Archive for March, 2015

UnknownDriving around Los Angeles, there are only two films being advertised on the city’s billboards. This is astonishing, because this is the movie capital of the world and there is normally shit going on – usually. But there are only two, and one of them, Cinderella, which is what you think it is – a huge Disney live-action remake – occupies about an eighth of the available ad space. Everywhere else – and I mean everywhere else – every billboard from Hollywood to West LA, from Santa Monica to the Deep Valley – is advertising a flick called GET HARD.

The billboards bend over backwards (not literally) to tell you what the film is: It’s Will Ferrell as a White Man going to prison, and Kevin Hart as a Back Man training him to survive once incarcerated. The tag line – “An Education in Incarceration” – was probably also the pitch. And the supplement posters – those cheaper ones that are placed on hoardings, trying to look “street cool” but obviously no less Studio than the big ones – are everywhere. You can’t turn around in Los Angeles without being aware of this film. And it’s ruining the brand of the film with every turn.

It’s bad. The fact that this film – which has a perfectly decent “hi-concept” premiseinfiltrates my eyes everywhere I walk, drive, turn – is annoying. I have no idea how heavily it’s being promoted in other cities, but in Los Angeles, it’s absolutely bonkers. Why? Why possibly take up every billboard? Isn’t seeing the name – and the actors – and the concept – of the film seven times a day enough? Does it have to be seventy times a day?

The last time I remember a film being this plastered all over LA was the Zach and Downey road trip flick Due Date. Lest anyone forget. Overkill is overkill.

banner-the-second-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-film**1/2 (out of five)

If you liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there’s more of the same for you here. Indeed, The Second Best Exotic Marigold is the very definition of an unnecessary sequel, and its title tells you the truth straight up. It’s the second best.

Happy to bring back the characters from the first one (who survived), the film barely bothers with plot. Instead, it creates a wee batch of usually romantic dilemmas in order to keep our beloved older English thesps bouncing around a batch of unbelievably beautiful Indian locations. Warning: do not go to India expecting it to look like it does here. There are not burning candles around every corner.

Richard Gere is thrown into the mix (eliciting mini-orgasms from some of the Grand Dames of the English Theatre) as a silver fox looking to write his first novel, and possibly for love. Indeed, he falls for someone so hard, so quickly that you’re surprised they didn’t whack a booooiiiiinnnnggg! on the soundtrack. His speech in the middle of the film, to the object of his affections, is a deeply terrible piece of writing, but Gere gets through it, I’m sure with his paycheque in mind. (He gets through the de rigueur Indian dance number at the end, too, looking truly young amongst the British Senior Acting Luvvies).

Look, they’re all doing it for the paycheque, or perhaps for a passage to India, and to hang out and talk about when Gielgud farted in the fourth act of Lear. It’s a crass cash-in, but these old thespians are charming as hell, and the movie coasts breezily by on that alone, which is just enough.


**** (out of five)

How do you explain a talent like J.C. Chandor, who seems to come to feature filmmaking fully-formed in 2011 with Margin Call, the best financial thriller – and best non-documentary film about the Global Financial Crisis – ever made? Who then takes on the challenge of a “one-man movie” with 2013’s All Is Lost (Robert Redford on a sinking boat) and makes it work – incredibly well? Who then makes a seriously excellent, wintry, highly literate and seriously foreboding drama like A Most Violent Year, thus hitting three for three as both writer and director of all?

The answer, of course, is that Chandor, a true auteur, is young (41) and is of a generation who has been able to achieve enormous film literacy. Each of his films is unique and original but they’re reflections of films he’s seen: Margin Call is his Wall Street, All Is Lost his Castaway, and now A Most Violent Year his version of a New York crime drama, massively influenced by The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America, especially in cinematography (Bradford Young, who also shot Selma). Chandor and his collaborators show evidence of enormous understanding of the language of cinema, and his control of his craft – even as he challenges himself dramatically with each new film – is remarkable.

A Most Violent Year follows a morally good business man, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his slightly more ethically dubious wife and bookkeeper Anna (Jessica Chastain) as they try to grow their heating oil business in the boroughs of New York City in 1981. Up against them is the fact that all their rivals are corrupt or criminal, one of them is violently stealing the oil from his trucks by hijacking them, an industry-wide criminal investigation is about to snare him in its net, and the whole city is aflame with crime – 1981 was New York City’s “most violent year” on record.

The film isn’t actually particularly violent, but it’s infused with massive levels of cold dread and foreboding, and is never less than thoroughly compelling. Exquisitely acted, scripted and shot, it’s a major work for discerning adults. I loved it, and J.C. Chandor is now firmly in my list of directors whose work I will always see. Actually, make that “auteurs” – his writing is every bit as good as his direction. He’s the real deal.

A MOVIELAND “in deep” discussion of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: