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Monday, 20 November 2017

Baby Driver, Dark Night, Office Christmas Party: Your Week In Film (November 20-26)

Wheel deal? Edgar Wright's Baby Driver never quite hits top gear

The best and worst of the week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated. Apologies for this column's enforced hiatus last week - to make up for it, there will be TWO instalments this week...

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful 

You have to feel sorry for Edgar Wright. His fifth film Baby Driver (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½ was a bonafide box-office smash back in the summer, with critics falling over themselves to hurl four and five-star reviews in its direction. And then, just before its home entertainment release, the whole Kevin Spacey scandal blew up in the director's face. Your screen bad guy turns out to be a pretty shitty operator in real life too, and suddenly, that groovy heist movie everyone was so in love with a few months ago somehow seems a little less appealing, although probably more so than being stuck in a lift with Sex Luthor himself.

Seeing as how Wright didn't have time to digitally swap the former Keyser Söze for Christopher Plummer (as Ridley Scott is doing for All The Money In The World), Baby Driver will just have to do as it is – stylish, fast-paced and entertaining enough, albeit not a patch on Wright's best work (Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Ansel Elgort is the titular Baby, a hearing-impaired and decidedly reluctant getaway driver for Spacey's crime boss, Doc. When Baby meets, and falls for, bored diner waitress Debora (Lily James), he recognises a kindred spirit and decides his life of crime is over. But slipping out of Doc's clutches – as well as those of his criminal gang, which includes Jamie Foxx and John Hamm – might be a getaway beyond even Baby's abilities.

The idea of flipping the script on classic driving films (The Driver, Drive, Vanishing Point) by putting a young, tinnitus-afflicted music nerd front and centre, rather than the usual glowering, charismatic maverick, is a good one. Setting the whole thing to a glorious, uplifting soundtrack, which includes T.Rex, Jonathan Richman, and The Damned, is even better. But somehow Baby Driver never quite hits top gear. James is wasted as little more than a damsel in distress, the driving stunts have been done better elsewhere (although kudos to Wright for eschewing the use of CGI), and Baby himself is an oddly unlovable titular character. Style over substance can be enormous fun, and this certainly has some moves, but there's a distinct "is that all there is?" feel here that sets in about halfway through and is hard to shake. 

Lawless: Hearing-impaired Baby is desperate to escape his life of crime

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado cinema mass shooting, in which 12 people died at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, provides the inspiration for low-key indie oddity Dark Night (DVD and VOD) WW. Over the course of 80 or so minutes, we see half-a-dozen strangers – most of them young, all of them fictitious (this is no documentary or recreation) – going about the minutiae of everyday life, whether it's skateboarding, hanging out with loved ones, endless selfie-taking or working out, before heading off to see the titular movie, where most will face almost certain death or horrific injury.

Writer/director Tim Sutton doesn't over-dramatise these people's existences or even strive to make them especially interesting. He focuses on small moments, and there are a great many of them, as there would be for any one of us. The only real suspense comes early on when you are trying to work out which of the main characters is going to be the shooter – the former army veteran (Eddie Cacciola), the gun nut with the scary eyes (Robert Jumper), or the discomfiting loner (Aaron Purvis), being interviewed on camera with his mum, for reasons which are never made clear (I even wondered if his sequences were set AFTER the shooting, which would be a smart twist).

Dark Night does a fine job of showing how horror and tragedy can strike anywhere, at any time, and is keen to deviate from the usual drama template – these characters do not die heroic, meaningful deaths, they're gunned down by an evil fuck with too many weapons and a grudge against the world. They don't get a chance to say goodbye to loved ones, fulfil their promise, or even finish that novel or video game. If Sutton's film is about anything, it's life's terrible impermanence, a reflectiveness it shares with A Ghost Story and Marjorie Prime, both also released this year.

If there's a problem, it's that most of the director's characters are too thinly drawn to truly care about, the couple of exceptions difficult to empathise with. That said, some scenes pack a punch, particularly one in which our would-be killer puts his gun to an ex-girlfriend's window, while she is conducting a guitar lesson. Teacher and student are totally oblivious to the fact they are only the squeeze of a trigger from death. The rest of the film doesn't quite live up to this moment of heart-stopping menace, although Sutton's haunting third feature sticks around in your head for a few days after you first see it. In fact, the more you think about Dark Night, the better it becomes, pretty much the exact opposite of the horror that inspired it then.

Under the gun: Dark Night is a haunting and low-key indie drama

Like a lot of modern Hollywood comedies, Office Christmas Party (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW gets by on sheer likeability and a modicum of irascible charm. TJ Miller (formerly of Silicon Valley) is Clay Vanstone, a benevolent boss battling to keep the Chicago branch of his late father's tech company open, despite his venomous CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) doing everything in her power to close it down. It's good capitalist versus bad capitalist, with a workforce including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, and Kate McKinnon caught in the crossfire.

In one last desperate bid to save their jobs, Miller and Co throw a Christmas party for a prospective client with pockets deep enough to keep the branch afloat. Things, of course, get out of hand, and it isn't long before a drugs, booze and sex-filled bacchanalia is in full swing, with wanton vandalism and extensive property damage thrown in for good measure.

The first hour, where it's all about the party shenanigans, is good fun, before boring old plot considerations take us out of the office and straight off a bridge (quite literally). You'll be unsurprised to hear Saturday Night Live's McKinnon, as the company's uptight head of HR, steals the show. I'd watch a sequel with her as its star in a heartbeat.

Snow fool: TJ Miller brings the chaos in Office Christmas Party

What I shall be watching this week: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, Paddington 2, and Justice League.

The UK's Top 10 best-selling DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. Despicable Me 3
2. Cars 3
3. Baby Driver
4. Paddington
5. Beauty And The Beast
6. Transformers: The Last Knight
7. Moana
8. Fast & Furious 8
9. The Mummy
10. Wonder Woman

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Bad Santa 2, 6 Days, and Bobbi Jene: Your Week In Film (November 6-12)

Armed and dangerous: Jamie Bell is SAS man Rusty Firmin in 6 Days

The best and worst of this week's UK home entertainment releases, on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All titles mentioned are available to rent, buy and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful WWW - Worthwhile WW - Watchable W - Woeful 

There are more than a few clunky moments in 6 Days (Netflix) WW but, for the most part, Toa Fraser's film is an absorbing recreation of 1980's Iranian Embassy siege in west London, in which terrorists stormed the building and took everyone inside hostage. A six-day stand-off ensued as an army of journalists and photographers gathered outside and members of the SAS prepared to launch a daring rescue attempt, an operation that was ultimately broadcast live to millions of TV viewers.

