It’s double the villains in this sequel to 2012’s Spiderman reboot. Andrew Garfield is back as the tech-savvy and awkward version of Peter Parker, and he still hasn’t come to terms with his relationship with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. It’s no wonder – he did promise to grant her father’s dying wish and stay away from her to protect her from the collateral damage of his superhero activities. Classic responsibility vs. personal happiness backdrop. Meanwhile, two supervillains arise and this marks the second best thing about this film: the both of them actually come from a good place. One is constantly overlooked and almost bullied despite being highly competent. The other just wants to live. I’m not saying this is never the case in this type of film, but it is still refreshing that they aren’t after power, a political vendetta or a demented desire for mass destruction. The slow pace of the first half of the film serves to set up these characters in a way one can (somewhat) sympathise with them a little and if you can get through it, the rest is almost a non-stop action sequence. A slightly over-the-top one, at that.
I did call the villains second best; that’s because the best part of the Amazing Spiderman series is and always has been the one most lacking in the first trilogy: the spark. Garfield and Stone have chemistry in spades and through the uncertainty and life choices they face, you can never lose sight of how much they care for each other. Along with the more fleshed-out relationship, the story is based on significant backstory on Peter’s father and his work at Oscorp. It deepens Peter’s character a little more, as well as giving a more science-based reasoning behind the villains. I know, I know, it’s a superhero movie and all the science is (obviously!) bogus but the disease/mutant angle makes it, in my opinion, more satisfying. Despite this, the film is still dragged down by heavy clichés once in a while, so blatantly added for foreshadowing or tearjerking value that they don’t feel genuine at all.
Overall it is a well-made if not surprising genre film with satisfying action and a good story to back it up, and I suspect it will suffer more from comparison with the other super-movies out this season than its own shortcomings; I’m looking at you, Captain America! It’s a good time to be a nerd – let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is released in the UK on April 16 (pushed ahead from April 18)
American Hustle is one of those films. You know them, the ones where you’re never sure who is lying to whom and who really is being taken for a ride until the final showdown. Well, almost. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a conman who has a flourishing (fake) business with his mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) until they get busted by the FBI. In exchange for their freedom, they must help agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) bait and take down a few other frauds. But DiMaso is too eager to prove himself and the con escalates from loan frauds to politicians and soon they are all in way over their heads.
The characters are well written; there are no good guys and bad guys, just guys who are trying to do what they deem right and each of them is funny, scary and a little pathetic in their own right. Cooper’s cop starts out as the eager fed who thinks out of the box to mount an ambitious operation but as the con progresses he is more like a gambler unable to stop upping the stakes, while Irving is only trying to get the job done to return safely to his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and their little boy. Can we talk about how 23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is already trusted with wife, widow and mother roles when most of her peers only get to play teenagers? The trust is deserved a hundred times over though. She’s been given an intense (if unstable) character with a temper and no restraints and she makes the most of it. Her performance has already landed her a Golden Globe award and BAFTA and Oscar nominations, so Hollywood isn’t letting go of her anytime soon.
The whole film has awards written all over it. Bale certainly uglied-up enough to get one. But it’s a common thing in American Hustle: the men look ridiculous and the women fabulous. Bale makes himself disappear behind Irving, partly thanks to the costume and hair and make-up but also by his skill – the familiar face is forgotten as are his previous parts as big and caped they may be. The same is true for Jeremy Renner as a bribe-happy corrupt politician that you still can’t manage to hate.
It’s good to watch a film where you don’t have to be rooting for anyone but just coming along for the ride. And people do. When I saw it, the audience was laughing – not chuckling, laughing for real, and there was even a collective “Oooow” of which all I will say is that Robert de Niro is involved. You’ll “ow” it when you see it.
American Hustle was released in UK cinemas on 7 January.
Former salsa champion turned chubby engineer Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost) has no doubt his new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) is way out of his league, “like a butterfly to a parsnip”. But when he finds out Julia is also a salsa enthusiast, he digs out his dancing shoes and decides to return to the passion he was bullied out of.
If the first thing that pops into your mind when I say salsa is Nick Frost, you are lying. He’s white. He’s fat. But dancing is not about shape and after a 6-month training he delivers really cool dance sequences, spinning around the dancefloor with Rashida Jones and Olivia Colman in Cuban Fury. The whole salsa atmosphere is very festive and the music and bright sparkly costumes are most welcome at this gloomy time of year: Cuban Fury is definitely the feel-good film to brighten up a rainy day. The enjoyment Bruce gets out of dancing is obvious; this is what he’s passionate about and in that respect the film is much more about blossoming into a sport he loves rather than getting the girl.
