True Romance 1992 *****

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The late Tony Scott was something of a cinematic powerhouse, whose work was consistently underrated; a note on his Wikipedia page says that after The Hunger, he stopped reading the vitriolic reviews his film inspired. Most of these critics are long gone now, but Scott’s canon endures; hits like Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are all better than average blockbusters, but his other works are remarkable in their consistency; Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, Man on Fire or Unstoppable would be highlights in any director’s resume, whether they appeased the public or not. His best film was a flop; 1992’s True Romance gave Scott a super-hot script, and he did it proud; Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are ideal as Clarence and Alabama, young newly-weds who scram from snowy Detroit to sunny LA after he romantically murders her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman under dreadlocks and prosthetics). All kinds of talent are shown to their best advantage here, from Bronson Pinochet’s coke-addled flunky to Brad Pitt’s avuncular stoner Floyd via James Gandolfini’s memorable thug. Scott creates the requisite tension, but also creates two vibrant, dynamic worlds for his characters to inhabit. And at the centre is one of cinema’s greatest scenes; a confrontation between Clarence’s cop father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and mobster Cocotti (Christopher Walken). Two experienced actors with some great dialogue; Scott gets the best out of them as Cocotti’s threats raise Clifford’s awareness of his predicament. From the moment Clifford accepts his last cigarette, the dynamics of the scene change and it becomes a meditation on defiance in the face of death. Ridley Scott has given interviews regarding the family history of cancer which throw some light on his brother’s suicide; Scott’s elegiac handling of True Romance’s highpoint throws further illumination. Unfairly derided as a man who placed style over content, Tony Scott was in the deep end while most directors were just splashing in the shallows.

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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.

Emma Peeters 2018 ****

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Difficulty level 10 would be a fair assessment of the suicide comedy; most film-makers struggle to raise laughs, never mind find humour in the most mordant of subjects. Even Billy Wilder’s Buddy Buddy was a misfire. To pull this particular sword from the stone, step forward Nicole Palo, a writer/director who hasn’t made a film in ten years and yet conjures up something of a miracle with Emma Peeters, a Belgian/Canadian co-production filmed in Belleville with French dialogue. That’s not something that should put casual viewers off; Palo’s film has a unique and accessible storyline and engaging characters; as it makes its way onto the festival circuit, it would be a great pick up for distributors or streaming services alike. Emma Peeters (Monia Chokri) is an actress, fed up and a few days short of her 35th birthday. Fearing her career is over, and embarrassed by being constantly recognised for a detergent commercial, Emma decides to kill herself, but strikes up an unusual relationship with Alex (Fabrice Adde) the local funeral-director. He’s happy to help her, as he sees ending your life to be an act of free will, but as their friendship blossoms, it’s clear that Emma’s goal is increasingly in doubt. Despite the dark subject, Emma Peeters is a bright, clever and sharply-observed comedy; a scene in which Emma’s parents misunderstand that Alex is helping her plan a holiday is perfectly handled. And the intervention of a cat named Jim also proves crucial to the feel-good ending; Palo’s film has some of the button-cuteness that audiences loved in Amilie, but it’s harnessed to a very different subject. Chokri and Abbe are great together, he’s got a hangdog Jermaine Clement style that matches her off-kilter energy, and the film has a genuinely romantic streak. Emma Peeters not only deals with suicide, but getting old and feeling lonely; to turn such subjects into an assured comedy is alchemy of the highest order.