The film divides up its time between four main characters and cuts back and forth between them: Mark Strong's chief negotiator DCI Max Vernon, SAS man Rusty Firmin, played by Jamie Bell, BBC reporter Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish), and Salim (Ben Turner), one of the embassy gun men. For the most part, this approach works really well, making for a tight 94-minute drama in which the pace rarely lags. Unfortunately, the moments with Adie feel a bit pointless because they do little to actually advance the story, and there were even times I found myself giggling helplessly at Cornish's weird attempt at capturing the reporter's accent. It's true that Adie is pretty much the only woman with a proper speaking role in the film (then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remains off camera throughout) but surely they could have done a bit more with her or even focused on another female character instead; one of the hostages, perhaps? 

Some of the dialogue is a bit clumsy as well (at one point a tabloid journalist actually says the words "If it bleeds, it leads"), while you know the SAS men are rock-hard proper bloody blokes because they all say fuck, chew gum and have Burt Reynolds moustaches. They look so much alike, they could be brothers. That said, Strong brings gravitas to everything he's in (even insufferable tosh like that last Kingsman movie) and the moments when we see the SAS rehearsing possible tactics, and mostly fouling them up, really adds to the tension. It's also refreshing to see a film that actually takes a moment to explain why the gunmen had been motivated to act so violently in the first place (they were part of a nationalist movement trying to pressure the Iranian government into establishing an autonomous Arab state in an oil-rich part of the country). At times, though, 6 Days feels more like a gritty Channel 4 drama than a movie you'd actually pay to see at the cinema, but that's par for the course with a fair few of these Netflix Originals. I guess we should just get used to it. 

On a knife edge: 6 Days recreates 1980's Iranian Embassy siege

Bobbi Jene (MUBI) WWW was voted Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April and it is easy to see why. Elvira Lind's second film is a raw and intimate portrait of Bobbi Jene Smith, a contemporary dancer based at the acclaimed Batsheva company in Tel Aviv, Israel. When we first meet her, the then 30-year-old is planning permanent return to her US homeland after 10 years. There are two strands to Lind's film – Smith's desire to strike out and explore her art on her own terms, and the impact this has on her relationship with Israeli boyfriend and fellow dancer, Or, who does not make the trip to the States.

Smith clearly adores Or and the physicality of their attraction is something Lind captures perfectly, but the real love of her life is her craft. At one point she discusses how "gaga" – the tough dance discipline particular to Batsheva – helped her conquer an eating disorder and you don't doubt it for a moment, such is Smith's commitment to and immersion in its principles.

When the film begins it is easy to dismiss Smith's relocation dilemma as the most first world of first-world problems, but my respect for her steadily grew. Just seeing Smith warm up is exhausting, let alone watching her actually perform. She dances one self-choreographed piece completely naked which, even with a dancer's perfectly toned body, is an incredibly daunting undertaking in front of an audience only a few feet away. Lind's film unearths a fearless, ferocious artist and Bobbi Jene is therefore worthy of your attention, whether you know anything about contemporary dance or not.


The dance of reality: Bobbi Jene faces a big dilemma 

Terry Zwigoff's original Bad Santa (2003) was a perfect blend of black-hearted cynicism and unalloyed charm. It was a profane but sweet-natured joy, with Billy Bob Thornton's boozy conman Willie Soke spitting out foul but hilarious one-liners while trying to suppress fatherly feelings for Thurman (Brett Kelly), a supremely naïve young boy convinced department store Santa Soke was the real Father Christmas. It really didn't need a sequel but, here we are, 14 years on and Bad Santa 2 (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW comes clattering down the chimney whether we like it or not.

Mark Waters' film has a lot to live up to and, of course, fails to do so. That isn't to say it's terrible though. In this second instalment, Soke has returned to his life of rampant alcoholism and criminality after the original's "happy ending" quickly went sour. He is reunited with Marcus (Tony Cox), despite being betrayed and shot by him in the original movie. A welcome addition to the cast is Kathy Bates, playing Willie's mum Sunny, and the three of them plot to rip off a children's charity run by Christina Hendricks' frustrated Diane and her creepy husband, Regent (Ryan Hansen). Thurman returns from the first film all grown up but is rather underused.

It's astonishingly crass and incredibly vulgar but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, even though you'll most likely hate yourself for cracking up at jokes so scatalogical they make Roy Chubby Brown sound like Joyce Grenfell. It has little of the original film's charm which means Bad Santa 2 eventually runs out of gas, but director Waters (Mean Girls) just about gets away with it because his cast clicks so well. Bates looks like she's having the time of her life as a woman so awful she refers to her only son Willie as "shit stick", while Thornton is as eminently watchable as ever. 

X-rated Xmas: Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie Soke

Film of the week: Bobbi Jene

What I shall be watching this week: I'm not exactly excited about either Murder On The Orient Express or Breathe, but maybe one of them will surprise me.

My first full-length review for Film Inquiry went up last week. You can read it here.

Top 10 best-selling UK DVD/Blu-rays (films only)

1. Transformers: The Last Knight
2. The Mummy
3. Fast & Furious 8
4. Beauty And The Beast
5. Moana
6. Wonder Woman
7. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge
8. Hampstead
9. My Cousin Rachel
10. Paddington

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

My Cousin Rachel, Alone In Berlin, The Lure: Your Week In Film (October 30-November 5)

A fishy tail: The Lure is one of the strangest films you'll ever see

This week's highs and lows in UK home entertainment, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. All films are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Release-wise, it's a funny old week, for the most part a mix of films I've either already covered (The Villainess, It Comes At Night) or am actively avoiding (Hampstead, Transformers: The Last Knight). As a result, this week's column is a bit of a mishmash of new stuff and titles from the last month I hadn't yet got round to covering...

My criticisms of the Criterion Collection haven't really altered any since the last time I mentioned it - the discs remain too expensive (£18) and the company's habit of releasing stuff already available in the UK can be downright annoying. That said, they have such a wide and impressive range of titles that you'd pretty much forgive them anything, especially when picture and sound quality are so high and the extras are never less than exemplary. Occasionally, the company's release schedule throws out a real curveball, too, which brings me to The Lure (Dual format) WWWW.

