Friday, 31 October 2014

Six films I'll be giving a shit about
in November


INTERSTELLAR
I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to this a lot less now that I've actually seen it. A loose medley of Red Dwarf skits with all the fun removed, it aims for the stars but its narrative inelegance keeps its feet nailed to the earth. (7th)

NOVEMBER MAN
 
Now you might think that November Man looks like complete shit, but look at the evidence: Disney are opening it in the UK on THE SAME DAY as Interstellar. They KNOW they've got a winner on their hands. When that weekend's box office is announced, Inception's Chris Nolan will RUE THE DAY he dared to go up against The Bank Job's Roger Donaldson. (7th)

THE SKELETON TWINS
 
I don't care whether or not this is any good, I would murder my entire family for the chance to spend a minute with Kristen Wiig and there's nothing weird about that whatsoever. (7th)

THE IMITATION GAME
 
Why you wouldn't want to see Bendy Cumbles in anything (except The Fourth Estate) is beyond me, and this looks like he might just save what appears to be a glossy and suspiciously over-dramatic biopic. Oh look, that's exactly what it is. Surprisingly funny and ruddy entertaining though. (14th)

DAVID BOWIE IS
 
Pretty sure I was giving a shit about this last month, not sure why the release date has been pushed back. The hashtag still looks like "David Bowels" so it's not as if they've been busy improving their social media strategy. (18th)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
 
What do YOU do in the shadows, readers? Personally I like to get naked, keep still for as long as possible, wait until everyone's gone to sleep then suddenly leap about and make loud screeching noises. It's literally the most fun you can have in a nursing home. (21st)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal cuts a slim, skeletal figure in Nightcrawler as scruple-blind newshound Lou Bloom, a walking moral and ethical vacuum hunting for the most graphic crime scenes he can find and film. Harvesting images of dead, mangled victims of car crashes and shootings in order to flog the footage to Rene Russo's desperate news director, Bloom stalks the LA night fuelled by the teachings of a thousand internet self-help manuals and the twisted belief that he's performing a vital public service. He's a fascinating character, and Gyllenhaal wears him like a cheap suit, his skin glistening with the oily residue of what presumably used to be Bloom's soul, long since sweated out. It's a shame, then, that Nightcrawler isn't quite the vehicle he deserves: it's like having Huw Edwards presenting an item on skateboarding chickens on an early morning regional bulletin rather than grilling the Prime Minister on the 10 o'clock news.
It's not hard to make out the shadows of movie sociopath standards like Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin lurking behind Lou Bloom's eyes, and like those characters, Bloom is a product of the world he inhabits: a seedy, venal, urban underbelly most of us would rather pretend didn't exist. But Bloom more readily brings to mind a Patrick Bateman before he made his fortune: talking like a shopping channel and single-mindedly carving a path through life at the (occasionally fatal) expense of others, he hasn't yet graduated from socio- to psychopath but you get the impression it's only a matter of time.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Dan Gilroy's film is stylish but flimsy; there is, after all, not much going on beneath the surface of Lou Bloom. And it's fun while it lasts - Gilroy's script guarantees a healthy smattering of jet-black LOLs, he sure can shoot a car chase, the whole shebang is gorgeously lit and Gilroy and his missus - aka Rene Russo - work together to create the kind of past-their-sell-by-date, once-formidable businesswoman part that rarely gets written for actors of her stature. But for all its rather obvious commentary about the amorality of newsgathering in the 21st century, there's not a lot else going on here. Lou Bloom is way more fun than his own story, and the briefest hint of Gyllenhaal letting the Bateman-esque mask slip points towards a madder, ballsier film than the one we get.

Gilroy drops the ball altogether at the film's climax, uncertain how to satisfactorily deal with his protagonist's deeds and apparently offering up a selection of endings for us to choose from. A more daring director could have left a truly shocking taste in the mouth, but Gilroy's last-minute bottling betrays his inexperience: where Lou Bloom deserves a film made by the director of Fight Club, instead he gets one from the writer of Real Steel.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Felony

I've got all the time in the world for Joel Edgerton, part of Animal Kingdom's stunning ensemble cast, co-writer of The Rover and surely about to go global as a blinged-up, eyeliner-wearing Rhamses in Ridley Scott's forthcoming Exodus: Gods And Kings. That's why I sought out Felony, despite it being a straight-to-DVD shelf-botherer in the UK over a year after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Edgerton wrote and stars in Felony, and I was keen to see what he might do with the tale of an honest cop turned rotten. Annoyingly, the answer is nothing at all: Felony is dull, unambitious and chronically disappointing for the hardcore of The Joel Edgerton Fan Club (current membership: one).

