The Best Films of 2015

Caren Pistorius in Slow West

 

 

 

There’s a tendency among people who watch a lot of films to boost ones that stand out rather than ones that are good. This can lead to some perverse choices in the “best of” lists that proliferate at this time of year. So that probably explains the rogue nature of the list below – ha ha. If you’re expecting to find Spectre (not at all bad) or the latest Marvel movie or Jurassic World, look elsewhere. These are just the films, of the maybe 350 films or so that I’ve watched in the past 12 months, that jumped out and grabbed me. Some of them are 2014 releases.

 

 

 

 

Ten Best

 

 

Paddington (dir: Paul King)

Operating in Mary Poppins territory, this adaptation of Michael Bond’s books is charming, funny and clever, has jokes for kids and some more thoughtful though never intrusive observations for adults, integrates the animated bear from darkest Peru with the live action brilliantly and there’s even an action-star gag by support-playing baddie Nicole Kidman that’s aimed at ex-husband Tom Cruise.

 

Wild (dir: Jean-Marc Vallée)

The redemptive drama is a hard sell, but this one about a broken woman’s long trek to self-realisation works in every way. Reese Witherspoon is believably frail as the wee girl dwarfed by her huge rucksack (metaphor), director Jean-Marc Vallée uses music perfectly and does something many directors have forgotten all about – he structures his film visually, using the editing suite to full advantage. His compositional work is remarkable.

 

Ex Machina (dir: Alex Garland)

Just as we are realising that technology’s grip is icy, and Google might not be our friend, along comes Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a dystopian slab of hard sci-fi in which geeky Domhnall Gleeson falls for robot Alicia Vikander while hipster tech uberlord Oscar Isaac looks on. A three-hander – give or take – getting perfect performances from all concerned, and it glistens like a tiny, beautifully cut gem.

 

Kajaki (dir: Paul Katis)

A gaggle of British squaddies with names like Tug, Spud and Smudge wander into a minefield and suddenly their casually homophobic banter is replaced by focused professionalism and a sharp interest in staying alive. Gruesomely tense, horrific in its depiction of the damage inflicted by IEDs, is this the best British war film since Ice Cold in Alex? It’s a great war film by any standards.

 

It Follows (dir: David Robert Mitchell)

Sexual intercourse as an engine of death isn’t new in horror films, but It Follows finds a simple and brilliant new way of telling the story all over again – zombies who are “slow but not dumb” and might appear any time, any place, anywhere, dressed in nightwear or perhaps not very much at all. A lurchingly subjective camera, expressionistic framing and Disasterpeace’s Wendy Carlos-alike score help rack up the intensity even further.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir: Ana Lily Amirpour)

The Muslim jilbab as a kind of vampire’s cape – what a brilliantly observed idea that is in one of the strangest horror films of recent times, which combines something of the mass-observation aesthetic of photographer Sebastião Salgado with the disjointed cool of early Jim Jarmusch. Shot entirely in California, yet clearly a film about and for Iran, it’s a fascinating, Middle Eastern take on the Let the Right One In “innocent vampire” genre.

 

Slow West (dir: John Maclean)

Michael Fassbender’s astonishing run continues with this out-of-nowhere debut by John Maclean, an exquisitely wrought western making clear its debt to old pulp novels and their love of hard-tack glamour and salty danger. Tense as hell, in fact the whole film is one long, slow build towards a great finale. And it looks the business too.

 

Aferim! (dir: Radu Jude)

There hasn’t been a great Romanian film for about ten minutes, but here’s a slightly different sort than what we’re used to – a historical picaresque following an 1830s cop and his son as they seek to capture a Gypsy and return him to his owner, a rich boyar whose wife has been too free with her favours. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon inspires some of the look and pace of it, and Don Quixote is clearly also a reference, though Cervantes didn’t finish on as gruesomely gripping a high as this does.

