The Dead Don’t Die 2019 ***

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‘This is going to end badly’ says cop Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) repeatedly in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film, and he’s right, although if you’re looking for thrills or comedy, it doesn’t start well either. Jarmusch has a celebrated off-beat style; The Dead Don’t Die shoe-horns the director’s unique sensibilities into a conventional zombie film. And it is conventional; minor characters in the small town of Centreville wonder if the attacks that plague them could be caused by fracking or wild animals, while the protagonists debate the best way of killing zombies. Knowing dialogue references Driver’s Star Wars involvement, while late exchanges see Driver and Bill Murray discussing how many of the script pages Jarmusch has allowed them to see. Such fourth-wall breaks will alienate many, but they add layers to what seems a straightforward film; Jarmusch seems content to riff on George A Romero and his use of zombies to offer a critique on capitalism and that’s largely what The Dead Don’t Die offers. It’s a whimsical, evasive work from a great director, designed to be problematic and not for the horror comedy crowd, despite some gore and some smart moments. As a side note, Tilda Swinton’s appearance as a quirky Scottish mortician is regrettable; while she herself is Scottish, leaning into racist stereotypes seems to be part of her on-going campaign to alienate herself from her homeland. It’s only one small element in an anything goes movie, but the accent and the appearance are about as sensitive as blackface if you’re Scottish.

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The Shiny Shrimps 2019 ****

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The gay sports comedy has been a growing sub-genre since 2001’s The Iron Ladies; Cedric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare’s light-hearted French film does a nice job of providing feel-good fare while managing to get a few timely digs in. The Shiny Shrimps is the name of a gay men’s water-polo team who have aspirations to take part in the Gay Games in Croatia. They’re saddled with a swim-coach named Mathias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) who has been suspended by his governing body for homophobic remarks. The team, of course, resent his presence, and act up in the most provocative ways they can think of. But as the team leave France, Le Goff starts to get to know the men as people, and the common ground they finds brings friendship and achievement in equal measure. The Shiny Shrimps ends up landing somewhere between Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Full Monty, with stereotypical characters given endearing life in a tragi-comic setting. ‘ Trans is complicated’ “No it’s not’ “Yes it is’ runs a key argument as it transpires that the shrimps have some issues of their own; they’re fiercely anti-lesbian, and have an anti-trans prejudice that needs to be addressed too. But these issues are deftly integrated into a lively romp that’s as much about men performing Sabrina’s 1980 Euro-smash Summertime Love on an open-topped bus as it is about examining gay rights, although there are sharp inflections; when Le Groff asks why the men can use stigmatic language and not him, the answer is succinct; minority privilege. With a good emotional range and a heady mix of sports, song and drama, The Shiny Shrimps is a satisfying look at a group of spirited sports-men, and delves to some effect into what’s going on under the men’s Under Armour.

The Shiny Shrimps hit UK cinemas from Sept 6th 2019.

 

Parting Shots 1999 ***

Michael Winner was something of a tricky figure to sum up; he made a number of films in different modes, from swinging 60’s comedies to hard, violent dramas in the 70’s, notably Death Wish and a series of dour collaborations with Charles Bronson. His later films switch between horror (The Sentinel, Scream for Help), period (The Wicked Lady, Appointment with Death) and any other genre that took his fancy, including a failed attempt to make Captain America with Stan Lee. For his final film, Winner brought together a selection of his favourite actors and friends including Oliver Reed, Bob Hoskins, Ben Kingsley and John Cleese. Cult fans will appreciate the combination of Dr Who stars Peter Davidson and Nicola Bryant, or a New Avengers reunion in the form of Gareth Hunt and Joanna Lumley, alongside fellow Bond girl Diana Rigg. The only problem with this star-studded line-up is the material, a script written by Winner from his own idea revisits Death Wish but as a comedy. It’s about a man called Harry who finds out he has inoperable cancer, and decides to buy a gun and kill everyone who he perceives as having wronged him. For reasons which can only be explained by the director’s vanity, AOR rocker Chris Rea, with no acting experience, plays Harry, and his presence not only jars every scene he’s in, but his music doesn’t fit the film’s themes at all. That’s Winner’s fault rather than Rea’s, but the rest of the score doesn’t help; it feels lifted from a Carry-On film. Parting Shots was derided on release as being in dubious taste, but there’s no sex, bad language or grossness, the whole notion of the film seems like a terrible idea and the execution is bland. Winner was trying to pull off a black comedy he doesn’t have the chops for, but there is something vaguely interesting about his inversion of the vigilante theme for comic effect. Fans of the considerable cast have been disappointed in Parting Shots, which has a reputation as one of the worst films ever made, but as a snapshot of a cross-section of resistible London media glitterati circa 1999, including BBC political commentator Andrew Neil in an inessential cameo, it’s not without sociological value.

