Based on the true story of a bunch of MIT geeks who hit Las Vegas for a winning run on the blackjack tables before casino security cottoned on, this is a great idea for a movie but not a great movie. In essence, it adheres to the evergreen guys-on-a-mission template, with hard-up undergrad, Ben (Jim Sturgess, lightweight but passable) fearing he’ll be priced out of Harvard Medical School. He is lured by maths professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey, urbane but hokey) into a guerrilla unit of his best students ready to take on the baize tables: his argument is that twenty-one is a simple game, and by remembering which cards have been dealt, you give yourself a better chance of knowing when to fold or take a chance. Prospects look good for the rest of the picture at this stage, but disappointment takes over with the realisation it’s all being pitched to a pre-teen audience, smoothing out potentially juicy moral dilemmas and sanitising the grown-up throb of the Vegas experience into anodyne glitz.Actually, there’s something rather pernicious in the way the film drools over the towering chips, palatial suites and incipient gambling fever, as if to tantalise viewers way too young to be admitted to these very establishments; all of which hardly keeps us on-message that friendship’s a greater prize than cash alone. The whizzo-conceit and slick visual bling do give it an undeniably diverting buzz, yet the movie’s cautionary formula shows its hand way before the clunky final reel.
Wilder ran into charges of bad taste with this acid tale of reporter Chuck Tatum (Douglas), resentfully stagnating in a New Mexico backwater after being repeatedly fired from jobs in the big time, who sees a chance to manufacture a scoop when a man is trapped by a rockfall. The sheriff, calculating the publicity value to his forthcoming election campaign, agrees to spin out the rescue operation; Tatum builds his story into a nationwide sensation; and as thrill seekers, media hounds, and profiteers turn the site into a gaudy carnival, the victim quietly dies. As a diatribe against all that is worst in human nature, it has moments dipped in pure vitriol ('Kneeling bags my nylons', snaps Sterling as the victim's wife when invited to be photographed praying for her husband's safety), even though the last reel goes rather astray in comeuppance time.
Elmo, the cute little monster from TV's Sesame Street, gets a movie of his own, and charming it is too, for the first reel or so. We discover him snuggling up in the morning with his very favourite blanket, soft and fleecy, and quite a little groover in the first musical number. Clearly, this is one covetable 'blankie', since Elmo's soon tussling over it with pal Chloe, landing it inside the trashcan Oscar the Grouch calls home. Venturing within to retrieve it, Elmo is sucked into another dimension - Grouchland! All good messy fun, but then this Jim Henson production spoils it by introducing a fatally dull villain - Patinkin's acquisitive megalomaniac Huxley - and a fifth-rate Wizard Of Oz narrative. Bert and Ernie are on hand to explain the plot, but it's disappointing to see Grover and The Cookie Monster so offhandedly sidelined.
Disgraced MI6 sharpshooter Martin Kemp is not having a good day. He’s just been called up by a gravel-voiced miscreant named Jericho, who has kidnapped his daughter and now insists he carry out six killings in six hours – or the girl gets it. With targets all over the city on the day the far-right Patriot Alliance are due to mount an anti-Islamic march on Westminster, it’s a tantalising set-up, but sadly the film’s ambition far exceeds its reach. ‘Age of Kill’ bustles through poorly-staged action beats, cloth-eared mockney dialogue, bargain-basement CGI and variable performances before the final reel singularly fails to deliver on its promises. A gaunt, silver-haired Kemp looks the part but proves lightweight in the field, while a flailing Anouska Mond plays the least convincing Scotland Yard inspector in celluloid history. Only Nick Moran as a sleek, rabble-rousing demagogue hints at a better movie than this ineffectual muddle of would-be ticking-clock suspense and blustery, ill-focused comment on British community relations
Adapted from a novel by Choukitsu Kurumatani, this is remarkably similar to the many recent adaptations from manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge (Nowhere Man is typical). As always in these things, the protagonist is a blocked writer. Ikushima (first-timer Onishi) arrives in Amagasaki to be confronted by an ominous quote from Dante and a job threading raw meat on to skewers. He lodges in a seedy apartment where his neighbours include the enigmatic tattoo master Mayu (Uchida), his angelic mistress Aya (Terajima) and a gaggle of hookers. Drawn into sex with Aya and increasingly feeling that he's acting in someone else's drama, Ikushima agrees to accompany her to the famous 48 waterfalls at Akame, expecting to commit double suicide there. The last several reels get bogged down in entirely predictable illusions, delusions and paradoxes, so it's hard to believe that the film has any special insight into anything; you wonder why Arato (better known as Seijun Suzuki's latter-day producer) found the material compelling enough to warrant a 159-minute movie. But thanks to fine design and 'Scope framing, it looks great.
