Saturday 16 December 2017

Cinema: There is something a little different about Ant-Man

Ant-Man Cert 12A

Ground-breaking: Ant-man's adventures feel different to those of other superheros
Ground-breaking: Ant-man's adventures feel different to those of other superheros
The Wonders
The Gallows
Good performances: Jonah Hill and James Franco

Reviewed this week are Ant-Man, The Wonders, The Gallows, True Story and The President.

Ant-Man has been in the Marvel Comics stable since 1962 but he's new to the big screen and there is something a little different about him too. Apart from being much smaller in scale than all other superheroes, the film is smaller too, the stakes are lower and the destruction lesser so it feels more like a family drama with comic book elements.

It opens on a flashback to 1989, Dr Hank Pym (a digitally rejuvenated Michael Douglas) has a showdown with his bosses over the use of his particle-shrinking technology. In 2015, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison sentence for fraud.

Immediately upon release his friend Luis (Michael Pena) proposes a heist. But Scott is determined to go straight and provide for his young daughter for without child support he will have no access, apparently despite the child's wishes or best interests.

His ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her new fiance (Bobby Cannavale) don't hold out much hope of redemption and, sure enough, Scott, as an ex-con, finds it hard to get legal work. He does Luis' heist but all they get is 1960s looking suit. But the heist was a set-up, Dr Pym's way of luring Scott to work for him and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) against Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) a Pym protege gone bad.

Loads more happens over the film's two 3D hours and most of it works well.

Rudd is perfect, Douglas is fab and they get great support from Pena and Lilly who at least wants to know why superheroes always have to be male. Director Peyton Reed delivers a safe Marvel brand family film which is often funny and will have sequels. Stay for the credits!

Now Showing

The Wonders

No Cert

Like she did in her first film, Corpo Celeste, Alice Rohrwacher places an adolescent girl with weak parents at the centre of her story. The Wonders (Le Meraviglie) revolves around a German-Italian family attempting to live close to nature in rural Italy. Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) is a loud and controlling paternal figure in the group of women with whom he lives in rural Tuscany. His wife (Alba Rohrwacher, the director's sister) means to stand up to him but rarely does, family friend Coco (Sabine Timoteo) occasionally does, but with no great effect.

The result is that there is no buffer between Wolfgang and his 12-year-old daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). It's not that he is mean to her, it is that he asks so much of her, both in terms of work and responsibility in the family bee-keeping business and in terms of emotional responsibility. Her two youngest sisters running riot with all the glorious freedom of childhood show in stark relief the freedom that Gelsomina has lost, whilst her second sister represents the unwillingness to shed childhood and take on responsibility.

One day, during some rare down time, they stumble across a vision, a beautiful lady dressed like a goddess (Monica Belluci) in a Fellini-esque scene that turns out to be the filming of a tacky Italian game show. The show is launching a competition to find the best local produce, The Wonders of the title. As well as the transfixing glamorous appeal of the hostess, in the prize money Gelsomina sees a solution to the family's money troubles so she resolves to enter their honey in the competition. Wolfgang is against the plan and his veto overrules everyone else's wishes. Sort of.

Plot is the least important part of this gently flowing story, it is mostly about family dynamics, how he who shouts loudest is not necessarily the strongest, how endurance can sap a soul and mostly about the theft of childhood. It's also about the ridiculous difficulty that modern life creates for people who want to live close to nature.

I'm not sure I understood the final scene but the movie packs a quietly powerful punch and stays long after it is over.

At IFI & selected cinemas

The Gallows


There are certain phrases in film descriptions that make my heart sink, phrases like "written, directed and/or starring Adam Sandler" and "found footage". 

The Gallows is a found-footage horror, and one of the worst examples yet. Twenty years after an American high school drama called The Gallows went horribly wrong, resulting in the accidental hanging of Charlie, one of the actors, the school bizarrely decides to stage the production again. In the drama class are some unwilling jocks and cheerleaders who believe school drama to be so inherently uncool as to merit sabotage. So the night before the show they sneak into the theatre to wreck the set. And they film their endeavours for that's just what you'd do when committing acts of criminal damage.

Chief wrecker is Ryan (Ryan Shoos) a character so annoying I was fervently hoping for something to befall him long before the horror action even began. He is joined by Reese (Reese Mishler) and Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) and, for a reason that becomes apparent at the end, by goody two shoes Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown).

Locked into the theatre, they face the wrath of Charlie with no electricity and no phone signal, natch. The only light comes from their cameras, cue grainy, jumpy shouty footage but even when those batteries run out there is always some new device with which to continue the torment for the viewer. With a few jumps it is possibly suitable for debut horror fans, being fairly gore- and swear-free. Come back Adam Sandler, all is forgiven. It's that bad.

Now Showing

True Story


True Story is based on a true story about the nature of truth in journalism.  So you can see the theme. Michael Finkel (played by Jonah Hill) was a journalist with the New York Times, a good reporter who got distracted by his need to make the cover and got fired for fudging facts. Retreating to Montana and his wife (Felicity Jones) he finds it difficult to get freelance work following his disgrace, so is extra keen to find something in a story which arrives at his door.

Christian Longo (James Franco) had been on the run since the murder of his wife and three small children and when discovered in Mexico had been using the alias Michael Finkel.

The real Finkel goes to meet Longo in jail and is instantly drawn in by the inmate's charm and flattery. They do a deal, Longo, who has refused so far to talk, will give his version of events to Finkel, if Finkel will teach him to write. The journalist believes Longo when he claims innocence and gets a book deal for the story, but how much of that belief is based on a narcissist's powerful charm and how much on Finkel's ego and need for redemption?

Rupert Goold's directorial debut has all kinds of holes in the narrative, not least the basic premise that the men might bond on the level of both being pariahs, no matter how seriously the NYT takes itself, a journalist tweaking facts is simply not comparable to a man accused of murdering his family. But it is interesting. The central performances are good,

Franco is very good at creepy charm and Hill can deliver straight roles well, Jones is underused but convincing as the voice of doubt that Finkel refuses to hear. True Story is not good enough to be a great film, this is no Capote, but it is good enough to be entirely watchable.

Now Showing

The President 

No Cert

The exact location in which Mohsen Makhmalbaf's film is set is never specified but whilst it feels like an Eastern European setting - it was shot in Georgia - it is largely inspired by  what happened during the Arab Spring. Co-written by  Makhmalbaf and Marzieh Meshkini, stalwarts of Iranian cinema, it centres around The President (Georgian actor Misha Gomiashvili) an old-school dictator who underestimates the swell of feeling against him and fails to flee in time to avoid a revolution.

Together with his young grandson (an excellent Dachi Orvelashvili), he manages to escape. On the run and in disguise, the two end up seeking refuge amongst the people who have fared worst under the President's regime and hearing first-hand just how loathed they are.

The boy is too young to understand, the grandfather is not. In a twist on the familiar trope of the rich having to live the life of the poor this is a man having to see the awfulness he not only ignored, but caused.

As the bounty on his head rises, the President is confronted with more and more graphic details of the life he forced people to live. But there is no remorse, only a greater determination to escape.

The film deals with the immediate aftermath of the revolution not more long-term ramifications.

It is better for that but might perhaps have been shorter. However, it is a sharply observed, well-delivered, allegorical satire.

Now showing, IFI & selected cinemas

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