17 November 2014-11-17

Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor in Transformers: Age of Extinction

Out in the UK This Week



22 Jump Street (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Since the undercover cops went to high school first time out, this time they must go to college. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and boss writer Michael Bacall clearly know the Jump Street premise is exhausted. More obviously, they know they spunked their best jokes on the first film. So a good 50 per cent of 22 Jump Street is referential humour about franchise exhaustion, things never being quite so good the second time around, including the outro credits, which push this concept to beyond funny and then back again. The rest of it is jokes about the almost homosexual nature of the bromance between Channing Tatum’s dumb jock Jenko and Jonah Hill’s smart(ish) schlub Schmidt – when Jenko finds a football buddy he can chest-bump with till dawn. So, not funny? Not exactly – the jokes do keep coming and range from the “anals of football history” old chestnut to a sight gag about the guys being chased at speed past the Benjamin Hill School of Film Studies (Benny Hill, see?). However, however, likeable though it is, it never really rises above being a re-run lacking in inspiration, the mis/underuse of Ice Cube – their extremely abusive cop superior and one of the funniest things about 21 – pretty much saying it all.

22 Jump Street – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Human Capital (Arrow, cert 15, DVD/digital)

A chilly and stylish Italian film but an interesting one, which starts with a cyclist being knocked off his bicycle by a speeding car, and then spends the next 110 minutes or so in languid whodunit mode. Languid because it’s not really about the cyclist and it’s not really a whodunit. Instead it’s a veiled attack on the very rich, told as the story of a ghastly, vastly rich family from whose ranks the hit-and-run killer will emerge. Actually, you could argue it’s not even about them, but about the recent financial collapse that hit the world, and how, according to what we see on display, it was caused by all the unfundable lifestyles, the fecklessness, fear of old-fashioned hard work and greed abroad in the world today, especially at the top of the economic pecking order. This is most obvious in the first of four interlinked stories, which follows local estate agent Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) as he tries to inveigle his way into the family, and finances of Chapter 2’s focus, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), the bimbo trophy wife trying to persuade her husband to finance a theatre restoration project, unaware that his short-selling deals are about to unravel spectacularly. Chapter 3 focuses on Dino’s daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli), the only decent and non-avaricious person in the drama. And in Chapter 4 things are wrapped up neatly, and a touch of Brazilian soap histrionics is injected – the tone throughout has been arthouse pantomime until now. Wait for the very end, a little intertitle card which not only fully explains the film’s title, but forces a re-assessment of exactly what it is we’ve just been watching. I’m being unhelpfully vague because I don’t want to ruin it.

Human Capital – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Earth to Echo (E One, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/download)

Someone has had the clever idea of rewriting one of Steven Spielberg’s most famous films. The one about youngsters on bikes finding a lost alien and befriending it. They call it Echo, ET being taken, and for the rest of the film they help it re-assemble its spaceship, Echo communicating with them through their smartphones. It does prove how robust ET is that it can be rewritten trope for trope and that it works entirely – and that it can be done as a handheld first-person pov, the conceit being that one of the gang is documenting the friends’ last summer together. But it’s all shot from a kid’s height, as ET is, and it’s got some beautifully observed moments showing us the world from their viewpoint – the few minutes they spend in a bar full of gargoyle drunks, for example. Director Dave Green, who made this unlikely success, surely for loose change but with bags of real emotion, must surely be on the way to big things.

