When in the course of events it becomes necessary to watch and critique 6 films during week one of a vacation (with a side trip for work interviews…), the acceptance of impossibility will most certainly arise. Alas, that is what befell this humble writer last week, and so I present to you this week’s film reviews list, albeit a couple of days late!
Let’s start with the weekend’s big new opener The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie’s stylish new reboot of the famed, Sixties spy TV thriller. It seems very interesting indeed that a film of this nature could be so flash, actually rather fun and incredibly stylish and sleek, and yet have so little substance at its core. Rather saddening, if you ask me. That’s not to say it’s a bad film, but I have a feeling thatm what Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram planned over many, tipsy nights down the pub doesn’t quite translate fully onto the screen…but whatever else it does, it looks fantastic. The plot is trite, resampled Cold War U.S./Berlin/Russia and then Italy(!) affairs, though I’m pretty sure the Italy bit was more for stylistic flair or Ritchie’s knowing nod to his ex’s/kids’ blood. It mixes in a grab bag involving double agents embroiled in a governmental snafu when US Agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) meets his match with Russian double agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer)…tell me there’s not an implication that he’s a super soldier of some rank. Throw in a dash around Europe, family drama, pointless sex nods, aristocracy, and F1 racing and voila!…the 60s cinematic cocktail pours out nicely. It’s interesting a Ritchie film, because there is always a hint of history, doctrine, and neurosis with his stylish, comedic flair. In this film’s case, the lack of a weighty story shows a tad too much, though. As a movie, it is fun if not always thrilling. As a story, it is slow and rather drawn out. As art, it is like Lichtenstein set to aerial wafts of yesterday Europe while 60s grooves funk out in the background. ###
Oh zombies, monsters, vampires, whatever the hell you are in this next film…your paean to the creatures from The Descent made me smile…so thank you. The latter film happens to be my 2nd favourite horror film of all time. However, I assure you that Extinction does not make it anywhere near there. Still, let’s talk about this film. Does anybody else remember Matthew Fox from the TV show Party of Five? No? Here he plays Patrick, who along with a neighbour across the way in a snowy, abandoned semi-wasteland, awaits a certain fate. Vicious, zombie-like creatures have ravaged mother Earth as is made apparent from the gripping, opening sequence. The thing that separates this film from oh so many zombie fests of late is its lack of people everywhere. The film’s setting gives a heavy, dark presence to the feel of the movie, but you also get a slight emotional pang for the characters when you realise the connection between the two neighbours and a young daughter. A Spanish production by director Miguel Angel Vivas and produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, who has promised to start promoting Spanish horror/thriller filmmaking to his best ability. I hope to see a bit more action next time, though. Intriguing but slow. Interesting but lacklustre. ##-1/2
Next up brings us my favourite new release of the week. Though called Y De Repente Tu here in Spain, the film is titled Trainwreck and stars the newest US comedienne du jour Amy Schumer. I had only heard bits and pieces about her work and mostly knew the Schumer name through her elder cousin, my State Senator Chuck Schumer back in New York. When I first saw her show Inside Amy Schumer, I was quite convinced a star was reshaping avenues of comedy, especially for female comedians and storytellers. Luckily, her acting chops are put to the test in a marvellous way in this film. Working with Judd Apatow on a piece like this, and of course having a starring partner in Bill Hader and supporting co-stars Tilda Swinton and Colin Quinn, seems to point to nothing but positivity. In my opinion, this might be the freshest female-driven comedy since Bridesmaids four years ago. Apatow and Schumer have taken a played-out, cliched topic and turned it on its head, while keeping things believable and matter-of-fact. Perhaps it’s because I know girls like Amy, have been with them in my life to the utmost even, and am also a bit like both her and Hader’s characters that I related to this film. It targets the working person in their 30s crowd, so obviously I’m automatically thrown into that cinema audience mix, but the ease with which the actors personify their roles, the fluidity of the script by Schumer, and the setting of ever-present NYC spoke volumes of a new age in life and dating. Her script really tells about one’s personal understanding and recognition of themselves and shows how easily life and any mitigating circumstance can deter us from who we are and instead start us on the path to building up walls and becoming defensive. Good stuff underneath some crude, raw, very NY-American humour. A star is about to get even bigger! ###-1/2
