police, press and prejudice.

Not only is Pride suitable for Miners but it is suitable for anyone looking for a feel-good film this year.

4 stars

The Hundred-Foot Journey - review

Slum Hot Dog Millionaire? Slumdog Millionaire Shortbread?

Just two of the alternative titles I came up with to describe this culture-clash movie which sees an Indian family (including a cook with incredible skill and potential) open a restaurant in a small French town opposite a Michelin-star restaurant owned by Dame Helen Mirren's Madame Mallory.

As light and fluffy as a soufflé (or naan bread), the film works best when it is focuses on the rivalry between the two owners and restaurants as they battle to get the upper hand.

Careers, business and emotions rise quicker than freshly baked croissants but it rushes its final act, including an implication of a drinking problem by having a glass of red wine in every scene, and the end result is slightly undercooked and lacking the necessary spice.

3 stars

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Before I Go To Sleep - review

In Before I Go To Sleep, following a vicious attack Nicole Kidman's character suffers from amnesia that causes her to forget everything she has learned that day, thus starting from scratch again each morning.

Her only real source of help is a digital camera in which she records important information.

I bet that Memento's Leonard Shelby is really annoyed they didn't have them back in 2000 when he was stuck using post it notes and tattoos!

The story has a great hook of someone trying solve a crime like to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle when you don't know how many pieces are involved or what the final picture looks like.

However you yourself could be suffering from short term memory loss and still be able to work out the twists and turns that appear during the third act.

The irony is that while the movie is an enjoyable thriller, it is ultimately rather forgettable and will begin to fade from memory as soon as you leave the cinema.

3 stars

If I Stay - review

Like the EMTs that were attending to Mia Hall and her family following the crash that puts the events of If I Stay in motion, I didn't hold out much hope for this film based on yet another Young Adult novel.

Cut to 107 minutes later and I found myself surprisingly moved by this tale of a young girl dreaming of becoming a cello player at Juillard who experiences an out-of-body experience whilst in a coma and reflects on her life and relationships with her family and rocker boyfriend to decide whether or not to stay alive.

I know the exact moment any resistance to what could have been an incredibly mawkish and overly sentimental film faded away, and it was when Stacy Keach delivered a moving and emotional speech to Chloe Moretz's Mia by her bedside telling her it was ok to let go.

From that point on, I was completely on board with the story and furthered by strong performances from Moretz, Mirielle Enos and Joshua Leonard as her rocker parents and Jamie Blackley as her boyfriend Adam.

There is the odd minor bum note (like when Moretz's head is rather obviously CGI-d onto the body of someone else playing the cello) but otherwise this is worth staying to the end for.

3 stars

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

To Catch A Thief - review

Strange to think that Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all-time favourite directors yet I had never seen To Catch A Thief in all its Vistavision glory before but that glaring omission was rectified thanks to the recent re-release from Park Circus.

Hitchcock's tale of sun, sea, seduction and stolen jewels on the French Riviera is enough to banish every memory of the last time I saw "Grace Kelly" in France in the awful Grace Of Monaco.

Grace Kelly simply shines as the daughter and heiress of a target for the cat burglar that Cary Grant's smooth former thief is trying to catch in order to clear his name.

Hitchcock has always been more recognised for his darker films such as Psycho and Vertigo but they always had a sense of humour (however black) and this is "Hitch" at his most light and playful.

The chemistry between Grant and Kelly is simply delightful and their flirtatious wit and dialogue sparkles more than any diamond "the cat" might steal.

4 stars

Mystery Road - review

The Australian Outback certainly seems to be the destination hotspot for movies this year with The Inbetweeners and The Rover both making Tracks down that Mystery Road.

An aboriginal cop returns to his home town to find that drugs and racism are running rampant and his first case, investigating the death of a young girl, could set him on a collision course with his fellow cops in a tale of drugs, prostitution, corruption and murder that makes L.A. Confidential or Chinatown seem straightforward.

The cinematography is stunning at times, Aaron Pedersen gives a strong lead performance and is backed up with menacing support by Hugo Weaving who's motives are never clear.

It starts off very promisingly but threatens to collapse like an undercooked soufflé at the end, with more loose ends than The Big Sleep, and a shoot out with unintentionally silly deaths with sound effects that resemble a GTA game.

In the end Mystery Road is very similar to the Australian outback in which it is set. It's harsh, unforgiving, seems to go on forever and will leave you with a feeling of emptiness.

3 stars