Earth to Echo – Buy it/watch it at Amazon




The Purge: Anarchy (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/download)

I haven’t seen the first one, but know that this sequel has been widely praised as being the better than the first. The premise, I do know, remains the same – on one day a year America’s citizenry can do what they like and no law will apply, no justice will be sought. I also know that the first film was a low-budget job, set in a house, and was a home-invasion movie. This sequel, with more money, heads out onto the streets on the night of “The Purge”, where two couples, mother and daughter Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul, husband and wife Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, have been caught outside on the one night of the year you don’t want that to happen. Joining them is professional badass Frank Grillo, who doesn’t wear an eye patch – as Kurt Russell did in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, on which this is clearly modelled – but is handy with a gun. That’s it. They spend the night together, being monstered by 1980s-looking punkish thugs, learning how to use weapons and defend themselves. Its political message: if you’re right wing it’s that governments are definitely out to get you and shouldn’t be trusted; if you’re left wing it’s that they definitely have a role to play in the regulation of society. If message is what you’re after. File under guilty pleasure.

The Purge: Anarchy – Watch it/buy at Amazon




How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Fox, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/download)

The first film of this series – plot: Viking boy finds dragon and learns to fly it – was a bit of a trudge but its flying sequences were so well done that they gave me pit-of-the-stomach swoops and drops. Someone seems to have missed the memo about those bits being the best bits, the saviour in fact, of the first film. Because this second has largely abandoned them, leaving us at the mercy of the Celtic whimsy, raised-eyebrow non-humour and surging Spielbergian strings that sat all over HTTYD1. And whereas the first was a simple coming-of-ager, this is more like an instalment of Lord of the Rings, all massed armies, “they shall not pass” dialogue and digressive side characters. Plot: Hiccup the Viking kid, now five years older, stumbles over a plot to control the world’s dragons – and hence the world – at the same time as discovering that his supposedly dead mother is anything but. Two plots? Symptomatic of what’s wrong with the film, with Cate Blanchett’s mother character a brake on the more dynamic “sometimes even the peace-loving must fight” strand. Also, what’s up with the animation? I haven’t seen foreground/background separation this obvious since Cary Grant was driving Grace Kelly along the Riviera. More drag than dragon.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Buy it/watch it at Amazon




Monty Python Live (Mostly) (Eagle Rock, cert E, Blu-ray/DVD)

A recording of the show at London’s O2, which was billed in all sorts of Sex Pistols-ish “only in it for the money” ways. And if you approach it with an arms-folded, OK-impress-me kind of way, as I did, you might be pleasantly surprised. In many ways it’s Eric Idle’s show – he seems to have been the most enthusiastic to get the gang back together (and with shows like Spamalot he’s been the most assiduous at milking the Python brand) – and he’s often in his alter-ego as a cheeky end-of-the-pier vaudevillian in boater and stripy blazer, heading song and dance numbers, pretending to hoof, full of energy. Which is more than you can say of John Cleese, croak-voiced, portly, world-weary, but even he warms up after a while. It’s essentially a bunch of the old sketches – kicking off with the Four Yorkshiremen – interspersed with footage from the TV show, which allows them to show missing Python Graham Chapman and gives old darlings Idle, Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam a breather. Add in the odd celebrity cameo, a bit of ad-libbing and corpsing by all concerned and it’s a pleasant reminder of a hugely influential comedy troupe – Footballing Philosophers (genius), Every Sperm Is Sacred (overdone), Crunchy Frog (disappointing), Argument Clinic (still brilliant), lots more. You will have your own list.

Monty Python Live (Mostly) – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

The appeal of the fourth instalment of Michael Bay’s shoutathon in an echo chamber is as much of a mystery to me as the first three. Orson Welles, who was the voice of Unicron in the 1986 animated version (the one with the wacky cast list – including Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy), referred to it as being about “a big toy that attacks smaller toys”, finding a coherence and significance in the entire Transformers thing that eludes me. I suspect director Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger also find the success a mystery, and are aware of the franchise’s defects, because there’s evidence all over the film of things having been tinkered with, fixed, finessed, reworked, amped up and dialled down. So, no Shia LaBeouf, instead we have Mark Wahlberg as the key human. So, a female (Nicola Peltz) who does a little more than the cleavage work that Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Megan Fox did in the earlier films. So, a lot more actual story for the humans to get busy with – Wahlberg being a junkyard inventor who comes into possession of Optimus Prime without realising it, Stanley Tucci as the megacorp boss trying to use Transformer tech to become even more megarich, Kelsey Grammer as a government wonk after the weapons value in the Autobots, or was it the Decepticons? Bay goes large on Americana – Dodge Chargers and gas stations, old power stations and rocking chairs on porches – yet another attempt to demote the robots to second place. But the problem remains that this is a film about Transformers, robots who not only seem to have no consistent relationship to physics – so there really is nothing for us to get hold of in terms of following any of Bay’s “frame-fucking” (his phrase) action – but they’re so dull it’s deadly.

