Archive for June, 2014

22 By Two

Posted: June 24, 2014 in movie reviews

22 Jump Street *** (out of five)

22-Jump-StreetTwo ongoing jokes throughout the sequel to ‘90s cops-in-high-school reboot (and massive hit) 21 Jump Street are that sequels should be more expensive, repetitive, and slightly less good than the original, and that the relationship between Jonah Hill’s Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Jenko is, essentially, a love affair masquerading as a buddy partnership. Both (extremely overstretched) gags aren’t nearly as clever as they may have sounded on paper, and both give license to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to at least try to have their cake and eat it too: in the first instance, by delivering a sequel that is more expensive, repetitive, and slightly less good than the first one, and in the second, by making, essentially, one big gay joke under the guise of a buddy-movie satire.

These two quibbles aside, the rest of the flick is much funnier than a lot of what comes out of Hollywood, with a rapid spitfire of jokes-per-minute (even if they don’t all pay off) and energetic visual flair. Schmidt and Jenko are both loveable dorks which helps enormously, but the best laughs of all come from side players Jillian Bell and The Lucas Brothers, all of whom we’re going to see plenty more of.

Less improvisational than the Apatow and Stoller schools, Lord and Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) are making smart movies for dummies, dumb movies for clever people, or something like that. Their formula is working, and 22 Jump Street, while slightly less good than its parent, is still good, and plenty of fun.

The Two Faces of January *** (out of five)

viggo-mortensen-the-two-faces-of-januaryAdapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel by director Hossein Amini, this old-school, old-fashioned, old-feeling melodramatic thriller has the comfy, cozy vibe of a dog-eared novel discovered on the shelves of a vacation rental, although it pales in comparison to the vastly more thrilling Strangers On A Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the two best Highsmith adaptations. Oscar Isaac plays an American in Athens who becomes caught up in whatever dodgy shenanigans are going on with well-dressed American couple Chester and Colette, played by Viggo Mortensen (in cream and white suits, very “Dickie Greenleaf”) and Kirsten Dunst. As this edgy threesome trip from cafés to restaurants, ruins and roadsides, the plot, inevitably, thickens.

The setting of 1962 allows a thriller without mobile phones or the internet, and it’s amazing just how refreshing that is – especially the sheer joy of not having to deal with any shots of anyone dealing with mobile phones, computer screens and keyboards. But it’s the locations that give the film its most robust flavour. Highsmith loved putting Americans abroad and The Two Faces of January almost plays like a stunning travelogue with a sinister little plot thrown in. That plot isn’t the film’s greatest attribute, but hums along reliably, next to actors, clothes and locations that do the heavy lifting. Fun and disposable.


Posted: June 3, 2014 in movie reviews

The Trip To Italy **** (out of five)

The-Trip-TO-Italy-Poster-518x740There is no definitive recipe for a good – or great – sequel, but many of the good ones are pumped-up, bigger versions of the first that don’t lose what we loved about the first in the first place; see The Road Warrior, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather, Part II. Michael Winterbottom’s follow-up to comic masterpiece The Trip is precisely that.

What we loved was intimate, seemingly extempore chat about popular culture – almost entirely film-related – peppered with spot-on impersonations by Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan. We get plenty of that again. Also pleasant were the settings and the food – we get that again too – and the female characters they encounter along the way. Check.

The “pumped-up” aspect of The Trip to Italy is right there in the title (the first, set in the Lake District of England, was definitely a smaller vibe). But do not fear: Winterbottom and his two incredibly generous and charming leads aren’t tempted by any other enhancements. No car chases, villains, disasters, false conflicts or musical numbers here.

I could watch Brydon and Coogan read the phone book, because they’d make it funny. In fact, watching them eat and riff is not far removed from reading a phone book… and it is very, very funny. A total delight from start to finish, and I wish it could just keep going.Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Camogli, Italy

And Under Mine

Posted: June 1, 2014 in movie reviews

Under The Skin **** (out of five)

under-the-skin-pstr02Unquestionably the boldest feature film to be released into the mainstream cinema thus far this year, Jonathan Glazer’s third feature Under The Skin borders on “experimental”. Combining relentlessly precise sequences with those shot surreptitiously – ensnaring people on the street into the story – this science fiction / horror hybrid manages the seemingly hopeless task of telling a very clear story in a completely oblique manner.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien being wearing the skin – or at least the likeness – of a dead (and extremely attractive) woman as she drives around Glasgow picking up random men on their own (played mainly by real random men walking on their own, who entered Johansson’s van of their own accord). These men are driven around by her (as she speaks in a perfect upper-class British accent) and engage with her blatant, child-like flirtation (only to have the ultimate cock-blocking candid camera move played on them when told that they were actually in a movie). The alien is pursuing certain vague goals on earth, but, while here, as aliens often do, she begins to find humanity curious rather than simply expendable.under-the-skin-scarlett-johannson-skip

Glazer’s Sexy Beast and Birth were idiosyncratic but Under The Skin trumps them triumphantly, being compelling, weird, intensely disturbing and ultimately bizarrely moving. Many of its images are shockingly vivid for me two weeks after having seen it – of how many films can you say that? Johansson is perfect, the unknowing Glasgow lads fit seamlessly into the strange rhythms and tone of the whole, and the more experimental sequences, obviously and unashamedly constructed in the style of Kubrick, are deeply fascinating. This is a film that is going to be referenced for decades to come (as Sexy Beast already is) and if you miss it at the cinema, you’re missing out. Excellent.