Cinema: Peter Bogdanovich returns to the big screen
She's Funny That Way - Cert: Club
Reviewed this week are She's Funny That Way, Slow West, The Overnight, Minions and The Wrecking Crew.
Away from the big screen for 14 years, a somewhat cautious welcome is in order for Peter Bogdanovich. The New York polymath's films have, after all, veered from great (The Last Picture Show, Mask) to dubious (once seen, Illegally Yours can't be unseen).
Of course, none of this matters particularly given Bogdanovich's standing in Hollywood, where, along with Friedkin and Scorsese, he was part of a new wave of directors that shook Tinseltown in the 70s. No wonder current indie-crossover dons Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach help produce while a raft of famous faces feature in this busy, he-said-she-said farce.
Imogen Poots is the axis of the din. She plays Izzy, an actress recalling the big break that ended her early days as a prostitute. We see the chance encounter with film director Arnold (Owen Wilson), who after a "business transaction" gifted her a generous handout to help her get going in life. In one of many coincidences, she auditions for the play he's working on and lands the role opposite Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and Delta's ex-lover (Rhys Ifans).
Throw in a suitor for Izzy (Will Forte), his horrid therapist girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), her client and a private eye and exhaustion ensues.
The screwball tones of this straight-up farce hark back to gilded days, and there is no faulting the lofty cast. But even with a trim 90 minutes to its name, the frenzy of silliness grows wearisome. Mind you, it'll just have to do until Woody Allen starts making frivolous, bourgeois Manhattanite romps again.
Exclusively at IFI
The western is one of the oldest and most abiding film genres and it has been enjoying a bit of a revival lately. Many of the most recent contributions, from Django Unchained to The Homesman and in a way, Mad Max: Fury Road, offer twists on the traditional format, but all retain the Pilgrim's Progress arc. And so it is with Slow West, a short but very beautifully formed addition to the canon.
The pilgrim whose progress gets charted in this one is Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a sixteen-year-old Scottish aristocrat who is making his naive way across the US, along the Colorado Trail (actually shot in New Zealand) following the woman of his dreams Rose (Caren Pistorius) and her father (Rory McCann, the Hound to most of us) who have had to flee Scotland following "an accident." A run-in with some baddies convinces Jay that he can do with the paid protection of Silas Selleck, a good Kerry name for a taciturn Irish drifter (Michael Fassbender). They are being pursued by a gang of bounty hunters led by Payne (the always watchable Ben Mendelson) and the reason for this, and for Silas's interest in helping Jay, soon becomes apparent. The writing and directorial debut of Scottish musician John Maclean has a lot to like. Fassbender is, as ever, mesmerising but the entire cast is great and the almost ethereal presence of Smit-McPhee works really well. The contrast of brutal reality, existential musings and black humour owes more than a little to Tarantino but it doesn't feel derivative. It's beautiful, often violent, funny and just eighty four minutes long. I look forward to Maclean's next film.
Now Showing IFI
From the outset it is pretty clear where The Overnight is going. Except it doesn't ever really go exactly where you suspect. Short, sharp, funny and well-acted this is definitely one to catch if you like slightly offbeat comedies and are not easily upset by sexual references. Being in a long term relationship and even more so one with children will add to your viewing, if not pleasure, identification.
Thirtysomething couple Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) have just moved to LA with their young son. Emily is the breadwinner, Alex is enduring an identity crisis as a stay-at-home father with no social life. When they meet the friendly, full-on and slightly odd turbo hipster Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) in the playground they accept an invitation to dinner. Worst case scenario it's boring, best case scenario they have made their first friends in LA.
Kurt and his beautiful wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) live in a fabulous home, everything appears perfect and as right on as can be. But little cracks appear, like the charitable work they're doing in the Central Republic of Africa. Writer-Director Patrick Brice, in his second feature, layers up details and howlers alike to make Kurt the character who drives all the action and Schwartzman delivers beautifully in the role.
As the night goes on and they alter their minds more and more while their sons sleep upstairs, each of the other characters orbits around whatever it is that is driving Kurt. Almost all of it is sexual but as sex is one of the defining characteristics of any non platonic relationship this is often fundamental stuff. And, every time you think it's going somewhere obvious, it doesn't, or not quite.
A love it or hate it movie perhaps, it makes and scores its points with overt sexual humour but not gross-out sexual humour. There are a few guffaws, lots of snickers and many smiles in what is a good idea, well-delivered by both film maker and actors.
Now Showing IFI & Selected
Last year's Penguins Of Madagascar was proof that a blockbuster spin-off - in that case, the Madagascar animation franchise - could be a worthy and deliriously entertaining pursuit. The secret of its $370million success? The whip-smart wit of its screenplay.
No amount of animated fireworks can make up for this, especially in supposedly big-league fare such as Minions. Here, we get to see the origin of the lovably daft yellow henchmen of Despicable Me (2010). They were a curious delight in that film and its 2013 sequel. Unfortunately, directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda feel this point has not been driven home quite forcibly enough.
A perky and wry intro (voiced with nasal irreverence by Geoffrey Rush) shows the yellow creatures evolving from amoebae right up to fully fledged bipedal drones, latching themselves on to (and subsequently playing a hand in the demise of) a range of historic baddies, from T.Rex to, erm, Napoleon. They go into self-imposed exile when they run out of evil leaders to follow. In 1968, fed up with watching their community waste away, three minions set off to find a reason for being.
The trio happen upon a super-villain convention in New York and end up in the employ of celebrity villain Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock). Shenanigans ensue as she sets them the task of stealing a royal crown. The bleating and babbling, dungaree-clad minions evade scrapes with naïve gumption. Characters fly through the air and crash land. Over and over.
At times you feel like you're watching a very long insurance ad, the kind where cute and colourful animated sprites prance around a percentage sign to distract you from terms and conditions. At times, you feel that could be a better way to spend your 90 minutes.
The Wrecking Crew
Looking at this lovingly produced music doc, you'd be forgiven for thinking it looks a little dusty around the corners, and that's taking into account its subject matter - a group of LA session musicians without whom nothing got recorded in the 1960s.
The reason is that not only was the The Wrecking Crew 12 years in the making, but it was a further seven before it secured funding for a theatrical release via a Kickstarter campaign. While "better late than never" might as well be the tagline for Denny Tedesco's film about late guitarist father Tommy and his cohorts, timing was one thing the Wrecking Crew had in spades.
Take it as a given that you've boogied or swayed to this lot in your lifetime. The music business shifted gears in the 1960s, and all that mattered were the hits. What wasn't let on then is that much of the music behind pop staples by The Monkees, The Byrds, The Beach Boys et al was not the work of dazzling smiles and youthful looks. It was this faceless but astoundingly tight and versatile "groove machine" led by Tedesco and Hal Blaine.
A jaw-dropping catalogue becomes apparent alongside a human rhythm. Bassist Carol Kaye reveals how she devised that iconic "dum dum duh duh-dum" opening on Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman. Brian Wilson, Cher and Nancy Sinatra praise the unsung heroes who made them rich. The sense of a secret history being unfurled is delicious.
Exclusively at IFI
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