A Polish musical about mermaids, it comes on like the bastard child of David Lynch and Guillermo Del Toro, although, if The Shape Of Water is anything to go by, I suspect the latter is a big fan of Agnieszka Smoczynska's 2015 film. It sees two fish-tailed young women -  Srebrna (Marta Mazurek) and Zlota (Michalina Olszanska) - come ashore in Warsaw and join a seedily glamorous cabaret. They sing, they strip, they show off their impressively gigantic tails for boozed-up punters who probably think they've had one vodka too many. Srebna assimilates into human society with ease and even starts a relationship with a member of the house band, but Zlota is less willing to give up her species' traditions and it isn't long before she's stalking the Warsaw night looking for men to eat. Yes, these mermaids aren't exactly Daryl Hannah in Splash!

I'm not going to lie to you, this is a gloriously odd film with the frequent musical numbers (a version of Donna Summer's I Feel Love sets the tone) merely adding to its sense of derangement. The Lure has a woozy, fairy-tale quality and elements of horror flit in and out during a tight 92-minute running time. It's seedy and unsettling too, but is, at heart, a coming-of-age story about two naïve young women going to the big city and having their lives irrevocably changed by the experience. It's been a while since I've seen anything quite like it (Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution or Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin are fellow travellers) and would really urge you to get your hands on a copy. You'll thank me, really you will.

Siren song: Two mermaids join a Polish cabaret in The Lure 

We're well used to seeing resistance to Hitler and the Nazis depicted on screen from the perspective of plucky Brits, brave Yanks and stoic Russians. But it's somewhat rarer to witness it from the point of view of the Führer's own countrymen, who are usually characterised as little more than one-dimensional persecutors or cannon fodder. Vincent Perez's Alone In Berlin (DVD and VOD) WWW takes a small but impressive step to redress that imbalance, focusing as it does on a true story from the Second World War's early days.

It's 1940 and following the death of their only son in the conflict, working-class Berliners Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna Quangel (Emma Thompson) commence a small-scale act of rebellion against their country's tyrannical leader and the war machine over which he presides. Otto writes a series of anti-Hitler slogans and screeds on postcards, and he and Anna surreptitiously leave them around the city for people to find. Of course, many are handed in to the authorities and Daniel Brühl's local policeman quickly comes under pressure from the Gestapo to root out the perpetrators.

Everyone just about gets away with their German accents, but, beyond that, the performances are quite something. Gleeson is a quiet ball of rage and grief, having to keep his heretical anti-Nazi thoughts to himself, but desperate to shout them from the rooftops. Thompson is if anything even more impressive, her seeming reserve disguising a spirit keen for revenge, however small that payback may be. Without going into spoiler territory, Brühl has the most difficult task and I'm not sure I quite bought into his character's journey. But that's a minor niggle in what is a low-key but powerful piece of work. Additionally, it offers a snapshot of Berlin society during wartime, mostly devoid of the over-rehearsed stereotypes of which we have become far too familiar. 

House of cards: Gleeson and Thompson take on the Nazis

Films concerning impossibly cute, outrageously precocious moppets are, under normal circumstances, my kryptonite. But Gifted (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW is so ridiculously charming, so well written and acted, that it inveigled itself into my affections in no time at all.

Chris Evans (Captain America) is Frank, a teacher-turned-boat-mechanic trying to give his late sister's mathematically gifted daughter, seven-year-old Mary (McKenna Grace), as normal an upbringing as possible. But when the girl's grandmother turns up (Lindsay Duncan), the pair clash over the direction her education should take, leading to legal action, deception and heartbreak.

This is family-based drama of the finest calibre with superb performances all round. Duncan (who elevates everything she is in) is terrific here as the scheming, manipulative Evelyn, who thinks she has her granddaughter's best interests at heart. The scenes in which she and Evans argue are the film's best, not because there is shouting or violence but because they ring so true - brutal one minute, affectionate the next, just like any family bust-up tends to be. Young Grace is the star of Marc Webb's film, though, turning in the best performance from a child actor I've seen since Jacob Tremblay in Room. Yes, she's really that good.


It's a Gift: Chris Evans stars in a likable, heartfelt drama

My Cousin Rachel (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW is a passable but rather unmemorable adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel of the same name from Notting Hill (1999) director Roger Michell. Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) plays the titular character, a mysterious Contessa possibly responsible for the death of Ambrose (an uncredited Deano Bugatti), beloved guardian to Sam Clafin's Philip. When Rachel - a distant cousin of both men - appears at Philip's Cornwall estate, he intends to confront her, but is instead disarmed by the woman's charm and beauty. He of course falls in love with her and the rest of the film lets you mull over whether she is a cold, calculating femme fatale or an innocent victim of falsehood (Weisz is genuinely unreadable in the central role).

The whole thing rattles along agreeably with little to raise the hackles but, somehow, apart from the central guessing game, this gothic romance does little to truly draw you in either. It's nicely acted and nicely shot, but a premise that should grab you by the lapels only really does so in an impressively worked and melodramatic climax. It's easy to like, then, but difficult to love.

Kissin' Cousins: Is Rachel a scheming femme fatale?

Film of the week: The Lure

What I'm seeing this week: It's an indie double bill of Call Me By Your Name and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer for me.  

Top 10 UK DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. The Mummy
2. Fast & Furious 8
3. Wonder Woman
4. Moana
5. Beauty And The Beast (2017)
6. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge
7. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 4 - The Long Haul
8. Cult Of Chucky
9. Sing
10. Baywatch

Monday, 23 October 2017

Your Week In Film: The Babysitter, Brawl In Cell Block 99, and The Mummy (October 23-29)

Sitting target: McG's back with an enjoyable comic-horror romp

This week's best and worst in home entertainment on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. All films mentioned here are available to buy, rent, or stream now, unless otherwise stated. This week's is an extra-length column, following its extended break... 

Ratings guide:  WWWW – Wonderful  WWW – Worthwhile  WW – Watchable  W – Woeful

Under normal circumstances director McG's return to filmmaking, for the first time since 2014's critically-derided 3 Days To Kill, would be about as welcome as waking up to find Leatherface taking a dump on your duvet. But comedy-horror The Babysitter WWW (Netflix) – released just in time for Halloween – is enormous fun.

