After serving Philip Pullman (‘The Golden Compass’) and Stephenie Meyer (‘Twilight: New Moon’), Chris Weitz was presumably looking for material on which he could put his own stamp, which perhaps explains this semi-worthy, semi-arthouse East LA spin on the neorealist saga ‘Bicycle Thieves’. Illegal Mexican immigrant Carlos (Demián Bichir) toils away each day, tending the gardens of wealthy Angelenos, and although his lack of legitimate ID makes him circumspect, the opportunity to buy his retiring boss’s pick-up truck and take over the business himself is not one to miss. It means borrowing money but promises a better future for his US-born-and-raised adolescent son Luis (José Julián). However, actually getting behind the wheel of the truck is only the start of his problems…Pitched as an educational journey for white-bread America, the film oozes sympathy and thrums with indignation as it lays out poor Carlos’s limited options for the pursuit of happiness. Although there’s more mainstream gloss here than you’d find in the usual grainy handheld indie pic, Weitz holds back on button-pushing special pleading, helped by Bichir’s persuasive everyman and Julián’s credibly sullen teen. It’s in trying to deliver a story that is both social-consciousness raiser and saga of father-son cross-generational transcultural understanding that the effort begins to tell. The didacticism takes the shine off Weitz’s accomplishment, even if the film builds up enough empathy to generate slow-burning
Is it time to admit defeat? There have been five Asterix movies since 2002 and all of them, it’s fair to say, have been pretty dreadful. Is it possible that Goscinny and Uderzo’s comic strips about the indomitable Gaul just aren’t filmable? ‘The Mansions of the Gods’ is largely faithful to its source, the one where Julius Caesar decides to defeat the Gauls not by strength of arms but by Romanising them out of existence. To this end, he orders a housing project to be built on Asterix’s doorstep, in an attempt to show the rebellious barbarians the benefits that civilisation can bring. Jokes about encroaching urbanisation may have been relevant in 1971 when ‘The Mansions of the Gods’ was published – now it all feels weirdly conservative. So too do Asterix’s efforts to stop the Roman invaders immigrating to his beloved Brittany. And the animation is lacklustre, turning Goscinny’s sprightly illustrations into plasticky CGI. But the really disastrous decision was picking well-known comedians to dub the voices. None of them sound remotely engaged, and plummy-accented 28-year-old Jack Whitehall as middle-aged French everyman Asterix is just unforgivable.
Adapted from a Donald Westlake novel, Costa-Gavras’ latest is a far-fetched crime tale with a welcome and successful black comic edge. José Garcia is excellent as put-upon suburban everyman, Bruno Davert, who loses his well-paid job at a corporate paper company and is unable to find another position to support his family. Bruno’s solution is radical (ridiculous even, which serves to highlight the desperation of his position): he decides to assassinate his unemployed industry rivals one by one. Gavras strikes a fine balance between tragedy and comedy so that the wildness of his story never seems to matter. Thrilling and funny.
British director Bernard Rose brings his exemplary trilogy of modern-day updates of short works by Leo Tolstoy to a close with this version of the story ‘Master and Man’, about a rich man and a peasant caught in wintry conditions. As ever, the attractively louche and world-weary Danny Huston stars, this time as Basil, an embattled and haughty property speculator from Los Angeles who abandons his family to take a post-Christmas tour of foreclosed properties in snowy Denver in the company of Nick (Matthew Jacobs), a schlubby, likeable driver with marital woes. Rose continues in the improvisatory, handheld style of the two previous films in the series, ‘Ivansxtc’ (2000) and ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (2008), and his spin on Tolstoy’s story proves timely and persuasive: as the weather becomes colder, so a thaw develops between Basil and Nick’s more attractive everyman. The backdrop of the current financial crisis lends ‘Boxing Day’ a further relevance. Neither this nor its predecessor matches the bite of ‘Ivansxtc’, but this is clever and topical nonetheless.