 

Theeb (dir: Naji Abu Nowar)

It takes a while for it to sink in, but what we have in Theeb – as we follow the exploits of the youngest son of a Bedouin tribe in the Laurence of Arabia-era desert – is a story straight out of Rider Haggard territory. It’s the sort of ripping adventure that once upon a time emboldened Spielberg and Lucas to make Indiana Jones but is done without a cocked eyebrow here, with genuine danger, tough decisions, cruel fate and a bit of socio-economic background (the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) all adding spice.

 

Mommy (dir: Xavier Dolan)

With Tom at the Farm it became clear that Xavier Dolan was something of a genius. Mommy is further proof, a tough drama about the stumbling relationship of a flaky mother (Anne Dorval), her aggressive, firecracker ADHD teenage son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and their nervous neighbour (Suzanne Clément). It wears its emotions out there on a selfie stick – “fuck off” in this film often means “I love you” – and there are at least two scenes so powerful you might have to remind yourself to breathe.

 

 

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Victoria Almeida in What's Left of Us
Victoria Almeida drives the boys crazy in What’s Left of Us

 

 

Appropriate Behaviour (dir: Desiree Akhavan)

The life and times of a second generation Iranian, or of a confused bisexual, or of a girl in the big city, or of a struggling 20something – Desiree Akhavan gets it all just right in this through-the-fingers New York comedy.

 

Maps to the Stars (dir: David Cronenberg)

Still Alice won her the acting accolades, but Julianne Moore is actually better in this return to nightmarishness for David Cronenberg, as a fading star and member of a family for whom the term fucked really doesn’t cover it. The Player meets Sunset Boulevard.

 

Life After Beth (dir: Jeff Baena)

Aubrey Plaza gives it her absolute all as a newly dead zombie trying to have a relationship with old boyfriend Dane DeHaan – who finds her a whole lot more into him than she used to be – in a genuinely inventive comedy made all the better by the presence of John C Reilly and Molly Shannon as Plaza’s concerned parents. Dead funny.

The Tribe (dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Shot entirely in Lithuanian sign language, acted by first-timers and set in a school for the deaf where a new boy finds that the descriptor “sex and violence” barely covers what’s going on, this film sounds like a stunt – and it obviously is to some extent – but it’s a stunt that works. And the lack of dialogue is no bar to understanding when emotion this direct and action this unambiguous is concerned.

The Babadook (dir: Jennifer Kent)

There’s a touch of The Innocents in this highly atmospheric Aussie horror about a mother driven to desperation by her needy child. Or is it the child we need to feel worried for? Sure, it goes slack in the middle, and becomes over-focused on telling us that writer/director Jennifer Kent has seen a whole load of old horror movies, but wait for the finale – barking, scary and brilliant.

 

The Book of Life (dir: Jorge R Gutierrez)

A Mexican flavoured animation with a Day of the Dead theme and a plot with a distinct Orpheus and Eurydice flavour – she’s dead and he goes after her into the underworld (ish). The visuals are spaghetti western meets Ren and Stimpy, the songs are jaunty and mariachi-flavoured and the voicework (Ice Cube in particular) is exemplary.

 

Pictures of the Old World (dir: Dusan Hanák)

“The best Slovak film ever made”, the reputation of Dusan Hanák’s disarmingly simple documentary from the early 1970s – about the dirt poor lives of ancient peasants up in the back of beyond – is entirely deserved. “I’m going to die this year, I can feel it,” says one old timer. And that’s what it’s about – quite starkly. Death.

 

Two Night Stand (dir: Max Nichols)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, It Happened One Night and The Dick Van Dyke Show are all in the mix in this subversive comedy about a girl (Analeigh Tipton) who has hook-up sex with a stranger (Miles Teller) and then gets stuck in his apartment. Old-school screwball romance follows, charmingly, smartly and at speed.

 

Predestination (dir: Michael and Peter Spierig)

Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi story All You Zombies provides the backbone for the Spierig brothers’ follow-up to the similarly idea-crammed Daybreakers, a “guy walks into a bar” tale of a hermaphrodite (Sarah Snook) who walks into Ethan Hawke’s bar and tells him a story about time travel and the paradoxes that erupt from it. Refreshingly hard sci-fi.