Australian actress Samara Weaving (soon to be seen in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is Bee, the titular 'sitter with a big secret. Judah Lewis (easily the best thing about 2015's Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle, Demolition) is 12-year-old Cole, left in Bee's supposedly capable hands when his parents go away for the weekend. The pair bond over old movies and swap nerd culture references but, when Cole decides to see what Bee gets up to when he's usually asleep, proceedings head off into far darker terrain. It turns out she isn't the sweet but tough young woman Cole has fallen head over heels with, but a cold-blooded killer in league with Satan (this isn't a spoiler, it's right there in the trailer).

The Babysitter has several things going for it: fine central performances, a short, sharp running time (85 minutes), and a surprisingly winning mix of charm and gore. Weaving has mostly done TV work so far (including 300+ episodes of Aussie soap Home And Away), but I suspect a spot on the Hollywood A-list will be her ultimate destination. She might have the looks of an All-American cheerleader but has a slightly off-kilter and otherworldly quality about her too, which suggests she could bring something unique to a whole range of parts. Here, her sudden switch from "cool big sister" figure to demonic psycho is genuinely discomfiting (the really chilling thing about the movie is not its violence but the fact someone you think you know and love is the polar opposite of what they seem). This is Weaving's film then, although Lewis acquits himself well as the bullied young milquetoast who has to step up when shit gets real, while McG suits this kind of wackily-inventive teen horror material far better than he ever did the likes of Terminator Salvation. 

The Devil's own: Satanists come a calling in The Babysitter

Writer/director Jeremy Rush has obviously seen Steven Knight's Locke (2013), starring Tom Hardy, and thought to himself, "What if this guy wasn't some Welsh construction manager, who's knocked up a woman on a one-night stand, but a getaway driver in over his head when a job goes south?" And so we have Wheelman (Netflix) WW, which nicks Locke's idea of setting almost an entire film inside a car, in the company of one main character.

Frank Grillo (The Purge: Election Year) is the Wheelman of the title (we never learn his real name), working for the mob to pay them off for "looking after him" in prison. When a bank robbery he's involved in blows up in his face, Wheelman realises he's been double-crossed and must find out why and by whom. His quest involves him racing about an unnamed city in his motor, taking call after call from a number of friends, foes and family, while wracking his brains for a way out of the mess.

The aptly named Rush channels everything from Michael Mann's Collateral to Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, as he serves up a series of fast-paced, neon-soaked, night-time action sequences, ratcheting up the tension every time our protagonist receives a call from a mysterious threatening voice. Some of the twists and turns later on, involving Wheelman's daughter and estranged wife, are a bit predictable but grizzled Grillo's very good and the whole thing is effectively and economically told.

Locke and load: There's something familiar about Wheelman

Crime of a different kind informs S Craig Zahler's violent prison flick, Brawl In Cell Block 99 (cinemas and VOD) WWW. Vince Vaughn is former boxer-turned-drug runner Bradley Thomas, sentenced to seven years in prison when delivery of a consignment of narcotics goes catastrophically wrong, and, instead of escaping, he steps in to stop his partners-in-crime firing on police officers. But Thomas's heroics have pissed off the wrong people and soon his pregnant wife (Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter) has been kidnapped and he must engineer a move to a different, tougher jail to carry out a hit on another inmate to pay off his "debt".

I had problems with Zahler's last film, the horror-western Bone Tomahawk, but this is a nastily brutal treat, that starts off as something quite close to a character study, before exploding into skull-stamping, limb-shattering life in its breathlessly-paced second half. Vaughn is the best he's been in years - possibly since his breakthrough role in Swingers (1996). Thomas is a complicated, conflicted man; a seemingly decent, principled patriot, who is devoted to his wife, but who nevertheless runs meth and heroin for a living. Barely-supressed fury comes off him in waves, and Zahler reveals just enough of his protagonist's backstory for us to guess what might have happened in his past to make him so desperate to keep a lid on his rage. There's a brilliant scene early on when Thomas discovers that wife Lauren has been cheating on him. Instead of ranting and raving, or laying a hand on her, he beats up her car, his hands covered in long trails of blood as a result of punching out the poor motor's side window and headlight. It says more than any amount of exposition or heart-felt dialogue ever could.

Things perhaps become a little cartoonish after the halfway mark, especially when Don Johnson turns up as the cigar-chewing governor of the fearsome Red Leaf penitentiary. Dressed in all-black, he's like something out of the wild west, which is probably apposite, bearing in mind the sort of institution he runs and where the story heads after his introduction. You could say Brawl is a mish-mash of ideas and styles, and you'd certainly have a point. It can be read as a satire on America's notoriously hellish prison system, the family, and/or patriotism, but works just as well as a straight-up, pedal-to-the-metal exploitation film. There's an awful lot going on here, but it's Vaughn's wholehearted performance people are going to be talking about in the weeks, months and maybe even years ahead. 


Brawl the way: Vince Vaughn fights for his family's future

Dina (cinemas and VOD) WWW is a revealing documentary about a middle-aged woman on the autistic spectrum and her forthcoming nuptials to fiancé Scott, who has Asperger's. Dina has had a tough life, losing her first husband to cancer and lucky to come through being repeatedly stabbed by a former lover (she bears the scars all over her back). She's a survivor, her sweet, seemingly vulnerable, nature hiding the fact she's one tough cookie. In terms of life experience, Dina has substantially more of it than her husband-to-be and you're invited to wonder whether, somewhere down the line, this is likely to cause problems in their relationship.

The pair's contrasting outlook is showcased best on the evening of their bachelor/bachelorette parties. Scott takes a few buddies for a sedate spot of bowling, while Dina's get-together receives a visit from a male stripper, much to her rowdy delight. Anticipating trouble in the physical department, Dina also buys Scott, who, because of his condition, struggles with intimacy, a copy of The Joy Of Sex and he is even grilled about his masturbatory habits. Yes, this is fairly candid stuff at times but filmmakers Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles never lose sight of the couple's genuine affection for each other and, most importantly, never patronise them. In fact, the entire enterprise radiates warmth and respect for its subjects.