Cinema programmer Jorge has spent much of his life sifting through old film reels, introducing veteran directors to the public and using all of his ingenuity to revive old classics for the good people of Montevideo in Uruguay. However, his cinema is under threat and Jorge seems powerless to stop the inevitable.
Who do you cast if you're remaking Keaton's 1925 classic Seven Chances? It's obvious, really. The Buster Keaton of the '90s, Mr Chris O'Donnell. From here on, one senses, Brit director Sinyor's Hollywood comedy was doomed. The plot's still sturdy enough: an eccentric grandfather's $100m bequest depends on the protagonist's immediate marriage (or else he loses the family business), sticking at it for a decade, and fathering at least one child. To date O'Donnell's unwillingness to commit has put off Zellweger, his girlfriend of three years, and with her out of town and out of the picture, desperation looms. Delivering his usual 'jock in a china shop' performance, O'Donnell lacks the timing to make the material play, and Sinyor's slack direction offers little assistance. Only in the final reel does the film manage a flicker of real visual wit when a misguided newspaper ad unleashes a horde of would-be brides on to the streets of San Francisco.
Deaf since childhood (a home movie-style flashback shows how he lost his hearing in a fight), Kong still suffers acute migraines, only partly alleviated by his job as a hitman in Bangkok. Between hits he shyly dates the girl from the drugstore who sells him painkillers - taking her, of course, to see a silent movie. By the time she discovers what he does, he's begun to realise that not all his victims are bad guys. A largely generic script gets a phenomenal treatment. There's an amazing level of visual invention, garnished with creative CGI effects, and entire reels go by without dialogue. The twin brother directors (HK Chinese, but Oxide works in Bangkok) have come up with at least two potential genre classic sequences: a hit on a HK subway train, and another in a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok, where Kong is accompanied by the ghost of his late colleague. Seriously impressive.
Writer/director Stillman again casts an affectionate eye on the foibles of preppy young Americans, this time two cousins all at sea in the sexual, moral and political whirl of a changing Old World. It's the 'last decade of the Cold War'. Ted (Nichols) is a young, serious-minded car-company executive getting over a failed affair, his recovery hardly helped when Fred (Eigeman) - a brash naval officer - turns up uninvited to stay in his Barcelona flat. When Fred starts 'borrowing' money from his host and meddling in his encounters with various girls, tensions between the pair come to a boil. An incisive comedy of misplaced American manners, this is for the most part a very funny portrait of immaturity deceived by its own ignorance and blinkered obstinacy. Agreed, it's harder to like or care about Ted and Fred as much as their younger (and therefore more forgivably deluded) counterparts in Stillman's earlier Metropolitan, and the story's sudden shift into life-and-death melodrama in the final reel is a little clumsy. But the film looks good, the performances are sharp and droll, and there's more than enough originality here to confirm Stillman as a distinctive, beguiling talent.