Transformers: Age of Extinction – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2014

The Best Films of 2014

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin


Of the 350+ films I saw this year, these are the best ones. Some of them were released last year and I’ve been a bit slow getting round to them. Some of them were released even longer ago. The criteria are – I watched them in 2014 and I liked them. That’s it.




The Best


Computer Chess (2013, dir: Andrew Bujalski)

Andrew Bujalski, inventor of mumblecore, proved there’s life in the old beast yet with this retro-verité drama about geeks meeting in the 1980s to pit their programs against a chess-playing computer. Shooting on original video cameras in fuzzy-edged boxellated black and white, Bujalski catches the moment when the let-it-all-hang-out era died and our brighter, geekier world was born.


In a World… (2013, dir: Lake Bell)

A comedy of modern manners strung onto a plot about voice artists vying for the throne of the newly dead king of the hill. The savviest, screwballiest Hollywood comedy in years came from left-field, from writer/director/star Lake Bell, playing the daughter of a famous voiceover artist trying to get out from under dad’s reputation. It’s sentimental in all the right ways too.


The Canyons (2013, dir: Paul Schrader)

The sensational Lindsay Lohan’s “right, I’m back” movie is also Paul Schrader’s best for decades, a turning over of the paving slab to see what low-lifes slither about beneath. It’s The Canyons, not The Hills, so don’t expect Hollywood to come out smelling of anything but bad drugs, mercenary sex and broken dreams.


Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie)

Don’t watch if you can’t take the sight of gay male sex. If you can you get a remarkable French drama about a killer at large on a nudist beach where homosexual omerta guarantees him a free ride, in any way he fancies. It’s beautifully composed, dramatically as taut as you like and even the soundscape is a thing of wonder.


Under the Skin (2013, dir: Jonathan Glazer)

How odd that Scarlett Johansson suddenly cornered the female sci-fi market (with this, the Avengers movies, Her and Lucy). This is the best of the bunch, with ScarJo playing a killer (in every sense) alien who cruises round Glasgow, Scotland, enticing men into her white van and then taking them back to her lair. Shot painstakingly with real, unsuspecting Glaswegians picked up off the street playing the dupes, it’s a triumphant return to movies for writer/director Jonathan (Sexy Beast) Glazer.


Of Horses and Men (2013, dir: Benedikt Erlingsson)

There are scenes in this elemental Icelandic movie that you will never have seen before, some hilarious, others just jaw-droppingly wha? It’s a unique rural drama that seems to suggest that people are at their happiest and least stressed when they behave most like animals. Watch that young woman swish her tail when the visiting Spaniard shakes his mane. Brilliant.


Norte, The End of History (2013, dir: Lav Diaz)

A four hour epic shot in long continuous beautifully framed takes, about a rich young law student and the poor street-pedlar woman whose life he affects maximally without even realising what he’s done. Wait two hours for the first “what the hell just happened” moment, and then another 90 minutes for the second, while a new (to me) master Lav Diaz casts his spell.



Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, dir: Jim Jarmusch)

If you were going to cast the supercoolest vampire film ever, you’d want Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in it. And you’d want Jim Jarmusch to direct it, wouldn’t you? That’s exactly what you get with this aching paean to immortal hipsterism shot in crumbling Detroit and labyrinthine old Tangier. No one ever says “I feel so very very tired,” as they do in cornier movies, but that’s the spirit. Plus jokes, hipster jokes.