Competently but unspectacularly directed by Matthew Saville, Felony stars Edgerton as Mal Toohey, a cop who knocks a kid off his bike while driving drunk. For no compelling reason Mal lies about his involvement in the accident, gets senior detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson, pretty much the best thing on offer here) to cover his tracks and arouses the suspicions of Summer's protégé Jim Melic, played entirely without charisma by A Good Day To Die Hard's Jai Courtney.

For an hour or so Toohey wrestles tediously with his conscience while Melic ponderously digs around for the truth. The two barely share any scenes, rendering their obvious friction toothless, and Courtney is left to argue with Wilkinson in a sequence of painfully imbalanced displays of acting. There's a frustratingly unpursued hint of Toohey's moral compass beginning to spin out of control and a fairly standard point made about the indistinct nature of justice, but a series of late - and increasingly implausible - plot developments suggest that Edgerton found himself desperately trying to inject some oomph into his script.

2013's The Place Beyond The Pines took the honest-cop-forced-to-go-bad idea and squeezed more drama out of it in one act than Felony does in its entire running time, making it hard to recommend this to anyone but The Joel Edgerton Fan Club, and now they've all seen it. I'm not about to renounce my membership (I'm looking forward to Exodus: Gods And Kings too much), but Edgerton needs to seriously up his game before I stop referring to him as co-writer of The Rover and start calling him Owen Lars from the Star Wars prequels.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

LFF 2014: The rest of the fest

Apparently the 2014 London Film Festival ended on Sunday, but we're still truckin' here at The Incredible Suit. Actually we're not, my eyes have melted and my bottom is moulded to the exact shape of seat O16 in the Odeon Leicester Square.

So in order to put my festival coverage out of your misery, I've rounded up the final five films in one convenient, easily-ignorable post so you don't have to waste four more clicks going to posts you won't read. Thanks to the BFI for being ace as usual, although I'm not impressed about the whole Birdman business so we need to talk about that. I'll be round after work today, get the kettle on.

In the meantime, in the unlikely event that anyone gives a shit how I felt about the twenty films I saw at the LFF and would like that information in a handily-ranked list, head this way.


Land Ho!
Septuagenarian brothers-in-law - one an introspective Aussie, the other a brash American - drive a Hummer around Iceland in an attempt by the latter to cheer the former up. A road movie along the lines of The Trip but without the Michael Caine impressions, Land Ho! is largely improvised, its pace as glacial as its setting, and may be just a little too subtle to truly entertain. The odd couple at the centre make a sweet pairing but this is only fractionally more fun than watching your grandparents' holiday video. Contains dangerous levels of Big Country.


Night Bus
Miniscule-budget effort set entirely on the N39 to Leytonstone and featuring a series of observational vignettes aiming to show that all life can be found on London's night buses. This translates as middle-class couples arguing about Stanley Kubrick, teenagers playing music too loud, lives quietly falling apart on opposite ends of phone calls and a driver somehow keeping calm despite the ceaseless churn of numpties passing through his bus. An admirable experiment, well-acted by a largely unknown cast, but this might have worked better as a documentary.


The Drop
Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace bimble through this knotty pulp drama about low-lifes, has-beens and idiots. Solid but unexceptional, it gets by on the charm of its stars and a cute ickle puppy but betrays its short story roots.


The Falling
It's 1969, and a class of English schoolgirls' sexual awakening is signposted by bouts of over-dramatic narcolepsy. Lyrical, obscure and baffling, The Falling has a lovely mood about it and some good work from Game Of Thrones' Maisie Williams, but is ultimately a bit too nebulous to get a firm grasp on its mysteries. (translation: I didn't get it)


Tokyo Tribe
Eye-poppingly mental Japanese gang-war hip-hop musical that looks like the kind of dream you might have after eating a couple of kilos of sakura cheese while knocking back sake and watching a Blade Runner / Batman Forever double bill. With all the excess of Scarface but none of the calmer moments and set to a rap battle soundtrack, Tokyo Tribe boasts a hilarious tiny girl beatboxing, a katana-wielding henchman in a thong with penis envy and a mob boss called Lord Buppa whose look might best be described as Jabba The Hutt in gold lamé. Exploitative but deliriously entertaining trash.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

LFF 2014:
Foxcatcher

There's still no sign of the long-awaited Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks film powerslamming into cinemas any time soon, so in the meantime wrestling fans are going to have to make do with Foxcatcher, a true story even more alarming than that of a 26-stone man called Shirley who wore a leotard for a living. In this tale, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play Mark and Dave Schultz, two past-their-prime Olympian brothers recruited by billionaire oddball John du Pont (Steve Carell) to bring prestige to his latest vanity project: his own wrestling team.