Life's a beach: Dina and boyfriend Scott are heading up the aisle

The home entertainment market moves so quickly nowadays, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the increasing prevalence of simultaneous day/date release, that films in cinemas only a few months ago can quickly feel like ancient history. A case in point is The Mummy (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) W½, which hit multiplexes back in June to what could be politely termed a striking lack of enthusiasm. Four months on, it feels even more irrelevant; just another failed blockbuster in a year chock-full of them. Alex Kurtzman's film is one part Tom Cruise vehicle, one part supposed starter kit for Universal's new monster-centric "Dark Universe", but doesn't really succeed as either. Some of its action set-pieces are passably entertaining, I suppose, but the film isn't a patch on the creepy Boris Karloff original (1932) or 1999's energetic rejig, starring Brendan Fraser. There's a substantially better Cruise film - Made In America - out to buy/rent on December 26. Wait for that. 

Cruise snooze: The Dark Universe gets off to a mediocre start

Finally, there's 1922 (Netflix) WW, a passable adaptation of a minor Stephen King ghost story from his 2010 collection, Full Dark No Stars. Thomas Jane (The Mist) hees and haws unconvincingly as Nebraskan farmer Wilfred James, who persuades his son Henry to help him kill his wife (the boy's mother), when she plans to split up the family by moving to the big city. Zak Hilditch's film builds nicely and is certainly lovely to look at, but, with its scurrying rats and decaying apparitions, all feels very familiar. 

Ghost of a chance: Farmer Wilf has murder on his mind

Film of the week: Brawl In Cell Block 99

The UK's Top 10 DVDs and Blu-rays (films only)
1. Fast & Furious 8
2. Wonder Woman
3. Pirates Of The Caribbean - Salazar's Revenge
4. Beauty And The Beast
5. Moana
6. Churchill
7. Baywatch
8. The Shack
9. Blade Runner
10. Sing

What I shall be watching this week: The Death Of Stalin and Happy Death Day (that's a lot of death).

Saturday, 21 October 2017

London Film Festival Despatch #3: The Shape Of Water, Downsizing, and Happy End

Chain reaction: The Shape Of Water is an unusual love story

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Watching Michael Shannon in The Shape Of Water WWWW makes you realise just how rare truly great screen villains have become. Shannon (Midnight Special) plays Strickland, the sadistic, candy-crunching, Bible-quoting head of a top-secret military research facility, who has captured an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) not entirely dissimilar to Hellboy's Abe Sapien or The Creature From The Black Lagoon. He tortures the poor beast with an electrified cattleprod, not because it holds information he requires or poses any particular threat, but rather because he enjoys inflicting pain upon something he considers an abomination. Strickland is a bastard's bastard, an unpleasant douchebag of epic proportions, and a real contrast to the parade of insipid CG-enhanced super-baddies we see trundled out in ever-greater numbers in blockbusters of all stripes. Finally, a villain you can love to hate again. The fact he'd be a shoo-in for a seat in Trump's cabinet is just a bonus.

Impressively, Shannon isn't the best thing about Guillermo Del Toro's early-'60s-set follow-up to the pretty but vacuous Crimson Peak. That honour belongs to Sally Hawkins, an actress who is truly at the height of her powers, as evidenced this year both here and in the underrated Maudie. Her character Elisa is a lonely mute, who works as a cleaner at the military facility where Strickland is holding what he refers to as "The Asset". Hawkins never speaks a word but the expressiveness of her face and body tells you everything you need to know. Sneaking into the room where the creature is kept, she makes contact, and they bond over hard-boiled eggs and big-band music, communicating via sign language. When Strickland announces the beast is to be vivisected, Elisa, plus neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), work colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Robert (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Russian spy posing as a US scientist, resolve to help him escape. 

In many ways, The Shape Of Water is peak Del Toro, covering ground we've seen him tackle before, both stylistically and in terms of its subject matter. The usual eye-popping visuals and fairytale tone are both present and accounted for, as is a powerful sense of time and place, and the way he uses the fantastical as a metaphor to talk about real people and the imperfect world they inhabit. Like Pan's Labyrinth (2006) before it, this is a creature feature for grown-ups. The difference this time, though, is that Shape feels more urgently contemporary than his previous work. It might be set in the 1960s but this is a plea for tolerance and kindness in the here and now. It would be easy to view Elisa as a saintly figure but she isn't really - she's only doing what anyone with an ounce of decency should do: stand up to bullies, push back against hatred and intolerance, defend the rights of those unable to defend themselves. I really don't need to draw you a diagram of who and what the director is taking aim at here.

Is it perfect? No. There are plot holes (security at the facility is lax to the point of total implausibility), while Spencer is lumbered with the same "sassy big sister" role she seems to play in everything (will someone hurry up and cast her as a serial killer?). And there's one sequence when the director takes the fairytale whimsy just a little too far. These are tiny niggles, though, when set alongside everything Del Toro's spectacular, emotional film gets perfectly right. Not just his most impressive work since Pan's but perhaps second only to it on a list of his best films to date.

Making a splash: Del Toro is finally back to his best

Half an hour into sci-fi comedy Downsizing WWW, you're confident of where its heading. Norwegian scientists have found a way to shrink people to only a few inches in height and, in a bid to lessen the impact of overpopulation and increasingly scarce resources, the procedure has been rolled out to anyone who can afford it. Enter Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig, a typical middle-class couple, who decide to go through the process so they can enjoy the lifestyle they've always wanted. They plan to move to a miniaturised community, where their savings and assets mean they have enough to live on for the rest of their tiny lives. But then, around a quarter of the way in, Alexander Payne's film spins off at a tangent, turning, in just a few scenes, from a lighthearted comedy, built on smartly-delivered sight gags and impressive CGI, to an altogether darker satire. All is far from well in this tiny would-be panacea, with Payne (Nebraska) taking aim at consumerism, exploitation, the misuse of technology, and the seeming inevitability of climate-based disaster. Some of the points the film strives to make are a little ham-fisted and there are times it is easy to forget Damon and Co aren't all just living in a regular-sized world. But, for the most part, it's engaging, entertaining and nicely told, with the great Christoph Waltz and Inherent Vice's Hon Chau stealing the show in meaty supporting roles.