Zack Snyder’s lumbering superhero mélange 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' feels like a $250-million tombstone for a genre in dire need of a break. It’s supposed to be the glorious ramp-up to a new crime-fighting franchise, DC Comics’s Justice League, but you’ll wish this strenuously empty movie had boned up on a few lessons beforehand. There’s zero humour or self-deprecation, as there was in Joss Whedon’s pitch-perfect 'The Avengers'; no performance of unlikely depth, like the one Heath Ledger pulled off in 'The Dark Knight'; and no animating spirit of decency, a trait Christopher Reeve’s Superman had in spades. Instead, we have Henry Cavill’s persistently inert Clark Kent and, somehow worse, Ben Affleck’s one-dimensionally vexed Bruce Wayne squaring off in a Metropolis still reeling from the devastation seen in 2013’s 'Man of Steel'. Neither actor is capable of setting the screen on fire – their first verbal showdown is hardly Pacino versus De Niro in 'Heat' – but the imbalance feels especially acute in a city that’s supposed to be publicly debating the philosophical merits of omnipotence. Add to the mix Jesse Eisenberg’s instantly annoying, tic-laden Lex Luthor, a millennial billionaire who speaks in chattering screenwriter-ese ('The red capes are coming!'), and Amy Adams’s Lois Lane, never more lost in a film that has no use for her softness, and you have a distinctly plastic affair. The plot turns on the shocking, never-mentioned-again destruction of a symbolic Ame
To think this started life as a game of detection you could play with pencils and paper, trying to guess where each other’s naval forces were secretly lurking on a hand-drawn grid. Nowadays, the same basic principles are played out on your tablets and smartphones, though there’s one common factor – a distinct lack of aliens. That’s now been rectified, as this pixellated extravaganza pits combined US and Japanese seagoing forces against powerful extraterrestrial foes, who look suspiciously like kiddies’ action figures, presumably because the same toy company which has the rights to the ‘Battleship’ game also brought you the ‘Transformers’ range. Essentially, then, we’re talking a marketing exercise as much as a movie.And not much of a movie either. Predictably big on military hardware, explosions, explosions and, yes, more explosions, its appeal would seem largely limited to little boys who like playing with plastic figures and detachable accessories, an age group forbidden from seeing it by the 12A certification. Taylor ‘John Carter’ Kitsch confirms that he lacks leading-man charisma as Alex, a youthful rapscallion who shows his mettle when he joins the navy, taking on the invaders so Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, not over-taxed) will let him marry his blonde bombshell daughter, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Oh yeah, and he might save the world while he’s at it.The action delivers a certain amount of mass destruction – did we mention the explosions? – but tends to assume the view
Written and directed at the tender age of 22, this impressive second feature from 1964 by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci (now enjoying a retrospective at BFI Southbank) looks at political and romantic uncertainty among the youth of Parma. As the seeds of revolution germinate, Francesco Barilli’s young Fabrizio embarks on a period of intense contemplation regarding his commitment to the Communist Party and his desire to distance himself from bourgeois decadence. Soon to be wed to stunning and wealthy Clelia (Cristina Pariset) and reeling from a friend’s death, Fabrizio’s attentions are diverted towards his charismatic, troubled aunt, Gina (Adriana Asti, pictured). She confuses Fabrizio to the point where the lure of his entitlement is all the more enticing.A leisurely, verbose and stylish film made by thinkers for thinkers, ‘Before the Revolution’ feels like it’s caught between two stools: it lacks the acute social observation found in Bertolucci’s stunning debut, ‘The Grim Reaper’ (1963), but it also fails to achieve the levels of free-flowing fizz displayed in his follow-up, ‘Partner’ (1968). He juggles with too many influences, to the point where the film feels like a compendium of nods and winks: we’ve seen these loping, well-heeled types in Antonioni’s films filling the void of social responsibility with art, religion and politics. We’ve seen snap-talking cinephiles touting Nicholas Ray’s use of a 360-degree pan in Godard. Still, that doesn’t detract from the virtuo
More painful man-child pratfalls courtesy of producer Adam Sandler in this anti-jock sports frolic whose major plus-point is its merciful brevity. Landscape gardener Rob Schneider was once a shy kid who didn’t get the chance to show his prowess on the baseball diamond, so he takes his chance now by joining social inadequate David Spade and mummy’s boy Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite himself) to confront the slick Little Leaguers who’ve bullied the area’s junior nerds off the park. Their pro-geek stand captures the attention of eccentric billionaire Jon Lovitz and soon there’s a tournament arranged, with a brand-new stadium the glittering prize. It’s quite literally men against boys but, bizarrely, we’re meant to be rooting for the grown-ups giving the sporty kids an ass-kicking – at least when the movie’s not wallowing in fart jokes or product placement, which is much of the time. And just when the baseball slapstick starts wearing thin, a final-reel gush of truly cynical sentiment on behalf of the physically challenged sends the ordeal-factor off the scale.
As Harper Stewart (Diggs) prepares to act as best man at a friend's wedding, it emerges that his about-to-be-published first novel, 'Unfinished Business', is a thinly disguised roman-à-clef. The wedding guests gather - among them Jordan (Long), one of the affianced author's old flames - former times recalled, and the talk gets round to putting real names to Harper's literary faces. So much for the under-powered plot, from tyro writer/director Malcolm D Lee, to which the tiresome unearthing of nice guy Harper's previous dalliances contributes little. The strong cast riff on fidelity, loyalty and commitment, and unsurprisingly the nuptial schmaltz is ladled on in the final reel.