And that, essentially, is it. For the best part of 130 minutes, we watch these three men repeatedly come together and drift apart, their relationships with each other rippling and shifting like Big Daddy's mantits. If you know the true story of du Pont and the Schultzes, you'll know there's a little more to it, but if you don't, good. Keep it that way. Because Foxcatcher's appeal lies in its woozy fug of unease; the sense that somehow, somewhere, something's not quite right, and waiting for it to show itself is half the fun.

Quarter of the fun is in watching Tatum and Ruffalo nailing the brothers' mildly antagonistic relationship with apparently minimal effort: their first scene together, a practice session at older brother Dave (Ruffles)'s run-down, sweat-stained gym, is a complete and thorough portrait of a frayed fraternal bond told completely wordlessly. Wrestling holds become awkward hugs, and the physicality of the sport provides an excuse for barely-concealed feelings to bubble violently to the surface. The remaining 25% of the fun is trying to gauge which bits of Steve Carell's face are real and which are rubber.
The eyeballs are definitely rubber.

Foxcatcher is not a thrilling film. It isn't punctuated by electrifying, Raging Bull-esque fights, and its moments of high drama are few and far between. And frankly that would be a huge problem, were it not for its immensely watchable leads. Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo are incredible here: before long you forget Carell's prosthetic conk and his history of patchy comedies, while Tatum's cauliflower ears, Don Corleone jaw and permanently furrowed brow tell you all you need to know about his character. Ruffles, in a less showy role, is the champ though: slouching through the film like an avuncular ape and sporting a remarkable hairpiece, he's barely recognisable, and convincingly sells the elder Schultz's woes and concerns about his younger brother's new life with du Pont.

Familial connections, both real and manufactured, are at Foxcatcher's dark heart. A spoilt child with severe Mommy issues, John du Pont attempts to buy himself a better family just like his overbearing mother bought his childhood friends. His efforts to become a father figure to Mark Schultz are painfully awkward: the one time du Pont calls Schultz "son", in front of an audience of cash-stuffed associates, is a pointedly graceless episode. And there's no such thing as a happy family, even when you pay for it, as everybody eventually discovers. These are the themes that lend a tragic air to proceedings; air that grows heavy with the threat of an inevitable thunderstorm.

Slow-burning and brooding with an indistinct menace, Foxcatcher takes its sweet time telling its story. Whether the payoff is worth the time director Bennett Miller spends on the buildup will be hotly debated, but don't be mistaken: Foxcatcher is all about the buildup. If that sounds like a slog, then the performances alone are enough to recommend it. And if we can lock Tatum and Ruffalo down for Daddy and Haystacks, then everything will have been worthwhile.

Monday, 20 October 2014

LFF 2014:
Fury

"Don't get too close to anyone," Brad Pitt's Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier warns wet new recruit Norman (Logan Lerman), as the latter begins his tour of duty at the arse end of the 20th century's most extreme exercise in population control. Given that Norman's about to spend the rest of his war wedged inside a sweaty metal box no bigger than a VW Beetle with four other men for whom soap and hot water are occasional luxuries, you'd be forgiven for thinking Pitt's cracking wise. After all, as we see, Norman can barely turn his head inside the titular tank without burying his face in Shia LaBeouf's moustache or Michael Peña's armpit.

But the gag, if it was ever intended, never lands. Because Fury is grim. War is hell and death is everywhere and there's no room inside Wardaddy's steel office for jokes, as Norman discovers when his first task is to remove the bits of his predecessor's face left sliding down the tank's inner walls after an enemy attack. The film is, not without reason, a gruelling way to spend 134 minutes: by the end you'll feel as pulverised by the experience as the poor dead bastard smooshed further into the mud by each steamrolling caterpillar track.