Goodbye to Language (2014, dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

At one level Jean-Luc Godard’s boy-meets-girl drama of collaged visual styles and overlapping dialogue looks like the result of using every preset on Final Cut Pro software; at another it’s a brilliant exercise in trying to reformulate film syntax. Genius.


Edge of Tomorrow (2014, dir: Doug Liman)

Tom Cruise as a soldier repeatedly being killed, each time back to life a little bit tougher, sharper, wiser in Doug Liman’s sci-fi extravaganza that looks, feels, smells like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would have graced in the 1980s.


Welcome to New York (2014, dir: Abel Ferrara)

Abel Ferrara’s drama about/not about Dominic Strauss Khan and his sexual escapades in New York looks like it was shot entirely on one camera, stars Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset and suggests obliquely that the people who run the planet are sociopaths.






Honourable mentions


Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright
Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright


Wake in Fright (1971, dir: Ted Kotcheff)

A restored 1971 Australian classic about a nice schoolteacher having a wild weekend of up-close Ocker masculinity out in the Outback of the Outback.


Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013, dir: Abdellatif Kechiche)

Lesbian sex was its big sell but it’s the acting that’s the thing in this slow (as in Slow Food slow) French drama about a young girl’s sentimental education.


Klown (2010, dir: Mikkel Nørgaard)

The Danes do comedy in this road movie about two inadequate blokes and a ten-year-old boy on a “tour de pussy”. Inappropriate comedy fans, this is for you.


All Is Lost (2013, dir: JC Chandor)

Robert Redford is all at sea on a sinking yacht in the virtually wordless thriller from JC Chandor, who made the banking business sexy with Margin Call and proves lightning does strike twice here.


Fossil (2014, dir: Alex Walker)

A British couple in trouble are befriended by a lovey-dovey twosome in this four-hander that looks good, hits a few deep notes and goes as badly whacked-out as outsider-couple dramas generally do.


Back to the Garden (2013, dir: Jon Sanders)

Really? A film set in Kent (the “Garden of England”) and made for nothing? Yes, and you won’t find a better recent film about confronting that moment when you realise your parents’ generation are dead and your lot are next.


Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée)

Part of the McConaissance, with Matthew McC as the homo-hating cowpuncher who discovers he’s HIV+ and breaks the law to fix himself. A brilliant exercise in Hollywood storytelling economy.


The Past (2013, dir: Asghar Farhadi)

Asghar Farhadi casts The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo as the woman about to marry for the third time, to a man with a wife in coma. How the wife ended up in the coma is what this subversive, complexly plotted drama is all about.


The Lunchbox (2013, dir: Ritesh Batra)

A Mumbai desk jockey gets the wrong lunchbox at work and starts up a relationship with the neglected wife who prepared it. Life-changes all round in this lovely romance made with a very light touch.


An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (2013, dir: Danis Tanovic)

A dirt-poor Roma man tries to get medical help for his pregnant wife in this immensely sweet drama that comes with this seal of authenticity – it really happened, and to this lovely couple.


The Lego Movie (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The incredibly smart Lego people got Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street to script/direct their movie, a fast-moving Star Wars-y affair with Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell its standout voices. Four viewings necessary.


Starred Up (2013, dir: David Mackenzie)

The best British jail drama since Scum, all those years ago, with a starry turn by Jack O’Connell as the new lag running into all the usual bad stuff inside. Spectacular.


Locke (2013, dir: Steven Knight)

Tom Hardy sitting inside a car for 90 minutes and making phone calls. That’s all there is to this super-high-concept drama that screws more tension out of the situation than you could imagine possible.


Blue Ruin (2013, dir: Jeremy Saulnier)

A hillbilly milquetoast is forced into an unlikely revenge-driven killing spree in a drama that grips from the first second and holds you there till the grisly end.