 

Frequencies aka OXV: The Manual (dir: Darren Paul Fisher)

Strip away the romance and what is human courtship about? Status, clearly, according to this lo-fi, highly fascinating film about “what happens when a high frequency meets a low frequency” – hot, smart girl meets average guy, in other words. It’s patchily acted and a bit speechy towards the end, but there are enough ideas in this bizarre film for about 12 Hollywood blockbusters.

Turned towards the Sun (dir: Greg Olliver)

A simple and revelatory documentary about 90-something poet and Second World War hero Micky Burn, a long-form visual version of a Daily Telegraph obituary whose power lies in the richness of Burn’s Zelig-like life. He was – just one for-instance – the guy in the secret radio room at Colditz.

 

What’s Left of Us aka El Desierto (dir: Christoph Behl)

A simple but powerful Argentinian zombie movie about a girl, a boy and another boy all locked up together in a house while the world goes to hell in a handcart outside. And inside, it turns out, once sexual dynamics and the fallout of a fetid love triangle start to exert themselves. Victoria Almeida is a powerful and provocative lead, the sexy counterweight to the hothouse atmosphere of death.

 

Tusk (dir: Kevin Smith)

Kevin Smith reminds us how good he can be with a film about a guy (Justin Long) being turned into a walrus by a demented surgeon (Michael Parks) while his much-cheated-on girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) searches for him. A simple film, it somehow manages to be funny and appallingly gruesome at the same time.

 

Face of an Angel (dir: Michael Winterbottom)

Michael Winterbottom’s drama takes the bones of the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox case and constructs a brilliant meditation on the modus operandi of the media, as well as a modern-day Dante and Beatrice tale in which film-maker Daniel Brühl is smitten by virginal Cara Delevingne, as anyone watching probably will be too.

 

While We’re Young (dir: Noah Baumbach)

Not-as-young-as-they-once-were couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts try to keep up with hipsters Adam Horovitz and Amanda Seyfried in a very Jewish New York comedy – smart, dry, a touch bitter – about the importance of being not just true to yourself, but of doing this absolutely and totally properly.

White God aka Fehér Isten (dir: Kornél Mudruczó)

Kicking off with a quote by Rilke, this unique Hungarian film is like a Disney animal flick about the adventures of a mongrel, except done as existential sci-fi – what exactly would happen if dogs had the same degree of consciousness that humans have?

 

The Salvation (dir: Kristian Levring)

Director Kristian Levring used to be a Dogme man, but shouts “I’m so over all that now” with this remarkable western that’s like a fusion of Sergio Leone, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Aldrich, with a perfectly cast Mads Mikkelsen as a Clint Eastwood-alike quester after vengeance. If looks could kill…

 

Run All Night (dir: Jaume Collet-Serra)

Another of Liam Neeson’s geri-actioners, though this time he’s back with director Jaume Collet-Serra for a deliberately retro dash for the finish in which strong, silent Neeson takes on the good guys, the bad guys and eventually the whole of New York. Hugely overwrought, entirely satisfying, it’s genre done properly.

 

Still the Water aka Tutatsume no mado (dir: Naomi Kawase)

If Douglas Sirk had been Japanese he might have come up with this overheated love story about teenage lovers hedging towards full penetrative sex as the waves crash, storms rage and their families conspire against them. Leisurely, beautiful, lusty and lovely, an unusual mix of the entirely natural and the gigantically metaphorical.

 

Phoenix (dir: Christian Petzold)

The latest of a string of dark, intelligent films that director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss have made together is a revenge drama set in the aftermath of the Second World War where Hoss, just released from a death camp, is recruited by her own husband to play his dead wife – he doesn’t recognise her, obviously – and she plays along. Oh deary deary me.