All of which would be fine - I don't mind coming out of a film feeling drained and miserable; God knows I've watched Moonraker often enough - if only Fury had something a bit more original to say. It's a men-on-a-mission movie, episodic in nature and thematically monotone, and as convincing as its leads and its combat scenes are, it never quite finds anything to surprise us with.
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads. Because we've got a tank, which is capable of negotiating almost any solid terrain. I shouldn't have to explain that."

The cinematic equivalent of a Pixies song, Fury opts for a LOUDquietLOUD structure, alternating thundering, seat-shaking battle sequences with more contemplative character moments. The former are spectacular - the combination of practical effects, CGI and rib-rattling sound design is astonishing - while the latter are less successful, partly because it's hard to make out much of what's being mumbled and partly because all the characters slot neatly into predefined stereotypes: reluctant coward with his arc signposted from miles away; charismatic, harsh but fair leader; bible-basher; moron, and so on. And while it's fun to squeeze all those archetypes into a tin can and turn up the heat, Fury doesn't quite deliver the sense of edgy camaraderie you want it to. For all its impressive scenes of widescreen countryside-torching and town-demolishing, I'd have loved to have spent the entire running time cooped up inside the tank with no escape. This could have been some hardcore world war claustrocore, but alas, it wasn't to be.

Fury rumbles on, and so does its message, bellowed in your face throughout a near-interminable climax that stretches itself out to ridiculous length, primarily so it can shoehorn in a handful of requisite war movie clichés. But it fulfils its remit, which is to remind you that war is a big pile of shit and makes monsters of men, and it does so brutally and - for the most part - honestly. If you leave the cinema feeling lucky you didn't witness any of that first hand, then Brad Pitt and his team of inglorious bastards can consider their mission accomplished.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

LFF 2014:
Whiplash

What does it take to be the best of the best? Innate genius? Passion? Endless hours of practice? Sacrifice? Being pushed by a mentor who believes in you? According to Whiplash, the answer is all of the above, but the most important thing is to be viciously abused by that mentor until you're driven to the very limits of your mental and physical capabilities. Few people are prepared to put up with the kind of shit that JK Simmons' terrifying music tutor Terence Fletcher flings at drum student Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), but then - apparently - that's why the best of the best are so few in number. I'm not sure I agree with Whiplash's argument, but it's certainly compelling watching it being put forward.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle's script ruthlessly focuses on the relationship between mentor and student to the expense of all other potential subplots, exactly as Andrew's focus must be on his drumming. Love interests, parental relationships, student rivalries and even a court case are all elements teased but ultimately pushed aside to make way for the central dynamic. And what a dynamic duo these two are. Fletcher most closely recalls Full Metal Jacket's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: a borderline-insane, merciless bastard who can't afford to have the second-best of the best on his team. Simmons is amazing in the role, convincingly nailing the weapons-grade asshole but never losing sight of Fletcher's humanity, no matter how deep it's buried.

Miles Teller is the real star though: required to shift from nervous, sensitive cry-baby to emotionless drumming machine while actually playing like a pro, Teller holds the film's tempo like the musician his character yearns to become. He and Chazelle sell Andrew's passion completely, as sweat is flung off his face and blood soaks through the plasters he's ineffectually wrapped round his blistered and calloused fingers. It's an incredible performance, and Chazelle uses it to force us to ask who's really out of control here - the possibly-psychopathic, chair-hurling teacher, or the student so bursting with energy and hungry for greatness that he'd risk his life to impress him?
Whiplash is technically stunning and aurally thrilling (editing and sound design will be up there with Simmons and Teller come awards season), but the thunderous cacophony drowns out the sound of its own questionable assertion: namely the insistence that single-minded commitment at the expense of basic, decent humanity is the only way to success, and if it takes unbearable bullying from a dangerous maniac to achieve that then so be it. What's more, in Whiplash that success is measured by exactly replicating an artwork to mathematically precise standards: when a stereotypical jock questions whether music should be judged so objectively, he's shut down by Andrew. It's a sign of Andrew's devotion, sure, but the film sides with him completely and we're urged to laugh at the jock's naïvety. Now I'm all for laughing at jocks but I find the idea that art - and specifically music - is not to be questioned or adapted to be massively counter-productive.

You can argue the film's case at length if you like, and indeed it does suggest that success and perfection only make monsters of us all; it just seems to suggest that that's worth it. Fortunately it does it with skill and style and an absolute fucktonne of noise, and it's one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had at this year's London Film Festival.