The Counselor (2013, dir: Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy’s loquacious drama about a high-flying lawyer who hasn’t realised he’s swimming with the sharks (Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt). A sleek, ratchet-like thriller of pitiless inevitability.


Sofia’s Last Ambulance (2012, dir: Ilian Metev)

So simple, so effective, a documentary that follows a Bulgarian ambulance team and focuses entirely on them, never the people they’re treating. Tight, unusual, very humane.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, dir: Bryan Singer)

The best of the X-Men movies gains a position in this list because of director Bryan Singer’s sheer ability to keep so many stories, characters and settings constantly in play. And his observation that the 1970s might as well now be an alien universe is interesting too.





The Underrated


Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor
Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor


Kelly + Victor (2012, dir: Kieran Evans)

A nice lad falls for a totally fucked up girl in this brilliantly acted, nicely observed Liverpool drama about a boy, a girl and a lot of bondage gear. No “ferry across the fucking Mersey” (the director’s words) visible. Hoo-fucking-ray.


Seduced and Abandoned (2013, dir: James Toback)

An exquisite and slyly clever documentary that’s not really a documentary at all, about old mates Alec Baldwin and James Toback talking to the movie world’s money men at Cannes. Fascinating, proper inside-Hollywood reveals.


Bad Grandpa (2013, dir: Jeff Tremaine)

Johnny Knoxville deserves the Sacha Baron Cohen award for bravery for the audacious stunts he pulls off as the titular grandpa, and Jackson Nicoll – what, 10-years-old maybe? – even more for his turn as the grandson. Yes, it’s a Jackass movie and that ship has sailed, but it’s also a very funny, one-of-a-kind affair.


Metro Manila (2013, dir: Sean Ellis)

A poor Filipino family moves to the big bad city and what looks like a drama about the innocent getting monstered turns into one of the best heist films of the year. Brilliantly made, brilliantly acted.


Safety Not Guaranteed (2012, dir: Colin Trevorrow)

Aubrey Plaza, one of those girls who can go from hot to not in the blink of an acting eye, dominates this no-budget smartly written mumblecore sci-fi about a rookie journalist chasing down a pudgy middle age guy who claims to have built a time machine. Fabulous.


Oldboy (2013, dir: Spike Lee)

Hated because a) it’s not as good as the original and b) people like to kick Spike Lee, who proves here he’s an intelligent, accomplished gun for hire, while Josh Brolin excels as the asshole incarcerated by person(s) unknown for 20 years and now wanting payback.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013, dir: Ben Stiller)

Ben Stiller’s brilliantly crafted reworking of the story that Danny Kaye made a hit film with in 1947 – about a geek whose rich fantasy life starts to invade his real one – is too unclassifiable to hit the “best of” lists.


8 Minutes Idle (2012, dir: Mark Simon Hewis)

A simple British comedy about a Bristol call centre that’s clearly been written by someone who’s worked in one – the cameraderie of the drones is palpable, their maddened boredom too. And star Tom Hughes is great as a post-Uni slacker working out what to do next.


The Monuments Men (2014, dir: George Clooney)

OK, so it’s not a Tarantino movie. But George Clooney’s amiable comedy about a crack team saving art before the Nazis destroy it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be Von Ryan’s Express/Hogan Heroes reimagined. Job very much achieved.


The Invisible Woman (2013, dir: Ralph Fiennes)

Felicity Jones is surely going to get an Oscar one day, but this film actually belongs to Ralph Fiennes (who also directs) playing her lover, Charles Dickens, as the world’s first media celeb. It’s a sweet film about love, in the end, with intelligent digressions.


Felony (2013, dir: Matthew Saville)

A gritty Oz cop melodrama written by its star, Joel Edgerton, the supercop who fucks up one night and spends the rest of the film getting further and further in the shit as he tries to wriggle free. Tom Wilkinson contributes another of his sneakily intelligent peformances as Edgerton’s superior.