Marshland aka La Isla Mínima (dir: Alberto Rodriguez)

Stunningly good-looking policier about an ageing Franco-supporting cop and his younger more democratic sidekick investigating a murder out in the photogenic Guadalquivir marshes in 1980. Brilliantly acted and shot, with locations and music to match, it’s even got does a car chase in an entirely new way. Did I mention how good it looks?

 

Little Accidents (dir: Sara Colangelo)

Old school 1970s-style humane ensemble drama with a standout Boyd Holbrook as a survivor of a terrible mining disaster whose testimony about the event at an upcoming hearing are going to decide the futures of a whole lot of people in town. An ambling drawl of a movie, with Elizabeth Banks and Jacob Lofland almost as good as Holbrook, surely a star of 2016.

Turbo Kid (dir: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoan-Karl Whissell)

Utterly on-the-nail pastiche of 1980s straight-to-VHS movie-making, a post-apocalyptic Total Recall meets Mad Max story of a BMX-riding kid, called Kid, gaining special powers, falling for a special girl (a special Laurence Leboeuf) and saving the world. Funny and gory, with in-jokes for nerds, and a fabulous John Carpenter-like soundtrack by Le Matos.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (dir: George Miller)

Pedal-to-the-metal furious punk-funk madness, with a barely speaking Tom Hardy as Max, the road warrior on the road with badass Charlize Theron (the film’s real star) while director George Miller obsessively choreographs the relentless chase/action mayhem around them.

 

Tomorrowland (dir: Brad Bird)

Whatever happened to the futurism of jet packs and flying cars? Brad Bird answers the question with jaw-dropping visuals in a modern-day Wizard of Oz quest-adventure coolly received by critics with ass/elbow disassociation disorder.

 

Cop Car (dir: Jon Watts)

Another of those great Kevin Bacon movies he comes up with every few years, with our guy as a really bad cop on the trail of a couple of kids who have nicked his car, unaware there’s something in the boot they really don’t want to be discovering. A high-concept B movie of real distinction, lean, simple and with smart, believable dialogue, especially for the kids.

 

Palio (dir: Cosima Spender)

A remarkable documentary about the Palio, a horse race run in Siena, Italy, twice a year, which takes such pains to introduce us to its characters – chiefly, the young buck hoping to steal the grizzled champion’s crown – that when the race kicks off, you’re really in the medieval square with the riders.

Minions (dir: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin)

After the boring Despicable Me 2, who’d have thought that a spin-off – the backstory of Gru’s little yellow helpers – would have worked this well. Brilliantly animated and written, it’s a breathless, idea-packed, funny, inventive animated comedy.

 

I Believe in Miracles (dir: Jonny Owen)

Even if you have no interest in the 1970s, or British football, or managerial legend Brian Clough, this documentary about his astonishing success and idiosyncratic style will have you hooked. “The most charismatic man I ever met,” says one former player, part of the team of underdogs he willed to European Cup success, twice.

 

 

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 2015

 

16 November 2015-11-16

The Minions hitch a ride

Out This Week

 

 

Minions (Universal, cert U)

By the end of the first Despicable Me film, Gru, the archetypal bad guy, had been exposed as a bit of softie, which left Despicable Me 2 with nowhere to go, in terms of jokes about bad guys wheezing despicably and mwah-ha-ha-ing their way to world domination. But Gru’s Minions were still funny, and in this surprisingly lively, amusing, inventive spin-off, they get to show they can be funny at feature length, in spite of not being able to speak. Well, they do speak, but it’s a kind of Esperanto done with expressive voices and telegraphed emotions – Pingu, the Clangers and Shaun the Sheep territory. And Geoffrey Rush (in a voice cast including Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan and Jennifer Saunders) provides an explicatory narration so fruity he could be juiced. I doubt this is really a kids movie, since nearly all the jokes are about the gap between expectation and reality – and disappointment is adult territory – but they’ll probably enjoy the early stuff, a potted history of the Minions (helping dinosaurs, cavemen, ancient Egyptians, Dracula, Napoleon – despicable all, apparently). Before it winds us up to almost the present day, with the Minions trying to attend a Villains Convention in 1960s Orlando, Florida. This decision to stick with the logic of the initial idea – they’re minions, and they crave a nefarious master – is the film’s engine, and delivers all the narrative drive the film needs. But really, it’s all about the writing, and directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin’s team of jokesmiths, who have toiled long into the night to introduce sight gags every few seconds, then given themselves enough breathing space to have fun – what is a sumo wrestler doing in Queen Elizabeth’s retinue? For that matter, what is Queen Elizabeth doing in this film, and why does she live in a Disney castle? Like The Lego Movie, this could and probably should be watched multiple times.