Nanni Moretti released this attack on Silvio Berlusconi in the run-up to Italy’s elections last April, when the businessman-politician failed to win a third term. It’s surprising, though, considering the film’s positioning as a political instrument, how little ‘The Caiman’ actually deals directly with Berlusconi and how little effort Moretti makes in constructing a case against him. The film’s real interest is fictional delight Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando), a flailing producer of appalling B-movies such as ‘Mocassini Assassini’ who reluctantly agrees to back a cinematic attack on the politician when young writer-director Teresa (Jasmine Trinca) thrusts her script into his hands. It’s only when he begins the soul-destroying process of finding financiers and actors that he warms a little to Teresa’s cause. His mild awakening is superceded by a personal crisis: not only is his career in tatters, but he and his wife (Margherita Buy) are separating. As he struggles to balance family and work, we see some imagined scenes from his Berlusconi film, each reflecting a different stage in its production and each showing Berlusconi played by a different actor, including Moretti himself.Moretti’s portrait of a loser lingering in the doldrums of Italian cinema is wittily scripted and lightly played. He posits Bruno (an everyman, if he weren’t a filmmaker) as a reflection of a sick society. In that sense, ‘The Caiman’ is subtly political rather than a coruscating, detailed ad hominem attack
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón once again proves his dexterity at turning his hand to different genres and subjects with this thrilling adaptation of a PD James novel, which is his first film since directing ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ and his first screenwriting credit since his 2001 arthouse hit ‘Y Tu Mamá También’. Set in Britain in 2027, it’s a sort of sci-fi movie, but it’s the film’s nervous and energetic verité style, and creepy familiarity – not any wild vision of the future – that make it so involving. It helps, too, that Cuarón doesn’t allow the writing or the performances, most notably from Clive Owen and Michael Caine, to sink amid the film’s futuristic detail and pointed ideological concerns.‘Children of Men’ is a clever and credible vision of London in the near future – a violent, paranoid, claustrophobic time when Britain is the only surviving nation, and a fertility crisis means that no babies have been born for 18 years. The Department of Homeland Security has ordered a militarised police to arrest all illegal immigrants and dispatch them to a fortified compound at Bexhill-on-Sea. Meanwhile, a rebel outfit of guerilla refugees (or ‘fugees’) known as The Fish loom threateningly in the background, fighting for the rights of illegal immigrants and determined to cause major unrest. Cuarón’s smart trick is not to explain too much. Instead, he leaps straight in to his story, which is a good old-fashioned chase yarn that’s gilded with some unobtrusiv
Not too long ago, Steven Spielberg went public with his regrets about the climax of his 1977 science-fiction masterpiece ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. As a husband and father, he says he no longer believes in the story of a man who abandons his family to explore the stars. And he’s got a point. For all its dewey-eyed optimism regarding creatures from another world, ‘Close Encounters’ is pretty uncomfortable with the inhabitants of this one. Everyman hero Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) may be a loveable, star-gazing dreamer, but his wife is a nag who doesn’t understand him, his kids are shrieking pre-pubescent lunatics and let’s not even start on the shady military types who start nosing around following Roy’s night-time run-in with a flying saucer. This lurking emotional discomfort is just one of the fascinating things about ‘Close Encounters’. Sure, the story’s thrilling and the set-piece special effects are still unrivalled – the mothership cresting Devil’s Tower stands as one of the few literally jawdropping moments in cinema. But all these years later, it’s the tricky personal stuff that makes the film remarkable: the depiction of a man crumbling under the pressure of forces he can’t understand; the riotous, relatable scenes of madcap family life; the sense that it’s a film as much about the pressures of creative inspiration as alien contact. Those pressures may be why ‘Close Encounters’ remains the only film credited to Spielberg as sole writer and director. Given that i
So far the ‘Die Hard’ series has offered scenes of civil aviation hijack, skyscraper attack (with falling bodies) and a New York besieged by explosions. Nothing unusual then: in the years before 9/11, grand-scale civilian terror was a staple Hollywood pleasure; ‘Die Hard With A Vengeance’ (1995) even showed Manhattan office workers munching popcorn as they survey the carnage below. In the event, of course, people took terrorist attack rather more personally than that, both in the moment and in dealing with the fall-out. Inspired by a WIRED article about the threat to homeland security from systems hacking, ‘Die Hard 4.0’ happily exploits the dire potential consequences of such ‘soft strike’ tactics, yet proposes the decidedly September 10 solution of an individual hero – and banks on its audience reaching for the popcorn, like in the good old days.Once again, NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is in the wrong place at the wrong time – in this case, Washington, DC, on Independence Day, just as forces unseen conspire to shut down the security and transport systems of the city and its neighbours. Chaos ensues and McClane girds himself to save the day with blood ’n’ grit, assisted by unworldly but tech-savvy hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long, who played similar roles in ‘Galaxy Quest’ and ‘Dodgeball’). In the other corner are high-kickin’ Maggie Q, clench-jawed, bug-eyed Timothy Olyphant and some French blokes who know parkour (bien sûr). McClane’s teenage daughter (Mary Elizabe
In most respects, Journey has followed the same path as many other arena-rock acts: Having hit big in the ’70s and ’80s, the group watched its future dim as internal strife made it hard to push forward, and listeners moved on to new sounds. Then came a fallow period, followed by a revival-circuit return—minus a few key members—for lucrative engagements in front of nostalgic crowds. (See also: Styx, Kansas, Grand Funk Railroad.) After reuniting with vocalist Steve Perry for a late-’90s comeback album then going their separate ways, the San Francisco band went through several prospective warblers, before their story took an odd turn. A permanent replacement was found in the form of Arnel Pineda, a Manila singer the group discovered singing Journey covers on YouTube—and sounding uncannily like the voice behind their biggest hits. Unfortunately for this rock doc, this fan-to-frontman saga is not that interesting a turn. Pineda’s story—which involves extreme childhood poverty and some grown-up struggles with substance abuse—is compelling, but not compellingly told, with the new singer appearing to be little more than an affable guy who understands how lucky he’s gotten. Beyond that, the film mostly features a lot of touring tedium and unspectacular concert footage, though director Ramona S. Diaz manages to wring what drama she can out of Pineda contracting a cold. Spoiler alert: He gets better.