This sports-action pic might never have been made had a famous surfware manufacturer not stumped up the readies for it. Guess that’s the onward march of commercially sponsored progress for you (just pray the big conglomerates don’t get any funny ideas). ‘Billabong Odyssey’ is more presentation reel than full-on documentary, although it is an odyssey of sorts. It’s raison d’être is clearly the action footage, which is superb, but pretty much everything else, from the dull narrative to the mostly indie thrash soundtrack, is part and parcel of any bog-standard Extreme Sports channel doc. The characters, too, are so laid back you wonder how they manage to even walk, let alone surf the world’s biggest breakers. Over-familiar with their local Californian surf, danger-seekers Snips, Skindog, Barney, Flea et al look to pastures new for that elusive ‘big one’. And find it they do, three years later, in the form of a shimmering 80-foot glass mountain of such breathtaking magnitude it makes you feel giddy with awe. What’s especially impressive about this scene is the way the image opens out and slowly tracks backwards (via helicopter) to reveal the insignificant figure of Mike ‘Snips’ Parsons skimming down the face of the biggest, most dangerous, volume of water this writer’s ever laid eyes on. The rest of the wave-riding footage – much of it shot at close-quarters and from water level – is also exemplary, if not quite as spectacular. ‘Billabong Odyssey’ may not be as evocative a film
Nominally a remake of the old Shaw Brothers/Wang Yu One-Armed Boxer, this is actually a (not very) original story: a young man discovers belatedly that he should be out avenging the father he never knew, loses an arm while rescuing a girl from kidnappers, and trains himself to overcome his handicap so as to confront the worst of the bad guys in the final reel. As rife with continuity errors and other signs of haste as most latter-day Tsui Hark movies, this is chiefly notable for its emphasis on naked male flesh; the girl's first-person voice-over is there to deflect suspicions of homo-eroticism.
Who knows what they’d make of it on the veld, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Rhodesian’ (as his character insists) accent isn’t as awful as the trailers might suggest in this well-meaning, well-made action-flick masquerading as a campaigning movie. DiCaprio is Danny Archer, a Zimbabwe-born hard man who flies into war-torn Sierra Leone on the trail of a pink diamond. He enters into a selfish bargain with local Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who knows where the gem is hidden and wants help in finding his family. On hand is open-shirted investigative journalist Maddy (Jennifer Connelly), there among the chases and explosions to provide some handy facts and a few gratuitous chest-shots. ‘Blood Diamond’ inspires more than a few back-handed compliments. It doesn’t entirely evade the issue at its core – conflict diamonds – in favour of pure action by way of guns and planes, thrills and spills; but it hardly embraces the subject fully either. Similarly, it doesn’t entirely shy away from showing the brutality of conflict in Sierra Leone – there are terrifying depictions of child-soldiers in battle and of limb amputations – but neither is it daring enough to present Archer solely as a villain. By the final reel, we’re expected to detect a heavy dose of redemption and regret in Archer that’s about as plausible as baby-faced DiCaprio playing a tough mercenary of many years service. Final scenes in London in which diamond-dealing head-honcho Michael Sheen glides through London in a limo like
The screen is a perfect blue throughout as Derek Jarman faces up to AIDS, the loss of loved ones, the breakdown of the body, blindness, his own approaching fall into the void. The film embodies the spiritual transcendence which Cyril Collard sought to convey in the last reel of his anguished melodrama Savage Nights, crucially in the serene contemplation of the screen itself, but also in Jarman's beautiful poetry. Extracts from the film-maker's diary supply an ironic commentary on the 'progress' of his illness so that the movie becomes a juxtaposition between the finite and the infinite, the sublime and the ridiculous. Greatly helped by Simon Fisher Turner's soundtrack. Moving beyond words.
In Godard's words, this is a film with a beginning, a middle and an end - but not necessarily in that order. It's a fascinating experiment: five reels - each centred on the tangled relationship between a divorced author, a volatile film producer and a determinedly free spirited young woman, all involved at some point or another with gun toting hoods - which may be shown in any order. The arrangement I saw definitely worked, since the themes of chance, predestination, choice and indecision were well to the fore. Witty, perceptive and consistently intriguing.