Small wonder: Alexander Payne returns with Downsizing

If the humour in Michael Haneke's Happy End WWW were any blacker, they'd send miners underground to dig it up to burn as fuel. Set in Calais, it focuses on various members of the Laurent family, a wealthy but fractious bunch, which includes suicidal patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), businesswoman Anne (Isabelle Huppert), her philandering brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), and disturbed son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski). When her mother is hospitalised, the group is joined by young Eve (Fantine Harduin), Thomas's daughter from a previous marriage, who may well be the most screwed up of the lot of them. Haneke lays out their trials and tribulations in a rather soapy way, but seems to have little empathy with these people, their bourgeois indulgences or self-inflicted woes. The fact the Amour director sets his film in Calais is very deliberate, as its port is the gathering place for many hundreds of asylum seekers desperate to make the crossing from France into the UK. What Haneke is keen to focus on is the obliviousness of France's moneyed classes to anyone's plight but their own. As a result, immigrants are practically invisible and silent in this film - but that speaks volumes about what he's trying to say. We glimpse them just twice - the second time towards the end as a sublime bit of farce unfolds at a glitzy wedding reception. Haneke's films are often quite chilly, alienating affairs (I'm thinking specifically of The Piano Teacher and Cache). However, the bleak but quite broad humour he brings to bear here makes Happy End one of his most accessible pieces of work. Critics have been sniffy, saying the director is going over ground he has covered before, but that's entirely forgivable when the results are this rewarding. 

F is for family: The Laurents battle their demons in Happy End

Finally, I want to mention a few movies I've reviewed for Film Inquiry (here and here) but that are simply too good not to devote some space to on this blog as well. Chief among them is You Were Never Really Here WWWW, Lynne Ramsay's punishing adaptation of Jonathan Ames's short story of the same name. mother! director Darren Aronofsky recently spoke about an idea he'd had for a Batman film and how he'd wanted Joaquin Phoenix to play the Dark Knight. That movie never happened but if Phoenix's beyond-intense performance here is anything to go by, he'd have been perfect for the role. The Inherent Vice actor is Joe, a Gulf War veteran turned hired muscle, who specialises in rescuing underage girls from sex traffickers. Armed only with a hardware-store hammer, he brutalises anyone who gets in his way, while wrestling with the mental and emotional consequences of a past and present steeped in such violence. Plot and action aren't what's important here, though, as director Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin) focuses more on Joe's damaged psyche than anything else. It reminded me of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and I'm not sure there's any higher recommendation than that.

Hammer time: Joaquin Phoenix impresses as a disturbed Gulf War vet

Almost as essential is Norwegian director Joachim Trier's Thelma WWWW, a supernatural coming-of-age story with shades of Carrie. It sees the titular character, played by Eili Harboe, leaving her devoutly religious parents for university in Oslo, where she meets and falls in love with Anja (Kaya Wilkins). But the onset of a series of debilitating seizures threatens to end Thelma's new life of freedom, especially when they lead her to manifest strange and terrifying psychic powers. This is no mere super-powered CG fest, as Trier (Louder Than Bombs) focuses as much on Thelma's angst and awkwardness at growing up and coming out as he does on her burgeoning - and possibly malign - abilities. Last but certainly not least is Claire Denis's bleak romantic comedy, Let The Sun Shine In WWW, which features a sterling return to form from Juliette Binoche as a lovelorn Parisian artist. She has a string of suitors - including an awful banker and pretentious actor - and cries herself to sleep every night in frustration and torment at her inability to land someone truly special. Denis seems to take issue with the whole notion of romantic love and the idea of "finding the one", but such gratifying cynicism never undermines the empathy you feel for Binoche and her seemingly naïve, not to mention endless, quest.

What a Carrie on: Thelma develops terrifying psychic powers

My Top 10 new films of the festival...
1. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
2. The Shape Of Water
3. You Were Never Really Here
4. Mudbound
5. Thelma
6. Brigsby Bear
7. Happy End
8. Redoubtable
9. Let The Sun Shine In
10. Good Time

Monday, 16 October 2017

London Film Festival Despatch #2: Blade Of The Immortal, 120 Beats Per Minute, and Battle Of The Sexes

Ton up: Blood Of The Immortal marks Takashi Miike's 100th film

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

120 Beats Per Minute WWWW is writer/director Robin Campillo's semi-autobiographical third feature, and the follow-up to his 2013 movie Eastern Boys. The powerful and compelling docu-drama is set in the early 1990s, amongst the activists of Act Up-Paris, a direct action group dedicated to combating the spread of AIDS. Their methods are non-violent but extreme, whether its drenching in fake blood the offices of a pharma company dragging its feet over the trial of a new drug, or invading a school in the middle of lessons to hand out pamphlets containing safe sex advice. Most of the characters to whom we're introduced are HIV-positive, so there is an urgent reason for their no-nonsense approach – they are, quite simply, running out of time to affect real change.

The opening scene set at one of the group's rather formal meetings is so naturalistic it took me a couple of minutes to catch on that I wasn't watching a documentary. In fact, it was only when I recognised Adèle Haenel, from Les Combattants and The Unknown Girl, did I realise these were actors, and very impressive ones at that. The fact it all rings so true, that you can feel its grit under your fingernails, is crucial to 120 BPM's success. Campillo begins with a large cast, more or less getting the same amount of screen time, before focusing in, more and more, on just two – Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who has developed AIDS, and his lover Nathan (Arnaud Valois). As the group continues its activities, we see the former – a passionate, abrasive young man – start to fade away, in painful increments, as the disease takes hold of him. Culled directly from Campillo's own experiences as a self-confessed Act Up militant in the '90s, Sean's decline is heartbreaking, the writer/director's treatment of it impressively tender and loaded with empathy. He never loses sight of the fact his characters are people first and not just the victims of a disease. They have lives, in which they dance, drink and love, argue, fall out and make up. 

Despite sickness and death being two of the film's main themes, 120 Beats Per Minute is an uplifting piece of work. The comradeship the activists share is truly inspiring and their determination to set the agenda on the treatment of AIDS and its victims was crucial at a time when government (in France and elsewhere) was failing to act decisively, whilst paying lip service to homophobes. Act Up helped shake things up and Campillo's wonderful film is the tribute it deserves.