Actually, the romance arc is rather corny and unsurprising; boy awkwardly meets girl, there’s a cooler guy around who’s also a douche on the inside and takes credit for boy’s adorable attempts at wooing girl, etc. But the writers and director James Griffiths know how to make the most of the situations and characters to deliver an hour and a half of laughs from funny one-liners to crazy over-the-top comedic scenes like the dance-off/fight between Bruce and his nemesis Drew (Chris O’Dowd).
Kayvan Novak stands out as Bejan, one of Bruce’s friends from salsa class. Bejan is probably the funniest character in the film because he is crazy, random, and has the best (read, worst) catchphrases. The guy makes still Fanta. On purpose. Nick Frost told me that a potential sequel could revolve around Bruce and Bejan trying to open a dance club in Teheran and yes, maybe he made that up on the spot but on the off-chance that it’s true, let’s make Cuban Fury a hit.
In short: Cuban Fury is an effective feel-good comedy that will make you laugh and want to hop onto the dancefloor.
Cuban Fury is released in UK cinemas on 14 February
Teenage is a documentary that follows the evolution of youth culture and the establishment of the teenage years as a separate stage of life, from the first movements against child labour – back when you’d start your factory job at 13 –to the “Teen-age bill of rights” in 1945, when the word entered our vocabulary for good. Don’t be deterred by my dreary introduction, for this is really fun and immersive: most of the film is compiled from archive footage, and what isn’t is made to blend in with it. This way, you are not watching teenagers; you are with them, one of them. The film offers the unique perspective of walking you through history – including two World Wars no less – not through a character or even a country but through an age.
It is in a way a bit strange, because you know that the individuals you see and hear grow up and away yet four unchanging narrators speak for youth as a group, telling every decade and event from the same teenage perspective. The narrators represent teenagers from different parts of the world and you may recognise the voices of Jena Malone (Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as the American and British teen, respectively. The voiceover storyline is a testimony mostly compiled from and inspired by teenager diaries; this is clever and highlights that once upon a time, there were different ways to be young and different cultural norms, before the wars and the development of travel and communication spread the American culture, looks, music and thinking, until the American teenager became the poster child for youth everywhere. The archive footage is at times very grainy which is quite uncomfortable on a big screen. Yet, knowing the authenticity of the images definitely serves the filmmakers’ aim to have the audience identify with the characters rather than be outsiders looking in.
Teenage is a perfect companion to Marten Persiel’s This Ain’t California, a chronicle of young skateboarding culture in post-WWII East Germany, precisely where Teenage doesn’t reach and when its story ends. The young protagonists in both films share the same ideals of freedom of choice: choice in their hobbies, in their friends, their opinions. The right and will to criticise the establishment and take their lives into their own hands. As someone who teenaged through the 00’s, I feel like this is still very much the case today.
Teenage was released in the UK on 24 january; check teenagefilm.com for screenings around the world.
Jim Jarmusch’s latest film chronicles the reunion of two vampire lovers after decades apart, when Detroit-based Adam (Tom Hiddleston) feelings of despair and anger with the world prompt his long-time love Eve (Tilda Swinton) to fly from Morocco to visit him. Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt and Anton Yelchin complete the ensemble cast as the arrival of Eve’s wild little sister Ava shakes up Adam and Eve’s quiet peace.
I was lucky enough to catch Only Lovers Left Alive at the London Film Festival in October and whenever I talk about it, the first reaction always seems to be “oh, so it’s a vampire movie?” This is not a vampire movie. The characters just so happen to be vampires, but their condition only influences the plot as far as an allergy would, something you’ve taken in stride and learnt to live with. In fact, the myth allows Jarmusch to justify a greater depth to the story and characters. They are both highy cultivated and have lived through historical events, and their time together has spanned centuries, fulfilling the fantasy of a timeless love story. For obvious reasons, the whole film happens at night-time, creating a dreamy, isolated atmosphere, completed by the soundtrack. Adam being a musical genius – but then again, so would you if you had a few hundred years to practice – most of the pieces in the film are presented as his work, but they are really the work of writer-director Jarmusch and his band Sqürl. Yes, this guy does everything.
With a story centered more on the characters and their inner lives than plot twists and action, a good dynamic between the cast was essential and they don’t disappoint. Tilda Swinton shines throughout the whole film; Eve was written specifically for her and you can tell. She balances Eve’s almost motherly wisdom with a casual sense of fun and she just has that look, like she’s a bit more than human. Her and Tom Hiddleston make an unlikely couple but their chemistry in this is undeniable. The biggest – and best – surprise about Only Lovers Left Alive though, is that it’s hilarious. I must admit I was expecting something broody and dramatic what with the main character being depressed and them being dead, but nope. The comical and at times awkward situations will have you laugh with them… sometimes at them. Adam’s deadpan rejection of almost everything and everyone, and their casual attitude towards the stickiest situations were especially funny.