All This Mayhem (2014, dir: Eddie Martin)

If you’ve never heard of the Pappas brothers, Ben and Tas, this excellent and shocking documentary about their 1990s rise and fall is well worth the ride, even if you’ve no interest whatsoever in skateboarding.


God Help the Girl (2014, dir: Stuart Murdoch)

A strangely 1960s-ish and intensely cute love letter by Belle and Sebastian frontman/director Stuart Murdoch to his star, Emily Browning, here fetishised in a boy-meets-girl Scottish musical recalling – if you’re fanciful – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.


Chef (2014, dir: Jon Favreau)

Jon Favreau is one of the great under-revered directors of our era, and Chef – a road movie about a celebrity chef getting his mojo back – is exactly the sort of easy-looking, effortlessly digestible charmer he seems to be able to knock out at will.


Mystery Road (2013, dir: Ivan Sen)

An Aborigine cop tries to find out who killed an Aborigine girl – with stone-faced resistance from his white co-workers – in a beautifully shot Down Under cowboy thriller with one of the best shootout finales ever committed to film.


The Congress (2013, dir: Ari Folman)

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman pushes animation even further this time, with a psychedelic meditation on fantasy and reality starring Robin Wright as an actress who is digitised and inserted into any set-up the imagineers fancy. Highly highly unusual.




The Overrated


Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche


Prince Avalanche (2013, dir: David Gordon Green)

Two guys paint a road and David Gordon Green swerves back into George Washington territory in a film that’s Waiting for Godot with Girl Trouble. Tim Orr’s camera is lovely, 1970s and sun-dappled, but there’s a hole where the meaning should be.


Blue Jasmine (2013, dir: Woody Allen)

Another of Woody Allen’s overhyped “returns to form”, this time featuring a relentlessly over-acting Cate Blanchett as a super-entitled bitch whose ship has sailed. Watch instead Sally Hawkins.


Thor: The Dark World (2013, dir: Alan Taylor)

Everything that’s wrong with bad superhero films in one film – too many characters, too much gobbledegook, a lack of humour, though Tom Hiddleston’s Loki remains a fun watch. More to come (sigh).


The Butler (2013, dir: Lee Daniels)

Lee Daniels’s epic about the black butler (Forest Whitaker) to a whole bunch of POTUSes attempts to square the radical tradition with the gradualist conservative move towards black civil rights. Proficient, nothing more.


Saving Mr Banks (2013, dir: John Lee Hancock)

How Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) strongarmed PL Travers (Emma Thompson) into letting him film her Mary Poppins. The leads are genuinely fabulous and brilliant, but all that Travers backstory? Really?


Frozen (2013, dir: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

On my own here, I know, a triumph for lovers of adenoidal singing of the sort of Broadway songs that Eric Idle spoofed so brilliantly with his Song That Goes Like This. The snowman and reindeer are funny but the central characters, what utter drips.


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir: Wes Anderson)

It still hasn’t sunk into Wes Anderson’s head that a) a little whimsy goes a long way and b) it has to be in the service of something, if only a good story. Here, though Ralph Fiennes is joyously funny as a devious owner of an old Mitteleuropean hotel, as a film it’s Sachertorte with cream, then more cream.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, dir: Marc Webb)

Marc Webb’s second pop at Spider-Man is immeasurably worse than the first, fails to weld live-action into increasingly cartoonish set-ups, has too many villains, and feels like little more than a franchise placeholder or a sop to fanboys who will buy any old crap.


22 Jump Street (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The jokes were all done in 21 Jump Street – and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s extensive running gag in the closing credits, in which they trail the franchise’s development all the way to 34 Jump Street: Return of the Ghost – shows they know it. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum remain a hot combo though.


And if you want to watch or buy any of the films, this Amazon link will allow you to do just that – enjoy!


© Steve Morrissey 2014