Class Act: Campillo's 120 BPM is powerful and compelling

Michel Hazanavicius's Redoubtable WWW isn't at all what you'd expect from a biopic of Jean-Luc Godard, the grandaddy of modern French cinema. Rather than serious, sombre and reverential, The Artist writer/director goes seriously off-message – in fact, this is frequently cheeky, mocking, and iconoclastic. Set during the Paris uprisings of 1967, it catches the left-wing director (played by Louis Garrel) at a key juncture, as he high-handedly declares "Fin de Cinéma", and vows in future to make films that don't rely on traditional means of production, distribution or exhibition. As well as railing against the ruling class and bickering with students, Godard woos and marries young actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), the star of his most recent film, a largely plotless but bitingly satirical piece, called La Chinoise, in which she plays a Maoist student (Redoubtable is loosely based on the late Wiazemsky's autobiography). This Godard is like the Woody Allen of Stardust Memories; fans tell him how much they love his "early, funny" movies, but there's also a touch of Basil Fawlty about him, his pomposity and hypocrisy skewered to hilarious effect (the sitcom feel even extends to a running gag in which Godard keeps breaking his glasses). However, this is far from a hatchet job. Underneath the caustic jabs, it's clear Hazanavicius has enormous affection for his subject's work, with various nods and winks to Godard's films peppered throughout, including a lovely recreation of Vivre Sa Vie's Joan Of Arc scene. That said, you don't need to be a Godard expert to enjoy Redoubtable – its smart script, fine performances and surprisingly evocative recreation of time and place see to that.

The God-father: Redoubtable takes aim at Jean-Luc

Legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike's 100th film (yes, really) is a flawed but entertaining adaptation of Hiroaki Samura's Blade Of The Immortal WW, a long-running manga which ceased publication in 2012 after 19 years. As the title implies, Blade tells the tale of a mighty samurai – Manji (Takuya Kimura) – cursed by a witch to walk the Earth forever. He takes pity on a young girl, Rin (Hana Sugisaki), and vows to be her instrument of vengeance against Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi) and his band of master swordsmen, who murdered her father. The opening sequence – filmed in moody black and white as Manji "dies" before receiving his curse – is truly electrifying, but, due to its extended running time and repetitive action sequences, Blade sags somewhat in the middle. However much you love well-choreographed, ultra-violent sword fights, with high body counts and lopped-off limbs, there comes a point where you just think, "Any chance Manji could do something else for a bit – maybe a spot of shopping or some gardening?" Thankfully, Miike pulls it all together in time for an impressively over-the-top grand finale, featuring Manji, Rin, Anotsu, and a few of the colourful supporting characters we've met along the way.


Slice of life: Blade is packed with sword-fighting action

Oscar-winner Emma Stone plays tennis legend Billie Jean King in the light but likeable comedy-drama Battle Of The Sexes WW. Set in the early 1970s and based on real events, it sees King duking it out with her sport's ruling body for prize-money parity with male players. She and other rebel female stars set up their own tour in opposition to the authorities but proceedings take a turn for the pantomimic when ageing former men's No.1 Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) challenges King to a match. Riggs is a huckster, gambler and showman, selling himself as the ultimate "male chauvinist pig" to shift tickets and put his fading career back on the map. After he cruises to victory against women's champ Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), King agrees to take him on. Carrell is perfectly cast as the roguish Riggs but his rivalry with King is only a sideshow to this movie's wider preoccupations: the fight for women's rights (the tennis world provides a microcosm of what was going on in wider US society at the time, including Roe vs Wade) and married King's struggle to come to terms with her attraction to another woman (Andrea Riseborough's Marilyn). The frothiness of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's delivery, nor the circus-like tennis finale, detract from the serious issues under the microscope here, while Stone lends King a quiet but palpable strength.


Love match: Battle Of The Sexes explores King's sexuality

Five years after Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza finally lands another film role worthy of her talents, in black comedy Ingrid Goes West WW½. Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, mentally fragile and desperately lonely, following the death of her mother. After being left $60,000 in her mum's will, she moves to Venice Beach aiming to make friends with glamorously ghastly Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose pretentious and vainglorious Instagram page she obsessively follows. A Single White Female situation quickly develops as Ingrid and Taylor become fast friends, but the arrival of Taylor's equally wretched brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) puts a big fat fly in the ointment as he discovers Ingrid's multitude of deceptions. Matt Spicer's feature debut treats Ingrid's mental health issues with just enough due care and attention to avoid serious criticism but sometimes you're unsure whether you're meant to be laughing with Ingrid or at her, and the humiliating depths plumbed by her stalkerish behaviour. Plaza, who has a refreshing unpredictability and air of danger about her, could have had the part of Ingrid written for her so perfectly does it fit, while Olsen delights in sticking a metaphorical boot into California's army of boho beach blondies. Part character study, part biting satire, Ingrid Goes West asks some pretty tough questions about social media and the detrimental effect it can have on the self esteem of vulnerable people. 

California scheming: Aubrey Plaza has plans to make a new friend

Despatch #3 will include reviews of The Shape Of Water, Happy End, and Downsizing. Your Week In Film will return next Monday (October 23).

Thursday, 12 October 2017

London Film Festival Despatch #1: Brigsby Bear, Mudbound, and How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Bear necessities: Brigsby is a warm, sensitive and very funny tale of obsession

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

You regularly hear of professional critics sitting through five films in a single day and, god knows, I admire their stamina. In my first three days at the 61st London Film Festival I managed 11 movies and have been a gibbering husk of humanity ever since, my dreams colonised by talking bears, punk rockers and aliens, all set to a punishing musical score, courtesy of Goblin.

As I write, I'm yet to see any new movie which has truly blown my socks off in the same way Elle or Personal Shopper did last year, but a couple have certainly come close. One of those is director Dee Rees' Mudbound WWWW, a boldly ambitious and beautifully told tale of two American families – one white, one black – in the years before, during and after the Second World War. Yes, it's a period piece, but the film's meditations on white privilege and racism make it very timely.

Mudbound contains a multitude of noteworthy scenes, characters and moments but is perhaps most satisfying in its final third, when black army sergeant Ronsel (Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell) and white airman Jamie (Garrett Hedlund, from Unbroken) return from the conflict changed men. Dissatisfied with the lives they're expected to just pick up on the Mississippi farm where the film is mostly set, the pair bond over booze and war stories, and become friends. Of course, this is the 1940s, in the deep south, and interracial friendships are not just discouraged but violently suppressed. 