Cold War 2018 *****

Paweł Pawlikowski is a man whose name critics love to invoke, even if they have to to cut and paste it. He seems to have given up wrestling with the text of his Vernon God Little adaptation, but that’s no great loss; the Polish director has a style of his own that doesn’t need to be piggy-backed on another property.  The standard-issue information, that Cold War is shot in black and white, and got an 11 minute ovation at Cannes, would make any prospective viewer’s heart sink; it sounds like the kind of three hour ‘Latvian people arguing at a kitchen table’ snorefest that provides good reason to hate art cinema. Cold War tells, in simple, stunningly composed images, the story of a love story between a musician and the singer who auditions for him. They meet and separate in various countries, across borders, through concerts and dances, until fate finds a way to bring them together ‘until the end of the world’. This is cinematic poetry of the highest order, plain yet lush, riddled with subtle yet jaw-dropping compositions. The black and white photography, so often the banal choice of an art director on a perfume commercial, is truly lustrous, and the leads are luminous; the director discovered Emily Blunt amongst others, and Joanna Kulig and Thomasz Kot should return to our screens again again before long.  The late John McCain’s line about not ‘hiding behind walls’ is relevant here; it’s a timely story about how borders, and politics, can bend and shape our most vital relationships. Given that the same director’s previous film, Oscar-winner Ida, felt more worthy than entertaining, Cold War is a huge personal statement by the director and a scintillating film to watch in HD.

Isn’t It Romantic 2019 ***

Netflix’s most popular genre seems to be the kind of rom-com that rarely see the indie of a cinema in 2019. Isn’t It Romantic had the best or worst of both worlds in that it was a cinema release in the US, and was released straight to streaming elsewhere. Either way, Todd Strauss-Schulson’s spry and colourful comedy should find an audience. Dialing back from shrill performances in Pitch Perfect 3, Wilson plays Natalie, a New York girl who gets hit on the head and wakes up to find she’s in an all-singing , all dancing rom-com with Liam Hemsworth and Adam Devine as potential suitors, and all other details, including her gay best friend, as expected. Wilson has lots to do here, showing how Natalie switches from being down-trodden to the incredulous benefactor of a new reality that’s everything she dreamed of. Isn’t it Romantic? Isn’t saying anything new, but it’s a big step up from How To Be Single; Wilson doesn’t have to be the brunt of fat-joke stereotypes anymore, if she ever did, and takes a giant step forward here.

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80200642?source=35

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand 1972 ***

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Amazon seems to be challenging Netflix by countering billions spent on original content by dusting off some of the dustiest properties in their back-catalogue. Why would you want to watch Stranger Things when you’ve got access to Neither The Sea Nor The Sand, a 1972 British horror film featuring dyslexia champion Susan Hampshire as a woman who conjures her lover from the dead after her dies in an accident? With a straightforward Pet Semetary plotline, taken from ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe’s novel, Fred Burnley’s film wrestles with the morality of resurrecting the dead within the confines of one relationship as Anna (Hampshire) visits Scotland and falls for lighthouse keeper High (Michael Petrovich), but his second life as a taciturn zombie isn’t a success; the sex is good, but his rotting flesh soon becomes an issue. Neither the Se Nor The Sand is a strange little film, with not enough flesh on the bones in terms of story, and yet there’s a lyrical, haunting feel that’s hard to forget.

 

 

Aloha 2015 ***

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Maybe how much we invest in films colors our judgment; people put so much weight on the Marvel universe that casting Tilda Swinton as a Asian character in Dr Strange was deemed acceptable practice, but for Cameron Crowe to cast Emma Stone as a part Asian in Aloha elicited howls of derision and led to public apologies from both film-maker and star. This mistake aside, there’s always something of interest to mine from a Crowe film, and Aloha has some hidden merits. Crowe is a Billy Wilder fan, and there’s elements of classic character-clash here as Brian (Bradley Cooper) travels to Hawaii and has to make a choice between his ex (Rachel McAdams) and his liaison (Stone). The sub-plot is unwieldy, but pertinent, as Bill Murray’s mogul Carson Welch attempts to ‘buy space’ through his satellite launches. Aloha doesn’t quite work, but has a few moment of greatness, particularly a space-docking scene scored to the Blue Nile’s haunting Let’s Go Out Tonight. Like Crowe’s Elizabethtown, Aloha is a misfire, but it’s not a complete bust and deserves a little forgiveness for its casting sins.