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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown.

I know, I know, naming the depressing Belgian art-movie the movie of the week is both blindingly obvious and very "movie critic-y" of me but it really is bloody good.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) are two very different people who fall in love, start a family and play together in a bluegrass band but when their young daughter is diagnosed with cancer, the couple are forced to confront their major differences and the very basis of their love.

What we thought

Straight off the bat, lets make one thing clear: The Broken Circle Breakdown is a tough, frequently heartbreaking film that is absolutely not for those looking for a light, fun night out at the cinema. It is, however, a deep and profoundly moving near-masterpiece that we are truly fortunate to have gracing our screens when so many foreign-language art films are consigned to straight-to-DVD oblivion in this country.

It's a film that deals with love, life and loss and the way spiritual belief – or the lack thereof – profoundly shapes our lives; all tied together by classic American folk music. The Broken Circle Breakdown may be Belgian in origin but its soul is profoundly American as its use of folk, country and bluegrass doesn't simply set the tone of the film but is interwoven into every aspect of it. Even the title is a riff on the perennial folk song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Le Weekend

Hey, they can't all be as good as Step Up 5.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A British couple return for a weekend to Paris, the place where they spent their honeymoon many years prior, in an attempt to reignite a marriage that has long gone stale.

What we thought

Maybe it's an age thing but unlike seemingly the vast majority of critics, I mostly hated Le Weekend. Here we have a film with a top-notch cast, a sharp script by renowned novelist Hanif Kureishi, solid direction by the inconsistent but undeniably talented Roger Michell and the kind of minimalist, slice-of-life plot that I generally really enjoy (Richard Linklater's Before trilogy being a particularly fine example) and yet Le Weekend's very respectable ninety-minute running time ended up seriously testing both my patience and my resolve.

The problem, very simply, is that I absolutely detested the ageing married couple at the centre of the film. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are undeniably terrific in their respective roles but after five minutes in the company of these characters, I was desperately hoping for some sort of double decker bus to come screeching around the corner and put both them and us out of our misery.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After two pretty miserable weeks, this blockuster season bounces back with one of its best entries yet.


Silencing most of even its most most doubtful skeptics, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes successfully resurrected a franchise that looked more than a little dead. The previous attempt to bring the Apes franchise into the 21st century - Tim Burton's misjudged "reimagining" of the classic '60s science fiction film that started it all - crashed and burned, but it was apparently harder to kill a killer high concept than most assumed. Rise raked it up at the box office and garnered largely very positive reviews and was generally received about as well this kind of prequel/ reboot could ever hope to be. And, despite a few small flaws (James Franco's an engaging and likable leading man but an unconvincing scientist) Rise of the Planet of the Apes easily earned its warm reception.

What was less clear, however, was whether it was truly a new beginning for the franchise or just a particularly good one-shot that would spawn a bunch of mediocre sequels and spin-offs. It wasn't an unreasonable fear. Good as it was, Rise of the Planet of the Apes had an ending that drew a very clear line between it and the 1968 original so the idea of setting any more sequels between the two films looked set to be a largely redundant waste of time.

What's truly striking about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes then, is that it builds on and even surpasses its predecessor precisely by manipulating this potential failing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a new director (Cloverfield's Matt Reeves replacing Rise's Rupert Wyatt) and an all-new human cast but it's still startling just how different a film it is from its predecessor - even as it shares both the same writers and a number of the same strengths.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blended

Sandler's best movie in years!! Don't worry though, it's still godawful.

The plot, for what it's worth: After meeting on a disastrous first date, a widower (Sandler) and divorcee (Barrymore) find themselves, through the most ridiculous of plot contrivances, spending a holiday for "blended" families together in South Africa's Sun City resort with their respective children in tow. Guess what happens next?

Forget "blended families", though, because the real blending going on here is the unholy mixture of Adam Sandler's usual braindead "comedy" with the similarly barrel-scraping, way-way-way-too-broad "comedy" of South Africa's own Leon Schuster. Schuster doesn't actually appear (thank heavens for small miracles) but his insultingly stupid slapstick stylings have still found their way into the latest Adam Sandler barf-fest. Weirdly though, while you may well expect the blending of the worst of both American and South African comedy to result in - at the very least - a Ghostbusters-II-like expulsion of pure evil that would corrupt and destroy everything in its path, the two seem to mostly cancel each other out.

What should have been the cinematic equivalent of the Black Death then,  instead turned out to be the best Adam Sandler movie in years.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Bunch of Current Films to Watch Instead of Transformers: The Age of Extinction (can'tcomequicklyenough)

Like the title says!

Or, ya know, catch up time!

Between Transformers 4 and the upcoming Blended (more on that soon... probably), you would be excused for thinking that mainstream Hollywood cinema has finally died the death that everyone has been warning about for decades. The bad news is that with this week's release of Blended, we get similarly insipid stuff like  House of Magic, Hateship Loveship and The Invisible Woman - the latter two of which, have loads of potential but sadly really don't work. On the plus side though, the last few weeks have seen the release of a bunch of really worthwhile films. I've reviewed a few of them already (seriously, have you  still not seen The Fault in Our Stars and Edge of Tomorrow? What the hell are you waiting for?) but there are even more goodies that are more than worth your time. And, would ya know it, most of them are the very definition of "mainstream"!

On the less-than-mainstream side of things though, we have the frankly quite terrific Locke (9/10), which is this moving, thrilling and thoroughly engrossing movie about a guy talking on his phone (hands-free, of course) while driving to London for the birth of his illegitimate child. Seriously, that's all that happens for 90 minutes. We don't see anyone but Tom Hardy as the eponymous protagonist and the only time the camera leaves his car is for the occasional tracking shot of the traffic just outside his car. It should be a nightmare but thanks to a storming performance from Hardy and incredibly well scripted conversations with his character's wife, kids, boss, mistress, work subordinates and dead father, Steven Knight crafts as gripping a character-drama as we've seen all year.