They are both fascinating, complex characters. Jamie is clearly suffering from PTSD and buries the painful memories of combat with alcohol, while Ronsel pines for the white German woman he had to leave at the end of the war, and rails against the violent prejudice he still faces on his return to the US. Mudbound is an evocative title – every character is stuck, quite literally, in the thick brown sludge of the farm both families share, but also by bad choices or poor fortune, as well as the consequences of race, gender and prejudice.

In a little over two hours, Rees covers an astonishing amount of ground and yet most of the principal characters – including those essayed by Carey Mulligan and Mary J Blige – are afforded generous screen time and their own sub-plots. Despite its large cast and multiple narrators, Mudbound – based on Hillary Jordan's novel of the same name – never feels overstuffed or uneven. In fact, it is perfectly paced, with the climactic melodrama and its fallout providing scenes both memorable and horrifying.

Moreover, i
ts performances are uniformly superb (Mitchell, especially) and it would be remiss of me not to mention Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks, as hate-spewing patriarch Pappy. If there's a more chilling evocation of pure undiluted racism in modern cinema, I've yet to see it.

There will be Mud: Dee Rees serves up a powerful period drama

If cloying earnestness won you Oscars, then Wonderstruck would surely sweep the board. Todd Haynes' overlong, over-sentimental tale of two deaf children alone in New York – one in 1927, the other in 1977 – tries to say something profound about the magic of life, nature and the senses, but comes across as gloopy gong bait of the worst kind. Mercifully, the film has two saving graces. One is Millicent Simmonds, as Rose, who doesn't utter a single word but says more with a wide-eyed gaze or hurt look than the rest of Wonderstruck manages in two hours and change. The other is Haynes' penchant for period detail. The austere black and white of the scenes set in the 1920s provide a startling visual contrast with the warm, technicolour palette of the '70s, although HBO TV show The Deuce's grubbier version of that particular era feels more authentic. Haynes has given us many treasurable films over the years – not least 2014's sumptuous Carol – but Wonderstruck feels uneven and laboured. It's a rare misstep.



Little wonder: Todd Haynes' latest is a disappointment


Brigsby Bear WWW is a sort of Dogtooth for nerds, which begins with Kyle Mooney's James being freed from the couple who had kidnapped him as a baby 25 years before. James' "parents" – Mark Hamill and Jane Adams – kept him completely isolated from other people for all that time and fed him a warped version of reality to control, educate and distract him, including a fictional TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventures, with which he is completely obsessed. Finally free, he struggles to come to terms with his new family and life, especially as it means a future without his beloved Brigsby. Produced by The Lonely Island crew – including Andy Samberg – and directed by Dave McCary (Saturday Night Live), Brigsby is an unexpected joy from beginning to end. A charming, funny celebration of obsession, and one of the year's most unusual coming-of-age tales, it also tackles notions of "putting aside childish things", and the fear of change, with great sensitivity and warmth. The incredible care and invention that has clearly gone into creating Brigsby's fictional universe is perhaps most impressive of all though.

Magnificent obsession: James (Kyle Mooney) can't leave Brigsby behind

Josh and Benny Safdie follow up 2014's ferocious Heaven Knows What with Good Time WWW, a fast-paced, '70s-influenced heist flick with rather more going on under the bonnet than it first appears. Robert Pattinson is Connie, a reckless criminal who brow-beats his mentally-impaired brother Nick (Benny Safdie) into joining him in a bank robbery. As is the tradition, the clumsy hold-up goes wrong and Nick is quickly arrested and imprisoned. On the run and growing ever more desperate, Connie plots to break him out. There are ingenious thrills and spills aplenty, plus a twist halfway through that still makes me giggle every time I think of it, but the further we get into Good Time, the more it becomes a character study of the two brothers. Connie – despite his roguish charm – is a human black hole, who destroys or damages anyone foolish enough to stray into his gravitational field. His choices are always bad, his profound lack of judgement almost comical. In contrast, Nick just wants to be left alone and is sick of being told what to do. Choices are something his vulnerabilities deny him. Theirs is, at its core, an abusive relationship, with the most heinous crime perpetrated here being not the robbery nor various acts of violence, but the way in which Connie exploits his brother. 


Criminal minded: Robert Pattinson stars in Good Time


How To Talk To Girls At Parties WW is a "punk romance" set in 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee and The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks. Based on a Neil Gaiman short story of the same name, it features Elle Fanning as an alien learning how to be human, Nicole Kidman as an ageing punk queen, complete with erratic cockney accent, and three horny teenage punks (including To The Bone's Alex Sharp) desperate to get off with any poor unsuspecting girl/extra-terrestrial who looks their way. It's madcap, inventive and charming for the most part but loses focus somewhat during a frenetic conclusion. Fanning and Kidman – last seen together in Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled – are clearly having the time of their lives and it's that sense of anarchic, anything-goes fun that gets this over the line. Coming-of-age tales are ten-a-penny but John Cameron Mitchell's film succeeds in bringing something a little less predictable to the table.


Being human: Elle Fanning is literally out of this world 

Finally, we welcome the return of an old friend... a sick, deranged old friend. Suspiria WWWW is not only the reddest film ever made but also one of the most bizarre, and here it is as good as new in a lovingly assembled 4K restoration. Suzy (Jessica Harper), a young American ballerina, travels to study at an exclusive German dance academy in Dario Argento's giallo classic, only for one of her fellow students to be butchered shortly after. Suzy and her new friend Sara (Stefania Casini) start to investigate the murder, leading to just the sort of dark revelations you'd suspect and fervently anticipate. The film's hysteria dial is turned up to 11 from the rain-swept beginning and barely drops below that during its 92-minute running time, Suspiria's lurid colour palette, Goblin's ear-pummelling score, and a series of grisly deaths making for a psychedelic horror experience like no other. The acting is stiff, the dialogue stilted and the weirdness of some scenes made audience members laugh out loud at the screening I attended. And yet, 40 years after its original release, Suspiria still casts a spell as it speeds towards a finale both sinister and unhinged. With all due respect to Luca Guadagnino, who is remaking the movie with Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, and Tilda Swinton, he's inviting a world of pain from fans and critics. The director might have better actors and better writers at his disposal than Argento ever did, but the chances of matching the manic intensity of this glorious original are surely remote.

A cut above: Suspiria gets a swanky restoration on its 40th anniversary


Next: Despatch #2 will include reviews of 120 Beats Per Minute, Blade Of The Immortal, and Ingrid Goes West...