Minions – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Hollywood Banker (Bulldog, cert PG)

The standard prejudices about Hollywood – by people who know nothing about Hollywood, and fostered by people who do but have an axe to grind – is that the creatives are good; it’s the money guys who are bad. Hollywood Banker upends that cart with a ridiculously informative, well researched and really rather nice film about Frans Afman, the dapper, urbane Netherlands financier who came up with (along with Dino De Laurentiis, his partner at the time) the pre-sales system, which has transformed movie-making since the 1980s. By taking the unmade film out on the road and seeing how many distributors they could get to finance it, Frans and Dino effectively reduced the risk at their end of the production chain. In this way When Harry Met Sally, Terminator, Rambo, Platoon and Dances with Wolves were all made. So were a raft of films by Golan and Globus, who took the idea to the next level. Along with Electric Boogaloo: the Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, the recent doc about the Go-Go boys (the title of yet another film about the period), Hollywood Banker tells the story of 1980s and 1990s Hollywood film, though here the stars and directors are lining up to sing Afman’s praises, rather than snicker. A decent guy, a gent, a mensch, a “class act” says Mickey Rourke, Afman was the son of culture-loving people and got into the film industry entirely by accident after De Laurentiis came to him needing a bank account. He was the antithesis of the ballsy dealmaker – in fact again and again we hear of how he’d send money to save a production, then deal with the paperwork later. His word was his bond. Kevin Costner is most effusive, pointing out how Afman financed Dances with Wolves when no one would touch it (first time director, subtitled, an unfashionable genre, very long). Oliver Stone and Paul Verhoeven are also full of warm words. This is clearly a legacy work, since it’s made by Afman’s daughter and with Frans’s help as he’s dying of pancreatic cancer. And maybe there is more dirt to find on the man than Rozemyn Afman has dug up, particularly in the details of the Credit Lyonnais/Carolco/Giancarlo Paretti/MGM fiasco which shook Hollywood in the early 1990s (the story behind which became the basis for Get Shorty). But Rozemyn Afman is a warm and personable interviewer and watching the likes of the usually guarded Costner opening up, it’s clear she’s good at it (it helps, of course, that she grew up in these people’s swimming pools). This film, in effect, is the autobiography Frans Afman wanted to write, but never quite managed. And it, like him, is a charmer.

Hollywood Banker – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Maggie (Universal, cert 15)

If Let the Right One In is the maudlin vampire movie par excellence, Maggie aims for a similar tone vis a vis the zombie movie. And it largely succeeds. Abigail Breslin stars as the daughter becoming a “necro-ambulant”, Arnie Schwarzenegger is the loving dad who knows that the disease is slow moving but that one day she will go full zombie and will have to be killed. We’re reminded constantly that he’s a man handy with an axe and a firearm. But he’s a long way from Standard Operating Arnie – the sort who kills people by the score without blinking. Here the instruments of mercy-killing are regularly in view, cleverly reinforcing the doomy “one day… one day soon” vibe that hangs over the whole film. Also clever is the way director Henry Hobson uses Arnie – he’s still no actor, but in terms of sheer likeability he’s hard to beat, and this aspect of his nature is played up. Around this father and daughter is a world carrying on as normal, through a zombie apocalypse. The health system hasn’t broken down, oddly, and a resigned spirit of relentless compassionate triage and merciful euthanasia and has taken hold. Teenagers still go out and drink around a campfire, as Breslin’s Maggie does at one point, where both her and an old flame who is also on the way to zombiedom talk about what’s coming in “this sucks” terms. Life going on is the strangest and most remarkable thing about the film – Maggie painting her fingernails though the arm they’re connected to is rotting. Zombie films are usually metaphors for something, and 20 years ago this would have been all about Aids. Now? A more philosophically existential bid to stay human, perhaps? Hence Arnie – Mr Skynet? Just thoughts. I don’t know. It’s probably there, though it’s really not that sort of film. Too downbeat and muted to do anything so declamatory. Quietly, grimly effective though.