The start of this grim fairy tale – adapted by David Mamet from his own 1982 play – is ominous in more ways than one. Not only does the titular salaryman’s encounter with a clairvoyant convince him to change his life – he immediately abandons his unsuspecting wife (Rebecca Pidgeon, naturally) for the neon-lit mean streets of sin city and, inevitably, a long, dark night of the soul – but the heavily brooding atmospherics hint that we, like Edmond (William H Macy, naturally), may be in for a confusing, even bruising ordeal. For, as the wide-eyed everyman follows the advice of a barfly (Joe Mantegna…) by visiting bars and bordellos in search of revitalising sex, it’s impossible to tell whether the endless humiliations he suffers or his subsequent manic exhilaration at rediscovering his ‘masculine’ ability to take control is meant as a metaphor for the alienated plight of modern man or as satirical black comedy. That it’s hardly funny suggests the former; that it’s absurdly overwrought the latter. Either way, the film fatally duplicates not only the casual sexism of its white males, but also – in its crude depiction of various black characters – the racism to which they give characteristically repetitive Mametian voice. There’s homophobia, too, of course; and if the coda’s deep irony mitigates against such charges, that doesn’t stop the rest of the movie leaving a sour taste.Representational ethics apart, the film piles cliché upon cliché, and any claims its authors may make to i
Formerly known as the Screen on the Hill, the Everyman Belsize Park is now part of the Everyman group of luxury cinemas, which includes the Everyman Hampstead and the Everyman Screen on the Green. Nestled among bars and restaurants in Belsize Park, this is a single-screen cinema with 113 standard seats and 16 premier seats – but the standard seats are pretty fancy too (leather armchairs and sofas). The films are a mix of mainstream and independent, and the food and drink is of the superior kind. This was the first of the luxury Everyman cinemas and so is something of a flagship, alongside its near-neighbour the Everyman Hampstead.
This is the original cinema of the Everyman chain of luxury cinemas – known as the Everyman long before there was ever a group. The venue’s two screens are decidedly upscale: each with armchairs, sofas (as well as a sprinkling of deluxe two-seater sofas in the larger screen) and staff serving food and drinks at your seat. The programming is a mix of mainstream and independent, so you can expect to see big blockbusters here as well as artier British and international films.
The first release of 2016 from Bollywood’s biggest romantic superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, is a major departure from his recent slide into silly overblown action comedies. This is a psychological thriller about a fan’s irrational obsession with a superstar and the tragic consequences that inevitably follow. Wearing prosthetics, Khan plays Delhi boy Gaurav, whose favourite film hero is Aryan Khanna (Khan again). When Gaurav wins a local talent competition he decides to use the prize money to go to Mumbai to meet his idol. When Khanna refuses to grant him five minutes of his time, Gaurav is enraged and plots to destroy his hero. There is much to commend in this engaging film: it’s all the better for being song-less, the obligatory romantic subplot is minimal and 'Fan' realistically explores the Indian everyman’s fixation with buff ageing male actors. Best of all Khan drops his hammy antics to genuinely get under the skin of the delusional superstar character. There are also several funny in-jokes about what it is really like to be ‘SRK’, Khan’s brand image. Alas, after a successful first-half set-up, director Maneesh Sharma almost derails his propulsive plot when the action shifts to lengthy and potboiler-style chase sequences across London and Croatia. A little more restraint in maintaining the tonal consistency would have resulted in a much darker and satisfying cautionary tale about the perils of fame and blind love.
Each week, we round up the most exciting film events happening in London over the coming week, from pop-ups and one-offs to regular film clubs, outdoor screenings and festivals. Here’s this week’s top five… 1. Film4 Frightfest: 'Hawk the Slayer' Somewhere in the mists of time (or dry ice to you and me), Hawk the Slayer roamed a land of painted backdrops, cardboard castles, and gauze-infested forests, fighting Evil and bringing Peace. His team: a dwarf, an elf, a giant and a witch who can turn a useful trick or two. His opponents: the rest of the world captained by big brother Jack Palance, a dirty player if ever there was one. The object of the game: kill each other. Sure, this not-quite-epic sword ’n’ sorcery adventure is pretty daft. But with director Terry Marcel launching a Kickstarter campaign to make long-awaited sequel ‘Hawk the Hunter’ (alongside composer Rick Wakeman!) we think it’s well worth revisiting. Vue West End, 3 Cranbourn St, WC2H 7AL. Sun Aug 30, 1.20pm. £13.25. 2. Last Resort A great excuse to check out the ultra-cool, DIY Deptford Cinema. In this compassionate, low-key British drama, Tanya and son Artiom arrive at Stansted airport from Moscow but don't get past immigration. Her fiancé never shows. She claims political asylum. The pair are dumped in Stonehaven (aka Margate) in midwinter, where they’re expected to subsist on vouchers until their case can be considered. But the desolation of this grey open prison is not allowed to overshadow a tender