The beauty of a film franchise like Ice Age is that it has the possibility of appealing to a wide audience not only limited to children’s humour. When you can bridge that gap, everything tends to work together as a whole. So, that said, this past weekend brought us the release of Ice Age 5:Collision Course. First, the positives. Voiceovers are fun! Especially when you get a smorgasbord of comedic and vocal talent like Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Simon Pegg, J.Lo, Queen Latifah, and even Jessie J and Keke Palmer. Great! So why is the plot so thin, the jokes incredibly lame and the inspiration devoid of any substance? As always, little Scrat the squirrel sets off a chain of events that produces an asteroid cluster headed on a collision course with Earth. Meanwhile, the discovery of an ancient stone pillar seems to tell the facts about this asteroid’s path to Earth and how this has happened before, but as the cast discovers there are unknown electro-magnetic properties to the stone, so they devise a plan to throw the asteroid off its path and back into space. Far-fetched? Yes. Cartoonish? Yes, of course. Worth watching? Nope. Worst in the Franchise? Without a doubt. ##
Another franchised film continues this week’s wide releases, and it should be duly noted that, unlike the former review, this might just be the best of the series. In The Purge: Election Year, director James DeMonaco’s attempts to reach exploitation heaven finally seem to meet their match. With Senator Charlene Roan (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell) as a presidential hopeful who wants to abolish Purge night, we get the svelte, younger version of what could be his interpretation of Hillary Clinton. But the powers that be are threatened by her soaring, sudden popularity so a bounty is put on her head during this year’s Purge. Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes returns, this time playing head of security for the Senator. It’s 2022 and one of the many things that DeMonaco has done surprisingly well in the film is making this next instalment feel integral to the story. Following a ragtag team of white collar workers who are attacked and then aid in the escaping of Senator Roen, DeMonaco gives the audience a reason to feel emotionally connected to the characters being brutally pursued and maimed—something that too many horror films do not bother doing this days. Borrowing from other great genre movies like Clockwork Orange (1971), The Warriors (1979), and Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), he manages to put a lot of ideas and images in your mind that are original and terrifying…that damn church scene is nuts! Especially with the current US Presidential election, it’s a bit like watching Mitchell’s senator as Hillary Clinton and then we get that right-wing Minister as Donald Trump. How could you NOT see it that way? Nicely executed. ###-1/2
The summer brings with it the typical beach moments that we all know about, especially here in BCN, where we can enjoy that from about April/May to September and October. Now imagine that you were swimming or surfing in one of our calas here in Catalunya and narrowly escaped a vicious great white attack by jumping onto a narrow inlet of rocks some 100 metres from the shore. Right there, you basically have the entire plot of the latest and greatest shark horror film since Jaws some 40 years ago. The Shallows gives us a pre-baby Blake Lively who is more than just a pretty face and bikini bod. In this film, she has to do a lot with very little to work with other than a wounded seagull who can’t fly away. This film was an emotionally, brutal test of wills, certainly to make but also to watch, and as a critic and someone entranced yet terrified by sharks, I cannot stress how well Catalan director Jaume Collet-Serra has crafted this very short, concise film. I was blown away by the simple, yet detailed, intricacy of the story and the usage of its scarce settings. The gut-wrenching situations that Lively’s character is put through whilst desperately trying to stay alive incle eye-candy moments as well as nail-biting ones. Let is be said, if you’ve seen the trailer you know what you’re in for…an amazing shark tale. ####
600 Miles is a damn masterpiece. Simple yet finely-detailed, quiet yet revealing, indie but too common, this movie took the film fest world by storm over the last year, and now with proper distribution, this joint Mexico-USA production is finally hitting our shores. Spectacular! Winning the Best First Feature Award at last year’s Berlinale Festival and the Ariel Awards, the film tells the story of Arnulfo Rubio (Jristyan Ferrer), a small-time and quite young smuggler of weapons for his uncle’s cartel. When an ATF agent named Hank Harris, played to perfection by the never-ageing Tim Roth, attempts to take him down, one of Arnulfo’s buddies helps him pull the rug out from the ATF’s plan and then we have a 600-mile drive that the young Mexican must endure whilst driving this agent to his uncle’s HQ in central Mexico. But then empathy sets in as young Arnie really has no desire or ability to be a ruthless sack of crap. The quiet intricacy of how Ferrer and Roth have woven their characters together is amazingly interesting to watch because we’re drawn into a world we’ve heard so much about, but rarely see so intimately portrayed. Even little Arnie’s homosexual tendencies are mere hints of the stoic, yet extremely sensitive man-boy nature he exudes. By no way is this to say that this film is all emotion and no jumps! There are some visceral and all-too-real scenes of cartel land that bring that reality full force, but it’s the simple, well-constructed story that really makes this film such a success. Kudos to director Gabriel Ripstein and newbie Kristyan Ferrer, whom we are sure to see and hear more of…the new Gael Garcia Bernal. ####
Next up is a film that was originally marketed and greenlit to be a sort-of sequel to Se7en, the 1995 that made everyone love Gwyneth Paltrow for a while, as if her head really had been spliced off and left in a box. A sequel it ain’t. With Solace, starring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish and Colin Farrell, one would think that the pedigree served up here would be up to par with the best of thrillers of this ilk and in this genre. Instead, we get a half-baked attempt at being artsy-fartsy and wind up with a hodgepodge mess. At least three of four times, the film suddenly turns into a mini-music video/montage scene that made me think of the 'We Need a Montage' scene from Team America set to a 90210-guitar riff. Ridiculous! Yet, through it all, there’s Anthony Hopkins bumbling about as a saddened and bitter clairvoyant called John Clancy, who helps the FBI crack a spate of bizarre killings. Lead agent Jeffrey Dean Morgan has more faith in his gifts than criminal psychologist Abbie Cornish, a quasi-Mulder and Scully, if you will. Farrell plays the we-know-it’s-you bad guy but alas, there is no solace to be found in Solace, as with each passing minute, we feel less drawn to the story and more put off by the amateur way these great actors have to play with a weak script. Not cute. ## (and that is being nice, frankly!)
Lastly today, we get the new version extraordinaire of ye olde Emmanuelle. Not really, but in all honesty, the uniquely odd and exquisite film The Duke of Burgundy has a lot more to say then it leads us to believe. It is a marvel to behold, mostly for its aesthetic setting and timing than for its script or acting. The director Peter Strickland’s usage of densely layered structures and very, sly and oddly funny portrayals of the sadomasochistic affair between two lesbian entomologists brings with it all the flair of older softcore tales of lust from the Seventies, but without feeling tawdry or tired. The look of the film, its grainy film stock vibe, the retro music playback, the perfect elements of costumed erotica/drama and the feel of cult classic cinema make it such a strange but affecting love story. Every day, two women enact their elaborate fantasy of domination and submission. Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), the younger, plays the part of a soft-spoken maid with wide green eyes and porcelain cheekbones. Cynthia (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the middle-aged mistress of the house, for whom nothing Evelyn does is ever quite right, and who doles out kinky, humiliating punishments for each violation. Not knowing where exactly the film is set only serves to add to the desire. Strickland keeps the Duke’s most explicit acts offscreen and, thankfully, it never comes across as inhibited or lazy from this filmmaker. Great twist on an old genre! ###-1/2
Have a great week everybody!