Maggie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

I Believe in Miracles (Universal, cert 12)

Brian Clough is the English football manager who, looking back on his achievements, said, “I wouldn’t say I was the best football manager in the world. But I was in the top one.” This supreme confidence, headline-grabbing mouth and undoubted brilliance made him a gift for feature writers, talk show hosts and now, film-makers, since this must be the third film in a recent years to hash through the life of one of the game’s most colourful characters. Expertly collaging together interviews with Clough’s team, archive footage and a string of soul-disco crossover hits from the era, the film runs through, one more time, Clough’s remarkable return from the dead. He’d been sacked by Leeds United in 1975 (events covered in the Michael Sheen film The Damned United) and found himself being courted by Nottingham Forest. He took the job at this underdog team languishing halfway down the second division (this was the days before the Premiership, so equates to the Championship today). “It changed overnight,” said former NF player Ian Bowyer, one of many in the team who by their own admission were journeymen, sulkers and moaners. Two seasons in charge and Clough and assistant (and secret weapon) Peter Taylor had taken NF into the First Division (ie the Premiership today) and then went on to win the League Cup, then astonished everyone by winning the European Cup. The following season Forest won the European Cup again. The story of how Clough did this is fantasy montage-sequence stuff, as we’re told of training consisting of walks along the river, the lads all going for a drink together, Clough’s team tactics consisting of him saying “You get the ball, you kick the ball. If you can’t play, give it to someone who can.” “There was no plan,” says one player, indicating that Clough seemed to do it all by sheer charisma. Gary Birtles, we hear, didn’t train with the others. Instead, he played squash with Clough – that was his training. Hard man Kenny Burns recalls Clough always calling him Kenneth. “Only him and my mum called me Kenneth.” It’s a portrait of a manager who didn’t show fear in the changing room. When pushed, he pushed back, and he had one arrow in his quiver that the film doesn’t even bother to mention – as a player he’d been a phenomenal goal scorer (251 goals in 264 games, and it would have been much higher if he hadn’t had been invalided out of the game). The documentary fascinated me, and I have barely any interest at all in football. If you are interested in the game, I dare say this is unmissable. And if you’re a Notts Forest fan, I’m not sure how many Christmases this equates to. Granted, once we get to the point where Clough and Notts Forest have won the European Cup there’s a certain repetitiveness to seeing them doing it again. And at a certain point it becomes more about watching balls fly past goalies’ outstretched arms than the interpersonal whirlwind of Clough’s unorthodox managerial style. But director Jonny Owen and his editor weld together the players’ commentary with archive footage so skilfully, it feels like a demonstration of show-don’t-tell film-making – that mini essay on John Robertson, who “couldn’t tackle a fish supper” according to Archie Gemmill, but whose remarkable skill at getting a ball past a man without even touching it is conveyed in a brilliant composite of examples. And that, pretty much, goes for the whole film – the right images welded to the right words. A great film.

