Border 2019 ****

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As odd a film as could be imagined, Border is an intelligent Swedish film that pursues some off-beat analogies in style. Tina (Eva Melander) is a creature of some kind who is employed as a customs agent; she has the ability to sniff out illegal activity and is used by her bosses to investigate the darker end of human behaviour; child pornography. Tina meets Vore (Eeor Milonoff), whose gender is unclear, and who seems to have many of the same physical characteristics that she has. Taken from a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ali Abbasi’s film is tricky, dank and obscure at times; it’s dealing with real world issues through decidedly downbeat fantasy, and the result is uncomfortable to watch. Without revealing the various twists, Border casts the audience into a strange place without many signposts; the characters surprise themselves and the viewer, and there’s no simple punch-line meaning; we’re talking about gender and cultural borders, but also talking about what makes us human. A curiosity, Border is a difficult film that’s worth seeking out for the jaded. Acting and make-up design are of the highest order, and it’s inevitable that either a US remake or a rip-off will follow.

Streaming, DVD and Blue Ray are out on MUBI in the UK from 15 July 2019.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story **** 2018

When this Star Wars spin-off debuted, Ron Howard hailed the opening weekend $100 million US debut as the best of his illustrious career.  Yet Solo is regarded as a flop and a misfire, with well-publicised negativity stemming from the firing of the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Away from the hoopla, Howard’s finished film doesn’t bear much evidence of different cooks at work; it’s a Star Wars film, but it’s more of a small-scale character study that a multiple-story epic, and presumably that’s what put the public off; the whole film builds to an off-screen shooting rather than a interplanetary battle. Aiden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo, and it’s fun to see how her meets up with Chewbacca and falls under the mentor ship of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).  Equally, it’s nice to see a young Lando (Donald Glover) and catch the moment that Han wins the Millennium Falcon from him. In fact, pretty much all of Solo works, it’s just not cut from the same cookie-cutter template as every other film in the franchise. Wouldn’t it be great to make a film like The Friends of Eddie Coyle but set in the Stars Wars Universe? Sure, but don’t expect anyone to turn out to see it. Perhaps Star Wars fatigue was inevitable with this film released while The Last Jedi was still in cinemas; either way, Howard’s amusing film deserves better than it’s franchise-killer reputation.

Russian Doll 2019 *****

Russian-Doll-Season-One-NetflixNatasha Lyonne is well-known from her turn in Orange Is The New Black, but her film career is varied to say the least; the star of American Pie, Yoga Hosers, Scary Movie 2 and Show Dogs would not necessarily be your first port of call for an existentialist drama. As executive producer, creator and writer of Russian Doll, Lyonne deserves a multitude of credit for pushing the boundaries to create a fresh, original and ground-breaking television programme for Netflix. As a Netflix production, the home of the portal, the narrative demands alternate realities a la Maniac or The Good Place, and so Russian Dolls follows Nadia, a young woman with a good-time attitude, an appetite for drink, drugs and men, and a strange predicament by which she keeps dying, and finding herself leaving the bathroom cubicle at her own birthday party over and over again. This scenario sounds a lot like Groundhog Day, but twists neatly in new directions when Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett), a young man whose day begins over and over with him shaving and breaking up with his girlfriend. Russian Doll has layers, as the title might suggest, but it avoids conventions and manages to suggest how reparative patterns in human behaviour might be changed. It’s fast, scabrous, rude, adventurous, and everything that a new TV show should be.

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80211627?source=35

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them 2016 ***

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There’s no reviews for Harry Potter films on this blog; they may have been huge at the box-office, but cinematically, they’re all pretty much the same. So Fantastic Beasts seemed like a welcome proposition; take away the familiar characters, but keep the imagination of the JK Rowling world. David Yates’s film is certainly more interesting for its steam-punk NYC aesthetic, and an unfamiliar storyline as Newt (Eddie Redmeyne) arrives in town with a suitcase full of trouble. The CGI is cute enough, and the idea of a city divided by belief in magic has some charm. But even with a few old-stagers like Jon Voight thrown into the mix, some flat performances (Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterson) suck out a lot of the goodwill. While Fantastic Beasts is pleasing enough as a time-passer, there’s a lack of engagement on offer that bodes ill for an extended five film franchise. But for now, Yates’s film has enough energy and expense to be a painless if uninspiring watch for those undazzled by Harry’s magic.

Your Name 2016 ****

uour-nameHidden behind a not-very-expressive title and with poster art that suggests another tee fantasy, Your Name is a worthy follow-on to the ground-breaking Studio Ghibli animations. Starting with a gender-bending body-swap, Manako Shinkai‘s film has more to say than most. The two protagonists, Mitshua and Taki get the fun of interfering with each other’s lives, but the story opens out to encompass a natural disaster as a hunk of rock falls to earth and destroys a peaceful village. Your Name then becomes a time-shifting melodrama, as Taki attempts to avert the catastrophe. This is a ghost story, but also a rom-com, and also an action adventure, all in one package, adorned with stunningly imaginative animation and pop songs. It’s great for kids, but adults will understand and appreciate the gravity of the ideas, even if the presentation is sugar-sweet.

 

The Last Witch Hunter 2014 ***

the-last-witch-hunter-di-1Vin Diesel is never afraid over over-sell his material, and his prophesy of a franchise for The Last Witch Hunter seems somewhat redundant when Breck Eisner’s fantasy thriller his screens like a rotten tomato in 2015. Then again, Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick seemed to have flatlined another franchise until Diesel brought it back from the dead, so who knows? The Last Witch Hunter certainly has something to commend it, not least some tongue-in-cheek support from Michael Caine and some nicely rendered CGI-backdrops as Kaulder (Diesel) cannons through the centuries into a big boss battle with a Queen Witch. With reams of laughable expository dialogue about Witch Prisons to stumble through, The Last Witch Hunter is a nice example of the good-bad movie; it’s gibberish, but at least it’s fluent gibberish.

The Legend of Tarzan 2016 ***

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It’s debatable whether the world really needed a new Tarzan movie in 2016, but David Yates’s lush adventure was probably better than the traditional origins story that might be expected. The Legend of Tarzan begins with Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jane (Margot Robbie) happily living a sophisticated, domesticated life-style in Britain; the ape-man is lured back to Africa to act as a white-savior and sort out the nefarious activities of Christoph Waltz. The Belgian Congo background is an unfamiliar and colorful terrain, and there’s decent action and suspense sequences as well as a cleverly engineered set of original flashbacks. The Legend of Tarzan may not have rewritten the book as far as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character is concerned, but it’s original enough blockbuster fare to be going on with.