So last week, as I started the next film, I was already a bit miffed as it revolved around a courier and his bike in NYC. You see, dear ones, I cannot ride a bike very well and anytime I see an expert rider like that, a part of me gets a little jealous and yet also desirous to maybe one day ride like that. Pathetic as I’m now over 35. Still watching the latest Taylor Lautner vehicle called Tracers, I kept thinking I don’t want to enjoy this drivel from an ex-Twilight alum but part of me enjoyed it a bit, but only a bit. As mentioned, courier Cam (Lautner) has a slight series of bad luck instances with his money and debt to a Chinese mafia group, and then he meets a girl, which leads to learning parkour, which leads to him joining a group of heist-pullers in the City. Using this as a way to pay off his debt, he quickly starts mastering all he can about parkour and falls in nicely with his new group…until things inevitably go awry. Here, the film takes an all too familiar dive into much-charted territory and the love angle feels forced and slightly, if not, very fake. Still, some of the action and chase scenes are beyond enticing and at least it spurned me to seriously consider mastering parkour, as well. Bicycles and parkour. Here we go! ##-1/2
My history with Pacino is a varied one. While I liked him as Michael Corleone in the Godfather series as a kid, when I saw a preview of Scent of a Woman with my mum, mid-week on a school afternoon while she was drunk, something about him got tainted oh so many years ago. It’s not the same feeling of distaste as with Jack Nicholson or Taylor Swift, no it’s not that strong. It’s more, as they say here ‘plan light,’ like how we all kind of feel about Arturo Mas or Ada Colau…you want to like them but something feels off. SO, going into watching Manglehorn, his latest screen effort, I was already a bit reserved. What I saw however was an ageing, calmer veteran of a man. His character, a locksmith in central Texas with a strange if boring past, was a replica of who he most likely is in life. Pacino, now well into his seventies, has vastly calmed down his usual, loud New Yawk persona for this quiet Austin-filmed set, and this is a piece on the elder man’s love’s labour lost. Manglehorn lives his life for his passion, a woman he never requited love with and his kitty. There was something flat but bittersweet with the film, and when you add Holly Hunter in (here playing his local bank teller), something more sweet than bitter happens. I’m still trying to get the lesson/moral from this film, however. Sweet. Slow. Art-Lite. Different Pacino.###
Lastly this week comes The Hunter (El Ultimo Cazador), a film I recalled seeing quite a few years back when it first premiered on select screens in the US and Australia in ’11. It tells the story of a search for the Tasmanian Tiger when pro hunter Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a faceless biotech firm to ensure DNA samples of possible specimens AND make sure no Taz Tigers are left. Incidentally the race for the re-discovery of these animals has recently been spurned in Oceania, which makes me wonder if this is why the film is now being distributed to European audiences. When he arrives to his destination, he lodges with a torn and dysfunctional family whose patriarch has disappeared and whose matriarch is addicted to pain medication and quite zombified. Here comes the human element of the film which helps guide the somewhat stinted piece. David leaves the family for research in blocks of days at a time, but every time he returns though, something new be it different (the mother snapping out of it) or terribly dramatic (need not say) happens. It’s hard to classify this film as simply a drama, though it is. At its heart, it also strives to be a think-piece, a slight if not taut thriller, and an environmentalist film, as well. Too bad it strives too hard. ##-1/2
Alrighty then. That wraps up this week’s issue of all things new and screening at your local multiplex. With the recent rains and cloudy days, why not take a saunter over to the cinema and enjoy one of these flicks? See you all soon!