In short: Only Lovers Left Alive is a story of love and longing carried brilliantly by its two leads. It is laugh-out-loud funny and by the way, they are vampires.
Only Lovers Left Alive is released in UK cinemas on 21 February. Can’t wait that long? The BFI is holding a preview screening on Valentine’s Day. For music fans, ATP organises an advance screening in London on 6 February followed by a live concert event starring the artists from the soundtrack. And because I am nothing if not French, here is the info on the same preview + concert event in Paris.
Check out all Not-So-Secret Santa reviews at the Cinematic Katzenjammer.
Gigino is no ordinary Tribeca Italian restaurant: it is owned by Luigi Cropa (Danny Aiello) the patriarch of a mob family. Luigi’s brother is murdered on the school run two weeks before Christmas – I see what you did there, Secret Santa – and the rival bookmakers behind it later show up at the restaurant looking for Luigi’s son Duncan who has gambling debts. Duncan (Kirk Acevedo) is working in the kitchen and begins a cat-and-mouse game to escape the gangsters. Add to that a packed restaurant, a police detective invited to dine by Luigi himself and a host of diners ranging from demanding to downright annoying who may have a hidden agenda, and the tension is explosive. Something is going to happen. The question is what, when, and more importantly – who.
I enjoyed the contrast between the mafia plots and the festive atmosphere of a busy restaurant: jazzy music, good food and trivia entertainment from the barman, all the while feeling someone would not walk out of there alive. Director Bob Giraldi makes the viewer part of the action: except for the few scenes outside the restaurant, you might as well be a member of staff alternating between the lazy festive pace of the dining space and the rushed atmosphere of the kitchen, complete with close ups of chefs and food. The food… did I mention the food? This is not a film you can watch on an empty stomach. There’s so much footage of the cooks whipping up delicious-looking dishes that I almost forgot to guess which characters might be implicated in the inevitable massacre.
A bookmaker, a bookmaker and a bookmaker walk into a restaurant…
Dinner Rush keeps you guessing. I have to admit it’s not the kind of film I usually choose as they make me nervous, like the situation could explode anytime… and it is very well done in that respect. The family dynamics between Luigi and his two sons were well-acted and added a touch of normalcy (what do you mean your family Christmas doesn’t involve murder and millions of dollars?) Still, I was kind of wondering where this was going after an hour or so and whether someone would finally punch Fitzgerald who thinks he can get free everything because he waited 45 minutes. Never go to Comic-Con, Fitzgerald. I was trying to figure out where the film was going and well, I didn’t. I won’t spoil it too much for people like me who may have missed it or been 10 years old when it came out, but let’s just say it’s very satisfying when all the pieces of what’s been going on all evening finally click together. One thing though. When you own a restaurant and a seedy bookmaking business you should definitely know that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Overall, Dinner Rush was intense and I’m glad I ended the year on something different. Thank you, Not-So-Secret Santa and now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go raid the kitchen.
“Women disappear into the toilet for 25 minutes at a time, what the f*ck are they doing?” This is how MJ Delaney sums up her first feature film Powder Room, an adaptation of the play When Women Wee. The film follows Sam (Sheridan Smith) on a night out in London with a couple of posh friends (played by Kate Nash and Oona Chaplin). She is trying to live up to their tales of fancy parisian life when her actual friends (Jaime Winstone, Riann Steele and Sarah Hoare), show up in the club too, drunk and dishevelled. The rest of the night is a game of cat and mouse in and out of the club, but all the revelations, fights and decisions happen in that all-important place: the ladies’ bathroom.
Despite its all-star cast, Powder Room definitely feels real and close to home: no Hollywood gloss-over here, it could be happening down your street. It’s very funny, and the girl power present on set during their 19-day shoot certainly translates onscreen in the dynamic within the group(s) of friends. Sheridan Smith keeps Sam likeable despite her sometimes questionable behaviour; actually, she is perhaps the most relatable of the lot. And as a French person, I just have to mention how good Oona Chaplin is. Her character lives in Paris and her little quips in French were just perfect. The soundtrack is energetic and the performers, FakeClub, steal the show in their few seconds onscreen. Even better, the other artists featured in the film are mostly yet unsigned bands found on SoundCloud… Here’s to hoping this gives them a much-deserved boost!
On top of the fun aspect of all the gossip going on in the bathroom, I really enjoyed the contrast between the image the girls try to project in front of their friends and the reality that you see in that space – the bathroom is where they hide to cry, take drugs and fight with their husbands on the phone. This atmosphere of constant comparison and almost competition for the most “accomplished” life is very current.
This is a film about women, written and directed by women but not just for women. Everyone can enjoy a comedy and hey, I’m first in line for everything Marvel. All in all it is a lesson in not giving a shit and enjoying what you have with the people you like.
Powder Room is released in UK cinemas on 6 December.