The Hustle 2019 ***

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Updating Dirty Rotten Scoundrels/Bedtime Story for the MeToo era sounds like a tricky but interesting proposition; part of the original conceit was the idea of men betting on their ability to seduce women, so the concept is ripe to be revisited. And The Hustle gets things right from the of by casting rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, two female performers who can spark a laugh. But The Hustle falls short, and gets diverted from its purpose; There’s a good line near the start when Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) suggests to Penny Sharp (Wilson) that most men are easily conned ‘because they can’t believe that a woman might be smarter than them’. That sounds good, but the narrative completely upends that idea by having both of them fall for a man’s confidence trick, exactly what the audience don’t want to see. That said, there’s a few nice moments in the early set-up as Chesterfield encounters, rejects and then mentors the gauche Australian, as they prey on the rich and foolish men who holiday in The French Riviera resort of Beaumont Sur Mer. A set of hotel rooms called Suite Caroline’ gives a flavour of the humour, girlish, silly, but without the whiff of misogamy that makes the previous versions rather unpalatable today. Chris Addison keeps things moving, but plots and sub-plots feel unresolved, and the big laughs never quite materialise despite the game performances. The Hustle did well enough at the box-office, but remaking male films with female leads feels like a lazy answer; can’t women get a chance to establish IP of their own?

 

Driven 2018 *****

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History has probably judged John DeLorean harshly; by 2019’s standards of corrupt behaviour, he looks like he had an integrity that today’s business leaders lack. Most industrialists, faced with a loss-making plant going bankrupt, automatically drain the pension fund into their personal accounts and set sail on the nearest yacht with a bevy of idiot models. DeLorean’s response was to try and save his Northern Ireland plant, and the workers’ jobs, by engineering a massive cocaine deal; not good behaviour, but it’s hard to argue that the great man didn’t put himself on the line big time to keep the dream alive. The delayed release of Nick Hamm’s drama on the subject doesn’t suggest good things, but it’s more likely that that comedy/drama tone has flummoxed bean-counters; Jason Sudeikis plays Jim Hoffman, a dubious character who finds himself living next-door to DeLorean, played with charisma levels set to overload by Lee Pace. DeLorean dreams of making a wonder car; ‘Your flying car doesn’t fly,’ someone unhelpfully points out, and Hamm’s film makes a point of exposing DeLorean as a fraud, but also refashions him as a hero. This is a Great Gatsby for the 1980’s, with Jim as a venal Nick Carraway, swept to the side-lines in the wake of DeLorean’s passage. ‘You’re not a bad man, you’re just an idiot,’ says Jim’s wife Ellen (Judy Greer), and Sudeikis correctly plays Jim broadly as a buffoon. Meanwhile, Pace does a phenomenal job of bringing DeLorean to life, railing about the detail of business copyrights, sulking about losing Ping Pong matches and generally being the man-child that most men aspire to be. The famous car is largely left off-screen, apart for a perfect, wry coda; Driven is a very entertaining film that should find a big audience on streaming; Back to The Future fans, petrol-heads and true-crime aficionados will find plenty here to draw them in, not lead Pace’s mesmerising performance.

https://www.amazon.com/Driven-Jason-Sudeikis/dp/B07VY9VY1T/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=driven&qid=1566234502&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Destination Wedding 2018 ****

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In some alternative universe, instead of costumed figures punching each other in pursuit of the financial reward some wordless lowest common denomenator, we’d be looking at a cinema bursting with thrillers, dramas and rom-coms; perhaps in that world, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder would be the Hepburn and Tracy of our day. Alas, Destination Wedding, a smart two hander from writer/director Victor Levin, barely saw the inside of cinemas when it finally trickled out, but streaming may offer some salvation; with big stars giving fun performances, it’s exactly the kind of quality indie that used to pack them in. Reeves play Frank and Ryder plays Lindsay, two malcontents who sit at the back of a Paso Robles wedding exchanging snide comments and gradually striking up an attraction in their misanthropy. Sex follows, and buyers remorse hangs heavy, and it’s clear this isn’t going to run Before Sunrise smooth. But Reeves and Ryder are terrific performers, and they do a great job in bringing two difficult people to life. Rom-coms are rare like like hen’s teeth; this one is sharp and acerbic, and should be treasured.

Percy 1971 ***

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1970 saw two movies in competition; not competing submarine dramas, not even competing competing magician dramas, but competing ‘search for a penis’ comedies. David Niven’s The Statue has already been covered in this blog; this entry deals with the rather more successful Percy, which was eighth in Britain’s top ten box office attractions. A quick cross-check with 2018’s top ten suggests that, in like for like terms, a cool £35 million would be the kind of sum earned. This Ralph Thomas film makes some fuss about being the first to deal with the presumably hot topic of penis transplants; the eternally put-upon Hywel Bennett plays Percy, an antique dealer who receives another man’s member after an accident and sets out on a quest to find out who it belonged to; a ‘genital mystery tour’ as Percy wryly suggests. This quest involves meeting a number of comely women, including Britt Ekland, Elke Sommer, Adrianna Posta and Sheila Steafel, and a surprising amount of introspective soul-searching, accompanied by a soundtrack by Ray Davies and The Kinks. Despite a couple of brief lewd moments, including a striptease to a xylophone instrumental of Lola, this isn’t a typical British sex-comedy, but seems to be leaning into some kind of existential angst. Things get a bit lost in the second half, but the cameos keep things moving, with Denholm Elliot on top for as Percy’s doctor, Are You Being Served? star Arthur English doing a comic routine in a pub, and Patrick Mower makes a personable playboy. Percy is best seen as a repository of dated fashions and dialogue; Percy’s Mini-Moke is something to behold, as are his garish outfits. Meanwhile various actresses  try their best to set pulses racing with such unwieldy chat-up lines as ‘If I want to discuss dogs, I call a vet’ and ‘What do you think of my reproduction Welsh dresser?’