Ever had the feeling your boss doesn’t have your best interests at heart? The stakes are certainly high for Leonardo DiCaprio’s CIA operator on the ground in the Middle East, who’s fluent in Arabic, culturally aware, and covertly tracking terror suspects. What he doesn’t need is his Washington handler (a porked-out yet somehow terrifyingly steely Russell Crowe) continuing to operate on a separate gung-ho agenda, blithely impacting on his agent’s carefully cultivated trust with the Jordanian intelligence service (headed by a suave, scene-stealing Mark Strong). Meanwhile, as Manchester, England, buckles under the latest extremist outrage, the information war is too important to lose.Adapted from a David Ignatius novel by ‘The Departed’ writer William Monahan, Scott’s latest almost manages to square the circle of providing a cogent analysis of Bush II’s foreign policy failings while delivering a steady stream of multiplex-friendly bumps, scrapes and explosions. Anchored by a hard-working, persuasive DiCaprio, it’s dense, knotty stuff, convincing (as ever with Sir Ridley) in its milieu, and offering a deftly pointed study in contrasts between front-line personnel who really know the territory and powerful, insular decision-makers, far removed from the daily threat of assassination or abduction. Perhaps Scott’s ever-restless shooting style doesn’t quite differentiate between the peaks and troughs of the narrative, yet it’s still an engrossing account of the intersection between pr
Lincoln Rhyme (Washington) is a legendary forensics cop bedridden after an accident, but that doesn't stop him leading an investigation to track down a serial killer, since patrolwoman Amelia Donaghy (Jolie) is on hand to do all the legwork. It isn't too hard to figure what follows from this contrived scenario: lots of gruesome slayings to be picked over, set-pieces where Jolie has to creep around in the dark wondering if the maniac is going to leap out, and a romance angle between her and Washington. The material is dreck, no doubt, but all concerned give it top class treatment. Washington is commanding as he barks orders to the support team, director Noyce is enough of a technician to make sure the film pushes the right suspense buttons, and the art direction at the crime scenes is so hideous you suspect they had real life psychos place the dismembered limbs just so. In the end, though, a final reel of chin dropping idiocy makes all this a wasted effort, and you leave with the feeling that a nasty bit of work has merely been tarted up for our delectation.
Love makes the world go round, but it can also turn your universe inside out. That much is clear in French-Canadian writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée’s time-skipping drama, which fuses passionate emotions with ecstatic filmmaking to startling effect.In the present, star Québécois DJ Antoine (Kevin Parent) is finding love the second time around with blonde goddess Rose (Evelyne Brochu). Yet he’s troubled by the knowledge that his first wife, Carole (Hélène Florent) – the childhood sweetheart who essentially shaped his entire being – has fallen to pieces since he left her. Meanwhile, in late ’60s Paris, single mum Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) struggles her hardest every single day to raise her Down’s syndrome son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), shaping an intense bond between mother and child…which will soon be put to the test. Thanks to heart-rending turns from Paradis and the frankly amazing young Gerrier, the period narrative is the more compelling of the two. In contrast, the somewhat closed-off character of Antoine is harder to read, presumably because he doesn’t yet understand himself, escaping into music as a way of easing the painful fallout from his romantic choices: Pink Floyd and Sigur Rós feature heavily, while the title refers to a club track heard at significant moments.Still, as we flit back into Antoine’s past, glimpsing the contours of his long, formative relationship with his troubled ex, the extent of her loss comes into focus and with it hints of a connection to th
Kristen Stewart leads with her chin in the prison drama 'Camp X-Ray' – and not just by jutting it out in her usual glum-girl pose. In this star vehicle's first few minutes, Stewart's character, Cole, a soldier and recent transfer to the high-security cell block at Guantanamo, is elbowed in the face by a howling detainee. A spot of blood forms on her lip, but – wouldn't you know it? – the jaw stays firm. Writer-director Peter Sattler, whose feature debut this is, is keen for us to know the former 'Twilight' star can take a hit, even as the camera lingers on Cole tightening her hair bun and reining in her feelings. Nonetheless, those feelings come into play as she bonds, initially against her will, with chatty, English-speaking Ali (Peyman Moaadi), an eight-year prisoner frustrated by the library cart's lack of the final Harry Potter book. How does the magical saga end? Just as you're reeling from the tackiness of this premise, set within such an explosive context, the plot doubles down on it: Ali starts calling her Blondie and she tells him to 'cut the Hannibal Lecter shit.' That's exactly where things are headed, though, and you cringe at banter yet to come. Aside from dirty protests and a hunger strike included to remind viewers they are, indeed, watching a human-rights drama, 'Camp X-Ray' attempts to shade the situation with a poundingly obvious countervillain, Cole's superior, a sexual predator whose advances during off-time are rebuffed. He then tries to humiliate both