I Believe in Miracles – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Legend of Barney Thomson (Icon, cert 15)

I resisted watching this. Why, I’m not sure. Robert Carlyle is a remarkable actor, one of the few who can play big softies and frightening psychopaths with equal conviction. But here he’s directing and I knew his debut film was set in Scotland, his native country, and I suppose I just thought I might be getting a sentimental load of sub Ken Loach realism grafted to a Full Monty style comic jaunt. I was wrong to resist. It’s a film to savour, a macabre pantomime about a deadbeat barber who accidentally kills the boss who was about to fire him for scaring away the customers by being boring. Carlyle does it “grim up North Britain” style – apart from his scurfy barber’s shop it’s a milieu of ducks on the wall, that Green Lady picture, dog races, bingo, uncouth cops. And there’s Barney’s mum, played as an unrecognisable hag by Emma Thompson, a lifetime of disappointment on her face and a cigarette permanently in her mouth. There’s Ray Winstone, as a Cockney copper who hates the locals and affects not to understand a word they’re saying. What Barney and the mum actually do with the body of his dead boss is pure Joe Orton and while the panto shenanigans are going on, Carlyle entertains us with jaunty camera angles to indicate mental disorientation, a twangy guitar on the soundtrack and some visual nods to films we might have seen (The Third Man is referenced quite heavily, just for a bit of fun). It’s shot too much against the light – which used, in the 1970s, to indicate that you had a budget and film to spare because it’s so hard to do. Now it just looks like a pointless stylish tic. But that’s actually my only quibble with it. Tom Courtenay, James Cosmo, Ashley Jensen and Martin Compston all breeze on, and add their own tang. Highly enjoyable.

The Legend of Barney Thompson – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Magic Mike XXL (Warner, cert 15)

Well if it ever was an XXL it must have shrunk in the wash, because this sequel to the “Channing Tatum takes his clothes off” original is very unimpressive as a package. Newbies need to know that it’s still loosely based on Tatum’s time as an exotic dancer, and that it chooses the “getting the gang back together” form of sequel, sending the bickering dancers off on a road trip of pretty immense pointlessness. No one involved at the writing/directing/producing end seems to know what to do in terms of plot (scant) and character development (none), and the bump and grind sequences, when they come, are as much a relief as a diversion. Ah, the “dancing”? It’s very good again, particularly the big finale, shot, I suspect, at a real convention, where the fans deliver much needed hysterical atmosphere as various professional strippers do their thing. These apart, it’s a film of comings and goings, meetings and greetings, “Hey dude” hellos and “Later dude” goodbyes, with just enough female interaction thrown in to safeguard against accusations of being, you know, gay porn. Not that anyone isn’t comfortable with the idea of gayness etc etc. Love interest Amber Heard is the best thing in it, again proving she’s a natural in the Sienna Miller mould. And Gregory Jacobs, here the director but really more a second unit man, fails to demonstrate any real grasp of the bigger picture – individual scenes cohere, the whole doesn’t. Or maybe I’m asking more of it than it’s offering. Channing Takes His Clothes Off being the entire happy meal.

Magic Mike XXL – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

Best of Enemies (Dogwoof, cert 15)

In 1968, instead of spending vast sums covering the political conventions properly, struggling ABC network got in pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr to discuss what had gone down. The shows they featured on have since become legendary, largely because of the mutual hostility of the two men, who quickly departed from any pre-agreed agenda and went at each other hammer and tongs. Democrat Vidal believed Buckley to be a fascist; Republican Buckley knew Vidal to be gay and in the opening show refers to him as “feline”, before coming out with the full range of insults – whose ad hominem nature lost him the entire debate – further down the line (I won’t ruin it). In opening remarks, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary claims that these encounters were important because they laid the foundations of today’s culture wars in America. But the directors don’t actually pursue this line of argument, and prefer instead to focus on this pair of puffballs – one bouffant, the other reptilian – insulting each other. It’s great fun, though it’s a case of more heat than light. Was Buckley himself gay, as Vidal later went on to assert, as the pair of them took their slanging match first into the magazines and then to the courts? We don’t know, and we probably don’t care. But the pair of them are most remarkable florid, learned and able speakers, who can launch into a sentence without a safety net, against whom the modern talking heads commenting from a distance (including Dick Cavett, Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky) come up second best. As for who really won – it’s an open call.

Best of Enemies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015